American Diplomacy in Madrid

My name is Ivan and I am a rising junior majoring in Economics and International & Global Studies. This summer I am interning for the United States Department of State Foreign Service at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, Spain. The Foreign Service carries out American foreign policy around the world. Its mission is to promote peace, development, and democracy abroad for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.

I have wanted to intern for the Foreign Service since I was a senior in high school, when I learned about the internship opportunity through the Department of State website. When the application period opened last November, I worked closely with career counselors at Hiatt to make sure that my application reflected strong candidacy. I applied to the internship online and was offered a position in December upon receiving security clearance. After completing extensive paperwork and being interviewed by federal investigators, I successfully received my security clearance and a final offer during early March. The Embassy in Madrid is divided into five different sections: management, economic, political, public affairs, and consular. I am working at the consular and economic sections.

The consular section is divided in the Visas unit and the American Citizen Services unit (ACS). Visas is in charge of processing both immigrant and non-immigrant visas for foreign nationals who wish to travel to the United States. ACS takes care of American citizens in Spain, from processing new passports to going on prison visits and handling abduction cases. I am currently working in Visas assisting consuls in processing an average of 200 daily visa requests. I work with the general public receiving cases, entering passport data, and taking fingerprints.

The economic section works mainly with the Spanish government to handle the current economic crisis, but also works on issues of energy, sustainability, economic development, and elaborates reports on the economy that are later sent to Washington. I am currently working on a fundraising project for the Embassy’s annual 4th of July party. This is the largest and most important event of the Embassy, with around 3,000 attendees ranging from World War II veterans to Spanish government officials and foreign diplomats. I work with an Economic Officer soliciting financial support from both American and Spanish businesses. I organize and update all information using a spreadsheet and personally speak with business executives on behalf of the Embassy about the event and financial support. I also contribute to the daily economic press report that is sent back to the U.S. by reading articles from local newspapers and summarizing them.

So far, my experience at the Embassy has been absolutely wonderful. During the first week, I met with officers from all around the Embassy. These meetings, which ranged from health unit personnel to diplomatic security special agents, were a great opportunity to ask a lot of questions and to understand the bigger picture of how the Embassy carries out its mission. All officers are very nice and approachable, and they really make an effort to integrate interns and answer all of our questions. I had the chance to meet with the chiefs of the Visa and ACS units, the Deputy Chief of Mission, the Consul General, and many other very experienced officers who were highly interesting to talk to. It was also especially interesting talking to the General Services officer, who explained how housing for U.S. diplomats is arranged. With regards to work, I was fully integrated into the staff and was working in a fairly independent manner. I feel I have already gained a lot of valuable and insider knowledge about the Foreign Service and American diplomacy in general. I have also improved my multitasking, data analysis, communication, and customer service skills. Hopefully, I will have a deep understanding of the mission and dynamics of the U.S. Foreign Service and a clear view of what a career as a Foreign Service Officer is like by the end of the internship. I will network across every Section of the Embassy to better understand its functioning and its overall mission in Spain, and will continue to develop my work skills.

Feel free to ask any questions about the Embassy, the Foreign Service, Spain, or anything else!

– Ivan Ponieman ’14


2 thoughts on “American Diplomacy in Madrid”

  1. Hi Ivan,
    Your role at the American Embassy sounds very interesting! I just got back from a semester abroad in Italy, where the economic climate was very tense. Since you are working in the economic section of the embassy, I am interested to learn what your impressions are of the economic climate in Spain and whether or not you think it is improving. What kind of role, if any, do you see the Embassy playing in Spain’s economy? Are you also in touch with or studying the actions of other European governments regarding the current economic crisis? I hope you’re having a great time living in Madrid and enjoying the local culture as well!

  2. Hi Jonna,
    Thanks for your comment and sorry for the delayed response.
    I think that’s a great question, and it’s also a very difficult one to answer. The Spanish economy has certainly not improved during the past months. The Spanish government (SG) continues its bond auctions, which surprisingly have been fairly successful, but at an interest rate of 7% – which is crazy high and will be very difficult to repay. Rating agencies continue to lower their ratings for SG bonds and treasuries, and for bonds from the private sector as well. The economy is still in recession, unemployment keeps going up (around 22% right now) and the SG is slashing its budget due to EU and IMF pressure. However, although all of this sounds pretty terrible, there are some prospects for recovery in the near future. As you’ve probably heard, the Spanish government just submitted a formal petition to the EU for $120 billion in “rescue” funds at a really low interest rate to recapitalize the banking sector, and I think this is promising. One of the catastrophic points of the recession was the toxic mortgage market, and the bailout will allow banks to clean up their balance sheets and establish confidence in the markets and among the public. The whole economy runs on banks: loans, mortgages, investment, etc., so the bailout should make things better. In addition, we must remember that Spain has made tremendous progress in the past 25 years, and with progressive financial and fiscal reforms and some external support, Spain should be able to go back to growth in the mid and long-run.
    We are always looking at and analyzing Spain in the broader EU frame. A daily report on economic news is elaborated, and there’s a special one that talks about the whole EU, and not only Spain.
    Regarding US-Spain economic relations, the US definitely plays a key role on helping Spain to recover. The Embassy has very strong relationships with a lot of Spanish businesses, and promotes US investment in Spain as well. US Economic Officers are invited to Spanish business meetings and summits on a regular basis. Even the Consular Section plays a role, issuing business and investment visas for Spanish nationals. In addition, the USG has sent a couple of delegations, the most important one from the Treasury Department, to meet with SG ministers and officials, among them Economic Minister Luis de Guindos and President Mariano Rajoy, to seek for solutions to the current crisis while meeting Spain’s EU fiscal requirements. The US Embassy also led the SG’s delegation in the latest NATO Summit in Chicago, and the central talking point for the delegation was the Spanish economy.
    I could keep writing about the importance of US-Spain economic relations, but I don’t want to bore you with too much information. Hope this wasn’t too technical.
    Thanks for your post and feel free to ask any other questions!

Comments are closed.