Hell, according to Dante Alighieri, is comprised of nine circles of suffering within the Earth. But Dante missed a circle. Somewhere encompassing the entire nine circles is the horror of an unpaid internship.
Many students spend four years and tens of thousands of dollars on college; only to end up with an expensive piece of toilet paper. What’s more, they learned nothing and are now condemned to endlessly send out resumes that are fit only to line bird cages. Post-graduation, We see a mountain in-front of us. The sun shines down at the top of it; where our future career awaits us. In our attempts to climb up it, we find that our path is blocked by three beasts—a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf.
Overly confident, we try to fight these beasts because hopping a fence is much easier than going around it. Beat and broken, we come to terms with the fact that we cannot conquer these beasts, and we must take an alternate path.
This is where we meet the ghost of Virgil, who informs us that: In order to land a job, we must first perform unpaid labor. unpaid labor is all the rage these days. The “unpaid” attached to it is smart because of the way it’s phrased: you aren’t a volunteer because you are — allegedly — getting payment in the form of education. And hey, it’s chill. We’ll buy into it as students scared shitless of imminent unemployment. Virgil will show us how some unpaid internships aren’t so bad. You’ll be given meaningful duties to balance out the menial ones, network with influential people, and stack your resume like all the dolla bills you won’t have. But this isn’t always the case, and some internships are more of a temporary job than a training experience. Virgil escorts us to the gates of Hell; you’ll look up and see they’re marked by a haunting inscription: “abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
The first circle we enter is “limbo,” where the souls who, in life, could not afford to work without pay. They are forced to run against upper-class offspring in a futile chase after an elevator. Day after day, while hornets bite them and worms lap their blood, the doors close before them, and they make for the stairs.
Next, you’ll enter the inner circles; and inside are plenty of interns with horror stories as nameless coffee gophers. You’ll witness their suffering with repugnance and pity.
So, young people considering an unpaid internship: Use this journey as a lesson. Do your research, and figure out what you are getting in return (there should be something). Take the leap if you can afford it. Put forth your best effort — make sure they miss you when you’re gone.
But if you find yourself to be led astray, and are illegally being used for free work; consider walking out the door. Give those demons what they deserve, and don’t feel bad about it, either— they’re getting what they paid for.