Internship programmes are mandated for nearly every basic course out there, and while no students are exceptions to these temporary employment contracts, a satisfying and beneficial experience cannot be guaranteed.
Some are lucky enough to stumble upon their ideal workspaces by chance, while others are left drudging on and settling for displeasing jobs, trying to obtain their paper qualifications in a timely manner.
Once a Mass Comm student myself, I was faced with the latter and chose to speak with a few other graduates among my former classmates, juniors and seniors who were willing to highlight their nasty encounters with biased, racist and unjust employers throughout their internship tenures.
These are their stories, with some names altered to protect their identities.
“No wonder her name sounds like So Hai”
23-year-old Suhashini underwent a 3-month internship at a local broadcast company and claims that she has been left with “internal emotional scarring” that has resulted in trust issues towards employers until today.
“I was the only Indian there and a majority of the staff were Chinese. Most of them were nice to me but there was a particular group of 4 who would badmouth me in Cantonese while my boss sniggered at their racist jokes.
“I know they were talking about me because one staff member who was close to me confirmed it. I’ve also heard it for myself and asked friends to translate the words I caught on to roughly. I never confronted them so they probably thought I had no idea.
“But just like every other Malaysian, even if I do not speak another language, best believe I’m well-versed with the swear words,” said Suha.
According to her, when offered the company laptop, she was asked to choose between a blue one and a black one. When she reached for the black, a co-worker noted in Cantonese that it matched her skin tone perfectly.
Suha let it slide as she had to work alongside the group for 5 months but decided that all boundaries had been crossed when one of them compared her name to the profane Cantonese term so hai, which basically translates to “stupid (female private part)”.
“I made a small mistake and they said ‘Eh, Sohaishini come fix this. No wonder lah her name sounds like so hai’. I walked out of there immediately and graduated 4 months later than my peers. Worth it if you ask me,” she said.
“Our clients are men. And what do men want?”
If that sentence sounds dodgy and misogynistic to you, you’d be right to think so.
“I understand that as an ad company, your aim is to please clients, but putting your employees’ safety at risk is the shadiest thing I can imagine.
“I was only 18 when I worked under them and was naïve enough to think that these creepy transactions only happened in movies or at least not in Malaysia,” said Jasmine, who is now 20.
She alleged that during a meeting with a client, he rested his foot on hers and maintained eye contact with her even when the other people present were speaking. In fact, being new to the company, Jasmine hardly spoke and was asked to attend the meeting at the restaurant to simply experience the company’s work process.
“He started to ask me questions after that and at some point his foot snuck up to my ankle and the hard sole of his shoe was rubbing against my skin. I did not speak at all from the shock.
“My then-boss explained to him that I was an intern but once the meeting was over, she chided me over and over in the car. Her argument was that the clients were men, and what do men want?
“I told her, if you want to market your company as some sort of sexual business go ahead, but don’t count me in. This is an internship from Hell to me.”
Jasmine noted that after she put up a fight, she was no longer asked to entertain such clients again, however not after earning hostility and “basically cold shoulder treatment” from her former boss.
“Rude, incompetent and demanding”
“I had to explain my low score to my programme coordinator and some lecturers because I was the only student with such horrid grades for the internship,” said Damien, who was halfway through his internship programme when he was asked to sensationalise news.
“One of the main things I studied in Mass Com was to be honest in my publications. So when I was asked, as a journalist intern for a reputable local news company at that, to exaggerate the facts, it went against my entire moral code and I could not do it,” he said.
Damien explained that the case at hand was a father-daughter domestic rape occurrence that was gaining mass attention from netizens, but with minimal facts disclosed. He alleged that the writers as well as video creators were asked to present the news on the company’s page with unconfirmed facts, such as saying that the sexual abuse had been going on for months.
“As a publication I’d rather risk low views for work that covers basic facts rather than being dragged into a legal dispute due to inaccuracy and sensationalism- and that is exactly what I said to my boss, in verbatim,” said Damien, who kept screenshots of the WhatsApp conversation as proof.
He was called into the office the next day where his boss threatened him to respect the company and urged him not to spread “this false information” to the other employees.
“That’s how I found out she could not differentiate between true and false. Anyway, I walked out of there after 6 months with a low grade and remarks on the side calling me rude, incompetent and demanding… but YOLO,” said Damien who has found humour in the matter.
“Get me coffee” ❌
“Get me tea” ✅
Pictured above is a tweet that Syahirah screenshotted and posted on Instagram, which led to her immediate termination as an “unpaid, angry intern”.
“In America, they say ‘go get me a coffee’. Here, it’s ‘get me some tea’. The seniors at this radio broadcast company think they sound modern and cool when they bark out orders like the mean bosses they watch on TV but in reality it just reflects badly on you,” she said.
Syahirah was initially promised a paid slot with the radio station, and did not seek other options. Almost everything was confirmed except for the salary. She claimed that the company took nearly 3 weeks to ‘discuss’ her pay and when pressured by her they finally confirmed last-minute that she would not be receiving one.
“The excuse was that they did not need an intern at the time but felt obligated to take me. This is because the company is linked to the founders of my college and felt it would be ‘unfair’ to deny me. I stupidly obliged because it was too late by then,” she explained.
For 3 months, Syahirah was tasked to simply sit at her desk and read through brochures while awaiting orders from her higher-uppers to fetch her tea. This tea was not always from the pantry either- there were times when she was asked to walk to the mamak shop on the opposite side of the building to pack tea and keropok lekor for everyone.
“I know it’s partly my fault because I agreed to the role but I thought I could at least sit in for a meeting or two or see how things work, however, I was told that it was private and the studio had to be as vacant and quiet as possible while they were on air.
“It was only a 2-month programme so I just tolerated it, and some people even told me I was lucky to have such an easy job, if you even call it one… And then I posted that tweet on my Instagram story and I’m guessing someone ratted me out to the boss, though they have all denied it.”
She noted that the tweet was posted in a lighthearted manner and she did not directly attack the company, but all in all she was grateful to have found another company to intern for. She currently works with them full time as a public relations adviser.
“I still don’t get unpaid internships, but it is what it is,” she added.
For this piece, I chose to feature the most shocking tales from a handful of testimonies I received. However, such extreme cases do not have to take place for interns and general employees to voice out concerns and call out the unjust behaviour one faces or witnesses.
Many students decide to continue with their unsatisfactory internship programmes in fear of falling behind peers or not being able to find better offers, which can sometimes result in undeserved poor grades which steer away future employers.
For some, the trauma has lasted well into adulthood – still hesitant to apply for their dream job in their 30s for fear of working under an unknown employer who may exploit their weaknesses.
Always speak your truth. You can lodge your enquiries/complaints through the following channels, via the Malaysian Ministry of Human Resource:
|Phone number and SMS