As a junior in college, I am constantly barraged by talk of internships. Whether it's from professors, peers, or the companies themselves, I'm ceaselessly hearing about ways I could spend my summer.
Now, let me start off by stating that I have absolutely nothing against summer internships. In fact, there were a couple that I really wanted and applied for last school year, but didn't get accepted. I decided instead to work at Kanakuk Kamps in Branson, Missouri. Kanakuk is a Christian sports camp for boys and girls, and I had the opportunity to work with a few hundred 6-12 year old boys over the course of the summer.
The early-January decision to work at a summer camp instead of applying for more internships was one that I struggled with long after it had been made. I had tons of doubts about what I was getting myself into, and wondered how in the world this summer was going to help my resume and future career ambitions. Part of me was excited for the experience and another part of me thought I was settling for less than I should be. However, working at Kanakuk turned out to be the best decision I could've possibly made, and I learned more than I ever imagined I would. Not only did I learn and grow spiritually and personally, I also grew in a number of ways professionally.
At camp I was directly responsible for the well being of 13 elementary aged boys, and I'll tell you what, boys that age are not always easy to lead. Whether it was homesickness, exhaustion, injury, or disobedience, there was always something to address. I was required to get to know my campers on an individual level in order to properly lead and motivate them. Not all 11 year old boys are the same, and I needed to know what methods worked for some boys that maybe didn't work for another. I learned firsthand that good leadership requires relationships and understanding of the people I am leading.
I was a certified teacher of over 30 sports and activities ranging from canoe, to archery, to tennis. Instructing young kids in how to shoot a bow or hit a backhand was often difficult, and it forced me to think of different ways to communicate instructions, as opposed to saying the same things over and over.
Every day at camp was different. Even though we tried to settle into a routine, there were always things that disrupted the flow. Sometimes it was a thunderstorm that interfered with activities, other times it was trips to the nurse's office to deal with bumps and bruises, and one time I had a camper get pink eye. These different events, as well as the fast-paced nature of camp life, forced me to be flexible and adapt to the situation at hand. I learned to yield my own plans and interests to prioritize what was best for the campers.
Important lessons and skills can be learned almost anywhere, as long as I'm looking for those opportunities. I learned more from 6-12 year old kids this past summer than I'd learned in a long time, and I'll be able to use those lessons and skills for a long time to come.
My challenge to you is this: don't let yourself be tricked into thinking that internships are the only way grow personally or professionally. Yes, they offer great opportunities and challenges that may enhance your skill set, but so do other experiences. Taking a summer to travel, volunteer, spend time with family, or even work a part time job or two is not a bad thing. In fact, if you're actively looking for ways to learn and grow, these experiences may be more valuable than an internship. Don't limit yourself by taking an internship just so you can add some lines to your resume. Challenge yourself to grow in whatever ways possible. Keep your ears and eyes open, because there's always something new to learn.