This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.
This entry is by Justin Iannacone, COL ’20
This summer I had the opportunity to intern in the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) in Washington. CSO analyzes conflict trends, works to prevent outbreaks of violence, and responds to emerging threats to peace around the world. It focuses on issues like gender-based violence, election monitoring, reintegrating extremist fighters, and treaty enforcement. Living in D.C. and working for the State Department this summer was a fantastic experience. In addition to my work, I interacted with public officials across the government, met Penn alumni and other students, and experienced vibrant city life in the nation’s capital.
My role varied throughout the summer based on changing regional situations and emerging crises. I was able to work on issues in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Kenya, Eritrea, Serbia, the Philippines, and many other countries alongside expert diplomats. I often conducted background research and provided daily updates to the Bureau on urgent country situations. I crossed paths with important American government officials and interacted with foreign dignitaries in meetings at the State Department and embassies. While meeting influential global leaders was certainly exciting, the most rewarding connections I made this summer were with Foreign Service Officers working in Washington. They all had incredible backgrounds that led them to careers in diplomacy, and the stories they told me about challenges they faced on deployments showed me how intelligent and resourceful diplomats must be to succeed.
If you asked me what I would be doing as an incoming freshman, I would have given you a much different answer than working for the State Department. Taking international relations classes at Penn broadened my interests and made me consider opportunities outside of traditional political or legal internships. After working for an NGO in West Africa following my freshman year, I became passionate about international development and stability. This internship was a perfect opportunity to transition my experience in Africa to the US government’s central efforts to promote global cooperation and peace.
My experience did not come without some frustrations. I witnessed firsthand how partisan politics and bureaucracy impact effective policymaking. I learned how government departments balance the interests of Congress, the Presidential Administration, and other stakeholders when prioritizing issues and strategies. There was often competition between different government agencies and budget constraints that limited our options, but despite these challenges I sought to remain focused on the importance of the work I was doing.
One of the most inspiring aspects of this experience was working with people who came to work every day with the same passion and dedication to government service they had when they began their careers. In an era of political divides and cynicism, this summer showed me that hard work, skill, and belief in the right ideals still yields a better and more peaceful society. I am very grateful for my summer experience, and I cannot wait to return to Washington next year.