A Week in the Life of an Embassy Intern
(Photo: Hannah Stenton)
The Australian Embassy in Berlin is responsible for relations with Germany, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. There are generally two interns at any given time in different departments. Last year, I spent some time in the Political/Economic team, who work closely with the Public Diplomacy team and with external actors to advance Australia’s interests overseas.
As an intern, I was lucky enough to complete work that allowed me to try my hand at different skills and contribute positively to the embassy’s work. Not only that, but I got to spend a few months in arguably one of the best cities in the world, Berlin! After completing my internship at the Australian Embassy in Berlin, I can certainly say that at embassies, there is something different happening every day. This provides opportunities to assist with all sorts of different and interesting tasks. To get an idea of what an internship is like, here’s a look at a typical week in as an intern in one of Australia’s overseas posts:
Mondays are always busy at the embassy, as we catch up with whatever’s happened over the weekend and prepare for the week ahead. It’s been a particularly busy time lately with Brexit coming to a head and Angela Merkel’s announcement that she will step down from her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). When I arrive in the morning I scan the German and English news for anything that might relate to Australian interests. In my role as Political/Economic Intern, it is important to keep a finger on the local pulse, so I spend a lot of time reading news and press releases.
One of my tasks each week is to report to the Ambassador and team on the public appointments for Chancellor Merkel and various German federal ministers. I also prepare a summary of the Parliamentary Agendas so that we know what is going on in Parliament each week. This is a really good test of my German skills – I’m forever learning new and obscure political words!
In the afternoon we have a weekly team meeting where we report to each other on what has been happening in the last week, as well as what is upcoming. This is really useful as an intern, as you get to see the diversity of tasks that diplomats work on, and even put your hand up to assist in some of them. Later this week we also have a preparatory meeting for the Research Network event on Tuesday night. The embassy team has been preparing for this event for months, and the whole team is to be involved in coordination on the night. You could compare it to a well-rehearsed dance – we have a carefully arranged schedule for the evening, and everybody plays a role. I will be assisting with receiving and registering the 200 guests that will be coming, and ensuring the PowerPoint and video presentations play seamlessly one after another.
Today is the big day for the Embassy’s Research Network Launch. The Australia-Germany Research Network is an initiative by the Australian Embassy Berlin to strengthen existing research connections and provide a platform for developing new research relationships across disciplines and institutions. Through a bimonthly newsletter and a LinkedIn community, managed in cooperation with the German Embassy in Australia, the aim is to continue fostering extensive, high-calibre and longstanding research connections. We have invited over 200 guests from government, academic institutions, science and industry to the evening where we showcase the best of Australian-German scientific and research cooperation. The launch and Network more broadly should provide valuable opportunities for Australian and German researchers to build relationships, travel, and contribute to life-changing research initiatives.
I spend the day assisting with setting up, before taking my place at the registration table to welcome our guests. The event is a rousing success! After some mingling with attendees, we wrap up the evening and head home.
Wednesday starts off with some wrapping up of elements from the event last night, including helping pack up and entering the business cards of guests into our contacts database. After lunch, the other intern and I go to the Christmas Choir practice. We were lucky enough to be at the embassy over the November-December period, so there was a lot going on, including Christmas festivities. Naturally, I decided to partake in the choir, where we sing carols in English and German, including Silent Night/Stille Nacht, and Aussie Jingle Bells. This was a lot of fun and a good way to get to know other members of the team who I do not work with on a day-to-day basis.
In the afternoon, the Deputy Head of Mission comes to my desk with some documents from a conference she attended. The conference was organised by a leading German think-tank, where they released an annual report of their research findings. I am to summarise and report the published material back to Canberra. Cable writing is one of the more difficult aspects of working as an embassy intern, as it’s a different writing style to what you learn at university. You learn to be precise and efficient, as you are often under tight deadlines and need to convey information accurately. Not only that, but there could be some important people reading your cables, such as the Foreign Minister. Despite the challenge, it’s really rewarding to see your published work go up in the system.
On Thursday, I attend a business conference with one of my colleagues from the embassy. The conference is held at a large hotel, with over one thousand people in attendance, and one very special guest, Chancellor Merkel. By this point, Merkel has already announced that she will be stepping down from the CDU leadership in December. She’s a captivating orator with excellent comedic timing. Later in the day, I report to the Ambassador and other political/economic team members on comments made at the conference.
(Photo: Hannah Stenton)
At long last it’s Friday, and to top off my busy week, the Public Diplomacy Intern and I make a visit to the German Bundestag (German Parliament), where we are received for coffee and a chat by a federal member for the Sozialdemokratische Partai Deutschlands (SPD – The Social Democratic Party). We spend the next few hours with his staff, who show us the ‘behind the scenes’ at the Bundestag and explain what it’s like to work in German federal politics.
After spending the morning at the Bundestag, we head to lunch with one of the interns from the New Zealand Embassy in Berlin. Given that Berlin is one of the major political centres in Europe, the embassies here tend to be mid- to large-sized posts, and many of them offer internships. There’s therefore quite a comprehensive network of interns from the various embassies. Some embassies hold events for the interns, such as tours of the different embassies or panel discussions. It’s great to be part of a young professional network of like-minded people in Berlin, and to meet people from so many different countries.
After lunch, we head back to the embassy where I finish writing a cable, before heading downstairs to the multi-purpose room, where some staff have organised a curry night. Our colleagues have all cooked different curries, and we relax with some dinner and a drink before voting on the best curry of the evening. It’s a great way to end a hectic week and to socialise with other staff.
I very much enjoyed my time as part of the team at the Australian Embassy in Berlin. I learned valuable skills and lessons as part of my work experience, and made fantastic working relationships and friendships with staff and other interns. I was treated as a valuable part of the team, as evidenced by the tasks I was entrusted with – no coffee runs or filing in sight! I would highly recommend this experience to anyone thinking of a career in diplomacy – my experience has very much affirmed my decision to pursue a career in this field.
Tips and Lessons learned:
To have your best chance at a similar opportunity, keep an eye on newsletters and web pages relevant to the field (such as YDS!) and regularly check the websites of various embassies. Berlin is not the only embassy which offers internships, there are also internships available in Jakarta, Tokyo and Geneva, to name a few. There are limited spaces for internships so sometimes you may not get through, but do not be discouraged! If you are really keen, make sure to apply again – I applied 3 times before I finally got through!
Hannah is a graduate in 2019 at the Australian Department of Human Services. She holds a Master of International Relations from the University of Melbourne.