Student Post: How My Internship Cancellation Led to Great Online Exposure

Updated: September 2, 2020

By Mahnoor Shafiq
The Science School and College, Islamabad, Pakistan
Class of 2021

It was January 2020, and news of a strange, unknown virus was flying around. At the time, I didn’t really pay attention to it. Why would I? It was far away, and I was thoroughly immersed in preparing for my A-level exams. I had made it incumbent upon me to study exceptionally hard that winter. That way, instead of preparing for retakes in the summer, I could focus on looking for promising internships that would make my applications stand out. At the time, I had already applied for a local internship for the fall, where I would be working with an NGO as a content writer. I had worked with them the previous summers, too, writing social media updates and news posts.

But then, things started to get worse. Exams were cancelled and the government proposed lockdown to ensure everyone stayed safe. Next, the company contacted me via email to inform me of the cancellation of their entire internship program. There I was, stuck at home, with nothing to look forward to and no internship. My fellow students and I felt extremely demotivated. We knew this was a crucial time for shaping our careers, and we wanted to go out, try new things, and figure out what we wanted to do with our lives. Now, we couldn’t.

After a few days of lounging around, I knew I had to take action. I loved writing, so I searched the web for different publications where I could submit pitches. Google provided me with a list of top-rated magazines around the world, and I went through it and constructed short, precise pitches for each one. Naturally, some were rejected, but I also got some full-length articles published. Likewise, some were paid and some unpaid. But I didn’t really mind as I was doing something I loved.

In addition to that, I started freelancing as a side hustle. I developed a great profile on Upwork, with links to my previously published articles. I got my account verified by attaching a photo of my ID card and undergoing an interview with an Upwork employee, which helped me stand out.

Lastly, I turned to social media. Social media is a great way to market yourself and showcase your abilities to a large audience. Since Instagram is very popular, I uploaded therapeutic pictures of scenic places and wrote long, descriptive captions about issues like mental health, gender equality, new beginnings, and more. These captions strongly reflected who I am as a person, what causes I believe in, and what changes I want to impart to the world. And soon, I noticed an increase in engagement, which led to 1,022 more people discovering my profile. Because I linked to my other work from my profile, I was able to make new connections and get new assignments.

This was also a great way to get in touch with other writers. I boosted my post engagement by promoting my posts, viewing other writers’ Instagram live videos, engaging in online poetry competitions, and asking for shout-outs from other established pages. I also added lots of hashtags at the end of my captions, which resulted in Instagram’s algorithm making my posts visible to whoever followed those hashtags.

I plan to continue writing online because I can make money as well as do what I love. While I was stressed out due to how the COVID-19 situation panned out, I am grateful that it presented a new opportunity for me. If you are a college student and my story resonates with you, this is my advice:

  • First and foremost, focus on your health and try not to stress out. You can do the breathing exercises or meditate via apps like Headspace and Insight Timer. Journal if you feel like it. It can be difficult to think about future plans and endeavors being impacted by the current situation. Take time to breathe.
  • Figure out one thing that is your passion or you excel at, e.g., photography, programming, makeup, cooking, etc. Whatever it is, take that ability and display it on forums like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It’s a great way to get set up in the digital world and get discovered by a wider audience. You could even set up a YouTube account for podcasts, motivational talks, or DIY videos.
  • Consider online fellowships, too. I applied for a writing fellowship myself and was able to schedule an interview. Fellowships offer enhanced online exposure, and you get to work with experienced members of that particular field.

With patience and effort, you can make the most out of this situation and turn the odds in your favor. Keep in mind that universities are aware of what is going on and how students are being affected, so they’re available to support you. In the end, it is all about how much resilience and hard work you put in. Do not let stress overpower you. These are troubling times, but hopefully, everything will work out.