July 23, 2015 | By Mitchell Moore
I have developed a passion for international politics and diplomacy through my learning with the Political Science Department. So I filled out an online application for a summer internship through the U.S. Department of State, and that's brought me halfway around the world working on our country's behalf.
I'm spending most of June and July 2015 in the Public Affairs section at our U.S. Embassy to the Republic of Zambia. I am currently acting as the interim advisor of the EducationUSA Program for Zambia until the permanent advisor arrives. EducationUSA is a State Department program that helps high-achieving and economically disadvantaged students from outside the U.S. prepare the strongest possible applications to U.S. colleges and universities. The program helps students prepare for standardized tests, research schools and programs, explore scholarship opportunities, prepare for visa interviews and more.
I'm working with our entire cohort of 40 students. Most have never met an American college student before, so the kids love to talk to me and ask me a wide variety of questions. When I mentioned I belonged to a fraternity, Delta Sigma Phi, the students right away wanted to know if Greek life portrayed in the movies was true. I laughed! And I simply said that most of the things in the movies are extremes and are not a correct representation of individuals in fraternities or sororities.
The work is challenging because most of the students simply do not have the financial resources to attend a U.S. college or university, except with a full-ride scholarship. This is especially challenging, as scholarships for international students are very limited and competitive.
One of the many things I have learned and appreciate about the United States is how important time is to us. There is a thing called Zambian time: if a program starts at 4 p.m., most people show up 10 to 20 minutes later. My colleagues and I have stressed to the students the importance of following deadlines and being on time. Registering the kids for the ACT and/or SAT is my biggest goal before my internship ends.
An interesting experience occurred on my second work day in Zambia. I helped prepare a program about the embassy, which we gave to Zambian and American college students. Many students introduced themselves as being from Spring Arbor University, but I assumed there were many Spring Arbor Universities besides the one close to Albion. However, when I finally said I was from Albion College, the students from Spring Arbor went nuts. One student was friends with my Delta Tau Delta fraternity brother! It was very weird being so far away and already seeing people from Michigan, even from the Albion-Jackson area.
An interesting culture shock for me is how people in Zambia travel. There is some public transportation, although the majority of people walk or bike to and from work. However, a lot of people get lifts from others who own cars.
A Zambian intern at the embassy was driving me around Lusaka when we pulled over. A stranger came up to her window and then got into our car. We dropped him off a couple blocks north and I asked her, "How do you let random people get into your car?" She responded, “I can usually judge a person’s character well and tell if the person truly needs a ride." I still couldn’t believe what just occurred. Hitchhiking is very common.
Even though Zambia is such a different place, I think our unique campus life at Albion was good preparation for being here. Every student at Albion is very dedicated and involved in numerous campus clubs and organizations. We are forced to learn how to multitask and to balance our academic life, social life and working life in completing numerous projects and sticking to deadlines. The embassy is no different. I have numerous short-term projects that must get accomplished daily, while also planning and achieving longer-term goals and objectives.
Also, the ability to work well with others has been critical. Being involved at Albion and having the opportunity to work with other student leaders has prepared me for the type of work environment I've experienced at the embassy.
This is my first time leaving North America, and the most surprising and greatest attribute Zambia has is how kind and sweet their citizens are. From my first week in Zambia I was asked to come into people’s homes and have dinners. The people of Zambia are very humble and are great individuals. They have welcomed me into their country with loving arms and I will always have that memory of the Zambian people.