Last spring, I had only one goal for my summer: make it back to Seoul, the city I had fallen in love with. And, after many applications (and rejections), I seemed to have stumbled upon the perfect internship. Consulting experience in education while living in Korea, with free housing and flights? It was exactly what I wanted, and fit into both my experience and my game plan for my future. When I received a job offer, I was ecstatic and signed my contract without a second thought. It sounded too good to be true.

Unfortunately, it was exactly that. The job description of teaching AP prep, connecting students to organizations and extracurriculars, and helping them lead events in the city was nothing like the menial editing and writing tasks I was given. Some of the students I was meant to help were waiting for me to do all the work for them, rather than guide them in their own goals and ideas. Korean companies are well known for their work hard, play hard culture, but I got more than a fair share of the work, and had very little time to play. On a “short” week, I was in the office for 55 hours, and there weren’t many short weeks. My boss loved giving but not receiving critical feedback and was extremely concerned about who was allowed to call the shots, taking any critique as an act of subordination. Sunday was my only day off, but I was too tired to truly enjoy the city I had so desperately wanted to return to. I was miserable and felt like I was wasting my summer. But now, outside of the grey tragedy I was trapped in, I realize that, difficult as it was, this summer was an extraordinary learning experience.

The author in the LINE friends store. Photo provided by Marley Esch.

First of all, I learned a LOT about how to deal with a boss who doesn’t communicate the same way you do. It’s not just about holding your tongue when getting reprimanded for something you disagree with, but also about finding ways to get your point across without confronting someone head on. Working under someone difficult meant changing my communication style to be more subtle and taking cues from my coworkers to determine appropriate responses and actions. When I wanted to talk to coworkers about non work-related things, I kept it short and sweet and during breaks. If my boss asked for feedback I would hint at areas of improvement until he “discovered” the error himself. Straightforward communication was okay, but only in small bursts of honesty. I learned not to give half-assed suggestions for group building because unless I knew exactly what I was talking about, my ideas would be shut down. In later jobs and projects, I’ll use this new attention to others to inform how I work with both my peers and future superiors, sharing the appropriate amount and learning when to collaborate and when to work alone.

Second, through the annoying editing work I was doing, I found new ways to frame my resume and actually improved my skills in finding the right words to bulk up my previous positions and make my work experience look as good as it can. Opening my resume after editing high schoolers’ all summer, I realized a multitude of new ways to fix and improve what I had thought was a top tier resume.

Additionally, I gained some serious independence. I began finding confidence in myself, not in my job or in the praise of others because I definitely wasn’t receiving any. I had to give myself reminders that I was talented, strong, and smart, because without becoming my own biggest supporter, I don’t think I would have made it through the summer. Funnily enough, having a boss who constantly told me in every way possible I was a bad employee (but still offered me a job at the end of summer?) helped me fight the insecurities and self-confidence issues I’ve faced for as long as I can remember. I also was living completely alone for the first time, in a single apartment, with no one to make sure I was responsible. I’ll admit, there were times I didn’t do laundry nearly enough, and most of my cooking was cup ramen, but I was self-sufficient! I didn’t need a roommate to wake me up for work, I was never late, I worked out occasionally and kept the place clean. I was my own person, with no restrictions on my actions and time. I feel like I left the summer with more confidence and a stronger understanding of who I was and what I valued.

The author in the LINE friends store. Photo provided by Marley Esch.

Finally, while I appreciated the newfound independence, I learned to value time with friends infinitely more than before. My best friend from high school was in Seoul this summer, and getting dinner with her and talking to her in real life for the first time in over a year became even more significant because it was how I chose to use my limited free time. I also developed an amazing relationship with my fellow intern, who suffered the same cruel fate. I can attest that trauma does indeed bond you for life. The two of us spent all day, every day together, exploring the city as best we could and laughing — to keep from crying — about the wild turn our summer had taken. We spent days doing photoshoots at the Oil Tanker Culture Park, revisiting the places I frequented last fall (including way too much time in the LINE friends store), binging K-dramas in sheet masks, and helping each other stay sane. I truly think this summer has made us friends for life, and that’s something that helped give this cloudy internship a silver lining.

All in all, I left this summer a little stronger, a little more dedicated to my beliefs, and a little more experienced.

It was hard, and there were times I was ready to flee the country to escape my unhappiness, but by not running way (until I did in fact dye my hair and hop on a plane) I changed my mindset on what my summers are supposed to look like. At Minerva, prestigious internships that look great on resumes and leave us with excellent experiences seem to be the norm. We hardly ever highlight the summers spent going through tough times, boring jobs, or exploring our interests in non-professional fields. But these are just as influential in helping us grow, teaching us who we are, and finding what we want for ourselves. These “bad” summer stories should be talked about just as often as the good ones, without the guilt that we weren’t doing the “right” thing. 

If you want to talk about your own summer experiences, in whatever roles, experiences, and trials you had, I’d love to open up a platform for others to share their summers and the lessons beyond work experience that they took away. Please reach out to me on Facebook or by email!