2013 PFIG Recipient Sarah Skinner

Career Administrator

Sarah Skinner
Curry School of Education / College of Arts & Sciences
Kinesiology and French Major
2014 Graduation Year

Internshp: American Consulate, Lyon, France

Notes on the first week

“Gosh, I really hope I’m in the right place,” I thought to myself. I had finally arrived at the address of the U.S. Consulate in Lyon, France, but there was no obvious indication that I was in the correct place. I had expected huge American Flags, an ostentatious sign, and guards positioned at the door. Instead, I was standing outside of a beautiful stone apartment building that looked like all of the other apartment buildings located on the presqu’ile. Despite my doubts, I entered the building, pressed the buzzer for the fourth floor, and rode the lift upstairs. I rang the doorbell and when the door opened I was greeted by the long, stern stare of the Consulate’s Security Guard. “Bonjour, je suis la nouvelle stagiaire,” I finally managed to say. « Bien sûr » (Of course) he responded and escorted me into the office of the U.S. Consul of Lyon.

I held my breath as entered the office. I had no idea what the consul would be like, but I expected him to be a serious and intimidating man. I could not have been more incorrect. Mark, as he told me to call him, turned out to be an incredibly approachable and welcoming guy, full of jokes. From the moment I stepped into his office he treated me as an equal, rather than a lowly intern. He introduced me to all of the employees at the office, one other American man and two French women, in addition to the French security guard I had already met. As the consulate’s only intern I was given my own spacious office with a computer and printer.

After the initial introductions, it was time for my introduction to what I would be doing for the whole summer. I expected to be told I would be answering phones, scheduling appointments, and helping Americans who has lost their passports, or needed some other sort of help. As it turns out, I was completely wrong. Passport and Visa duties are only one miniscule part of what the consulate does, and its other functions are incredibly more interesting. In addition to the services it provides American citizens, the U.S. consulate has three main missions. The first is commercial and economic. The Consulate’s team meets with businesses as well as political and economic leaders throughout the Rhone-Alpes region, France’s largest industrial region, to promote and support the National Export Initiative and investment in the U.S. The second is green and innovation technology, as Lyon and Grenoble are two of Europe’s leaders in these fields. Consulate builds links between scientific centers, the private sector and higher education, replicating the “Silicon Valley Model.” The third is public diplomacy. The Consulate has an important role in outreach to explain American policy, society and culture. The Consul and staff make frequent speaking appearances to explain American government, society, history, values, economy, and higher education opportunities in the U.S.

When I was told all of the missions of the U.S. Consulate, Lyon, I realized the consulate does not only help ex-pats and American tourists, but also does everything possible to improve Franco-American relations by spear-heading programs to help the citizens of the Lyon Consular Region, an area that includes about 25% of the French population. In my first week I have already had the chance to accompany the consular staff to numerous meetings and events all over the region to support their missions. Even better, I discovered I would be assigned my very own projects to work on independently throughout the summer, and I have already received my first one! After my first week, I could not be more excited for the rest of the summer. I feel so fortunate to have a chance to be a member of a team that makes a real difference in the Rhone-Alpes region every day.

Midway

I cannot believe my internship is already half way over! Even though I have only been here for about six weeks, the respect and amicable treatment I receive from the other personnel has made me feel like a valued member of the consulate’s team of staff. My days are flying by. I regularly take part in visits to local schools, cultural events, official meetings with partner organizations, and trips to visit other cities and towns in our consular district. I am in charge of photographing and documenting these events in order to prepare reports to send to the U.S. Embassy in Paris, and to update our Facebook page.

The most exciting, and rewarding, part of my internship so far has been working on my two personal projects. I have enjoyed having the freedom to work completely independently while knowing the Consul is always more than willing to talk to me if I have any questions or concerns. The first project I was assigned is one I will be working on throughout the entire summer. The main objective of the project is to support the French Minister of Women’s Rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, in her effort to improve gender equality in sports in France. My task is to design a program to promote female involvement in youth sports, empower French girls to become involved in athletics at all levels (including medicine, journalism, and coaching), and promote equal opportunity based on the ideals of Title IX. The program, which I entitled Femmes Actives et Sportives pour Toujours (FAST), will take place over the 2013-2014 school year. It will consist of five two-month “stages du sport”, or introductory sport camps, each in a different underprivileged area of Lyon. After the girls complete the “stage” we will provide them with resources to become involved in youth sport clubs in their area. The ultimate goal is to establish sustainable programs and long-term relationships in the community so that female sport involvement can continue to grow in the future. As a kinesiology exercise physiology major, I feel incredibly passionate about this issue and take great pride in the project. I have already made a lot of progress, and I am looking forward to continuing my work over the rest of the summer.

My second assignment was to plan an English language summer camp for teens, ages 14-19, from disadvantaged areas of Lyon, and to write a grant to completely cover the costs for the participants. When I was first asked to do this, I felt incredibly overwhelmed. I had no experience whatsoever writing grants or organizing camps. I could hardly believe the Consul had trusted me with such an important task. However, after a little over a month of very hard work and patient help and guidance from my superiors, we received the grant and were able to select the students who would benefit from the program. The camp, which is taking place during the last two weeks of July, will serve as a gateway for English language and American culture for a population of students who normally would not have access to, or feel entitled to, any such resources. The best part of this project was meeting the participants. Their enthusiasm and excitement to participate in the camp was matched only by their gratitude for the opportunity. They made their feelings evident by presenting the Consul and me with handmade thank you cards, written in English. I was incredibly touched, and struck by the direct impact I was able to have on the students’ lives as a result of my internship at the consulate.

Although I have only been interning at the Consulate for a month and a half, I feel like I have already learned so much. My experiences so far have totally altered my view of the main functions of a consulate. At first, I believed the Consulate’s main job was to help Americans in Lyon get passports and learn how to actively participate in French business and culture in the consular district. In reality, the Consulate offers services to assist Americans in Lyon, but it also spends an enormous amount of time and resources planning and implementing programs to directly help the citizens of the consular district. From sponsoring high school science fairs, to designing a crowd sourcing website for entrepreneurs in Lyon, our small Consulate aids the people of the Rhone-Alpes, Auvergne, and Burgandy regions in countless ways. Working at this American Presence Post, made up of six staff members, has opened my eyes to the impact a small group of people can have when they work together and are committed to their goals.

Final Reflections

For the last month of my internship, I worked enthusiastically to complete the organizational plan and annual schedule for the Femmes Actives et Sportives pour Toujours (FAST) program. Thanks to the support I received from many youth-sport organizations in Lyon, as well as the other members of the consular staff, I completed my project. FAST now has an official start date of September 29th and will continue throughout the 2013-2014 school year. I am especially thrilled about this project because I will have the privilege of helping implement the program over the coming school year as a “virtual eIntern” for the State Department. I am excited to witness the project I cultivated and developed over the summer become a real, functioning youth out-reach program. The best part about the work I put into the FAST program is that it will continue to benefit girls in Lyon long after I have finished my internship. The program will impact the lives of numerous girls from underprivileged areas of Lyon by giving them the opportunity to play organized youth sports and gain all of the physical and psychological benefits that accompany athletic participation.

The FAST project and all of the other projects I worked on during the time of my internship taught me the huge impact a consulate can have on its consular district. My experience also taught me the importance of working together. There are only four full-time employees and two interns working at the US Consulate in Lyon at one time. However, the consular team makes up for its lack of personnel with its ability to work together cohesively. Although all of the members of the staff have official roles they are supposed to fill, each person is more than willing to lend another staff member a hand when he or she needs it. I was so impressed by the way the entire team came together to pull off major events like the Fourth of July celebration. By the end of my internship it was clear that the cooperation and collaboration of the consular staff is the reason the Consulate in Lyon has such a huge positive impact on its Consular District.

Finally, my experience caused me to grow as an individual and gave me the confidence to take on challenges in my future. Walking into the Consulate on my first day was incredibly intimidating. I had never worked for the government or anywhere that even resembled a Consulate, especially not in a foreign country. I felt like I was in over my head. However, I quickly learned not to be intimidated by the unfamiliar and not to be afraid to ask questions. By taking things one day at a time and asking many questions I soon felt totally confident in my role as an intern. Because of this experience, I feel positive that I will be able to take on similar challenges in the future and succeed.

Two weeks have passed since the official end of my internship at the American Consulate in Lyon and I have finally unpacked my suitcases and settled back into life here in the US. It is hard to believe how much my internship allowed me to accomplish and learn in such a short period of time. I am so incredibly grateful that I received the Parents Committee Internship Grant and was able to profit from this incredible internship experience.