Lifetime of Learning & Croissants

Posted on Sunday, Apr 16, 2017

Over the course of my internship at the Foreign Commercial Service in Paris, I have had to answer one question more than any other. It is a question that, although asked by well-meaning people, can get a little tiresome after three months. The question is, “What are you doing here?”. At first, I was asking myself the same question. Here I am in Paris, a Chemical Engineering student, working in an office that has absolutely nothing to do with my major. What was I doing here? Although I knew why this internship was important to me when I arrived, I was starting to question whether or not I belonged here. The other interns in my office are total politics junkies; they know everything and they are completely confident that a life in the public sector is what they want.

I, on the other hand, was approaching this internship as a learning experience, as opposed to using it to get my foot in the door with a government agency. I’m still not sure if I ever want to work extensively with policy or trade, but there is one thing I do know. This internship has been the very definition of a High Impact Opportunity. The Aggies Commit to Learning for a Lifetime initiative “is a university-wide initiative to enhance student learning at Texas A&M by creating a culture of commitment to high impact opportunities that prepare students to learn for a lifetime. With these efforts, we commit anew to doing what we have always done so well: developing leaders of character dedicated to serving the greater good.”

The specific attributes that Aggies Commit hopes students will develop from these High Impact Opportunities are curiosity, initiative, independence, transfer, and reflection. I can easily see how my Commercial Service internship will help with each Learning Goal. Check out the list below:
  1. Curiosity: The world of government and policy is a mind-bogglingly complicated one and it can be difficult to understand from the outside looking in. At my internship, I have found that the more you ask “why?”, the more interesting a topic becomes. My colleagues each have decades of experience in this field and they can offer an insider peek that you can’t find anywhere else. Being curious allows you to stumble upon information and experiences you wouldn’t otherwise have.
  2. Initiative: Some of the most exciting and interesting parts of my internship have stemmed from taking initiative to do more than the minimum of what is expected of me. Of course, I do all of my work to the best of my ability and I have learned a lot from meetings, market research, etc. But I don’t think anyone would try to argue that a meeting is more enriching than attending a reception of 450 people at the Ambassador’s residence. (As an intern, it turns out that all you have to do to get an invite is volunteer for a shift at the coat check.) Taking the initiative to volunteer for a little more work has proved to be rewarding each and every time.
  3. Independence: The growth that I have seen in my independence during this internship has primarily taken place outside of the office. When moving to a city where you don’t know anyone, you must force yourself to be independent and learn outside of work, or else you will literally never get anything done. During my first month in Paris, I discovered that I actually prefer going to museums alone. This is a skill I will need to continue improving through other experiences, but I think this may be the first time that I willingly spent hours reading about art history instead of watching Netflix. Progress!
  4. Transfer: This internship has allowed me to transfer a lot of my technical writing skills that I learned in school. Originally, I thought it was a class that would be a waste of time, but the number of times that I find myself using skills from that class is incredible. My knowledge of thermodynamics and differential equations may not be helpful here, but I was pleasantly surprised to be able to transfer problem solving and critical thinking skills over to this job. It was a nice reminder that “soft skills” really do matter in every field.
  5. Reflection: Most of the personal reflection that I do for this experience comes from required PPIP assignments like this blog, but I am very happy that they provide me with an opportunity to look back on how things are going and what I have learned.
Although public policy may not be the final resting place for my career, this internship has enriched my understanding of business, international policy, and trade as a whole. And although I may have forgotten everything I know about fluid dynamics by the time I return to school, I believe this experience has set me up to be a lifetime learner. For that, I am very thankful.

Dana Sublett
U.S.Commercial Service
Paris, France | Spring 2017