Graduate Blog / Graduate Life

From Africa to Colombia: lessons from a passion driven summer internship search process

“Entrepreneurship & Education passionate” – reads one of the descriptors under my Twitter Profile. Acting upon this declaration, I started last October the process of making sure that my Summer 2012 could be spent in alignment with these two topics. The process concluded this March, when I secured two summer internships that are a reflection of two organizations I look forward to explore, learn from, contribute and co-brand myself with.

Half of the summer I will be working for Babson College as one of the Babson Rwanda Summer School Initiative Coordinators, program dedicated to teach entrepreneurship, English and Computer Science to female High School students residing in the Benebikira Sisters convent in Rwanda.  The second half of the summer, I will be working in my native Colombia at the Corporate Entrepreneurship Department of Innpulsa, the brand new Entrepreneurship and Innovation Unit of the Ministry of Industry & Commerce of the Republic of Colombia.

There are way too many myths around the “why, what and how” of MBA summer internships. Some people say you should shoot for big and known organizations. Others say that you should apply for jobs in areas that you already master. Few say that you should make sure you work on the areas that you are not experienced in. And so the list goes on. I believe – as for everything in life – that there are no golden rules.  Each individual comprises a unique set of talents, dreams and personal preferences and the best we can do is staying true to them, while understanding the forces of the labor market.

The following are some personal reflections of my own journey “building my dream summer”. Those aspects acted like mantras guiding my internship search and selection process and bringing me where I am.

  • Passion first: Genuine enthusiasm and pride for what you do are things that money or status can’t buy.  Given the competitiveness of the market, time and even peer pressure, we despair way too early and stop persevering for organizations or job roles that fit what we truly want. Under the logic of  “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” we might sacrifice passion for job security.
  • Allow yourself to explore, even if the playground looks intimidating: When again will I ever have the chance to go to Rwanda, leading a group of Babson undergrads to teach entrepreneurship? The answer isn’t “never again”, but chances are that it won’t be a common thing. I must confess that I had to look at the map to figure out where Rwanda was and that I spent some time analyzing how the current political situation looked like, but that did not stop me for taking an offer that was ideal to put my passions into action.  Destinations in developing and emerging economies offer unique opportunities and many times we close ourselves just because a radically different culture or a non-conventional task intimidates us.
  • Leverage on the Babson brand: I was thrilled to see how much in the entrepreneurial ecosystem of my country Babson was like a “seal of approval” for talent. This isn’t something that I did not know (that’s actually one of the reasons why I chose Babson), yet experiencing it as an MBA candidate, made my internship search smoother. You could do it too. What are the things where Babson is really good at (and believe me, is far beyond entrepreneurship education!)?  How can you incorporate these into your story while looking for an internship? Meeting with Babson Academic Centers and Institutes, Divisions and Faculty (especially those related to your areas of interest) will open your eyes to research, projects and programs where Babson is a Thought Leader – and this is something you can leverage on while looking for an internship.
  • Take control of you Job Description: Dream Internships are not found, but made. For my internship at Innpulsa Colombia, my employer had a clear idea of what she wanted, yet I proactively proposed to put together a consulting plan that incorporated methodologies that were aligned not only with what I can do well, but also with what I want to learn. I incorporated my own working style and values into the proposed tasks and by doing so, the ownership for my job description increased. If you already know where you would be working, I highly recommend you to spend some time before arriving to brainstorm a “game plan” with your boss.
  • Learn from every selection process, event the unsuccessful ones: I participated in a 4-month long and very competitive fellowship selection process at Education Pioneers, where I was the only Babson student who made it to the last round out of aprox. 1700 applicants. Even if I did not get an offer I was so blessed to have been part of such a rigorous process where I was exposed to a diverse set of tests and interviews that gauged not only my skills but also my understanding for the education sector. Sometimes -influenced by the “disappointment” of not getting an offer- we erase from our minds all the valuable lessons we got and don’t realize that we can “recycle” them for further selection processes (and for life!).
  • It’s not the Center of Career Development (CCD) responsibility, it’s yours: The CCD is not a job employment bureau. I’ve always seen it as a place where even if opportunities are suggested, you rather find a pool of experienced professionals that will brainstorm with you on how to prepare and negotiate around those opportunities. Despite the industry specialization that you find at CCD, nobody should be more proactive to explore organizations in the sector of your interest than yourself. It’s teamwork; both CCD and yourself should bring options to the table. For instance, my CCD advisor suggested my Rwanda internship and when I read it I just could think: “This is me!” (same happened with the process with Education Pioneers). On the other hand, my internship in Colombia was 100% secured by me.

Doing an internship is not “another box to tick in the MBA checklist”; it’s a conscious investment of your time and energy. Many people opt for not doing an internship and dedicate to their own personal and professional ventures, which is also very inspiring. What really matters is taking control of your own experience and not leaving myths define the way you are going to live it.