Paula is from Libertyville, IL and participated in the 2014 Korea summer program.
Although it’s been a bit since my participation in the NSLI-Y Korean summer program in Seoul, the love of languages it nurtured in me and curiosity about the State Department and other international exchanges it fostered in me have continued to shape my life three years (and counting!) out. Many people in the exchange community know that I try to keep my experiences alive with a social media presence about my language-learning journeys, as well as connections both online and off with fellow applicants and alumni, but one of my favorite ways to give back is through internships! Whether with entities directly related to the NSLI-Y program or more distantly linked, I’ve found that I’ve been able to use the skills and insights acquired while in Seoul and beyond to serve both Americans and a wider global audience.
One of my first ever internships was at the French branch of AFS, an international exchange organization that facilitates intercultural learning all around the world. I loved getting to know students coming to France from all around the world and leaving from France to places like my own country, where their lives would be changed just like mine in Korea. This lead to me interning in Participant Support at AFS-USA, where I got to work with NSLI-Y students just like you! While most of my tasks dealt with core AFS students, many of my cases did involve sponsored exchange participants of NSLI-Y, CBYX (Germany), and YES Abroad (Muslim-majority countries around the world). The objective of the Participant Support Department was to make sure the students’ experiences abroad ran smoothly. We addressed everything from travel waivers to host family issues to medical problems, all of which required the intercultural communication and conflict resolution skills I’d gained from a summer on NSLI-Y. Just as importantly, though, having been both in those students’ shoes and on the other side of exchanges, I could empathize with their situations while still handling my duties as efficiently as possible.
This year, my internships take place online, my comfort zone of sorts. Since I love using social media as a tool to spread awareness about language learning and study abroad, as well as connect with wonderful exchange alumni near and far, I knew the State Department’s Virtual Student Federal Service program was the perfect fit for me. One of my VSFS internships is with EducationUSA Armenia, a project of U.S. Embassy Yerevan and American Councils Armenia that promotes U.S. higher education throughout Armenia. I use Facebook, Instagram, and blogging to show the diversity of American universities and the people who attend them. I often allude back to my NSLI-Y experience in my blog posts for my students because so much of what I gained from the program continues to shape my academic and professional life now! In fact, much of the content for my internship assignments come from interviews I’ve had with NSLI-Y alumni from a variety of backgrounds. Furthermore, many of my students are either alumni or applicants of FLEX, a State Department exchange program that brings students of former Soviet countries to America for a year, so we can relate to each other on that level. I’ve learned that so many people in Armenia are just like me: idealistic, curious about people, passionate about the world.
Finally, I’m a virtual intern for U.S. Embassy Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan. My work with them is drastically different from anything I’ve done before, as it involves more analytical skills than people skills. It’s work I find meaningful and interesting, and my supervisor is a Foreign Service Officer! Having become even more interested in the Foreign Service thanks to my experience interacting with State Department employees and FSOs during NSLI-Y and later CLS, this has been a fantastic opportunity for me to get a taste of what life is like at an American embassy and to work alongside a diplomat. He’s been a wonderful source of information and inspiration about my career goals… And you know your boss is cool when, after a week of radio silence, he emails, “Sorry for the lack of response. I was out in the field monitoring the Kyrgyz elections.”
If you’re looking for a way to stay connected to your NSLI-Y experience and give back to the entities that made it all possible, I highly recommend considering different positions with the State Department and implementing organizations of NSLI-Y programs! You’ll find that your flight home wasn’t the last of your NSLI-Y experience, that you’re still constantly learning from it, that the adventure has only just begun.