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High Hopes and Mixed Feelings:

Reflections of a Consulate Intern


William Stewart Robertson is

a recent graduate of Kansas

State University with a B.A.

in history (2013) and an M.A.

in security studies (2015).

He interned for U.S. Consulate General Düs-

seldorf for 10 weeks in the spring of 2015.


s a graduate student in security

studies in 2014, I was interested

in U.S. foreign policy and the

State Department’s central role

in managing it. To build on my academic

background and further my career inter-

ests, I applied to the department’s student

internship program.

By August, U.S. Consulate General

Düsseldorf had hired me for a 10-week,

unpaid internship the following spring.

The security clearance process was

straightforward, with only one bureau-

cratic email hiccup. On Feb. 2, 2015, I

began the internship and my eyes were

opened to the daily routine and responsi-

bilities of a Foreign Service post.

My primary assignment was to write

daily reports, known as “squibs,” on

relevant news in the consular district. I

took pride in knowing that my reporting

would be read by officials inWashing-

ton, D.C. In addition, I attended various

outreach events: political debates with the

consul-general, Landtag (state parlia-

ment) sessions with local staff and regional

trade fairs with U.S. Commercial Service


I also conducted research and pre-

pared briefing material for consulate per-

sonnel on various topics. And naturally, as

an intern, I completed whatever odd jobs

and tasks were requested of me.

I honestly enjoyedmost of these

responsibilities and eagerly walked to work

eachmorning. Inmy free time, I was able

to do some travelling, made new friends

and even caught a German soccer match.

Altogether, these 10 weeks were a

major moment in my life, particularly as

a springboard for entering the workforce.

The internship also afforded me valuable

work experience, helped to build my self-

confidence and strengthened my interest

in a Foreign Service career.

There were, however, some nega-

tive aspects to the experience that point

to improvements that could benefit the

program, future interns and the posts that

receive them.

Finding an apartment proved to be an

exasperating process for me. Although

I had lived away from home while at

university and had studied abroad in Ger-

many, I had never truly been on my own

in a foreign country.

I spent the winter sending bilingual

emails on various websites asking for a

10-week lease. Not surprisingly, as a short-

term renter and a foreigner, my response

rate was extremely low.

In mid-January I finally found an apart-

ment close to the consulate. I had sought

help from the staff in Düsseldorf, but my

contact, the vice consul, had arrived only

two months earlier and was unable to

provide much assistance.

The U.S.-based intern coordinators

were similarly ignorant about the Düs-

seldorf housing market, and directed me

back to the consulate for help. My fellow

intern fared even worse. He was home-

less until the day before he started work

and was unable to move in until nearly

midnight after his first day.

Already difficult for Germans, finding

a short-term apartment in Düsseldorf as a

foreigner was even more problematic. The

lack of assistance with this was the first

sign that the intern programmight have

some hidden weaknesses.

I encountered further difficulty in deal-

ing with a medical issue. While warned

early on that I would be on my own

medically, this was an added, unbudgeted

Not challenging interns, who shoulder

significant personal costs to get a taste of

being in the ForeignService, withmeaningful

work and failing touse their full potential is a

serious problemfor an internshipprogram.