Having a summer job used to entail some sort of menial labor performed during the summer months when school was not in session. The weekly paycheck was the brass ring. Not anymore. Now, students want meaningful experiences and leadership opportunities on their resumes. Many students spend the summer on a trip to another continent for an alleged philanthropic purpose and it costs thousands of dollars. After eight weeks, they return home with a sunburn and their "journal."
Colleges and universities are impressed to see that the student applicant has traveled the world and helped people or animals. Getting a minimum wage job to help the parents pay tuition is not so impressive, apparently. Likewise, prospective employers want to see leadership opportunities on the college graduate's resume and apparently there are many more of those opportunities in expensive and exotic locales.
From what I've learned, these expensive unpaid internships afford students an opportunity to meet new people, make new friends and acquire new skill sets. Like a job at a fast food restaurant wouldn't also provide those things, along with a paycheck.
But it gets better. The vast majority of the intern-abroad students return home with an increased level of self-confidence. Don't know why you have to travel halfway around the world in order to increase your self-confidence when learning how to stock the shelves or operate the cash register at the local supermarket could provide you with the same benefit. But what do I know?
Lots of unpaid interns have stated that their summer abroad helped them develop a more sophisticated way of looking at the world. Oh my. That's lovely. And Google or the Discovery Channel couldn't do that for a lot less money? OK, I'll sip the martini more slowly from now on.
These unpaid internships no doubt help a lot of people and animals all over the world. Teaching villagers in third world countries to play wind instruments may in fact be something the villagers appreciate even if it isn't on the top of their list of priorities. And we can all appreciate the leadership required to help tiny turtles in the Galapagos find the big ocean even if Darwin would not have approved.
So, I have a terrific idea for a summer internship: Stay at home and help take care of your younger siblings (leadership opportunity). Mow the lawn (good exercise), help the neighbors (meet new people) and get a job that pays real money (boost self-confidence). Open a bank account that you actually make deposits into (learn a new skill). Volunteer at the local food bank (help people in need without the need to get on a plane).
And you can keep a journal, too.