At the beginning of 2020, no one quite predicted the tumultuous world-changing event that laid just beyond the horizon.
The rumblings of how quickly things could change began in the early months overseas but by March, Australians were swiftly caught up in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amelia Ekkel started in early 2020 as a graduate, moving from her home in Melbourne where she had worked as a state public servant.
Like others, Ms Ekkel began the new role as expected but after a few weeks, her plans were railroaded by the pandemic.
The public service was asked to drop what it was doing and respond to the sharp spike in demand for government support services.
Some DFAT graduates were seconded to Services Australia to assist with distressed people facing sudden unemployment while others, like Ms Ekkel, were moved to the department's consular team to help Australians left stranded overseas by abrupt border closures.
Ms Ekkel said dealing with the churn of information was challenging, but she felt proud to have been part of the effort to help others in dire situations.
"Because the international situation was changing so rapidly, and information was coming in thick and fast from all around the world, it meant that you might have a plan in place for the next day and then it would change completely," Ms Ekkel said.
"You had to be very adaptable just because things were changing so quickly.
"But you also felt very useful because you were hearing all the time about Australians stuck overseas and just wanting to help."
There was a very sobering moment where I was like, 'I'm so lucky to have a job at all', and particularly a job that's quite stable within government.Amelia Ekkel, 2020 DFAT graduate
Su-Yin Lew, who has just started in the department's 2021 graduate program intake, remembers she was in New York City when the virus changed everything.
She had landed a strategic partnerships internship at UN Women but returned to Melbourne halfway through the year, landing in the city just as it experienced a major outbreak and headed into stage-four lockdown.
Facing strict lockdowns in both New York City and Melbourne made Ms Lew grateful for Canberra's relatively COVID-free run.
"Given it was likely that [graduates] were going to be starting in the office, which is such a privilege in this day and age, that eased a lot of my apprehension about coming to Canberra," Ms Lew said.
"It really does reinforce how lucky we are [and] how well Australia has dealt with the pandemic."
Ms Lew now helps other Australians stuck overseas and hoping to return home - something the department has been prioritising for more than 12 months as the pandemic rages on.
The work, while not initially part of their plans, has humbled graduates who have had to speak directly with everyday Australians about how the health and subsequent economic crisis has impacted them.
During a time when many people lost their jobs and faced tough restrictions, leaving them confined to their households, Ms Ekkel said she also felt lucky for her fortunate situation.
"There was a very sobering moment where I was like, 'I'm so lucky to have a job at all', and particularly a job that's quite stable within government," Ms Ekkel said.
"I think that gives you a really big responsibility to do the best job you can to assist those people, both overseas and their families in Australia.
"You could hear the distress every day and I think that made it feel quite real.
"It just made you reflect more on how privileged we are."
The challenging year has provided Ms Ekkel with many personal lessons, but it's the professional ones that she'll carry on early in her career.
The government's pandemic response required fast and decisive action but it was important not to abandon all else, she said.
"There's a temptation in the middle of a crisis to just go, 'Well, I just need to get this done. There's no time to think about processes or communication right there, I'll just put my head down and get it done.' But that just doesn't work," Ms Ekkel said.
"The best teams that I was in, throughout the crisis, were the ones that really were constantly on the front foot and proactive in addressing those key priorities."
For Ms Lew, joining a graduate cohort with an impressive line-up of talents and resumes was a challenge to her self-esteem she had to overcome.
"Because you do work with all these incredible, great people, there's definitely a level of imposter syndrome. I think every grad had it," Ms Lew said.
"It can be a bit hard those first few days because you're thinking, 'Do I belong here? Am I meant to be here? This person's done so much more. This person speaks like eight languages.'
"It's ridiculous but you do overcome that pretty soon [and] you get to call all these impressive people your friends as well."
While her journey at DFAT has only just begun, she's looking forward to soaking up all the department has to offer.
"It's this place [where] you can spend almost your entire career, but within that have all these little careers," Ms Lew said.
"You're thrown from place to place, every day is a different day in the office."
- Applications for the DFAT 2022 graduate program are now open and close on April 5.