Surprisingly, I, a Ukrainian immigrant who visits family in Ukraine frequently, received my security clearance before the two born and raised Americans in the cohort who also applied for internships at State. The security clearance process can be tough. A former intern that I spoke to decided to take the risk and accept a position at the Korea desk, even though she was Korean. Even after receiving a security clearance, the State Department notified her at the last minute, right before she was set to start, that she would be unable to work at the Korea desk. Luckily, she managed to find an internship at another office, and still enjoyed her experience, but not as much as if she had worked at her office of choice or the China desk, which she declined in exchange for the Korea desk.
In any event, after receiving a security clearance, the State Department will ask you to choose an orientation date. Since I received my security clearance fairly early, around Thanksgiving, I could choose an early one, January 14th. Don’t worry about missing an orientation window if you haven’t yet received your security clearance. State offers orientations for interns every week from January into February. Just make sure your State orientation date is after the PIW program orientation, which lasts the first full week of the semester. Those dates are on the PIW calendar, on the website.
Hopefully, unless you are a real morning person, the only time you will have to report to work at 7:30 A.M will be for your orientation. My first day of work, perhaps to dampen my excitement, was a cold, rainy, dreary day. On the logistical end, I think in every mode of transportation aside from teleportation, the trip to State takes around 30 minutes from our dorm. I have tried several ways and combinations; metro and walking, bus, metro and bus, walking and metro and transfer to another line. If you like a crowded morning bus wading slowly through traffic, you can take the L1 bus, which takes you right up to the building. I prefer a crowded, but faster metro ride to Farragut West, and then a brisk, if lengthy walk past the EEOB, GSA, and Interior. The closest metro stop is Foggy Bottom, which is a 10-15 minute walk to State. In any case, for orientation, interns report to SA-9. First lesson: the State Department has many annexes strewn about Foggy Bottom and beyond. SA-9, a former Red Cross building, houses diplomatic security. Make sure to bring two forms of government ID, such as a passport and driver’s license, with you to D.C. (and know your Social Security Number)! Waiting for the security officers to call you up to the window to fill out some standard forms and submit your fingerprints feels much like going to the DMV; they even hand you ticket numbers as you walk in and you wait for your number to come up on the screen. Try to get there early – we had to leave to go to the next part of orientation at around 9 AM, and some interns later in the queue had to come back later to finish up the process. To be fair, the first few orientations likely have more interns than the later ones.
The rest of the orientation was pretty standard. The guides took us to another building across the street, the Harry S. Truman building, also known as HST, also known as the main State building. After listening to presentations on cybersecurity, the protocol of handling classified information, etc., orientation ends around 2 P.M. The next part is meeting with someone from your office. My office reached out to me prior to orientation and gave me contact information for someone who would meet me after my orientation. If your office is not as proactive, make sure you reach out to them before your orientation date to receive instructions. Try to get a phone number and work out where to meet. I waited in the auditorium we were in for the orientation, probably the easiest place to meet for both parties. As it turned out, I would not work inside HST. Instead, I work across the street, in another annex building, SA-5. SA-5 houses ECA, but is also the American Pharmacists Association building. What can I say, diplomats wear many hats.
Also, as I immediately learned, time does not stop for interns, and neither does work. My supervisor was in a meeting, so I got to meet another coworker who showed me around the office and introduced me to officers. My escort then had to dash off, so I tagged along with another colleague to an ECA meeting with a regional bureau, the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP), on an upcoming summit. Thankfully, I did not have to take notes, I was there just to listen in and get experience. I also gained valuable practice in discreetly leaving meetings early because of other engagements. I had to leave and go back to SA-9 to pick up my badge. Nearing the end of my first day, I met with my supervisor, a Foreign Service Officer on tour in the Policy Office, and could leave for the day.
The day went by quickly, as have most days since.