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2022 DHRC Student-Initiated Summer Internship Fellow

Ayla Kaufman

Ayla Kaufman
BA Public Policy; minor, Modern Middle Eastern and North African Studies ‘24

The Donia Human Rights Center Student-Initiated Fellowship financially supported my 10-week internship this summer at the U.S. Libya External Office (Embassy), which is based at the U.S. Embassy to Tunisia. Specifically, I interned in the embassy’s Public Affairs Section (PAS), which executes the Department of State’s public diplomacy goals. Given that the LEO is not located in Libya, the PAS was very short-staffed compared to an average embassy. With only two American Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) in the PAS, I had a unique opportunity to make significant contributions and complete the duties of an entry level FSO, and occasionally of a deputy/acting Information/Cultural Affairs Officer.

In the mornings, I worked on the Daily Media Summary, a daily report compiling all news in or about Libya from the past 24 hours. I edited the report, contributed stories, and confirmed translations. On a few occasions, I provided the final clearance to release the report. I learned how to convey news to DC and international counterparts in a succinct, clear, and factual manner while advancing my Arabic translation skills.

In the afternoons, I created an Alumni Engagement Strategy, a previously non-existent strategy for engaging Libyan alumni of U.S. exchange programs. Given the staff shortage, I developed the strategy independently, allowing for significant impact, learning opportunities, and several instances where I represented the USG to Libyan audiences. I created an annual calendar and framework for alumni engagement by designing and analyzing surveys; planning monthly networking and speaking events with event proposals and talking points; devising an annual social media strategy with drafted posts and graphic advertisements; and creating monthly newsletters. I oversaw the summer programming by managing and posting on the Embassy’s Facebook page as well as organizing, drafting, and hosting four virtual events that cumulatively reached over 2,500 Libyans. I learned how to craft a new policy, design and manage programs, write reports and talking points, and spark interest amongst a Libyan audience. As the strategy was rooted in the embassy’s strategic priorities, messaging guidelines, and social media calendar, I learned how to communicate USG messaging and harness alumni to further U.S. interests.

The last month of my internship centered on creating an Alumni Volunteer Leader Council. I independently networked with alumni, developed contacts, elicited their ideas, and secured commitments from 9 Libyans to help lead the execution of the LEO’s Alumni Engagement Strategy. I also wrote partnership agreements and a report on the Alumni Council. With Libyan leadership, the Alumni Engagement Strategy became sustainable, with more ongoing alumni collaboration, and without a greater workload for the stretched PAS. Developing relationships with alumni was one of the most rewarding aspects of my internship as I learned how to identify contacts while developing my writing and reporting skills.

Additionally, I experienced the full range of the PAS and the broader embassy through other activities. I represented the embassy at one of its largest in-person events, drafted a report to brief the Ambassador on this event, served as the USG representative in several Fulbright interviews, wrote an event highlight for DC, took notes on a re-negotiation of a Memorandum of Understanding, transferred the PAS contacts to a new management system, attended rep events, supported the job application process for a new hire, briefed a USAID implementing partner and Libyan debate clubs on a potential partnership, organized logistics for exchange program visa appointments, provided other logistical support for exchange programs, participated in a weekly election working group and staff meetings, and attended the Independence Day reception. Each activity contributed to a broader understanding of the USG’s goals and foreign policy implementation.

Interning at the LEO was vital for my professional development. I walked away each day with a better understanding of U.S. foreign policy, more clarity over my future career, and new skills. I truly received the best possible introduction to U.S. foreign policy as I created an entirely new policy from the ground-up with programming to implement the strategy. Prior to my internship, my understanding of how foreign policy was created was vague. By nature of this assignment, I was uniquely able to witness every element of policy and programming, and learn their importance. Moreover, with a small embassy, I frequently interacted with other embassy sections, providing a strong foundation for how an embassy operates, its role in the foreign policy process, and the lifestyle of FSOs. By experiencing foreign service firsthand, I have a stronger understanding of the logistics for implementing foreign policy, the functions of different sections of embassies, how embassies and DC interact to produce foreign policy, and the day-to-day lifestyles of FSOs. With this understanding of foreign service, I found clarity over what career I would like to pursue, which will undoubtedly help me seek out opportunities and skills development that will prepare me for these careers.

The skills and experiences gained over my internship prepare me for future success. Professionally, I am more capable in program design and management, media analysis and messaging, writing, and public-speaking. In working so independently, my leadership, organization, critical thinking, and networking abilities have profoundly improved. Overall, I feel confident and prepared to tackle future internships and jobs, and have new skills that I can harness to make an impact. Personally, living alone in a foreign country with a very different culture and limited to non-existent English facilitated personal growth and independence. I found and managed my own apartment, learned to navigate transportation and hail taxis in Arabic, developed my Arabic communication ability, learned beginner’s French (around 40% of Tunisian Arabic is French), and bargained over prices in souks (markets). Living independently allowed me to grow more confident and mature as well as develop my street smarts. I also explored Tunisia’s history and culture by traveling throughout Tunisia’s cities, ancient ruins, and the Sahara Desert. With each adventure, stroll through souks and art streets, trial of Tunisian food, and conversation with Tunisians, I gained more insight and a non-western perspective of North African culture, values, and history. I believe appreciating North African culture will allow me to be more culturally sensitive and effective as a future diplomat.

Interning with the LEO especially solidified my interests in working in the humanitarian field. Primarily, I learned about messaging strategies and harnessing public diplomacy to promote human rights, peaceful democratic transitions, and free elections. For instance, in analyzing news and editing the daily media summaries, I helped produce cultural insight that the embassy used to inform the USG approach to human rights in Libya. The Alumni Engagement Strategy was likewise centered around sharing human rights values with alumni and empowering them to advocate for human rights in their communities. I learned how to use selected Alumni Highlights, speaking engagements, social media posts, networking events, and alumni volunteering to emphasize human rights protection. I additionally supported the LEO’s exchange programs, which build mutual understanding and bolster peacebuilding. Lastly, I gained direct exposure to human rights issues by learning about Libyan perspectives on transitioning from civil war and ongoing constitutional negotiations as well as Tunisian perspectives on the constitutional reform and referendum that occurred during my time in the country. Learning local perspectives on human rights will help me to develop foreign policy in the future that furthers democracy while remaining culturally sensitive. My internship, professional development, and personal growth would not have been possible absent the Donia Human Rights Center Student-Initiated Fellowship. The generous financial support empowered me to explore foreign service and Tunisia without financial strain. I am eternally grateful to have had this life-changing opportunity.”