After three years of liberal arts education, I haven’t settled into a defined field, let alone a specialty within it. I have, however, gotten used to constant adaptation. This is partly thanks to a diverse courseload, which—along with heavy doses of political science and Arabic—has ranged from music theory to linguistics. But going to class and finishing assignments is only the beginning: like most BC students, I’m also used to juggling student group meetings, a campus job and independent research.
As it turns out, this unpredictable whirlwind of tasks was good practice for my internship at the US Embassy in Yerevan, Armenia. I’m based in the consular section, which is responsible for granting or refusing visas to the United States and assisting American citizens in Armenia. Our work has lots of moving parts; we handle both immigrant and non-immigrant cases and both Armenian and Iranian applicants. Due to heavy turnover among the diplomats at the Embassy, we’re also short-staffed. My job is to fill the gaps—on any given day, I have to switch gears four or five times, alternating between routine paperwork and urgent customer service, open-ended projects and clearly defined tasks. Like a good professor, my boss is available when I have questions, but mostly expects me to figure out tasks on my own. I’ve had to learn basic Farsi on the fly, get used to a new dialect of Armenian, and even dust off my high school algebra and statistics.
The job can be exhausting at times, especially when I have to stay late or come in on a Saturday. But the trade-off for long, busy hours is a diverse set of new skills and experiences. After three weeks, I’ve already fingerprinted thousands of visa applicants, written dozens of memos to Washington (which are less exciting than they sound), finished three independent research projects, visited a US citizen in prison, and accompanied the ambassador to a meeting with a major opposition party. In a few hours I’ll be on duty welcoming government officials to the Embassy’s (massive) 4th of July party.
My internship has reminded me that I’ll be called upon to learn and adapt long after I leave BC. No class could have taught me how to interact with a prisoner or calm a frustrated visa applicant—let alone spot immigration fraud or outsmart Iranian travel agencies. But my years at BC have helped me build the flexibility I need to tackle new projects head-on and the stamina I need to see them through.
Written by Hagop Toghramadjian, BC Class of 2017