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Notes From the Motherland: Why I Chose to Intern Abroad in Chennai, India

Join me through my reporter internships at news organizations in Chennai, India.

I never imagined volunteering myself to stay in India longer than three weeks. My parents had brought me to Chennai every single year of my life. The images of India I had always recalled included countless mosquitoes, power outages, and sweltering heat. I’ll be honest. I didn’t like it.

But after the demise of my grandfather over the summer, and the realization that I could graduate from UF a semester early, I decided to use my free spring semester to give my grandmother company in the haunting and historic house we affectionately call “Ekamra Nivas. The job market here in the U.S. wasn’t looking favorable, so I lined up two internships in India: one at CNN-IBN’s Chennai Bureau office (unpaid), and another at The Hindu, India’s largest national newspaper (paid).

Aside from supporting and spending some extra time with my grandmother, there were certainly selfish reasons for me to pursue an internship abroad instead of in the U.S.:

Reasons to work or study abroad, why i interned in India, reasons people work in a foreign country, reasons people study in a foreign country

  1. Gaining international experience: This has become increasingly important as employers look for applicants who have certain language skills or can understand the nuances of doing business in or with foreign companies. One might think: “Well if everyone eventually gains international experience through a study abroad, internship, or work program, don’t you lose the edge after a point?” Not necessarily. These experiences are so varied and unique that the specific story and skills you bring to the table will set you apart from other candidates. You can look for companies or positions that would value those experiences and skills, or, position your unique skills to fit what’s listed in the job posting.
  2. Keeping a backup plan open: I graduated at one of the worst times for someone entering the job market. The 2008 economic downturn. So I’m thinking if things don’t work out in the U.S., could I potentially work in a different country? Over the years I have actually grown accustomed to life in India, and I thought the best way to see if I could ever bear living here is by immersing myself in Chennai for a few months at least.
  3. Testing my ability to thrive amidst uncertainty: It’s easy to succeed in one’s comfort zone. But what about when the surrounding environments, ways of doing business, and perspectives of the people around you are not the same as those with which you were raised? I can understand and speak my native language, Tamil, colloquially, but I’ve never been able to speak or fully understood the formal Tamil that’s spoken on the news or in political settings. That means I’ll have to figure out a way to connect with my editors, peers, and sources to gather information and succeed professionally in this new environment.
  4. Stepping out of my bubble: Aside from experiencing and overcoming discomfort, it’s also important to step out of one’s bubble to see what lessons we can learn and apply to improve ourselves. All I’ve ever experienced is what it’s like to work in a newsroom in the U.S., and that too, in my home and college town of Gainesville, Florida. What is it like in other places? A big city? In another country? Do they operate differently, and what can I learn about how newsrooms operate and journalists pursue stories elsewhere? Perhaps I can bring back those lessons to the U.S.
  5. Preparing for the real workplace: Aside from giving you an edge against others candidates, interning or studying abroad provides a crash course in learning what it’s like to work with foreign teams even if your job in the future will be in your home country.  We are living in a global economy and our world continues to get smaller. Deals are made across international borders, and now we work with offshore teams and foreign colleagues. Our peers could be working in a different time zone. That means in the real workplace, understanding the business norms and etiquette of others and how work is conducted in other countries can prepare you for cross-cultural interactions and even strengthen your network for future professional opportunities. (Trust me, something as simple as scheduling a meetings or interview with someone on the other side of the world can be more challenging than one might expect.)

For these reasons, I skipped my graduation ceremony, said goodbye to my friends, and for the first time in my life, after traveling across the world more than 30 times, I made the trip alone. Until just a few weeks ago I had always made this trip with my parents. As (bad)luck would have it, this was also the first time it took me three days to get here thanks to a three hour delay in Detroit.

When I (finally) arrived in Chennai airport, for the first time I thought “I made it. I’m home.” Yes, home. Never over the course of 20 years had I said that before. I suppose that 21st year gave me some perspective.

I’ll be spending the next few months here working alongside Indian television and print journalists…living with my grandmother and servants who have seen three generations of the same family blossom…immersing myself in a culture which I’ve never identified as foreign, but one which I have had to deliberately work to make my own. I give you notes, from the motherland.

Have you worked in a foreign country?

Have you done a news internship in a foreign country? Or did you ever step out of your comfort zone and work in a foreign setting? How did you make that decision, and what was your experience like? Let me know in the comments!

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1 comment on “Notes From the Motherland: Why I Chose to Intern Abroad in Chennai, India

  1. There are many things about the sentiments in this post that are lovely — and a few that leave me uneasy. But it would necessitate too long a post right now to set down in logical and clear terms what they are. Hopefully, I will — one day.


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