jordan-nicolas.matte [at] mail.mcgill.ca (Write to Jordan) with your questions about his internship.
My name is Jordan-Nicolas Matte and I am a U3 Honours Political Science student at McGill University. Ever since I started reading books, I have always been passionate about international relations, travels and different cultures. With time, this passion has extended to history and political economics as well, as I am confident these are crucial subjects to understand in order to be a good citizen. This makes me a pure product of the social sciences, and my experiences living or interning abroad in the past years has given me great respect for those who dedicate their lives to the diplomatic service.
Thanks to the values transmitted by my grandparents and parents, I was brought up to be a proud Canadian, but one that always remembered the immigrant roots of his family. I vividly recall my grandfather, who was of Romanian origin, telling me that there is no greater pride for an immigrant than to be able to give back to the country that welcomed him. As someone who had escaped the horrors of communism in order to give a better life to his family, I think he would be proud to know that his grandson has the desire to do just that: serve my country by joining the Foreign Service.
Applying for an internship at the Canadian Embassy in Washington was a dream of mine. I had already had the chance to work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2011 when I did an internship at the Canadian Consulate in Munich. The great experience I had there convinced me to try my best and aim for Canada’s largest mission abroad: the dynamic capital of the United States. My family has a long history with the Unites States. My mother did her Masters in the US, and we used to frequently drive down and visit her best friends on the East Coast. I came to love the New England architecture and learned to feel at home in America. After having studied a full year abroad in Spain in 2013-2014, I decided it was time for me to have an American experience and I sent my application for the internship. It is hard to describe how thrilled I was when I received the news I had been accepted.
The Canadian Embassy in Washington is a massive institution. It truly is Canada’s biggest embassy with a staff of close to 350 people. Most of these are locally engaged staff, either Americans who have a deep interest in Canada, or Canadian expatriates who decided to move down to the more clement southern weather. The others are Foreign Service officers who are posted in DC. The Embassy serves as the primary link between the Canadian and American governments, and reports on anything that is happening in the United States that could have an impact on Canada. It is Canada’s eyes and ears south of the boarder and strives to constantly strengthen the alliance that unites our two countries. To do so, it is divided in a multitude of departments that each have a specific mission, be it Public Affairs for “marketing” purposes or Political Affairs for a monitoring of American Foreign Policy. As for me, I had the pleasure to be in what I humbly consider the best department at the Embassy: the Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs section.
Working for CIAS was a great learning opportunity as this is the department that is the most focused on the legislative branch of government and its unique role in the American political system. As the sole intern in CIAS, I had the responsibility to attend many congressional hearings that were of importance to Canada and draft reports that would then be used by my superiors or sent to the headquarters in Ottawa. The hearings covered a multitude of topics, but the priority was bilateral trade, infrastructure and Foreign Affairs. In addition, I assisted in the hosting of large events, like our annual Canada Day festivities, our Fourth of July party and the important August Congressional reception. I also analyzed bilateral trade data for provincial delegations in Washington, assisted in meetings with Congressmen and Senators, and even escorted the Minister of Foreign Affairs on Capitol Hill. Finally, I wrote a thesis paper (credited as a course) under the supervision of Dean Christopher Manfredi on the American Pivot to Asia and the repercussions this would have on Canadian foreign policy.
When I started my internship, I hoped that this would enable me to better understand the vital relationship between Canada and the US. I feel that we tend to forget how crucial and important this alliance is, both in the diplomatic and commercial realms. The internship not only made me realize the scope of this cooperation but also helped me understand the way politics work in the United States both in its positive and less glorious aspects. This learning experience was accompanied by many highlights like having the chance to meet General James A Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, live in the International Student House surrounded by brilliant foreign students, and spend most of my summer on Capitol Hill.
Of course, everything wasn’t all perfect. The workload could be intense at times, especially before important receptions. But it was a sacrifice the interns willingly made, especially since the intern group was very united and we knew we would see our friends at the Embassy throughout the day. I also started my summer with a rather basic knowledge of Excel, and I soon came to realize that that was a vital tool in the office. The learning curve was steep because the Embassy uses Excel to the fullest of its capacities. But with a lot of patience from my superiors, I managed to get a decent grasp of it and was able to be of help when required to use it. On a more personal note, the very hot weather could be a hassle from time to time, but as I had just come back from a year in Spain, I was starting to get used to it!
I think McGill University prepared me well to undertake such an interesting internship in Washington. For starters, I have many American friends at McGill that encouraged me to spend the summer in Washington. They were right to do so, as I absolutely loved the city. Furthermore, my studies in political science made me well aware of recent events on the world stage as well as the important role played by the United States in the international system. Having done a lot of Model UN conferences at school and abroad, I also had an understanding of the role played by diplomats and was able to summarize important information to have it fit the format used in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Furthermore, the opportunity McGill offered me to study one year in Spain helped me learn Spanish, which came in handy when doing research on the Latino community in the US or South American countries of importance to America.
In conclusion, I cannot stress enough how great this summer has been. I can safely say this was my best summer yet, both for the learning opportunity and the chance it gave me to make such great friends. More than anything, it has confirmed my desire to aim for a diplomatic career as I have really come back with a deep respect for the people who dedicate large parts of their lives to representing their country abroad. Finally, I would like to thank the Anderson family who very generously awarded me a bursary in order to help pay for this internship. Living in Washington is an expensive undertaking and their support proved invaluable. Their dedication to the social sciences is laudable and it truly makes a difference in the experience one will get to live. Hopefully, the bursary will help other McGill students represent the university at the Canadian Embassy in years to come. That would be a legacy we could all be proud of. As for me, I will be finishing my senior year at McGill and I hope on applying for a Masters program in the US. Who knows, I might be back in Washington sooner than I think!