Yale-NUS students embark on fruitful summer internships despite pandemic

4 September 2020

By Lim Tian Jiao

As Singapore universities began cancelling overseas internships in March, Jonathan Chia (Class of 2023) started to worry. His overseas internship with ZigWay, a fintech social enterprise in Myanmar, hung in the balance.

For students seeking internships over the 2020 summer holidays, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about many complications. Nonetheless, many students in Yale-NUS College were able to work around pandemic-based constraints to complete fulfilling internships.

Jonathan Chia (Class of 2023) interned remotely with ZigWay a Myanmar-based fintech social enterprise over the summer holidays. Image provided by Jonathan Chia.

Fortunately, Jonathan’s internship with ZigWay proceeded as planned, albeit remotely. During his three-month stint at the company — which aims to alleviate poverty by offering low-interest loans and monthly subscriptions for essential supplies for low income households — he took on a variety of tasks, from researching on how to calculate credit risk on a customer’s loan to helping ZigWay apply for start-up grants.

Jonathan was especially excited to build a mobile application prototype for ZigWay’s lending and subscription services. This model could eventually form the base for the actual platform that customers will use for all their transactions with the company. “One of the amazing things about working with a start-up is seeing how your efforts are implemented on a daily basis,” he said.

Meanwhile, Simone Genetin (Class of 2023), was left in the lurch when his internship with United Nations Georgia was abruptly cancelled. “I knew from the start that I really wanted to intern there and I put a lot of effort into my application,” he said. “So when that fell through, I was definitely very disappointed,” he said.

Simone raced to find an alternative internship in Singapore. He went on to work at Participate In Design (P!D), a Singaporean non-profit organisation that works to increase community input in  neighbourhoods and public institutions. “I want to do public policy in the future,” he said. “So interning with P!D, which focuses on civic engagement, was the best thing I could have done in my situation in April.”

During his 11-week internship, Simone worked on a research project which involves conducting participatory research with both public agencies and the general public, as well as analysing the rich data which were generated. The project also provided him the opportunity to engage public policy experts, and conduct deep-dive interviews with members of different demographic groups to understand their views on the research topic.

“I’m looking forward to analysing the data we’re going to get and learning how to write a report based on it, to understand how to tailor a report for our community partners,” he said.

Lee Jin Hee (Class of 2021) also had to adapt her summer internship plans. She had long confirmed her internship with Skillseed, a Singapore-based social enterprise that crafts experiential learning courses. However, the COVID-19 situation in Singapore forced her to move home to Rwanda and take the internship online.

Jin Hee’s work-from-home arrangement was complicated by the fact that Rwanda’s time zone is six hours behind Singapore’s. “I only had a 3-hour window that overlapped with the rest of the team,” she said. Fortunately, her team was quite understanding and accommodating, and arranged meetings in the afternoons so that Jin Hee could join in from Rwanda in the morning.

As a Project Management and Marketing intern, Jin Hee produced content for Skillseed’s social media pages and website, conducted research for several of Skillseed’s projects, and brainstormed ideas for future courses.

One of her internship highlights was to develop a course about ‘scarcity mindset’ from scratch — her first time facilitating an interactive online course. “This definitely pushed me to more creative and resourceful about the kinds of activities that would engage a virtual audience,” she reflected.

For the students, working from home came with unique challenges. “A tough thing about interning remotely is the lack of physical presence,” Jonathan said. “There are a million temptations and distractions at home that can keep you from being productive.”

“Remote working definitely has its limits,” Jin Hee agreed. “While I was fortunate to have a team that regularly reached out for both work-related and unrelated matters via Slack (workplace chat app) or video call, but that can’t quite replace the feeling of being in the same space.”

However, the students learnt valuable lessons from their unusual internships.

“Be flexible,” Simone said. “Even though interning with P!D wasn’t my original choice, I had to go in with the best mindset possible. Turns out, I ended up working on an intriguing project and learning with an enthusiastic and supportive team.”

“I reflected a lot about the importance of resilience and adaptability both on a personal and an organisational level,” Jin Hee echoed. “A moment of crisis can be an opportunity for us to re-evaluate the status quo and bounce back stronger.”