Meeting diplomats, foreign dignitaries as a D.C. intern

| July 28, 2022 | 0 Comments

HER INTERNSHIP surpassed its job description, says Talia Abrahamson, here on the National Mall with the Washington Monument in the distance.

My commitment to public service brought me this summer to Washington, D.C., for a student internship preceding my junior year at college. With little advance knowledge of what to expect in the Nation’s Capital, I was already excited at the prospect of making a contribution, albeit intern-sized, to the public good.

Now, after having lived and worked in D.C., I have discovered that the internship surpassed its job description to excite me also as a chaser of stories and lifelong pursuer of education.

While I was not working “on The Hill” –– to the contrary, I was a whole National Mall away, at the U.S. Department of State –– I was able to try on the distinctly D.C. experience of government work. I walked into elevators alongside seasoned government officials. Emails came from .gov addresses. The values of freedom and democracy were spoken of as urgent national priorities.

The most inspiring opportunity of the internship, besides the work itself, was having coffee chats and hallway conversations with my colleagues, almost all of whom were American diplomats. They spoke off the cuff and in earnest about engaging foreign dignitaries and facilitating American interests –– which tend to fall under the general umbrella of human rights. Such freedoms are protected domestically by the Bill of Rights, despite local oppositional pressure or heavy governmental bureaucracy. Overseas is something else.

As I quickly found out, diplomats and journalists share a surprising amount of overlap. Both receive assignments, on any given topic, to get on the ground, take the local pulse and then report back.

They both know the value of good stories.

And my internship granted me access, which was an unwritten perk for a journalist such as myself with a background at the Larchmont Chronicle. I enjoyed listening to my colleagues, many of whom had served multiple diplomatic tours in foreign countries and had racked up insightful and wacky experiences. Having followed government careers, they also extended personal and professional advice on entering the service. In this way, the internship provided a special complement to the work, namely a broader narrative and forged connections.

Intern network

My network also grew in value because of fellow interns. Perhaps overlooked when one contemplates the opportunities afforded by an internship, the cohort of interns makes up a prominent and indispensable resource of like-minded peers who were interested enough in a career in public service to prioritize a move to D.C. for the summer for an unpaid governmental internship.

The Department of State has now phased out unpaid internships, ending with me and my cohort. On that front, my timing was a bit unlucky. To attract top talent and broaden financial accessibility, employers are increasingly moving away from unpaid internships, and the government is no exception.

The intern network and overabundance of young people working in all sectors of government meant that, outside of the workplace, the Nation’s Capital offers an abundance of social opportunities. Nowhere else but in D.C. could I have attended a rooftop culture night in Bahrain and a jazz concert in Norway –– because technically they took place at those national embassies. Discounted tickets for young professionals at the Kennedy Center allowed me to watch plays and musicals for only $20. All the many Smithsonian museums are free.

Being an intern feels like being a working tourist. I decided that I had retained the right to shameless sightseeing, and D.C. is studded with imperative historical sites. I visited the obvious ones, like the White House, Capitol Building and Lincoln Memorial, on multiple occasions, plus Ford’s Theater where President Lincoln was assassinated.

History — past and present

To an even greater degree, I enjoyed the experience afforded by certain exhibitions. As an undergraduate English major, I appreciated every chance to read historical documents and examine artifacts such as at the National Archives, which exhibits America’s founding documents, and the Library of Congress, which houses a Gutenberg Bible and a gorgeous reading room

History was very much alive over the summer. D.C. was the focal point for rallies for abortion rights, gun reform and LGBTQ+ pride. For the first time, a delegation from Ukraine marched down the Independence Day parade route on July 4. Because of my internship, I could be present.

I still found elements that reminded me of Hancock Park. For local travel, I ignored the Metro and preferred instead to walk through historic preservation districts with old homes and their charming, cohesive architecture. Every Sunday, I strolled through the main farmers market at Dupont Circle, where I quickly fell into the familiar bustle of exchanging friendly chatter surrounded by fresh produce.

Having taken in a wealth of new experiences over the course of the summer, I learned to comfortably readjust myself within the expanded context of D.C. The internship turned out to be an immersion both in gratifying public service and rigorous personal engagement, providing me greater focus while I envision, long-term, a future career and, more immediately, the start of the upcoming school year.

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