Interning in the U.S. of Eh

The entrance to Universal Studios in Universal City, Hollywood.

The entrance to Universal Studios in Universal City, Hollywood. (Courtesy Wikimedia)

So you’re thinking about moving to the United States, eh?

Perhaps it’s for an internship or to launch your career right after graduation. It’s no secret that many young Canadian media and performance professionals cross the border to get experience. Industry capitals New York and Los Angeles attract dozens of students from Ryerson every year. But what is it really like to leave the great white north for Uncle Sam?

Fourth-year radio and television arts student William Reid is currently in Los Angeles on internship at Entertainment Tonight. He says his reasons for moving to California extend beyond the palm trees, street fruit carts and daisy dukes with bikinis on top.

“Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world, so as a media major, interning in LA represented a truly invaluable learning opportunity,” Reid said.

Once you do get your visa, fitting in should be a breeze. Reid said he’s quite comfortable being a Canadian in Hollywood. He finds, despite the three-hour time difference, cultural differences between Americans and Canadians are very nuanced.

“LA isn’t the only place your dreams can come true.”

“People typically can’t tell that I’m Canadian until I tell them, or until I ask where the washroom is. Apparently the word “washroom” isn’t a thing here,” Reid said.

Americans say bathroom.

Yet some students argue you can gain invaluable learning opportunities at home too. Fourth-year RTA student Alessandra Manieri said there are also benefits to establishing yourself in Toronto.

“Interning for free is hard to manage as it is, but to have to pay for a work visa (around $1500) in order to intern in the U.S. is just too expensive,” said Manieri, who plans on living in Toronto post-internship. “It’s important to support Canada and jump on the opportunities our Canadian media industry already has here. “LA isn’t the only place your dreams can come true.”

Manieri also says it’s important to nurture and grow the industry we have at home. According to Government of Ontario’s website, Ontario’s entertainment and creative industry is the third largest in North America by employment — ranking right under California and New York. However, higher levels of opportunity in the States are matched by higher competition according to Karis MacDougall, Canadian actress and 2006 RTA alumna based in New York.

“The States is crazy town, it’s like the wild, wild west because there’s a massive population,” MacDougall said. “Everyone is looking to create the next big show or movie, people are striving to be the best in their class and you work really hard to attain that.”

Karis MacDougall graduated from Ryerson’s Radio and Television Arts program in 2006. (Courtesy Joe Freeman)

And work hard she did.

Since graduating, MacDougall has worked in the industry non-stop for the past eight years.

First, she worked in television production for ABC News Australia for a year and field-produced on Slice’s hit reality show Matchmaker for two seasons, before moving to southeast Asia to write for a blogazine. Following that she returned to Canada for a year and got accepted to UCLA for an acting program.

She moved to the States in 2012 and has been a successful actress and producer in Los Angeles and New York ever since.

Her commitment and ballsy approach to life landed her many of those opportunities.

“It’s competitive. But if you really go for it you’ll be able to break through those barriers.”

Today, MacDougall works as a producer and celebrity correspondent for Getty Images — which gave her the chance to interview some big names including: Chelsea Clinton, Kevin Spacey and Lupita Nyongo.

While reflecting on all the risks and experience she’s gained in her career, MacDougall encourages students thinking about interning in the States to apply and come see what all the hype is about.

“Yes, it’s competitive. But if you really go for it you’ll be able to break through those barriers,” MacDougall said. “There are so many more opportunities, so many more jobs because of all the media convergents. So much more filming, more directors and productions. It’s just 10 times the size of Toronto.”

Victoria Nguyen, fourth-year journalism student on internship in North Carolina, agrees.

Nguyen is doing an internship in Charlotte, North Carolina, with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. Nguyen’s lifelong dream is to watch pro basketball for a living. As it stands, there are 29 NBA teams in the States to Canada’s one. This made Nguyen’s decision to move south a no-brainer.

She says the most difficult part of the internship was getting her visa for it.

“Earn and save money in advance of moving to the US for an internship. Between travel costs, living accommodations, impulse buys and everything else, it adds up.”

“It didn’t occur to me until about three weeks later when Gary Gould brought it up that I would need to get a visa to live and work in the US. I thought I could skip that because my internship isn’t paid,” Nguyen said. “Boy was I wrong, and it cost me.”

Nguyen initiated her visa application with less than a month left until her start date and was lucky to get her J1 visa in time. After selling her Raptors’ season tickets, unlocking her phone and spending $3000 on the visa, Nguyen flew to Charlotte, just three days before her internship started.

Once there, she realized finances are definitely something you need to think about before you consider an internship.

“Earn and save money in advance of moving to the US for an internship. Between travel costs, living accommodations, impulse buys and everything else, it adds up,” she said. “The tax in Charlotte is only seven per cent but on top of that, conversion or what I call the ‘Canadian dollar tax’ hits you by another 20 per cent.”

So whether interning in the States has ever crossed your mind or you know that it’s something you want to do for sure, be sure to save up, stay driven and apply for your visa more than three weeks before you plan to move there.

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