It's summer, y'all! For most engineering students, that means summer classes or a summer internship. The importance of internships has been drilled into our brains since the first day of freshmen orientation. We attend seminars on how to hustle at career fairs. We spend hours perfecting our resumes. We do mock interviews and practice our handshakes. And if we're lucky, we're rewarded with two months of rather menial work at a place we most likely don't see ourselves being employed in the future.
To be clear, I am not trying to downplay the role of internships as a student in this blog post. They are quite useful, especially if you're uncertain about what kind of work you want to do after college. Maybe those eight weeks in industry were more than enough for you to realize that your heart's true desire is research or grad school. Maybe you thought you would work for a Fortune 500 company after graduation but accidentally fell in love with the culture of start-ups.
But what if you were looking for something other than early work experience from the typical summer internship? Or what if you're having a hard time standing out among your fellow students and getting to the top of that intern hire list? Is there something integral to you as a person that means nothing to the typical recruiter?
These questions were constantly running through my head as I started gearing up for career fair season last fall. Since I was a kid, my family would spend the summers of even years in the Philippines. Because I needed to take a summer class that my school wouldn't let me take at a Philippine university, we skipped our 2016 trip. I wasn't very happy about it since the fact that I went to the Philippines every other year to see family was such a large part of my identity. One of the first things that would come up in conversation with new Filipino American friends was if they had ever been to the Philippines.
As I went through the list of companies that would be at my school's big fall career fair, I tried to think of what I would talk to each recruiter about. To my disappointment, I had a hard time thinking of anything more than the generic questions for most of the companies. There wasn't much in my life that I could connect to the mission of these companies. (To be fair, career fairs aren't always great for BME students.) For example, there was a start-up that was making flours and other food products out of various insects. I was able to talk to them about how hunting for large bugs was unfortunately often the only option for poor families in the Philippines. Another company was focused on developing devices for neonatal intensive care. I pulled out my experience trying to prototype a new kind of oxygen generator for use in rural hospitals in developing countries. But two out of hundreds of companies was not great odds. Walking out of the building, I knew that it had been another unsuccessful career fair for me. I would have to hustle elsewhere if I wanted an internship.
But the internship search gets even bleaker when you're just going through tab after tab of online applications. When I would fill out the default online app, there would be so many blank spaces because of my lack of experience. There was never any space to write about why my few projects were meaningful or to expound on the roles I played in student organizations. Yes, these are things you would talk about in an interview, but I had close to nothing in those little text boxes that would get me anywhere close to an interview.
So I closed all of the job tabs and started scrolling through Facebook. That's when I discovered Kaya Collaborative.
I saw an advertisement that said something about the "Balikbayan Generation." What? Tagalog on a Facebook ad? I clicked on it, and that's how I found what I would be doing this summer.
A Facebook ad? I know. It seems so sketchy. But the moment I saw it, I knew it was everything I was struggling to look for. I'll hopefully be writing more about Kaya Co. as this trip goes on. In short, Kaya Collaborative's mission is to link the millions of diaspora Filipinos around the world back to the Philippines, to show them how to use what they've learned abroad to bring social change back home. One of the ways they do this is by taking on college students and recent graduates as summer fellows.
For one, I was desperate for work experience, and I knew I had a shot at being a competitive candidate. The Kaya Co. Fellowship application had plenty of space to discuss what I was passionate about. Two, there are no Filipino studies classes at my university, and I never had space in my cramped degree plan to take any Asian or Asian American studies classes. Besides placing its fellows in meaningful internships, Kaya Collaborative also throws in a lot of curriculum focused on the Philippines, which was something I had been craving. Three, it was an opportunity to spend two months in the Philippines!! If I crowdfunded wisely, it would be a free trip. When I write it out, it all seems too good to be true, and I'm so grateful and excited about this opportunity.
But I'm also a little terrified. I have a tendency of getting myself into situations where I have no idea what's going to happen. I jump in (or sometimes trip and fall in) and hope for the best. Fortunately, those uncertainties always turned into the most rewarding experiences of my life. So I'm very optimistic about what this summer fellowship/internship/adventure brings. Kaya ko ba? In two months, hopefully I'll be able to say "Oo, kaya ko." But for now, tingnan natin...