A Day in the Life of a Political-Economic Section Intern

6:00 AM: Wake up, turn on electric tea kettle, grumble about the lack of good coffee in China.

7AM: Finish drinking coffee, actually wake up, check personal email, reply to new comment on your last essay written for the IIP Summer Internship course, check Facebook, wonder why no one is online, remember that there is a 13 hour time difference between Chengdu and Madison, log off and finish getting ready.

8:00 AM: Arrive at the Consulate, log onto computer and begin reading all of the email updates Washington sent last night.

8:30 AM: Begin going down rabbit hole of Wikipedia pages in an attempt to understand Thailand’s refugee policies because of a report that was sent out from the U.S. Embassy in Thailand.

8:45 AM: Remember that you have 12 other emails to read and several projects that need starting, close the Wikipedia page, and continue to read emails.

9:00 AM: Head of Pol/Econ section stops by office to say hello, also mentions that he would like to see a draft of the report sometime this morning, begin rewriting large sections of the draft as soon as he leaves.

10:00 AM: Finish up latest round of edits on cable (State Department parlance for an internal report), email to supervising Political Officer, Political Unit Chief, and Chief of Political-Economic Section, quietly sneak downstairs for second cup of coffee and a quick chat with the Management intern.

10:30 AM: Back at desk, coffee in hand, resume intensive Google searching for an academic paper or census that has some statistics that I need for a different cable.

11:00 AM: Message other interns asking what they would like to do for lunch because one of the TDY-ers (Temporary Duty officer, usually only at Post for a few weeks or months) is leaving tomorrow, agree to join a small celebration at the Ambassador (a restaurant that is run out of what used to be a local family home that famously hosted the U.S. Ambassador to China a few years ago when he requested authentic Chinese food).

11:30 AM: Meet briefly with one of the local staff and ask her if she can find the number of certain universities, colleges, and vocational schools in Sichuan province, and if she has had any luck contacting any of the organic farms for a visit and interview.

12:00 PM: Meet the six other interns, two summer hires (adult children of Consulate employees), and TDY-ers in the lobby to head out to lunch.

1:00 PM: Return to desk, again begin reading through emails.

1:30 PM: Reply to PAO (Public Affairs Officer) call for volunteers for an English language movie night attended by local students, add event to calendar, remember that you also wanted to schedule a meeting with a Management Officer to learn more about the Management Cone (there are fivecareer tracks in the Foreign Service: Management, Political, Economic, Public Diplomacy and Consular).

2:00 PM: Check in with the Consul General’s (CG) executive assistant, ask if she has any tasks for me or needs any help with preparations for an upcoming event.

3:00 PM: Receive edited cable from Political Unit Chief, begin slowly approving changes and making notes about content holes that still need filling.

3:15 PM: Run over to Political Unit Chief’s desk to ask about a particular comment he made, find that he is already gone to another meeting, quickly decide that he doesn’t need to be bothered with this, and leave yourself a note to check back on the fact in question tomorrow morning.

3:20 PM Head down to the Consulate’s Information Resource Center (IRC; basically a small library) to help with set up for this week’s college chat, double the number of chairs because we have no idea how many students will show up.

3:30 PM Begin presenting to a room stuffed with students, feel nervous, but excited because everyone seems pretty interested.

4:00 PM: Open chat session with the students, other interns grapple with questions on admissions processes, entrance exams, and sports teams, you work with random eight year old and find major U.S. cities on the map.

5:00 PM: Reluctantly escort students out of the Consulate as official hours are over, and all of the interns can finish for the day.

5:15 PM: Actually begin to leave, say good-bye to all of my colleagues.

6:00 PM: After returning home, checking my email again, and changing out of business professional clothing, grab dinner at local noodle and dumpling shop with other interns, wonder why there aren’t more hand-pulled noodles available in the USA.

7:30 PM: Begin working on essay for IIP course, get distracted by new idea for a blog post.

8:00 PM: Interns gather together to watch Frozen and eat Chinese snacks.

10:00 PM: Message Mom for a while, reassure her that I am still alive and well.

11:00 PM: Go to sleep, because tomorrow will bring a whole new set of challenges and adventures.

Now, obviously I can’t claim that every intern everywhere is going to have the same experience, and not every day is like this for me. But, I think that this is a pretty good representation of what I do. My major duty is to write cables. Fortunately, the Chengdu Consulate is small and flexible, so I was able to pick some topics that interest me. Right now, I hope to publish three cables by the time I leave in mid-August. Each cable is the product of a considerable amount of research, so even finishing three is an accomplishment.

To me, an internship is like a first draft. You have time to go over questions and problems again and again, trying new things and gathering feedback. Not all of your changes will be successful, not all of your days will be fun, and not all internships lead to careers. But, ultimately, by having gone through the process of revision, editing, and reflecting, you come out with a fuller picture of what you want your life to be.