Intern Sergio Orjuela reflects on his time in the office of MP Baijayant Panda

Tell us a little about your internship, your duties and how you heard about it?

I first learned about the internship through the regular releases and news sent by the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne. The initial description seemed very interesting, and after reading about the opportunity in more detail, I applied.

Later on, the staff from the Australia India Institute contacted me to tell me that I had been selected for the program and had three different placement options to choose from. Due to the affinity with my Master of Public Policy degree, I chose the policy team of an Indian MP.

I carried out my internship in the New Delhi office of Baijayant “Jay” Panda, a member of the Lok Sabha – the lower house of the Indian Parliament – during some interesting political times, especially for an external observer such as myself.

Jay Panda was representing the district of Kendrapara, in the eastern state of Odisha. Although he spent a significant part of his time in his constituency, my job was based in the Indian capital, New Delhi.

My team was in charge of the analysis and preparation of documents that support legislative activity, preparation of technical documents to be published or distributed among different stakeholders, and elaboration of briefs that would collate information for discussions, meetings, conferences, seminars and more. My duties consisted principally of supporting the daily activity of the team by either gathering and organising information, writing reports, and producing briefs about different topics of interest for the office. Our team worked in close contact with the communications team, which were constantly producing pieces in English, Hindi and Odia through which Mr Panda communicates with his constituents.

When you talk to people about your internship what’s the first thing you tell them?

I would tell them that it was an exciting experience during which I learnt not just about Indian democracy, but was also able to compare it with the Colombian and Australian cases.

In many ways, India is like my country, Colombia – only bigger. It is a country full of history, food, cultures, languages and, of course, challenges. Thus, India for me is like a mirror in which I see a reflection of myself and my own country. This feeling was maximised by my internship. The issues, methods and the manners I experienced have some resemblance to the ones back in Colombia, helping me better understand the Indian policy process.

Furthermore, India shares many aspects in the mechanics of the republic and the democratic engine with Australia, one of the focus of my studies and a country I´ve now lived in for two years. This has allowed me to develop a comparative perspective during my placement.

What are some key lessons that you learnt? How could these assist other interns finding work in the same industry?

Though it might seem obvious, do some research beforehand and think about possible topics that you are interested in related to the interest and scope of your host organisation. Being proactive is important! Google is enough. Check some news and read generally about your potential host. This will give you have an idea of the organisation and the people involved in it.

Also do some research on the things you want to do or places you want to visit during your stay. I found several foreigners and locals eager to discover new places, from a weekend trip to long adventure. You can join one of several Facebook groups, blogs or pages available online.

Also, having a good time is an essential part of the experience. Go out, make friends, and enjoy one of the most ancient and diverse civilization-state.

Finally, although the food is amazing, try to be moderate. Otherwise, you might come back with some extra weight!

What skills did you gain from the internship?

There were several skills I gained from my time at the office of Mr Panda. I will highlight two: Problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

I developed problem-solving skills when faced with the frequent rearrangement of priorities due to political changes, new information available or other eventualities, that forced us to come out with creative and efficient solutions. Although many events are unpredictable, our team was ready to respond to the challenges, adjusting our methods or even our objectives to the new reality.

Regarding critical thinking, I developed criteria to be able to recognise useful and truthful information that had the potential to be used to support arguments, while simultaneously leaving aside data that initially seemed solid, but had no background or relevance. The development of such skills led me to learn to evaluate ideas, arguments and figures quickly and effectively, and to make evidence-based decisions when they should be taken.