I am a musician with a bachelor’s degree in voice, so I always have to update two different resumés: My artistic resumé and my work experience resumé. My life would be a lot easier if I only needed one resumé, but I am pretty sure a restaurant manager is not going to care that I played Doralee Rhodes in a production of 9 to 5 when I was a freshman in college. I am used to my artistic life and my professional life being pretty separate, but nobody prepared me for the fact that an office job would neither care about my musical bio nor my restaurant experience. “No, I am not proficient in Excel, but I can hit a high C and carry seven wine glasses in one hand!” As graduation approached, I was beginning to think all of my experience was not enough to truly prepare me for the world. Worse yet, I started to doubt myself, my intelligence, and my capabilities. When the opportunity arose to apply for the SAI internship, I knew I would not be a typical candidate. I had to think long and hard about what a music student with years of “survival job” experience could offer an international study abroad organization. The answer? Apparently a lot! The SAI summer internship allowed me to use all of the skillsets I had picked up working odd jobs and helped me find practical use for my ability to look at the world through an artistic and worldly lens.
When I arrived in Sebastopol, CA I knew this was going to be my kind of town. Cute boutiques, quirky sculptures, and trendy bars and eateries were everywhere I looked; unless of course I was staring out into the vast expanse of vineyards that occupied the majority of open land. As a musician, I was immediately struck by the amount of live music opportunities available, whether at a restaurant, bar, or one of the several weekly outdoor concerts around Sonoma County. This small town was buzzing with life, and the only time I had been more ready to soak up my surroundings was when I was studying abroad in Florence. When a town is dubbed “Peacetown,” you know you are going to be in good company. I was comforted by my eagerness to explore the city and surrounding area, and I already knew it would be a massive learning and growing experience for me. But, I was still left with the question of whether this internship would foster my talents or finally substantiate my fears that I was not prepared for post-college life. When my first day of work came around, to say I was nervous would be a grave understatement. A deep breath and a bike ride later, I was being greeted with open arms and welcoming smiles by strangers who would soon become my SAI family.
The best thing about the SAI office is easily the people who work in it. The SAI staff treats each other more like family than coworkers, and they made no exception for me. My fears and anxieties were eased by knowing that the internship was largely catered to my interests and abilities. Also, I was told I would have the opportunity to work with every aspect of the company, providing a perfect way to gain experience in something like brand development or marketing while surrounded by people who were eager to guide me and help me succeed. More than anything, however, I was not expecting to be taken so seriously. That might sound strange, but I have heard stories from my friends about their internship duties including getting coffee, filing paperwork, and generally completing the same monotonous grunt work day in and day out. I was expecting something similar, but I quickly came to discover that my opinion was both valued and respected. Not only was I constantly asked for my input, but often my suggestions were actually put into action! I was contributing to big projects throughout the organization, but I was also put in charge of projects of my own. As it turns out, earning a music degree stimulates a lot of creativity and waitressing drastically improves people skills and quick thinking. Creativity, people skills, and quick thinking can be pretty important elements of just about any job, so perhaps I was more prepared than I thought. There is not a single “A” in the history of college course grades that could instill as much confidence in my abilities than being trusted with company responsibilities and delivering impressive results.
Even with all of this newfound confidence, uprooting your life for a few weeks will inevitably cause anyone a bit of discomfort. For me, tangible projects are easy to tackle, but a feeling of unfamiliarity and anxiousness is a whole other beast. There have been three times in my life where I threw myself into an entirely new adventure: college, studying abroad, and this internship. The first two may have been for a longer length of time, but both were environments where everyone was pretty much in the same boat. When I came to northern California for this internship, I was inserting myself into other people’s lives and workplaces. I was the odd one out, or at least that’s how I let myself feel for a period of time. I was excited to explore, but I didn’t know if I would have anyone to explore with me. Luckily, my coworkers were enthusiastic about taking me to various Sonoma County events and showing me around neighboring cities. Still, much of my free time was spent by myself. I quickly had to get really comfortable spending time alone. Eventually, I began to savor my morning and afternoon bike rides, look forward to taking myself out to dinner, and get excited about planning weekend solo activities. I said earlier that nothing could instill as much confidence in your abilities than fulfilling important responsibilities, but now I am realizing that is not true. If you are looking to gain some confidence, I suggest walking 13 miles around San Francisco with no set plan, just low expectations exceeded by the fact that you spent a whole day experiencing new things by yourself and actually enjoyed it. That feeling of self-assurance is why we, those of us who have been abroad, are going abroad, or are thinking about going abroad, inexplicably choose to trade in familiar for foreign. We are conquerors of the unknown, and that experience is worth one hundred resumés.
Cameron was a 2019 SAI Summer Intern after her semester abroad in Florence.