Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Holly Fesperman LeeSalisbury Post
Karen Bestman decided her junior year that she wanted an internship at a law office so she could decide if being an attorney was right for her.
It wasn’t that simple.
She started looking and went to “every law office in Rowan County.”
They all turned her down.
Even with so many no’s, Karen was determined to get a yes ó partly because she didn’t want to change her schedule but mostly because she wanted to see what being an attorney was like.
“He actually told me no the first time,” Karen said, talking about Doug Smith, a Salisbury attorney.
Karen decided she better start going door to door after all her calls failed.
She went to Smith’s office to ask again.
His wife, Melissa Smith, told her she could come in for an interview.
Melissa confessed she didn’t believe Karen would show up because that’s what happens with most of their inquiries. And they really didn’t need an intern ó they already had one, Melissa said.
But Karen did come back, and Melissa was impressed.
“Doug, I know you probably don’t want another one, but I think you want this one,” Melissa said she told her husband.
“I started working here Aug. 25 of 2005,” Karen said.
The internship has helped her figure out her career goals but it didn’t confirm that her attorney plan was the right one.
“Working here I know that I do not want to be a criminal or civil attorney,” she said.
She’s still thinking about corporate law, but “I want to be a foreign diplomat.”
Doug Smith said Karen surprised him and sometimes surprises herself.
“Her work ethic … is akin to that of a first- or second-year law school student,” he said.
When she wasn’t answering phones, filing documents in the Rowan County Clerk of Court’s office or helping Doug prepare for trial, Karen created a conflicts database for the law office.
She explains that it helps prevent conflicts of interest.
It lists the clients he’s represented and their opposing parties.
When she’s finished with all that, Karen asks Melissa for more work.
“She’s hungry for learning, knowledge and problem solving,” Doug said.
Working at the law office isn’t the only job Karen has had.
“I have to compete with other potential employers,” Doug said.
Ever since she was old enough to work, Karen has had sometimes two or three jobs at the time.
She’s worked at Trinity Oaks, Subway, Food Lion and even refereed basketball.
She went into an office supply store recently to get copies made for the law office. The manager said the store was hiring and offered her an interview on the spot.
Even though she already has a job, Karen won’t turn down another.
She interviewed and is thinking about taking the job if the store calls.
Karen attributes her work ethic to her African heritage.
She was born in America but her parents, Darling and Adolphus Bestman, immigrated from Liberia in the ’70s and ’80s.
The family has always sent money back to Liberia to help other family members come to the United States.
Since they started sending money, almost every family member has been able to join the Bestmans in America.
The financial situation comes into play slightly with Karen’s willingness to work, but mostly “to help them and help myself out … not to be a burden on them,” she said.
“I just have a philosophy of life that you have to strive to achieve.”
She said her mom has told her that she has to be a strong woman and work hard to get what she wants.
Karen is practicing that now.
And the extra money for shopping isn’t bad either, she added.
Karen’s internship actually ended several months ago, but Doug and Melissa decided they couldn’t do without her.
“Karen, I know your internship is over, so I guess we’ll have to pay you,” Melissa said she told Karen.
Even though she’s decided she doesn’t want to be a criminal or civil attorney like Doug Smith, “I kind of actually like working here because of the bond I have with Melissa and Doug. Even though it’s work, it’s kind of home for me. I’m comfortable,” Karen said.
If she doesn’t get the job at the office supply store, Karen plans to move to Georgia in July.
She’ll stay with her sister in Atlanta until her fist semester starts at the University of Georgia.
Karen is planning to double major in political science and French ó a combination she hopes will help her become a foreign diplomat.
Karen won a scholarship to the University of Georgia that pays her out-of-state tuition costs. She’ll only have to pay what a Georgia resident would.
Even with two jobs, Karen has maintained high grades.
“When I get home, I do my homework and if I need to study, I do so. I don’t think it’s been too much of a problem working two jobs and taking classes,” she said.
Both mom and dad do shift work, so they aren’t always there to watch over Karen.
“They were really proud I never really went astray,” she said.
Being African is something that sets Karen apart from her classmates and she enjoys being different.
While she had plenty of money to buy any prom dress she wanted, Karen got her aunt to send fabric from Africa for this year’s event.
“I actually drew it out,” she said.
Karen went to a dress maker in Salisbury, drew out what she wanted and handed her the fabric.
She joked that she’d thought about fashion design but her mom didn’t think that was a stable career.
Karen hasn’t been to Liberia to visit her parents’ native country, but she wants to go. Safety is an issue but Karen said a new president just took office, so Christmas break may be her first opportunity.
Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or