How She Got That Internship is a series that highlights conservative women’s internships in various organizations and positions to inspire the next generation of conservative women to lead. Did you, or a young woman that you know, have an internship experience you want to share with our readers? Submit it in this form and we will contact you if we think it would be a great fit for the series. 

Summer internship season is upon us, and girls across the country are dutifully working to prepare for the internships they have landed and thinking ahead to future internships and jobs. FFL is sitting down with a number of interns to reflect on the best internships they’ve had and inspire others to try new things, step outside of their comfort zone, and be the best intern they can be. 

This week, we’re talking to Marissa, who interned at the US Embassy of the Holy See in Rome Italy in the early months of 2020. 

Marissa Gaston will graduate from the University of Washington, Seattle, with a major in Political Science and a minor in Classical Studies in June 2020. During the second of her three years as an undergrad, Marissa studied abroad at Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva, Israel. Throughout her undergraduate career, Marissa has been a staff writer at the UW’s student newspaper, The Daily, and has been involved with the Young Professionals, AIPAC, and the Husky College Republicans. She is currently interning at the Washington Policy Center, a non-profit free market think tank in Seattle. Marissa has been selected to be a Fellow at the John Jay Institute following her graduation.

How did you find out about the internship opportunities at the State Department and what was the  application process like? Did you have to show certain language skills? 

I found out about internships with the State Department when I was in middle school through personal research. I kept the opportunity in the back of my mind for over seven years as I waited to reach the required age and worked to attain the level of education needed to apply. The internship had to be done while my undergraduate degree was in progress (more specifically, in between two active quarters or semesters of undergraduate coursework) so timing was critical. 

The application process was straightforward and involved submitting personal details, a resume, and a short essay. I was not required to demonstrate language skills. Going through the security clearance process after I had accepted the offer from Embassy Vatican was far more intensive and time consuming.

What was a typical day like there? And how did those days change as the COVID-19 pandemic progressed?

My home base was always the embassy, but every day looked different. They could include meetings with my colleagues and the Ambassador, drafting content for social media, research, attending events held at the Vatican or at other embassies accredited to the Holy See, managing external visitors, or writing cables. Usually, a workday would encompass several of the aforementioned items. After about two weeks – once I had become familiar around the embassy and people began to give me more tasks – staying on top of email was a project unto itself! As COVID concerns intensified, more and more external events were canceled and more of my energy was spent tracking the virus and attending internal meetings to stay apprised of the situation.

Were there other interns that you worked closely with?

No, I was the only intern at Embassy Vatican.

What was the biggest WOW moment of your internship? 

Meeting the Vice President when he came to visit the embassy.

What kind of mentorship did you receive during your internship?

Almost everyone on the embassy staff acted as a mentor to me in some capacity, as did Ambassador and Speaker Gingrich – to all of them, I am very grateful. I was especially guided in my work by the Public Affairs and Political Economy chiefs, as well as the Communications Advisor.  

What was the most valuable lesson you learned during your internship?

Having a true sense of purpose that underpins your work is incredibly powerful. It is a potent motivator and a key ingredient to genuine satisfaction. 

What are three tips you would have for someone else doing an internship there?

1) Be proactive, not passive. Don’t wait to be tasked; instead, pitch ideas, ask to be involved, and reach out to your colleagues and supervisors to let them know you’re looking for ways to support them. This is especially important early on as you begin to build rapport with staff. And go to optional events whenever possible to diversify your experience and build connections.

2) Respect is key. Demonstrate your respect for your colleagues, your position, and your country by being punctual to meetings and events, dressing professionally, having a good attitude, and turning in quality work projects in a timely manner. For the State Department especially, this also includes awareness of and attentive adherence to all security procedures.

3) Savor your time and use it well. Your internship will be over insanely quickly. Build friendships with your colleagues, explore your new environs, and don’t let the small quotidian moments of wonder pass you by.

What’s next for you? How did this internship shape your career plans, your academics, or your idea of what you wanted to do after graduation?

One extremely valuable aspect of this internship was that it allowed me to take the political theory and philosophy which I so enjoy studying and apply them in a real-world, policy-making context. The research and policy-oriented writing skills that I built at the embassy continue to serve me well at my current internship and I’m increasingly realizing that the think tank world holds great appeal. Unless COVID throws a monkey wrench in things, I will be a Fellow at the John Jay Institute later this year followed by an externship. 

Aryssa D
FFL Cabinet Member