Mia Nilo

Mia Nilo, MIA '18
Summer Intern at the Consulate General in Guangzhou, China

Rockefeller College opens doors for students to gain invaluable internship experience around the world. Mia Nilo, MIA ’18 spent the summer of 2017 interning at the Consulate General in Guangzhou, China. We caught up with her during her time abroad.

Q: What is it like interning at the Consulate General in Guangzhou?

Mia: It’s the best thing I could have done to really understand what it’s like to work as a diplomat in a foreign posting. Working at the consulate has helped me quickly gain a lot of functional Chinese. I do fingerprinting for two hours every day. I am the first person applicants see before they go into their visa interviews. They’re often very nervous and I noticed the process got a lot easier once I learned enough Chinese to give directions. The first week I could only say “passport,” “left hand, “right hand,” and “thumbs.” If they did something wrong or my pronunciation was bad, I would have to mime to them, which could be a stressful process if they didn’t understand what I was trying to get them to do. But I can hear the other personnel speaking at the windows next to me, so I made an effort to add more vocabulary every day and when you see maybe a hundred applicants in two hours, you get a lot of practice.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

Mia: I work in the PAS office, which is two Public Diplomacy officers, a press officer (Guangzhou is one of the few consulates which have their own), and ten local staff, plus me. Mornings are typically when I work on the public outreach programs: prepping presentations, creating content about American culture for the Chinese audience, curating useful English language videos, finalizing event scheduling, etc. If I’m lucky I will have the whole morning and early afternoon to work on projects, but more often than not I’m pulled into meetings or briefings. I happened to make the open country meeting that introduced the new ambassador and let me get a glimpse of the department heads from Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Wuhan. Mission China is certainly not slouching for work in terms of foreign policy.

Q: What are you enjoying most about the summer experience?

Mia: I like talking with the officers. The Foreign Service brings in such a diverse group of people. Hearing how they fell into it and what the process was like for them is interesting, as well as getting insider information about bidding for postings, the promotion process, language training, and other things going on in the State Department is really valuable. Hearing what fraud schemes or the strange applicant stories that come through the visa office is a pretty fun bit of office gossip. FSOs tend to be interesting people as well. Many people come into the Foreign Service as a second career and any incoming ones to post are just leaving someplace else, so it’s a wealth of information. The officer who is hosting me for the summer used to work in human trafficking for the DOJ and now she uses what she learned there to spot marriage fraud when adjudicating immigrant visas. Also, it goes without saying that the food is spectacular out here.

Q: Why did you choose to pursue an MIA at Rockefeller College?

Mia: I needed a professional network and a stronger academic background in the field of international affairs. My work experience and undergrad education gave me a background in media, but to be able to apply those skills in the context of creating and broadcasting American foreign policy to an international audience requires graduate level study in international organizations and global security. Not to mention diplomats make a federal salary, so I needed a program that could be affordable under that future salary. I went to a Cal State in undergrad, so I was not one to turn my nose at a State college for my graduate experience, especially when it emphasized professional development over traditional academia.

Q: What are your career aspirations?

Mia: Being a Public Diplomacy Officer would still be my top choice. The Public Affairs office gets to be a part of everything that goes on in the consulate. I love seeing all the photos visa applicants bring to show as proof of their relationships and I have a lot of respect for what the Political Officers are doing out here, especially in terms of humanitarianism and free speech, but the exchange programs that get students to America and the publishing of any political press goes through the public affairs office. I like being here now and although life in China is not the easiest, I can imagine myself doing this after graduating.

Mia Nilo