This essay was written by Sarah Jennings, TAM Class of 2019.
I am having a very good summer.
Soon, I’ll be celebrating the end of my third month in Lisbon, Portugal, and I’m not winding down! I recently finished a 9-week internship, and I’m just now starting a six-week intensive language program—there’s even some wiggle room for travel.
Track II students have an XL summer break as we transition from the early May conclusion of the UNC academic year to the start of classes in Europe, usually in late September or early October. An extra month of vacation is appealing on its own, but TAM has helped me to get more out of four-ish months than I can wrap my mind around as I write about it!
In mid-May, I virtually coasted right off the tarmac at Lisbon’s airport to my first day as a U.S. State Department Intern with the Office of Public Affairs at the United States Embassy here in Portugal. I had plenty to do from that first moment. I built databases from scratch, visited Portuguese schools, helped host events, provided in-house translation, attend conferences, tour Navy vessels, and helped plan several Embassy events. The diversity of the tasks in my work load was one of my favorite parts of the whole experience—it was neat to see public diplomacy touching so many different aspects of daily life, from music to engineering.
I loved my internship, for the day-to-day experiences alone, but it also served another purpose. I’ve toyed with the idea of a diplomatic career in the past, and this internship allowed me to assess that option with greater clarity. I’m certain that no other resource could provide me with the perspective I gained while at the Embassy; weighing the pros and cons in the abstract doesn’t compare. With the caveat that Lisbon is a pretty posh posting, I was able to observe many aspects of life as a Foreign Service Officer in first person, in addition to befriending and extensively questioning a good many FSOs about their own experiences.
Sadly, my internship did have to end, but, fortunately, I was able to move right on to a new project! Through TAM, I was able to apply for and win one of the U.S. Department of Education’s Foreign Language and Area Studies scholarships this summer. I’m just now entering my third of six weeks of intensive language study in European Portuguese. The institute in Lisbon that I chose hosts students from all over the world, so in addition to taking five hours of class a day, I’m getting to study alongside people from Macau, Venezuela, Senegal, etc. It’s an almost perfect complement to a program as internationally-focused as TAM. I think I’m well on my way to acquiring an indecipherably authentic Portuguese accent, too!
I’ve gotten to do so many things in just a few months, and I feel lucky to study in a program that not only encourages but also actively supports me in finding, setting up, and securing funding for these opportunities.
Beijinhos from Lisbon!