Interning at the State Department

By Thao Anh Tran

Meeting with Hillary Clinton while interning at the State Department. Photo: Thao Anh Tran

As a Thomas R. Pickering Fellow, an honor that I received with assistance from the staff of the Center for Undergraduate Fellowships and Research, I had the privilege of interning at the Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs (more commonly referred to as the China Desk) at the State Department this past summer.

Although it is probably every intern’s dream to do more than just copying and shredding papers at their internship, with only a B.A. degree under my belt and no previous government-related internship experience, I started my internship on the China Desk with minimal expectations for my assigned responsibilities. Contrary to my expectations, however, my summer internship was filled with a multitude of challenges that enabled me to apply my knowledge to a real-world setting, as well as endless opportunities for direct engagement in the policy-making process.

During my first month on the China Desk, I was already excited and satisfied when tasked with attending and reporting on meetings both within and outside the State Department and drafting replies to incoming Congressional correspondence. Supporting the China Desk Director, Deputy Director and Desk officers at these meetings helped fulfill my goal of witnessing and engaging in the interagency policy-making process first hand.

As an aspiring diplomat who has always been immensely interested in China affairs, particularly U.S.-China relations, being able to read the latest updates on their bilateral relations and see diplomats negotiating right in front of my own eyes was indeed a major treat. Yet, at the time, I did not know that the highlight of my summer was still awaiting me.

As we hit July, my office was getting busier and busier and before I knew it, I was part of “Erica’s (the State Coordinator for the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, often referred to as the S&ED) Army.” Along with the other interns on the China Desk, I was excited to just have the opportunity to work on a very high profile project. After all, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner, their Chinese counterparts, State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Vice Premier Wang Qishan, as well as many other high level American and Chinese officials were participants.

Initially we devoted our efforts to editing and compiling briefing materials for senior State Department officials to use in high-level negotiations, but soon we were entrusted with responsibilities interns could only dream of having! Our 9-hour workdays eventually turned into more than 12 hours ones. From providing logistical support and advanced coordination to meeting high-level officials from the Chinese Embassy in preparation for the S&ED, I was especially overjoyed to have the opportunity to practice being a diplomat in a real life setting.

When the S&ED, which took place in Washington, D.C. from July 27 to July 28, finally occurred, I was privileged to witness first-hand American and Chinese officials discussing a wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues that carry strategic and economic implications for U.S.-China relations in both the short and long-term. My optimism for the future of U.S.-China relations was emboldened when I noticed diplomats of both countries cooperating with each other to address shared interests while acknowledging the differences that exist in the relationship.

To sum it up, my summer internship on the China Desk was truly an experience of a lifetime. Although my involvement in the S&ED, especially being able to shake hands with Secretary Clinton and the two top Chinese officials at the Dialogue defined my summer, the unending support and guidance that I received from everyone on the China Desk helped make my experience there truly memorable. This experience also reconfirmed my interest in international affairs, especially U.S.-China relations, and my desire to pursue a career in diplomacy.

Thao Anh is a recent graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs, where she double majored in International Affairs (with concentrations in International Politics and Asia) and Asian Studies. In 2007, she studied abroad in Hangzhou and Beijing, China and is currently on a Fulbright grant in Yanji, China conducting research on the role of the ethnic Korean community in facilitating Sino-North Korean relations. Upon her return to the U.S., Thao Anh will pursue a Master’s degree in Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

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5 Responses to “Interning at the State Department”

  1. leed certification says:

    Thx for this really interessting post, do you have contact with Thao Anh Tran?

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  3. Fisher Investments says:


    i was there in the year 2009 and 2010, but in my opinion the organisation in 2010 wasn’t as good as in 2009.

    I hope this year, 2011, the location is more bigger and the speakers are the same as last year.

  4. Cristina Quattrone Relay For Life says:

    Why do you think, Fisher, the organisation wasn’t good in 2010?

    i was there and listen to many speakers, the timelines was peferekt, so i don’t understand, why you have the feeling, that the organisation was not good?

  5. Luxury hotels in Washington DC says:

    on your last visit to washington DC we are so impressed from this city.

    The event on the last week was a perfekt organisate, we (some old students) are happy to see some of our teacher.

    We lived in a really good hotel (expensive, but a perfekt service).

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