If you’ve been keeping up with headlines, you’ve probably noticed that stories involving diplomacy have been dominating the news cycle recently. As a Public Diplomacy intern with the U.S. Department of State’s Student Internship Program, KU senior Lilah Wilder gained hands-on experience and training in international relations and foreign policy, working directly with government officials and organizations whose works shape the political and social landscapes in societies across the globe.
Learn about Lilah’s adventures in the U.S. and overseas, how she plans to achieve her career goals, and how communication skills she developed in College classes prepared her for work in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Office of Press and Public Diplomacy.
Internship title and organization:
I was a Public Diplomacy intern working in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Office of Press and Public Diplomacy for the U.S. Department of State’s Student Internship Program in Washington, D.C.
What were your responsibilities during the internship?
I was fortunate to not have a set list of duties during my internship, but rather to have the chance to work on many different projects throughout the internship. I coordinated meetings between State Department officials and professionals from the Middle East and North Africa who were visiting the U.S. through the International Visitor Leadership Program. After coordinating these meetings, I escorted the participants from the Middle East and North Africa throughout the building and even had the chance to moderate their discussions with officials during meetings entirely in Arabic.
Additionally, on my second day of work, I had the chance to set up for and attend the Ministerial Meeting for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. I also collaborated with other offices across the department to plan and organize the 2019 International Women of Courage Awards. On the day of the awards, I took on the role of escorting the International Woman of Courage from Jordan, Khalida al-Twal, to her meetings with State Department officials after First Lady Melania Trump recognized her accomplishments empowering women in the Jordanian Security Forces. I also escorted members of the press to different meetings during the 2019 NATO Ministerial, and I assisted in the planning for the 2019 Camp David Accords Celebration. I thoroughly enjoyed these opportunities to meet people from around the world and practice my French, Arabic, and even Spanish language skills.
One of my more long-term projects was curating press clips every morning on Iran and sending it out to the Department to keep officials updated on what was happening there. I also drafted fact sheets about Secretary Pompeo and other high-ranking officials’ upcoming meetings and conferences around the world and the foreign policy objectives those meetings were meant to achieve. Additionally, I analyzed public responses to U.S. embassies’ social media content regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, wrote up a report based on that analysis, and sent it to Jason Greenblatt, the Special Envoy for Middle East Peace. Finally, I updated content on the State Department website and archived grant records for Near Eastern Affairs Public Diplomacy programs into Excel spreadsheets.
What was your favorite part of the internship?
My favorite part of the internship was definitely coordinating and moderating meetings between State Department officials and groups from the Middle East and North Africa for the International Visitor Leadership Program. We had several of these meetings every single week of my 4-month internship. During each meeting, I had the chance to practice speaking Arabic and French with the participants and learn about their incredible work as journalists, activists, entrepreneurs, innovators, and scholars in their home countries. My successful coordination of these meetings helped facilitate cross-cultural exchange and improve relations between the U.S. and the Middle East and North Africa on the people-to-people level.
What did you gain from the experience that will be valuable to you in the future?
From this internship, one of the first important things I gained was strong relationships with people in my field in Washington, D.C. My goal is to work in the U.S. Foreign Service, and thanks to this internship, I have gained close friendships and contacts with Foreign Service Officers and other State Department officials who have expressed their willingness to act as references for my job applications and have formed a crucial network that will help me achieve my career goals.
Additionally, I gained a strong understanding of how U.S. foreign policy is formed and shaped while working at the State Department, and I gained valuable skills that I can apply to almost any job after graduation. I learned to write much more concisely and effectively than in school, since government writing is about getting a complex point across in a quick, clear, easily-digestible way (and not in 12-page papers). I also improved my Arabic and French speaking skills in a professional setting, as well as my public speaking skills. Additionally, I gained computer skills by updating the State Department website and working with spreadsheets on a daily basis.
Lastly, I learned how to change the ink in a printer. Who knew something as basic as that would come out of this experience?
How had the classes you’d taken at KU, and in your majors and minors prepared you for the internship?
My classes in Arabic, French, Spanish, Islamic Studies, Environmental Geopolitics, and Comparative Politics are some examples of the coursework from my Global & International Studies major that definitely prepared me for my internship. These courses gave me strong Arabic, French, and Spanish speaking skills in order to interact more productively with visitors coming to the State Department all over the world and to represent the U.S. in a more positive light. The other courses I listed gave me strong writing skills and crucial background knowledge on the workings of the U.S. government and the histories, politics, and cultures of the countries that my office works with on a daily basis. I quickly gained the respect of my colleagues by demonstrating that I had this essential political and cultural knowledge.
Have you been part of any study abroad programs at KU?
I studied abroad twice during my time at KU. First, I studied in an intensive Arabic language program at Al-Akhawayn University in Morocco during the summer of 2017. This was my first time living for an extended period of time in a foreign country and my first time to the African continent. It was one of the most eye-opening, impactful experiences of my life and allowed me to gain an incredible amount of independence and confidence in myself.
During the fall semester of 2017, I then studied at IAU College in Aix-en-Provence, France. I lived with a host family who didn’t speak English, so this opportunity allowed me to finally immerse myself in the French language and become fluent after seven years of study. I also had the chance to travel to eight different countries outside of France during that semester and see a lot of Europe.
What do you plan to do after graduation?
After graduation, I am hoping to work as a Program Assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace or at the State Department in Washington, D.C. I am currently applying for these kinds of positions and have interviews in D.C. in a couple of weeks. Eventually, I plan to go to graduate school and get a Master’s Degree in International Affairs. My ultimate goal is to join the U.S. Foreign Service, and although I have passed the Foreign Service Officer Test and have made it through the second round of the selection process, I expect that it will take several years before I can make it through all three rounds and be selected for the Foreign Service.
Give a shout-out to someone to a prof, advisor or someone else who has been influential during your time at KU:
There have been so many people during my college career who have helped me get to where I am today, and I wish I could recognize all of them! However, I would definitely say that my Honors Advisor, Dr. Marc Greenberg, has been one of the most active sources of support in everything I have done in the past four years, from studying abroad, to interning in Washington, D.C., to being involved on campus. One of the first courses I took at KU was an Honors Seminar taught by Dr. Greenberg that inspired my love for learning languages and pushed me to start learning Arabic at KU. Although I never took any other classes with Dr. Greenberg, I have met with him many times over the past four years to talk about my career goals, get advice, and update him on what I am pursuing. He has written me countless recommendation letters and always believed in my ability to achieve my goals. Thank you Dr. Greenberg!
I would also really like to recognize Professor Antje Ziethen and Professor Christine Bourgeois in the French Department for taking my French reading and writing skills to the next level, for always taking an interest in my goals, and for supporting me in my Fellowship and Fulbright applications!
What is the benefit of being in the KU College alongside students studying sciences, arts and humanities?
One of the benefits of being in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has simply been being exposed to students from diverse backgrounds holding diverse interests, perspectives, and talents in my classes! I have talked to Engineering and Pre-Med students who have told me that their classrooms have been very different than mine, as most of the students in their classes have the same interests and goals, and they have had to join clubs and other organizations in order to get exposure to diversity at KU.
What would you tell your freshman self?
Although it is important to get good grades, you don’t need to pull so many all-nighters to balance school, work, and a social life! Manage your time more efficiently and find that happy, healthy medium between slacking off and taking school way too seriously to the point of stress. Enjoy your youth and get more sleep so you live longer! Haha.
What motivates you?
I have always been very self-motivated, constantly reminding myself of my career goals and where my hard work will eventually take me in order to stay dedicated.
Be like Lilah. Stay dedicated to your goals. For more information, explore the Center for Global & International Studies, the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, Middle East Studies, the Department of African and African-American Studies, and Study Abroad & Global Engagement at the University of Kansas. Also see the U.S. Department of State’s Student Internship Program and the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Office of Press and Public Diplomacy.