Thanks to a Leslianne Shedd Internship Scholarship in International Studies and Public Health, Alexander Kuehl, a second-year M.A. in International Studies student, spent summer 2017 interning at U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), in Washington, D.C. Kuehl is a 2016-2018 West Europe FLAS Fellow as well. In this first-person account, he shares his experience in summer 2017 managing the bureau’s relations with organizations and NGOs working to address the refugee crises globally.
In summer 2017, I had the privilege of interning at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM). I benefited from working on a portfolio with diverse thematic and geographic areas, engaging in the full process of project implementation, and taking advantage of a multitude of learning opportunities outside PRM.
At PRM, I worked with the Multilateral Coordination and External Relations team to help manage the bureau’s institutional relations with intergovernmental organizations and NGOs addressing refugee crises internationally. I appreciated this role because it allowed me to work in multiple thematic and geographic areas. While a ‘deep-dive’ on the Syrian refugee crisis is certainly of interest, I welcomed the opportunity to learn about the State Department’s role in Syria, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Ukraine, to name a few.
In the internship, I provided programmatic support to senior staff while also taking the lead on designated projects. Examples of the former include facilitating meetings with visiting officials from the International Organization for Migration, tracking country commitments to the 2016 UN Leaders’ Summit, and providing staff members with daily summaries of relevant news articles. Just before the final day of my internship I seized the opportunity to draft a backgrounder for a meeting hosted by the Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. Considering the high-rank of this official, this was an important assignment. I especially appreciated the project because it allowed me to be observe the full process of implementing such meetings, from the initial meeting request, to follow-ups, to backgrounder materials, to clearances, and finally ending with the meeting itself.
Another highlight includes a research-based project, where I provided an overview and compiled resources for PRM as the bureau considered ways that humanitarian actors can better provide assistance and protection to child soldiers in a refugee context. A final project highlight worth mentioning is when I crafted updated language for PRM talking points and public messaging on gender-based violence in emergencies that reflect the current Administration’s priorities on these issues.
In addition to fulfilling my responsibilities and seeking projects within PRM, I capitalized on all the learning opportunities available to summer interns at the State Department. I attended a few think tank events in D.C. on topics relevant to PRM, and provided readouts from these meetings. I also sat in on a meeting at the Refugee Processing Center, where the U.S. government allocates refugees approved for resettlement in the U.S. to different cities and resettlement agencies throughout the country.
Another “extra-curricular” worth mentioning is when I attended an official State Department press briefing It was interesting to observe the dialogue
between the media and the spokeswoman on issues ranging from the North Korean nuclear threat to security for U.S. diplomats in Cuba. Finally, at the end of the internship I enjoyed taking a group photo with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and hearing his remarks for outgoing interns.
My internship at the State Department was an invaluable experience, with both academic and professional benefits. I will certainly apply my knowledge of governmental and intergovernmental refugee policies and projects as I return for the second and final year of my Master’s program. I am writing my thesis on refugee integration in Germany, specifically as it relates to housing and residential policies. I have now contacts from the State Department that I hope will contribute to my research as I compile my data.
Following graduation in June 2018, I plan to move to D.C. PRM is certainly on my radar, as are others that I learned about this summer, such as the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Other career options may include working as a research assistant at a think tank. In any professional capacity, I am confident that I will remain involved in resolving worldwide refugee crises. The summer 2017 internship at PRM solidified this resolve.