By: Jingshu Helen Yao
For this month’s Internship Check-in, I interviewed Loren Wong. Our conversation also inspired me to reflect on my own job searching and internship experience.
Loren is working as an intern at the Public Art Program for the City of Ottawa. While her work includes the installation of artworks in public spaces around the city, Loren’s main responsibility is collections management. Loren targeted opportunities in Ottawa, the city she lives in, during her internship search. She didn’t find many formal job postings online, so she made a lot of cold calls and sent out several emails to potential employers instead.
Research is the main part of Loren’s daily tasks, where she looked up information on artists and artworks. For example, she collected background information of pollinator gardens for a meeting on future installations in the city. She is currently compiling a document for her department, consisting of a contact list of artists working in the area for reference and for future commissions. Aside from independent research and writing, Loren also took part in labelling art pieces and deductive tags. Recently, she also did social media posts to promote artworks.
Loren admitted that she didn’t like working from home. The main challenge is “one million and one technical difficulties,” as Loren described. To complete her work, she needs access to the city’s database and software. It took weeks to process an application for a computer from the city; access to software licenses and shared drives had become barriers during her internship. Loren believes that work from home also leads to inefficiency of communication, which adds to the potential for problems.
“There were weeks when I just sat on my hands and couldn’t do any work because I didn't have access to the database…", Loren related. “Then, after five hours on the phone with IT, I finally gained access and completed all the work in three days.”
Since galleries were not open during the time of her internship, Loren couldn’t visit any sites to view the artworks she was working with, but could only rely on her computer.
“It’s just me and my dying laptop against the world,” Loren quipped.
Even with the advantages of not having to commute and having flexible working hours, Loren still much preferred working in-person.
Having a background in visual art, Loren really enjoys that she could write about art for her internship. Museology and the process of collection are two of her areas of interest, and she appreciates that she had the chance to look behind the curtain of how an art gallery works.
Loren gave a piece of advice for future students in the internship course to not rely solely on the opportunities posted by the MMSt program, especially if they want to work somewhere outside of Toronto. She had a positive experience doing cold calls and felt that many institutions are open minded and happy to take on interns.
“A mistake I’ve made, and I hope other people could avoid, is selling yourselves very short during the job search process,” Loren added. She mentioned that imposter syndrome is what always made her freeze at interview questions such as, “Why would you be better at this job than the others? Why should we hire you?” Self-confidence is a simple concept but one which is the most difficult in practice, especially for people from marginalized communities. I resonate with Loren’s sentiment and instead of interviewing another fellow student, I decided to continue this discussion with my own experience.
I started with very little hope of finding an internship for the summer. The past year of trying to find opportunities in museums had strongly discouraged me. Most jobs I found in the arts and cultural sectors are reserved for Young Canada Works, which require applicants to be Canadian citizens or permanent residents. I am an international student on a study permit, which disqualified me from applying for any of those openings. The fact that I had no background in visual arts or history added to my worries and, at many points during the last year, I had doubted my decision of pursuing museum studies in general.
In January, I decided that if I am not able to work during the summer, I might as well go home to visit my family. Later that month, an iSchool email about the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario’s NextGen Job Shadowing Program caught my attention. It was only a short program consisting of virtual meetings with a host, but I was open to every little opportunity.
Among the hosts, I found the Canadian Language Museum, an institution that I had previously connected with and always wanted to volunteer for but wasn’t able to due to COVID. Although I applied for the job shadowing program without many expectations, the virtual meetings with museum director Dr. Elaine Gold gave me the chance to ask for an opportunity to work for the museum during the summer. I was surprised by how accommodating they were, developing my internship together with me. I was given the responsibility to conduct research for an upcoming exhibition on Chinese Languages in Canada – related to my background in linguistics and language abilities. I initially worried that my trip back to China would result in a 12-hour difference from Toronto, and even if I could work remotely, it wouldn’t be ideal. But my hosts were willing to do our weekly meetings first thing in the morning at 9 am, which allowed me to return home while still being able to work a regular schedule.
I appreciated my host’s efforts to help me get the most out of my internship experience, and I started to think about ways in which I could use my situation to benefit to the work I was doing. I was also in charge of updating a list of language museums around the world, among which several museums are located in China. However, language barriers and internet restrictions made it difficult to research them. I reached out to Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) and visited their language museum to make the connection. It turned out to be a surprising experience and you can read about it in my blog post here.
Museum of World Languages at SISU. Photo courtesy of the author.
My international status was one of my disadvantages from the beginning, but it ended up becoming a unique opportunity. It gave me hope that I may bring something different to my studies and in my work experience in Canada, and my internship helped to explore different possibilities to make the most of my museum studies experience.