What's It Like to Intern in India? Ask a UVA student

Career Administrator

My name is Heather Thompson, and I am a third-year student in the School of Arts and Sciences. I'm doubling in Foreign Affairs and Economics, and I'll be graduating this spring. My primary involvement at UVA is definitely rugby. I started playing my first year and absolutely love it. Now I'm also match secretary for the rugby team. I also am in Phi Alpha Delta (the pre-law fraternity), and volunteer with Campus Kitchen. Outside of school, I work for the Papers of George Washington and at Splendora's downtown. 

Could you give a brief overview of your internship?

Through the UVA Office of Global Internships, I secured an internship and scholarship with Arpana in Himachal Pradesh. Arpana has a lot of different focuses as an organization. I was working on a newly developed ecotourism program. We primarily worked with people who wanted to be tour guides on improving their English skills so that tourists could understand them. This involved a lot of classroom English sessions, as well as doing practice hikes and talking about the area we were in. 

What was your favorite part about your internship? About India?

My favorite part of my internship was the people that I met and the friendships that I made. I still keep in touch with a lot of the amazing people that were a part of my internship experience. The area we were in is also incredibly beautiful. The people we worked with were incredibly knowledgeable about the local ecology, agriculture, and government, and it was amazing to be able to learn from them during our classes. 

India as a whole was amazing. I really only got to experience a small part of that, but from what I saw I certainly want to explore more. 

What were the biggest lessons learned from your internship?

I think that what my internship most taught me was how to be flexible. The language barrier complicated things at times, and navigating cultural differences was also a challenge. This was my first time abroad, and being able to be flexible and open to new experiences definitely made 

What advice would you give to students wanting to work or intern abroad?

I would say that doing as much research as possible beforehand makes your trip much easier. If you're going somewhere rural, also be prepared in case there isn't the level of connectivity you're used to. I definitely wish that I had taken Hindi lessons before going to India; having at least basic Hindi phrases down would have been really helpful. 

I also really underestimated how much I would stand out as a white female. A lot of people would want to take pictures of us, which often created uncomfortable situations.  

What’s next for you? Do you want to go back to India at some point?

Next year I'll be doing a one-year Master's program here at UVA in Religion, Politics, and Conflict. My decision to enter into this program was definitely influenced by my time in India and working with Arpana. I'm also currently an Editorial Associate for The Indian Economist. Although this is a remote position,  I most definitely want to go back to India at some point - hopefully very soon! I am in my second semester of Hindi classes and plan on continuing to study Hindi or Urdu during my MA program next year. From there, I'm hoping to work abroad for at least a few years, but time will tell!