For Arto Sillanpää, a Master's student of Global and Transnational Sociology, his internship at our Defense Attaché's Office provided a perfect place to dive deeper into US current affairs and politics.
Ever since the presidential election of 2008 and even more so after 2016, I have been exceedingly preoccupied with learning more about U.S. politics largely due to the massive role that the U.S. has on the global stage.
In practice, this has meant reading as much as possible, watching hearings and documentaries, listening to podcasts, writings essays, following political discourse through social media and of course having conversations about the topic whenever possible.
Accordingly, my goal was to get an internship in Washington D.C. where I could learn more and use my expertise for an organization that could benefit from it. That is what led me to apply for the internship in the office of the Defense Attaché at the Embassy of Finland, which seemed and eventually turned out to be the perfect internship considering my goals.
To my enormous and positive surprise, I got accepted, which felt unreal all the way until I finally stepped off the plane at the Reagan National Airport. I felt ecstatic during my first day in D.C., wandered around the national mall, saw all the important federal government buildings and went to listen to a talk at one of the many think-tanks in D.C.
There was no shortage of fascinating panel discussions in think-tanks and important hearings in the Congress during these three months. In fact, there was so much happening that there was no way of going to all of the interesting events because they were often overlapping.
Going to all these events in places that I had read about or written about and the think-tanks whose research I had occasionally followed was a rewarding experience. In addition to being informative and interesting, these were also great opportunities to see and listen to world-renowned experts as well as high profile politicians and officials.
Senators such as Elizabeth Warren, Tom Cotton, Mark Warner and Bob Corker and current officials such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and CIA Director Gina Haspel were some of the people who I had the privilege of seeing and listening to. The Congressional hearings were probably the most exciting moments for a politics wonk like myself, who had only watched hearings – such as James Comey’s hearing about a year earlier – behind a monitor.
Although waking up to a bunch of Twitter alerts was not always the most pleasant way to start the day, it served as a motivating reminder of the fact that I am in D.C. where it all happens. Every moment during these three months in D.C. was gratifying and extremely valuable in regards of being able to contribute, learning about a range of defense and security issues, learning about what kind of tasks I’m suitable for, getting more efficient at these tasks and learning about where I have to improve. The tasks were without exception fascinating, rewarding and wide-ranging. I also had the chance to focus on topics that I’m particularly interested in, such as disinformation, which was a hot topic in D.C. at the time.
New Zealand's Embassy hosted an annual Naval Attaché Association's International Cuisine event where various countries showcased their finest foods.
Being an intern in D.C. was a tremendous experience in many other respects as well. It was a great opportunity to make new friends and contacts in an international atmosphere, where everyone seemed to be highly driven and willing to contribute to our common goals. This certainly applied to all my excellent colleagues at the Embassy, as well as all the interns, students, and various professionals that I met.
All in all, these three months were the fastest and the most rewarding three months I have experienced, and I could not have wished for a better internship experience. Many long-time goals were reached and new ones set – one of those being the goal to work in D.C. at some point in the future.
Text by: Arto Sillanpää, Intern, Defense Attaché's office