mccoll intern india

Robert McColl on a ‘thrilling’ and ‘meaningful’ internship in India

mccoll intern india

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

Last September, I took a class through my International Relations degree, “India and the World,” taught by Professor Amitabh Mattoo. Professor Mattoo’s module left me with a deep interest in India, as well as a determination to experience the country first-hand. When this internship in Delhi was publicised, I thought it was a unique and exciting opportunity to enhance my knowledge of the Republic. I was successful in my application and was placed at the Federation of Indian Chamber and Commerce, or FICCI, the nation’s premier business association. I worked in FICCI’s international division, in the ASEAN and Oceania team.

At the time of my internship, FICCI was deep into preparations for the 4th India-ASEAN Expo and Summit, which it organises with the Government of India. The expo was part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Act East” policy – a strategy prescribing greater India-ASEAN integration – and one of the most consequential events on FICCI’s annual calendar. Months of hard work and planning go into its success, and dozens of Indian and ASEAN government and business leaders participate and contribute. In both the preparation phase and the event itself, FICCI gave me significant responsibilities, including researching and producing suggested talking points for ASEAN and India government and industry leaders. Additionally, I wrote “votes of thanks” speeches for FICCI leadership.

It was thrilling to witness research I conducted, and words I wrote, used by ASEAN and India industry and government leaders. Assisting, contributing and working alongside the FICCI team at this annual event was an invaluable learning curve, and I am very glad I got to take part and experience the expo firsthand.

What was the work environment like at your internship?

The workplace was fast-paced but extremely welcoming. My supervisor Gunveena Chadha and the FICCI team demonstrated a friendliness and warmth to me I will never forget. Moreover, as I proved my competency at tasks, I was given more responsibility, opportunity, and challenge.

I was fortunate to have an incredible supervisor in Gunveena Chadha. I’ll never forget the first morning when Gunveena told me I was part of her team – I found that very motivating. As a leader, Gunveena pushed me to get the most out of my internship and gave me opportunities to take on more responsibility and grow. Under Gunveena’s leadership, future interns from Australia are in good hands.

What skills did you gain from the internship?

One of the primary reasons I took this internship was to improve my “India-literacy”. As we approach the Asian Century, it is imperative Australian’s develop a more sophisticated knowledge of the countries in our region. As India is one of the most important actors in Asia (and arguably will one day become its most important nation), I leapt at the chance to develop my understanding of the country and its people by living and working in Delhi. Throughout the internship, I built meaningful friendships with my Indian workmates, who shared invaluable insights about their nation’s past, present, and future. These insights, as well as witnessing the ebbs and flows of daily life, added an extra layer of sophistication to my understanding of India.

The research tasks I completed at FICCI were also extremely enlightening and useful. These projects pertained to India’s trade relations with other countries. By the end of the internship, I developed a solid understanding of India’s trade relations with its partners abroad. Given India’s incredible growth and immense size, knowledge in this area is unique and useful as the Republic will remain an important trading nation for years to come.

Photo Robert McColl FICCI

What were the highlights of your time in India?

At a business forum organised by FICCI, I was afforded the chance to hear Prime Minister Modi speak. Modi is omnipresent in India, and his name enters almost every conversation. Therefore, to be in India, witnessing this titan of Indian politics speak before me, was surreal. Though controversial, Modi’s expression of his desire to see India reach its full potential was sincere, and he was an extremely charismatic and captivating public speaker.

Outside of the workweek, another high point was visiting the Taj Mahal. On the day I visited India’s most famous building, the sky was misty. Seeing the grand white marble mausoleum between the clouds made me feel like I had walked through the gates of heaven. I would love to experience the Taj Mahal again with my family.

I also experienced a real “full circle” moment. Six months after taking his incredible module on India, I was able to catch up with Professor Amitabh Mattoo in Delhi. Professor Mattoo delivered the address at the Oration of Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, Allan Myers AC QC, and we were reacquainted afterwards. His module really kick-started my Indian adventure, and it was a very special moment to be reunited in India, considering we last met in a classroom in Australia when I was studying the country. Professor Mattoo told me how happy he was I developed such a keen interest in India, and that really meant a lot from a person of his accomplishments and stature. It was also a pleasure to hear Chancellor Allan Myers speak about the university’s desire to build stronger ties with the Republic.

What were your perceptions before India, and how did they change?

This internship was my first time in India, and I thought I would experience huge culture shock. I remember preparing myself for a society entirely different from anything I ever witnessed. However, once in India, I discovered my fears were overblown. Yes, India is very different to Australia. It is noisier and busier, for one. However, if you wish, all the creature comforts are there too. In Delhi, you can find a Starbucks very easily. Uber is as easy to use in India as it is in Australia. As for the Delhi metro, it is cleaner than the Tube in London.

The friendliness I experienced from locals also helped blunt any disorientation. Priya, a close friend of mine, has family in Delhi, and she was kind enough to put me in touch with her uncle, Goldy, and his family. I saw Goldy and his family on weekends and really enjoyed spending time in an Indian family environment. They really embraced me from the get-go and made me feel at home in their country. We didn’t only speak about India, either. Half of Goldy’s family supported Real Madrid and the other Manchester United, and I enjoyed talking to them about professional football. I remember on my first weekend when I was still adjusting to India, the family took me out to Connaught Place for the day. I told Goldy I was worried about the traffic, which seemed to be chaotic. He advised me not to be concerned as India had so many different religions, there were enough God’s to look after everyone. From that point on, I became much more relaxed about the country’s different approach to things. Once I saw how comfortable Goldy and his family were with the rhythm of Indian life, I felt the same way too. I would say forging great relationships with people that live in the country is the best cure for homesickness. With new friends and a little time, India began to feel like home.

What advice would you give to future applicants?

I would implore applicants to see the internship as more than a professional opportunity. Yes, the knowledge you develop and skills you enhance through the internship are fantastic. However, the personal relationships you make are equally important. The people of India are among the most welcoming on the planet. Moreover, as this internship places you in an Indian working environment, you are not in the expat bubble and have a rare chance to make friends with locals. I certainly made great friendships with my FICCI workmates, and I really miss working with them. In the office I met people I shared a similar sense of humour with. We had deep conversations too. I was humbled to hear colleagues telling me I changed or altered their opinion of Australians and Australia. One of my closest friends in the office told me I was their first Australian friend, and I know we will catch up again in the future. In fact, he wants me to return for Diwali!

I would also advise applicants to make an effort to soak up the culture. Throughout my time at FICCI, I would ask my colleagues the Hindi for basic phrases and then endeavour to use them in the office. I learnt how to say “I am well” (“main theek hoon”), “happy birthday” (“janmadin mubaarak”), “how are you?” (“tum kes ee ho”), and my favourite, “theek hai” meaning “alright” or “ok”. My colleagues were very kind and said I was a natural at Hindi. Certain cultures don’t necessarily like people attempting their language. However, my workmates loved the fact I was having a go at learning phrases, and got a kick out of my efforts. It was a lot of fun incorporating Hindi into daily life in India, and I suggest future interns try it too.

Lastly, I would tell future interns not to worry or overthink. By all means, practice common sense and a little caution but take comfort in the fact that while in Delhi you will be supported. The Australia India Institute in both Melbourne and Delhi were extremely helpful and checked in on me regularly. The High Commission in Delhi is another point of contact in case you have any issues. It is important to remember that, although India is far away from home, you will always have a support network.

What is next for you?

I am finishing my Master of International Relations degree this semester which will mark the end of an incredible chapter. At present, I am applying for graduate programs. In the future I would like to keep India an area of focus. I am open to opportunities to continue developing my knowledge of, and connection with, India. It is a fascinating place, and also an important country on the world stage. In the meantime, returning for a holiday would be nice too. When I do, I certainly have no shortage of friends to have a chai with.