The following was written by Smithsonian Intern Alex Refosco:
I am a graduate student at American University studying U.S. Foreign Policy with a concentration in Public Diplomacy. Before becoming an intern at the Office of International Relations (OIR), I previously interned with the Smithsonian in the Office of Special Events at the National Museum of American History (NMAH) (Fall 2016). I received my undergraduate degree from Florida State University in International Relations with a concentration in Anthropology and History with a minor in Museum Studies. I have loved interning with the Smithsonian and hope to one day inspire others to explore all the diverse opportunities the Smithsonian has to offer.
19 museums, 9 research centers, activity on every continent. Many people know the Smithsonian for the museums on the National Mall, but they make up a small portion of everything the Smithsonian does. I did not realize the breadth of the Smithsonian’s undertakings until I began my Internship with the Smithsonian’s Office of International Relations (OIR).
Tucked away in the windowless Ripley Center, OIR has grown to become the connective hub between international groups, foreign delegations, and international researchers for the entire museum. The Smithsonian is unique, each museum and research center is semi-autonomous, yet all falls under the Smithsonian umbrella – and as a central unit, OIR works with everyone. My first day, my supervisor told me that no two days would ever be alike, and nothing could sum up the role of OIR better. From average days in the office to going behind-the-scenes at the museums with tour groups, I discovered new units and projects every day, from MarineGEO to the Folklife Festival, and beyond. No matter what you are interested in, there is probably a department dedicated to the subject at the Smithsonian.
I could not have asked for a better internship for myself. Over the course of my internship, I had the opportunity to meet with foreign dignitaries and personally escort the Spanish Director of Museums into National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), meet with representatives from the U.S. Department of State, and accompany specialized tours as part of the renowned International Visitor Leadership Program. I worked with international scholars, researched country factsheets, and helped with special programs and partnerships.
My most interesting task was also the task that might seem like the smallest. Daily, I monitored OIR’s general inquiries inbox, and on any given day, I would receive emails from the public and scholars from all over the world, including Europe, the South Pacific, and Africa looking to connect with Smithsonian specialists in their field and seeking potential partnerships. Sometimes these would be simply directing the email to the corresponding research department, but sometimes these turned into lengthier conversations that might foster future projects. One of my favorite tasks was the Guyana Republic Day event co-hosted with the Embassy of Guyana in February. While this relationship began long before my internship, I jumped right in to help. The event, held in the Smithsonian Castle Commons, featured a number of guest speakers from the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) who discussed the biodiversity of the Guyana Shield and efforts to conserve it. At the event, I had the chance to speak with NMNH scientists who have studied the Guyana Shield for over 30 years, meet the Ambassador from Guyana, and even taste fine Guyanese rum, a regional specialty.
Truly, I do not think I could have found a more perfect internship for my career goals. I was able to seamlessly blend my love of museums and experience with the Smithsonian with my current graduate studies in international relations. Currently, I am pursuing a Master’s degree in U.S. Foreign Policy with a focus on Public Diplomacy. This internship has consistently supported this focus area by allowing me to work directly with visiting groups and aid in the development of cultural programs, often with the U.S. Department of State or with foreign embassies.
The Smithsonian is an enormous enterprise doing wonderful work in all corners of the world. When most people think of an internship with the Smithsonian, the first thought is often curatorial; however, there are so many more opportunities out there. If you have a passion and interest, whether it be research, visitor services, public events, collections management, or government and international relations, there is probably a part of the Smithsonian for you.