Internships in unlikely places

By Dayna Yin

As the saying goes: new semester, new you. No matter which year of study you are in, there is a chance internships are on your radar.

NTU students are alerted to countless internship opportunities by the NTU Career and Attachment Office (CAO) via email, or through various career talks and job fairs happening on campus every semester.

“Whether long or short, the key point (of internships) is to hone your skills and industry acuity,” said Ms Pfeiffer Chung, a CAO manager.

“By taking on multiple internships, our students can be clearer about which organisation or industry suits them best in terms of interests, skills, personality and values,” she added.

In the United States, more than half the number of student interns annually are offered full-time positions by employers after graduation from university, according to research by the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University published last year. Internships are even seen as a requirement for entry-level jobs in the engineering and infotech industries.

Some industries, on the other hand, see internships as a way to introduce young people to their unique line of work, as the Nanyang Chronicle finds out.


Grave expectations

When 36-year-old funeral director Ms Angjolie Mei started her company, The Life Celebrant, in 2010, she believed that training programmes were vital in the funeral industry.

Since early last year, she launched internships in her company to introduce students to funeral service work, a field that she felt was enriching, despite it being considered taboo by many.

“This is an industry that is not common, so we do want people to know more about what goes on behind the scenes,” said Ms Mei, who likens her work to a less conventional form of hospitality service.

“We’re serving grieving families, helping them to send off their loved ones one last time. In this job, not only does it change your perception about life and death, but you quickly learn about the importance of empathy and respect because you are making an impact by how you care for the deceased.”

The Life Celebrant handles over 100 funerals annually, providing customisable, all-in-one services for the deceased.

One of its unique offerings is “Showers of Love”, a service where family members can take part in the bathing and dressing of their loved one before the body is embalmed, giving families some “quality time” with the deceased before saying their final goodbyes.

Interns are heavily involved in every step of a funeral service, from transporting the deceased to handling the logistics of a service, even providing physical and emotional support for the family of the departed.

As most applicants hope to learn about the industry, Ms Mei believes they should start by learning the importance of hospitality, with interns working as event staff during funerals – serving refreshments and helping to pack up after the service – before learning to consoling and offering emotional support to grieving families.

This ensures that interns can familiarise themselves with the flow of a funeral, and also adjust emotionally and mentally to an environment involving grief and mourning.  


“We start simple, not rushing anyone into anything,” said Ms Mei, who describes hospitality as the “first touchpoint in the business” for students.

“They (newcomers) probably applied because they were curious about the industry but have never touched a body before. We would still give them an introduction and have them watch how we work first. Once they are comfortable, they can join us properly,” she added.

After a few rounds of event helping, students who feel confident in taking on more responsibilities can then move into shadowing full-time staff to help out in more specific tasks, such as dressing the deceased and other funeral preparations.

While it is important to remain professional on the job, Ms Mei feels that a vital part of her team’s role during a service is forging a meaningful bond with the families they serve by understanding their needs and sharing the grief with them.

For one of Ms Mei’s employees, Chelo Gay Chan, 35, talking to the bodies while she styles their hair or applies their makeup gives her confidence and comfort in performing her duties as she knows her work is crucial for families in their grieving process.

“They can no longer take care of themselves and that’s why we’re here to help them,” said Ms Chan, who runs TLC’s Showers of Love service.

“In a way, what I do at TLC is part of taking care of the family I am serving,” she added.

In her seven years with TLC, Ms Chan felt that the most rewarding part of her job is seeing herself grow from someone who disliked funerals back home in the Philippines, to someone proud to have forged a career in the funeral industry today.

“Can you imagine someone who avoided funerals and wakes before, and now she’s the one taking care of the deceased? I went through a 180-degree change and working here (TLC) has helped me value life more,” she said.

Since the internship programme started a year ago, The Life Celebrant has seen six interns supporting the team of 12 full-time staff.

At this point, the company has no interns from NTU but Ms Mei would like to change that, with hopes that university students in Singapore can give the funeral industry greater exposure and accreditation.

“TLC can offer students first-hand knowledge that prepares them in the event they experience a passing at home. In a way, students can also raise awareness by sharing their experiences with loved ones and we can work towards professionalising this industry,” said Ms Mei.

Whether it is an intern, volunteer or full-time staff, Ms Mei is always on the lookout for empathetic individuals who do not mind the challenges that accompany meaningful work.  

“If you know why you chose to do something, everything else just falls into place easily,” she said.


A career with conviction

Final-year School of Social Sciences (SSS) student Samuel Chan stumbled upon a CAO email promoting the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) internship programme over the summer break last year.

Little did he expect the short two-month internship to change the way he felt about the people behind bars.

At the Psychological and Correctional Rehabilitation Division, Chan was tasked with reviewing case files of various offenders and compiling his findings into a case study.

The 25-year-old psychology student felt this was a rare opportunity to better understand offenders and put what he learned in university to good use.

“When I read cases, I started to understand the offenders’ backgrounds, and how their actions led up to how the crime transpired,” said Chan.

“If you were in their shoes and exposed to the things that they experienced before the offence, it’s not difficult to imagine a similar fate for yourself in that situation. I don’t think these offenders are that different from you and me,” he said.

Since 2004, SPS has been conducting internship programmes in various divisions within the organisation, allowing students to apply their skills in real-world situations at a correctional agency.

“The setting offers a different experience, giving students an opportunity to gain insights into how SPS creates a positive impact in the lives of offenders, their families and the community, through rehabilitation and reintegration efforts,” said SPS to the Nanyang Chronicle.

As a project-based internship programme, SPS typically hosts a batch of 10 undergraduate students from various local universities during its May-August and December-January internship periods. Since 2012, SPS has partnered with CAO to bring credit-bearing internships to NTU students.

For 23-year-old SSS student Wong Jin Ting, her Prisons internship was an exciting and enriching opportunity. Wong felt that she was creating real change in society by producing a research report aimed at improving inmate rehabilitation programmes.  

“My supervisors let me take charge of the research project, interviewing inmates and gathering our own feedback,” said Wong of her internship experience.

“It was quite fulfilling because they (supervisors) really took our recommendations to heart,” she added.

Inspired by her work and her sister who is a prison officer, Wong hopes to apply to become a prison officer after graduation next year.

“I really liked what they (prison officers) do and how everyone was working towards making a difference in their (inmates’) lives. It’s a very unique experience,” she said.

SPS has seen a growing number of internship applicants over the years, and attributes it to the positive reviews and feedback the organisation has been receiving from previous interns who “felt that they had contributed to a good cause” in their short time with the organisation.

“Students who had previously interned with us shared that their experience was an eyeopener

where they witnessed how Captains of Lives (the official title given to Prisons personnel) worked closely as a team and collaborated with the community in making a positive difference in the lives of offenders and their families,” said SPS.

For Chan, he was impressed and inspired not only by the work that goes into helping offenders, but also the work and resources that are offered to them after their release.

“It gives you a different perspective of offenders,” said Chan, who credits his SPS experience for helping him realise that he wants to pursue work that is hands-on in helping others.

“It also taught me about how meaningful it is to work with not just these populations, but those who are in need in general, and I want that to be something in my career.”