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Career Spotlight: Interning with Australian Diplomatic Missions

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade offers a number of internships at its embassies and missions. We spoke to two former interns, Alexandra Pascoe and Annie Jiang, who have undertaken internships with Australian Missions overseas. In our interview, they shared their interning experiences and offered advice on finding opportunities in international relations.

Interested applicants can find internships for the Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva here. Applications for the June/July 2019 Human Rights Council session open December 20th. Internships at individual embassies are offered on an ad hoc basis through embassy specific websites.

Alexandra Pascoe - Intern at the Australian Embassy in Berlin

1. For our readers, could you tell us a little about yourself and your background? What was your first involvement in the international relations field?

I finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Melbourne earlier this year; a Bachelor of Arts (Degree with Honours) with majors in Politics & International Studies and German, and a Diploma of Languages in Chinese. I am currently studying an MSc International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Just prior to moving to London, I was interning at the Australian Embassy in Berlin. This was my first overseas experience in the international relations field. However, throughout my undergrad degree I worked part time at the Australia China Business Council in Melbourne. I feel very lucky to have been able to gain professional insight into the bilateral relationships that exist between Australia and China (mainly focusing on trade and investment links), as well as Australia and Germany (focusing on both the political and economic relationship). It has also been hugely interesting to experience a more complex relationship in the Australia-China space, and contrast it with the increasing importance being placed on ties and cooperation between Australia and Germany as two like-minded partners.

2. Tell us about your experience at the Australian Embassy in Berlin. How did you get the position and what did the experience involve?

I had an amazing time working at the Australian Embassy in Berlin. I learned a great deal about how an overseas mission operates and the type of work it carries out. I first heard about the internship a couple of years ago from someone who had just done it themselves and was immediately struck by what an incredible opportunity it would be. The Embassy advertises internship positions periodically, so I applied and luckily got the role! The position involved range of tasks including conducting research for the Australian diplomats; monitoring German media coverage of certain issues; preparation of various communications including social media content, invitations for events, and factsheets; assisting with cultural diplomacy initiatives; as well as my own project undertaken with another intern on science and research collaboration between Australia and Germany.

3. In such a competitive area of work, how can you make sure you stand out? What experiences and attributes have you found are valuable to develop?

I have found that international experience can be invaluable not just in terms of personal development, but especially for professional development. Whether it be in an educational or professional setting, international experience and the global perspective that one can gain from it – while being great things to have in and of themselves – will certainly help you stand out. I have also found that communication skills are valued in most workplace settings; the ability to process information in a timely and efficient manner, then present ideas in a clear and concise way is a great skill to have. Finally, foreign language skills never hurt!

4. What advice would you give to students and young Australians looking to enter the international relations field? What are some resources or advice that can help those starting out?

It’s not very revolutionary advice, but I have found it really useful to speak to people currently working in or who have worked in the field you’re interested in. If you’re looking for advice on recruitment processes, it’s always useful to talk to people who have been through it already. Also, organisations who cater to young people interested in international affairs, such as Young Australians in International Affairs are great platforms allowing for information sharing and learning about the field with likeminded individuals.

Annie Jiang - Intern at the Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva

1. For our readers, could you tell us a little about yourself and your background? What was your first involvement in the international relations field?

I’ve just finished my Bachelor of Arts degree (majoring in International Studies and French) at the University of Melbourne, and I’ll be moving on to the Juris Doctor next year. I became interested in international relations in high school, when I first began thinking about what sort of career I’d like to have in the future. Although I’d always been more of a maths/science kid, IR really interested me, and the more I thought about it, the more I felt it would be the right choice for me. I actually began my undergraduate degree quite new to international politics, world history and even the social sciences as a whole, but I quickly discovered that I’d made the right choice, and now I’m really passionate about all of the above!

2. Tell us about your experience interning at an Australian Mission? What did the internship entail?

I recently completed an internship with the Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva during the 38th session of the Human Rights Council. I got quite lucky, as I was going to Geneva already for exchange, and had thought it would be prudent to try and find some sort of internship opportunity while I was there. It just happened to be that the Mission was looking for interns for a six-week program in June-July.

During the internship, I attended various meetings and events at the Human Rights Council. There were three interns in total, and we took notes on the proceedings and provided administrative support to the human rights team at the Mission.

I found the internship a really eye-opening experience. It’s one thing to learn about organisations like the UN, and another thing entirely to be there in the room. I learned a lot about international relations in practice and it was fascinating to see different dynamics as they play out in real time. I also happened to be there when the US pulled out of the Council, which was a unique experience! I would absolutely recommend my experience to anyone interested in working in international institutions in the future.

3. Going into the internship, what skill proved to be most useful to your work? What else did you learn from the experience and how did it help your career journey?

In terms of practical skills, my communications skills were really useful. It’s always a great skill to be able to write well. If you can research and synthesise information effectively and concisely, it will definitely give you an edge. My typing skills also came in handy!

I learnt a huge deal during the internship, especially about how the UN works in practice, and about the daily life of a DFAT employee. However, I think the most important lesson the experience gave me was in reaffirming my interest in a career in international relations. It exposed me to people with really diverse experiences and skill sets, and gave me great insight into all the different types of job opportunities out there.

I returned from the internship with a renewed excitement about my field, and keen to find more local opportunities to broaden my horizons and further develop my skills. Don’t get me wrong – it’s also been a pretty great addition to my CV!

4. In such a competitive area of work, how can you make sure you stand out? What experiences and attributes have you found are valuable to develop?

I think it’s crucial to be open to new experiences, even those which may not necessarily seem immediately or directly related to international relations. IR is definitely a competitive field, and it can be hard to stand out based purely on knowledge or IR-specific experience. However, if you can show how your work in other areas can be useful in an IR context, it’ll definitely give you an edge. You’ll also have a unique perspective and be able to draw from your experience and knowledge of multiple sectors.

You’ll also develop valuable skills. Synthesising information, writing for an audience, communicating… These are not limited to international relations, and you can develop them by doing a wide variety of things. Also, it’s a great way to find out what you enjoy doing, and what you don’t. Are you a policy person? Do you enjoy public speaking? Can you handle pressure?

Finally, I think it’s important to stay curious, especially when you’re working at an entry-level or doing an internship. Internships, especially, are an opportunity to learn, so make the most of them! Ask lots of questions. Don’t be afraid. You’re not expected to know everything right away, and your supervisors are there to support you. Try and take every available opportunity to grow and develop.

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