Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, December 6, 2010

Internship gives Winter taste of life in foreign service

Jen Winter


After graduating in May 2011, Jen Winter became a research and policy analyst with the Value-Added Research Center at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus and then joined the Madison nonprofit Education Analytics. In 2014, she moved to Dieppe, France, where she is assistante de langue vivante at Collège Dumas, Collège Braque.

Jen Winter spent much of her summer going to meetings and trying to schedule meetings. As an intern with the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, she gained an up-close introduction to the U.S. State Department, the European Union and the life of a foreign service officer.

Based in the office of the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Winter attended meetings with the ambassador. “The experience was really amazing,” Winter says, “working next door to the ambassador. I was able to attend larger, more formal meetings with him, and smaller informal ones as well.”

Winter researched two projects during her time in Brussels. One focused on labor trafficking, a topic that first interested her in professor David Weimer’s policy analysis course. “I did research and conducted interviews to gather information on what the E.U. is doing to combat labor trafficking, and how the U.S. can work with the E.U. on this topic,” she says. Her conclusions were sent out as a cable on the State Department’s intranet.

The other project involved researching and drafting an outline for a “non-paper” on deepening relations between the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament, a topic made all the more pertinent by the Lisbon Treaty’s adoption in December 2009 that made the Parliament more powerful vis-à-vis the other European institutions. Although arranging meetings during Europe’s summer holiday season was difficult, Winter says, being present while embassy staff members were working out details stemming from the Lisbon Treaty was exciting. Winter’s research project suggested ways to improve contacts between members of the European Parliament and their counterparts in the U.S. Congress. “The ambassador was really excited about the project and he shared it with various European Union and U.S. officials,” Winter says. “It was incredible to see how a piece of legislation like the Lisbon Treaty is changing the way the European Parliament functions.”

In addition, two mornings a week, Winter worked at the State Department’s European Media Hub. “I helped create a daily news report on topics important to Washington policymakers, gathering news from around Europe and looking for common themes in coverage of specific topics,” she says.

Winter found that her undergraduate internship with Wisconsin lieutenant governor Barbara Lawton served as good preparation for the State Department position. She issued media communications, aided constituents, staffed events and mastered the protocols of an executive office. “I learned a lot from that introduction to a political environment,” Winter says, adding that experience and her ability to speak French were key reasons she was offered the internship with the ambassador’s office in Brussels.

Winter earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and French, plus a certificate in European studies, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. While an undergrad, she realized she wanted to go to graduate school and learned about the La Follette School’s accelerated program through which an admitted undergraduate can complete a master’s degree with a fifth year of study. “I wanted more of a challenge, to take courses like economics and statistics that I hadn’t experienced in my political science and French majors,” Winter says, “and I found I liked the quantitative courses.”

This fall, Winter passed the written U.S. foreign service exam, the first step in a series of evaluations by the U.S. State Department to select people to join its diplomatic ranks. She found the counsel of La Follette alum Emma Condon helpful. An accelerated student who graduated in 2009, Condon entered the U.S. foreign service after spending a year in Nepal on a Fulbright scholarship. Winter and Condon were paired as part of the La Follette School’s mentoring program. “Emma was an invaluable source of information as I prepared for my internship with the State Department and the foreign service exam,” Winter says.

Winter holds a Foreign Language and Area Studies Graduate Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education to study French and European studies as part of her Master of International Public Affairs curriculum. She volunteers with the Community Immigration Law Center to provide free legal advice to immigrants. She became interested in the center after hearing 2006 La Follette School alum Jean-Rene Watchou give a presentation in the school’s professional development workshop. She also serves as the La Follette School Student Association’s treasurer.

If the foreign service does not work out, Winter sees herself working abroad in some capacity, whether for the U.S. government or for an international organization, she says. “When I think about what I want to be doing every day, public service and a career helping other people will keep me motivated and interested.”