Advancing Public Diplomacy in the Virtual Student Foreign Service

Posted by Octavio Saenz
July 15, 2013
Hands Type on a Keyboard

I was awake.  My first cohesive thought was a realization that I was still in bed and staring into darkness.  My eyes were open but the only thing that made me attempt to dissipate the mist of slumber was an alarm clock signalling it was four minutes after 5:00 a.m.  Considering I had a mere three hours of sleep, I should have been exhausted.  But the anticipation of a Skype video journalism presentation that I would be conducting as a member of the Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) through the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, made fatigue a trivial condition.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the VSFS, it is a U.S. Department of State program that allows students to intern virtually with the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) domestic offices and overseas posts as well as others offices within the U.S. government.  Although it makes getting coffee for the office a little difficult, it harnesses the interconnected reach and utility of technology and provides a rich experience for the intern and the office alike.

My interest in being a diplomat began during a fellowship with the American Council of Young Political Leaders in Seoul, the Republic of Korea.  An American Cultural Affairs Specialist in Seoul described the role and challenges of American diplomats and the importance of creating diplomatic solutions to modern day challenges.  So when the opportunity to join the State Department as a VSFS intern came along, I did not hesitate.

During the first conference call with my internship supervisor, a press officer at the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela, we managed to create a plan that would capitalize on my professional background in television and radio broadcasting.  The challenge would be to create an experience for a Venezuelan audience that would convey a genuine view of American cultural and family life, with a focus on Texas – my home state.  By sharing a personal narrative, including experiences of Venezuelans living in Texas, we hope to make a connection with the audience as they relate to facets that are universally important.  You can check out these stories at  

As a non-traditional intern with professional broadcast journalism and teaching experience, my duties were unique.  So, as I reviewed the slides that I would be presenting via Skype to the Colegio Nacional de Periodistas (National College of Journalism), I couldn't help but think of what my young son had said regarding the function of a diplomat as I recently prepared to give him another passionate discourse on foreign policy.  My son Emiliano said, “Dad, we know.  A diplomat’s job is to make good friends.”  Adulthood tells me that reality is not as simple as a child's assessment makes it out to be, but nothing is as true.

So thanks to the VSFS eInternship Program, I made new friends and shared video storytelling techniques with colleagues sitting in a room hundreds of miles away.  My role as an e-intern may have been diminutive in the larger scope of the State Department’s overall objectives, but let me assure you that there is nothing small about the approach and the enthusiasm that my fellow interns and I brought to the program.  After all, a deluge always begins with a single raindrop.

Editor’s Note: Applications are currently being accepted for the 2013-2014 Virtual Student Foreign Service e-Internship Program until July 20, 2013. Students enrolled in undergraduate or graduate studies are encouraged to apply.  Check out the available positions here and apply on!



Tommye G.
United States
July 17, 2013
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