U.S. Embassy internships rare opportunity for SDSU students


SDSU doesn’t profess to prepare students for employment in Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

However, that’s not to say there isn’t an element of suspense, intrigue, and daring for a select few whose James Bond-type exploits are not something every University student can boastfully claim.

Steve Iverson, Kaleb Kroger, and Bojan Salihagic—all Delta Chi fraternity members— didn’t conceal secret weapons, drive futuristic vehicles, or prevent a nuclear disaster. What they did was go overseas as interns at United States Embassies—not a common experience in the internship world, especially considering the security clearance process can take many months to complete.

“Yes, they are very rare,” says Political Science Associate Professor Gary Aguiar, who recalls only two other SDSU students in the last ten years to intern at United States Embassies.

“As a rule, internships are valuable experiences for students to apply their classroom knowledge to real-world situations,” he says. “You don’t necessarily have to be majoring in political science to get these types of internships.

“Few students get the opportunity to apply their learning and make a difference in international affairs,” adds Aguiar. “These students are exceptionally wellqualified and fortunate!”

Security inspection work

Salihagic already had an idea of how embassies work. When the Bosnian War was raging in the mid-1990s, he and his family spent time hiding and running from the insurgents. His parents knew things would not get any better so they turned to the U.S. Embassy.

The embassy helped the Salihagics find a sponsor and they made their way to the United States, eventually settling in Sioux Falls. The experience served to spark one youngster’s interest in diplomatic service. “My family’s time dealing with the American Embassy inspired me to be a diplomat myself someday,” says Salihagic, a political science major who will graduate May 2011. “I just fell in love with it. It’s what I wanted to do.”

He is certainly on his way after serving at the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he was assigned to the Regional Security Office for the Diplomatic Security Service from February to April 2010.

“I was so blown away by the way I was treated and the amount of responsibility given to me that in no way did I feel like an intern,” he says. “I was treated like a future special agent doing important work that had a real-world mission in which people’s lives depended on.”

Salihagic was charged with checking and approving personnel access requests submitted by American diplomats and staff for foreign nationals and diplomats to enter the embassy.

He read intelligence reports, did physical security inspections of properties making sure they met State Department regulations, and he supervised the installation of alarms and other security measures.

“One of the best things I did was visit the Danish Intelligence Agency with two special agents,” recalls Salihagc. “We got to sit with one of the department directors drinking tea and having cake like we were long-time friends discussing the world of personal protection.

“The internship was something I will never forget.”

Checking out visas

Iverson graduated in 2009 with a double major in rural sociology and Spanish with a minor in criminal justice.

Currently in his first year of law school at the University of South Dakota, Iverson served in Quito, Ecuador, a country in northwestern South America from May to August 2009.

He was stationed with the embassy’s consular section, which handles American citizen services, fraud prevention with visas, and nonimmigrant visas.

Iverson worked on an emergency contact system for Americans living and vacationing in the country, specifically how the embassy could best contact them concerning natural disasters, crime alerts, and other emergency information.

In fraud prevention, he was assigned to research and investigate visa chop shops that specialized in aiding nonimmigrant visa applicants with forms and photos.

“I traveled to most of the shops with another representative from the embassy and posed as applicants,” relates Iverson.

“We had information that these places coached applicants how to pass their interviews and helped them forge documents.”

At the end of the investigations he gave presentations to the consular section about improving the nonimmigrant visa interview process and helping officers look out for suspicious applicants.

Iverson indicates someday he could see himself as a foreign affairs officer with the State Department.

“Who knows, it could happen, but I’ll keep my options open” he says.

“Working for an embassy is not for everyone and it takes a lot of commitment to jump into something completely foreign.

“I look back now and I’m so glad I did it because the internship was a great way to discover who I was and what I was able to do,” he adds.

Drug seizure reports

Kroger is totally set on becoming a foreign affairs officer, and desiring to know what the job entails, he obtained an internship with the U.S. Embassy in Panama City, Panama.

During his internship, from June to August 2010, he also was sent to Costa Rica with a team of U.S. government contractors and embassy personnel to work on a regional police reform project.

Graduating in May 2010 with a degree in Spanish and global studies, Kroger worked in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, where he served as a communication link between his office and State Department officials and legislators in Washington, D.C.

“It was important to highlight the details of our projects so that other embassies and people in D.C. could see how we were spending money and that the projects were worth replicating in countries with similar problems,” says Kroger, who now works for Aramark at SDSU as a catering supervisor.

His police reform project pointed out ways to reform the Panamanian National Police, and he did reports on police units his office funded. In addition, he wrote monthly reports detailing the implementation of Central American Regional Security Initiative funds.

“I worked with U.S. and Panamanian agencies to compile information about drug seizures, antinarcotic projects, and building Panama’s law enforcement and security capacity,” explains Kroger.

Kroger says it was fascinating to be a U.S. Embassy employee because “I was given a tremendous amount of respect by people outside the embassy. Doors just kind of open for you when you’re from the embassy.”

What living and working abroad for three months did for Kroger was give him a good insight on the role of a foreign affairs officer.

“Doing an internship overseas offers unique opportunities like living in a foreign country, practicing a language, and seeing how embassies really work,” he says.

“I can read a book by a retired ambassador or talk to a foreign affairs officer about life in an embassy, but to actually live it provides for an entirely different experience,” adds Kroger.