Unpaid Intern

The coffee is free, just like me.

I harbor quite a bit of resentment towards our country’s stance on both education and internships. I’m not very good at school. In particular, university requires a lot of organizing without much guidance. This has caused me to take a long time to get through my education. We get student loans here, which we have to pay back at a rate based on our income. To make a long story short, they expire after x amount of years (15 for me) so if you don’t make much money they are basically a gift. After you run out of student loans, your options become a lot more limited. I’m obviously not going to detail my entire financial situation here. That’s a personal thing, and to be honest too depressing to really dig into. But the bottom line is that my student loans are several tens of thousands, and I probably can’t work full time due to my autism. The solution for this problem exists, but we’re not using it. Internships.

Teaching English is actually the second degree I’m working on getting. I first majored in Business Economics. I ended up fostering a strong dislike for the economics field and quickly realized that although I enjoy the theory, I do not enjoy the actual work. So I switched to teaching, and have never looked back since. To get that degree, I had to do an internship. One semester of full-time, and two semesters of 4 days a week. I ended up working (on average) 5 to 6 hours a day instead of 8, because that’s really all I could handle. I was happy they offered me that opportunity. What I’m less happy about, is the fact that the entire thing was unpaid. Now my boss was a nice guy, and although we had very little in common, he was often understanding about my situation and my anxiety attacks, which were much more frequent back then compared to now. But he never paid me. Not a penny.

I’ve recently been thinking about this a lot, especially since some of my family seems to disagree with me on this, but I find the fact that unpaid internships are legal a failure of our society. Doing some rough math, I worked as a financial administrative assistant for approximately 1200 hours. This is a low estimate, but for the sake of this it’ll suffice. Even at minimum wage, that’s roughly €13.000 that I missed out on. I did all of that work for free. And a lot of it was grunt work. Filling in sheets, printing things, doing some translation (which I quite enjoyed), working in the store, packing parcels, going through invoices. It’s not like I was a waste of space there, I was just free manpower. Now that company has since gone under, and I wouldn’t be surprised if leaving a majority of your finances to unpaid interns was a part of that.

As a teacher, I’ve done three internships so far. The first one was unpaid, and was one day a week for a semester. I can definitely understand that, although I don’t agree with it. I learned a lot, and realistically only taught about 3 classes, so I didn’t really work for free. I’m thankful for that internship, but I still think it should have been paid. My second internship was paid, although below minimum wage. It was also only one day a week, so I didn’t miss out on much there. My third internship was two days a week, for one semester. I learned the most at this internship, and although I got some gifts and coupons, as well as a little money each month, I really feel like I deserved pay. By the end of the internship I was fully responsible for a classroom for two days a week, even if that wasn’t planned, nor technically allowed as an intern. Oops. But I used all my payment on the train ride back and forth and it left very little energy for me to work outside of those days.

The moral of this story, I guess, is that if unpaid internships didn’t exist, my student loans would be a lot lower, and I probably would have had some extra spending money on the side. Life would be much better, and it solves the problem of the government eventually being unable to collect my student loans anyway. Do I have a solution? Not really, I’m not a politician, and it’s not like I have a background in economics. I do think the government should pay for stuff like this. It’s why we pay taxes, right? The Netherlands is known for being a tax haven, so where the hell is my money Rutte? (Our Prime minister). I think it’s disgraceful that young people are made to work for free while simultaneously building up debt they’ll spend half their life paying off. But that’s me and my opinion, maybe you disagree. If you do disagree (or agree) please let me know in the comments down below. Thank you for reading!

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