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Quelques reflexions sur le monde diplomatique

July 13, 2011

Were it not for the layers of security, this would seem like any other internship.

But alas, it is not, and the PCs, professional attire, and mundane office supplies do little to mask the exceptional nature of this place and the opportunity I’ve been so fortunate to receive. The official portraits of President Obama and Secretary Clinton overseeing us all and the many American flags displayed in a well-executed mix of discretion and prominence throughout the building reflect the fact that I’m not currently sitting at just any computer in any old office in Strasbourg, but at an outpost of the U.S. Department of State.

It’s a funny situation, I’ll admit. On the one hand, I am an intern – temporary – and I’m conscious of that, often unsure of protocol and what role to play. At the same time, however, I feel wholly integrated into the Consulate team; respected and valued as one of its members, and the singular experiences I’ve had the privilege to share here have been memorable and instructive. I’m grateful for the opportunity to intern at the Consulate and for the warm welcome I’ve been afforded, and I’m particularly happy to be in charming Strasbourg. For a student hoping to explore the world of American foreign policy and international diplomacy in a friendly environment and a beautiful location, look no further.

 The Consul General left post last week, not too long after my arrival, unfortunately, but the activities that filled up those first few weeks more than make up for his absence. I enjoyed attending many sessions at the Council of Europe, where I observed meetings at the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly and heard a number of foreign dignitaries speak. (You can read more about what the CG had to say here: https://cyberambassadorsblog.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/busy-week-at-council-of-europe/ and here: https://cyberambassadorsblog.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/u-s-russian-french-relations-and-beyond/.) The debates and the subjects they treat are significant and I appreciate the chance to follow them closely, particularly because these aren’t perspectives or levels of complexity that are necessarily reported in the media, American or otherwise.

I must confess that it was quite an odd sensation to be allowed into the depths of a distinguished international organization and to discover that while its members are accomplished and important people, they are as at ease debating the finer points of an obscure policy as they are joking with their colleagues (with whom they may have just verbally sparred) and experimenting with fashion (I once saw a delegate wearing very fetching hot pink socks). This environment is an interesting blend of collegial attitudes and a strict adherence to the rules of polite conduct, and one in which I sometimes feel lost as I try to navigate my way around. I have much to learn about what my colleague here calls relationnel, but this is the ideal location in which to do so.

It surprised me at our Independence Day celebration, for example, that someone I had met once at the Council of Europe approached me at the party and spoke to me for a while; I hadn’t expected this level of warmth and openness, especially with a 20-year-old intern. It was amusing, as well, to see VIPs mingling in the crowd and all the serious diplomats socializing just as anyone would. My experience so far has been a constant and welcome reminder that this is, despite its size, a small community, and that no matter a person’s many feats and standing on the world stage, he or she is simply that: a person like us all. Indeed, last week I saw one high-level diplomat shopping with her child at the grocery store. It was refreshing and reassuring.

I recently reread the post that Marion, whose own internship briefly overlapped with mine, wrote. I can sympathize with the anxiety she described and the utter sense of uncertainty that preceded my arrival. I came to Strasbourg on a train from Paris where I had been studying abroad during the spring, exhausted from lugging my heavy bags around and disheveled from the journey. Finally arriving at the Consulate was surreal; I admit that my curiosity had gotten the best of me prior to my internship, and I used Google Maps incessantly to admire the Consulate’s architecture and to imagine what was happening inside, never fully convinced that I’d someday join the action. The normal apprehension I would have felt about beginning any new job was compounded by the employer’s identity. I was, however, wrong to feel that way. The Consulate staff couldn’t have been kinder or more welcoming. The atmosphere at the office is casual and almost familial; everyone has a very distinct personality and it creates an unparalleled working environment in which I feel completely at ease. Those who end up here can consider themselves lucky.

After the Consulate’s own Independence Day festivities, I’m looking forward to seeing how the French celebrate their national holiday on July 14. On that note, I’ll sign off – thanks for visiting the blog et bonne fête nationale à tous !

Molly Rapaport

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