My high school offers an end-of-year program for graduating seniors, Senior Experience, during which we complete a three-week internship instead of going to the last three weeks of class.
When deciding where to look, I remembered the Folklife Festival because I went every year growing up. I loved exploring the tents, finding all the crafts I could make, and breathing easy in the air-conditioned Marketplace. One year, my father, a wooden boat-builder, was a participant in the Festival, helping construct a dugout canoe for a maritime history program.
So, I worked with intern coordinator Arlene Reiniger to find the best fit within the office for my interests, and she matched me with Betty Belanus and her intern Maria Russell to help plan the Family Activities for China: Tradition and the Art of Living.
The only job I’d had before working here was as an assistant to my art teacher in her summer camp, but my Smithsonian experience has given me a greater appreciation for how jobs really work. I appreciate how hands-on my work has been; many of my friends have Senior Experiences that consist of busywork, but I get to do crafts every day. That means constructing paper lanterns out of milk cartons, kites from brown paper bags, sachets with fabric squares and duct tape, and so much more.
I love being able to do work with my hands because it makes me feel like I’m actually contributing something important to the Festival. I will be able to see kids building paper kites and lanterns, using my examples as a basis. That’s really gratifying.
My experience here is also definitely colored by the office itself. People are so friendly—always saying hello in the hallway, bringing food for everyone to share—that I feel very much a part of the office and very welcomed, even as a high school student. I gained more from this experience than I ever expected, purely from being around some of the world’s most interesting people. I learned how to apply creativity and that everyone has a fascinating story to tell.
Being here has taught me a lot about what an office is like and what kind of job I want to have in the future. It has given me the opportunity to meet and hear the stories of amazing people, the kind of people I want to grow up to be.
Emma Youcha interned at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the beginning of the summer before graduating from Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia.