Tips for Students Interesting in Working in India – From Farhat

Professionals working internationally often have a country or regional expertise. Employers seek this knowledge and experience for a variety of reasons, including cultural fluency, language skills and networks that make working faster and effective. For young professionals, this is often a double-edged sword because employers want that experience before they hire you and you need experience to get hired.

For those interested in working (or developing an expertise) in India, I offer my humble advice on landing an internship (often the first step) and making the most of it compiled from personal experience, interviews with Brandeis alumni and professionals in the field, and some research.

  1. Know what you want – I know this can seem daunting.  However, being clear about your professional goals (even if they will change) helps define the skills you are seeking to obtain in an internship and lends itself to articulating those goals to those to your network. It also gives you (and your employer) clarity as to what you are working towards – as opposed to doing busy work. Alumni cite this as being important to making the most of any internship opportunity.
  2. Network – For me, networking is more than finding connections for a job.  That is one part – but there is a whole other world of things to network for like learning about the culture, meeting up with locals, making friends when you get there, etc. Don’t be bashful. Let friends, family and former co-workers know where you are going and ask them to introduce you to people.
  3. Letters of interest – Send an introductory e-mail to those you would like to work for stating your professional goals, timeframe in India and be specific about why you are reaching out to them/their organization. Don’t hesitate to follow-up with a phone call or a second e-mail (in this case, send a new e-mail that does not mention they did not get back to you – they might have been busy and this helps them save face).
  4. Integrate – India is a cultural experience. The food, the people, the colors, clothes, movies (yes, Bollywood!), history – you name it – are extraordinary. When staying there make a concerted effort to meet with locals, stay with a host family, wear local clothes and go to offbeat places. Or take a dance class – this was one my most memorable experiences! These experiences will undoubtedly be enriching to you. And it will not go unrecognized by your colleagues and will likely be something you can bond over.
  5. Language – India is filled with over 200 languages. So keep in mind that this can limit some interactions on the ground. Learn a few phrases or take language classes.

These tips are only the tip of the iceberg, so here are a few websites that can also help you get ready (admittedly some are more off the cuff then others):

  • 30 things every American should know before moving to India:

  • For funding your internship in India, google “Fellowships in India” and you will come up with a myriad of opportunities. Also, some internships will provide a stipend and/or housing (just ask!).

Farhat Jilalbhoy Sends Highlights From the Field!

A full moon illuminated the Ganges River as I rolled up my pants, held my bag over my head and waded into the water to get onto the rickety wooden boat. As I crossed the river, I reflected on the day’s events. While trying to make the last boat to the remote rural island, we were forced to abandon our cars (and drivers) stuck in a 3 hour traffic jam for a tiny rickshaw that held our group of nine. Upon reaching the island, we walked in the darkness on the sandy shore, making our way through a stream’s broken bamboo bridge and finally reached the village. While on the island I only saw what was immediately in front of me, dimly lit by the small flashlight I had thrown into my suitcase as a last minute thought. I barely missed walking into a cow – and if a snake or person were nearby I would never have known. Life without electricity and the dangers, especially for women, is a reality for the residents both on the island and in 400 million households throughout India.

Sitting on the boat, I reflected on how the research and planning from headquarters was coming alive for me. I am currently working with the Rockefeller Foundation on a rural electrification and economic development project that is implemented through a number of Indian organizations. While I am not new to field work, it is always a humbling experience. It continuously teaches me to check my assumptions and reminds me that the devil is in the details (e.g. did I factor in that it takes field staff 2 hours each way to reach the island?). Moreover, it reminds me to be patient. Patient for the reports, patient for progress and patient with the process of getting things done. In fact, I was told by the CEO of TARA (a prominent Indian NGO) that patience is a top skill needed by development professionals and is quickly taught by working in India.

Here are some other things working in the field (re) taught me:

  • Field staff and beneficiaries hold a great amount of knowledge.
  • Eat all the food and drink the chai provided.
  • Take my time and open my eyes. A lot of things observed make sense later.
  • Learn (at least) a few phrases in the native language.
  • Dress appropriately or conservatively. For the ladies that means salwar khameez.
  • Most of all be flexible, be patient and be humble.