THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
High Hopes and Mixed Feelings:
Reflections of a Consulate Intern
BY WI L L I AM ROBERTSON
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
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
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.