CASS ambassador Daniel Hellig-Smith likens the Australian National Internship Program (ANIP) to Roald Dahl’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was always one of my favourite books growing up and the idea of that elusive golden ticket has never been far from my mind. ANIP has managed to finally offer me that golden ticket through my work in Semester 1, 2018 at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Admittedly, when I was younger I was more thinking about indulging in as much chocolate as my stomach could fit (and that is still a dream of mine) rather than diving heads first into a foreign affairs internship, but here I am.
I’ve always had a passion and interest for foreign affairs. Even early in life at home we’d discuss what was happening in the world around the dinner table. But I was always unsure as to where it would take me beyond my lectures and tutorials. So I thought DFAT would be a great way to see if this was something for me.
I, liked the fresh faced youngsters walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, was completely unprepared for the real complexities and issues I would find at DFAT. As an intern, DFAT has involved me in the decision making process in an inclusive way that means I have a true say in shaping policy and diplomats minds. I can’t always talk about the work I do – like Willy Wonka’s Factory it can be confidential – but I can say that they’ve challenged me in unique ways to think outside of the box and grow my knowledge on topics that I hadn’t ever considered before. Issues such as how to best deliver Australian aid, how does development and gender connect and what the hell is the rules based order are just some of the debates that DFAT has brought to the front of my mind.
I don’t think I’ll ever create the perfect blend of chocolate or solve the Syrian crisis but my golden ticket has offered me an insight into what life is truly like in the field.
It does still feel surreal and I do sometimes feel out of place; as Charlie did when he first found his ticket. But it has shown me that I can build upon my passion for foreign affairs and that a career in diplomacy, development and public policy is a place where I would like to go. ANIP’s golden ticket has provided me with a foot in the door into the field providing me with valuable experience, connections, perspectives and insight that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible.
Like Charlie I have had to prove my worth and ANIP also allowed me to develop and work on a research project. Initially, I was worried about the project as I had never written anything of this length (8000 words, wowee!) and the project has definitely challenged and tested me at times. However, it has offered me a great opportunity to pick leading expert’s brains, develop my research ability and offer an important contribution in a field that is growing in importance and isn’t taught at uni: the militarisation of space. I actually get excited to sit down and write my project, occasionally with the aid of some chocolate, at the end of a long day.
Getting excited about a research project sounds weird and, trust me, it still sounds weird to me too! But feeling like you have an impact and getting to write about something that interests you is a unique and valuable opportunity.
Perhaps the area that can’t compare with Charlie and his journey is that my ANIP peers that I’ve met along the way are miles away from the Veruca Salt’s and the Augustus Gloop’s of Charlie’s adventure. Instead of spoilt brats, I’ve gotten to meet some of the most engaging, interesting and fun people I’ve met during my time at uni. They have all taught me a lot about really interesting fields that I would never have heard of otherwise from agriculture to economics to the work they do at embassies.
There have definitely been times where I would rather fall into a chocolate river than push myself to tackle complex geopolitical issues (who hasn’t been there?) – but I wouldn’t have given up this opportunity for the world. My golden ticket has, like Charlie, shown me a world beyond my wildest imagination.
(By the way if you’re wondering what the rules based international order is it, according to the Australian Government, is - ‘a shared commitment by all countries to conduct their activities in accordance with agreed rules which evolve over time, such as international law and regional security arrangements' – whatever that means I’ll leave up to you!)
ANIP is offered for ANU students who have completed 96 units and runs in both Semester 1 and 2. Applications can be found here.