From Canceled to Remote: My Journey as an Intern During COVID-19
By Anika Pasilis
My name is Anika Pasilis and I am a junior at the University of Arizona. Before COVID-19, I had a prestigious journalism internship at Arizona Public Media, NPR’s local affiliate station in Tucson. It was the opportunity of a lifetime for me. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, my internship was canceled.
During my internship, I excitedly hammered on about my story ideas to my supervisor, who would discuss my ideas with just as much vigor and excitement.
“She’s gonna be a star,” said one of the other journalists in the room, and from that point forward, I walked on clouds everyday to my internship. It didn’t matter to me that it was unpaid or that I was working almost 30 hours a week stretched between two jobs. I loved, and still love, AZPM.
The week leading up to the cancellation, I worked everyday at my retail job and also went to my internship whenever I had free time because it was spring break. After all, the news never stops, and I had many stories lined up that I was working on.
On March 18th, I was notified my retail job was closing, and while I was working my last shift, I checked my phone and saw that all in-person internships were being cancelled at AZPM. A few words on a mobile screen changed my life.
I started crying. I didn’t care that I was at work. I couldn’t fathom the thought of losing something I worked so hard for. There were no goodbyes.
“You can go step off the floor if you need to,” my manager said. I sat in the fitting room with my hands buried in my face for what seemed like hours.
“So, what are you gonna do with all this time off?” a customer asked me all too happily. From that moment forward, it occurred to me that so many people don’t truly recognize the value of internships.
It took me a while to pick myself back up, but I knew that I couldn’t let the cancellation decide my fate. I wasn’t the only one who had my gut punched. I decided to write an op-ed for my local newspaper about my experience, never expecting it to go anywhere. I learned two things that day: that local newspapers have more of a readership than you would think, and that it can open doors you never thought possible.
Enter Symba. The founder, Ahva, reached out to me over Twitter. “Let’s see if we can find you an internship,” she wrote. We spoke over Zoom for an hour about both my article and Symba. Before my article was published, I was angry at the world. I was angry at how fragile our world really was.
When Ahva spoke to me, I was suddenly less angry and more hopeful. Symba is dedicated to helping people like me – college students who are working minimum wage jobs while at unpaid internships. Symba is filling a much needed void in our job market – how to better serve interns.
While our world is more fragile than we once thought, ingenuity and compassion are becoming more and more interconnected. The future of remote work is clear; this is likely not just a trend, but a permanent change. Internships are important for career development. Having one is basically an unspoken rule when new grads are out on their first job hunt. Many internships are inaccessible to the most vulnerable in our society, either because they are unpaid, or because they are in pricey, far-off cities. This is where Symba bridges the gap between who gets a coveted internship and who does not.
I wanted to be a journalist because I’ve always had an innate desire to help people, especially vulnerable people. Many of my stories focused on highlighting and amplifying their voices so that they would not be forgotten. Although Symba isn’t a news organization, it holds all the values that originally inspired me to pick up a pen, a camera, or a recorder. The goal of Symba is to also highlight and amplify voices of interns who are now faced with a daunting future.
COVID-19 has taken opportunities away from an entire generation. This, however, does not have to be the end. Ever since joining the Symba team, I’ve learned that while nothing will ever be the same, some of these changes will be for the best. I truly believe that Symba will be at the forefront of that change. College students, and especially interns, are a group that no one has ever really advocated for, until now. I am utterly grateful and humbled to be working with Symba to make these opportunities more accessible to all.
By Anika Pasilis