Foreign Service in Florence
Interning for the U.S. Department of State
As the taxi crossed over Ponte Della Vittoria and made its way onto Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci, I got my first glimpse of Palazzo Canevaro. The Palazzo looked out over the Arno, just two bridges down from the Ponte Vecchio. This large, lemon-colored villa is home to the American Consulate in Florence and would be my home for the next three months. My summer internship would not only introduce me to a new culture and language but provide a first hand look at American operations abroad.
Applicants must be college or university juniors, seniors, or graduate students. The internships range in location from Washington, DC to an overseas embassy and are offered during the spring, summer, and fall. Positions are generally unpaid, but the Department will consider financial aid requests. If you apply for an internship during a college semester you may also be eligible to receive credit at your university. In this case plan to meet with an advisor or professor to work out the requirements to receive credit for the internship.
The application process provides an opportunity to be specific and provide detailed information. Applicants may choose two locations of interest from the list of participating posts. Select locations that are familiar to you. I had spent a semester studying in Florence and knew the language and the city itself rather well. I was not fluent in Italian, but was able to speak and understand general conversation. I included all this information in my application and explained that I was extremely interested in a position in Italy.
Another point to keep in mind as you complete the application is the reason you are seeking this internship. Beyond spending time in a foreign city or experiencing a new culture, why do you want to work for the U.S. Department of State? The answer was relatively easy for me. I had applied to graduate school at several universities to study international relations. I had a keen interest in U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy abroad and wanted to learn more first-hand about the Foreign Service.
The application usually takes about six to eight months to process. I applied in October and received a call in December to say that I had been tentatively chosen for the position. In January I received and sent back paperwork to authorize the agency to perform a security check. Once I passed the security clearance, I received an official offer to begin in April. My position was unpaid, but fortunately the Consulate in Florence did offer to pay for housing and expenses. I accepted immediately.
Home Away from Home
Preparing for a 3-month sojourn overseas is not as easy as it may seem, especially when you know very little about your new position and even less about where you will be living.
Before they travel to a post abroad, the Department of State requires that interns have adequate international medical coverage.
In Florence, interns had use of the third floor of the Consulate, which has several bedrooms and bathrooms and even a kitchen and laundry room with a washer and dryer. I was able to do my own cooking (which kept my food expenses low), leaving weekend travel as my only other big expense.
I had a large room with two windows, one of which looked out on the Ponte Vecchio and the other on a magnificent view of the Duomo.
Getting to Work
The Department of State offers a range of positions and accepts students from many different educational backgrounds. The Consulate in Florence offered internship positions in the consular section, economic section, business development, and office technology. In the economic section interns research business issues of interest to the Consul General, while others work on formatting new web pages or promote U.S. business interests abroad.
I had been assigned to the consular section, which meant aiding the full-time, 2-person staff with requests from American citizens either residing in or traveling through this region of Italy. Tuscany is a popular destination for American tourists, and Florence offers more than 35 university programs that enroll American students. The influx of travelers and students ensured a hectic summer in the consular section.
Interns work alongside the full-time staff, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Day to day activities in the consular section included aiding travelers with passport requests, helping couples looking to get married in Italy work their way through Italian bureaucracy, and documenting births of American citizens abroad. Computer and typing skills are important.
Our responsibilities did not end in the office. Interns also help plan and attend any receptions or festivities held at the Consulate and are highly encouraged to attend various events in Florence when Consular staff is invited-free rein to enjoy the festivities and represent the U.S. on foreign ground.
Meetings with famous personalities, like Andrea Boccelli, were not uncommon, and each event I attended was a wonderful opportunity to interact with people of a different culture and lifestyle.
Applications can be found by logging onto www.state.gov and following the links to Student Programs. For information regarding the American Embassy and Consulates in Italy log onto www.usembassy.it.