A mere eighteen months ago, a life dedicated to public service was only an imagination. Now, in the middle of 2015, I envision a real future as a Foreign Service Officer. At the time of this post, I will have concluded not one but two internships with the U.S. Department of State. The U.S. Department of State is the federal government’s executive department responsible for U.S. foreign policy and official diplomatic relations with other countries, and its official mission is to “create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.” My fall co-op, from September to December 2014, was an unpaid internship with the State Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs, where I assisted with the development of the U.S. Diplomacy Center, the State Department’s new museum of diplomacy set to open in 2017. It was during that fall co-op when I secured a new opportunity for not only a summer co-op but a post-graduation endeavor as well. I was one of 21 undergraduate students accepted into the State Department’s U.S. Foreign Service Internship Program (USFSIP). USFSIP is a paid, two-summer program that consists of one summer internship in Washington, D.C. and a second summer internship at a U.S. embassy overseas. Unlike the unpaid internship program, USFSIP provides comprehensive training for the first few weeks, including courses at the Foreign Service Institute, where all diplomatic personnel are trained, and meetings with Assistant Secretaries of State and former U.S. ambassadors, including Thomas Pickering, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and Michele Bond. For the summer of 2015, my summer co-op was the domestic component of the USFSIP – an internship at the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO), in the Office of Public Affairs, Planning, and Coordination.
As one of over thirty bureaus in the State Department, the Bureau of International Organization Affairs is responsible for coordinating U.S. foreign policy towards international organizations and agencies of the United Nations. In coordinating policy towards the UN, IO works closely with the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, headed by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. My office, the Office of Public Affairs, Planning, and Coordination (IO/PPC), is responsible for the IO bureau’s press relations, outreach, and effectiveness, briefing the State Department Spokesperson for the daily press briefing, promoting the IO bureau’s social media presence, and preparing annual reports on the U.S. government’s participation in the United Nations.
Finishing my spring term at Antioch three weeks early, I began the U.S. Foreign Service Internship on June 1, 2015, beginning two and a half weeks of training, learning about U.S. diplomatic history and the professional writing styles of the State Department. Following the training, I got to work right away on the desk. As an intern, I supported the office’s work in advancing the policies of the IO bureau and the overall mission of the State Department.
I came onboard at a particularly interesting time. This year, 2015, is the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. As the IO bureau’s public diplomacy lead, my office had significant responsibility in promoting the anniversary through events, programs, and social media. One of the highlights of my summer was coordinating an event at the National Archives celebrating the 70th anniversary of the U.S. Senate’s ratification of the United Nations Charter. We invited Under-Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the ambassadors of the 50 countries who first signed the Charter in 1945, several representatives from Congress, and various civil society leaders from all over Washington. Events such as these are the State Department’s efforts to engage the public, just in time for the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly this September.
In addition to the 70th UN anniversary, staff transitions across the State Department have kept my summer very busy. The summer is typically the time in the year when most Foreign Service Officers change assignments. Several depart Washington, D.C. to their new overseas posts; others come from overseas to fill the vacancies. My office this summer saw two Foreign Service Officers depart: our Deputy Director and one of our Press Officers. As the Press Officer was preparing to depart, I gradually assumed her responsibilities, one by one.
Every day, I received the transcript of the previous day’s daily press briefing, which I would read and highlight any references made to UN issues, such as a vote on a Security Council resolution or the humanitarian pause in the Yemen crisis. One of my biggest responsibilities in filling in for the departing Press Officer was preparing the State Department Spokesperson before the Daily Press Briefing. This required me to work with various offices throughout the government on how to discuss the issues of day in the public sphere.
One of the biggest things I have learned from my second internship at the Department of State is the adaptability that one must have as a Foreign Service Officer. The work of the U.S. Foreign Service is generalist in nature. Foreign Service Officers are not specialists where they are bound to only one region of the world or one type of work; they are expected to serve anywhere in the world, and work in a variety of areas, from press relations to economic development to consular affairs. The opportunity to take over for one of the Press Officers was a significant learning experience in this regard – learning how to adapt to the skills and tasks of others.
This experience has also refined my knowledge of the world of public diplomacy, or “people’s diplomacy.” Last fall’s experience exposed me to the education side of public diplomacy, whereas this experience immersed me in the press dimension of public diplomacy. Whereas my work at the Diplomacy Center was very much at the periphery of policy-making in Washington, as it was focused on telling the story of diplomacy, my experience in IO this summer has put me much closer to the center, as I became a part of that story itself. Public diplomacy, particularly in the State Department’s press relations, does a great deal in shaping policy, as it frames the public discussion on the issues, which is a central theme in PECO 350 Public Policy. Framing the debate is an important power that institutions have in creating and defending policies, which is what the State Department Spokesperson does on a daily basis.
All of my co-op experiences in the public affairs world have provided me invaluable skills in grants, communications, education programs, and outreach. As I enter my final year at Antioch and the time beyond, I hope to someday join the U.S. Foreign Service as a Public Diplomacy Officer. I am looking forward to the overseas component of USFSIP with great anticipation, which I will begin immediately after I graduate from Antioch College in June 2016. And as I look to a bright future, I will never forget the people I have had the opportunity to meet and work with here in Washington. It was, and is, truly a privilege to be among them.