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COVID-19 Wreaks Havoc on Outside Jobs and Internships

The Clerk will also be running an article on the impact of COVID-19 on internship programs that have traditionally received funding from Haverford

Toilet paper isn’t the only commodity in short supply right now. Thanks to the novel coronavirus outbreak, many students report that the non-College-funded jobs and internships they had lined up for this summer have been cancelled or delayed until further notice. Those who expect to be working remotely rather than on-site, like computer science major Ivy Zhang ’21, count themselves lucky to be employed at all. Zhang, who nabbed a prestigious software engineering internship at Apple back in October, learned last Wednesday that it will no longer be held at company headquarters in Cupertino, California. Though she’s naturally disappointed that she won’t get to walk the halls Steve Jobs once walked, she’s grateful that she has the option, to say nothing of the means, to code from home.

“This is really one of the best outcomes possible given this circumstance,” she said. 

Zhang is one of a group of Asian international students whose summer plans have been at best drastically altered and at worst totally upended by the global pandemic. Many of her peers, she reports, have chosen to return to their home countries for fear of not being able to access essentials like hand sanitizer, face masks, latex gloves, and—you guessed it—toilet paper should they remain in the U.S., even if it means losing out on job and internship offers. (The threat of racial violence, which has spiked in the weeks since the Trump administration declared a state of emergency, does not typically seem to factor into such decisions). But, as Zhang makes clear, those who have an offer to lose out on are in better shape than most. 

“Those are the cases when they have an internship offer,” she said. “But there are also a lot who haven’t secured a summer internship and are still looking or who have had their internship offers cancelled. The uncertainties hit even harder.”

Social distancing and shelter-in-place mandates have taken a significant toll on the economy, and, in turn, the national job market, which, as the New York Times reports, is the worst it has been since 2008. In the thick of what would under normal circumstances be hiring season, companies such as TripAdvisor, Bank of America, and Warner Music Group have instated hiring freezes and even rescinded temporary and full-time offers, leaving thousands of students and soon-to-be graduates in the lurch. For a period of five days earlier this month, Felix Qin ’22 could count himself among their number. On April 10, the classics and linguistics double major was dealt a blow when he was notified that his internship with the Japanese media company Hokuriku Broadcasting had been cancelled over coronavirus-related concerns. Though the news did not exactly come as a surprise (the 2020 Summer Olympics, which were to be held in Tokyo, have already been pushed back to next July), it was jarring nonetheless: Qin, who is fiercely passionate about the Japanese language, said he was “pretty devastated” by the loss of what he describes as a “once-in-lifetime” opportunity. 

“I’m interested in translation, and I’m thinking about pursuing a career in Chinese-Japanese simultaneous interpretation,” he said. “This internship would have been a perfect opportunity for me to not only improve my language skills, but also broaden my views of the Japanese culture and business culture.” 

The cancellation of the Hokuriku internship had financial as well as professional ramifications for Qin, who is experiencing economic hardships right now. Based in Kanawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, the internship, which is exclusively offered to people who have completed Princeton University’s intensive Japanese-language summer program “Princeton in Ishikawa,” was funded entirely by the prefectural government—part of the reason it originally appealed to Qin. The prospect of potentially having to pay out of pocket for housing, transportation, food, and travel, Qin said, “brought up [his] stress level” as he started the search for a summer job or internship all over again. Thankfully, his connections to Haverford made relatively short work of the task: Associate Professor of Chinese and Linguistics Shizhe Huang offered him a paid research position during office hours on April 15.

“I think it was very generous of her to have given me that option so that I wouldn’t be as financially tight this summer,” Qin, who is also hoping to conduct some paid research for the classics department this summer, said.

Though there is a chance that Qin might be able to intern at Hokuriku next year, he knows that guarantees are few and far between at the moment. But rather than wallow in disappointment, he is trying to put his situation into perspective for himself. 

“No matter how out of control and devastated I’m feeling about the loss of my opportunity,” he said, “I’m also trying to recognize that I’m not the only one whose summer plans are ruined by the pandemic and trying to stay positive, knowing that there will be new opportunities in the future.” 

The outbreak and its consequences have sparked an awakening of similar proportions in Zhang, who said that she has come to realize that “everything I have access to so far is a privilege which should not be taken for granted, not only the job aspect but also the social distancing aspect.” 

“I am lucky that this [my internship] is not canceled,” she said. “I am lucky that I am still able to live on campus, having access to kitchen, food, delivery, Internet, and everything else.”

The dilemmas now facing Zhang and Qin are by no means specific to either Haverford as a college or international students as a demographic. 850 miles and one time zone away, Marquette University student Eric Schmidt has suddenly found himself out of work after the company he was interning for abruptly suspended its internship program (out of concerns over privacy, Schmidt declined to share the name of the company). In between trying to file for unemployment, Schmidt, a mechanical engineering major who took the semester off to gain real-world experience in the field, has thrown himself into political organizing; his assignments so far have included educating members of the public on how to cast absentee ballots rather than violate statewide social-distancing guidelines. Voicing his frustration with media coverage of protests against stay-at-home mandates, he said, “Not being able to work is a very difficult situation and I can’t wait for life to go back to normal. But the fact of the matter is we are not at that point yet, and the stay-at-home orders are beneficial, and for now the only way to stop the spread of COVID-19 as fast as possible.”

Though Schmidt’s supervisor has told him that he will be rehired come summertime, merely resuming work will not be sufficient to solve all the problems the pandemic has created in his life: the loss of three months’ worth of income, equivalent to thousands of dollars, will likely have far-reaching financial consequences for the Chicago native, who anticipates having trouble making rent on his Milwaukee apartment in the fall. What would seem to be the lone silver lining to his cloud of a situation—the fact that, since he took time off school to complete his internship, he’ll graduate next year rather than this year—is, in his eyes, not really one at all. 

“People tell me I got lucky with my decision to work because I will still have a graduation,” he said. “But a lot of my friends and special people in my life are seniors, and they deserve to be honored just as much as anyone else. My heart goes out to them and all high school or college seniors who had these normally exciting final months unprecedentedly taken away.”

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