Running the Internship Rat Race at NYUAD

Susan H. Greenburg, writing in The New York Times opinion page, defines summer internships as the new Harvard — they are “prestigious, costly, insanely ...

Susan H. Greenburg, writing in The New York Times opinion page, defines summer internships as the new Harvard — they are “prestigious, costly, insanely competitive and the presumed key to all future success.” This definition is for some cynical and for some funny, yet it does not leave any college student indifferent. Internship culture is omnipresent, for better or for worse.
At NYU Abu Dhabi, internships are a popular topic of discussion in the lead up to the summer break and biannual Opportunities Fair. At the fair, students have the chance to speak to around 50 organizations and establish a connection that could potentially lead to employment. It was the Opportunities Fair that helped senior Massimiliano Valli land his first internship while he was still in his freshman year.
“I started at Gianni Origoni Grippo Cappelli & Partners, a corporate law firm,” said Valli. “I wanted to get an internship from the beginning. The second day of Marhaba I was already in the Career Development Center asking where to find one.”
Valli added that the help he received from CDC was crucial.
“They helped me with composing my résumé, writing my cover letters, practicing interview questions,” he said. “In my opinion, their services are underutilized by NYUAD students.”
Not everyone entered the internship race as determined and certain. Alyssa Ferriera, a junior from Brazil, wanted to explore all the options available. She used her internships not to climb up the career ladder, but to see which ladder she wanted to climb in the first place.
“I started on campus as a social media intern in the Athletics department,” said Ferreira. “Then, I was a lab technician during the summer. When I got back to Abu Dhabi, I tried consulting in Bassiouni Group. After that, I worked for the American Chamber of Commerce. I tried everything, which made me change my major multiple times.”
Ferreira also pointed out that internship culture varies in different countries.
“In Brazil, internship culture is not as strong. Only kids from international schools do it, but I think we can benefit from having a strong internship culture here,” said Ferreira.
A sophomore from Japan, Kate Melville-Rea, notes that internships are not part of her background either.
“In my freshman year, I went to the Opportunities Fair just to grasp the meaning of an internship,” said Melville-Rea. “I must admit, the corporate setting of getting one made me slightly intimidated.”
Melville-Rea is not alone in feeling uncomfortable in the internship search. A sophomore from Canada, Alex Matters, shares a similar opinion.
“Personally, landing an internship would be great, but I’d also like to feel comfortable not doing one,” wrote Matters. “There is a culture enforcing that this internship race is normal, that we’re expected to be networking and competing from the moment we arrive.”
For Matters, the build-up of expectations regarding internships can be overwhelming.
“As a freshman, I just found the whole circus of it comical, whereas now the pressure’s starting to bother me,” he said. “Every time I see posters for yet another networking, internship-generating, committee-forming event, I feel anxious. I decided not to go to the Opportunities Fair this fall."
Ferreira agreed that pressure and competition are centered around the Opportunities Fair, yet pointed out that getting an internship might actually help students’ mental wellbeing, as it allows them to enter the world outside of campus.
“If I don’t have an internship, I feel like I am just a student,” said Ferreira. “Interestingly, having a career makes me feel like I have something personal, something private here at Saadiyat.”
Though many do, not everyone has experience with internships. Willem Cant, a freshman from the Netherlands, has not had an internship before. He went to the Opportunities Fair without high expectations.
“Employers would not hire freshmen over upperclassmen in the first place,” said Cant.
For this reason, he said he did not feel intimidated, but curious to see how many of his classmates would show up. He said that his freshmen classmates are not really talking about internships yet.
Cant described his idea of what an internship looks like.
“I see this image of a student working everything for everyone in the office for no money,” said Cant.
His idea is hopefully just a myth. Labor laws in many countries exempt firms from paying interns only if the job meets certain criteria. For example, in the United States, “an internship must be similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.”
Valli said that he worked like a regular employee, sometimes for eight hours at a time, though he also noted that his superiors taught him a lot. The skill set he acquired helped in his academic work, not just his career.
Ferreira does agree with the benefits of an unpaid internship, yet admits that she would like to be paid for her input.
“If not paid, at least having my transportation costs covered,” said Ferreira. “When I was interning last summer, I was actually paying to do work which I found absurd.”
Finally, Valli advised that students should think about networking.
“Internships and work experience shall be held in parity with the academics, they must go hand in hand,” he said. “You should build a social network, know that there is a world outside of the university and work towards your dream step by step.”
Kristina Stankovic is deputy features editor. Email her at
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