9 August 2023

Supporting women in India through Prime Minister's Scholarship

Alumni Stories

Caitlin shares her experience travelling to Mumbai, India as part of a group Prime Ministers Scholarship for Asia.

By Caitlin Lorigan

I finished my Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Arts conjoint in 2023 and am now working as a Graduate Consultant at Deloitte. I chose this degree because I love working with people and communities; I want to be a voice for others and be able to provide a solution. My aspiration is to work as a legal officer in the New Zealand Defence Force. I knew I could have gone to university through the Defence Force but wanted to enjoy my university life by itself, straight out of high school, and make friends and have new experiences.

I initially heard about the Prime Minister’s Scholarships for Asia (PMSA) and Latin America (PMSLA) programme through a friend in 2019. I applied for the PMSLA and was awarded an individual scholarship, which would have enabled me to travel to Colombia for 6 weeks. Unfortunately, I did not end up travelling due to the global lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. After seeing the PMSA group programmes advertised at the University of Auckland in 2022, I knew I had to apply because I wanted to have an overseas internship experience in a place completely new to me and different to New Zealand. I thought it would be an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and allow me to grow personally and professionally.

I found the PMSA application process like any other job application; personal details, questions about why I wanted to apply, and both a group and individual interview. It can seem like a daunting process, but the CDES and 360 International teams at the University of Auckland, were there to answer any questions I had throughout the process.

There were many things I was looking forward to experiencing, but it was not until I was physically present in India, that I discovered the vast range of things to do and see. I made sure to make the most of each day and every opportunity. The highlights of doing a PMSA internship are being overseas experiencing a new culture, being able to learn and gain a new level of independence and being with an amazing group of students who were supportive and fun all throughout the trip.

My time abroad went above and beyond my expectations. Although there were many uncertainties before arriving in India, I soon learned a lot just by being there. One challenge was getting over the sickness. Thankfully, I did not have it that bad and recovered within a few days. However, with getting sick also comes homesickness. Being miles away from home and my family, sharing a room with someone who I had only just met, and being in a group of 14 other students who I had also just met, can be challenging. But with this comes being able to bond with the other students who were also homesick; we could understand how we were feeling and tried to support each other the best we could.

Besides this, as with travelling to any new country comes the challenges of language and transport. Having to catch the train every day was a small challenge at the start, but soon became something I thoroughly enjoyed and something I now miss being back in New Zealand. While interning, my lovely work colleagues would also teach me Hindi and Marathi (the language of Maharashtra) and I felt like I fitted in somewhat. After a few weeks of settling in and getting used to everything, my experience went above and beyond my expectations. To understand how amazing India is, you need to travel there yourself.

The organisation I interned at is Urja Trust. Urja Trust is a non-government organisation that supports young homeless women in accessing fundamental needs. I interned 5 days a week, 11am-5.30pm, and had a traditional and informal experience of what India is like. I enjoyed freshly made chai every morning, interacted with the women who stayed at the homeless shelters, visited the Mumbai Police Station and One Stop Centre, while also creating policy for Urja around areas such as diversity and inclusivity. I conducted research and data analysis on the 2021 crime and violence report in India, which not only allowed me to work on my professional skills and implement knowledge from my university studies, but also gave me an eye-opening learning about the reality in India and how many women are affected by crime.

My plans after completing the PMSA programme includes working full-time while keeping the connection to the Urja Trust and to the PMSA group. It was a special experience that I will never forget; I miss India a lot and I miss Urja, but the experience I had was just the beginning of my journey and I look forward to the positive impacts I can have on my communities while back in New Zealand.

I feel the PMSA programme and experience has firstly opened my eyes and given me practical real-life experience of how people live completely different lives to me. It has challenged me and made me reflect on the ways that I can be more practical about my learnings and turn them into actions that will create positive impact. This experience has strengthened my passion and aroha (love) for communities and the volunteering that I do. Giving back to those in need, whether it be big or small, it all adds up. It has made me determined to continue my work with Urja and be able to go back to India one day.

Although I could write forever about my experience and how it has changed me, I have had an inner physical and mental change that words will not be able to explain. I want to use this experience for the better and use it as the start of my journey to what is yet to come. I am very grateful and privileged to have had the opportunity to intern at Urja Trust in India, and I won’t ever forget it.

I want to encourage future students to be bold, be open to new things and make the most of every opportunity. I had chosen India as my first option for the internship and there were some students in my group who didn’t, yet they ended up absolutely loving it. Take the chance to step out of your comfort zone and apply somewhere different to where you’d expect yourself to go. I believe this is how you make the most of learning opportunities in life.

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