As Programs Intern, I had four major tasks: research, social media, outreach, and design. In a nutshell, the research I do for my department are used as logistical support in our program events. For instance, if a current event is significant to our organization, our department head would ask me to collect different information that are relevant and helpful for the event we would eventually plan. My social media tasks are more straight forward. They’re usually just maintaining schedules and ensuring that our pages are active and responsive. Outreach, on the other hand, is perhaps my least favorite. It often involves researching people’s (from big companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc) contacts such as e-mail or phone number. The companies we reach out to obviously pay big bucks to keep their privacy secure, so looking for people’s information is quite difficult. Lastly, some of my tasks involve design, which is the easier side of the job. It’s like a mini-vacation. During my first month of the internship, I got to experience a variant of all four, but week 5 was heavily packed with research.
This year’s July 1st marked the 20th Anniversary since the Hong Kong Handover–the official return of Hong Kong from the hands of Britain to mainland China. I was tasked to do historical and archival research–deep diving into significant dates, institutions, figures, opponents, and information of these nature. Since these concept research papers are used to supplement the logistics of our future events, I was also tasked to look for experts in the topic or professors and authors who reside in the Bay Area, so we can reach out to them to speak during our event set in the future. I was giddy and excited. My nose was buried in archives and articles from the late 80s and mid-90s through current dates, elbow-deep in names of professors from UC Berkeley and Stanford. I spent days doing this, perhaps briefly shifting to different tasks when needed by my bosses, but I was invested and deeply involved in the research most of the time.
On the fourth day of my research, the entire San Francisco office received an e-mail from my boss with a link. Apparently, the New York Times ran an article about our organization regarding our Hong Kong office failing to receive one of the leaders of the Umbrella Revolution* and how our New York office blames a staff for the error. This changed the entire trajectory of my research. My boss pulled me aside, and I had a feeling it was going to be bad news.
*a movement in 2014 calling for more democracy among the people in Hong Kong.
To make a long story short, I had to stop my research. The reason being that, our office didn’t want to host an event involving the Hong Kong Handover to redeem our organization’s reputation at a regional level (saving only our, San Francisco, office’s face). The course of action my bosses took was really considerate of our organization as a whole and not simply ourselves and only our own office. I was initially frustrated–all of my work backed into a shelf. I was really hoping to see one of my concept papers take form. But my boss took the whole thing as a great teaching opportunity on her end and a learning opportunity for me. Working for organizations such as the one I interned with, made me realize that one’s actions (such as the staff at fault) can be crucial and can affect the organization’s reputation greatly. Perhaps it goes without saying, but communication really is very important. As a nonpartisan non-profit organization, this error was definitely not a good rep for us, but this occurrence was definitely one we all learned from. It also made me realize that I truly was part of a bigger whole, not simply our small office in the Bay Area. Perhaps things did not go the way I had hoped, but I learned a great deal not just about the important historical aspect of the Hong Kong Handover but also of the important ins and outs and ways organizations interact.