Surviving my first internship experience during COVID-19

I was in the office for a week and ended up completing the rest of my internship at home.

Esther Lam

Published: 9 September 2020, 12:33 PM

As my five-month internship at Youth.SG comes to an end this week, I can’t help but to reminisce about my time here.

Earlier this year, I was ecstatic to finally experience working life in the media industry. I expected to write articles daily, attend media-related events and interview all sorts of personalities.

But that all changed when a certain virus named COVID-19 decided to become the centre of attention. And this is how my first ever job opportunity did not turn out the way I had foreseen.

The initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore

Before COVID-19 became a global pandemic, I was finishing my second year of polytechnic.

It was a month before the end of the semester when the mysterious flu-like virus that was spreading in Wuhan, China, started appearing more frequently in local news reports.

At that time, it wasn’t a huge cause for concern and my classmates and I were preoccupied with more pressing concerns, such as completing our final assignments for the semester and preparing for our upcoming internship.

By the time I first entered the office in March, it was half empty and the company had already been split into two teams.

Two weeks later, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the dreaded one-month circuit breaker and chaos erupted. People scrambled to stock up and flooded supermarkets to the point that my colleagues and I couldn’t even buy snacks because the queues were way too long.

Instead of working from 9.30am to 6pm in an air-conditioned office, I was sent to work from home in less than a fortnight. My office quickly moved from Toa Payoh to my bedroom.

Working in the comfort of home

Some of my classmates had to stop working temporarily while others switched companies for their internships. Fortunately, I had the option to work from home and I enjoyed some perks.

For starters, I didn’t have to spend two hours travelling to and from the office daily. I was home all the time so I didn’t have to worry about potentially contracting the virus either. I also spent significantly less money since I wasn’t eating out of my own wallet or spending my weekends at shopping malls as much.

The best part? My new office was less than a minute away from bed.

Sometimes, I’d sprawl myself out on my bed for a short break (but don’t tell my bosses). It’s definitely something I’d never dare do in the office, even if I had the green light from my superiors.

Occasionally, I had the luxury of enjoying home cooked meals instead of eating takeout food. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/ESTHER LAM

Nonetheless, there were a few obstacles along the way.

After a while, it started getting stale and the line between work and rest became blurred.

In the office, work ended around 6pm and we would continue the next day. The evening was reserved for rest and relaxation, unless there was an ongoing event or work to finish.

Working from home, however, made it harder to put my tasks away since the place for work and home had fused into one. Sharing a room with my brother wasn’t the most peaceful too because he’d be gaming while I wrote my articles.

Things became easier once we separated rooms in late July.

Being kicked out of my room for a week, which reeked of paint odours, was inconvenient but once the revamp was completed, it definitely felt better being able to work in my own space.

Expectations versus reality

Having heard about a former intern’s experience working at Youth.SG, I pictured myself running left and right completing errands for supervisors and occasionally travelling in and out of the office for filmings, interviews or events.

Unfortunately, the reality was much more disappointing.

I had only been in the office for a week before the circuit breaker was announced. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/ESTHER LAM

As everyone was stuck at home during the circuit breaker, the assignments I had naturally gravitated towards stay-home content. That progressively became harder to produce because there were only so many things you could do at home and being stuck within the four walls of my home drained my creativity.

During Phase 2 of the circuit breaker, we were finally allowed to go out for filmings and interviews. Unfortunately, I only managed to conduct my interviews via Instagram direct message or email, due to safe distancing precautions.

And not to mention, I barely got to meet any of my colleagues!

We had a few Zoom calls here and there but I only met two of three company supervisors and some of the interns in person. We never even had a proper group photo…

Struggling to learn on my own

No one could have foreseen a global pandemic affecting us this year, let alone prepare for it. But this pandemic has forced all of us to adapt to these changes, whether we wanted to or not.

Although my colleagues and supervisors were just a text away, it beats being in the office where I could just stretch across my desk to ask for help.

There was also the pressure of school internship assessments like monthly logs. PHOTO CREDIT: ANDREA PIACQUADIO ON PEXELS

But what I missed out on the most was the chance to pick up key skills as a media practitioner.

Other than picking up theoretical knowledge about angling and structuring articles, a lot of skills like attending media events or filming outdoors are best acquired in the field, something internships offered us students.

With the circuit breaker in effect during the first half of my internship, filming outdoors was impossible and conducting interviews were restricted to online methods. I lost the chance to go out and learn in the field, alongside fellow media professionals.

As a mass communication student, I learned basic skills such as contacting newsmakers for an interview and sourcing for interesting news pegs but even then, it was tough putting it into practice at work as it was a whole new ball game.

Even though things didn’t turn out exactly the way that I had hoped, I made the best out of it. I still learned a whole lot from this unique internship experience, albeit in a different way.

It gave me valuable insights about myself and my post-graduation plans, which now steer towards university. It has also given me clarity about the types of writing I prefer and fueled my passion for writing, which is something I will definitely continue to pursue.

Most of all, it taught me that sometimes, the most unforeseen of circumstances are the push we need to get out of our comfort zone and grow.

You may like these