Internship put UND student in the diplomatic big leagues

After two consecutive summer internships with the U.S. Department of State, Maria Wallenhorst was ‘hooked’

Maria Wallenhorst earned her bachelor’s degree in December, following two summers with the U.S. Department of State. As an intern for the country’s foreign service, Wallenhorst deepened her passion for diplomacy. Photo courtesy of Wallenhorst.

Before she graduated from the University of North Dakota in December, Maria Wallenhorst interned with the United States Department of State — twice. Wallenhorst, who majored in political science, international studies and Spanish, spent the summers of 2018 and 2019 in the nation’s capital, putting together briefing books, writing reports and assisting the communications between the Department and the country’s embassies around the world.

Below, the Bloomington, Minn., native shares her experience, which also helped lead to a job as a practice support specialist with Logan Park Wealth Management in Minneapolis.

(This conversation first appeared on the news page of the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration.) 

What made you pursue an internship with the State Department?

I pursued an internship with the State Department because I wanted to gain experience in international politics and relations. I’ve always been interested in diplomacy and how countries interact with each other, so applying for the internship seemed like the perfect fit. Luckily, I was accepted, and when I started my first summer, I was posted to the Afghanistan desk. From then on, I was hooked!

How did you go about pursuing the internship?

There are two different types of State Department internships, but I applied for the U.S. Department of State Student Internship Program. I applied through USAJobs, a portal where most State Department positions are posted and can be applied through. After the initial application, I completed a couple of interviews and a background check, and was accepted after that. All of the information about how to apply can be found on the U.S. Department of State website.

What was the best part of the job?

The best part of the job was the opportunity to meet Foreign Service Officers and learn about what their everyday jobs entailed. The time I spent working at the State Department solidified my career aspirations and helped me define what parts of the world I wanted to work in, why I wanted to work there, and the process through which I could do so.

What did you learn?

I think what I learned the most was to keep trying; whether it is passing the Foreign Service Exam, creating proposals to offer to our allies, or anything else, if at first you don’t succeed, try again. Many of the first attempts that I witnessed didn’t work, but that never phased anyone. It was simply a way to find where boundaries were and to craft a different approach and try again.

How would you recommend other students go about pursuing such opportunities?

I would encourage any student who is interested in working in diplomacy to apply for this internship. Start by going to the U.S. Department of State’s website and taking the quiz to find out which office is right for you. Then, apply through USAJobs and see how far the internship takes you.

What was it like living in Washington?

Washington, D.C., is my favorite city in the U.S. It is vibrant, always has things to do, and huge. You can go from looking at the monuments on the National Mall, to a musical at the Kennedy Center, to festivals that are hosted almost every weekend all over the city. I was even able to find a link back home at a restaurant called Founding Farmers, which is owned and all of the food is supplied by North Dakota farmers.

Did you have a hard time finding a place to live?

In short, yes. It is hard to find a place to live for only three months, and there are not a lot of affordable places out there. If you are searching for a place, my two pieces of advice would be to find roommates and look on Airbnb. There are lots of places on Airbnb that rent out for full summers. In addition, reach out to your point of contact at the State Department and ask if they have any advice.

What sort of assistance did UND provide?

UND was a big help during my application process. The professors I take classes from were willing to be interviewed, and everyone was super helpful in looking over my resume, cover letter, and other application materials I had to complete.