03| Why paid internships aren’t the answer.

This summer, I have been interning in Phnom Penh, Cambodia at the WWF regional office. The building bustles with activity, the beautiful trilling chatter of Khmer drifts daily through the air, wafting around to reach me in my assigned cubicle. I am home early in the evenings though, a habit that any female alone in a strange city is prone to fall into. As I pass my nights quietly, safely ensconced in my temporary home, I have begun to pay more attention to the news.

The latest scandal that caught my eye is one you may have heard about – the infamous UN intern in Switzerland who was living in a tent because he lacked the funding to pay Geneva’s steep rental prices. I cycled through a dizzying slew of emotions while following the story. At first, it was outrage. Why wouldn’t they pay him for his time and efforts? That he would have to live in a tent to The dedication of interns like David Hyde and myself is fueled by a pressing and very real fear that without prior experience, we will never break into the highly competitive world of international affairs and development cooperation.

I have always wanted to pursue a career in the international field, and to do so it seemed that an internship was necessary (or at least highly desirable).

But unlike other times of the year, when I might have stopped there and gone onto another topic, my mind continued to twist and turn. Delving deeper into the topic, I quickly discovered Hyde’s interview with the Intercept, admitting that the whole thing was a publicity stunt. While that in itself has problems, I chose to ignore them, in favor for writing of his actions instead. In defense of himself, Hyde said:

There is nothing extreme about what I hoped to achieve: a recognition of the rights interns deserve.

A noble ideal. But there’s a problem.

If Hyde is trying to advocate for “people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds [that] are unable to do these internships in the first place”, as he so claims in the article, a simple blanket ban of unpaid internships doesn’t benefit anybody. 

The argument for a blanket ban goes something like this –

“Sure, if companies had to pay interns, there would certainly be less internships available. But this allows for meritocracy rather than financial ability to have a larger role in the selection process! Internships would become less of a must-have resume item for job applicants and more of a way to recognize excellence. Everyone wins!”

Theoretically, this might work. Realistically? Never in a million years. I’m not trying to shoot down the idea of a paid internship, as they are a mark of achievement for those who do qualify, but reducing the number of unpaid internships simply doesn’t make sense. Are companies going to pay someone to sort through literally thousands of applications for a very limited amount of internships? No. Much more likely, larger organizations would quit allowing interns entirely, and use that same money to hire consultants (that they certainly have more control over contractually) instead.

A law like that would also mean interning at organizations like charities and activist groups that don’t have the funds to spare would just be completely out of the question. With internships, those kinds of organizations get hardworking labor for almost no cost. Hyde criticizes the UN in specific, as it is a prolific advocate for equal rights and livable pay. However, if the UN wanted to pay its current number of 4,018 interns, The Economist notes that it would “struggle to find the money to do so. Paying 4,000 of them would cost up to $14.5 million USD per year, yet the UN has been cutting staff owing to budget shortfalls”.

More importantly, interning is a great way to gain experience and a key tool in helping the intern to decide if it’s really a field they want to spend the rest of their life in. Being able to add the symbol of a high-profile organization like the UN to one’s resume certainly helps their chances of a better position later in life anyway, so it isn’t as if interns aren’t getting anything out of the deal.

Rather than an across-the-board mandate that everyone should be paid, shouldn’t we simply give aid to those with less privilege? What about those from developing countries? The same Economist article points out that 61% of all interns are from developed countries, despite only making up 15% of the world’s population.

Let’s get all these other people a foot in the door first, David Hyde, before even protesting what interns deserve or not. Whatever solution we do arrive at simply needs to be flexible, as there are a wide range of industries that offer internships and an even wider range of people who would like to intern.

The featured image was found on The Guardian’s website.


02 | Bomb blasts in Bangkok.

This is just a quick post regarding recent events in my home country, Thailand. If you haven’t yet heard the news, at least 21 people have died from a motorcycle bomb placed in an important spot of Bangkok. The death toll is still rising and no lead suspect has yet been announced by officials. Here is a link to the BBC article, and CNN coverage of the event.

Of course, this kind of thing happens every day in other countries and unfortunate fatalities at the hands of twisted individuals are common and I’m sure if you have never traveled to Thailand, this is just another sad world news piece that will quickly be forgotten. Even my friends on Facebook have been rather muted about it, posting vague “#prayforBangkok” posts and hoping everyone is safe. We are hardly shell-shocked, as we have adapted to Thailand’s political instability and those once-haunting nighttime texts informing us of rallies and protests in the last few years.

However, this is more than meets the eye to this story. To quote our Prime Minister, Mr. Prayuth Chan-ocha’s statement in the aftermath:

“There have been minor bombs or just noise, but this time they aim for innocent lives. They want to destroy our economy, our tourism….the bomb was clearly placed to cause maximum casualties.”

This is indeed a terrible occurrence, one that I think is notably different from the usual political unrest that has jarred my beautiful country. I would liken it much more to the tragic shootings that are too often part of the news in America. They are committed by people with mental illnesses, with prejudices, with lives steeped in unhappiness and a sickness of the soul.

To explain better, let me give you some background of the bomb site.

The Erawan Shrine is a sacred piece of the city and lies at the center of our bustling metropolis. It is, in a way, the very heart of Bangkok. Sitting quietly between major shopping complexes and large hotels, one might overlook the incense-laden little square if not for the throngs of visitors coming to pay respects. Despite being Thailand-born, I myself never really knew its full story until researching for this post. How many others – even those that have gone out of their way to see the gorgeous Thai dancers and place flower garlands at the shrine’s base – are unaware of its significance?

Built in 1956, the shrine was never a planned attraction. Instead, it was the government’s solution to strange incidents (worker injuries and deaths, unlikely delays in materials) that were occurring during the construction of Erawan Hotel. They were believed to be the work of angered spirits, as Ratchaprasong intersection used to be a criminal holding zone. After the completion of the shrine, the disturbances immediately ceased. Conjecture or supernatural activity? In either case, the shrine quickly became one of the most revered and adored spots in the country. So loved is Erawan Shrine that when the Shrine’s Brahma statue was attacked in 2006, the angry crowd beat the perpetrator to death in a sudden spontaneous riot in a chilling show of affection. The shrine is no stranger to blood and death it seems, and I think no mercy will be given to the one who planned this attack.

It was no accident that the busy shrine was targeted. This bomb was clearly planted in the hopes of unsettling Thais and scaring away tourists. While I hesitate to point fingers at any one faction, it is nonetheless a tried and true tactic of many dictatorships to divide the classes, keep them powerless, and most importantly, reliant upon certain political leaders for leadership and aid. For those lacking knowledge in historical events, I simply point you toward the famous Plaza Miranda bombing in the Philippines, circa 1971.

Thailand deserves so much better than this. I hope that my country can rebuild from the emotional shock and scarring that this bomb intended to create, and have this only serve as another strange fact to add to the story of Erawan Shrine.

Featured image was found here, along with other lovely photos by Johnathan Look.