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Jumping In…

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By Emily Portner, on May 26, 2010

I was so excited when I got the call that I had received the summer internship position at the Town of Chapel Hill. I attended undergrad at UNC and decided to stay at Carolina for grad school partially out of my love for the Town and its surrounding community. I spent the rest of the school semester looking forward to starting work and was eager to jump right on in.

If I said I wasn’t nervous, I lied. Even though I have had an internship in local government before (I spent two summers as an intern in the County Administrator’s Office in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona), this is a whole new ballgame, in a whole new state, on a whole new level. It is always nerve-wracking to come into a new organization when you don’t know the culture and are unfamiliar with the normal ways in which work is done. Are you allowed to directly communicate with the Manager, or should you go through his/her assistant? What questions are “stupid” questions? To what extent will I be left to myself to figure things out or will I be shepherded along the way by my supervisor? Do they have any preconceived notions about me? I’m nervous about having to prove myself! And to top everything off, my first day fell on a council meeting, so I had to be nervous all night too!

These are all questions that we have faced as we embark on a new professional experience in a new place. If you’re honest with yourself, I bet all of you have been there before and can understand exactly what I am going through.

My first day (days really, I just started this Monday!) have been all about navigating this adjustment period and understanding the culture of the organization. I have learned that the Town Manager, Roger Stancil, is very much involved with his staff and engages much more in direct communication than my prior experience with the County Administrator. All Town employees have done a truly great job of making me feel welcome and have given me a large amount of advice and direction while at the same time giving me the opportunity to “swim on my own”. My first council meeting was a great experience because I was able to observe right away the dynamic between the council and the staff, and the relationship of council members to one another. With all of this experience in just my first 2 ½ days, I think it is safe to say that I am in information overload!

I look forward to updating this blog on a weekly basis and sharing my experiences with all of you. I have already found this blogging process to be cathartic and welcome any comments or advice you have for me as I set forth on this summer journey. I also welcome any questions you may have about how I got interested in local government work and the path I have taken to get where I am today and to pursue a Masters in Public Administration. See you next week!

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