Open Letter To High School Students Who Go On Exotic Summer Internships

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Dear high school students who go on exotic summer internships,

No offense, but traveling to an exotic location halfway around the world for a high school "summer internship" seems to me like an excuse to avoid getting a real summer job.

I don't know when the trend began, but many of your parents and guidance counselors have told you that if you go on a summer internship to help those less fortunate on another continent (read: unpaid and expensive), it will look good on your college applications. If nothing else, they believe it will provide the basis for a memorable college application essay.

I've heard all of the pitches and parental explanations for why this experience is a "must" for high school kids, but I'm not drinking that Kool-Aid.

"Your child will be enriched by experiencing another culture!" Enrichment, apparently, isn't cheap. We would have to buy a round trip plane ticket to another continent as well as pay for the program itself, plus room and board. I think a kid could be equally "enriched" for the summer as a busboy or waitress, by experiencing the many other cultures in the various ethnic neighborhoods across the city we live in.

"It's a wonderful opportunity to become more self-sufficient and independent!" Say what? Flying overseas with a bunch of high school kids on a plane paid for by your parents and accompanied by two teachers is not my idea of self-sufficiency or independence. Getting your butt out of bed at 5:00 in the morning to drive to a construction site to be the unskilled labor guy picking up trash and hauling lumber for a summer is more like the self-sufficiency and independence I admire.

"It is rewarding and humbling to see how little others have and it will remind you how lucky you are." No doubt that is true but you don't need to pay gobs of money to go to another continent to find people who are in need of jobs, housing, clothing and food. A summer volunteering at the local homeless shelter in the city closest to you will teach those same lessons, without the outlay of cash for the overseas plane ticket.

The summer internship abroad will apparently afford you a chance to "discover your own hidden talents." Oh. My. God. You could just stay at home and work a summer job and possibly discover that earning money instead of spending it to travel halfway around the world is your hidden talent. That talent will come in handy someday when you have to pay your own bills.

And lastly, summer internships abroad are "a way to make new friends." A very expensive way to make new friends. I would suggest a cheaper alternative: get a minimum wage job and chat with your co-workers. You are bound to make a friend or two. Or go for a higher paid summer job, such as a furniture mover. The work is hard but the pay is considerably above minimum wage and you will have a lot of time to make friends with your coworkers while you're driving in the truck from one destination to another.

I'm not saying that volunteer work isn't beneficial or needed or wanted or appreciated, wherever it occurs around the world. It certainly is beneficial and needed and the people who do it are good people. But the parents who want their kids to do the expensive summer internships in the hopes of impressing colleges are barking up the wrong tree. Or at least, I hope so.

These summer internships abroad are only affordable for the children of wealthier families. If I were on a college admissions committee, or if I was an employer reviewing a resume, I'd be more impressed with the high school kid who worked a menial job for minimal pay than the kid who was afforded the luxury of traveling abroad for the summer.

Hopefully college admissions committees value hard work as much as volunteerism because some students need to earn money over the summer and do not have the luxury of unpaid travel. If you don't need to earn money over the summer, enjoy your trip abroad.

But your exotic summer internship doesn't impress me.


The mother of a kid who worked construction last summer