Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Experiences of a Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellow

Before I leave to go back to the States, I wanted to share with all the readers the experiences I have had as a Pickering fellow. The end of my time here in Vilnius also takes me from being a Pickering Fellow to a Pickering Alumni, as it is the final requirement of my contract with the foundation. 

To begin with, The Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Programs provide funding to participants as they prepare academically and professionally to enter the United States Department of State Foreign Service. Women, members of minority groups historically underrepresented in the Foreign Service, and students with financial need are encouraged to apply. 
2011 GFAF Esther Joe and FAF Kimberly Everett completed their internships in Kuwait City, Kuwait. They had the opportunity to be site officers for Secretary Kerry's visit and to assist with preparations for the Secretary's high-level meetings at the Bayan Palace and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
I started to prepare my application for the Fellowship in September of my senior year in college, and the application was due in February. I worked closely with the writing center, our Director of Scholarships, and the Ambassador in Residence at the University of Central Florida. After writing twenty-seven drafts of my personal statement, I finally turned in the application. I was then selected to continue the process through a writing test in which you are given two hypothetical situations or issues and  you must write about them within a certain amount of time while being supervised via Skype. After I passed this test, I was invited to Washington, D.C. to be interviewed... along with 40 other people... for 20 positions. I practiced with UCF doing mock interviews before flying out to the nation's capital. All the people I met there were incredibly impressive and qualified. I was nervous, but prepared, as I sat in a closed room in front of two professors and an Ambassador, being grilled on what the Pickering Fellowship would mean to me. A month later I was notified that I was selected as a Pickering Fellow!

Pickering Fellow Brandon Peart (FAF 18) interning in Slovakia, and his wife Tiffany Law, interning in Yerevan, demonstrated how to make ice cream at “the American Corners” in Yerevan. Lucky participants got to share the results!
My particular program assisted in paying for my tuition, housing, and other incidentals while I was in graduate school at Seton Hall University's School of Diplomacy and International Relations. I have taken the Foreign Service Officers Test (written) and the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (verbal). The fellowship also requires training outside of academia, however, as you are to complete two 10-week programs and training courses in the summers.

After my first year of graduate school, I went to the Main Department of State building in Washington, D.C. to be sworn in as the Acting Desk Officer to Poland. This was an incredibly exciting time to be in the office as turnover was high and the new leaders of the Embassy in Warsaw were being chosen. Some examples of the work I did was to draft and clear fifteen different papers for the Ambassador for his Congressional confirmation hearing. This included the Q&A document which was about fifty pages long! I also was able to schedule several meetings for the Deputy Chief of Mission for his trip to D.C. with the different government departments. Another interesting task I was given was to help negotiate a new Protecting Power for the U.S. when Poland finally had to close their Embassy in Syria. 
2012 Pickering Graduate Fellow Jesse Shaw with Susan Rice, now National Security Advisor to President Obama, at Rice's farewell party at the US Mission to the UN (USUN). Jesse is serving in the Office of Press and Public Diplomacy at USUN this summer for his domestic internship.
During my time in Washington, I also had to take several training courses weekly on subjects pertaining to working in the Department of State.  We were also trained in how to introduce ourselves to people at receptions and other events, speaking and writing in the State Department, and got first-hand accounts from other experienced Foreign Service Officers. 

I then returned to Seton Hall to complete my thesis and finish my graduate program in International Security and International Organizations with an emphasis on Eastern European foreign policy. I had put in my bids for my second 10-week program--this one overseas--months before and had gotten offers from Sarajevo, Prague, Warsaw, and Vilnius. Not only did I have friends here in Vilnius, but I also was offered a job in Public Affairs, which is what I want to do with my career in the Foreign Service, so I accepted this post. As I am coming towards the end of my time here, I have to say that Vilnius has been an even more incredible experience. Working in an Embassy, as opposed to Main State, is more active, fun, and busy. I have been given the chance to manage projects, write this blog, do outreach events, and more. Working with Lithuanian people and getting to know their culture has been a dream opportunity for me and I can't wait to do more of it!

When I return to the States, my husband and I will begin A-100 training with the Foreign Service. The Fellowship has been a dream come true for me and has opened the doors to allow me to succeed in my ambitions of joining the State Department as well as to receive a higher education. I have the Foundation to thank for all of it, and the State Department to thank for the great experiences that they have given me. I hope that more people will apply to the Pickering and have their dreams realized as well. 
Pickering Graduate Fellows left to right: Lila Wade (GFAF 15), Ernesto Alfonso (GFAF 16), Marvin Alfaro (GFAF 16), and Emily Yu (GFAF 16) with Ambassador Pickering during his visit to Columbia University to speak on the changing role of diplomacy.