Cultural Diplomacy Through The Eyes Of An Intern

It was around this time one year ago, when I was going through a stressful process with which many students are well acquainted: finding an internship. At some point in the early days of May, when summer had arrived to the beautiful city of Lund for good, I finally managed to secure a position as an intern at the Embassy of Greece in Sweden. It was the beginning of an amazing journey full of stimulating experiences and fascinating people.

As most of you, readers of The Perspective, are interested in foreign affairs and probably keen to pursue a career in this field, I thought that it would be a good idea to share some of my experiences and hopefully inspire you to apply for similar positions in the future.

The adventure begun in early September, when after I finally managed to find an accommodation, I arrived in the stunning Swedish capital. I quickly realized that I had made the right choice. My position was in the cultural department of the Embassy, whose aim is to promote cultural exchange between Greece and Sweden. Although I have to admit that I had almost no background in cultural diplomacy, the five months I spent there provided me with invaluable knowledge of the field.  I owe that to a very large extent to my supervisor who enthusiastically guided and advised me.

The Embassy of Greece in Stockholm. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Although some dull administrative tasks were also a part of my daily routine at the office, I was lucky enough to be engaged in several exciting projects. These included art and music exhibitions, film screenings, lectures about theatre and literature and talks with renowned authors coming both from Greece and Sweden. Planning, facilitating and organizing all these events and making sure that every single detail was well taken care of was by no means an easy task, but the sense of fulfilment after their successful realization made it worth the effort.

I got the chance was to meet and collaborate with distinguished personalities, such as artists, authors, musicians, filmmakers and museum directors, but also with people from the field of politics, such as diplomats, officials, local politicians and members the Representation of the European Commission in Sweden. Some of the events  organized by my department were held in some of Sweden’s most popular museums like the Nordic Museum, the Mediterranean Museum and the Strindberg’s Museum, the latter being housed in the last residence of the famous Swedish playwright and novelist.

Before starting this specific internship, I couldn’t have imagined that I would personally facilitate communications with directors of some of those places, nor that I would find myself in a negotiation meeting held in the director’s office of one of Scandinavia’s most well-known museums, my personal favorite, the Vasa Museum. All this gave me the opportunity to learn a lot of interesting things about the Swedish culture. At the same time, I considerably increased my awareness of my own home country’s cultural heritage.

The Vasa Museum in Stockholm. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

A particularly interesting part of the internship, one that combined culture and politics in a more explicit way, was my participation in several meetings of the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC). EUNIC is a network of national cultural institutes and cultural departments of members of all EU countries working for inter-cultural dialogue and development.

An example of a joint project with EUNIC during the time that my internship took place was the REX Animation Film Festival. It consists of animated films produced by directors from 15 EU countries, including Greece and Sweden. The participation in EUNIC meetings was very intriguing for me.  As someone with a background in politics, I took great interest in the negotiation processes. Even though culture is mostly associated with what political scientists frequently call ‘low’ politics, the majority of issues discussed were of a technical kind. These included budget planning and organizational procedures, which occasionally led to the type of tensions which multilateral institutions unavoidably encounter. I considered this a small taste of how negotiations in bigger multilateral institutions like the EU and the UN look like.

To be sure, my position as an intern at the embassy also provided me a wide array of opportunities not directly associated with my work. It gave me the chance to meet several important and influential figures of the field of foreign affairs. For example, I had the luck to be present at a diplomatic forum aiming to provide information about the Nobel Prize, where among the speakers were the Executive Director of the Nobel Foundation and the Chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics.

An additional invaluable experience was my attendance to a panel discussion on war and peace with SIPRI’s Governing Board. It involved people like Jan Eliasson, former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and Lakhdar Brahimi, United Nations and Arab League Special Envoy for Syria between 2012 and 2014.

Finding an internship was a stressful and difficult process. However, in hindsight, approximately two months after my last day, I am deeply convinced that it was definitely worth the hassle. My time there substantially enriched my understanding of culture and politics, as well as their combination in the form cultural diplomacy. Moreover, this journey provided me with useful insights into how an embassy functions, how diplomacy and foreign policy are conducted in practice and, importantly, stimulated my interest in working in the fields of diplomacy and foreign affairs in the future.  All the experiences I gathered could not possibly fit into this report, but I hope that you will find this piece encouraging if you consider applying for an internship or a job at an embassy or anything else in the field of foreign affairs.

Giorgos Koukos

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