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8 State Department First Week

One question that came up even during the interview was the question of availability. To show my interest in the internship, I told my interviewer that I was willing to work 40 hours per week. As far as I can tell, how your schedule turns out in the end is a combination of factors. Among the factors are how much you’re willing to put in for the internship in reality and how much your office relies on interns. On my first day, I said upfront that I would leave at 5:00; my working assumption was that I would work a standard 9-to-5 schedule. Other interns I have met have told me that they come in earlier, or leave later, essentially to make up for a lunch hour. I had simply assumed my lunch hour was part of my work schedule and ran with it.

In fact, most offices, from what I have gathered, are fairly flexible. They do not care too much that you come in exactly on time everyday or stick to a strict 1 or 30 minute lunch, and they are willing to work with you to accommodate. Of course, coming into work late by an hour everyday, or missing meetings, or falling behind on work because of lengthy lunches are not acceptable. Otherwise, I recommend always being upfront; I told my supervisor week one that I had class on Fridays every month, which requires that I miss work. Many interns attend GW, Georgetown, or American, and take classes during the internship. To balance both responsibilities, they work out schedules where they either leave work early on some days, come in later on same days, or don’t come into work at all on a few days of the week. Feel out your office on your first few weeks, and, if you are feeling overwhelmed or strained by other responsibilities, i.e. the program, ask your supervisor to work one day less. Full disclosure: I have not done that, so do so at your own risk. Weigh the pros and cons. I find my schedule manageable, but the work-study balance leaves a lot less room for free time.

At the same time, I spoke with a former intern who said she loved to stay late working on projects because she enjoyed the work so much. I have had my share, as work picked up, of staying late to finish up a time-sensitive task. Another full disclaimer: my office, and likely the office you work for too, will not make you stay late. In fact, an intern told me that his office tells him to leave when he reaches his time of the day. I do not work in a very micro-managing office, so I have definitely not felt pressure to stay late. My supervisor, and my colleagues, also make sure that they do not overwhelm with projects to work on. In any case, choosing a schedule and how much you want to work is dependent for the most part on how much you want to get out of the internship. There are always opportunities to do less, or more, if you are willing.

My first week largely involved getting settled and completing the onboarding. As I found out, I was particularly fortunate that my office was proactive with respect to the onboarding process. They had completed some of the steps for gaining computer access, door access, etc. before I even started work. Try to reach out to your office a few weeks beforehand to ping them about your upcoming arrival; they get busy and might have forgotten about you. As I said, I was fortunate that my office did remember, especially since I did not reach out to them beforehand. They also had a helpful intern guide. During my first week, I attended a few meetings, learned my way around the outlook system, met my colleagues, and got a feel for the lay of the land.
On the point of meetings: they are frequent and insightful. Make sure to buy a notebook/notepad before you start and bring pens. Take as many notes as you can!

Next week: Settling into a nonroutine routine

Interning at State