Nations & States Co-Founder Luke Drabyn reached out to James Garza, a current U.S. State Department intern working in the Public Affairs Section of the embassy in Muscat, Oman, to hear his perspectives on the internship, things he has learned about careers in the Foreign Service, and what life as a diplomat working abroad is truly like.
LD: Tell me a little bit about your interest in Oman and how you ended up there as a U.S. State Department (DOS) intern.
JG: My first visit to Oman was on a University of Nebraska study abroad program with a focus on communications and press in the country. Initially, the prospect of experiencing Gulf culture first motivated me to travel to Oman, which is different from what I experienced during my time in Jordan studying Arabic. During a visit by the U.S. Embassy’s Public Affairs Section to our program site at AMIDEAST, I met my current boss and Public Affairs Officer who gave me the idea to apply to an internship with the U.S. Embassy.
LD: Which DOS section were you placed in, and what have your responsibilities looked like since beginning the internship? Bring us through a typical day at the embassy!
JG: I’m an intern in the Public Affairs Section of the embassy. The Public Affairs Section is responsible for media relations and public diplomacy programs designed to promote mutual understanding and cooperation between Omani and American individuals and institutions. The section conducts a full range of cultural and educational activities, including lectures, workshops, exhibits, and artistic programs. We ultimately report to the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in Washington, DC.
My responsibilities have grown since I’ve arrived. The summer months are full of officers leaving post, so I have plenty of work to do here in the office now that two of our officers are out of the office. I come into work with the motor pool transportation the embassy provides us interns, and begin my day working with local staff to get up to date on daily traditional media headlines. After doing the necessary writing to inform our audience of the day’s issues, I move on to other projects I may be working on at the time. Some are week-long and some won’t get done until my last days here. In many ways it’s the same office environment of a job in the States, but issues sometimes come up and preparing information for meetings with short notice can be stressful but exciting.
LD: Have you been to this region of the world before? Since beginning your internship, what have been some of the most striking things you have noticed about Omani culture? Are there any particularly interesting stories worth sharing to those of us who know very little about Oman?
JG: I’ve spent time in Jordan taking intensive Arabic classes with CIEE at Princess Sumaya University for Technology and doing research for the Nebraska Water for Food Institute on the Syrian refugee crisis’ effects on water and food security. I came to Oman last summer for a short study abroad class and experienced Omani culture for the first time then.
One story that sums up the hospitality of the people here is when my study abroad group stopped at my professor’s ex-student’s house in Bahla, Oman for coffee. Little did we know, “coffee” meant a full meal with Omani chicken and rice, fruits, juice drinks, sweets, and of course, Arabic coffee and tea. We were very surprised (and full) after that, but it is not an uncommon thing for Omani households to do when having guests over.
LD: How many other interns are working at the embassy this summer? How often do you see them, and what have you been able to do for fun in your valuable spare time?
JG: There are five interns at the embassy right now. I see them mainly before and after work, and at the cafeteria for lunch. The other interns work in Consular and the Regional Security Office. Their work is different from mine due to the nature of their jobs, but we do find time to relax and hang out together after work and on the weekends. Going to the beach, pools, or cafes in the evening are what we do to escape the heat. There are many markets and neighborhoods with lots of food to try in Muscat and cabs make it relatively easy to move around.
LD: How has this experience shaped what occupation you want to pursue after you graduate from college? What new perspectives have you gained from your time in Oman?
JG: In some ways it definitely has. Now that I am doing the work of an officer in Public Diplomacy, I have an idea of the kind of lifestyle and work ethic it takes to succeed in the Foreign Service. Everyone is very intelligent and driven, with a passion for traveling and exploring. It is not for everyone, since being away from home and moving every 2–3 years can take a toll on a lot of people. The officers I work with are motivated to not only work but travel and see the world when they are posted in so many interesting places.
LD: Tell me about the application process. What advice would you give to aspiring DOS interns? This may include recommendations on courses of study in college, essay advice, or ways to receive funding after one has received an offer abroad.
JG: There are many different careers to choose from in the State Department. My particular bureau is Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) but others go into Diplomatic Security (DS) or other bureaus. For the unpaid internship, it is crucial you know exactly where you want to go, down to the embassy/office and maybe the section. A strong interest in the region you want to work in or cover helps, and language skills are looked at by human resources as well. If you can get the contact information for a section or office you’d like to work for, send them an email and see if they requested an intern. There are many ways to go about it but having a clear goal about where you want to work seems to be the most important part of an application from what I have seen, aside from a well-rounded résumé.
LD: Is there anything else that you would like to add that you haven’t already mentioned?
JG: I believe understanding foreign policy is a critical goal of many who apply for internships related to diplomacy and foreign affairs. An internship with the State Department in the right place can provide you information on how the U.S. government navigates diplomacy in many ways.
James Garza is an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a major in global studies and minors in Arabic, history, and national security studies. His focus is on the Middle East and he has researched issues such as water and food security, nonproliferation, deterrence, and the Syrian refugee crisis. James’ work experience includes internships with the Nebraska Water for Food Institute and the U.S. Department of State, as well as research for the University of Nebraska’s Department of History, Political Science, and United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM).