Double the Fun: Santiago Center Interns Interview Each Other

Editor's note:

This will be the last entry of our “Santiago Internship Stories” series for Columbia’s summer semester, during which the Center was able to place 34 students in virtual internships with organizations in Chile. We’ve decided to culminate this collection of stories by putting a twist on it: two of the interns interviewed each other. Boston-based Clare Rigney did her internship with the Interactive Jewish Museum of Chile, and she is also one of the interns building the Columbia Virtual Interns website. Meanwhile, Houston-based Ana Maria Rodriguez, who is leaning towards a major in computer engineering, was the Santiago Center’s communications intern this summer, working with Chris Molinari.

Read on to learn about these two second-year students, and stay tuned for more insightful stories on future interns about to come on board during the fall semester, following up on our inaugural summer internship program!

September 08, 2020

Clare: So, what's a typical day for you as a communications intern?

Ana Maria: I try to dedicate about two hours a day to whatever project that I have been assigned to. So, my day to day, it looks pretty different because it just depends what kind of project I'm working on. Sometimes I'll be doing research for a webinar so that I can kind of do it any time. But if I'm trying to schedule interviews or trying to get things edited, then that has to be more structured during the regular nine-to-five business day. In my free time, I have been doing a lot of baking with my brother, among other things.

Clare: Speaking of free time, do you have any recommendations, books, podcasts, Netflix shows, movies, music, anything that you've been just really getting into during the last month or so?

Ana Maria: I've been getting a lot of reading done, which is nice because I haven't done as much reading since middle school. I recently read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. It was a really, really good book, really eye opening. But I've also randomly been reading the Percy Jackson books again. So, it's been a whole mix.

Clare: My best friend has been reading all of the Percy Jackson books. She keeps texting me as she goes through them. I feel like they’re comfort books. It makes sense; there’s so much going on in the world that you want to read something that you know and love and that feels comfortable, I guess.

Ana Maria: Exactly!

Clare:  Have you had a more traditional internship? And if so, how is being a virtual intern different from that?

Ana Maria: This past year, I was I was doing an internship with a non-profit, which was in person. It was about the same ten-hour work schedule, except that I would go in five-hour increments. So, it is different. It is nice in the flexibility that you get with a virtual internship, because a lot of it is just independent projects that you're doing on your own. But it's also harder in that you don't get to immediately go ask for help if you are stuck on something. It’s not like you can just turn around to someone be like, hey, can you help me with this. And so that's a little more difficult. And I was not as comfortable with Zoom calls and emails and random phone calls before all of this, so that took some adjustment. I definitely prefer the in-person contact, but the flexibility is definitely a plus that I can kind of work at any time that is comfortable and still go and do other things that my family needs or whatever else.

Clare: That makes sense. Speaking of you getting more comfortable with Zoom and emails, how do you cope with Zoom fatigue or having to be on your computer so much doing internship work?

Ana Maria: It's definitely hard to keep focused, it's really easy to just zone out. So, I try to get outside. If I start feeling that that kind of frustration hit, I will try to get outside, even if it's for five minutes and just kind of notice there's an actual world out there. But it does help to be in the house with my family because there's five of us, so you can just find someone to talk to. But you just kind of have to push through it, I guess; it's our new reality.

Clare: I also have to go outside. Between my New York internship and the other one in Santiago, I'm on the computer quite a lot and getting out into the fresh air really helps me, too. Why did you decide to apply for the communications internship and at the Santiago Center?

Ana Maria: I was looking through Santiago specifically, since I speak Spanish and my family's Colombian, so I was looking specifically for internships in that area. And I applied to a couple of them that were more computer science-related, because a lot of this communication intern work has been website work as well. So that's what I have some experience in. I was looking to do that and to be able to connect and see what other people are doing on the continent and in the area.

Clare: What do you hope to gain from this internship?

Ana Maria: While I am versed in website things, the communication side - talking to people, sending emails, and trying to engage people - is not something that I really have a lot of practice with. Already, I’ve learned a lot. And also doing different types of writing that I hadn’t done before, especially as an engineer. I’ve learned a lot of that just from working with Chris.

Clare: I have been getting the same, it’s nice to get that experience. Some more sillier questions: where would you travel if you could go anywhere in the world?

Ana Maria: This is a hard question; I just want to go anywhere! Maybe it’s just because I’m working remotely, but it’d be cool to go to Santiago, to Chile. Also, I totally forgot that they’re in winter right now, which is really cool. And it’s so hot here in Texas that it’d be nice to go to cold weather.

Clare: What three things would you bring to a desert island?

Ana Maria: Pizza, a book, my best friend

Clare: What’s one tip that you have for other virtual interns?  I’m sure virtual internships will be much more prevalent since companies have realized that they can turn to college students and other people in this way…

Ana Maria: Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions. At first, that was something I had trouble with, because like I said you can’t casually ask a question, you have to send a whole email. But I think it’s important to keep asking questions. It’s just going to have to be an email, you’re going to have to do it, you might as well not be left in the dark.

Clare: Especially with unpaid internships where they’re required to give you experience and learning opportunities. Definitely, it’s good to ask for help. Even though a lot of people don’t necessarily want to because it’s scarier when you’re not there in person. That’s it for me. What questions do you have for me?

Ana Maria: What has your internship been like?

Clare: My internship in Santiago is with the Interactive Jewish Museum of Chile. It’s the only Jewish museum in Chile and it focuses on Holocaust studies, awareness and bringing greater awareness to Jewish identity and history in Santiago, as well as promoting multiculturalism.

Ana Maria: What are you doing specifically with the museum?

Clare: I’m focused on two things. I just finished up one part and I’m moving into the other one. They are translating their exhibits into English so that if English tourists want to visit or if an English class wants to visit and work on their English, all their exhibits will be in English. At first, I was helping them translate and proof what was already translated, because they don’t have any native English speakers on staff. All of them speak English but the best speaker is German and moved to Chile years ago and English is her third language, so they wanted to make sure to have a native English speaker look everything over to make sure there are no confusing turns of phrases, and things sounded more native. So that’s what I was doing up until this week.

I recently switched to working on grants, helping them go through a list of funders and find grants that can help the museum. They want to expand their Holocaust exhibit but they don’t have the funds so I’m helping them find grants they qualify for. And then eventually help them apply to them.

Ana Maria: Who are you working with?

Clare: Now, I’m working directly with Michelle Reich. The board only consists of five or six women, so I have meetings with all of them. I will be working with Irene Klinger who is their staff member in the United States. They have a charity in the U.S. that’s called Friends of the Interactive Jewish Museum. She works with the tax-exempt status and pulling in donations from U.S. funds, so I’m also working with her.

Ana Maria: What does your typical day look like?

Clare: I wake up rather late most days. I have two internships and also work part time. Altogether, it’s not more than 35-40 hours a week, so I still have time to relax, but it is still a lot. If I’m working that day, I wake up at like eight and go to work. Or if I don’t have work that day, I get up later, eat breakfast, start working on one of my internships, and to take a break I start watching Criminal Minds. Then, I go back to working, take my dogs out for a walk, make myself lunch, and try to get some more work done on whichever internship I’m working on. Because I have two internships, if I get a mind block at one, I can switch to the other and still be productive, but I still manage to watch a lot of Criminal Minds.

Ana Maria: Any tips for how to get through the day?

Clare: I have to take breaks; I can’t look at the computer all day just working. Whether that break is watching a 45-minute Criminal Minds episode, taking my dogs out for a walk, making myself a smoothie, or going downstairs to talk with my family. I have to take breaks after working for an hour, hour and a half. It’s harder than just studying. Normally, I can sit and write a paper, but it’s harder with internships. Partially because a lot of it is emailing, looking things up online, doing the tedious work of reading over paragraphs, making sure that they sound like a native speaker. It is nice, I love both my internships, but it's important to take breaks and not feel bad about it.

Ana Maria: Yeah, absolutely. Those are great tips. Why did you choose the center and Santiago?

Clare: I am in the Middle Eastern and European languages and cultures major at Trinity. I am part of the Trinity and Columbia dual BA program. I just finished my first year. We learned about the Middle East, and in order to learn about the Middle East, we have to learn about both Islamic and Jewish cultures, because you can’t understand the Middle East without understanding the religious traditions of the inhabitants. One of my classes was on Jewish history, and we learned all about Jewish life and history from BCE to current times and the Holocaust. Mostly we focused on European Jews - it wasn’t all Ashkenazi Jews; it was also Sephardic Jews - but we didn’t focus on Jews outside of Europe and the Middle East.

I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to both gain a bit more understanding as I am translating and working with this Jewish center because they aren’t just focusing on Jews in Chile but Jews around the world, so it helps me with my major, gives me a better understanding of the history, while also allowing me to work on my Spanish. And I thought it was a good way to use my skills and give back to a nonprofit I believe in. Plus, with the grant stuff, if I want to work at a nonprofit ever in my life, having experience finding and writing grant applications is so important. So, getting that experience here with someone walking me through the basics, I can leverage it with a paid internship or job with a different nonprofit.

Ana Maria: That’s really cool! So, to the fun questions. Book recommendations, TV, podcasts, anything like that?

Clare: Obviously Criminal Minds, which I have been working through at lightning speed. Folklore by Taylor Swift, best album anyone’s ever put out. That’s Not How That Works is a fantastic podcast, I really love the two women who do it. It is about anti-racism work and the Black Lives Matter movement and the Black experience in America. It is so entertaining, they break things down really easily, and also the two women are not going to put up with any white fragility. They want to teach and they want to help but they’re not going to do the work for you.

Ana Maria: I’ll have to check that out! What do you do in your free time?

Clare: At Trinity, I am in the environmental society. They call their clubs societies. I mostly focused on my school work and hanging out with my friends, just because it was my first year. Hoping this year to do more.