Virtual (Tw)Internships

Srishti (left) and Sreesha Ghosh interned at different organizations in Europe this summer, but they worked side-by-side from their home in Dubai

Sophomore twin sisters Sreesha and Srishti Ghosh complete virtual European internships from their home in Dubai.

By Rajesh Parameswaran

Srishti Ghosh ’23 and Sreesha Ghosh ’23, twin sisters from Dubai, were excited when they each secured distinct European internships through Princeton’s International Internship Program (IIP) for summer 2020.

Srishti’s summer placement would take her to Copenhagen, Denmark, to work for the Danish Institute of Human Rights, and she was excited to have a solo adventure. “I have lived with my twin sister for 18 years of my life, so this was a new opportunity to explore something on my own,” says Srishti.  

Her sister Sreesha accepted a position as a writer for the Athens Voice Media Company in Greece, and was set to produce articles about local attractions for their English-language publication. “It was a dream come true for me,” she says. 

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted that dream — not just for Sreesha and Srishti, but for all the students in IIP. In May, as the pandemic raged around the world, it became increasingly clear that the University’s restrictions on travel would carry through the summer. “We had initially thought of canceling the program entirely,” says Shahreen Rahman, director of IIP, which is housed in the Office of International Programs. But after close collaboration with their international partners, Rahman and her team eventually concluded that many internships could be reconfigured as remote experiences that could be meaningful, if nontraditional. Ultimately, over 100 students were able to intern remotely in over 30 countries. 

So how do you do an international internship without the international travel? “I definitely really struggled with it at the beginning,” says Sreesha, whose job focused on writing about tourism in Athens. “Travel journalism [seemed like] kind of the most redundant thing you can think about in a pandemic. So much of the internship was supposed to be about being there in person and writing about things you had seen yourself, and I wasn’t sure how I would be able to do that from Dubai.” 

At the Danish Institute for Human Rights, Srishti contributed to the development of business and human rights projects, including work on a paper on the scope of energy transitions in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite her distance from Copenhagen, she was welcomed right into the office life. She says her colleagues were quick to involve her in everyday operations, and trusted her with independent work. “The minute I joined, I had a meeting with the whole office, and they kept emailing me to see whether I was okay, if I wanted to catch up,” Srishti says. “[The virtual environment] went way above my expectations.” 

The twins discovered that working side-by-side from home offered certain advantages, including a window into two very different work styles and cultures. Srishti’s 9 to 5 job, with regular meetings and an intense workload, differed from Sreesha’s more flexible schedule. It was a good reality check. “Every time I found my work overwhelming,” Sreesha says. “I literally just had to look over [at Srishti] and I’d think, you know what, I’m okay with mine.” 

Being at home in the United Arab Emirates allowed the twins to keep up with other activities, such as taking driving classes — Srishti is the better driver, Sreesha admitted; playing badminton; baking, which is Srishti’s passion; studying Korean, an interest Sreesha developed from watching K-dramas; and enjoying time together as a family — which, as international students, they didn’t take for granted. Plus, the sisters could back each other up when their otherwise supportive parents thought they were spending too much time on their laptops. “Because we were both experiencing the same thing, I had somebody to vouch for the amount of screen time I was consuming,” Sreesha says.

Sreesha soon figured out ways to write about Athens even while thousands of miles away. “I did a ton of research… I was watching videos, reading travel blogs,” she says. She wrote articles covering nightlife, beaches and cycling trips, and even wrote a piece about how to see Athens in under a day, which involved nailing down travel times between locations in a city she’d never been to. She became so productive that, according to Rahman, the organization credited her with helping them keep their English-language publication alive when they otherwise might have had to suspend it.

Of course, the sisters missed many things about actually being abroad. Srishti, who is the founder and president of the Princeton Baking Company, missed the sweet things. “Dreaming about pastries in Copenhagen made [not going there] a little more difficult to swallow,” she says. Although she’d expected her Denmark-based coworkers to be stuck at home like she was, that wasn’t the case. “There was a weird disconnect of everyone else being at the office and me getting emails saying, ‘Let’s catch up at the pier after work,’ and for me that was kind of unfortunate.”

While their experiences working from home were meaningful, the remote internships didn’t quash the sisters’ travel bug. Srishti said she intends to visit Copenhagen and meet her coworkers when she can.

For all the knowledge she amassed about Athens, Sreesha says, “I don’t think I’ll feel fulfilled or that I’m done with the internship until I go [there] at least once. But I feel bad for anyone who goes with me because I don’t think I’ll shut up about it.” 

The twins discovered that working side-by-side from home offered certain advantages, including a window into two very different work styles and cultures.