I have talked at length about the work I did during my internship, but have so far not mentioned much about the people I have worked with while interning. Let’s correct that.
First, to get it out of the way, the only negative aspect. And one that I noticed right away. The State Department is a large organization. The State Department places interns in a variety of different bureaus and offices, which are themselves in a variety of different buildings. It’s also true that some smaller offices have more interns than other much larger offices. I was the only intern in my office, and aside from a few professional training seminars, there were not many opportunities to meet other interns. In other jobs I have had, having a tight-knit group of interns was one of the highlights of the position. As a consequence of the size and scope of the department, that was largely not the case during my internship at State. That is not to say I did not meet interns. There are a couple of ways, tried and true and ones that you probably don’t even need my advice on. Number one: be brave. I talked to people standing in line while we were waiting to get in the building on our first day. I walked up to an intern I recognized from said first day in the cafeteria. From there, you can start to branch out, as someone you met might know another intern. We tried to get lunch every so often and invite more people we met. Number two: volunteer for events. No explanation necessary. Volunteers will likely equal more interns. By being proactive, I met a lot of other interns even given the constraint of not having anyone in my office. Just one example to epitomize the situation: I met a fellow intern who worked one the same floor, maybe 100 feet from my office, albeit part of a different bureau, while I was volunteering for the Chief of Mission Conference. We had seen each other before then but neither knew for certain we were both interns. I ended up going to several events with her over at the Elliot School for lunch.
Aside from that, my go-to, somewhat underwhelming on my end, a description of everyone in my office and the people I met outside of it is simply: nice. My colleagues were supportive, encouraging, receptive, and always, always, willing to talk, explain, and discuss. My supervisor always provided clear guidance and I could ask him any questions I had. He took me out to lunch a couple of times, and we talked at length about his career and life, as well as my interests. My colleagues in the office always strived to provide me with projects, hopefully to their benefit as well, and additional guidance. The director of our office connected me with people in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) because I had voiced interest in EUR. Do I even need to qualify that gesture? I had insightful conversations with several career foreign service officers about their postings and views on career tracks. I was even invited to a ‘wedding’ party celebrating the merger of two officers in the bureau. The wedding cake was delicious, and I had the opportunity to talk with more officers. My one regret, because I did not heed my own advice, is I was not as proactive as I would have liked about reaching out to colleagues to meet with them. So, don’t make my mistake. The time passes very quickly.
I, or rather we, did take up Dr. Martinez’ offer to connect with Penn alumni at State (’we’, as in myself and two other Penn in Washington students who were interning at State). We decided to do them together to be more efficient and did get the chance to meet a couple of people.
On a personal note, and generally speaking, I found the most insightful, genuine moments I had with my colleagues were in the unstructured moments – at the end of meetings, while waiting for ambassadors to file out of an auditorium, etc. I hope you get to enjoy them too, if you’re interested.
In the next blog, I will discuss my goals as they relate to the internship and what I have learned from meeting the people that I did.