During his semester abroad in Beijing, China, Jake Silverman ’17 stayed connected to home in an unusual way. As an intern with the Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS), Silverman published pieces in the Huffington Post, reading interviews with diplomats and learning the ins and outs of diplomatic lives. He was one of over 500 who intern with the State Department’s VSFS each year, working with American government agencies online. The program is run through the State Department but includes 32 other agencies like NASA and the Agency for International Development, opening it up to students interested in foreign service, communications and economics, among other subjects.
“This remote internship program helps foster diversity at State, connects more citizens with State and its work, and paves the way for students who are interested in becoming [Foreign Service officers],” said Asha Beh, VSFS media coordinator in an email with The Brandeis Hoot. As long as students have access to the Internet, they can participate in VSFS.
Consulates, embassies and government agencies submit projects to the VSFS, who then solicits applications from interested students. Looking for information on business-related travel from India to the United States, the U.S. consulate in Mumbai enlisted the help of Dan Shpilsky ’18. Shpilsky Skyped with the consulate frequently, reporting his research on tourism statistics and media coverage business travel between the two countries. His research, though conducted thousands of miles away, directly contributed to the consulate’s operations.
Shpilsky received a thank you letter in the mail from the Mumbai consulate, the most rewarding part of the experience. “It was nice to have a physical token of the impact I made on the consulate’s work,” he said.
VSFS internships are more independent than typical, in-person internships. They afford participants more freedom in completing their work, allowing them to work around their schedules and from whatever location they chose. Kevin Dupont ’16, an International and Global Studies major now living in Dubai, worked with the American Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan. He researched engagement between the embassy and the local population, using social media to understand how the embassy connects and represents the U.S. in Azerbaijan.
“When I worked with social media, I mainly used Twitter, WeChat [the major social media app in China] and Facebook. I was looking for instances of political unrest, speech against the government or anything anti-regime,” Dupont explained.
He connected his internship with his senior thesis, which analyzed the role of social media in social unrest.
Many VSFS participants go on to work for the State Department or another government agency, and those who don’t take away valuable experiences and contacts. For students who wanted to work in foreign service or with other government agencies, VSFS is an opportunity to test out the work and understand what careers are open to them.
The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training “afforded me the ability to really see what the day-day life is of a diplomat, which cemented for me my desire to join the US Foreign Service. VSFS was just further confirmation that I want to join the U.S. State Department,” Silverman explained.