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John Hougaard’s Slovenian Internship

Boise State student John Hougaard with the Prime Minister of Slovenia

My internship with the US State Department at the US Embassy in Ljubljana has been a wonderful experience. I have learned much from my internship about how the US State Department functions overseas and works to promote US foreign policy. My Internship will have a long-lasting impact that will shape my future career path as well as how I view the US Government. One of the most important tasks I was able to accomplish during my internship was housing new American families as they arrived at their new post of Slovenia. I did this by setting up their houses with new furniture provided by the US embassy, new appliances as well as delivering welcome kits. Soon the US embassy’s GSO building will be moved to an entirely new part of town and I was personally tasked by my supervisor with the job of tiding up and cleaning our current GSO building so it would be ready to leave soon. I cleared out every desk, filing cabinet and threw away all the old embassy’s equipment that needed to be dumped. As well as cleaning up the GSO building we worked to clear and clean the embassy’s warehouse. Our warehouse was overstored and in store for some serious cleaning. We took old furniture to the dump, threw away all of the supplies that was past it’s due date, dusted and swept all of the spider webs that were in the corners of the warehouse. My greatest personal accomplishment was when my team pulled off a spectacular job setting up, logistically supporting and decorating for the US Embassy’s Fourth of July event to which even the ambassador complimented with great remarks towards how wonderful everything looked.

A large portion of what I was able to accomplish was the knowledge I obtained through interacting with each of the individual offices in the embassy. I’ve learned that an embassy functions with American political officers as well as locally employed staff, who must all work in conjunction with each other supporting the foreign policy of the United States. I’ve also learned about all the different offices in the embassy and how each individual office functions. I learned about the Government services office (GSO) which was the office I personally worked in and supported during my internship. GSO’s job is to cover all the logistics of the US embassy as they deal with housing, supplies, maintenance and motor pool operations. I’ve learnt that out of the many offices in the US embassy there is a Public Affairs Office (PAO) whose job it is to promote American culture and beliefs to the public of the country they are stationed in. They do this by hosting events, promoting American products, and going to local schools. The Public Affairs Office also handles all press related statements coming from the embassy. They manage the embassy’s social media such as their Facebook, Twitter and write the speeches for the ambassador. The Community Liaison Office (CLO) is responsible for all quality of life issues affecting all foreign service officers and their family members. They focus on eight fundamental areas of responsibility which are events planning, spousal employment, education for dependence, guidance and referral information on all state department programs, embassy newsletter and information and post, security information in case of evacuation of family members, newcomer orientations, and sponsor program. The CLO office is part of the management section and develops programs that helps maintain high morale within the embassy community. A large part of the US embassy’s external functions are done through the consular section which interviews host country nationals to ensure they have legitimate reason to travel to the United States and help American citizens with a verity of services. These services include, issuing new passports, assisting Americans who get in trouble with the law of the host country, and repatriate American citizens’ remains back to the United States. In the embassy, there are the political and economic sections. The political section carries out the president’s foreign policy overseas. Any security and diplomatic agreements are also handled by the political section. The economic section promotes American business and trade in the host country. They often meet with local companies to establish contacts for American businesses, and in addition they sign and establish trade agreements between the two countries. The defense attaché’s office handles all American military cooperation with the host countries military. In the case of Slovenia this would entail NATO cooperation.

Out of many of my political science classes I took in Boise State only a couple of them mentioned the US State Department. Primarily in that of my international relations classes talked about or referred to the US State Department. Through this class I have learned that the US State Department is a result of liberalism and the liberalist way of thinking. Liberalism rejects the ideas of realism and believes that the only way to achieve peace of through government bodies working together internationally. Having had worked with the US State Department I have found this to be indeed true. From what I saw the US State Department only worked to encourage this liberalist style of promoting international bodies working together. They do this by meeting and discussing with officials of the host country over trade agreements, hosting events for the public to attend and working with the country’s military in joint operations. However even though the US State Department functions to promote liberalism, teamwork, and unity, the officers I found this do it through acting in realist ways. For example, the political officers can’t perform their duties through the liberalist ideologies but must take their jobs very seriously and adapt to the give circumstance that they are facing. In my international relations class, I’ve learned that President Trump has made an intention on cutting the state department’s budget by up to 30%. By first handedly witnessing the role that the State Department plays for our foreign policy and seeing how important it is in keeping good relations between us and the world, I would disagree with the current intention the president is putting forth in this budget cut because.

When given the chance to discuss my experience working at the US Embassy with future potential employers, I would immediately remark that it was a great opportunity for me to further pursue my goal of becoming a political officer for the US State Department and learn the steps to becoming one. Through this internship I was able to have firsthand experience working in an embassy environment. Through my interactions with embassy personnel, it gave me an idea of what day to day tasks are like in the embassy. For example, political officers often meet with host country officials and attend receptions to what each office in the embassy does. I was greatly involved in the logistics of the US Embassy’s 4th of July event, where it might sound like it would be an event to have fun and relax, but in reality, it was a work-related event and the embassy’s personnel had to meet with people and make connections.

From my job working at the US Embassy this summer, I have also gained and used many different life skills that will help in later jobs in life. I worked with embassy political officers, other interns, marines, as well as locally employed staff with which I had to talk to and work with which improved my communication skills. Some skills and experiences which I used were customer service, organizational skills and working with a team.

Customer service was an important part of my job as I regularly interacted with customers, who were embassy employees and their family members. My office would receive daily work requests and it was my job to make sure their requests were completed in a professional and courteous manner. For example, we had a request to set up tents, tables and chairs for an important embassy function or moving in furniture for a new house. I had to make sure we had all items prepped and loaded in the truck before departing to the event location. Upon arrival, I met with the embassy officer in charge and received details on how things were to be arranged. Then our team proceed to do the work. After the work was completed I met again with the embassy officer before leaving to ensure that everything was set-up to their specifications. I always made sure they were satisfied before leaving the job. The furniture and welcome kits we delivered had to meet cleanliness regulations with no furniture damaged or stains. Additionally, I had to deal with client satisfactory, which for example if someone was not happy with the way their furniture was placed I would come back the next day to rearrange the furniture the way they actually intended.

Because we had many work requests, it was important to be organized. My supervisor and I met every morning to go over the work schedule and anticipate future events that would require additional prepping. One such event was the embassy’s official 4th of July celebration. This event is the most important event for any embassy and months of work goes into every detail. On average, several hundred people attend each year. My job required that I help plan the delivery & storage of decorations, tables, chairs and other equipment. I worked with my supervisor to contact embassy officers that were the overall coordinators in order to schedule when and where items could be stored and delivered. It was a great experience for me because I saw firsthand how communication and organization are important in accomplishing a task the correct way. I know this is a vital skill that I would need for future employment.

Team work is also an essential skill that I was able to gain at my job. As I worked as a part of the General Services Office (GSO), which is made up of approximately 30 people, all of which are host country nationals who were Slovenes. I had to learn how to work with many of these people although there were language barriers and culture difference so that my tasks could be accomplished every day. Through working with Slovenes, I had to adapt in way that we could understand each other with also respecting our differences. I had to work with certain expectations and guidelines that were expected of me. For example, I had a certain dress code. I was a part of the supply team which fell under the American supervisor for the section. If our team was not doing our job, our supervisor would hear complaints from customers. I worked hard with my team to make sure we accomplished our work and people were satisfied with our service. All the political officers were older than me and I had to treat them as superiors and in a manner of respect.

By working this internship for the US State Department, I now have better understanding of the steps I have to take and what is expected of me to become a political officer for the State Department. In order to become a political officer, it is strongly recommended that I get a master’s degree. A master’s degree is very helpful because applying for this job is a very competitive process and is highly sought-after. I will need to pass a written examination and an oral assessment. At this point I have also learned that the application process takes a long time, somewhere around one and a half years. This is due to the fact that I would need to pass a physical examination, mental stability test and an extensive background check in order to get the job.

I am very thankful that I was given the opportunity to work at the US embassy. I enjoyed my internship very much and it has been a great eye-opening experience in life which I will always look back to and remember. Through working this internship, I have learned and improved upon many different life skills which I can use for future careers. My biggest take away from this internship is all the embassy knowledge I have learnt so far about how the embassy functions. By better understanding the US State Department I will understand how my country’s government functions overseas and what the US does to promote itself. The knowledge of how each individual office functions helps me a lot with deciding which office interests me the most. Through my internship I have come to the conclusion that the office which interests me the most is the public affairs office. I would enjoy promoting US culture overseas at the post I would be stationed in because I would love to promote my country’s ideas, democracy, and way of life overseas. Additionally, I feel it would be of great interest and importance to aide in bridging the gap of culture between the host nation and the United States. If I could change something about my internship, I wish I could’ve worked in the public affairs office rather than spending most of my time working with the Government Services Office (GSO) because that is the field, I am most interested in and most likely to pursue in the future. Another factor I would have changed is that I wish I had known more about Slovene history, language and culture sense I work many with Slovenian locals. In that way I would have bridged the gap between the Slovenes and myself.