College of Charleston Junior Lands Coveted State Department Internship

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Having interned at the U.S. Department of State, junior Syd Jackson is well on her way to a career in the foreign service.

On a beautiful day last fall, College of Charleston junior Syd Jackson found herself standing on the South Lawn of the White House amidst all the pomp and circumstance that an official state visit has to offer. Trumpets blared and flags fluttered as a big black SUV pulled up beneath the pillared portico.

Syd Jackson

Jackson watched in awe as President Joe Biden, wearing his trademark aviators, and first lady Jill Biden welcomed Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his partner, Jodie Haydon. The two leaders then stepped up to a podium to make remarks to the 4,000 attendees about the two countries’ enduring alliance.

“To hear the military band and get to see President Biden and the first lady was amazing because it was my first time ever going to the White House,” says Jackson, a dual major in international studies and political science. “It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime memory.”

The White House visit came about through a paid, two-and-a-half-month internship she did at the U.S. Department of State last fall. She was the first CofC student to land the coveted opportunity.

Serving in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the Harry S. Truman Federal Building, Jackson supported State Department officers, from the assistant secretary to country desk officers. Many of her duties were press related – media monitoring on different topics and drafting press guidance for the daily briefs – but she also escorted foreign dignitaries from other countries visiting the State Department.

And with all that’s going on in the world, including the Israel-Hamas war that had just begun, there was never a dull moment.

“I learned so much,” she says. “Seeing diplomacy in action at the State Department every single day was eye opening. I didn’t realize all the different jobs and tracks there are. And I was treated like a full-fledged colleague, not just an intern.”

Watch U.S. diplomat Rob Joswiak’s interview with Syd Jackson and another intern.

As a member of the International Scholars Program at the College, a joint initiative between the School of Languages, Cultures, and World Affairs and the Honors College, Jackson was well prepared for the position.

“Syd is the epitome of our International Scholars,” says Albert Thibault, a retired foreign service officer who is her LCWA Advisory Board mentor. “At our first meeting, I immediately took note of her scholarly focus. As we talked, Syd described her immersion in Chinese language study, not just at the College, but starting as a young girl in Rock Hill, South Carolina. How many can say that?!”

The youngest daughter of William and Tabatha Jackson – a Ross clothing distribution center manager and a core process manager at Creative Testing Solutions, respectively – Jackson started studying Chinese in the fifth grade because she loved the teacher. More dedicated teachers furthered her knowledge not only of the Mandarin language but Chinese culture. The symbolic aspects of the written language fascinated her as well; each stroke of every character has meaning. In 11th grade, her Chinese instructor encouraged her to follow her dreams and utilize her language ability diplomatically.

Jackson at the State Department

When it came time to go to university, Jackson wasn’t interested in the College at first because she didn’t want to follow in her sister’s footsteps. (Jennie Jackson ’23 is now in medical school at the University of South Carolina.)

“I didn’t want to go to college with my sister,” she laughs. “We’ve gone to school together our whole lives. I wanted this to be my own adventure. But she assured me, ‘The International Studies Program here is really great.’”

A meeting with Bryan Ganaway, associate dean of the Honors College and director of its International Scholars Program, helped seal the deal, as did receiving the Colonial and S.C. Fellows scholarships. She also received the Alumni Greek Life Scholarship and an International Scholars Program scholarship.

“I’m nothing but ecstatic about my decision,” she says. “My sister was right – it truly has been my own experience. And, honestly, I can’t see myself being anywhere else.”

Jackson and Thibault meet regularly at the Starbucks in the Addlestone Library, and she made clear early on that her ambition was to become an international lawyer, foreign service officer and, ultimately, a U.S. ambassador.

“She does not think small,” says Thibault, who was the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassies in Nepal, Saudi Arabia and India, as well as the U.S. consul general in Lahore, Pakistan. “Her college courses, language study and research projects are part of a long-range strategy aimed at joining the State Department. More than many students, she has a very specific career goal and, equally important in my view, a strategy to achieve it.”

Her studies abroad in Vieques, Puerto Rico, and Chiang Mai, Thailand, were important steps in that process, as was the State Department internship, of course.

“Keeping in contact with her [during the internship], it became very clear to me that this was no résumé-dressing employment experience,” Thibault says. “Syd was very well-suited to do this, given her writing skills, grasp of policy, her global outlook, self-confidence and very positive personality – all of which are necessary for an effective diplomat representing our country. I have little doubt that Syd will achieve her ambition.”

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