Interning Abroad: Chennai
Three credits never felt more physically earned than they have here in India. Completing an Internship in the subcontinent is a test of will, temperature tolerance, and cultural understanding. Merely putting on formal attire in this climate is detrimental to the sweat pores and the thread count of any collared shirt or blouse that sees the light of day. My personal experiences on the clock may not define every employment opportunity available to students abroad, but it is no less interesting.
I completed an internship with the Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S), a local think tank dedicated to research in and around the People’s Republic. The team is made up of one director, Commodore R.S. Vasan, three research officers, including my superior, Asma, and two interns. We are located on the first floor of a shared office space between C3S and Athena Infonomics, a development firm. My role at the Centre was quite fluid, allowing my personal talents to contribute in several ways.
First and foremost, I was to complete a research project to be published by C3S. My topic revolved around the ethnic Uyghur population in China’s northwest Xinjiang. The paper explored Chinese influence in the region, as well as the implications for China’s foreign policy with Central Asia. I gave two presentations on the topic, one during the introductory period of my research and the other near the conclusion, for which I created power point presentations. On top of that, I also started a new publication on their behalf to give young minds an opportunity to make their voices heard among the experts. The experience was challenging but satisfying for myself and fellow researchers at C3S. On top of an opportunity to enhance my CV, they also provided a platform from which I was able to present my work to experts and fellow researchers. Constructive criticism, especially from another cultural perspective, carries the work further than all-nighter editing in the US.
The office culture is slightly different from American companies. Instead of addressing someone with mister and miss and their last name, one uses their given name with a sir or ma’am on the end. A stretched perception of time equals relaxed perceptions of deadlines, resulting in more productivity and less constraint. This phenomena is found in multiple areas of Indian productivity, including academia and social scientific institutions. The work is always completed, but start and end times become flexible, attendance is uncertain, and appointments are kept with a possibility of rescheduling. Perhaps time is more stringent in hard sciences and fast-paced employment, but my observations reared relaxation. Many aspects are universal, like internationally-recognized formal attire, addictions to coffee, and office banter laced throughout the day.
One day that really stuck out was a visit from the Chinese Ambassador to India, the honorable Luo Zhaohui, to the Centre on a recent tour the delegation took. He gave us insight on relations between the two nations and plans for more cooperation. Interacting with a high-level diplomat in such an intimate setting was a privilege that everyone, especially in the social science fields, should be able to enjoy.
As months turn to weeks, I look back on my fulfilling internship role with humility and appreciation. Even if my time there only lasted three months, the connections and the experience gained will continue with me long after I step onto the return flight. To anyone who is studying abroad or thinking about working away from the US, I highly recommend looking into an internship while away. The international community embraces young minds with an eagerness to learn and willingness to work. My time in India would not have been the same without C3S, and I hope I have made my mark for them as well.
Marc is a Political Science major at Elizabethtown College and BCA Storyteller for the Fall 2017 semester in India! His interests lie in performing arts, as well as international affairs, or drama fest as he likes to refer to it. Follow Marc on his semester abroad by tuning into BCA’s social media platforms and blogs.