My internship at the State Department this summer is my first internship and my first time working in an office setting. My past summer jobs have been in retail and child care, which were vastly different experiences than the professional DC world.
I have already learned a lot about working in this new environment and about my ‘role’ as an intern. When I first started, I was reserved about who I asked questions to in the office. At my first couple of team meetings with our office director, I would sit quietly and diligently take notes. At the end of those meetings, the office director asked me if I had any questions and I said no, thinking I could ask anything I needed to somebody lower in rank later. After the second time I declined asking any questions, I realized the office director wasn’t just doing it as a formality; she wanted me to be engaged. I absolutely didn’t want to come off as uninterested to my boss. So at the next meeting, I made a point of asking a few intelligent questions at the end and she answered them enthusiastically. Since then, I have been given more responsibility and at the last meeting, I briefed her on what I was working on just like the full-time staff on my team. From this experience, I learned that people want you to be engaged as an intern and when they offer their time, you should take it.
Another challenge I have encountered has been balancing priorities. At the beginning of my internship, I had one direct supervisor who gave me assignments and I would report back to her about what I was working on. As time has progressed, however, others on my team have noticed my responsibility and have started to trust me enough to give me tasks. I am grateful that they trust me to help out on their projects, but sometimes it creates a dilemma when I have several tasks at once. I have learned to ask for deadlines and I’ve gathered through experience which types of tasks are more time-sensitive. It is also important to not say ‘yes’ to everything. Taking on too many things can result in lower quality work or not getting everything done.
More generally, I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone. In my experience, full time employees at the State Department are eager to talk to interns and share their stories and advice. Many of the people in my office were interns at State or other places at one point, and many of them are young, so they’re always open to get coffee and chat. Having interesting conversations and making connections with accomplished people has been one of the most rewarding parts of my internship so far.