Intern Stories- Rohini Behl

Although summer was what felt like eons away, I started determining my summer plans in December. That’s right – a full 5 ½ months in advance. Anything could go wrong in that time – I didn’t have any clue of just how wrong. Essentially, before me there were two options: take summer courses or find an internship. Since the former was so repulsive to me after enduring an entire first year at college, I chose the internship option, naturally. I had envisioned that I would apply to a few places and get an internship easily. Boy, was I wrong. From December to May, I must have applied to over 30 internships with long applications replete with essays and letters of recommendation.

By May, my stress level had skyrocketed due to impending finals and the sense of dejection I faced due to being clueless about my summer plans. Hadn’t I planned for this in advance? Still, I had managed to fall into the very trap I had endeavored so mercilessly to avoid. Then, one day, quite miraculously, when I was thinking of forfeiting and enrolling in summer classes, I received an email in my inbox informing me of an opening for an internship with CEH. I had submitted the application in March and although that organization had stood out to me as an interesting place to work, I was incredulous to receive an offer in May. In truth, that email was like a beacon of hope in my life when there seemed to be neither options nor solace on the horizon. I have to say, the minute I walked into the building for the interview, I had a strong feeling I could not deny. This is where I want to intern. That undeniable urge was a relief to me after months of waiting.

That feeling of awe and admiration lasted throughout the duration of my internship to the point where I still walk out of the office every day and feel the same. In my time there, CEH had been in the news four times at least! I felt important – the work I contributed to in some small way had a real impact and people noticed. Furthermore, I was part of an organization that was at the forefront of pressing issues. In this way, my experience at CEH surpassed all my expectations of an internship.

My main goal, coming in, was to gain valuable work experience and exposure to the field of public health. I was tired of being questioned by my peers and family: “Why on earth would you want to go into Public Health? It’s not even a real science!” But now I have my response. CEH has given me the direction and motivation to go forward with my decision to major in Public Health. Everyone nowadays, especially students, are enamored by the medical profession and the repute and position it brings. But seeing the work CEH staff does has shown me that “These are the real heroes!” These are the people fighting for plastics free of endocrine activity, who champion the health of the environment and consumers. They are the ones who selflessly devote hours and hours of work, beyond those required, to do the absolutely incredible and thankless task of calling government agencies and businesses to get them on board with better standards and regulations.

Operating within a nonprofit that challenges powerful corporate giants to use safer business practices takes courage and inner enthusiasm. The staff here at CEH has that and so much more. They operate as a wholesome unit rather than as individual entities; I have worked at several other locations and have never seen the team spirit and cooperation present in the CEH office. It is truly remarkable. My time here has opened my eyes to what I can have if I just reach for it. In my future career, I have always pictured an office setting, a hierarchical setup, and a formal atmosphere. That is just how it has to be. But CEH has proven otherwise – it has made me aspire to work with an organization that values each individual for his/her contribution rather than just treating them as another cog in a machine. It makes me strive to do work that aligns with my ideals.

CEH has infiltrated my life in a way I can never forget. It has become a form of consciousness and a way of living. My family and friends tease me, “That internship is getting to you! You’re becoming such a health freak!” And they have a fair point. I have gotten rid of all the plastic in my home to protect myself from BPA and other toxics. I have forced my sister to discard all of our toxic nail polish and have taught her how to check for phthalates and formaldehyde.  In my home, I have stopped using canned foods and plastic water bottles. Plus, I urge my family to vacuum more often to avoid inhaling BFRs. I used to think going green was for the rich and the fanatic tree huggers, but CEH has taught me that being health conscious is serious.

The current system is very flawed—it does not protect us from the toxic chemicals that surround us, so we must take matters into our own hands and try to change the system. I have taken such a genuine interest in the health and that of my family that I cannot quite view the world the same ever again. Every product I buy, food I consume, residence I stay at, environment I work in – matters. Before when it never crossed my mind, I now notice when my friends use eco-friendly soap and cleaning agents in their homes. I notice when they purchase products with green certifications. These things matter – so much more than we realize.

I am glad CEH has opened my eyes and guided me toward a path worth walking down. Most importantly, I will miss the deadlines, multitude of projects, media visits, and staff outings that were all part of the CEH dynamic immensely. My typical coursework simply lacks the excitement and real-world application I have been exposed to through this internship. If I have learned anything at all from CEH, it is that good things come in small packages—and CEH is no different.