10 Major Learning Experiences from Internships

I’m a chronic intern. I’ve been holding the title of intern pretty consistently since I was 17; if you do the math, that’s four years. And in those four years, I’ve had six, yes, SIX internships. They’ve all been fantastic experiences, in one way or another. I try to be honest about my motivation for finding these internships. The first priority is a good hands-on education. The second big drive behind the constant hunt for good internships is the fact that I am trying to survive college without going too far into debt. Student loans are big and scary, and I’m living from one seasonal job to another. That, in and of itself, is an interesting life experience. I’ve just been blessed enough to have spectacular educational opportunities while I work to survive the financial hardship known as “college.”

I’ve been trying to find words for this, for a long time. It’s hard to sum up the lessons you learn in an internship, let alone six internships. I think the valuable realization I’ve come to understand is that the companies that employ interns, generally understand your limitations. Every intern I’ve met starts a new internship with expectations of conquering the world. In reality, their employers know full well that the intern in question won’t be perfect.

Without further hesitation, here is a list:

  1. An internship is meant to show you if that trade is what you really want. Even if you aren’t necessarily doing the heaving lifting hands-on, you can see it first-hand.
  2. An internship is a chance to “pay your dues” early on. People who don’t have work experience often join the career force and find themselves a little behind the game. By gaining those early experiences as an intern, you (generally) earn yourself a bit more of a leg-up to start.
  3. Internships give you exposure to new and interesting professional situations…with a safety net. The good internships are with companies who “get” that you’re an intern. They give you real opportunities for practical application of skill, but are also there to catch you if there is a problem along the way.
  4. You test your comfort zone. Until you really, really shake things up (like I have) you never really know what you’re capable of. Sometimes it takes a burst bubble for you to really get a grasp of your full potential.
  5. You meet people. I just don’t mean professionally, either. I’ve met people throughout my various internships, that will stick with me as mentors and friends for the rest of my life. Knowing that these “grown up” friends and acquaintances are there for me has made a huge difference, too. Whether I’m in a hard spot personally, or need a good recommendation professionally, or even just want to grab drinks with someone after a long day (or week)…I have that network. That means the world to me.
  6. You realize your own humanity. I have incredibly high (and often unrealistic) expectations of myself. I push myself, hard. Yet, through these various working experiences, I’ve come to the understanding that I am, in fact, only human. I’m coming to terms with that fact.
  7. You realize everyone else’s humanity. That scary executive that could potentially fire you and wreck your career? They probably have a family, a group of friends, and a boatload of interesting stories to share. Same with the guy who works in the copy room and the lady to runs the front desk. They aren’t just faces, they aren’t just professional entities that you encounter in everyday life. They’re people.
  8. This one is part of what we teach during the social media training sessions: say “thank you” and “I’m sorry.” It ties back into the fact that we’re all human. Everyone likes to feel appreciated, and nobody likes to be withheld the apology they deserve. Be courteous, be consider, and accept when you’re wrong. It makes life a lot easier.
  9. If you travel for internships, you appreciate “home” much better. And you realize that, maybe, “home” isn’t meant to be your “forever home.” This realization started in December when I temporarily relocated to Wisconsin. I realized that there was life outside of northern Illinois. That realization came back and whacked me over the head several times during my trip to and current residence in California. Home will always be there, and it will always be where my roots are. (And my mama, and my dog, and my best friend, and my favorite memories.)
  10. Treat every single day as a learning experience. I had the pleasure of spending the evening with another member of the AdFarm family the other night. He’s been in the business a while, yet he was still talking about all the new and exciting things he was learning every day. That’s when it hit home that every day, whether you’re an intern or long-standing professional, is a chance to grow. You don’t just stop after a few years in the business. That open-minded mentality, I’m realizing, can differentiate successful, progressive professionals from the rest of the herd.

These are just the realizations I’ve developed in the last four years. And I’m sure there will be more. Hopefully, this post can go on to inspire college students to step up to the plate and swing. Too often, I see my peers shortchanging themselves. An internship isn’t just a chance to develop your resume. It’s an opportunity to develop your character, your convictions, your views, your perspective, and your repertoire of life experience.

With all of that being said, I add this disclaimer: don’t just take my word for it. Don’t assume that because you know the potential benefits, that you can figure these things out on your own. These are all things you have to experience first-hand. And not all internships are created equal. Each one is a unique, unreplicated experience. A lot rides on your personality, your perspective, and your dedication.

Now, go get ’em.

A quick note of thanks to VanDrunen Farms/Futureceuticals, Illinois Corn Marketing Board, North Central College, AgChat Foundation, Charleston|Orwig, and currently AdFarm for giving me all of these experiences. I don’t know where I would be without the nurturing, enthusiastic atmosphere that these companies offered.


10 thoughts on “10 Major Learning Experiences from Internships

  1. Kelly,

    What a great post! I admire your maturity and ability to reflect on and appreciate all of the great experiences that you have had.

    The world is ahead of you–all you have to do is follow your dreams and continue working hard.

    All the best,
    Anne Burkholder
    Feed Yard Foodie

    • Anne, thank you so much for the lovely comment. I truly appreciate the time you took to read and reply. I will continue to be appreciative of these great experiences and try to live up to the great opportunities they’ve afforded. Thank you again!

  2. Well, I think I looked away for a minute and you grew up, darlin! Send you to California and you become a Big Girl! 🙂
    Love, Mom

  3. Kelly,

    I’ve watched you grow through a good many of these experiences and it’s been my pleasure. I’m asking your permission to share these words of wisdom in an old fashioned venue that still works well on our campus…the bulletin board in our student activities center. This would serve as a wonderfully motivational rallying call.

    Safe journey back to us,


    • Marlene,

      I am touched that you not only read this, but took time to comment. I am also incredibly honored by your request. You know you have the green light to share anything I write. You’ve been a major asset to my professional and personal develop both in and out of North Central College, and I’m glad to have you in my corner.

      Thank you so much!

    • Hi Liz!

      I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I’m a strong advocate of on-the-job learning experiences, especially in an internship setting. Not all internships are created equal, but I’m glad you found this useful. Thanks for stopping by and thank you for reading my post! Best wishes!

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