Whether you are a university student or a recent graduate, internships can provide invaluable opportunities to gain vital skills and industry experience. An internship with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at individual Australian embassies around the world gives those with an interest in international relations and diplomacy an experience to gain first hand insight into Australia’s foreign relations.
For an inside look at what it is like to intern at an Australian embassy, Young Australians in International Affairs sat down with two past interns, Cassie Cohen, from the Australian Embassy in Katmandu, Nepal and Samina Khan from the Australian Embassy in Tokyo, Japan.
Former intern at the Australian Embassy Kathmandu, Nepal
January 16th - February 3rd 2017
Cassie Cohen studied a Bachelor of Professional Communication at RMIT University, majoring in Politics, Economies & Communication. Prior to her Australian Embassy internship in Nepal, Cassie was a Global Voices Australian Youth Delegate at the UN Habitat III conference in Ecuador, and has previously interned with the UN Global Compact Cities Programme and the Department of the Prime Minister & Cabinet.
Describe what a typical day is like as an Aid & Development Intern with the Australian Embassy in Kathmandu.
The Australian Embassy in Kathmandu is a relatively small post, which meant I was able to get to know everyone in the office, from the security and maintenance staff to the Ambassador, the Hon. Glenn White. Indeed, when I first arrived in Nepal, I visited the embassy to introduce myself, and I was amazed to find myself in what became a lengthy discussion with the Ambassador. I heard fascinating stories about his experiences over the previous three years as the Head of Mission, as well as learning much about the Nepali political landscape and the ongoing recovery from the 2015 earthquakes.
One of my main tasks was to prepare human-interest case studies about the Micro Enterprise Development Programme (MEDEP), which Australia is funding to support disadvantaged groups such as women and those considered lower caste to generate their own income.
I was also responsible for liaising with program managers to prepare articles about Australia’s aid delivery programs in Nepal for a local bilateral magazine’s upcoming edition about Nepal’s relationship with Australia.
Everyone at the embassy was really inclusive and welcoming, and they even took me along to multilateral meetings at the UN Women and European Union offices to observe the proceedings. I was also given the opportunity to accompany a program manager on a field visit to a nearby district for the day to monitor the progress of the Community Mediation Project initiative. It was amazing to witness the impact of the program first hand.
What were your main motivators to pursue an internship overseas and how did you find the experience?
I have a keen interest in international affairs and government, so I was interested to discover what life is like inside an Australian Embassy. I was already travelling to Nepal to volunteer with the Australian Himalayan Foundation’s Teacher Training & Quality Education Program and to do some trekking, so I contacted the Embassy to enquire about internship opportunities to add a different dimension to my experience in Nepal.
I had a fantastic experience at the Embassy, with friendly colleagues, interesting work and an incredible exposure to public diplomacy. I would definitely recommend it to anyone with the opportunity!
Former intern at the Australian Embassy Tokyo, Japan
4th October - 9th December 2016
Born to a Japanese mother and Pakistani father and raised in Australia, Samina Khan has participated in the MEXT scholarship and has a Masters in Urban Planning. She now works to promote cultural and economic revitalisation at a local scale in a globalised world in Iiyama City, Japan, where she spent 2 years as a Coordinator of International Relations.
What were the benefits and what were the challenges of your internship?
I arrived on the first day of my internship hoping for a brief glimpse into the inner workings of the Embassy. Instead I was immediately welcomed to the fold, saw the Cultural Diplomacy section up close, and was invited to join the hands-on action. Amongst the many things I gained over this internship, unexpectedly, it has been the quality of my written languages that I feel have benefited most. Not only did everyone in the section have a beautifully aspirational command of both English and Japanese, and a certain style and flair across both languages; they were willing to give me time, instruction and advice for both writing and translation.
As can be expected when entering a new system, it took a little while to acclimatise to some aspects of the work culture. While the typical Japanese format relies on in-person discussion, I found that a lot of discussion at the Embassy happened via email, in a very Australian style. There were some tight deadlines and a lot of names to remember, but the biggest challenge was my commute – four hours of rush-hour Tokyo trains each day.
What advice would you give to future applicants looking to intern with the Australian Embassy in Tokyo?
An internship at the Australian Embassy in Tokyo is a wonderful hands-on experience with some brilliant people, so firstly, good choice! One of the best aspects is that you can apply yourself as in-depth to your assigned tasks as you prefer.
While relevant for any opportunity arising in this inter-connected world - it does not hurt to brush up on your knowledge of social media management.
I personally elected for a longer commute to stay with relatives, but please give your accommodation some thought.
And finally, enjoy! The internship will, unfortunately, be over in a blink of an eye, so make sure you explore and ask all the questions you intend to!