Thursday, August 18, 2022

Staring at a screen for hours each day, for a large chunk of my summer! Doesn’t that sound fantastic?

Let me rephrase that a bit. Doing vital research and important computer work, helping out and learning some new skills in the process. Sounds much better, huh? Even if it’s mostly on a screen.

I’ve discovered the work world, as an intern at the JCC in Manhattan (and later this summer, I’ll be interning again at a literary agency). A quick word on a day as an intern vs. a day at school. Start counting the differences: as an intern, there’s no homework, I start later, end earlier, more relaxed day, not a stressful job, workplace benefits, more comfortable commute (an NJ Transit bus as opposed to a rickety school bus), etc. Sometimes I almost wish I could continue doing this in the fall.

But even so, I had no delusions about it being very exciting. Stuff like “climbing mountains” or “visiting waterparks” or “rescuing trapped kittens” were not exactly in the job description. But my first surprise—forgive my naiveté—was how much it would involve me doing computer work. I’ve done two tasks so far—I’ve logged into the admin website and worked on the JCC Film Department’s streaming website, and I’ve also done research on short films from other film festivals that they might like to use. I wonder if you’re starting to yawn. This is pretty ordinary stuff.

But here’s the thing—once I got past the initial “Oh this isn’t so exciting” reaction, I found myself drawn into the work more and more. Some of my edits to the website are very behind-the-scenes, but others involve database descriptions or titles that immediately appear on the actual page. And when there’s information missing, or if the descriptions don’t seem to be up to par, I need to dive headfirst into Google. The information is usually out there, whether on another database site, a newspaper’s page, or the like. But it takes time to dig for it, and that’s what I’ve been learning about especially. Let me give you an example.

This was the original description for one of the movies in the database I’m working with:

“The poignant story of two young children who grew up in pre-WWII Czechoslovakia and the terrible events that they endured just because they happened to be born Jewish. Based on the internationally acclaimed book “Hana’s Suitcase,” which has been translated into 40 languages, the film is an effective blend of documentary and dramatic techniques.”

Could be worse. I could just leave it like this. But that’s one of the things about working as an intern—I chose to do it and I want to do it right. The point, I’ve realized, is to hone my skills, to learn new things, and use it as a stepping stone for my next goal. Maybe I’ll get into filmmaking. Maybe I’ll work at the JCC. Maybe I’ll take on a job that needs me to do in-depth research and descriptions. Maybe I’ll do none of this. But no matter what, I’ll gain something. I’ll gain some experience, some knowledge, and of course, some pride that I made a visible improvement to this page. And to me, that’s what being an intern is about.

So I Googled for a better description, wondering if I could find a longer one from the film’s distributors. After all, this film could use something longer, more informative. You should be enticed to see the movie, shouldn’t you? I found a longer one from official sources, and I reworked and rewrote it to sound like this:

“The delivery of a battered suitcase to Fumiko Ishioka at the Tokyo Holocaust Museum begins the true-life mystery that became the subject of Karen Levine’s best-selling book Hana’s Suitcase. The suitcase came from the Auschwitz Museum and had Hana Bradyʼs name painted on it. Larry Weinstein’s masterful film follows Fumiko’s search to discover the details of Hana’s life, which leads to the discovery of her brother George in Toronto. As small children they had been sent to Thereisenstadt for being Jewish after the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939…”

(It continues a little but I think you see the point.)

Much better, huh? I’ll be taking orders for my copyediting service soon, $50 an hour. (Gotta start covering my NYC commute.) But on a serious note, I feel like I improved something, like I did something. Even if it’s as part of a small, unpaid intern job. It still matters.

Oren Oppenheim, age 16, lives in Fair Lawn, New Jersey and attends Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist. You can email him at o[email protected]

By Oren Oppenheim

Sign up now!