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Steven Connolly interns at MP Baijayant Panda office in Delhi

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In 2017 a number of students studying at Victorian education providers were chosen to participate in the newly created Victoria India Internship Program. The program, hosted by the Australia India Institute in Melbourne and the Australia India Institute @Delhi and supported by the Victorian Government’s Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources gave students the opportunity to work for Indian organisation based in Melbourne and India.  To learn more about internship opportunities, please email marianna.sarris@unimelb.edu.au

Steven Connolly, a Bachelor of Arts student who majored in Politics and International Studies at The University of Melbourne, had the opportunity to intern at MP Baijayant Panda’s Office in Delhi for 6 weeks in January-February 2018.

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

A: I found out about the opportunity to complete an internship in India when researching and applying for graduate career opportunities on the University careers page.

The policy-related host organisation was initially uncertain, but upon being shortlisted I was able to express a preference to work in the office of Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda, an Indian Lok Sabha MP (similar to Australia’s House of Representatives).

While my initial brief was to develop a research proposal to improve Delhi’s air pollution through policy reform, I found that I also had the opportunity to work on a host of foreign policy briefs vis-à-vis India’s strategic relationships within its region, and on domestic policy issues such as transgender rights and justice system reforms.

Q: What was the work environment like at your internship?

A: My colleagues included those of us in the policy team, our social media team, and a few administrative clerks, as well as guards, drivers and an office assistant who would bring tea, coffee and food (easily the most important member of our office!).

The work environment was fairly relaxed, save for a few days when we had to furiously watch, interpret and write briefings on the Government’s latest budget, and when other deadlines were drawing near.

I particularly enjoyed being drawn into office-wide discussions on recent developments in Indian politics, or perhaps more often, on some particular Bollywood film or social trend, which meant that I was able to get a much broader perspective of Indian politics and culture.

Q: What surprised you about the internship?

A: I was surprised by the great diversity of different opportunities I was able to engage in throughout my relatively short internship.

Having barely been in India for a week, I was invited to spend an afternoon out of the office to meet Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews at the state government’s launch of Victoria’s India Strategy. This featured delightful presentations by Victoria’s South Asia Trade Commissioner, Michelle Wade, and Honorary Director of the Aii@Delhi, Professor Amitabh Mattoo.

Following that soon came an invitation to observe the annual Australia India Leadership Dialogue. These discussions covered issues of mutual importance to both countries, as well as suggestions from representatives as to how ties can be further strengthened.

Throughout the internship, I also had numerous opportunities through Jay Panda’s office to accompany him to conferences and presentations on digital rights, foreign policy and reform of the Indian justice system.

Then, as if I hadn’t spent enough time out of the office, I was given the all-clear (to my surprise, given recent political tensions in the region) to travel to Odisha in the final week of my internship. On most days I was able to take a helicopter ride out to different rural villages where we would meet village elders and local political leaders. This gave me a different perspective of how local politics works on the ground.

It would be difficult for an internship in Australia to come close to delivering such a wealth of various experiences and opportunities to develop my professional and academic skills.

Q: What was a mistake you made that may assist other interns finding work in the same industry? What was the lesson you learnt?

A: Not staying long enough. When accepting the internship offer, I was so caught up with starting on my career journey back in Melbourne that I booked a return flight which left Delhi shortly after my internship wrapped up.

India has such an incredible diversity of cultures, languages and ethnic groups that it would have been an interesting additional learning experience to travel more widely and compare my experiences in Delhi to cities in southern India.

I think the key lesson here is to keep your options open, as it is hard to predict where such an experience may take you!

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

A: I really enjoy telling people about my 5 seconds of fame on a national Odia language news channel, OTV.

Toward the end of my internship, I had invited myself on a trip to Jay Panda’s constituency of Kendrapara, Odisha. He and his staff were very generous with their time, taking me to different villages to unveil large federally-funded projects, making condolence visits, and talking with local people about their concerns.

Jay Panda was mobbed by supporters everywhere we went, with literally hundreds of people turning out to see him and to chant as we walked: “Welcome, welcome, Baijayant Panda welcome!” and “Baijayant Panda zindabad, zindabad, zindabad!” (“Long live Baijayant Panda”). Such a welcome for any politician in Australia would be unheard of!

I picked up these chants and was caught joining in with the crowd on several occasions by OTV cameras following the various parades, of which I was notified by my colleagues back in Delhi!

Q: What skills did you gain from the internship?

A: The internship gave me a great opportunity to write concise, yet in-depth briefs for a sitting MP. Initially it took me some time to refine and learn the preferred format of these various briefs, but after a week or two I was able to anticipate weaknesses in my sources and choice of statistics to present a more robust overview of these issues.

I was also able to develop my professional networking skills at the annual Australia India Leadership dialogue. I had the tremendous opportunity through this to meet with Australian and Indian youth leaders as well as senior political and academic leaders from both countries, as an observer of the Dialogue. Meeting and discussing the relationship between our two countries with dozens of people over a few days was a useful exercise in remembering names and making introductions.

While I had tried to learn some Hindi before arriving in Delhi, I learned so much more in-country about the correct pronunciation of English words (‘ral-way station’ is not universally understood as ‘rail-way station’) and Hindi words (mastery of the subtle rolled-R is useful). I also developed an understanding of the intricacies of the precise meaning, and appropriate use of the Indian head-wobble, for which there was a steep learning curve.

Q: What’s next for you in your career?

A: Since getting back to Melbourne I’ve been focusing on looking for work that is as interesting and intellectually stimulating as that which I was exposed to in Delhi. I’ve begun to apply for 2019 graduate development programs, and am hoping to have success in the meantime looking for policy work in entry-level public service roles.