I was thrilled to be selected as a Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) eIntern for the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. One of the attractions of my virtual internship was that I could work on this project from anywhere in the world. I first connected with my supervisor in September 2013, while I was studying abroad for a semester in Rabat, Morocco. I often worked from my host family’s home while we discussed my role as a member of the IVLP team. IVLP connects foreign professionals in various fields with their American counterparts, and nearly 5,000 participants visit the United States annually.
My role was to add a new dimension by creating resource guides -- one-page pamphlets on different thematic topics that highlight resources such as academic and grant databases that are relevant for the participants and available on the State Department’s International Exchange Alumni website. These resource guides provide participants with added incentive to explore their ‘alumni connections’ and will simultaneously build their understanding of the site and expand its usefulness. Although communicating with a time difference took some getting used to -- one video meeting took place on an iPhone at 8:00 PM Barcelona time with barely functional Wi-Fi -- I ultimately found it easy to check in electronically with any questions.
The VSFS provided me with significant flexibility which worked extremely well for me. I wasn’t constrained to a 9-5 office job for this project. I was provided with the concept for the resource guides, but I was able to design the template and make decisions about what kinds of information to highlight. I designed the template using Photoshop, customized each resource guide with relevant articles from academic journals and magazines, and added key funding opportunities from various sources. The topics range from "Women in Entrepreneurship" to "Environmental Protection," and the resource guides are available online or in print for the alumni participants.
In addition to building my research skills and my knowledge of some of the key foreign policy priorities, I also saw our public diplomacy efforts firsthand. In February, I attended the closing event for six participants on the IVLP Gold Stars project, hosted by Citizen Diplomacy International of Philadelphia. I presented several resource guides to the participants and got to spend some time with them. Speaking to them and learning about their experiences allowed me to understand the impact that public diplomacy has around the globe.
In May, I finished the last of the resource guides and presented my yearlong project to the IVLP office via videoconference. In the past year, I was able to learn about one of the key public diplomacy tools available to missions and contribute in a concrete way to the program. My efforts not only built my skills, but they will be of help to future international visitors. Overall, I found my experience as an eIntern to be tremendously rewarding, and the VSFS program itself has been an incredible opportunity to engage with the mission of the State Department and contribute to global diplomacy.
About the Author: Erica Ma served as a Virtual Student Foreign Service eIntern during the 2013-2014 school year.