By Chris Putnam
With few opportunities to travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some University of Saskatchewan (USask) students have found a way to bring international experiences home.
The USask College of Arts and Science is a partner of the Washington Center, a non-profit educational institute that matches students with internships at private and public organizations in Washington, D.C. This year, the Washington Center is offering some of its internships virtually.
Throughout June and July, Kucharski worked as a strategic planning intern for the International Association of Women Judges, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that promotes equal justice for women.
“It was really a perfect placement for me, being an internationally focused NGO, and legally based, which is a huge interest of mine,” Kucharski said.
Working remotely from home, Kucharski spent about 20 hours per week analyzing data for the organization, taking meeting notes and corresponding with judges around the world.
“That was probably my favourite part of the internship, was that I got to actually hear from these judges that I had heard about previously. To hear them speak personally was really inspiring to me, and I felt like I learned a lot from them,” Kucharski said.
Kucharski hopes to someday work as a lawyer in the field of international law. She became interested in the Washington Center Internship Program as a way of broadening her horizons and adding a unique experience to her résumé.
When she applied to the program in January 2020, Kucharski was expecting her internship to happen in person in Washington. Then the global pandemic arrived, and as borders around the world closed in March, USask announced the suspension of all student travel.
“That was really tough when that happened. I took it pretty hard,” said Kucharski.
The Washington Center offered her a virtual internship a few weeks later. Kucharski knew the experience wouldn’t be the same, but she decided to go ahead with it.
“My dad pointed out we don’t know how long this (pandemic) will last. Virtual work might become the new norm and you might be getting ahead of the game. I thought it would also kind of demonstrate flexibility—willingness to adapt,” she said.
Kalaya McAuley, a USask student in the final year of her Bachelor of Arts degree, will begin a virtual internship through the Washington Center on Sept. 15. Like Kucharski, she didn’t expect a remote experience when she applied, but believes she made the right choice.
“I probably still would’ve applied as it’s a great experience to have either way. I’m a little worried about how it’s going to all work, and the organization of it all, but overall, I am very excited for the opportunity,” said McAuley.
McAuley wants to pursue a career as a lawyer in the United States and hopes that her internship will bring her one step closer. She will intern with a non-profit immigration law firm, assisting with immigration applications.
“I think a lot of what I will read will be tough and really make me appreciate what I have. It will also make me open my eyes to what’s going on in the world around me,” McAuley said.
LaVina Watts, study abroad and interdisciplinary programs manager in the College of Arts and Science, said that virtual internships can be an “amazing opportunity” for students unable to travel abroad. “They can now gain experience working with organizations all over the world, and they can do it as easily as they would with a company here at home.”
The College of Arts and Science and the USask International Student and Study Abroad Centre are working to identify more virtual exchange opportunities for students.
Students who take a virtual or remote international class for credit—including the Washington Center Internship Program—are eligible for a $500 Global Engagement Scholarship from USask. Students in any college can apply for the internship program as long as they have the required university credits.
Kucharski said she had a great experience in her internship and recommends other students be open to similar virtual opportunities. “Be willing to adapt to these circumstances. I feel you have nothing to lose. And I think you’re going to gain skills that we’ll use more and more in the future.”