I started a new job ... and a pandemic hit


The two most repeated phrases I’ve heard over the first several weeks of my internship are, “The office is not usually like this,” and, “You picked quite the week to start your job.” 

I heard it so many times, it became a formal greeting:

“Hi Lainie, how are you?” “I’m good. The office is usually not like this!”

I started my internship with Strategic Communications at Wichita State University on March 9, when COVID-19 was an epidemic. By the end of the week, it had turned into a full-blown pandemic.

In the midst of it I, Matthew Ferguson, was just trying to start a job.

When faced with challenges, my dad always says, “It builds character.” The idea is if we endure hardship, we will become better people. By “it” he is usually referring to something that inconvenienced him. Mine is COVID-19.

The virus has put our health at risk, and our response to it is unprecedented. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs and people are living more secluded than a hobbit.

If enduring hard times builds character, then I have enough to fill a Steven King Novel!

But I digress. I recognize that I am very blessed considering the circumstances. I thank God for that each and every day.

It is safe to say that the circumstances surrounding the start of my internship are unique and led to unusual challenges and opportunities.

Through my experiences, I’ve gained new perspectives on things I already knew.

  1. If you have a question, just ask! One of my first assignments was to create Academe for WSU News. Academe is a compilation of accolades, presentations, research, grants and obits. I was told that they needed to be formatted according to AP Style.

    I didn’t have a lot of practice with AP Style, so I needed to ask for a resource. I was hesitant at first because the office was scrambling to deal with COVID-19. “Well it was fun while it lasted,” I said, moping to the door with the sound of a sad violin playing softly in the background. That may have happened in an alternate universe, but not in ours.

    Instead, I asked for help and finished the assignment. If I hadn’t asked and had done poorly on the assignment, it would have been on me. COVID-19 may be a good excuse for hoarding toilet paper, but not for refusing to ask a question.
  2. Getting to know your team is worth the effort! I wanted to enjoy working with my team and that meant making friends. That didn’t take long because everyone was extremely kind and talkative. My desk was decorated with candy, office supplies and a “Welcome, Matt” sign (not to be confused with what you clean your shoes on). My co-workers introduced themselves and sustained conversations for long periods of time. As the week progressed, their kindness helped me build my confidence.
  3. I had about a week with my team until we were told to work from home. I was frustrated because I enjoy interacting with people. I wondered if making friends was even worth the effort if I wasn’t ever going to see them again. Then I remembered my father’s words and I decided to think about ways I could positively approach this situation. Friendships are hard to maintain when you don’t experience life with them. To get around this hurdle, the interns Zoom each other. We discuss work, talk about our lives and share plenty of GIFs. We also chat regularly throughout the workday on Slack. I find that as I get to know everyone, the more enjoyable the job is. Don’t let COVID-19 stop you from maintaining relationships, because they add so much to your life.

Even after two weeks of consistent endurance, there is more character to develop. I’m still trying to figure out how to keep my social life from flatlining while not making myself or others sick. I have struggled to keep my work and home life separate.

A couple days ago I opened my laptop to Zoom with my team when I noticed the top of my head had been hijacked by Kramer hair! I’m sure you have experienced these struggles yourselves (even the Kramer hair), but always remember that time is a gift. It gives us an opportunity to endure or cower to hardship.

J.R.R. Tolkien put it beautifully in “The Fellowship of the Ring:”

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

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