At 93, my Grammy is still sharp as a whip, but she doesn’t yet have a grasp on modern aspects of life. So, this summer when I mentioned I was headed off to my political internship, she quickly glanced at my father for a translation.

“It’s like an apprenticeship,” my father said. (I immediately pictured a young boy making horse shoes in his knickers and tricorner hat.) “Oh, so you get paid?” she asks.

Good question, Grammy, but no. You don’t get paid. Or rather, you get paid in the experience of working.

Ah, here in lies the rub. I give her the answer all interns give — the one that mentions something about research, writing policy and whatever else was in that job description. That’s all the job description is good for anyway — bragging rights.

When I arrived on the Hilltop just one year ago, the glamour and prestige of interning for premier political organizations enticed me; I took on as much as I could. In the past year, I’ve had three different internships for various government offices (all of which will remain unnamed for our purposes).

But now I see the man behind the curtain, so to speak.

During the fall 2011 semester, my first on the Hilltop, I interned at a think tank. I worked in the basement of the building and did research (read: looked up miscellaneous tidbits of facts for various higher-ups) approximately once per week and caught up on every episode of “Glee” in the meantime. My biggest project was putting into a spreadsheet the name and salaries of everyone in the Fortune 500 wealthiest people issue. I told them the list I was laboring over probably existed elsewhere, but they insisted they wanted it their way in their own Excel sheet. That took about three part-time work weeks.

Spring semester I decided on a change of scenery: Capitol Hill. I assisted with administrative tasks (read: stamped envelopes, stuffed envelopes, sealed envelopes). Working only two days and 15 hours per week, the most thrilling thing I did was lead tours (which, depending on the group, could be pretty thrilling).

In the meantime, my tasks included cleaning a supply closet (twice) and organizing the office. A few times I bought supplies from the downstairs office supply store. That was about it. Perhaps the key to this experience remains that anyone who has interned on Capitol Hill knows precisely what I’m talking about. All of these internships look essentially identical — always have, always will.

After five months of grunt work, I needed a break. A friend of mine offered me his position at an association known for its efficiency and influence. I applied and was happily brought on board full-time. My friend claimed to have had a great time and that he had drafted legislation for important political figures. However, once I began, my female boss had me do research for her (read: Google random facts) and once nearly sent me on a blind date in her stead.

I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Back in 2006, writer for The New York Times Anya Kamenetz spoke out strongly against unpaid internships. In an article entitled “Take This Internship and Shove It,” she describes the injustice of the expectation that college students should have had the unpaid experience. And it’s true: Though we claim we need the experience, fake work experience does nothing to prepare us for real work. While waitressing or cashiering may not give us a behind-the-scene look at an office, at least we get a check as a reward for real, hard work.

But, internships hold resume weight.

Now, after hundreds of hours of wandering lost around the Capitol, scanning the web for random information and making countless copies, I know the secret. Internships are valuable because they’re resume builders. They’re crucial because they sound good. And I’m starting to learn that even if I don’t feel like I’m learning a thing, for whatever reason, they matter. By all means, take advantage of the opportunities available to students in D.C., but just know what you’re getting into. Internships are worth having, but not worth stressing over.

Do I still have the high hopes of being an important congresswoman someday? Absolutely. And if it means getting a few cups of coffee and giving a few tours in between, so be it. Everyone has to get through grunt work in the real world, and we all have to learn somewhere.

MAGGIE CLEARY is a sophomore in the College. She is the Director of Executive Outreach for the Georgetown University Student Association and the Director of Campus Affairs for the Georgetown University College Republicans.

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