I leave for Ecuador in exactly five days and I just bought my plane tickets! I know exactly what you’re thinking, for someone writing about job preparation, she really doesn’t seem very prepared for the next four months.
Let me backtrack a bit and describe my situation. I will be on co-op with the U.S. Department of State for the next four months at the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador. I’ll be doing political work in the Embassy, which will include researching political issues in Ecuador and writing reports on how those issues affect the United States. I am beyond excited to start, but for a while I didn’t think I would get to do the work at all. I’ll talk about my experience applying for international co-op and preparation for the adventure with three simple tips.
1. Have an idea of what you are interested in doing and start researching early.
Before I left my last co-op in Washington, D.C. I had already begun brainstorming what I was interested in doing for my second co-op. This proved to be essential because I was able to get a head start on my application and was not rushed when the due date rolled around. Many international co-ops have earlier application deadlines than domestic co-ops, which is why making sure your resume is always up to date is very important. I knew I wanted to work in government in some way for all my co-ops, but I was also very keen on traveling. When someone mentioned the State Department overseas Embassy internships, I knew I had to apply. My application deadline was extremely early – July 1st for a job that wouldn’t start until at least January of the following year. While this early of a deadline is unusual, other international co-ops can have early dates because of visa issues. Making sure that you do your research early so that you are aware of any special deadlines is crucial if you are considering an international co-op.
2. Keep an eye on your inbox and make sure you respond to emails from your employer right away.
This is key for any job, but especially if you need special paperwork for your international co-op. In my case, I had to complete extremely in-depth paperwork so that I could obtain a security clearance as well as get fingerprinted by the police. Both of these things were very time sensitive in my case and responding early to those requests is what allowed me to get my clearance in time to start my co-op as planned.
In other cases, you might have to deal with background checks, visa issues, and international housing; all of which take time to figure out. Don’t wait until the last minute or your plans for international co-op could be ruined.
3. Be patient.
This is perhaps the best piece of advice I received and that I could give to someone. Even though I accepted my co-op back in July, it was not official until I was granted my full security clearance the second week of January. This whole process has taken six months to get set up and so much of that time was filled with uncertainty. I won’t lie – I had many freak-outs over the past semester when I thought my clearance wouldn’t come through in time or when I was sure something was going to go wrong along the way to prevent me from ending up in Ecuador next week. Patience is key, especially when you are traveling and working internationally.
Rose Leopold is a third-year political science major currently on international co-op with the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador. Prior to this experience, Rose spent her first co-op in the office of Senator Elizabeth Warren in Washington, D.C. Follow Rose’s adventures through her blog justsittingontopoftheworld.wordpress.com and on Instagram @roselandis.