Lynn Kim ’21 spent the summer as an intern at Writopia Lab, a national community of young writers, in Los Angeles. She's a participant in the Joan Hinde Stewart Career Development Program and her internship was made possible through the Anderson Fund. Here Lynn writes about her experience.
Every day began with a 90-minute bus ride, earbuds in, my backpack on my lap. My destination, a place filled with the sounds of children scribbling in notebooks, typing on laptops, and playing games that were deceptively writing-focused.
This summer, I was fortunate enough to intern at Writopia Lab, a national nonprofit organization that works to foster “joy, literacy, and critical thinking in children and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.”
Every week I worked with a different group of children in workshops, helping lead games that could generate ideas or teach elements of storytelling and talking to kids about how to build a world for their characters or create a conflict.
Working with children was both rewarding and exhausting. They’d distract one another, refuse to write, and ignore story suggestions. But because they are children and have no filter, their imagination is limitless: they can conjure islands made of underpants but can also describe what it feels like to be constantly overshadowed by a sibling’s illness. They are honest and funny and brutal and real – hearing them write was like learning bits and pieces of the human experience. While there were certainly times where my patience was tested, I’ve learned how to better move forward from those moments, trying to understand that no matter what they do, they are just kids and they are doing their best.
Being able to help kids share their stories was so much fun, and a great honor. As a 19-year-old (not quite a child, not quite an adult), I did my best to embrace that semi-adult role of commanding a classroom of seven-year-olds while also being someone who they could bond and chat with.
I met one seven-year-old who focused so much on spelling that she couldn’t get her ideas on paper. She couldn’t comprehend that her ideas were more important than spelling, a philosophy that Writopia holds. One day, she was especially frustrated, so I asked her if she wanted to go outside to take a break, and we went on a walk around the block. I asked her why spelling was so important to her, and found that she had been receiving a great deal of pressure from her school teachers to improve her spelling. She was embarrassed to go into second grade because she couldn’t spell.
I told her about how I, too, understood the pressures of school and teachers. We talked about her favorite books and about how those writers probably had spelling and grammar mistakes in their drafts, that no first product is ever perfect. I explained to her that in a matter of years, spelling would become second nature. Most people – and computers – can spell. But the difficult part, I told her, was storytelling. She stared at me in silence for a few seconds, and then gave me a bear hug, wrapping her arms around me, her head on my stomach. She let go, looked at me, and then hugged me again. She held my hand as we walked back inside.
She continued to struggle for a bit as the computer’s dotted red line underlined each misspelled word. Then she looked at me, leaned over, and whispered, “I don’t care about spelling” and continued to write. My heart just about burst.
While I embraced the balance of being a semi-adult, I also experienced being treated like an actual adult; it felt empowering and exciting. The managers and instructors talked to me like I was a co-worker, parents approached me and asked how their kids were doing – one child even asked me if I was married. As I said, empowering and exciting.
Interning at Writopia was a challenging and rewarding experience in which I learned about myself – my ever-growing passion for writing, my teaching style, my strengths and weaknesses – and gained insight into working with kids. I experienced the reality of working at not only a nonprofit, but a creative writing nonprofit. In a world where creativity is so often devalued, Writopia provides an oasis for children to cultivate their art, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to witness their work firsthand.
I probably won’t be saying this years later when the idea of a commute is less novel and romantic, but this summer, my daily bus rides were small moments of independence. Every day, as I got off the bus and slung my backpack over my shoulder, I felt a sense of purpose and drive, getting a whiff of semi-adulthood as I headed to the sanctuary that is Writopia Lab.