On Being an Intern, Or a Kind of Independence You Don’t Learn In School

At first glance, the light brown building was old: no more than three stories and a simple façade.

It looked like the kind of office that has wooden ceiling fans and creeky steps, old bathrooms and bizarre floorplans, chipped paint on the walls and maybe a slow, small elevator.

The downtown street that ran in front of it was only one lane going either way. Classic.

It was perfect.

I walked in on my first day – paperwork in a modern, computer-filled newsroom – and picked up a temporary ID badge, knowing I’d soon get a real one once I officially became an employee.

Now, I think about how different I felt then, like a real badge somehow wasn’t as temporary as the faded yellow #11 pinned to my dress.

Intern is the worst job ever.

And college sucks.

In a little more than 11 weeks this summer, I wrote 34 articles and countless briefs about Arkansas for the Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock.

I toured the city, became a regular at several dining/tea/beer establishments, tried oodles of new things, developed a bit of a twang and made the fastest and busiest friendships of my life. And I got decent at journalism.

This all amounts to an incredible summer that I’m all kinds of thankful for, right?

Maybe.

Excitement abounded during my first days in Little Rock: accidentally living with my boss for five days, going out for coffee with two reporters who sat next to me and later with another intern whom I had known since freshman year of college – all telling me about their jobs and their lives that sounded so nice.

Always independent, I was ready for adventure.

I was prepared to have the best summer of my life.

And I did.

But I didn’t smile much during my last days in Little Rock.

After living life to its fullest for nearly three months, I was the only intern to decide not to have a “goodbye,” dive-bar outing with the young, regular journalist crowd.

Maybe I ended my summer on a sour note and a broken heart. Maybe that was a choice I made.

I sat in my apartment the night of my last day of work, doing nothing in particular. For the first time, deliberately avoiding making any memories.

For the first time, I was just an intern, and I would be gone before anyone remembered I was there.

As the days wound down, I laid in my bed, just thinking. Over and over again.

I wish I could just live here.

Oh, I wish I could just live here.

Now that I’m leaving, preparing to live another temporary life for the last nine months of my college career, I wonder what it would be like if I came back to Little Rock.

I keep telling people I want desperately to come back.

Good news, good paper, lots of length for more descriptive and informative writing.

And I left just as newsies like Anderson Cooper were picking up a story I had been covering before I begrudgingly turned all my notes over to another reporter.

Talk about disappointment.

But if I came back, would the life get old?

I’m a 22-year-old college student who can’t remember what it’s like to really live somewhere.

As a teenager, I counted down the days until I could move away. As a college student, I dream about the possibilities.

At 22, I’ve lived in four different cities in the past year and a half. Because it’s fun. And I can handle myself. But it’s never, “I can’t wait to leave!”

What’s it like to be somewhere and have your whole life ahead of you from that point on?

I can talk all day about wanting to come back as a year-rounder, but I don’t know what it would be like if I did.

I was just an intern, pining to stay in a place that seemed so fun and interesting.

But that’s only part of the life.

The heartbreak I have upon leaving Arkansas after three months is a miniature version of what it’s like to grow up, graduate, leave home and realize that we’ve had our last days of something, somewhere, someone. It all seems like a slow death sometimes.

As I walked down the aisle of desks to the stairs, hauling the contents of my drawers and folders and the brownies I had baked for the office, I knew I might only be a blip in the pages of the newspaper, in the lives of the many reporters, editors and readers.

They liked me or didn’t like me, and the next day, it wouldn’t have to matter to any of them.

I was just an intern, and I would be gone before anyone remembered I was there.

I guess that’s independence.


—Emily

Arkansas in nine photographs. Just imagine there’s a 10th, and it’s a Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Spain's 'indignants' return to the streets - Europe - Al Jazeera English

They’re still angry, new government and all.

Vacation, Week 1: Madrid and Morocco

I can’t even tell what I smell like anymore. I haven’t sweat much, but I just don’t feel clean. And I can’t wait to get out of the jeans I’ve been wearing for two weeks straight.

I’ve returned from my 17-day break.

With a backpack full of sand, no clean clothes and an acne-ridden face screaming for its first good wash in two-and-a-half weeks.

I hadn’t expected much before I left; I was simply ready to discover new places and new experiences.

If I could do it all over again, I would do it differently. But I can’t redo it, and I’m not angry with myself over anything.

It started in Madrid, where I rediscovered a big, bustling, garden-filled city, definitely felt like the capital of Spain. And I got to see the real “Guernica” by Picasso. Much better the second time around.

I stumbled upon this restaurant as the one nextdoor was playing “You and I” by Lady Gaga. I had a hot dog here for dinner that didn’t resemble anything I’ve ever eaten back home. Should’ve had the Lincoln burger.

Next stop: Morocco.

I left on an overnight bus with some students from ISA Madrid and ISA Salamanca. We hit it off pretty well and made a 3 a.m. churro run when the bus stopped to pick up students from the Bilbao, Valencia and Barcelona programs. Several hours of bus and too many hours of ferry later, we were driving through Morocco’s gorgeous northern landscape to Fes.

In Fes, we went to the medina, what most of us thought would be a day free to explore the markets and town of Fes.

It was not like that at. all.

We were taken to five different stores and given sales pitches by the owners. I get that artisanship is big in developing nations, but I was not interested in being the worst kind of tourist — one who doesn’t experience the culture and merely buys things instead. Too bad for everyone on the trip, I guess, although some girls were loaded and spent more money on one or two things than I’ve spent on everything other than school, planes or bus rides since I’ve been abroad.

After Fes, we bused to the outskirts of the Sahara desert, where the Berbers roam, trying to sell us things, and where it rained.

The way there was pretty nice.

We took four-by-fours from a hotel near Erfoud to the desert. Ours got a flat tire, which only made the adventure more fun.

The desert was beautiful, and a lot of fun. We rode camels, slept in tents and danced into the early morning. That touristy stuff was OK; I was prepared for that.

Sunrise was pretty all right, too.

Look at all the sand! Many Berber children spend their days skipping school to sell things to tourists instead. Many tried to sell us water bottles full of sand. My friend bought one, because he said the little girls selling it to him were too cute. It was funny, but I was too uncomfortable with the fact that the children weren’t going to school to interact with them.

After two nights and a day in the desert, we took four-by-fours back to the bus and then drove to Meknes. I wish I could have spent more time in the city; Meknes looked fantastic. But, alas, we were there for mere hours before we bused again to the ferry.

I wish I could go back.

Next stop: Seville.

Vacation, Week 2: It’s good to be “Basque” in Bilbao

I almost studied abroad in Seville. In fact, I filled out the application online but didn’t formally submit it because I didn’t realize that it had to be done by mail. So I was pretty excited to go here.

It was Holy Week for the first two of my three days here. Tourists were everywhere on Saturday, but they were gone by Easter, presumably because they all flew out then. So I got into all the touristy places without a line.

The processions were pretty cool. One of the things Holy Week in Spain is famous for is parade marchers’ outfits resemblance to the KKK’s. But I really didn’t notice.

The floats are lifted by these guys, who switch places every 100 meters or so.

On an impulse after the Saturday parade, I decided to attend the middle-of-the-night Easter vigil at the Cathedral, the biggest cathedral in Spain. But I’m not Catholic nor a regular church-goer, so I didn’t know what to expect or when to do that cross-from-the-head-to-the-chest thing. The vigil was in Spanish, but I was still pretty lost, considering I understood what they were saying but had little idea what they were talking about. I left excited, though. I thought, “I could be a Christian!” but then later decided that the conversion really needed a bit more thought than that.

Seville was beautiful, though. The Plaza de España, the parks, the colors, the weather.

I wondered if I would go back to Bilbao thinking I should have studied in Seville.

Next stop: Lisbon.

Lisbon was an experimental trip. I thought I should go, considering the only country that borders Portugal is the one I was studying in. Basically, if I didn’t go during these four-and-a-half months, when was I going to go?

First, it rained the whole time. But it was beautiful. The art museums were fantastic, I could see Lisbon’s version of Christ the Redeemer (the wonder of the modern world I’m dying to see most) and I met a cool Russian girl at my hostel who decided to learn English after falling in the love with the Backstreet Boys.

I also learned a lot about Portugal’s role in India and in discovering the New World.

This is the Monument of Discoveries:

Portuguese wasn’t very nice to listen to, however. Not sure why.

Next stop: Granada.

It rained the whole time in Granada. The temperature was about 15 degrees below normal and what weather.com said it would be. La Alhambra was big and interesting, but not as fascinating as everyone had made me believe it would be. I did meet a guy from Tripoli while I was eating lunch there, so that was pretty cool.

My favorite was the graffiti, though. What I realized during the whole two weeks was how much I want art all around us, on our walls, on our ceilings, on the most trivial of things. Why let any space go to waste?

I also fell in love with a restaurant in Granada that sold kebabs and pizzas for cheap. In total, I spent hardly anything on food. The only thing is, they were out of baklava. Must be too good of a dessert.

Next stop: Málaga.

It rained the whole time in Málaga, Did I mention that it rains almost everyday in Bilbao? It does, and rain is only acceptable there. My spring break was supposed to be springy.

In Málaga, I went to the birthplace of Picasso and decided that he is my new favorite artist. Anyone who tries to see something differently is doing something right in my book, though.

I also strolled along the beach, which was pretty. And then ate a kebab.

Overall, Andalusia was nothing like anywhere else in Spain I’d been.

Next stop: Home to Bilbao.

This is what Bilbao looked like the day before I left, the general strike day in Spain:

It was a good day, but I was more excited for the next 17.

Yet toward the end of my trip, I began to miss Bilbao. Not because I had traveled alone for 11 days and merely missed familiar faces, but because I just love it there.

It’s nothing like the rest of Spain. I realize now why people who live in Basque Country say they’re not from Spain or France.

Basque Country is beautiful, green and artsy. (For instance, this weekend is the Bilbao International Festival of Letters; last year, Salman Rushdie attended, and this year Bill Keller and Chuck Palahniuk are in attendance.) The architecture is more modern in more places. Tourists aren’t all over the place. It’s a window to a kind of secret, special culture. And it’s the best place in Europe to learn Spanish. Bilbao is more European than it is Spanish, and I like that about it. If I had wanted dashes of color, warmth and fiestas, I would have gone to Latin America or the Caribbean, although I can get those things in Andalusia. I love Spain, but if I’m in Europe, I’m more glad to have Basque Country.

Bilbao, it’s great to see you again.

Agur,

Emily

P.S.: To those of you who doubted my ability to take my backpack on Ryanair, after packing it for 17 days — my bag didn’t even cause Ryanair workers to notice.

You guys, the king says it’s never going to happen again.

The king of Spain was injured while hunting elephants in Botswana and ended up in a hospital in Madrid. If it wasn’t obvious already that the royal family does nothing but waste taxpayer money on frivolous things and activities, it’s obvious now. Kind of funny. But I don’t pay taxes in Spain.

17 days. 8 cities. 1 backpack.

I´m a real traveler now. Armed with a backpack, a map and a will to discover something new.

I´m traveling around Europe and North Africa for 17 days.

Madrid, Fes, the Sahara, Meknes, Seville, Lisbon, Granada, Málaga.

At times, I wonder what I´m doing. It´s impossible to travel without wondering who you think you are, why you think you need to do this, deserve to do this.

I just knew I wanted to.

And I´m just gracious for the opportunity, for being in that half of the world who can afford to leave their home town.

Just keeping my fingers crossed that my backpack passes the Ryan Air luggage test.

Agur,

Emily

Berlin, March 16-18. I spent more time talking the ear off of the friend I met up with there instead of taking pictures. But here’s what I got.

Hiking near Castro Urdiales, March 11. Not a lot of cool pictures, but I met some cool people, most of them students from all over the world. Love it.

"I had to explain the difference between terrorism and Basque."

This week, I went to the University of Deusto’s first-ever Colloquium on World Languages. For three hours Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning, students and faculty put together presentations on topics ranging from Chinese characters (FASCINATING) to Bilingualism and National Identity (FASCINATING). I skipped exercising so that I could attend.

But during a round table discussion, a Basque student explained that when he visits his grandparents who live outside Basque Country, he must explain to strangers where he comes from. He said many simply don’t understand Basque culture and don’t understand that not all Basques are terrorists like the ETA. Certainly it’s easy to think Basques are terrorists after hearing about the ETA, after reading a blogger who keeps mentioning the ETA because she’s so interested in it.

Here’s a little Basque 101:

Basque refers to the language and the indigenous people of this part of Europe, mostly in Spain and extending a bit into France. No one knows where the Basque language came from, and most non-Basques will tell you it’s impossible to learn. It is; the grammar is insane. But you should still try to learn it.

During Francisco Franco’s reign (1939-1975), he outlawed all things Basque. (The ETA actually began during Franco’s reign, working for Basque separatism.)

Now, Basque is one of the most well-preserved indigenous cultures in the world, but even most people in Basque Country don’t know the language and aren’t Basque. I asked the two Basque students at the round table if globalization ever caused them to worry about the survival of Basque culture, given that it isn’t a global power and doesn’t have a global language. They said they did worry.

The school children still learn Basque and speak Basque, and I hear them singing in Basque everyday during lunch.

But I still wonder if any indigenous culture, if any way of life, thinking or speaking, that isn’t somewhat modern will survive for very long. Ethnically, we mix; I’ve heard that redheads won’t even make it past 2100 C.E. (I don’t know if this is true, but they have been rejected from sperm banks.)

But it’s almost as if we don’t care. We don’t care about learning indigenous languages or learning about the culture of indigenous populations because we don’t see what’s in it for us right away. Why would we need to know that? We don’t. We actually only need to know one language. But there’s something to be said for not letting old ways of life become obsolete; we can learn anything from anyone’s perspective.

People might now be thinking of ancient Greek and ancient Rome, which is important for westerners, but what about ancient India or ancient Egypt or ancient China?

But what about the lesser known cultures, like Basque?

What’s there to learn about? All I ever read about is the ETA…

This student, who seemed to feel judged for being Basque, might be suffering complications from Spain’s 20th and 21st century history or perhaps Basques are simply not liked; I haven’t been here long enough to figure it out.

But a universal lesson can be learned here: We hear or see or read one story and make far too many assumptions. It’s easy to take one story and use it to classify a person, place or thing, because our brains are wired to simplify things, and it’s especially easy to do so to another person when we don’t particularly love them.

If we don’t know what to think about Basques, we’ll react strongly to any information about them that we find trustworthy. “The ETA? Good, now I don’t have to worry about Basques anymore; I already know about them.” “That girl did what? Good, now I don’t have to worry about inviting her to hang out with us anymore; she must be awful.” “Kony 2012? Good, now I’m an expert on Africa’s problems, ready to change my fb prof pic, like an activist.”

The issues can range from small scale to large scale. But we should just think about how we react to things with a little more care, especially if it causes another person to feel isolated. We can only know about someone if we know where they come from, if we talk to a few Basques and do a little research first.

But who wants to do research? What’s in it for us?

Agur,

Emily