Please tell us about yourself

“It’s our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Aparna Sreedhara (left-most) personifies these words of Albus Dumbledore, as she says that choosing to intern with ISDG, Trivandram over a well paid internship in IT sector was one of her best decisions till date.  Aparna is a final year Computer Science & Engineering student at RVCE Bangalore. Here’s her internship story.

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How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

Confusion is a prominent part of a person’s life. On 29th April 2014, I stood utterly confused, totally unsure of what to do! The reason for this confusion was that, I had in fact bagged two internships, one at a reputed IT company in Bangalore, other an off-beat Public Policy Research internship at Institute for Sustainable Development and Governance (ISDG), Trivandrum. The former was through my college, while the latter I had applied on my own. I was drawn to the social sector since a long time, but I did enjoy writing codes and building softwares as well! Now I was in dilemma whether to go for the IT company, have 99% chances of a PPO later, get paid 30k a month as stipend; or go to an entirely new place and do an entirely new thing. Friends presented varied opinions, I had not yet told at home because of the fear that they might ask me to take the safe-choice and stay in Bangalore like a good girl. One of my friends told me a very valuable thing, “If you want a trailer to life in IT industry, stay here, else pack your bags.” Having made up my mind 60% to go to Kerala, I broke the news to my parents, but I was still confused. My dad then said, “What are you even thinking about? You can earn money later too! Go to Trivandrum.” That was when I decided to take up the internship at ISDG, Trivandrum, and I mailed them my acceptance. And that is one of the best decisions of my life, till date!

Tell us about your experience at ISDG

ISDG is a Public Policy Research Institute, situated at Trivandrum, Kerala and is a sister organization of Centre for Communication and Development Studies (CCDS), Pune. This is a non-profit organization involved in research on urban governance, public policy and budget analysis, and women and child empowerment headed by Dr. John Samuel. The sweet smell of upcoming monsoon welcomed me when I got down at Kochiveli Station, Trivandrum on the 4th of June. Fast forwarding all the awesome exciting experiences of first doze of God’s own country, I reported to my internship on the 5th of June at ISDG, located at Kowadiar, one of the posh extensions of Trivandrum. I was introduced to everyone by the program co-ordinator. There were three other interns, all three economics graduates, and one a post-graduate in economics! That very day two more interns had joined, one a Political Science graduate, and the other a Sociology graduate. And others–one was from London, one from Chennai, one from a remote village of Kerala so on and so forth. So yeah, guess you got the point; people there were from various different places and various different backgrounds, and I was initially perturbed by the fact that only I was from a technical background for a non-technical job, but realized later that Computer Science Engineers can really learn and work on anything under the sun!

What were the initiatives that you were involved in?

I spent the first couple of days learning about various projects going on at the institute. I also got to work on analysis of performance of Kerala MLAs in the year 2013. After first two days, I had my first interaction with John Samuel sir, who also works at the United Nations. He walked all the interns through how things happen at ISDG, its initiatives and activities. The work culture and environment at ISDG was simply superb. There were absolutely no hierarchy, and interns, full-time employees, senior researchers and professors, discussed, debated and collaborated to work on various issues. I got to work on two projects, ‘Waste Management in Trivandrum City’, and ‘Slum Development in Trivandrum City’, which were primary modules in Urban Governance Report which was to be released by ISDG in early August, and the Social Watch Report. The excitement of frisking out information, the experience of helping file RTIs, the exhaustion after fruitless search of result of all Govt Action Plans and projects… well it really was an unexplainable mix of “Wow, I am actually doing something” and “UFF! Coding is much easier!”

Along with this mainstream work, there is also Open Space (OS) which is an youth initiative and part of ISDG. OS is a creative platform to understand and initiate social changes. All ISDG interns got to be part of OS as well, and as a part of OS activities, every Wednesday afternoon was Movie-Screening and every Friday afternoon was Policy Dialogue. Movie Screening was one fun time where we all–interns and senior researchers alike–had to get together and watch a movie chosen by one of us. Policy dialogue was a serious yet highly educative counterpart, which saw the participation of many political researchers, politicians and students from various institutes. We actively discussed and debated on issues like electoral-reforms, women-safety etc. Also, there were book-tasting sessions, which involved book reviews. OS & ISDG also once got featured in The Hindu, while I was working there. It felt it awesome to come to a different state and have my photo appear in the newspaper!

What did you like about your internship?

Lunch, which was free every single day, was also one of the primary awesome things about my internship. It was prepared in-house, the cook Latha chichi(didi in mallu), who also formed a major part of ISDG family. ISDG was more a family than a workplace. It created a home away from home for me, who was staying alone for the first time! My last day at ISDG still seems very surreal. The professors there got me a farewell gift, yummy chocolate cake, and I gave a farewell speech as well. My proudest moment was when the Admin of ISDG with tears in her eyes said I was one of the best interns they ever had and they would really miss me.

Amidst all this, visiting the beach every weekend, trips to Allepy, Ponmudi, Varkala etc, first experience of staying at hostel, watching mallu movies in theatres, eating stuff whose name I really cannot pronounce (eg- Pazham Pori), wearing dhoti and visiting Padmanabaswamy Temple, trying to catch on a little malyalam (I can now understand Malyalam and even blurt out a few words!), was a truly wonderful experience. Altogether, at the end of my summer internship at ISDG, I felt myself transformed, more confident and more enthused to bring about a positive change in the society.”