The Democratic Progress Institute are always really keen to make sure King’s students know all about the 3 month internships they offer and often get their interns to share their experiences with us. Thanks to King’s student Alice Curci for this post which should certainly whet your appetite to apply!
I came to know about the work of the Democratic Progress Institute last March, during an event organised for the Middle East and Mediterranean Studies programme by the King’s College London Career Service. Throughout the event I had the opportunity to listen to and interact with the members of different organisations based here in London, ranging from think tanks and Non-Governmental Organisations to political risk consultancies.
After listening to the representative from DPI describing their work, I was immediately drawn to the organisation: the idea of conducting research for an NGO which deals with conflict resolution, the main focus of my Masters programme, had a nice ring to it. Being able to choose the subject of my research from topics as various as the Kurdish issue in Turkey and the civil war in Syria, the role of women and that of the media in conflict resolution, and democracy promotion and advocacy, sounded even better. Being able to do all this within a friendly environment in which I could work closely with the members of staff and get a full taste of what it really means to work for a no
n for profit organisation was simply music to my ears! So I applied, dreaming of how much I would enjoy exploring the gendered aspects of conflict in the Middle East.
Things, though, rarely work out according to plan, and my experience at DPI turned out to be completely different from what I had imagined – and a much more exciting one! I know it might be hard to believe that there could possibly be anything more exciting than exploring the gendered aspects of conflict in the Middle East and writing a 10,000-word research paper on the topic, but trust me – there is. After interviewing, it took a while to hear back from the office, and I had almost given up hope and resigned myself to a life of unemployment when I finally received my internship offer email from DPI. It pretty much looked like this:
We are delighted to offer you a research internship with DPI. My apologies for the delay in responding to you about this, but the reason is that we have in fact been considering potential interns to take part in a very special opportunity offered by DPI, and I wanted to ask you about this. DPI will be conducting a comparative study visit to South Africa from 29th April to 8th May 2013. The visit will include meetings with the key actors from the South African process, and visits to Cape Town, Pretoria, Johannesburg and a Safari park. The delegation will include approximately 25 people from Turkey, including members from the ruling party and pro-Kurdish opposition, as well as renowned media personalities, academics and civil society leaders. Please let me know if this is something that would be of interest and you would like to be on our list for consideration.”
Sitting in the British Library, working on an essay that was making my life particularly miserable, I basically started hyperventilating. I was being offered:
- A way out of the dark hole into which my essay had drawn me (just kidding, but I am sure you can all relate with the feeling of despair, so yes – it did briefly cross my mind)
- The internship position I had been wishing for
- A one-week long trip to South Africa with a delegation of Turkish and Kurdish politicians and members of the Turkish civil society, for free.
No wonder I was hyperventilating! I accepted, in case you were wondering, and before a week had passed I had packed my bags and boarded a plane to South Africa.
My job there was to be the “eyes and ears” of the trip, taking detailed notes of everything that was said or done during the meetings and the visits, and taking plenty of pictures to be gathered in a final report once back in London.
I am sure I have already managed to convince you that this was a truly awesome experience, but allow me to expand. The trip was part of a series of Comparative Study visits organised by DPI within the framework of their Turkey Programme. What this means in practice is that a group of Turkey’s MPs drawn from the ruling party (AK Party) and the two main opposition parties (the BDP and CHP), together with a bunch of high level journalists, some of Turkey’s media best known personalities, and academics, sometimes get to travel to countries with a history of conflict resolution and learn everything possible about the way they managed to solve their own issues, in order to apply the lesson to the Turkish situation. What this meant for me is that I got to learn a great deal, much more than I could have ever learned sitting in a classroom or reading a book on the topic: for a whole week I had the opportunity to sit in meetings with key negotiators of the South African peace process, with the politicians who worked on drafting the first democratic Constitution, with Constitutional Court judges and disarmament experts. I listened to Deputy President Mothlante and representatives from the ruling party discuss the present challenges the country needs to face, and heard members of both the old apartheid regime and the ANC contribute their different perspectives and insights. I visited Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island and his house in Soweto, as well as the apartheid museum; I talked to former political prisoners and exiles and realised that what I knew about apartheid and the struggle for liberation was not nearly enough. I learned much more about the Kurdish issue in Turkey as well, and had the opportunity to watch members of opposing parties interact and build relationships and trust. I learned that the fact that I do not agree with a party’s political stance does not imply that its members must be evil or despicable. This might sound silly to many of you, but trust me, giving a face and connecting a memory to each name makes even watching the news and following the current developments a much richer experience. During the trip, I got to truly understand how DPI works and the real-world impact of the research and planning going on in the office. By providing a neutral framework within which the actors can learn, build trust and discuss issues, DPI is actively contributing to the resolution of the Kurdish issue. The level of interaction I found among the core group members, despite their different political affiliation, was astonishing and for me totally unexpected. DPI gave me the opportunity to experience conflict resolution first-hand, and I will never be able to stress enough how important this is. Oh, and did I mention we spent two days in a safari reserve?
Now, I am not saying that as you apply you will be put on a plane to an awesome faraway land, but DPI embarks on these kinds of initiatives on quite a regular base, between Comparative Study Visits and Roundtable Meetings. So it might not be guaranteed, but I would say it is at least likely. And if you do get lucky and are actually taken along to the aforementioned awesome faraway land, I feel compelled to warn you that it is not all moonlight and roses. You might need some survival tips!
The first problem you will have to deal with is that you are most likely going to be new to DPI and its work, and you might feel a little intimidated and out of place. The day I left for South Africa was my absolute first day of work and I can positively tell you that I had no idea of what I was doing. A major piece of advice would be to fake it and just pretend you know exactly what is going on around you, but I found out the hard way that the good ole “fake it until you make it” does not always work. I am pretty sure I looked awkward and terrified for at least the first three days, but even then you are the one behind the camera, (I had to take photos documenting the entire visit) so no worries – there won’t be any evidence left behind. If you really don’t know what to do, then ask questions. If you are not sure about who is who, which is very likely to happen, or you just want some feedback to figure out if you actually are being terribly awkward, staff are always there to answer questions. They have been there, they have done that. Everyone has to start from somewhere, so there is no need to be intimidated.
Secondly, do not underestimate the workload. I admit I had no idea as to the amount of work I was taking on by accepting to go to South Africa until I got there. This is not intended to deter you, but just to warn you: be prepared, you will have to work hard.
Lastly, know that your internship is not going to be all as awesome as your week/weekend/day on a DPI trip. You are going to come back, and you are going to look at the awful amount of notes you have taken and panic. You are going to sit there and listen to the recordings over and over again, and wonder why you did this to yourself – because it was an awesome learning experience that you would have not gotten any other way, that’s why. Always keep that in mind! And office life is far from being boring anyway. The internship might be demanding, but the environment is cheerful and friendly and everyone is always willing to help you, be it a fellow intern or a member of the staff. Concerning the more “mundane” tasks you will be expected to carry out, such as making coffee, covering the reception desk or cutting bushes – yes, cutting bushes – as an intern you would be expected to perform those tasks anywhere, so you’d better do it with a smile on your face! And hey, that is learning too. Next job I get, I will not be the girl who had to ask guidance about how to use a cafétière.