2015 PFIG Recipient Gloria Roh
Journal Entry #1
My first week at the U.S. Department of State (DoS) was a whirlwind of experiences. I entered the internship hoping to answer just one question: would I enjoy working for the U.S. government one day? I have yet to confirm or deny. I also have about a hundred new questions, ranging from the benefits of cultural exchange programs to how Foreign Service officers balance work and family. The best part about new experiences may be discovering how much you don’t know. I initially felt very privileged to have been selected for this internship, but holding on to whatever I thought it was that got me to this point was stunting my entire learning experience. It wasn’t until I admitted and embraced how little I know that I was able to open my mind to all of the possibilities and experiences this internship has to offer.
I am working in the Office of the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, which functions to support Under Secretary Richard Stengel. The concept of public diplomacy is new to me, but I learned that it is the communication with foreign publics to establish a dialogue designed to inform and influence. In order to advance these goals, the Under Secretary oversees several bureaus under the public diplomacy and public affairs family, and he also travels abroad often to speak to foreign audiences. I actually did not get to meet the Under Secretary during my first week because he was traveling. I now understand that public officials are ridiculously busy. They are constantly in meetings, speaking at events, or traveling. Their time and attention are very valuable. If I get a chance to sit down with him in the coming weeks, I’d like to ask about his thoughts on why public service is important and what it means to him.
My first few days can be easily summed up by learning acronyms, memorizing names, roles, and portfolios, and getting acquainted with the gargantuan building and the very slow pace of bureaucracy. One of the first things my supervisor warned me about was the reality of bureaucracy and all its inefficiencies. Everything is a process. Hopefully in the coming weeks, I can see or contemplate how the effects of bureaucracy, both on the work and the people, can be reduced. Towards the end of the week, I was assigned social media duties and small research projects to help prepare the Under Secretary for future trips and meetings.
It may seem like I’ve characterized the Under Secretary as kind of an unreachable higher being, but my perspective shifted when I read a memorandum that he wrote to the Secretary of State about his latest trip. I was surprised to find that the language in the note was very casual and conversational, like two friends chatting over drinks about the latest in international relations. As I read, it felt like he was speaking to me, explaining situations and challenging issues in a very digestible way. Suddenly conflicts on the other side of the world seemed much closer and I felt more engaged and involved. I connected this to the significance of public diplomacy; we reach out to explain America to the world, and vice versa. That is very important work.