Orelia Jonathan, Class of 2015
There was never a dull moment at the Embassy of South Sudan. From working in the consulate office to meeting with the Ambassador weekly to discuss topics of my choosing, working at the Embassy of South Sudan this summer was one of the most extraordinary and educational of experiences I have had to date.
The first thing I noticed when I walked into the Embassy on my first day was how much of a community the office was. I quickly learned that simply walking by another’s office without stopping in to shake their hand and greet them was a rude gesture. Hence every morning at the Embassy you would know who was in the office or who was not, just on the basis of checking to see if they were in to greet them. During my internship at the Embassy I was never greeted by a frown or an unhappy face, and everyday everybody without fail asked me and genuinely cared about the well-being of my family.
News around the office spread quickly, for example one day when I had out my Arabic notebook and was studying for class, some of my coworkers were quick to help me. I did not think much about it until the next day when I was sitting at my desk and one of the First Secretaries came into my office and casually asked me a question in Arabic. From that day on I was spoken to in Arabic from time to time by some of the diplomats as they tested my skill. It was certainly challenging to keep up with , for many of them spoke Juba Arabic and I had just completed my 2nd year of Classical Arabic. I will never forget the day that my boss had me read him a news article in Arabic to help me practice my annunciation and dictation.Over the past eight weeks, I learned the tasks of the consulate office which included: how to process and review a visa request, authenticating letters, reviewing and processing deportation files, and letters of no objection. However, the main project I was assigned was that of creating a database for the deportation cases so they would be easily accessible for the diplomat for whom I was working. The deportation process was backed up for the Embassy because until there was a Embassy for South Sudan in the US, there were many cases requesting to deport citizens, but there was no office to which to send the files. When the Embassy opened a year and a half ago the Embassy was bombarded with a number of cases, and has only just managed to get on top of these files with my
help! It was difficult to deal with deportation cases but helped me learn the importance of confidentiality and professionalism when handling these documents. I soon was given the task of drafting letters to Sudanese Diaspora Community members as well as individuals who had expressed their opinion on South Sudan. Reading these letters helped to give me a more rounded view of the Embassy, but also gave me a chance to respond informatively and concisely.
However, working at the Embassy was not just an office internship, but a job that required one to occasionally attend dinners and events outside of the 9-5 work day. I was given the opportunity to meet diplomats from around the world, important contacts and investors in the South Sudanese community, and members of my own Moru tribe from Western Equatoria State, South Sudan.
Originally I went to DC this summer with the notion that I wanted to someday work in Intelligence or Homeland Security, but my experience at the Embassy of South Sudan has greatly changed that. I realized that working in an Embassy is important work as you are representing that country (in South Sudan’s case, my country) to the rest of the US. I realized that there is so much more work to be done in terms of US foreign relations with South Sudan, and within South Sudan in general. I have done a good amount of research on South Sudan, but nothing has been more helpful than getting the opinion of my coworkers and learning for myself about how South Sudanese citizens work and communicate with one and another.
Lastly, and probably most interestingly was that during the last week of my internship, Salva Kiir, the president of South Sudan, dissolved the government and dismissed the vice president. I was frightened because I did not know what this would mean for my coworkers or my trip to South Sudan in two weeks. However, from what I understand, it is just a reshuffling of the government, and the entire office went on running just like it had for the past seven weeks.
Working at the Embassy of South Sudan was a life changing experience and has opened my eyes to the future career opportunity of working as a diplomat for the Government of South Sudan. I am incredibly excited for the coming weeks as I will be visiting Juba, South Sudan for three weeks and meeting various members of the government.
I am pictured at a protest with my co-worker Christina Benjamin, the man in between us is holding the South Sudanese flag.