Internship Stories: Surprise! You’re a Committee Head!

You can’t learn everything about an internship from its description, and this was definitely true in the case of my internship this summer. In case you haven’t read my last post, I am a student teaching intern at Summerbridge Hong Kong, a nonprofit organization committed to giving underprivileged students in Hong Kong English education opportunities.

Upon arriving in Hong Kong, I received a surprise email that congratulated me on being one of the interns selected to be a Committee Head (CH). I couldn’t even remember hearing about the position, not to mention applying for it! According to the email, being a CH meant organizing and overseeing something vaguely labeled ‘committee responsibilities’, being a support for committee members, and managing a budget in addition to ordinary teaching responsibilities. I was definitely intimidated. Teaching already kind of scared me, and now I not only had to learn how to lead my students but some of my peers as well.

Admin Training

During Admin training four days later, the Co-Director, who is in charge of all CH’s (and therefore my boss), finally explained that the responsibility of committees is to develop students’ life skills and apply Summerbridge spirits such as ‘motivation’ and ‘support.’ I was the CH in charge of the Talent Show, a special event representing the Summerbridge spirit of ‘bravery.’

Miniature torches for the Olympics Day special event, which represents teamwork

Large torch

It was a challenging task to recreate a customary event when I had never seen the final product. Things that I had assumed were open-ended, like creating decorations for the auditorium, in fact, had unwritten criteria that I had to discover through unofficial sources like repeat interns. I was given a schedule with a bunch of dates and deadlines that were flat out wrong or that I was told I could ignore weeks after having been given the schedule and already assigned tasks to my committee.

There were many more problems, large and small, including the Co-Director’s absence for nearly the entire preparatory period for our special event. However, for me, the most difficult part of Talent Show was not solving problems, but learning how to say “no.”

Messy staff room before Talent Show

A week before the Talent Show, our committee had a meeting after work to continue preparing even after the other teachers had left. It was planned in advance and everyone was aware of it, but I was still faced with a lot of resistance that afternoon. Nearly everyone was tired and wanted to postpone it until the next morning. I was incredibly uncomfortable putting my foot down when so many people disagreed with me, but we were beginning to get behind schedule. Once people got into the AC and put some music on, conversations started and by the time we finished our work, we left the school without a trace of the afternoon’s earlier fatigue. Although not all the times I had to make an unpopular decision ended so positively, it allowed me to I learn to trust myself and my decision making.

Being a Committee Head was filled with surprise responsibilities and unexpected challenges, but it gave me so many opportunities to step outside my comfort zone by pushing me to direct and motivate my committee from a different type of leadership position than I usually take. It was exhausting and sometimes frustrating, but I learned a lot and I am glad I took that risk.