Ask & You Shall Receive (How to get the Japanese to Buy You Tea)

Posted on Saturday, Aug 04, 2018

            Internship experiences are varied. Even with extensive descriptions, multiple interviews, and contact with previous interns, it can be unclear what you’ll be faced with until you actually show up at the office on your first day. Sometimes you get lucky and you’re faced with a challenging workload, rewarding tasks, and little time spent bored. Other times… not so much. More often, your internship experience won’t seem to live up to your expectations off the bat. While it’s true that most internships aren’t just making coffee anymore, a lot of what you do can still seem like fruitless busywork, or you can get stuck on a multi-year project that you can’t possibly see through to the end. And yet, these kinds of internships might present even more of an opportunity.

            This summer I found myself on the receiving end of an invitation to Bangladesh, met the Prime Minister of Moldova, talked energy infrastructure and policy with the Pakistani and the Indian governments, and yes, the Japanese government bought me tea. I met senators and ambassadors, went to New York for meetings, and I was invited to an interview with the Deputy Director General of the World Trade Organization. This isn’t meant to brag. I’m trying to show you what you can do with your summer if you decide to take advantage of the amazing opportunities afforded to you by this program. I don’t so much want to give advice here as offer perspective on what it means to be an Aggie in D.C. but consider this a wake-up call to anyone who thinks just showing up to an internship is enough. People care a lot about where you worked, but they care a lot more about the stories you can tell, the things you learned, the insight you gained, and how much you grew.

            The first thing that you should know is that Aggies have it made when it comes to this city. I’m absolutely convinced there isn’t a better school to come from than A&M if you want to have a great experience here. The thing is: unless they went to TAMU, nobody here really knows much about the school. They’ve probably heard of it, but it isn’t Georgetown, it isn’t UPENN or Yale or Harvard. It isn’t an Ivy League school, it isn’t super prestigious, and because of this, when you tell people “I go to Texas A&M,” they won’t be blown away by the fact. This is a good thing. This means that with the right amount of effort you’ll be able to blow them away with what you can do. Being from A&M means you can’t sit back and count on your school’s name to open doors for you. It forces you to be proactive about achieving your goals here, and you’ll be surprised how easy it can be.

            The most important thing is to ask. Ask for what you want. A lot of the time, interns can get stuck behind a desk doing nothing simply because they’re afraid to ask their boss, “Hey, there’s a briefing on X that I want to go to, I’m done with my work, may I go?” As a general rule, your supervisors want you to have a great experience, and fostering a good relationship with them is key to getting where you want to go. I’ve talked to too many people from “prestigious” colleges who, when asked “so what have you done this summer?” tell me about their one project on air quality, or the calls they’ve gotten from constituents in their congressman’s office. Those people aren’t asking for what they want.

            While what I’ve done this summer sounds pretty cool, almost all of it was the product of simply asking the right questions. When I was pulled in to help draft our Assistant Secretary’s schedule for the World Gas Conference, I asked if I could go along to see what it was like. After we had finalized the A/S’ plans for his bilateral meetings, I asked if I could attend. My supervisor thought about it for a second, and then said “I mean, I don’t see why not,” and so I went. Relating back to the title, our meeting with the Japanese energy minister was in an old hotel, and their delegation was kind enough to buy us afternoon tea (which was really, really good). We met with the Bangladeshi Minister of Power (coolest job title ever) and the Moldovan Prime Minister. Was I so central to the operation that they needed me there? Of course I wasn’t. But I was in the meeting, as a part of the delegation, all because I asked.

            When I went to a presentation Bloomberg gave in the DOC library, I stayed after and asked one of the presenters if he had the time to grab coffee. He didn’t that day, but after getting his card I ended up in New York a few weeks later to talk with him about an internship the next summer. After attending an economics summit, I found online, I went up to the moderator and found out he was the editor-at-large for the Atlantic here in D.C.. I talked to him for all of five minutes and asked if he had any other events this summer. I got his email and an invitation to their offices for an interview he was doing with Alan Wolff (DDG of the WTO). All of this happened because I followed a few pieces of advice.
  • First, I made friends with my boss. That meant I could attend most of the events I wanted to (she even sent me invites to a few).
  • Second, I asked. That’s by far the most important part.
  • Third, I talked to everyone I could talk to, even if we had nothing in common. I’m a finance major, but the most valuable contact I have up here is a journalist and an interviewer.
  • Fourth, I followed up. I sent thank you email after thank you email, I asked if they knew anyone I should talk to or if they had anything interesting going on. I made sure they didn’t forget me so that when they were sending out invites for their events, I was on the list.
  • Fifth (and this is where things get a little interesting), I always acted – and looked – like I was supposed to be there. That’s the last real piece of advice I have. No matter what room you’re in, act like you’re supposed to be there. Yes, it takes some courage (and the right attire), but it’s easier than you’d think. I’ve been in places this summer where I was the youngest person in the room by 15 or 20 years, but nobody ever asked me why I was there. Another intern from my office and I ended up in a room with three senators and their security detail, but instead of kicking us out, we had some really cool conversations before they had to go. The other intern even got an interview with Cory Booker’s office.
As an intern, one of the most valuable things to keep in mind is that you can try for just about anything. The worst thing anyone can tell you is “no,” and even if they do they’ll probably respect the initiative it took for you to ask for something.

            Being an Aggie in this city means a lot of things. It means you can’t be complacent, rather, you have to be proactive and go after the things you want. It means you have the opportunity and the ability to impress everyone you meet. It means you’re hungry for – and open to – the opportunities that others might not even notice they have. Most of all, it means you can create opportunity for yourself regardless of where you’re working and how much you like it. Being an intern in this city is 100% what you make of it, and after a whole summer here, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface.

Rock Morille
U.S. Department of Commerce
Washington, D.C. | summer 2018