Namaste everyone! Welcome back to the blog rundown of my journey of being a Mumbaikar (a Mumbai Local).
This entry delves into my internship at the New Zealand Consulate in Mumbai, where I was extremely fortunate to work with the lovely consulate team situated in the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC), and get a bit of a taste of all the New Zealand Industries that work so hard to put Aotearoa on the map, halfway across the world!
I didn’t really know what to expect on my first day, I think my main worry was actually getting to the location as the local train I normally take was quite a few stops before Bandra, my new stop for the Consulate. Thankfully it wasn’t too stressful, and I just tried to listen for the word ‘Bandra’ amongst the Hindi loudspeaker announcements on the train carriage. My real mission was hailing a rickshaw to BKC once I got off the train! Bandra is the final boundary where rickshaws are allowed to operate in Mumbai, and all my other work had been south of that, so I had yet to experience hailing a driver on my own. You don’t realise how much easier life is to navigate in your home country where everyone speaks the same language until you have to communicate with gestures and broken Hindi, stressing to the driver you’re going to be late for your first day if he doesn’t accept you in the shared ride immediately. Whilst I had done a lot of Duolingo prior to arriving in India, and had attempted to pick up some of the common phrases in the weeks I had already been living there- communication still just isn’t as smooth as it would be in your mother tongue. I paid the driver the 400(8 NZD) rupee tariff, and was taken to my work building. It’s amazing how the drivers know the area like the back of their hand once you give them the name of your destination, no GPS required!
Introduction of the Mahi
My first day set the bar quite high, I got to know all my colleagues who were so kind, and made sure I felt at ease as soon as I walked through the doors. They showed me to my designated desk, made sure my WIFI was up and running, and most importantly, initiated me into the office with a chai by the lovely Prisco & Vishal whom I was greeted by at the front door. They also all laughed (mostly in shock) when I told them how much my rickshaw cost to get to work, letting me know I got overcharged by about 8x the normal price (meant to be 1NZD)- ah the joys of being a foreigner and the ‘sometimes hidden fee’- I definitely learnt to challenge the initial price after that!
I really enjoyed being thrown into the deep end from day one, straight into zooms with staff at the NZ High Commission in New Delhi who gave me some research and reporting tasks for Education New Zealand. This mostly consisted of highlighting our kiwi Universities and the courses they offer for specific degrees to students in India! It’s really cool to be able to highlight our unique educational strengths and qualities to people all the way across the world. Whilst I won’t go over every single day in detail, my second day on the internship was quite a standout, where I was told to meet at the stunning Taj Palace Hotel to do some prep with the Consulate team for the Hon. NZ Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Nanaia Mahuta’s visit to Mumbai! It was such a lucky coincidence that her visit coincided with our programme, and it was really cool to work with the team to figure out the logistics, technical details and itinerary planning for her couple of days in Mumbai. Neha, Irfan and Nisha – the members of the Consulate who were at the Taj Hotel that day, were so lovely and made sure I was just as involved as they were in the decision making, asking for my thoughts and adding to their lists any notes I had scribbled down whilst we were at the venue. They also took me out for a lovely lunch at an iconic family owned Parsi restaurant in Colaba called Britannica & Co, where we had delicious food and along with the arrival of another staff member Ashwin, I got given a good low-down on Mumbai’s hotspots, hidden gems, and other must-do’s whilst I’m in India. The rest of the two weeks leading up to the Minister’s event were pretty jam-packed with work from other industries too, I’d been helping out with Tourism New Zealand, making calls with different tourism companies around India that would be attending NZ Tourism’s March Event. It was cool to see such a keen interest about our industries, and genuine curiosity about our country and the potential relationships that could arise between Aotearoa and India as a result of that!
Mahi & more Mahi
I also did some report writing for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), whereby the MFAT Advisers at the High Commission in Delhi kindly gave me some work to do remotely from Mumbai! It was work I was particularly interested in getting involved with, so it was really rewarding to be able to do quite a bit of that over the internship period, and figure out the kind of work I really enjoy. Most of my research for MFAT was on the Southeast Asia, covering a range of defence, trade, security, political and economic matters – a lot of points of interest crossing over from my Global Studies degree that I was able to utilise too which was quite reassuring. It turns out, these things called degrees are super useful in practise after all- who knew?
A big privilege for me was helping out with the NZ Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s visit to Mumbai on February 10th, where the Consulate staff really made me feel a part of the team both on and all the way leading up to that day, including me in all the briefings, using the notes I took throughout the two weeks at meetings, and just making sure I was always involved in the conversations. They were also very adamant that I was more than just an intern, introducing me to all the amazing guests and speakers on the day as a member of the team too. It was a bit of a pinch me moment to be included in the team photo with the Minister and High Commissioner David Pine after they did a virtual ribbon cutting to open a business in India! It was also awesome to meet some of the Delhi staff from the High Commission like my supervisor Jugnu, who i’d only ever interacted with over zoom!
Do the mahi, get the treats.
It was a truly awesome day and whilst full on, with a packed 9am-9pm schedule, it honestly went by so quickly because of how busy we were, from making sure the various meetings, round-table discussions, lunches, and interviews all stayed within their allocated slots, to enjoying several un-timetabled chats with the Minister herself as student, it was a fantastic opportunity and not exactly something I will forget anytime soon. The Minister asked about how I was finding the experience and after telling her about how I honestly didn’t realise I would learn so much, particularly in combatting a lot of the narratives the media spins about India, she nodded her head and said, ‘travel is the best teacher’, which I’m pretty sure after this experience, all 15 of us that came from Aotearoa could agree with!
The rest of my amazing PMSA group also got to come to have a sit down with the Minister in the afternoon, and it was so cool to have us all to reflect our learnings to her and give her a bit of a rundown about how meaningful our time in India had been so far. After my group had left, it was back to work and the last event of the day was an amazing reception in the ‘rendezvous room’ inside the Taj Hotel, where so many amazing entrepreneurs, business owners and powerhouse leaders around India came and listened to the Minister talk about the amazing, flourishing relationship between India and New Zealand! It was so cool to be so far away from home, in a room overlooking all of Mumbai, yet have a video playing with a view of Piha beach and our national birds and plants on a massive screen, with a young kiwi accent narrating the clips as well. The Minister also indirectly mentioned our conversation in her speech, stating that after her discussion with students, she enjoyed hearing that our preconceived notions of India have been changed for the better. I think the best way to sum it up is if we got a chance to come back to India, everyone would be at the airport at the click of a finger, there’s no chance of missing that flight! Although it was a 12-hour day, I truly enjoyed every single moment and I think ending the night by eating some halwa (Indian dessert) with Prisco and Vishal, watching the waves drift between the Gateway of India arch, could not have been a cooler way to end such a memorable day!
Gratefulness, it is the people at the centre of everything.
All in all, I had a really fulfilling time with my Internship at the New Zealand Consulate in Mumbai, the bonds I made with my colleagues are lifelong and the lessons and work experience I gained, are truly invaluable. I want to thank them all for also introducing me to all things India- from the coolest artefacts in Colaba, to the best biryani places in BKC (thank you Neha B for the Hyderabad Biryani introduction), and the most up to date pop culture news (thanks Nish for the Pathan and SRK discussions), the information overload has been fantastic, and I will forever cherish the time I spent working with the team there.
I thought I would share my Middle Eastern roots with the team as they’re already quite familiar with kiwi culture, and brought in my favourite Arab desserts during the internship- amazing Baklava and Kunafa that I sourced and managed to bring out, it definitely went down a treat! You can take the girl out of the Middle East but you cannot take the Middle East out of the girl…..
To conclude though, it really is so heart-warming to see people halfway across the world pour their own heart and soul into building those cross-cultural relationships with our country, and I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to be welcomed in with such kindness and care.
The cross-cultural tool box of skills I now have gained is genuinely something I know I will use for the rest of my life, and in every aspect of it too. I hope that I can repay this experience by putting that new knowledge into the work I do back home, in our communities, in Aotearoa.
Dhanyavaad and Chalo, see you all in New Zealand – I’m ready to be the guide for your tiki tour!