Five Things I learned throughout my internship at UNHCR Malaysia

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Being in an internship program not only gives you experience, but can also teach you valuable life lessons. In this article, Tanasha Suhandani shares 5 things that she gained during her internship at UNHCR Malaysia.

Hi there! My name’s Tanasha :) I recently graduated from UCSI University, Malaysia, as a B.Sc. (Hons) Nutrition with Wellness, and I also recently interned at UNHCR Malaysia as their External Relations Unit intern in May 2018. UNHCR stand for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, an international humanitarian agency under the United Nations which provides assistance for refugees who are seeking for refuge. They are located in many countries, including Malaysia. Prior to studying in Malaysia, I had little knowledge about refugees and the fact that it is one of the fastest growing global crises. As Indonesia rarely deals with the refugee crisis, this issue was unknown to me, but became more apparent as I studied in Malaysia, a country which hosted many refugees from Myanmar. From what I learned, refugees are individuals who were forced to leave their country due to war, persecution, natural disasters etc. Here’s the keyword: forced. They are basically forced to leave; and are often carrying and/or owning no legal documentations which further complicate things during their arrival in Malaysia.

 

Going back to my internship experience, my tasks as an External Relations Unit intern revolved around supporting key activities relating to fundraising and engaging with donors. Part of my work scope also allowed me to meet some of the amazing people from the government, embassies and civil society advocators (one of them was Miss Universe Malaysia 2011!). I also helped in producing public materials such as Facebook post write-ups, poster designs, brochures etc. so, if you have an interest in Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and writing, this will be a great unit for you to contribute in! Hope this gives you a small picture on what I normally do, so without further ado, here are five things I learned throughout my internship!

 

  1. Humility is the key to success

 

Now, I used to think humility is limited to “not bragging about your achievements” or “telling others how bad you are at things when you are actually good at it”, but through this internship, I learned the deeper meaning to the word “humility”. I was and still am relatively active in various leadership roles in my university, which made me over confident in my leadership experiences; where I thought I knew everything. This turned out to be a mistake as I soon realized I do not know everything, and that is okay. Realizing this will help set your foot to success, because now, you can identify the areas which you need to spend more time to learn :) This is also where humility is needed and works its way to making my internship experience a successful one. This is different to feeling inferior or minder.


Humility is also about embracing mistakes. One of the simpler tasks I had was to create a daily newsletter which updates the team on the current news of the Myanmar refugees. It was such a simple task, yet I kept finding myself making the tiniest mistakes which I felt bad for, as it only created extra hassle for my supervisors. However, instead of fretting over it, I chose to tell myself not to repeat the same mistakes twice and to double check my work prior to sending it to my supervisor. Of course, this doesn’t mean I stopped making mistakes throughout my internship; but I learned that it is okay to make mistakes at the beginning, if you are determined to improve as you progress.

 

  1. Your CV matters, but so are your motivation and characteristics

 

One of the advices that my supervisor shared to me on my last day of internship was rather interesting. She told me, “It doesn’t matter how amazing your CV looks, if your working attitude and commitments are crappy.” What she told me was mind-blowing. Often, we cared more of the titles and the achievements that we put into our CV, and yet we neglect the very important part of the recruitment – our characteristic and motivation to apply. A fair warning here, if you are looking for appraisal or hoping to only polish up your CV by joining these humanitarian international organisations, I would suggest you to look for another alternative. Many times, your efforts will go unrecognised, not because it’s not impactful, but because you understand it is more important to highlight the humanitarian issue and why it needs to be solved, than to put the spotlight on yourself. Therefore, in this case, understanding your initial passion on why you want to join in, is an important initial step to be taken. The work you do will also push you out of your comfort zone. Most of the internships under these organisations are usually unpaid internships, and sometimes you will be requested to work beyond your normal working hours. However, to me, the hard work paid off once I saw the smiles on the refugees face whilst choosing their clothes. This is such a rare opportunity, and being able to take part in it gives me so much joy and sense of fulfilment.

 

  1. The experience is as much as you make it

 

What I mean by this is how much you are gaining from this experience depends on how eager you are to gain it in the first place. You can’t rely on anyone else to make this happen; you need to take the initiatives by yourself. One of the ways I could maximize my experience was by setting out my own learning outcomes and discussing this with my supervisors. I am grateful to have such willing supervisors who cares about their interns getting the best out of the internship experience. This will give an indication to your supervisor on how committed you are in contributing back to the organisation

 

through this internship and how you treasure self-growth. I also find putting a “thick face” and starting conversations with fellow workers there helped me to not only network but learn from their experiences.

 

 

  1. Be open to learning new culture

 

At UNHCR Malaysia, you will find yourself surrounded by different employees coming from different countries. Throughout my internship, I’ve met some friends from New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Canada, U.S, etc. We all came from different backgrounds and culture – and although it can be intimidating at first, you’ll be surprised on how friendly these people can be and how interested they are to learn your culture! I also find them to be extremely understanding when it comes to difficulties we have when conversing in English. You also get to understand different mindsets which will not only broaden your knowledge, but also shape you to be a global citizen with an open mindset and better interpersonal skills, so those are some bonus for your characteristics!

 

  1. Networking, networking, networking

 

Finally, networking. It is so important, and it won’t happen if you choose to eat all by yourself in the canteen rather than approaching people. At the beginning, I was the only intern for May 2018 batch. I met my first intern friend by saying hi to a random guy who looked like an intern, while he was queueing to pay for lunch at the canteen. Surprisingly, he was an intern! He also introduced me to the Whatsapp group for interns. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity not to only make new friends, but also arrange a workshop with the more senior level employees on how to get hired in international organisations. I got to know the internship opportunity whilst collaborating with the UNHCR Malaysia’s Health Unit for my Final Year research (also known as Tugas Akhir in Indonesian), which assisted me in securing a place for the internship. The most uncommon gesture that I feel people need to mention more when talking about networking, is to highlight the importance of small gestures. Things such as checking up on others and sending greeting cards can mean a lot to your co-workers; which will also help build a long-term relationship.

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Tanasha Suhandani
Tanasha Suhandani is the co-founder of Hands of Hope Malaysia NGO and Kyan-Mar-Yeh (Health) Project, aiming to provide education and healthcare access to the underserved communities. Due to her previous study in Malaysia, she has been actively involved in providing nutrition education programs for the refugee communities in Malaysia, as well as conducting research in collaboration with UNHCR Malaysia. She holds a bachelor degree in Nutrition with Wellness from UCSI University, Malaysia where her undergraduate study received 60% partial fee-scholarship from UCSI University TRUST. Recently, she was also granted an academic fellowship from U.S. Department of States, as an Indonesia representative for the YSEALI Academic Fellowship Spring 2018 Program under the Civic Engagement field.