Sweet Caroline

Neither a Kennedy nor a Princess of Monaco

A Day in the Life of an Intern

Another picture from the Rome pride parade! The Canadian delegation lowkey upstaged us...

I can’t believe it, but three weeks from today is my last day at the office! For those of you that don’t know, I am working at the U.S. Embassy to Italy in Rome this summer as a public affairs intern. I’m so grateful for this opportunity and I am learning so much both about Italy and Italian politics, but also how the State Department actually works and the many paths people take to decide to become a Foreign Service Officer. I get to do a little bit of everything in my position, as the Public Affairs section encompasses both Cultural Affairs and the Press Office; I have worked with the Fulbright program, the Congressional Research Office, and the Italian press in general. Here’s a look into what a day looks like in my position!

7:30 – wake up and get ready for work. I usually pack a lunch of a sandwich, yogurt and some fruit. I take either the Rome metro or the bus to my apartment. I love taking the #492 bus, which drives me right by the Vittoriano, the giant monument/museum in honor of the Italian unification and Italy’s first monarch, Victor Emmanuel II.

Me and Franco Harris, who caught the Immaculate Reception! A delegation of NFL Hall of Famers visited the Embassy - a little random but a ton of fun, and I got to watch his TV interview.
Me and Franco Harris, who caught the Immaculate Reception! A delegation of NFL Hall of Famers visited the Embassy – a little random but a ton of fun, and I got to watch his TV interview.

 

8:30-9am – I arrive at the Embassy. I start off by aiding in what we call press capsules, which are a summary and often direct translation of articles in the major Italian newspapers about American politics and topics of interest to the government to be released to Washington and the entire Embassy. This is one of my favorite parts of my day, as I get to use my Italian and get a great overview of what’s going on in the world today.

The rest of the morning, I may assist in short projects – for example, I went through our archive to find events we hosted or sponsored on LGBTQ topics and analyzed the audience reach we achieved in each event.

12:30-1pm – I usually eat lunch on our outdoor terrace with colleagues or other interns, or I might buy something from the “Elephant Bar” (our cafeteria), or head to one of the great restaurants in the neighborhood. One of my favorites is Pinsere, a great cheap pizza joint a block from the Embassy.

On the weekends, I sometimes travel, sometimes hang around the city of Rome - this picture is from my favorite place on the Aventine hill.
On the weekends, I sometimes travel, sometimes hang around the city of Rome – this picture is from my favorite place on the Aventine hill.

In the afternoon, I can attend events we are sponsoring around the city, sometimes assisting, or just learning from whatever presentation is being given. Other times, I assist with events at the Embassy, for example, a reception for recent Italian recipients of the Fulbright grants, as well as American grantees who were finishing their experience in Italy. Very often I will draft remarks or a speech for these events, often for a Cultural Affairs Officer or Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs, but a few times, for our Chargé d’Affaires (who is the senior individual at the Embassy in lieu of an Ambassador, who has just been appointed but not yet approved by the Senate). I also have some longer-term projects, for example creating a network for alumni of a professional exchange for rising Italian political and business leaders that the Embassy runs.

5pm – I finish work each day – after that I may go to the gym inside the Embassy, a happy hour/mixer, or an evening event the Embassy is sponsoring. One of the things I enjoyed most was an Iftar dinner hosted at the Ambassador’s residence (a literal Roman villa!) for which I helped write the Chargé’s speech that she made there.

Another picture from the Rome pride parade! The Canadian delegation lowkey upstaged us...
Another picture from the Rome pride parade! The Canadian delegation lowkey upstaged us…

 

Overall, this job is a bit of everything, which is something I really enjoy. I get to interact with a lot of different people both within the Embassy, but also academics, Italian politicians, and other students. I’m so grateful both for the fact that I am learning a ton about Italy and Italian politics each day, but also the day-to-day goings-ons of our own government. It really gives me a sense of what type of work I might be interested as a career. My academic work back home at Hopkins confirmed to me that I want to work with international relations for the rest of my life, but this summer is really gearing me up towards entering the Foreign Service one day.

Let the Committee Reject You

I'm really good at maintaining US-Italy relations

Of all the advice I’ve been given over the years, I often think about one in particular, especially when I’m applying for something new: “Let the committee reject you.” It sounds kind of negative at first – the word “reject” is in there pretty prominently – but if you think a little more about what it means, it’s pretty encouraging.

Rejection. It’s a scary word.

Often, when I would think about applying to something – an internship, a club, grad school – one of this first things that came to mind was doubt. “There are so many more qualified people than me.” “Everyone else has an inside connection.” “Everybody else has advantage X, Y, and Z.” By doubting yourself, you basically reject your own application before the thing you’re applying to ever has a chance to read it.

The truth is, you never really know what they’re looking for. The worst possible outcome is that it may not be you, and you go on to apply for the next thing. However, you might be surprised. Now I have a personal story in which I have surprised myself, as it was because I didn’t reject myself before I sent in my application.

nervous suspicious chewing thats so raven old disney
Approximation of my face right before clicking any “submit” button

Each October, the general call for summer interns at the State Department comes out. As a student of international studies, it’s pretty much a given that you apply, because it’s the holy grail of summer internships, and who knows? You very well might get it. At first, I disagreed with this notion, because I didn’t really want to spend time writing an application for which I thought I was going to get rejected. How could some random sophomore with no inside connections to the State Department and extremely minimal experience be chosen over the thousands of other enthusiastic IS majors from around the country?

I ended up applying on the last day before the deadline. It turns out the application didn’t take that long – although the fact that they forgot our infamous “S” in JohnSSSSSS Hopkins University irked me a bit. When it came down to the essay, I just wrote about what I was interested in. I wrote about how I think Americans should be keeping an eye on Italian politics – I think there’s a lot to be seen there as Europe is growing and changing, possibly in a direction away from the European Union. As someone whose family has strong Italian roots, I also think it is massively important that the US maintain its strong friendly relations with Italy.

I'm really good at maintaining US-Italy relations
I’m really good at maintaining US-Italy relations

I sent my application out into the void and it was then radio silence. In fact, there were no emails indicating any sort of process for how they looked at applications, who saw them, or when they would respond, and following the confirmation that my application was received, I heard nothing. After a while, I sort of forgot about even sending it out. Between midterms and final papers and Thanksgiving and life, I said I would put off applying to any other internships until Intersession (which is a pretty common strategy tbh).

However, in early December – December 9th, I think – I checked my email, as one does. As I was clicking the delete button on the many emails from Sephora and Forever 21 (#InboxZeroLife), I noticed some important-looking subject lines from email addresses. They said things like “Summer Internship Opportunity” and “State Department” and “US Consulate.” Turns out I had four offers from various US offices in Italy: the US Mission to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, the Consulates in Florence and Milan, and, finally, the US Embassy in Rome.

audrey hepburn gregory peck roman holiday movie lover

 

I was overwhelmed, and I collapsed onto the floor. I ended up calling each of the offices and asking what each job entailed, and ultimately decided on the Embassy in Rome, where I will be working in the Public Affairs section. So, yes, I will be back in Italy this summer!!

Moral of the story, folks, is that you let the committee reject you. Don’t limit yourself based on some perceived notion of your competition or your experience or what you think they are looking for. You very well might be perfect for the job they are looking to fill. Talk about your interests and what you want to do. Often, your passion for a subject is just what they are looking for. By no means is success inevitable, but neither is rejection. Be your best enthusiastic self, and typically, people will respond well to it.

smart dj khaled compliment you smart you very smart

Being Selfish

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It is 7pm on Friday July 29, and I am finished with my Italian classes for this summer. Time is so funny that way. At the beginning of the summer, when I arrived on June 4th, I couldn’t possibly imagine living in this incredible country, traveling to some of the most incredible (and oldest!) cities in the world, and almost finishing all of my Italian language learning (one more level to go until it’s official) in these two months. I’ve met people from countries I’ve only imagined, from all corners of the world, and all interests and backgrounds.

A few of the ladies from class! L-R, Marta from Portugal, me from the USA, Mouira from Algeria, and Lucy from Scotland.

Beyond just learning and using Italian every day, I was privileged enough to be able to travel every weekend, mostly alone. Solo travel can be a little nerve-wracking; at first, I was so insecure about eating alone at every meal, only buying one ticket to all of the sights. Would I have to explain myself to everyone I met? Would people think I got stood up on a date?

Selfie from my first solo weekend in Rome

With some practice, it’s an incredibly freeing experience. You become very introspective and selfish. But a good selfish, a well-deserved selfish. If I’m being honest, this whole summer was about me being selfish. I got to do what wanted to do. I got to eat where I liked, I got to stay at the museums for hours, scoping out every inch of the place. I know almost no one who would indulge me in visiting the ethnographic part of the Vatican Museums because no one else cares about that section except me! I know this because I was one of maybe 5 people in that part, when the Sistine Chapel was completely full.

What up, Hera? From the Vatican Museums in Rome

Take Pompeii, for example. I met a really nice recent college graduate from Belgium in line for tickets, and we chatted while we waited in line. He was perfectly nice and everything, but I had my own plans for the day (a Rick Steves podcast tour of the place) and wasn’t really interested in hanging out with him while I walked around the city because I wanted to focus on my first time in Pompeii and learning everything I could. I missed weekend trips and hanging out with my classmates because I was not going to miss visiting my grandfather’s childhood home in Istria or taking my Cinque Terre tour. This summer, one of the most important things I learned was, because this is my first real time in Italy, a country in which I still have so much to see, I can and should value my interests first.

At the church in which my grandfather received his sacraments, Labin, Istria

And I’m so happy I did. Maybe I came off as a little standoffish, but I’m just so happy with all of the things that I did and saw. In total, I visited eleven cities thus far, and still have one more to go. I went to places I’d only read about and seen in pictures, and I tried new things I thought I would never even attempt. Like my visit to Cinque Terre: I went on a hike! A real, 90 minute long hike that I would like never to do again! But doing that hike allowed me to see those views that you only get in postcards. I went it alone, but I’m actually pretty happy about that because then no one had to wait while I took frequent rests up while dragging myself up and down this mountainside. Then there were also the little things. I’ve never seen a movie in the theater by myself before, and while I was in Naples, I saw the new Star Trek. It was dubbed in Italian, so it was basically like I was studying for my final exam. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Before I got soaked with sweat on my hike, Vernazza, Cinque Terre

I even navigated disaster all by myself. While I was in Naples, someone got ahold of my debit card number, and I had to close my account with my bank. All of this while I was at Pompeii. Yes, I spent an hour on the phone with Bank of America in the middle of the most well preserved ancient Roman city. At least I had shade? And then, to top it all off, when I went to Western Union to get my money wire from my parents, I didn’t bring my passport! I had to go all the way back to my Airbnb and then all the way back to the train station to get my money I needed to, you know, buy dinner. Despite all that in Naples, it really is a magical city. There’s music everywhere, and even if it’s for the tourists’ benefits, it really does add to the joy.

The forum at Pompeii

How do I conclude describing this summer? It’s been the most incredible two months of my life, and actually, it’s not finished yet! Tomorrow, my family arrives in Siena and together we’ll go to Florence and Venice (the latter to which I haven’t yet been!). So I’m not quite done, but my solo part is. I really do value these two months I spent largely flying solo. I learned so much about myself and my values. I think I really became an adult over these two months, traveling, learning, speaking Italian, and living in the most amazing country in the world.