Penn Student Gains Foreign Diplomacy Experience as State Department e-Intern

Erica Ma, spent her junior year at the University of Pennsylvania working in a federal government internship that didn’t require her to live in Washington, D.C., or be based in any specific part of the world. That’s because she worked remotely as an e-intern in the State Department’s Virtual Student Foreign Service program.

Ma wrote about her year-long VSFS experience in an article posted on DipNote, the State Department’s official blog. 

She is an international relations and modern Middle Eastern studies major in the School of Arts & Sciences and learned about the internship through a post on Facebook. She has long been interested in international human rights. She applied for the internship last summer and started in September 2013 while studying abroad for a semester in Rabat, Morocco.

The virtual nature of the VSFS program made it possible for Ma, from Vaughn, Wash., to work about 10 hours a week from her host family’s home in Morocco and from campus when she returned for spring semester classes.

She interned with the International Visitors Leadership Program in the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. IVLP is an exchange program that connects foreign professionals in various fields with their American counterparts.

Ma’s role was to add “a new dimension” to a project to promote the resources available on the International Exchange Alumni website by creating resource guides, one-page pamphlets on different thematic topics.

“After an initial Skype meeting with my supervisor, I began sending materials to her for review via email every few weeks,” she says.

In the DipNote article, Ma wrote, “Although communicating with a time difference took some getting used to -- one video meeting took place on an iPhone at 8 p.m. Barcelona time with barely functional Wi-Fi -- I ultimately found it easy to check in electronically with any questions.“

Ma designed a template for the resource guides using Photoshop, customized each guide with relevant articles from academic journals and magazines and added key funding opportunities from various sources. By the end of the internship she had completed 10 guides on topics such as "Women in Entrepreneurship” and "Environmental Protection.”

“I was able to learn about the cultural exchanges that the State Department facilitates while at the same time providing a concrete contribution to the IVLP office and State Department's global diplomacy efforts,” she says.

Ma is currently on a summer internship in Washington at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

Outside of her coursework, Ma is involved with the International Relations Undergraduate Students Association, the Penn Society for International Development and Amnesty International at Penn. And she is developing a new interest in international law. Last semester she took Public International Law.  Taught by William Burke-White, professor of law and inaugural director of Penn’s Perry World House, Ma says the course was “absolutely the best class I’ve ever taken with the best professor I’ve ever had.”


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