When I submitted my application for a State Department summer internship in September of 2018, it seemed like a shot in the dark. However, eight months later I found myself on a plane to Lima, Peru, anxiously ready to start a ten week internship at a United States embassy abroad.
I had been hired as a management/facilities intern at the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru. Although my specific internship did not appeal to me as directly as something in the political or public affairs industries, it still gave me the opportunity to work in an embassy abroad, an experience I deemed invaluable no matter what area I would be working in.
After my first week of briefings and learning my way around the embassy compound, I found myself spending lots of time on office work: I created a filing system for our office, organized many Excel organizational spreadsheets and translated safety documents for some of the local, Spanish-speaking staff. Most days I was perfectly content with this type of work–it helped that my supervisor and the rest of the office were extremely supportive and welcoming. Some days, however, I could not help but feel jealous of interns more directly involved in the political side of the embassy, who were writing cables on the political situation in Venezuela or organizing a conference for Gilman scholars in the region.
I realized after a few weeks that if my daily tasks weren’t always satisfying, I would have to take initiative to find opportunities outside my office. Some of my favorite experiences from my internship came from experiences outside my direct duties as an intern. Alongside another intern, I organized a visit to a Jesuit university in Lima to host a roundtable on education and culture in the U.S. I contacted the embassy’s intern coordinator in order to sit in on a crisis management simulation in preparation for the Pan-American Games. I volunteered as a VIP greeter at the embassy’s 4th of July event, a diplomatic event that hosted hundreds of important contacts in Lima. These are just some examples of the experiences I had after realizing that it was up to me seek out opportunities outside the facilities management office if I wanted a more fulfilling experience.
Although certain days felt more mundane than others, I came away from my experience with a firsthand look at how American diplomacy works in action and an understanding of what it’s like to work and live in a foreign country. The State Department is so large that I can almost guarantee that no internship is the same, regardless of section, post, or country. However, I will say that based on my own experience, an internship with State is whatever you make of it, and can be a valuable resource in figuring out your next career steps.
—By Grace Cavanagh, MCAS ’21