October 15, 2018

Mila Wolpert (’19) Interns at the US Embassy in Paris.

Mila Wolpert (’19) interned at the US Embassy in Paris this past summer. She is a History and French Studies double major.

This  past summer I interned at the US Embassy in Paris through a program called “Tri-Mission France: Cultural Heritage Program (CHP).” The office I worked for maintains the Heritage Collection of fine objects, including historic finishes and furnishings of the Embassy Tri-Mission. Since the Embassy is a Tri-Mission, which includes the Bilateral Mission, UNESCO, and USOECD (U.S. Mission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development) in Paris, I spent my time in five different embassy-owned buildings during my internship. Cultural Heritage is in charge of the management and preservation of all the decorative objects in these five buildings. The CHP also manages the Art in Embassies Program as well as the Docent Tour Program. My boss was the manager of Cultural Heritage at the embassy, which meant that I worked with these fine objects daily.

Before starting my 10-week internship, I had no idea that I would have such a hands-on role with the magnificent objects owned by the embassy. My job description included information on translations and research for which I would be responsible, but by noon on the very first day of the job, I was already working with nineteenth-century furniture. My task that day was to keep track of and update the inventory, and in the process, I came in contact with furniture similar to that in museums. I felt mature, in-charge, and responsible as an intern. Even on the first day, I already knew this would be a unique experience.

While a lot of my time was spent outside of the office, I also spent a fair amount of my time writing translations and researching. I translated documents on furniture restorations, book excerpts, and news articles related to the historical background of embassy events, but the most interesting paper I translated was a handwritten letter in French from 1848. This letter was written by Micaela Almonester, Baroness de Pontalba, a New Orleans-born aristocrat, businesswoman, and real estate designer and developer. This translation was central to my internship experience because it helped the Cultural Heritage Office better understand the primary figure who was celebrated at the 2018 Fourth of July Celebration at the Ambassador’s Residence. I felt well prepared for this and other tasks because of my experience as an LC History major. The research skills I learned in Historical Materials, such as how to decipher handwritten documents, were especially helpful.

Each year, the embassy hosts a Fourth of July Celebration with a specific theme. This year, the embassy chose to celebrate the tricentennial of New Orleans. The original Louisiana Purchase and other priceless documents were on display at the Ambassador’s Residence for all the guests to see. Baroness de Pontalba was central to the residence’s history because she built the first home on that site, so there is a room dedicated to her. Leading up to the party, I got to prepare and set up objects that have not left the Pontalba family’s property outside of Paris in over 150 years. My hands were the first to touch amazing silver artifacts and family photos in almost two centuries. I was in awe. I got to shine the silver myself, which was exciting because I liked to do physical work with artifacts outside of just doing work on my computer. My job at this party was to inform guests about Baroness de Pontalba’s past as well as her importance for Franco-American history. Thus, not only did I get to conduct riveting research about her life, I got to take that knowledge and interact with the Ambassador’s guests while sharing what I learned.

This internship was amazing because I was involved in an array of events outside the embassy itself. Apart from the Fourth of July Celebration, I also volunteered at Hôtel de Talleyrand’s Tour de France event at the George Marshall Center. Once a week leading up to this event, I walked across Place de la Concorde to Hôtel de Talleyrand, which is also known as the George Marshall Center because the Marshall Plan was conceived there, to help the manager of this building. Her work focuses on fine objects, art, and furniture, so she asked me for help, and because I made a good impression on her, she also asked me to volunteer for her event. I got to watch the final eight laps of the Tour de France from the best view in Paris. Moments like these I will never forget. This goes to show how many people you meet through the State Department internship, and how diverse your job opportunities are.

I wish I had all the time in the world to reminisce and inform people about this internship. There is so much I could say, but all in all, it was an experience like no other. The people who work for the State Department at the US Embassy in Paris showed me nothing but respect and warmth. You meet wonderful people of all ages who want to share their knowledge with you and hear about your hopes for the future. The support I felt during this internship was lovely and I hope that future LC students try to embark on similar journeys through one of the State Department’s many opportunities. I finished my summer believing that one day I could see myself returning to Paris to work in the embassy, or perhaps heading to Washington D.C. to work at the Cultural Heritage Office there. All I know is that this summer prepared me for whatever lies ahead–no matter how challenging it might be.