Before the start of my internship, I wondered about the type of work I would do, and whether or not I would
a) be really busy
b) have little to do
My experience has oscillated between the two, but from my conversations with current and previous interns, the internship experience varies from office to office and from day-to-day. Sometimes there’s a lull in the action, and sometimes I have worked 11-hour days.
In essence, my supervisor has refrained from micro-management, and, at the same time, has tried to make sure that I am always sufficiently busy on tasks. As a result, I am on a permanent loan for all the other policy officers, which means I have worked on many different tasks and been all over.
In my first few weeks, I worried about not having enough to do, so I signed up to attend as many events and said yes to as many tasks as possible (more on that in later posts). If you ask people in my cohort, they will tell you: all Svyatoslav did at State was attend meetings. And initially, that was largely true. Meetings are a big component of the culture at State, as they are in many big organizations. In order to coordinate between offices and bureaus, you will have to get used to attending meetings with people you might have never seen but that work a floor below you. On that note, in addition to offering the opportunity to quite literally meet interesting people, the meetings provided, and continue to provide, a good primer on offices at State and the working environment. Org charts aside, coming face to face with someone from the Office of American Spaces or from the Office of International Visitors is a real learning experience. I get to learn about what each office does, and how the work of each office fits in the puzzle of U.S. foreign policy.
Speaking of which, one of the first projects I worked on was helping, in a very loose definition of the word, to organize a Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) town hall. The goal of the internal town hall, shepherded by a colleague in the policy office, was to provide a presentation about the progress of the bureau on the functional bureau strategy. Each functional bureau, such as ECA, adapts the national security strategy, set by the incumbent administration, to the goals of the bureau, concurrent with the type of work the bureau does. State Department educational and cultural programs are grounded in the functional bureau strategy and the national security strategy; the job of the policy office is to make sure that linkage between programs and strategy exists. The secondary goal of the town hall was to highlight how offices collaborate with each other. One common complaint I hear in the State Department is how siloed everyone is even in their own bureau.
I got to sit in on meetings of the town hall working group, which undid some of that silo-ing. By the time of the town hall, I had started to memorize the presentations of each group: who could have known that rehearsals for a timed presentation before a large group of people would be one of my first experiences at State (shoutout to the policy presentations we were assigned during week one of the semester).
To be clear, I was not attending meetings just for the fun of it (for the most part), although many of them were quite interesting. I usually took the place of a colleague who could not go to the meeting, had to take notes, and then write up the notes or report on the event in another meeting!
As I settled in more to the job, I got new tasks, and then new tasks again.
More on that in the next blog.