Ever wanted to know what it is like to intern with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) at an Australian embassy or consulate? In this article, Young Australians in International Affairs sat down with Alice Slevison, a MA (International Relations) graduate from the University of Melbourne, who shared her experiences and insight into her time as a DFAT Public Diplomacy Intern at the Australian Consulate General in Shanghai, China.
Where did you intern? During my postgraduate studies I undertook an internship as a Public Diplomacy Intern at the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, at the Australian Consulate General in Shanghai, in the People's Republic of China.
How did you find out about the internship?
The internship was not an advertised position, so I organised it independently while I was living in China. During my postgraduate studies I was awarded the inaugural Victorian Government Hamer Scholarship which gave me the opportunity to undertake Chinese language studies at Nanjing University. At the completion of my language studies, I decided to try my luck at obtaining an internship at the Shanghai Consulate. I organised my internship by contacting the relevant HR people, and sending through my CV. This was a time consuming process, so I was lucky that I had quite a bit of spare time left on my Chinese visa. In the end the internship came through, and I spent a month at the Consulate.
What were your day to day responsibilities/activities during the internship? I began my internship in the lead up to Chinese New Year, which meant that every day was super busy! The majority of my time was spent researching and drafting government briefing papers on provinces located in Eastern China. These briefs were given to the Ambassador, State Premiers and Members of Parliament upon their visits to Eastern China. This research required some Chinese language reading ability as I was required to use Chinese language websites to find information. My other tasks included preparing public diplomacy related materials which were sent to Xinhua News in the lead up to Chinese New Year. I also worked with my colleagues to organise the annual Australian Writer's Week in China. During the internship I was also given the opportunity to attend a number of events with my colleagues, including networking events at the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. Did the internship give you insight into how the Department works and the role of Australia's diplomatic and consular work? During the internship I had the opportunity to spend some time with the consular services team and this experience really opened my eyes to the vital work undertaken by the Department. In particular, I was able to witness the complexities involved in assisting Australians that have found themselves in trouble abroad. Additionally, I was able to witness the manner in which Australian government departments work together to achieve shared outcomes. While working on the Australian Writer's Week Festival, I had the opportunity to work closely with the Department of Education and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. This was a great way to learn about other departments and their role in China. What skills did you gain from the internship? In terms of skills, the internship gave me the ability to write government briefing papers. This proved to be a very useful skill which I later applied when I found myself working in Beijing. Another key skill was the ability to multitask in the workplace. The fast paced nature of the Consulate meant that I was often working on many unrelated tasks at the same time. Was Chinese language required during the internship? The office was bilingual in nature, similar to any other office I have worked at in China and Hong Kong. It's always helpful to have a good grasp of Chinese so that you can effectively communicate with your Chinese colleagues, but most of my tasks only required English. What was the highlight of the internship? The highlight of the internship was when myself and my colleagues teamed up with Austrade to film a greeting in Mandarin to celebrate Chinese New Year for a Chinese TV channel. Our aim was to beat the recording made by the British Consulate, and I think it's fair to say we gave it a good try! I'm not too sure if anyone could actually understand our Mandarin amongst the laughter though. Overall, it was a really enjoyable experience and I would recommend that all young Australians interested in China to go out and undertake work experience in their chosen field. There is so much to learn from the Chinese workplace, and it's a great way to develop your professional skills and your Chinese language skills.
Background on Alice: Alice Slevison holds a Masters of International Relations from the University of Melbourne, and a Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) from RMIT University. She has completed Chinese language studies in China at both Nanjing University and Xiamen University on full scholarships, as well as Chinese Business Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Most recently Alice has been working at the Australian Trade Commission at the Australian Embassy in Beijing as a short term project officer.