In celebration of International Youth Day, an intern recounts her experience at USAID.
When I first found out that I was going to be an intern for the federal government at USAID, I had no idea what to expect. The notions that had been swirling around in my head were a confused mix of expectations, most likely attributed to watching too many episodes of Parks and Recreation and The West Wing. Coming out of two previous internships, I expected to spend my summer in a dimly lit office cubicle filled with people in suits, much older than I am, sticking out like a sore thumb as a younger-looking Korean-American female. Knowing that I was the first undergraduate intern in the office, I felt daunted by the experience to come.
Working on policy in the Policy, Planning, and Learning Bureau however, was the exact opposite of what I thought I was walking into. On my first day, I was given my own desk at a nice “touchdown” space unconfined by the limitations of a cubicle. Not only was I greeted by a plethora of fluorescent lighting, but there was even a sky window by my desk- no dim lighting here. Not everyone around me wore formal attire in just black and white. I was not the only Asian-American. I certainly was not the only female, and, to my greatest surprise, I was not much younger than most of the people there.
The last of these observations was the most eye-opening. Upon initial office introductions, I gathered that at least four of my co-workers are or once were Presidential Management Fellows, meaning that they are fresh out of graduate school or in continuing education. Among these individuals were the Office Director and the Acting Deputy Director. I was actually surrounded by people just a few years older than me.
It took me just a few days to realize that I was in the company of some very intelligent and qualified individuals. The defining characteristic uniting these people however was not just their age, but their brilliance and hard work. Although they were young and still working to evolve in their career paths, all of them consistently demonstrated their competence and ability to take development issues head-on.
In addition, because they too could freshly sympathize with my experience as an intern, I was shown incredible hospitality and patience. I asked as many questions as I wanted without being shown a hint of annoyance. I asked to attend important meetings and was never denied attendance. I even asked for high-priority work and was entrusted as an equal to complete my given tasks.
What I realized over my summer internship at USAID is that the future for young professionals in government is as bright as it is because young professionals are willing to help each other. I saw first-hand that when people are able to actively engage, encourage and support each other through new endeavors and experiences, productivity soars through the roof. For the kind of impactful work that USAID conducts, this is great news.
The UN estimates that 85% of the world’s youth live in developing countries. It is becoming lucidly apparent that the need for youth voices in policy is not only fair but fundamental in creating a sustainable future for the developing world. In the same way that I personally witnessed a group of talented and compassionate young professionals willing to go out of their way to help each other, I believe that empowering youth globally in developing countries to do the same for their peers will create a better world for everyone.
Inclusive development is at the very core of democracy and can move us toward a world that, by its very nature, facilitates and critically engages the next generation.
Learn more about youth programming at USAID. Join the conversation on Twitter using #IYD2013.