When Expectations Collided with Reality: An Internship That Gone Wrong

張書毓, Interpretation Track

     In my senior year of university, I took a translation internship and viewed it as an opportunity to refine my translation skills before pursuing a master’s degree in Translation and Interpretation. Little did I know that the next few months would become a rollercoaster of highs and lows, testing not only my professional resilience but also challenging my understanding of a meaningful internship. Instead of expected guidance and growth, I found myself grappling with workplace bullying even before stepping into my first full-time role.

     The setting was a small cosmetic company. At one point, interns outnumbered full-time employees, but I didn’t know about it until I started the internship. During the interview with the most senior employee, whose official title remained a mystery, I learned that while the position is called “Translation Intern,” I was expected to help with marketing as well. I didn’t have any prior experience, but she reassured me that there would be comprehensive training. However, the promised training turned out to be nonexistent; we were all provided with materials to read but received no guidance. Our inquiries were received with disdain, and our intelligence was unfairly judged for merely seeking clarification. What was more troubling for me as a translation intern was that none of the full-time employees possessed adequate knowledge about the profession of translation.

     The workplace’s dysfunction was highlighted by three incidents. One such incident involved a full-time employee who criticized my choice of prepositions in a Mandarin-to-English translation. Despite presenting evidence from thorough research, my suggested preposition was not used in the final document. This type of issue was a common challenge across various Mandarin-to-English translation tasks, emphasizing a clear discrepancy between expected standards and the actual outcomes.

     The second incident involved another translation intern. The Deputy Manager consistently motivated interns to be proactive and take initiatives instead of merely waiting for instructions. In a meeting, she mentioned that we should start organizing a trip for clients soon. My colleague took it upon herself and made a list of possible destinations when she had no other tasks at hand. Despite this proactive approach, the Deputy Manager was livid, claiming she never asked that intern to make a list, highlighting a glaring communication gap.

     The third incident involved a collaborative project among translation interns. We created a shared glossary on Google Docs for efficiency, but the Deputy Manager yelled at us for almost an hour for wasting time on what she deemed “nonsense” such as a glossary. This starkly contradicted her self-proclaimed profound experience in T&I.

     Despite facing challenging incidents, I remained committed to finishing my internship. I felt compelled to demonstrate my resilience, to show that I could endure tough working conditions and counter the stereotype often attributed to my generation. I constantly reminded myself that this was just a one-year commitment. The camaraderie I shared with my fellow interns was a source of strength; together, we supported each other through the year. I was reassured by the thought that this difficult period would eventually come to an end.

     The tipping point came when the Deputy Manager started discrediting me among peers, questioning my character and background. She told the other interns that I was full of pride because I attended what was considered a prestigious university, and therefore was extremely difficult to work with. It was then that I finally recognized the toxic nature of the environment, and I made the decision to quit and seek a healthier professional setting.

     Securing a new internship, I submitted my resignation to the Deputy Manager. Reflecting back, I realize there were early warning signs I had overlooked. One striking memory is of my first encounter with the Deputy Manager. Upon seeing me, she immediately commented on my physique, asking the other female employees if they could achieve a similar figure. I was astounded by such blatant body shaming in the workplace. This incident, in retrospect, was a clear indicator that the internship experience might be problematic.

     Fortunately, the new internship not only provided a supportive environment for growth but also restored my faith in the workplace. This year marks the third year I have with the organization. The experiences I encountered before now serve as lessons learned, reminding me to prioritize my well-being and professional integrity.

     This journey from a tumultuous internship to a fulfilling one highlights the significance of recognizing one’s self-worth and the courage to leave toxic environments. While it’s ideal to hope for a workplace free of bullying, the reality often differs. As interns come and go, and internships present varying challenges, the key takeaway is simple: Know your competence and worth. You are sufficient as you are. Time and energy should be invested only where they are truly valued.