Interning at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey
By Dean Pohlman (Ankara, Turkey ’10)
Instead of staying in America for a prolonged period of time, I decided to return to Turkey for an extended period of time for the third time in a little over a year. In January of 2010, I applied to the U.S. Department of State Student Internship program and listed Turkey as a site where I was interested in working. In March, I was thrilled to hear from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, and I quickly accepted their offer to intern in the Public Affairs Department during fall 2011.
At the time, my job description was purposefully vague so that I would be able to fit in where I was most needed. Because of this, I went into the job excited but not really knowing what to expect.
From the first day, I knew I would be right on the front lines with the Foreign Service Officers. Within my first couple of hours on the job, I met with the president of Turkey’s most famous law school. After my first week on the job, I had already acquired a stack of business cards from NGO officials, elected representatives, professors, judges and prosecutors. My boss, Stefanie Altman-Winans, was very capable in her work, as were the rest of the Foreign Service Officers in Ankara. It was incredible to be in an office where everyone was so qualified and so dedicated to the mission. I could tell immediately that I was with an elite group of individuals.
Most of what I did in Public Affairs was assist in planning events. I did this by conducting research on the Internet and corresponding with various groups, ministries, and colleges, as well as arranging face-to-face meetings. Here, my Turkish was instrumental in collecting information. Many Internet sources in Turkey are only available in Turkish, so in this aspect I felt I was invaluable to the Embassy as an American who was fluent in Turkish.
I learned the importance of event planning thanks to two major events that the U.S. Embassy hosted while I was in Ankara. The first was when Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor visited Turkey to share her experiences as the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice at a time when Turkey was attempting to revise their constitution. We visited law schools, the Supreme Court of Turkey, as well as the High Council or Judges and Prosecutors (a sort of parallel court structure of the Supreme Court) throughout the course of the day. With the help of other embassy staff, my main job was to prepare the program packet and ensure that the visits went as smoothly as possible.
The second big event that we hosted was the 2011 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, specifically the Youth Entrepreneurship Summit. More than 80 young entrepreneurs from 15 regional areas in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa participated in a three-day conference. The conference featured speeches from leading entrepreneurs in Turkey, as well as the Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues Ronan Farrow, the President of the Turkish Youth and Sports Ministry, and Vice President Joe Biden. The event was perhaps the most hectic two days of my life – it was a non-stop job filled with three people asking me questions at once, a constantly ringing phone, and a high level of stress among the employees and the Foreign Service Officers, but in the end we pulled it off, and the participants of the summit gained friendships and entrepreneurial skills that will last a lifetime.
The experience that I had at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara will stay with me. It opened my eyes to the work that the U.S. Department of State does and the exceptional skills that Foreign Service Officers have. It also revealed the importance of learning a language. Knowing a language not only allows you to access more information, but it allows you to connect with people on a level that would not be possible without knowing their native language.
On a personal level, knowing Turkish also allowed me to develop relationships with Turks that will not only serve me in the future, but hopefully also leaves a positive image of Americans because it shows our neighbors in Turkey that Americans are genuinely interested in their language, culture, and history, and it facilitates better relations.
Posted by Critical Language Scholarship Program at 4:33 PM
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