Behind the Fellowship: Interns

Teach For Malaysia sees a large number of interns come in and out of our office each cycle. Here, former intern Louise Tan tells us what life is really like as a TFM intern (hint: There are no coffee runs involved).


Teach For Malaysia interns and volunteers! Photo credit: Goh Jing Pei

“I applied for the Teach For Malaysia internship because I wanted to look into social businesses as a post-graduation option. I also wanted to know more about this up-and-coming movement in Malaysia. Before interning at TFM, I’d done a bunch of other internships during my gap year. The advice I usually give people when they’re thinking about internships: expect to be given drudge work. Have the initiative to ask for help, advice, and things to do.

The TFM internship has turned out to not be quite like any of those.

Another intern told me on my first day: as a TFM intern, you’ll be given quite a lot of autonomy. That piece of advice turned out to be partly a reassurance, and partly a warning. Compared to my previous internships, I’ve rarely had to request for work; it was handed to me. And it’s good work too – I’ve been asked to write pitches, find contacts, and come up with content for our social media pages. Things that are directly related to the face of Teach For Malaysia. Everything I do goes through my direct supervisors first, of course, but it’s still more than I was ever allowed to do without constant bugging.

This is my very first internship where I haven’t once been asked to fetch coffee, photocopying, filing – drudge work, in other words. (I offered at first to do these things, but when I did they got this very pained look on their faces. Please don’t, they said.)

The same goes for my fellow interns in other departments. TFM recognizes their interns as valuable resources, rather than just grunt labor – much like the way they believe in the kids that their Fellows serve. None of us here have completed our first degree – some haven’t even started. There are more than 10 interns currently in TFM at the time of writing. In previous internships, that usually meant there wouldn’t be enough work for each of us to do, and we’d get less personalized attention from our supervisors.

Personalized attention also means that my supervisors at TFM have been much more involved in my learning process. I’m only here for two months, and everyone in the office has been committed to helping me make the most of my time here.

The biggest display of trust is probably the “What-If Project”, a chance given to all interns to work on something – no matter how big or how small – that will improve the organization in some way. This can be anything from arranging for more plants in the office, to composing a Teach For Malaysia song for recruitment.

The What-If Project can fall outside of your own department. I’ve chosen to do something outside of the Communications department. This means I’m working with people who are not directly responsible for my work. This experience has shown me how TFM staff are quite willing to engage with interns outside of their own department. I’ve received as much help with my What-If Project as I do with my own department.

Being an intern at Teach For Malaysia isn’t quite like any other internship. They believe that everyone can be taught, and they apply that same philosophy to all those under their care – staff,  students, and even interns. As an intern, you’ll come here to help kids learn, and you’ll end up learning quite a bit yourself.”