2018 PFIG Recipient Ankita Satpathy
Journal Entry #1
Hello from Washington, D.C.! My name is Ankita Satpathy and I am a rising fourth year in the College of Arts and Sciences, studying in the Politics Honors program and minoring in history. I have a strong interest in foreign affairs and issues of diplomacy and development, so this summer, I’m thrilled to be interning at the U.S. Department of State. I’m interning in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, working on an initiative called the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP.)
IVLP is the State Department’s premier professional exchange program. U.S. embassies around the world identify emerging leaders -- individuals who are not yet at the top of their career arc, but who have already shown remarkable leadership and potential. These participants travel to the United States and visit Washington, D.C., along with here or four other cities across the United States. Along the way, they meet with their American counterparts and interlocutors, learning from contemporaries in their field and sharing their own insights in return. IVLP projects span a wide array of themes, from public health, to the political process, to issues of regional security. At the end of their three or four-week project, participants travel back to their country to begin implementing insights from their project, and continue seeking out leadership opportunities – whether that be leading a community group, a company, or an entire nation.
The program’s wonderful intent and design speaks for itself, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn of the wide impact it has. Over 500 IVLP alumni have gone on to become heads of state, and hundreds of others have held other elected and appointed positions within their governments. This means that as leaders serve abroad, many of them will be well-acquainted with the United States and its aims and policies, having been a personal guest of the U.S. government.
In the short time that I’ve been here so far, I have already witnessed 16 groups of participants come through D.C. Some were exploring methods of community engagement to counter violent extremism. Others were focused on innovative English teaching methods. Others still hoped to meet American business distributers and grow their small businesses. From that group of women entrepreneurs from Latin America, to the MENA region trade experts I met last week, I have already been inspired by so many of the IVLP participants. Despite being immersed in hugely different cultures and political climates, somehow, thousands of professionals meet each year to better themselves and their countries in the true spirit of diplomatic exchange.
Though these might not be the summit meetings that are discussed on the news each night, a few short days here have been enough to convince me that they are certainly some of the ones which matter most. After all, the contemporary liberal world order was built on principles of multilateralism and spreading influence without force. The IVLP participants are living proof that citizen diplomats can help maintain and strengthen this order. This first week, I focused on getting oriented and observing the program I’ll be working on firsthand. Next week, I look forward to working behind the scenes to help implement the program!
Journal Entry #2
It’s been almost a month since my last entry, and it’s hard to believe that I’m halfway through my internship! One thing I quickly learned is that interns at the State Department typically get treated like full time employees. This is a great practice because it means that working at the department over the summer is truly a learning experience, but it also means that instead of simply sticking with one project during my time here, I’ve worked on a variety of initiatives.
One thing our office is always looking to do is compile evidence of program effectiveness, so that interested parties can see how the IVLP actually impacts the lives of participants and the people they work with. I’ve been gathering this evidence in a few key ways – the first is preparing a document for the bureau called a “cable roundup.” This is a summary of major points from diplomatic cables sent from US embassies and missions around the world. The cables highlight major projects and accomplishments of IVLP participants, and the cable roundups summarize these developments each month.
For example, one participant opened the first shelter for transgender people in Malaysia after participating in an IVLP project focused on human rights. Another journalist participated in a free-press themed project and then acquired a news station in Georgia. She is now airing American news translated into the local language to counter media disinformation.
My other weekly duties include compiling a Weekly Activity Report and a Weekly Look-Ahead Report. True to their names, these two documents present a summary of upcoming projects and the US foreign policy goals which they serve to implement. The reports are used to brief senior department officials, including the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau, so getting to prepare them has been a cool opportunity for me.
The last major part of my daily work consists of responding to “taskers,” or requests for information sent to our office. These may come from other parts of the State Department, or from other areas of the government, such as White House staffers. Typically, these will be a request for a list of all the programming IVLP has done in a certain area, such as gender issues or economic empowerment. When these come in, I run searches based on project themes and compile reports to respond to the taskers. That way, key administration personnel can be briefed on our exchange programming before an important meeting or report. They can also use these reports to decide what values or practices the United States may wish to promote through further programming.
Other than my regular weekly responsibilities, I’ve also gotten to work on a few special projects recently. One such project was helping write and edit speeches for the Bureau’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, a senior foreign service officer who often greets participants traveling on high-profile projects. For example, she recently gave the opening address at the “Diplomacy Begins Here” Summit in Cleveland, Ohio. This regional summit is designed to celebrate citizen diplomacy and its origins in local communities, so I got to research projects which have included Cleveland as a city stop and highlight them in the speech the Ambassador gave. I was also tasked with putting together her briefing book, full of information and briefing sheets she’d need for her meetings in Cleveland.
These projects and many others have certainly kept me busy, but I’ve really been enjoying all of the writing and other opportunities I’ve been exposed to so far. With just over a month left in D.C., I hope to keep making the most of my time here!
Journal Entry #3
As I head back home for a couple weeks before the semester starts, I can’t help but reflect on my two months here in Washington. It’s been a whirlwind of professional and personal growth, and I’m very grateful to the Parents Fund for making it all possible. It’s difficult to summarize my experience in a few words, but my best attempt is to say that it was full of key chances and conversations.
I’ll explain what I mean by this, beginning with conversations. One thing my office encouraged all interns to do is to speak with as many people as possible, both within our office and in other areas of the department. Sometimes, these would be formal informational interviews in which I asked an employee about their career path and sought their advice. However, often these conversations would simply take the form of informal “coffee chats,” in which I could discuss my own work at the department and hear about someone else’s. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of busy employees and senior officials willing to take time out of their day to guide a young person interested in their line of work – and I certainly found their guidance helpful.
For me, hearing about their experiences solidified my own desire to pursue a career in foreign affairs, hopefully with the State Department. I have been interested in the Foreign Service for a few years now, but getting to actually meet and work with so many Foreign Service Officers shifted that interest from an abstract possibility to a goal I am actively working towards. Similarly, I learned about the wide variety of Civil Service positions at the department, and how I can prepare myself academically to potentially take on one of those roles. This type of networking proved very helpful to me, both in terms of learning about opportunities, and meeting people who I can continue reaching out to with questions. I’d encourage any future interns to take advantage of the chance to meet people in their field of interest, especially if one is lucky enough to work somewhere like State where people are genuinely interested in interns’ professional development.
As for other key chances I had this summer, my internship placement struck a good balance between making sure I was supported in my efforts, but also treating me like a full-time employee and letting me take on extra responsibility. At one point, my supervisor was out for several days on official and personal travel, so I got to step into his shoes and take on the majority of his daily tasks. Many of these tasks were time-sensitive reports and short writing assignments. Although I had plenty of help from others in the office, and appreciated the extra support, I also found that I enjoyed the challenge that my supervisor’s brief absence presented. In addition to my daily intern responsibilities, I got to take extra initiative and experience what it would be like to work at the State Department full time – in my view, that’s ultimately the purpose that a good internship experience should serve.
When I return to Grounds in a few short weeks, I know that I will be coming back with an enhanced understanding of diplomacy in action, and a renewed sense of purpose to keep pursuing my line of study. For that, I am truly grateful to the Office of International Visitors at the U.S. Department of State, and the Parents Fund for making my time there possible.