Meeting the Egyptian ambassador to Panama and rubbing shoulders with U.S. Department of State VIPs are just two of the things that have made Katie Garay’s summer internship truly memorable.
Garay, a rising junior at George Mason University, wrapped up a prestigious 10-week internship at the U.S. Embassy in Panama.
She said she’s had her mind set on the internship since her cousin earned it a few years back. It’s only available to students who’ve completed their sophomore year of college; the 20-year-old applied as soon as she was eligible and scored it on her first try.
She arrived in Panama just in time to get the most out of her internship.
“Everyone in the department was up for transition to another embassy, with only one staying, so there’s a lot of work,” Garay said.
She put her Spanish language skills to use each day and did much of the work of a full-time Foreign Service officer. That included writing correspondence between other offices and the Department of State in Washington, D.C., and attending meetings with Panamanian government officials.
One of her greatest achievements was writing a good cable, that is, an electronic message sent to diplomats and other approved officials.
“Cables have to be written in a very specific style, not too academic, but there still have to be big words and it has to be concise,” she said.
It’s something Garay struggled with at the start of her internship. After she received a positive performance review, her supervisor said they should go over her next cable line by line.
“When I brought [the cable] to him, he said there wasn’t anything he could really pick at and that he was extremely pleased with my work,” she said. “It’s really a ‘pinch-me-I’m-dreaming’ sort of experience.”
The internship will help to shape her future, said Garay, a government and international politics major in Mason’s School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs. She also minor in Spanish.
“By the end of my internship [my supervisor] wanted me to have a plan for the next two, five and 10 years. I thought he was crazy,” she said. “But when we talked about my options … I really became interested in pursuing a fellowship; it’s the perfect balance of school and life experience, and provides a lot of structure, which is equal parts scary and comforting.”
Meanwhile, Garay stays active on campus as the secretary of George Mason’s Hispanic Student Association, the president of George Mason Ambassadors and a former guest tweeter for Mason’s Twitter Takeover project. She recently completed an internship with the Virtual Student Foreign Service program at the U.S. Department of State. The program allows U.S. college and graduate students to complete internships entirely online.