Working with the Office of Central Asian Affairs in the South and Central Asia Bureau has given me a fascinating glimpse into the daily workings of the foreign policy arm of the U.S. Government. During my short 10-week program, I have had the opportunity to learn about the lesser known Central Asian countries -- Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan -- and their increasingly important role throughout Asia and to U.S. interests in the region.
All five countries are currently celebrating 20 years of independence and strong partnerships with the U.S. Government. Kyrgyzstan recently held the Central Asian region's first peaceful and democratic presidential election, won by President Almazbek Atambayev, who was inaugurated on December 1, 2011. I had the distinct pleasure of attending Kazakhstan's 20th anniversary celebratory concert and gala at the Kennedy Center, and was treated to a display of Kazakh music, culture, and cuisine. Turkmenistan recently celebrated its anniversary by hosting Turkmen Culture Days in the United States, bringing an assortment of tapestries, antique jewelry, and traditional garb. I was tasked with drafting remarks for senior Department officials who participated in these events. It's a pretty surreal experience to see the Assistant Secretary using my contributions.
As an intern, I was able to work on projects that directly influenced U.S. relations with Central Asian countries. Part of my responsibility was to meet with different bureaus to discuss the impact of U.S. policy in Central Asia and draft papers for our Front Office. These papers provided background information for senior department officials before their meetings with heads of state and foreign political figures, to help them tailor their discussions and reach productive conclusions.
I have found that the Department of State is a particularly lively place with foreign dignitaries and U.S. officials visiting daily. Our U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan was recently in town, and I had the opportunity to speak with him about his experience with the Department of State and his role in Kazakhstan.
Above all, I valued the conversations I have had with employees around the Department. Be it Civil Service or Foreign Service, everyone at the Department has a unique story to tell, and I have enjoyed listening. I have learned a tremendous amount just from casual meetings over coffee, discussing their experience with the Department. The Office of Central Asian Affairs has been a fantastic resource in navigating around the maze which is the Harry S. Truman building, and I credit them for my successful internship experience.
An internship with the Department of State provides a truly novel way to learn about daily happenings overseas. I would strongly encourage students to apply for internship opportunities to learn about foreign affairs and international relations.