How to Work with the Foreign
Service in Florence
Interning for the U.S. Department
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
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.
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.
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.
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