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Published on October 11, 2019

Working for the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, D.C.

This past July, I was extremely excited to learn that I was one of 70 individuals selected from a pool of international applicants to participate in the fall internship session at the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, DC. OAS is a regional organization comprising all 35 independent states of the Americas. It acts as the primary social, political, and juridical forum for the Western Hemisphere. Since September, I have been working full-time within OAS’s Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation (DECO), and experiencing all of the challenges, complexities, and benefits of working life at an inter-governmental organization.

At Eastern I majored in Political Science and minored in Latin American Studies, studying both Spanish language and politics and history of Latin America. My degree, combined with my academic experiences at Eastern were instrumental in preparing me for my work here at OAS, as it is a bilingual environment (although Spanish is spoken almost exclusively in my office) where hemispheric events are monitored, discussed, and analyzed in real-time as they occur.

As a recent graduate, I feel incredibly lucky to be on the “front lines” of international relations. It’s a particularly exciting time to be at the OAS, as Latin America and the Caribbean always seem to be in the news recently, and every day the work dynamic changes according to developing events. For example, DECO is responsible for observing elections in OAS member states upon official invitation, and will be heading to Bolivia in the coming weeks to observe the October 20th General Elections. As Bolivia is among the highest profile elections of this year, I am grateful for the potential opportunity to attend alongside my department. Even if ultimately I am not able to attend, it’s still fascinating to assist in this process and witness firsthand transactions between the OAS/DECO and heads of state from member countries – Canada and Colombia in addition to Bolivia – as they finalize the agreements for the electoral observation missions (EOMs).

In addition to assisting DECO with the preparation of the EOMs, I am currently working on another project involving the Inter-American Meeting of Electoral Management Bodies (RAE, for its Spanish acronym), a regional conference that will take place this November in Panama City. My responsibility is to prepare the concept note, or the executive summary of the four major themes to be highlighted during the RAE: good practices learned from 2019 elections, violence in the context of elections, political strategies on digital media, and good practices in electoral reform processes. This process requires a hefty amount of reading and research, in addition to producing multiple drafts and outlines – much like an academic paper. Some of my other responsibilities include attending department meetings and conferences, helping to organize events and, my personal favorite, running over to the Main Building (a couple of blocks away) to either pick up or deliver documents to/from the Secretary General’s office. Seriously, the OAS Main Building on Constitution Ave is gorgeous, Google it and you’ll see what I mean.

It has been a very interesting experience being one of only three American interns in the program. Most of my colleagues and fellow interns are from Central and South America, although there are several interns from Europe – Spain, England, France & Belgium – and even two from South Korea. It’s an incredibly diverse work environment – it’s also pretty laid back by American standards – and though I have only been here a month I have already made some great friends.

For those of you in the Department who are interested in international relations, want to gain some experience working for an inter-governmental organization in DC and don’t mind an unpaid internship, I highly encourage you to apply to the OAS program, especially if you speak Spanish! If anyone is interesting in learning more about the program please feel free to contact me at any time!

Written by Leigh Generous