How Co-op Took Me Across the World to a Rural City in Southern India

How Co-op Took Me Across the World to a Rural City in Southern India

By: Mariah McKnight
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My six-month internship with the Deshpande Foundation was anything but typical. I was 20 years old and although I had travelled on occasion, moving 12,000 kilometers across the world to gain job experience in Hubli, India was one of the biggest decisions I had ever made.

When I first arrived in Hubli, I was confused and disoriented.  Everything was extremely different as I attempted to adjust to my new home.  India is one of the most populated countries in the world. Hubli, for example, considered to be a small town, has a population of over two million people. I encountered differences in language, etiquette, cultural values, clothing, food, modes of travel and loss of many of the conveniences of home that were no longer at my disposal. As well as the experience of living amongst the chaos of a large city. One of many pleasant surprises, however, was how friendly my co-workers were. They welcomed me as if I were family.  In addition, I was grateful to have several other international interns as mentors and guides. 

During my first month at the Deshpande Foundation, I was thrown into a whirlwind of activity as myself and my coworkers frantically prepared for Development in Dialogue, the foundation's annual event.  Although hectic and intense, preparing for the event was an excellent way to begin my internship as I was able to experience Deshpande at full-tilt.  I was impressed at how everyone worked together and collaborated to ensure that the event ran smoothly, according to plan, and that it was a great success.

As time went on, I eventually began to work in an area more conducive to my field of study of public relations, and am thankful to have received such a thorough educational experience.  The internship gave me a strong understanding of public relations, as I learned about many fundamental practices and applications within the field. Additionally, I learned about the value of time management and how to meet the many deadlines the organization demanded. I also learned the importance of being open-minded and adaptable. And of taking the time to understand and appreciate the work ethics of a different culture. 

Perhaps the most difficult adjustment for me began a month after I arrived, when each of the other interns completed their internship and left India. At that time, I felt terribly isolated and alone.  Although it was a very difficult and challenging experience, it prompted me to reach out to my co-workers and develop closer friendships. I worked towards integrating into the local community and found comfort in the kindness and support of my colleagues. In turn, I was invited to join Bollywood dance classes and attend numerous weddings, where my co-workers dressed me up in beautiful saris. One co-worker and I became such close friends that I was invited to her family home on several occasions.  What started out as a lonely position to be in, truly blossomed into an inspiring and rewarding experience.

Apart from my regular workload, I had the opportunity to explore a large portion of the country. From visiting the Taj Mahal, to the pink city of Jaipur, to the calm beaches of Go Karna, and the Temple festival in Kerala. Each was a phenomenal experience that I will never forget.

I mentioned that my internship was not typical. I believe that this was due to the fact that Deshpande Foundation gives interns a tremendous amount of responsibility, holding us accountable in ways that have allowed me to experience what being a real employee is like.  Additionally, my managers generously allowed me to collaborate and pursue work in the department closest to my field of study. 

I believe this internship was, in a sense, an investment into my future.  It was a real-life experience that gave me the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a professional environment.  It was an opportunity to learn about the many different avenues of work within my field and helped to clarify which aspects I’m most drawn to.  In addition, it opened my eyes to what living in a developing country is like.  It also gave me the opportunity to learn about and develop skills needed to adjust to and thrive in a culture that, in many ways, is at the opposite end of the continuum from my familiar and comfortable lifestyle in Burnaby, British Columbia.

Working in a foreign country has given me the opportunity to learn about a radically different culture and its traditions, customs, and lifestyle.  I was able to immerse myself in a completely different way of life which became an unbelievably meaningful and enriching experience.

Beyond the Article

  • Visit the International Co-op homepage to learn about opportunities like Mariah's. 
  • Tessa Leyland, was so inspired by her international co-op experience that she decided to raise money for a worthy cause. Read her story, here.
  • Tatum Miller spent his international co-op coaching hockey in China. Check out his unique story.



Posted on August 25, 2017