This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer. You can read the entire series here.
This entry is by Isabella Roa, COL ’16
I didn’t know what to expect of my summer and at some moments before arriving in Lisbon, Portugal I felt as though I was entering the experience completely blindfolded. I had been accepted to the State Department’s Summer Internship Program in December of 2014 and had anxiously awaited my security clearance for the following five months, giving me enough time to prepare for what would be an extremely rewarding three months. However, when I arrived at Lisbon’s Portela Airport, I realized my experience abroad would not only be an opportunity for professional development, but also an incredible chance for personal growth.
I had only been to Lisbon once before and it was for a mere twenty-four hours. Although I have been studying Portuguese for the past two years, I was not sure I would be able to adjust to the language difference while at the same time integrating into the working environment at the US Embassy. At first, I found myself a bit embarrassed to practice my Portuguese, forcing me to speak in a mix of Spanish and English to find my apartment and manage my way through the city. Soon, however, I soon realized how much people appreciated my attempts, even if sometimes wrong, to speak Portuguese.
My first week of work in the Politics and Economics section of the US Embassy was overwhelming. I was amazed by how much trust was placed in me and by the variety of projects that my coworkers handled. On my first day, for exampled, I assisted in interviewing Portuguese students applying for the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship and helped plan the upcoming Fourth of July celebration that would be attended by hundreds of diplomats.
While I would sometimes attend meetings with members of Portugal’s political parties, represent the US at public events, or assist the ambassador and other coworkers with important visits such as that of Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz, much of my daily routine was focused on political research and the duties of a reporting officer. Every day I would study Portugal’s newspapers for critical events that could affect US foreign policy, translate them, and report them back in a newsletter sent to other European offices and to Washington DC. I found myself immersed in the world of Portuguese politics and economic affairs. My daily research culminated in a thorough cable that offered an overview of Portugal’s political landscape – the position, strategy, and popularity of each of the country’s competing parties – published two months before this year’s decisive Parliamentary elections.
In reality, my time in Lisbon was one of multifaceted growth. While my internship gave me an in depth experience into the US State Department, a career option I had long been thinking about, it also forced me to reach out of my comfort zone. While I lived in an apartment with several other students who were welcoming and willing to show me around Lisbon, I found that if I wanted to truly explore the city, I would have to do it on my own. Stepping away from Penn, my family, and friends, I found myself with an abundant amount of time for self-reflection, something I have found to be critical in my own personal development.
I want to thank Penn Career Services for granting me the funding that made my summer internship at the US Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal possible. As a Diplomatic History Major, this was an incredible experience that opened my eyes to a career in the State Department and allowed me to truly immerse myself in the field of foreign affairs.