2019 Parents Fund Internship Grant Reflections: Callie Collins

Internship Location: Embassy of Australia in Washington, DC

Journal Entry #1:

This summer, I’m working as an intern at the Embassy of Australia in Washington, DC in the Public Diplomacy department of the Cultural Affairs branch. Public Diplomacy focuses on creating and sustaining positive relationships between Australia and the United States by engaging with the general public and the government, providing educational opportunities promoting cultural understanding, and organizing and executing events.

My supervisor and colleagues are fantastic – everyone has been so welcoming to me and clearly excited about what they do, which makes for a great work environment. In my first week I’ve met a lot of people from other departments in the embassy and begun to learn my way around administration and my office space. The embassy supported DC Pride, and throughout the week I helped prepare and organize our organization’s participation in the event – from unwrapping and packing merchandise to toss to screaming onlookers, to managing participants and organizing logistical details of the day. I also had the opportunity to accompany my supervisor to several significant meetings – one with a manager of the Museum of the American Indian to discuss the repatriation of cultural objects and human remains at a university, the other with an artist whose work will be displayed in the embassy’s exhibition space for the coming months. I have begun to assist in preparations for the exhibition as well.

In the coming months, I look forward to spending time working with Georgia Saxelby – the artist exhibiting her work at the embassy – and preparing for her opening. I’ll also be able to collaborate with other members of cultural institutions in Washington on events, the management of cultural objects, and the visitation of leaders in art, academia, and government from around the world. I’m really excited to assist my team in preparations for the residence and ventures of the Ambassador. With so many great opportunities to meet significant leaders in various fields, I hope to improve most upon my networking skills during my time at the embassy, and my ability to work effectively with different leading members of partnering institutions.

Journal Entry #2:

Five weeks have flown by at the embassy amongst celebrating the building’s fiftieth anniversary and prepping for Australian artist Georgia Saxelby’s upcoming exhibition. After organizing the embassy’s participation in the DC Pride Parade during my first week, preparations for the fiftieth anniversary and Saxelby’s exhibition have been my focus at work. I have taken on a variety of roles – from managing guests, to painting our gallery space, to coordinating the exhibition with our visiting artist.

I came into my internship with few expectations – in my previous experiences, I find it only leads to more surprises. I had a general idea of my role in event planning and exhibition management, but the individual tasks are new and unexpected each day, both menial and substantial. On some days it seems I’m not taking on as much as the rest of the team, which frustrates me, and on others a task will be assigned to me that makes me feel as if I’m making a real difference in our workspace: such is the rollercoaster that is an internship! For example, while managing invites and communicating with guests for the fiftieth anniversary celebration, I was tasked with organizing a display of historical objects documenting the construction and opening of the embassy in the 60s, allowing me to utilize my skills in curating, which I built in a previous internship. At the event, I was able to interact with guests and VIPs, helping me build new skills in building professional relationships and hosting significant public figures – something I had not expected to be able to work on so soon in my internship. My interactions with guests as a representative of the Australian Embassy gave me a glimpse of the importance of public diplomacy in creating and strengthening ongoing relationships between people of different countries and cultures; though it seems a small act to make conversation with someone at an event, it is greatly significant in the larger scheme of engaging with the international public.

I hope to be able to continue building connections with public figures and professionals in my field during the rest of my internship, and to show my team at the embassy that I can be a valuable asset in the field. So far, we have been focusing all our efforts on the upcoming exhibition – I suspect I’ll discover what the upcoming weeks hold for me afterwards!

Journal Entry #3:

In the last weeks of my internship, my focus at work remained centered on Georgia Saxelby’s exhibition opening, which turned out to be a smashing success. It was really exciting to finally meet with and welcome the guests I had been corresponding with for weeks – it was an unexpected and wonderful way to form connections through simple, intentional personal interactions, one whose value I hadn’t realized at the time. The weeks of detailed planning, manual labor, and a little bit of last-minute chaos culminated in great success. The most incredible part of it was the new friendship I gained with the artist, Georgia. She has become a dear friend and invested mentor to me and my colleague. After the buzz of the opening faded, I worked on a few research projects to make connections and find VIP guests for upcoming events around the city endorsed by the embassy.

One of the biggest lessons I’ll take away from the time I’ve spent at the embassy is the value of personal interaction – taking the time to be kind and purposeful when corresponding with or meeting people goes a long way in building foundational connections. In addition – as cliché as it sounds – teamwork is imperative in any professional space. From organizing and executing events, planning institutional collaborations, or simply putting two minds together to figure out how to rig curtains from scratch, it’s impossible to be successful without a lot of communication, a little debate, and consistent cooperation. Having good relationships between team members doesn’t just involve acting professionally, but the same care and intention given in interactions with guests at events. It’s important to take a break in the workday every once in a while to check in with your team, or go out for lunch, participate in events outside the workday. Having genuine relationships with coworkers is part of what can make a workspace great and a job really special.

All in all, it’s clear to me that the people who are involved in my summer internship – coworkers, guests, collaborators, and the like – have been the most impactful element of my professional experience… something I will keep in mind when constructing whatever career path I choose.