One afternoon late spring, I answered my phone while on an escalator in the London Underground to an unknown number, just before my signal was about to cut out. It happened to be the careers department telling me I was going to Chicago to intern at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. In hindsight, I realise I had underestimated the importance of that phone call; it was certainly the most exciting internship offer I could have hoped for, but I had no idea that by the sixth week of my internship and life here I would have made such a positive leap towards the next stage of my life ‘post-University’ (a term that, during final year, induced me and friends to online shopping, crying and a Ryan Gosling meme frenzy). Most importantly I feel like I have made a real difference, in part for myself, but, thankfully, mainly for things bigger than my own IPA- burger- and theater-infused self.
A couple of weeks ago, Catherine Lemon and Andrea Edwards visited from the University of Birmingham’s International Development and Mobility department. They enjoyed a showing of CST’s summer musical Shrek before having lunch with me, my supervisor and director of education Marilyn Halperin. Until that point I had understood that I was representing the University but I had little idea of how much the University invest in international relations, especially on such a personal level, and how I was a part of that bigger picture. I felt lucky to be in the position of helping strengthen the academic relationship between Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute and the theater. We talked about possible new initiatives that would aim to give students even more global opportunities, helping to raise the profile of themselves and the partnered institutions involved. Catherine and Andrea made me feel part of this important process. It was great to meet them and understand more about the University’s international outreach, and why this is vital for the future.
My work over the last couple of weeks has entailed a lot of responsibility. This is how I have, hopefully, made an impact on the large educational outreach programme that reaches thousands of students and teachers from many different backgrounds. My main project has been almost entirely self-led, working on editing and creating a new teacher handbook for one of the upcoming plays in the season, Henry V. Being able to creatively influence and create important, freely available teaching materials has opened my eyes to careers such as academic publishing and teaching, not just theater administration and arts and cultural education programmes. Importantly, the feeling of sitting in weekly education department meetings is no longer one of bewilderment, but one of confidence and understanding. I am able to suggest ideas and, most importantly, questions. The education team is so small that the internship has been hands-on from day one – this has meant I have been able to contribute fully to teaching workshops and other programmes and I have learnt a whole lot in return.
A highlight of my spare time spent in Chicago includes visiting a nearby Mexican neighbourhood, Pilsen, with beautiful painted murals on buildings and food carts with Mexican corn treats. Although Chicago is segregated culturally and ethnically, it’s cultural diversity inspires art that holds more integrity and meaning than anything else that I have ever witnessed. Although separated by neighbourhood, each neighbourhood seems to be aware of the other and respect each other’s upholding of their own backgrounds.
I have also been to a music festival, been on an architecture river cruise – I now know what my favourite buildings are called and their fascinating histories – and eaten more donuts than I ever should have done on my commute to work in the mornings.