My experience as a Rangel Fellow was a dream. Seriously. I was awarded the 2017 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Graduate Fellowship a week after the 2016 presidential election. I interviewed at the State Department on a Thursday. Right when I was about to log out of my work computer on Friday of that same week, I received an email saying I got the fellowship. I screamed and my whole office knew it. My life changed forever again.
Becoming a Rangel Fellow was amazing because, for the first time in my life, I felt like I had a sense of direction. Prior to becoming a Rangel Fellow, I was always uncertain about my life’s direction. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school and eventually one day work for the government and travel the world, but I didn’t know how I was going to do that or what that would even look like.
With the fellowship, I knew that the next seven years of my life were planned. As a fellow, you complete two years of graduate school and then serve in the Foreign Service for at least five years. If you successfully complete your contract, you have the option of becoming tenured.
As soon as I became a fellow, I got emails from universities from all over the country who wanted me to apply to their master’s degree program. I felt like a celebrity because all of a sudden I was receiving all of this attention.
The year I applied for the fellowship, a lot of schools’ deadlines were approaching quickly. I think one or two had their deadline within a week of me finding out I was a fellow. For me, preparing for and then interviewing for the fellowship was an intense process. At times the process was mentally draining and emotionally taxing because I really wanted it. I had been working on my application starting in the beginning of June 2016. Then the moment I found out I was a finalist, I started preparing like crazy. I was also commuting back and forth from Baltimore to D.C. (which is two hours or more each way). When it came time to apply for grad school, I was spent. But, I buckled down, wrote my essays and got recommendations for grad school.
I was accepted at my number one school, American University’s School of International Service after wanting to go there for a few years. When I got to AU, I pursued a master’s degree in Intercultural and International Communication with an emphasis in public diplomacy on a full ride. No student loans. Thank God.
Looking back on my time at AU, I was glad I chose my program. I’ve always wanted to study communication with an international/cultural focus. My program was flexible and I had some amazing professors. When I interned at the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam, I saw how much my program prepared me. It was also nice not having to worry about finding a job right after graduation. The only thing I would do over again is to pursue another internship during the academic year. But I recognize that I am a slight overachiever.
My internships were amazing! As a Rangel fellow, you take part in two internships— the first in Congress, and the second in a U.S. Embassy.
I interned on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Being in Congress was interesting because I got to see how the nation’s laws were made. I also learned about Congress’ role with the State Department and in international relations.
In addition to my work, I was able to attend hearings on issues that affect our world. It was also exciting to be there during high-profile events that captured the nation. I was in the same room while some of the biggest hearings of the summer were taking place.
Senator Ben Cardin was the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee during my time on the Hill. He was personable and he would meet with his interns regularly and ask what we thought about current issues. He also gave his opinion.
The summer I interned on the Hill was also my first summer living in D.C. Washington D.C. is one of my favorite cities in the world because there’s so much that goes on there.
Where do I begin? My internship was everything! I interned in the Public Affairs Section and my team was amazing! From the moment I got there, I was treated like a junior officer. And since it was summer, people were going in and out for vacation. So I was counted on to get things done.
The week or so after I arrived, I gave a pre-departure presentation to over 200 Vietnamese students who were about to study in the United States.
Every week, I gave one or two presentations or lead workshops regarding soft skills or some aspect of American culture to the Vietnamese public. Some workshops/presentations I did included black American culture and history, personal branding, the Fourth of July, and the art of public speaking. I also did a workshop about teamwork with high school girls interested in STEM. In seven weeks I did 15 public presentations. Leading workshops and presentations were amazing because I was able to interact with the public.
Another big part of the Rangel Fellow internship was programing. That summer we had the secretary of state and two assistant secretaries visit. Preparing for visits was huge and our section/the Embassy really came together.
My section also let me travel to other parts of Vietnam to do outreach. On one trip, I gave a brief speech to Vietnamese English teachers. On another, I traveled to Ha Long Bay and created this video for the Embassy.
I was always busy that summer. I always had something I was working on. If there were slow moments (which didn’t happen often), I created my own opportunities. I asked my boss/supervisor if I could implement my ideas and they were very encouraging.
My most rewarding experience during the internship was helping a Vietnamese student get into a college in the United States.
Other cool parts of my internship at U.S. Embassy Hanoi was living in Embassy housing. I lived with two other fellows and our house was huge. Also traveling around southeast Asia was amazing. I visited Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and other parts of Vietnam.
I am in my last few months of grad school and looking back, I’m so glad I applied. I almost let fear stop me from applying. My experience has been nothing short of rewarding. If you’re interested in public service and being in the Foreign Service, I would definitely apply.