This summer I had the opportunity and privilege to intern with the Management Section of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. It was by far one of the most utterly unique experiences of my life! As someone who is dedicated to studying Mexico, this experience challenged me to understand the country from a new lens, gave me the chance to see firsthand the issues limiting its potential, and acquire the skills and knowledge needed to devise informed solutions to help initiate sustainable development.
Through weekly intern briefs, I engaged with top experts in their respective fields (State Department, the Foreign Commercial Service, Departments of Treasury, Energy, and Defense, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and many more) to discuss their work in Mexico, the challenges they face, and the future of our bilateral relationship.
I also had the unique opportunity to accompany a consular officer on regularly scheduled visits of incarcerated American citizens held in Mexican prisons. This experience impacted me greatly because I saw firsthand the challenges facing Mexico’s justice system as inmates can wait upwards of one year or more for pre-trial sentencing. Through these visits, I realized that the ongoing shift from an inquisitorial system to an accusatorial system, like we have in the United States, was thus far not apparent in the prisons I visited. Inmates continued to experience significant delays in both meeting the judge and receiving judicial decisions. In addition to prison visits, I embarked on a consular “Fraud Tour” of Mexico City with the Fraud Prevention Team. It exposed me to the push factors prompting many to commit fraud and the harsh realities of human trafficking and prostitution that I knew existed in the Distrito Federal (D.F.), but was now forced to confront. I saw the Mexico that makes headlines; the Mexico that made many fearful to visit; but I also saw the Mexico that I hope to help change. This experience affirmed my commitment to a career in international relations, so that I can help build the institutions needed in Mexico to initiate sustainable development and alleviate poverty.
I also participated in a high-level dialogue between a California Senate Delegation, the ambassador, and top experts from the embassy. It was a phenomenal experience that I’ll never forget, because I had the chance to see diplomacy in action and make a contribution to the conversation. To deepen my understanding of the Foreign Service and international relations and hone in valuable leadership skills, I was invited to attend a small meet and greet with Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne. During this meeting, I learned the Ambassador and I were both Cal Alumni Leadership Scholars, a scholarship given to U.C. Berkeley undergraduates who “demonstrate innovative, initiative-driven leadership impacting their academic, work, or community environment.” If this shared experience is any indication of my future, then I am on a great path towards becoming a leader and achieving my goal of advising on U.S. – Mexico relations. As our meeting with the ambassador came to a close, he said, “there are leaders and authority figures; a leader, can be anybody in the room with an idea and a creative solution, while an authority figure, although important, may not actually be a leader.” With this thought in mind, I left the ambassador’s office inspired and reassured that my creativity and out-of-the box thinking might just be what is needed to solve the most pressing issues in Mexico.
Equally important to this amazing experience, are the people who challenged me to grow, pushed my language abilities, and the Distrito Federal (D.F.) itself, all of which helped me gain a newfound confidence. One of my first assignments upon arrival to the Embassy was to help fundraise for the U.S. Independence Day celebration. Admittedly, I was a little nervous to reach out to potential donors in Spanish, but I put my fears aside and jumped in full force. My collaborative efforts working with my supervisor helped us not only reach our sponsorship goals, but exceed them. Moreover, working in tandem with the office of protocol I was able to ensure sponsors received their proper recognition and their guests were accommodated accordingly – it was a great team effort! Working alongside the local staff in the financial management center of the embassy, I observed their commitment to the U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Mexico. They helped me understand Mexico on a personal level, taught me new words in Spanish, and committed to only speaking to me in Spanish. But, more importantly, they showed me the Mexico that they and I dream is possible. I am grateful for their friendship and their bienvenida. The Distrito Federal was a teacher in and of itself. I learned daily to enjoy the simple things in life, to enjoy the moment, and more than anything, to be grateful for the beautiful journey.
Bernadette L. Carrillo-Hobson is a graduate of UC Berkeley and is currently pursuing an M.A. at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service