The challenges and rewards of student internships

UW-Eau Claire students this fall balance employment with school

Back to school means more than just classes for many college students. It can also mean learning how to balance work, school and, for some, internships.


Tackling the workload can be a lot, but the ability to get experience in their field is something most students find rewarding, senior social work major April Unterberger said.


Unterberger found her experience by interning abroad in King Williams Town, South Africa, where she is working and living in a child and youth care center for the semester. One other student from UW-Eau Claire is also there this semester.


“We get to work with these kids that basically have nothing,” she said. “The center is their home, and the people working there are their family at the time, in most cases.”


She is assigned her own caseload of eight children that she works with by herself, she said, though her supervisor is available for assistance and advice.


The internship is 12 credits, she said, and they also take an online class as a part of the university. They do all the work without going into the actual classroom and Skype their professor once a week for updates and concerns.


“It’s a lot different than any internships in the U.S., I think, because you are actually getting that hands-on experience,” she said. “Which is awesome, just getting real-life experience instead of shadowing others.”


However, she said it’s also challenging because there are so many differences between the cultures. Social work, in general, is different in the U.S. than in South Africa, so Unterberger said she had to relearn everything she thought she knew when she got there.


In addition, she said she had to learn how to interact with people whose cultural values and beliefs differ from her own.


Overall though, she said the experience has been very rewarding and she would recommend it to anyone in the social work department.


“It changed my perspective,” she said. “It makes me appreciate all the things I have here and all the things I have at home as well.”


Jaclyn Anderson, a senior psychology major, has also learned about appreciation through her internship at the Bolton Refuge House in Eau Claire this semester, a community center for victims of sexual/domestic abuse and violence.


“I feel like this is challenging me to open my eyes, which I know I need,” she said. “At times it’s kind of hard because I don’t always know how to handle situations just because I’ve never been in them.”


Because she is only four weeks in to the internship, she said she is still getting used to handling potentially scary situations and has a tendency to freak herself out before going, but she said overall the experience is worth it.


In addition to the 15 hours a week at Bolton, she is working another job and is taking six credits, which she said can be difficult, depending on the amount of homework she has that week.


“I don’t know how everyone does class and an internship because the internship actually takes a lot of time,” she said.


Kyra Beckman, a senior psychology major, is also interning at the Bolton Refuge House and taking 18 credits this semester in order to graduate on time.


“For my first two weeks I was really negating my school work, but I think it’s really just you have to schedule yourself so much,” Beckman said. “You have to wake up at the same time every morning and just figure out your day, which is hard for me because I’m definitely more of a live-in-the-moment, day-by-day person.”


This isn’t the first time Beckman, who wants to be a substance abuse counselor after graduating, has had experience with situations like sexual and domestic violence.


She said working under those conditions can be hard to process but also very rewarding to help people who are going through such difficult times.


“It can be very emotionally draining,” she said. “But it sort of gives you another look at Eau Claire beyond the college life.”