2014 PFIG Recipient Matt Gandolfo

Career Administrator

Matt Gandolfo
College of Arts & Sciences
Foreign Affairs & East Asian Studies
2015 Graduation Year

Internship: US Department of State,Bureau of East Asian & Pacific Affairs, US Embassy in Beijing, China

Notes on the first week

This past week, I began my internship with the US Department of State, Bureau of East Asian & Pacific Affairs, US Embassy in Beijing, China. To put this in a nutshell, I work at the US Embassy Beijing in the Political/NE Asia regional affairs office. My job responsibilities include: researching and producing reports and diplomatic cables relating to China’s foreign policy which are used as briefings for senior policymakers and distributed throughout the Department of State. I also assist in the planning and operations of embassy visits and events.

I have thus far been processed into necessary systems, introduced and met with other officers within my unit, and ‘dipped my feet’ into the job via attending staff meetings and embassy events. Most importantly, I sat down with my supervisor to discuss the layout and expectations of the internship. I got to share some of my goals and expectations and my supervisor shared his perspective on things. The takeaway from the meeting was that this internship is really an opportunity to see and experience what exactly a Foreign Service Officer does on a day-to-day basis. Most officers take their vacation time in the summer, which allows interns to step-in and fulfill a lot of the responsibilities of a FSO.

I don’t think that I could have found another internship that relates as closely to my academic and career interests. I am researching and creating reports on subject material that I hope to further pursue in a 4th year capstone project, graduate thesis, or into the professional field. However, I am most excited about networking and getting to know some of my colleagues. Each officer has a unique academic/career path and is more than willing to lend advice to myself or any of the other interns. Overall, I am impressed with the cohesiveness and positive environment that this unit operates within and look forward to working here for the next nine weeks.

Any and all content appearing in this post is solely the opinion of the author and in no way represents the policies and/or opinions of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Government.


Greetings from Beijing, China—I am now entering week 5 at US Embassy Beijing and still have 5 weeks remaining on the job. I will be studying in Taipei and Taiwan, from October until December, which is the perfect window of time to complete this internship. While most interns have one foot out the door, I am now starting to settle into the daily-grind of the internship. These past 5 weeks have been a whirlwind of adventures and experiences, and I find it extremely challenging to put pen to paper as to my thoughts and reflections of the Political Section.

The Beijing Political Section encompasses a wide variety of portfolios; from human rights issues in China to Japan-China maritime disputes. FSOs are subject-matter experts on a specific portfolio in order to represent and lobby US interests in diplomatic settings. I work under the FSO in charge of the North Korea portfolio. My main responsibilities include: collecting news clippings and scholarly work from a variety of English and Chinese sources and assisting in the production of diplomatic cables and notes sent to Washington D.C and other embassies from around the world. Generally, Washington D.C. requests information and/or analysis on an issue that FSOs then gather and collect information on via diplomatic methods. After collecting and analyzing data from interviews, conferences, publications, etc., FSOs synthesize this information into a cable that reads and looks similar to a newspaper story. These cables, classified as secret and not made available to the public, give policy makers the proper tools to make foreign-policy decisions.

FSOs also serve as hosts for visiting delegates, ambassadors, and other government officials. In addition, the embassy hosts a plethora of conferences and discussions such as the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. FSOs must balance all other responsibilities in order to prepare, host, and staff for these special events throughout the year. As an intern, I am thrown right into the fire that is US Embassy Beijing. Each day at work, I can possibly meet ambassadors, produce reports on the Hermit Colony, or just bounce ideas off my boss regarding China-North Korea relations.

I wish that I could go into more details about some of the projects that I am working on, but this provides a broad picture on how the Political Section operates for anyone interested in pursuing an internship or career with the DOS. If working 12 hour days on pressing foreign-affairs issues is something that interests you as a career, I would recommend a career with the DOS as a FSO. If you do not like learning new languages, experiencing new cultures, or flying by the seat of your pants, Washington D.C. has plenty of foreign-affairs related career opportunities that will better suit your tastes. I greatly treasure the experiences and on-the-job training that I’ve received here and would recommend this internship to any of my classmates with similar career interests.

Final Reflections

This past September, I wrapped up my summer internship with the U.S. Embassy Beijing Regional Political Unit. For the duration of three months, I worked on the Korean Peninsula and Six-Party Talks portfolio. I gained invaluable experiences and skills that can be applied to a future career within the Foreign Service or other government agencies. “Diplomacy in Action,” the official DOS slogan, best captures the essence of the Foreign Service.  Political officers actively gather intelligence through a variety of means in order to produce policy papers for senior government officials. I absolutely enjoyed and thrived in this fast-paced but cohesive work environment.

I decided to extend my summer internship into a yearlong Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) eInternship with my current supervisor. I found my contributions valuable in assisting with my supervisor’s work and wished to continue working on the Korean portfolio. Most of my work now involves producing news analysis from regional media sources and completing project on evaluating regional scholars and journalists. While the work remains unpaid, however, I find the work worthwhile and rewarding in terms of my personal career development. I can continue to develop expertise on the Korean portfolio while continuing my undergraduate studies.

I cannot recommend this internship enough to my classmates at the University of Virginia. Do not hesitate to apply for this internship because it does not require any letters of recommendation. In addition, The DOS only hires student interns that meet a certain level of requirements and does not fill the entirety of its quota of interns each year.