Monday, June 20, 2011

Houston and the Summer Internship

After my memorable Darden trip to Israel following the end of classes, I sadly had little time to linger around Charlottesville before packing my clothes into my car for the 1200 mile trek to Houston, Texas. I have been here for three weeks already -- time flies here just like at Darden -- so it's time to give an update and reflect a little.

They weren't lying about the summer heat on the Gulf Coast of has been wicked hot here since I arrived in Houston. The average high temperature so far this month has been 98 degrees F!! I've dealt with summer heat before but never this relentlessly and my comfort zone, calibrated by many temperate summers growing up in the northern US, is being seriously stretched. I pray to the gods every day to keep my air conditioning in working far so good!

I've never lived in Texas before and I've heard from "real" Texans that Houston doesn't provide one with a proper introduction to this unique state, but certainly there are many differences to the style of living here compared with other places I've lived. My first impressions of Houston weren't great. I've never encountered a more car-dependent city, and I've never seen so many strip malls or tinted car windows. Houston is sprawling and super flat. The concrete and asphalt on its six-lane "Texas-sized" highways seem to extend forever. Way too many pickup trucks here, almost exclusively a lifestyle statement as few people are hauling anything -- there aren't any cattle ranches here anymore. The lack of zoning sprinkles nice neighborhoods next to dodgy ones, and the downtown is mostly a dead zone after work hours. I miss beautiful Charlottesville's rolling hills, its trees, and its starry nights.

The Greenopolis "Dream Machine"
Many of the native Houstonians I've encountered look at me as some odd foreigner who needs his head checked. "You don't have any family here?" "You're not a student at Rice?" My car is still the only one with Virginia plates which I've seen since arriving. "Austin is way cooler." I was a little shocked by the negativity with which these locals regard their hometown. I'm a non-oil guy in an oil town, which I suppose does make me an odd breed.

However, as I've started to make my way around town I have seen the good side of Houston too. The people here tend to be friendly and unhurried, a stark contrast from the DC-area and most of the Northeast US. The city is remarkably diverse, even more so than Washington DC in my opinion. In Houston you will find a melting pot of immigrants recently arrived from Asia and Latin America, and you can eat just about any type of cuisine found under the sun (the dumpling places downtown are particularly tasty). In a big city there is always something to do or a new hot spot to visit. And people tell me that winter is pretty pleasant here!

Though my verdict on Houston thus far is mixed, I have had a good experience at Waste Management thus far. There's now a lot more that you can do with garbage besides incinerate it or dump it in a landfill, and I'm excited by the investments that WM is pursuing to prepare for the future of its business. I'm interning in the Organic Growth Group, which serves as a business development arm for the business, and see the work as almost like working at a venture capital group. Globally, the biomass conversion area of renewable energy is booming right now with activity, and I'm developing a far greater appreciation as I work up a steep learning curve at WM. My coworkers, most with MBAs themselves, are intelligent and pleasant to work with. They have welcomed the interns almost like family, which I have greatly appreciated.

Corporate America is a new experience for me too. Working at the headquarters of a Fortune 500 company has a far different feel than a 70-person energy trading company. I zoom up an express elevator every morning to the 44th floor and make sure my name badge is clipped on my belt. So far our managers have kept us interns to strictly 40-hour weeks. Leave at 5:30??? Whoa! I actually can have a life in the evenings now!

So, in spite of the weather, no regrets in coming to Houston for the summer. I have greatly enjoyed the novelty of trying out this new lifestyle.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this informative post. In case you haven't heard, Recyclebank has just teamed up with Greenopolis! Now you can earn both Recyclebank and Greenopolis points everytime you recycle. Check out this video-- I learned about the news here.