I am now halfway through my internship this summer at the British Consul-General in Chicago, one of the many UK diplomatic posts spread throughout the world that helps enable our geographically small country punch well above its weight on the global stage. Below is a summary of my time here so far, I’ll focus more on the work I have been doing so far as that will be of best help to future applicants. It is one of the few areas in life a Google search cannot help with!
I arrived here on the 23rd July, a good few days before my actual internship started so I could adjust to my new accommodation and get to explore the city. The first thing that really hits you as you make your way along the blue line subway line from O’Hare International Airport is the sheer diversity of the people that take pride in calling themselves Chicagoans. I can recall at least 6 different languages I encountered in that initial 40 minute journey to my accommodation at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).
Once at my accommodation I straight away met my flatmate and it wasn’t long before we were discussing the intricacies of UK-US politics in between my unsuccessful attempts to explain to him that skins is not an accurate representation of UK teen culture! We soon set off to explore the city; we did however get a bit lost on the way back and ended up exploring Chicago’s South Side around 10pm (not something I would recommend for your first night!).
Before long it was soon Monday morning and time to make my way over to 625 North Michigan Ave to begin work. Once there I was met by the Deputy Consul-General who showed me around the office and introduced me to all the staff. There are approximately 25 people in the office, the majority work for UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) the government body that seeks to attract US investment into the UK and support UK businesses operating in the US. This work supports one of the FCO’s core goals, ‘the Prosperity agenda’, which is also the main focus of the Consul General’s time. The other two FCO priorities, which rest of the office handle, are ‘security’ and ‘consular’. While the Chicago consulate doesn’t deal with security issues that much (most of that is dealt with by the main embassy in DC) it does have a dedicated consular team that provides support to UK nationals ranging from those who have been arrested or incarcerated to Brits living in the US who need passport extensions and emergency travel documents.
The first few days involved me meeting one-on-one with the consulate’s education, science and UKTI head officers. I also attended the Monday morning meeting which helped me to get a real sense of how all these individuals pull their work together to further enhance the reputation of brand Britain. I had lunch with the DCG who explained the brief outline of my role which was to assist him and other members of the consulate team in certain upcoming areas of work, the main one being planning, organising and then going on a diplomatic 3 day visit to North Dakota. I had a security meeting which as well as going through your standard fire safety policy gave me a good insight into how the consulate maintains the safety of its staff via multiple means.
On Wednesday I had the pleasure of visiting the residence, the place where the Consul general lives which is also used to host events that act to further consulate priorities. The event I attended was co-hosted by the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC), now while I did think I would be completely out of my depth here with a history degree it was surprising to see the net spread much further than anticipated. There were representatives present from Motorola, Thermo Fisher and many other smaller American and US businesses that use their technologies and services to support the clinical world.
On my first week I also attended the residence for a second time, this time it was for a small informal meeting to plan for our big event to celebrate the anniversary of when the Beatles first came to Chicago. This meeting was a great crash course in how brainstorming and effective note taking can take you from having a rough idea of what to do to eventually having a complete plan for the whole evening in the pace of an hour. The first week was capped off by going for a few drinks with work colleagues at ‘rock bottom’ a great rooftop bar, attending Wicker Park fest and watching Liverpool beat Olympiakos at Soldier Field (got discounted tickets too!).
Before I knew it week one had flown by and the second was here. The majority of my work this week was split between setting up meetings for out North Dakota visit (we were due to fly on the Sunday) and working with the consulates Education Officer on areas such as the Marshall Scholarships, explain UK-US educational exchange links and convening a conference call with ‘Code Academy’ to assist her economic mobility project.
In regards to the North Dakota trip I was delighted at how much trust the consulate and the DCG had put in me in regards to organising a whole visit from scratch and making logistical arrangements. It wasn’t long before I was chatting to distinguished individuals in the energy, science and industry sectors within ND to arrange tours and meetings. I had to compile a scene setter which gave the Deputy Consul-General and the consulates Chief Science and Innovation officer (also attending) background information on the places we were visiting, the people we were meeting with and what the UK’s goals from the trip should be. I also got a good grounding in how the FCO engages in its political reporting before getting to write a few reports myself. I wrote on areas such as the upcoming mid-term election in the US and explaining ‘why is Iowa so important’ in relation to the states seemingly heightened importance due to the Ames Straw poll.
Also during this week I visited Grant Park, an incredible vast open park area with magnificent views, great for running (not that I did much of that!). I also took the red line a bit further up North than usual to visit Lincoln Park which has a fabulous beach and then proceeded to explore Greek Town a little closer to home.
I have now just finished week number 3 and what a week it has been. On Sunday we flew from Chicago to Fargo, North Dakota (yes the people there do speak like they do in the film!). As soon as we arrived it was a 3 hour drive to Bismarck where we would stay over ready for meetings the following day, it wasn’t long before we discovered the joys of ‘Space Aliens’ a wacky sci-fi themed fast food restaurant. In Bismarck we met with the Aeronautics Commission, Petroleum Commission and Bismarck State College to discuss issues around energy and the use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) in areas such as agriculture. On Tuesday we visited the AG Precision centre in Bismarck to discuss their UAS programmes and had a wonderful welcome. They also invited the local paper down as we gave a few comments and posed for photos, while we thought that would be the end of our brief spell in the North Dakotan limelight we were soon being interviewed by the local TV station as well. You can find the report here: http://www.wdaz.com/content/british-officials-tour-dakota-precision-ag-center-lrsc.
On Wednesday in Grand Forks we had meetings with the Energy and Environment Research Centre (EERC), University of North Dakota Aerospace and met with the Vice President of Research and Creative Activity at North Dakota State before flying back to Chicago in the evening. The ND visit allowed me to get a real sense of ‘Americana’. Being out in a state that isn’t exactly a tourist hub and has a population density of 10.5 people for ever square kilometre, compared to Birmingham’s 10,391. From visiting a state like this you really get a flavour of the real America, a state where many believe in less federal government and more local authority, a state where guns can be bought (you must have a licence) in the same store in which you can purchase laptops and mp3 players. The length of time that we stayed in a state which hasn’t had very much attention from British government departments as of late also means we are one of very few individuals who really know what makes the state and its people tick.
Back in the office on Thursday morning I was on the go again, this time with the consulates education officer where we went to UIC to speak to a delegation of British higher education institutions about the great opportunities the Mid-West has to offer for student exchanges. The rest of the day I drafted email follow-up responses to some of the contacts we met with, these are crucial to make sure the progress we made in the face-to-face meetings is translated into real action and results in the coming months ahead.
On Friday I worked on arranging accommodation with local hotels for two events the consulate has coming up, one in a few weeks when members of the Westminster British-American Parliamentary Group (BAPG) drop by in Chicago. The second is an event focusing on food security which our science officer is convening in October. These events are a great example of the wide variety of work that members of the consulate team engage in on a daily basis, it is this variety that makes me eager to join the FCO. On Friday evening myself and the DCG attended a networking event hosted by the British & American Business Council (BABC) where we met with other businesses that help to strengthen Anglo-American ties through trade and investment.
Week 3 was rounded off by playing for the consulate in a local 5 a side tournament again run by the BABC, we did make it to the semi-finals, I should probably add there were only 4 teams involved! I also went to watch the Aeronautics show where a fantastic array of American planes, both civilian and military were on show. On Sunday I stopped by the museum of contemporary photography which I would highly recommend visiting. That pretty much sums up most of my time here so far.
For those thinking about applying for this scheme next year I would highly recommended doing so, apart from the fact that you will get to experience a brilliant working environment, meet fantastic people and live in a great city the FCO doesn’t offer internship placements so you should grab this truly golden ticket while you have a chance!