Chasing away wild peacocks from a polo pitch, haggling for the best price on 100 copies of the KamaSutra, and trying to stop a painted elephant from hosing himself down – and thus smudging the design on his back – may not sound like tasks that add value to your CV, but you'd be surprised.
Last summer, I finished my degree and decided to take a gap year, reasoning that spending a few months getting work experience, earning money and giving my brain a well-deserved rest was the best option for me before deciding what to do with the rest of my life. I looked at my uni's career website, found a promising, interesting-looking internship with a small, niche company, and, a few months later boarded a flight to India, as the newest employee for an events management company based in Rajasthan. Over the ten manic weeks I spent there with a fellow graduate, I learnt more about the working world than I would have thought possible.
One main advantage of working for a small company, rather than a well-established global conglomerate is that interns have more to do, and get trusted with a lot more responsibility. Despite handling some of India's biggest social events, the company itself was quite small, and the interns had a big role to play, from coming up with a social media strategy, to negotiating purchases on behalf of our clients. The most fun were the creative brainstorms – our bosses, while possessed of a very good idea of what worked, were always keen to think of new and quirky ways to impress our clients. To an extent, this is true of any start up, but place it somewhere like India where 'nothing is impossible to organise', and you get given a completely new scope to play with. From Bollywood troupes to, yes, hiring someone to paint a designer's signature print onto their elephant.
The intricacies of office politics vary from company to company, let alone culture to culture, but India's hierarchical society adds a whole new element to this. There were a lot of perks, of course – being associated with the company gave us unrestricted access to some of India's most beautiful forts, for instance, and the varied nature of the job gave us some very cool tasks. But the pitfalls were dangerous too, as we spent our first two weeks delicately finding out which of the local merchants were trying to rip us off on a regular basis, or who had ulterior motives in wanting to get us to bring our friends and clients to their shops. Figuring out appropriate dress codes and how to address someone seemed very daunting at first, but this baptism of fire provided great experience for life in the working world.
One of the truly enjoyable aspects of the job was the variety it provided. Some days we spent 9-5 in the office, drawing up client databases, or coming up with marketing strategy, and other days we were up till midnight ensuring our events were running smoothly. I came to realise that this unpredictable, near-chaotic work life suited me much more than knowing exactly what my routine would be in a month or even a week's time. It kept me on my toes, provided a constant challenge, and let me see far more of both the company and the country than I would have imagined, and the work I produced was much more original and fresh in consequence.
The one rule my boss always stressed was 'Just imagine that everything will go wrong and plan accordingly', and we were constantly amazed at the sheer number of ways in which things could, and did, get derailed. Whether it was a power-cut that meant we lost a days' worth of database work, or the Maharajah deciding to attend an event at the last minute (I didn't know how intricate seating plans were until they all had to be scrambled at the eleventh hour) we learnt that it's always a good idea to have a Plan C, let alone a Plan B. While infrastructure issues may not affect things to the same extent in the Western world, I'd attained a whole new level of patience and really learnt to appreciate the value of 'always being prepared'.
After the internship ended, I spent a few weeks traveling, and was amazed at how comfortable I'd become with haggling and negotiation and how much more comfortable I was heading into new places, or dealing with radically different circumstances.
Not all grads may want to work abroad, and, precisely for the reasons listed above, I'm not sure I would want a permanent job in India, but the fact that I've got this under my belt makes me quietly confident that I can handle anything that any other office can throw at me.