© 2012 Timmy Tamisiea. All rights reserved. "I'm broke.  Get a paid internship."

340/365 – Pay It Forward

A lot of people are up in arms about the idea of internships.  The New York Times had article that basically compared internships to the modern day equivalent of indentured servitude.  At least indentured servants were promised something at the end of their tenure.  Interns have no guarantee of employment after they are done.

Well, some have job prospects.

My problem with internships has nothing to do with the lack of pay.  Quite honestly, we all have to pay our dues . . . some more than others.  My problem with internships is that most of them require liability insurance.  This is because the young lad or lass they are taking on can not be covered under the company insurance.  The liability insurance has to come from an academic institution . . . and that insurance comes in the form of academic credit.

Let me make this simple.  If you want an internship with, say, Poopy Time Pictures (I just love their movies), they will not take you on unless the internship is for academic credit.  It doesn’t matter if you’re not in college or you’ve been out of college for 10 years or even if you don’t need the credit . . . they need you to be registered with some academic institution BECAUSE then you are covered under the academic institution’s liability insurance.  Basically, Poopy Time Pictures is covering their ass in case you chop off your arm while making coffee.

Look, they’re still great job prospects.

So, not only are you working for free, but you are actually PAYING to work for free.  Which, to me, is asinine.  I would think that at the very least, the company you are interning for would help pay for that credit.  It’s much less than actually paying the intern to make coffee and file papers and get yelled at for being uninformed.

For, me, this little hurdle became a major obstacle.  I don’t need any more credits to graduate.  I am more than over my quota to receive my MFA degree.  I just wanted these internships as a way to ease into the industry.

Oh, Mr, Spielberg, your office is so . . . pink.

Let me tell you, applying for credit almost broke my savings account.  You’d think that an internship credit would be considered a special category and, therefore, given a smaller price tag.  After all, the academic institution has almost NO overhead in regards to an internship — no materials, no classrooms, no equipment, no teachers — nothing at the physical school is being used.  The only real overhead is the internship coordinator (who I might add, as you will read shortly, deserves a hugh payment for helping us students get placed.)

So, why is an internship credit the same amount as one for an actual class?  Why am I paying the full amount for internship credit?  Wait, you’re probably asking, “Timmy, how bad can it be?  A couple hundred dollars is nothing when it comes to securing your future career, right?”  Oh, dear, silly, innocent readers.   A couple hundred dollars?  I wish . . .

Try $1050.00.

Let me spell that out for you . . . ONE THOUSAND FIFTY DOLLARS AND ZERO CENTS!

This not only covers liability insurance, but also activity fees, materials fees and even visits to the health center that I will never use because I’m not AT Columbia.  Because of this enormous fee, I almost missed out on interning at Conan.  I just couldn’t swing it.  It would have broken the bank.  And, quite frankly, I’m at an age where asking my parents for money is getting really pathetic.

“I’m broke. Get a paid internship.”

I was reaching out to everyone at Columbia, trying to find a way to get the money: grants, scholarships, work study . . . anything.  To their credit, ESPECIALLY Mary Novak (The Graduate Film Coordinator) and WehnWa Tsao (The Graduate Film Chair), they racked their brains trying to help me.  As was my personal advocate, Lyn Pusztai, the Internship Coordinator at Columbia.

About three weeks before I was to begin at Conan, I was starting to lose hope.  Mary had said there may be a way to get me some money for work study or a graduate assistantship if I wrote a blog . . . but we were waiting to hear back from the powers that be . . . in the mean time, I was panicking.

Then this happened . . .

One Saturday morning in July, at about 8:30am, I get a call from Lyn.  She’s visiting friends in New York City.  She was reluctant to call me so early, but she couldn’t wait.  She was staying with an old friend of hers and, I guess, she kept mentioning my dilemma.  It was really bothering her.  That day, Lyn was all set to fly back to Chicago when her friend told her that she wanted to pay for the credit ASAP so I would not miss out on the internship.

Now, I’ve been reluctant to tell this tale because this generous donor wanted do remain anonymous.  She did get on the phone with me and said that, really, all she wanted me to do was to pay it forward.  She also said she hates that phrase, but it’s the best way to express how I should proceed.  She had mentioned that she had been in my shoes more than a few times and if it hadn’t been for generous people who believed in her the way Lyn believes in me, she would have missed out on some great opportunities.

I just wanted to relay this story because there really are great people in the world.  There really are people who believe in you and what you are doing.  The arts has a way of smashing hopes and dreams and even vision because they can seem insurmountable.  Sometimes, at those moments when you just can’t seem to climb that hill, there is someone out there who believes you can with just a little push — be it money, or a kind word or an opportunity.  If it hadn’t been for this benefactor and Lyn, I would have missed out on what may the best opportunity of my life.

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