West Virginia University
4 Oct

Interning in History

Lauren | October 4th, 2010

When completing the internship application process on USAjobs.gov I had no idea what, exactly, I was signing up for. I was in the market for something that could actually offer me new knowledge, real job skills I could carry away with me, and – I must admit – the mystery and prestige of an internship that required a security clearance certainly piqued my interest. But months later, after the phone interview and security clearance process, I was on a plane over the Atlantic heading toward Berlin, Germany still with absolutely no idea what lay in store.

In the Press Section of the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, I am happy to find I have never been bored. My biggest fear was that I would be useless – in an office with an intern for intern’s sake – being tasked jobs that didn’t matter, or worse: being tasked nothing at all. It seems, however, that I arrived right at the perfect time, as Germany was preparing to celebrate twenty years since its re-unification.

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(Here I am in front of the Reichstag, their form of Parliament).

I’m learning much more than office skills and State Department protocol; the highlight of my first two weeks would have to be accompanying Ambassador Richard Clark Barkley, the last ambassador to the GDR, as he spoke to an audience of students and staff at a high school in the former East Berlin, and reflected on the fall of the wall. We arrived to the terrific high school fanfare of their band: a pianist, four saxophone players, and a drummer.

During Ambassador Barkley’s talk the students were on the edge of their seats, as was I. It was a remarkable chance for everyone present to hear a new perspective on such a significant day in history. After the assembly ended the students gave the Ambassador a beautiful arrangement of orange and red flowers, and we sat with the principal and English teacher for a while, drinking coffee, and remarking on how little the youth of today may end up really knowing about their country’s past. Watching Germans on television late one November night as they tore down the wall is one of my first memories. It was surreal to be in the same room with Ambassador Barkley as he told his account of that same evening.

When I returned to the Embassy that afternoon and looked out the window at Unter den Linden it really hit home that the coming weekend was the 20th anniversary of German Reunification. Berlin’s famous main street was being transformed for the festivities, the concerts and traditional German food.

Saturday night I joined the crowd for the festival celebrating “Deutsche Einheit” (German unity), surrounded by Germans, Americans, and what seemed like the rest of the world. As I ate my delicious sauerkraut and goat cheese sandwich from one of the hundreds of vendors, and listened to the German equivalent of Donny Osmond on the main stage, I knew then how truly grateful I am for this unique experience. I’d recommend this internship program to anyone I meet who wants to challenge him or herself, and to test his or her stamina for a career in the exciting work environment the State Department has to offer.

I often wander Berlin’s cobblestone sidewalks and never-ending streets with a camera and wide eyes, wondering how I had the guts to say I would live so far away from home for three months, but so happy that I did. Despite the initial nerves, I love that I really get to see up close what the State Department’s mission is, and know there is still so much to learn. This internship is non-stop and fun; each day is unique and asks me rise to different challenges. And to be in Germany right now is especially meaningful. This moment in history, for Germany and for me, certainly fits the description for “life changing.”

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(These double bricks mark where the wall once stood. They’re an understated and beautiful reminder of the past.)

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