Spotlight on our Students: Inside the American Embassy of Bolivia

Logan outside the American embassy in Bolivia.

The University Honors Program has taught me how to think in depth about a wide-range of pertinent and important issues. From honors seminars where I dove into topics from creativity in the sciences to how storytelling impacts the food industry, I’ve come away with the critical skills needed to research thoroughly and discover practical solutions to very important issues.”

In this edition of Spotlight on Our Students, we head south of the Equator to hear from Logan Graham about his summer internship with the American embassy there. Logan is a rising fourth-year University Honors student from Durango, Colorado majoring in Political Science. Read on to learn more about his time in Lapaz and inside the embassy.

UHP: Logan, thanks for taking time to chat with us about your summer. It sounds like a pretty high-profile endeavor. Can you tell us what inspired you to take this internship?

LG: For a long time I’ve been amazed by foreign diplomacy and the work Foreign Service officers do to help promote peace, cross-cultural communication, and cooperation on the global stage. And then, when I started embarking on my accelerated masters in International Studies last year at State, I became even more aware of how vital the work the goes on in United States’ embassies is for both US citizens and the rest of the world. Thus, when given the chance to intern within the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia, I had to jump on the chance to see the inside of a U.S. Embassy and help out with all the important work that goes on within them.

I also wanted to intern at the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia because of my time last year spent studying abroad in Cusco, Peru. During that semester I fell in love with South America, so getting a chance to head back to South America and be in a position to work to make both U.S. and Bolivian lives better is something that is incredibly exciting to me.

UHP: That sounds like a very noble cause, and like you’re putting your major to work right away. What do you hope to learn from this experience?

LG: One of the most interesting things about my work within the Embassy is that the U.S. and Bolivian governments aren’t on the best of terms. The countries have had strained relations for years, so one of the biggest things I’ve already started learning about during my time in Bolivia and I’m excited to continue learning is how to work towards a beneficial relationship when neither side sees eye-to-eye. Indeed, it can be frustrating to have been working on a large initiative only to have it shut down before it sees the light of day, but it also teaches you a ton about ways to find middle-ground and areas where cooperation can be possible.

UHP: That’s a good perspective to have, seeking areas for cooperation. We know this is an internship and not a political office, but what do you hope you’re able to accomplish during your time at the embassy?

LG: As alluded to above, one of the things I’m hoping to accomplish while I’m in Bolivia is the improvement of our two countries’ relationship. While I don’t figure to be the catalyst that makes the United States and Bolivia best buds, I, along with my fellow embassy workers, have discovered that we can do a lot to improve relations through outreach to the Bolivian people. Indeed, much of my work at the Embassy deals with working directly with Bolivian citizens and it has been heartening to see how something as simple as a big smile and some helpful words can do wonders to make Bolivians view the United States through a much better lens than is often portrayed.

Further, I’m also excited to keep working towards fluency in Spanish, understanding how the inside of an Embassy works and helping out in a bevy of tasks that I can make a difference in.

UHP: Sounds like you have a clear set of goals for your time. It also sounds like those are flexible. Can you tell us specifically what your responsibilities are in this internship?

LG: I’m fortunate enough to have a number of different responsibilities down here which allows my days to be pretty varied, but there are still some common themes in my work. I work a lot, for example, on immigration policy within the Embassy, reviewing cases, analyzing immigration trends for fraud prevention, and helping Bolivians apply for visas. I’ve also been enjoying leading efforts within the Embassy to provide public outreach to Bolivians explaining immigration and travel policies while, on other days, I’ve been working on disaster preparedness—helping the Embassy prepare a plan of action for when things go awry. Lastly, I also work on a good deal of classified projects, but they are never quite as exciting as Hollywood may lead you to believe! 

UHP: So what you’re saying is that you’re not a spy, per se, and that if you were you couldn’t tell us anyway. That’s understandable. Now, how would you say your time in the University Honors Program has prepared you for this internship?

LG: The University Honors Program has taught me how to think in depth about a wide-range of pertinent and important issues. From honors seminars where I dove into topics from creativity in the sciences to how storytelling impacts the food industry, I’ve come away with the critical skills needed to research thoroughly and discover practical solutions to very important issues. I know that a lot of work I’m doing within the embassy, work which requires me to do just that, would not be at the same level if it weren’t for my time within UHP.

UHP: That’s the sort of promotional material we love to hear! There are bound to be students reading this that are wondering how they could have a similar experience. What would you tell your peers about how to prepare for travel abroad?

LG: First and foremost, do it! Traveling abroad can often seem pretty daunting (and indeed sometimes it is darn difficult) but the experiences you will take away from traveling within another country and culture are so so worth it. Some of my fondest memories from my college career have been from the time I’ve spent abroad and I always walk away with life-long friends and some great stories. Not only that, you always grow so much when you are traveling within a new country and culture. Even just the simple matter of navigating La Paz’s bus system for the first time taught me so much about how to interact with people from vastly different cultures and the fact that, even though we live on different sides of the world, when it gets down to it, we really aren’t that different. As for some more practical tips for my fellow Wolfpackers already set on travelling abroad, I’d recommend packing a well-stocked first aid kit when the inevitable travelers sickness hits, always paying the museum entrance fee even if you don’t think you can afford it on your college budget, and trying all the local food you can—you never know when you’ll get another chance to try cow tongue (and it was actually pretty tasty!).

UHP: Having a first aid kit sounds crucial, so does trying as much tasty food as possible. Good advice. So, you’re in South America. The culture and language are different. That’s bound to lead to some miscommunication. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced? What have been some of the funniest cross-cultural moments you’ve had so far?

LG: Life in Bolivia really is breathtaking. A) because of the incredible sights from 21,000 foot, glacial peaks surrounding La Paz to never ending salt flats, but B) mainly because I live at 12,000 feet. Getting off the plane after flying up from Raleigh’s near sea-level elevation, I was immediately out-of-breath, easily exhausted, and rocking a big headache from the sudden increase in altitude. Indeed, for about the first week and a half, I didn’t feel like myself, breathing hard between every sentence and lacking much appetite. However, today I’ve been able to play soccer with locals without falling to my knees and gasping for air all that often, and made it up three flights of stairs yesterday without seeing stars—so I’ll call that a win!

As for the funniest thing that has happened to me, while I could probably keep you here for ages with handfuls of funny stories that my naivety has gotten me into during my time in Bolivia so far, by far the funniest thing continues to be the fact that I am a 6’4”, blonde-hair, blue-eyed, and shockingly un-tan gringo. Because of that, I certainly stick out like a sore thumb in Bolivia and I’m constantly getting wide-eyed looks in the street. While most Bolivians are kind enough not to stare after the first shock of seeing me wears off, I always love sitting behind babies and little kids in buses and watching them trying to make sense of me. One of my favorite lines I’ve gotten so far in Bolivia was delivered to me by an old man I had started a conversation with on a bus: “I’m 73 and am only 5’2”, how the heck are you 21 and already 6’4”?!?”

UHP: Yes! Not only are the language and culture a barrier, but the sheer elevation is a physical barrier. Well, it sounds like you are adjusting well and making the most of things. Best of luck to you and we look forward to hearing more about your experience when you return to campus in the fall.