Undergraduate Student Success Story: Sara Williamson

Sara Williamson is a Junior at the University of Connecticut studying Spanish and Political Science. Sara has recently interned at both the Fulbright Association and at the National Defense University. Here is a glimpse of how these internships helped Sara enhance her professional development:

What was the interview process like?

The interview for the Fulbright Association was pretty standard— they wanted to know what I was studying and what particularly drew me to work there. I had two Skype interviews (around April to May) before I was notified that I was offered the position. For the National Defense University, this internship quite literally happened by chance. I had applied months prior, as it was my dream internship (probably around late March) and immediately heard back that all the positions had been filled, but they were impressed by my resume and had a great relationship with the American University program, so they told me that if any positions opened up, they’d love to speak with me again. I had been in D.C. for about two weeks before I received an email with a formal offer for the position.

What were some of the projects you worked on?

At the Fulbright Association, I spent a lot of time doing data input. There are many donors who support the program, and I was in charge of categorizing that data. I also did some work on Capitol Hill— there were proposed budget cuts to the Fulbright Scholarship, so I spent time handing out petitions on the Hill to offices such as Chuck Schumer’s office, as well as Nancy Pelosi’s.

At the National Defense University, my time was split between basic office work (as I waited for my security clearance to come in), and some really interesting sessions in which I was a Teacher’s Assistant in the international military officers’ English classes. I also helped these military officers get used to not only Washington D.C., but the United States as well. I chaperoned tours of the city and often found that they would come to me for suggestions on what to do in their free time here. I loved being able to work with them so closely and build those relationships.

What was the most meaningful aspect of your experience?

As mentioned before, I developed a lot of relationships during my time at the National Defense University. Most of these people are in the U.S. for the very first time and they sort of imprint on the interns, since we’re the familiar faces they see consistently every day. I loved hearing their stories about their countries and even hearing about how their children were adapting to life in the U.S. I got to meet so many amazing people with incredible stories from around the world.

As for the Fulbright Association, we always had many visitors (alumni of the program) coming through the office for various reasons, and I loved to speak to them about their experiences. They would tell me about how their time in India, Australia, or wherever they did their scholarship, absolutely changed their life. They were always praising the program and many made donations because they wanted more people to continue the legacy of the Fulbright Scholarship. From what I understood, the scholarship has been life-changing for the majority of its participants.

What were some of the skills you developed during your experience?

Going into this, I genuinely thought I would be sitting behind a desk stapling papers or doing coffee-runs all day. In hindsight, I could not have been more wrong! I found myself breaking language and cultural barriers all summer, as well as advancing my data input skills. My interpersonal skills have flourished, not only from speaking to scholarship recipients or military officials, but from networking on Capitol Hill as well. There are so many things I learned from simply being in D.C. that I feel I could never have gained elsewhere. 

What advice would you give to other students looking for internships? 

It’s okay to ask for help! When it came down to it, I landed the internships myself. However, it’s always helpful to have a second opinion, especially in a city as competitive as D.C. is! While everyone may not have access to the personalized internship advising specific to D.C. as I did, there are always a million resources to use on campus or from your personal life. Always make connections so you can gain that professional perspective and never stop networking! 

What are your plans for after graduation?

This is a great question, one I find that I ask myself a lot. I know that I definitely want to attend graduate school right away, most likely in D.C. I have a few programs in mind, especially after having spent some time taking a class at American University— it really opened up a lot of doors for me. As for after graduate school, I’m not exactly sure. I want to stay in D.C., but I don’t know exactly what career I’m going to pursue. Something international relations related, for sure. I just know D.C. is the perfect place for me to find out exactly what it is that I want to do.

By Victoria
Victoria Victoria