PLP Passport Project: Generally Speaking – Observations from the Shanghai Consulate’s General Service Intern

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As the plane touched down on a muggy evening in Shanghai, I stared out of my window, eager to view the country I would call home for five months.

“Oh, it looks like a city.” I felt foolish as those words ran through my head. Of course it looked like a city, in fact, the biggest city I had ever been in with a population of 26 million. It was a long ways from the orange farm I grew up on. But having never been abroad before, I wasn’t sure at all what to expect. But my time in Shanghai turned out to exceed any expectations I had. In fact, quite honestly, it was the best experience of my life.

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This past summer, I had the opportunity to be the General Services Intern at the American Consulate in Shanghai. And man, I narrowly had this opportunity. An incorrectly assigned security clearance took a month to fix, as I anxiously waited back at home, torn between kicking myself for not taking a hospitality internship my major requires and hoping beyond hope that I would get the experience of a lifetime.

But luck, or God, or fate, or a combination of them all finally got my clearance approved, and I flew out for a six-week internship instead of a ten-week one. To be quite honest, I went in almost knowing nothing. I originally thought I wasn’t going to get the internship—why would they want a hospitality student with bad Chinese if they had an ample number of applicants that planned to work in the State Department? But with the help of another DU student who had done the internship, I wrote and rewrote my application, and got notified in December that I was one of the chosen few. When I went, I embarrassingly didn’t know the difference between a consulate and an embassy. But with a willing work-ethic and incredible American and Chinese mentors I learned quite a lot, very quickly.

I thank whoever assigned me to the General Services Office because they knew this was the department where I would thrive the most in. Housed in the “Management Cone” of the Foreign Service, the General Services Office is in charge of consulate logistics—a good match for my hotel logistics concentration. I had the opportunity to work with all of the departments in the General Services Office: Housing, Motor Pool, Procurement, and Property & Supply, Shipping, and the Travel & Visitors Unit.  I had a fantastic supervisor who not only had an effective management style that was good to learn from, but took the time to cater many of my projects to my interests. I worked most extensively with the Travel & Visitors Unit because of my hospitality background and got to accompany my supervisor and the TVU Agent when they toured the five-star hotels that the Consulate does business with.

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A screenshot from a promotional video the Consulate produced

Two of the skills I further developed during my time as a General Services intern were problem-solving and critical-thinking. My supervisor sat me down the first day and said, “Claire, I hope you’re good at time management, because I’m constantly running around—I won’t have much time to give you guidance.” Every week, I had a list of fifteen-to-twenty projects that I was working on as well as quickly completing whatever spur-of-the-moment document or project my supervisor would need. This is exactly the type of environment I thrive in, I am organized and good at keeping my self on-task, but it was daunting at first to tackle a large number of projects in a seemingly short amount of time.

Much of my problem-solving came from being given information, or leads to information, and then being asked to reformat the information in an easy to understand manner.  One of the projects I was most proud of was redesigning and creating SOPS, Standard Operating Procedures. Each department had been writing their own SOPs in a different format and much of it was written in difficult English—not the language you want to use with native English speakers and Chinese local staff. Thus, I researched other countries’ consulates SOPs, and then based the new format off the one I thought was professional but easy to understand (and colorful)! I was also taught many of the General Services’ computer programs so I could write how-to manuals on the user and approver ends. Having to write about a program you only just learned for other beginners was an interesting challenge but really reinforced my standards for good training and organization.

One of the more difficult long-term projects I was given was spearheading the General Services office renovation. The project grew as the weeks went by, and I went from pitching workspace themes to my supervisors, to calculating prices and budgets, to measuring every single piece of office furniture (using a metric measuring tape, might I add.) This project was outside of my comfort zone—I am not an interior designer by any means nor had I even taken into consideration the space required for office cabinets before, but it was great practice for future hotel renovations.

Although I don’t believe the foreign service is the career track for me as my true passion is hotel, I learned a great deal about logistics and management, as well as working with a majority Chinese staff. To not have done the typical hotel internship has broadened by horizons and given me a perspective I would not have had working another summer at a front desk. As my eventual career goal is to work with, or in, the Chinese hospitality industry, I am incredibly grateful to the PLP Passport Fund for providing me the opportunity to take this unpaid internship, to learn more about leadership, to live in an amazing city, and get to work and play with incredible people.

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A group of interns peeking into the Fairmont Peace Hotel’s infamous Jazz Bar

Post written by: Claire Caviglia, current PLPer

This project was made possible through the awarding of a Passport Grant made possible by the generous contributions of PLP Alumni and Friends. Thank you to all who empower PLPers to do amazing things!

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