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News, 3/8/2017 | Embassy of Finland, Washington

My Finternship: A Front Row Seat to the Heart of Politics

For an international politics student with a background in North American studies, an internship at the Embassy of Finland in Washington D.C., is a dream come true. It provides a chance to gain real-life experience in an environment where international politics are forged; a chance to peek behind the curtain to see how an embassy is run; a chance to learn firsthand about the work Finland's Ministry for Foreign Affairs does abroad and how that work is conducted; a front row seat to the fascinating political life of a superpower's capital. And, last but not least, a chance to discover a vibrant city, its people and its distinct office life, and to meet professionals and experts from across the world.

Hilkka Vähänen
Hilkka Vähänen spent three months interning at the political affairs team at the Embassy of Finland

You can never be quite sure what to expect from a new internship. You know your duties on paper, but haven't met your coworkers or know how much responsibility will be placed on your shoulders. So, I was shocked and delighted when already on my first week on the job I was sent to a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on cybersecurity and got to see such prominent political figures as John McCain and Lindsey Graham in person.

The hearing may not have been anything special in a city with countless committees and tens of hearings a week. But it was special to me because it helped me realize that many people who in my mind exist only in TV are real and share this city with me, attending the same events, reading the same newspapers and following the same think tank discussions. A three-month internship isn't quite long enough to open all the backdoors to the behind-the-scenes intrigue of D.C. But it is long enough to provide a sneak peek to it and to give you a much better idea of what it might look like.

At the Embassy of Finland, I have been encouraged to take part in a variety of different tasks, including, but not limited to, writing my own reports and attending private policy planning sessions. The work community is great: tightly-knit, supportive and appreciative of the work of the interns and the staff alike. My team truly aspires to give me a full D.C. experience, and largely thanks to that, I have gained a new perspective on how politics are made.

The Embassy of Finland is surrounded by nature
The Embassy of Finland is surrounded by nature

American politics have always fascinated me, and also back home in Finland I follow them keenly. And now, as an intern at the embassy’s political affairs team, suddenly it’s no longer just personal curiosity but my job to keep up with the politics. And yes, I won't deny it: right now is a truly interesting time to be digging deep into the American political life. We are experiencing a time of transition; a time when not only the content of policies but also the norms and procedures for conducting them are questioned and tested.

At the heart of politics, under the dome of the Capitol
At the heart of politics, under the dome of the Capitol

D.C. is a beautiful city of power and wealth. It is a city that lives and breathes policy discussions, and not just in the offices of senators, congressmen, staffers and officials working in all the different branches of the government. There are also countless headquarters of international organizations and charities; numerous respected think tanks and research centers shaping and keeping up public discussion; and renowned universities teaching law and politics to multicultural student bodies.

The true gem of this city is not the impressive monuments, but the people. From all across the U.S. and the world, from varied fields of life, D.C. attracts passionate, hard-working, intellectually curious people wishing to make a difference in this world. You may not agree with all of them on their goals or methods, but it’s always a pleasure to get to know and work with dedicated people. Long hours, meticulous research, considerate and thoughtful discussions, compromise and willingness to hear different views; under its marble veneer, this city is so much more than just a historic city or a central hub for bureaucracy.

Text: Hilkka Vähänen

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Updated 3/8/2017

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