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WASHINGTON - The word 'intern' might conjure up images of a Xerox-operating, coffee-grabbing summer, but that may no longer be the case. From trips to China, stints on movie sets and dodging white-water rapids, students across the country are finding out that there really are some sweet perks if you get into internships early.

An increasing number of high school and college students are trading in their lazy days of summer to gain job and life experience. There are the obvious benefits: job contacts, industry knowledge, and according to Monstertrak, an online job and internship bank, the majority of companies hire interns when they need to fill actual full-time staff positions.

But aside from those benefits, students are finding that the big benefits are anything but obvious.

Alex Asefaw, a 19-year-old from San Francisco, wasn't planning on doing much more than "hanging out on the streets" during his summer vacation. But instead, with a teacher's help, he filled out an application for the Bay Area Video Coalition, a media-training program for youth, which gave him a stipend to study video production.

It also helped him land a paid internship with UPN where for three months, Asefaw shot and edited film to produce his own segment on the history of "sagging." Not only did the internship keep Asefaw off the streets and from "doing things I wasn't supposed to be doing" but he got paid and it gave him insight into what might become his future career.

"It helped me find purpose," he said. "[Without] that, I might have been procrastinating, and before I never really knew if I wanted to go to college."

Asefaw, who just finished his freshman year at Alabama University, is considering going back to UPN this summer and he's already started working on another documentary.

"In my neighborhood there are a lot of killings and beefs between neighbors," Asefaw said. "As long as you live there and hang around there you are kind of a target. In a way, I guess you could say internships can keep kids off the street and in a way it could save lives."

Gissella Martinez, a 20-year-old senior at Jacksonville in Florida who recently returned from an internship in the Philippines, is banking on her experience to help her save some lives.

"I always wanted to do Third World medical work and going [to the Philippines] opened up my eyes and made me want to do a lot of medical work," Martinez said.

Martinez knew she would be bringing food to children and playing games with them, but she had no idea what kind of impact that would have her life.

When she visited an orphanage she was surprised to see all the children crying - not for food but for attention. "They just cried and cried until someone picked them up," Martinez said. "All they wanted was a warm embrace."

Angela Morin's internship in Australia was a little more tame than a trip to a Pilipino orphanage, but beneficial nonetheless. A pharmaceutical student at Northeastern University, she was able to work in an Australian pharmacy and watch information she had read about in textbooks come alive.

"Now that I'm studying for the pharmaceutical boards I feel like I understand better, because I actually did it, instead of just learning from a book," Morin said.

This summer, when the last bell rings and your notebooks hit the trash, enjoy a few relaxing days and then do what it takes - ask your teachers, search the Internet - to find yourself an internship.


- By Lauren Dake, Medill News Service

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