In the age of working from home, COVID restrictions helped get this WWU internship off the ground

On March 11, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control officially declared the COVID-19 virus a pandemic outbreak. Institutions across the country had to make a quick and often clumsy transition to working remotely to abide by new safety restrictions. An entire year later, the world is still trying to regain its balance. 

While the shift to remote work had its faults, it also opened new doorways for work— distance, for some workers, is no longer an obstacle. 

The Consulate of Canada located in Seattle had just arranged for a new internship with the Center for Canadian-American Studies here at Western when COVID restrictions began: students with Canadian citizenship were invited to study international affairs in a real-world setting. The only catch was that the internship was based at the Consulates Seattle location, making it completely inaccessible to Western students.

That is, until, like everything else in the world, the Consulate’s internship was forced to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions. The internship became virtual, leading to a perfect opportunity for students located in Bellingham. 

Cullin Baisley, a Western student who completed this internship in the winter, said that the experience has been one of the best in his academic program. Leo Coulter, who’s now completing his internship this spring, has also praised the program.

“It's been a tremendously enriching experience,” Baisley said. “Everything is done online — due to security concerns, a lot of work has to be accessed through private federally operated VPNs which can be sort of finicky to troubleshoot. Having said all that, I think that the virtual setting is a unique opportunity as well, since it gave me a chance to conduct an excellent internship without having to move to Seattle for six months.”

The International Learning Assignment lets interns get firsthand experience working with Canadian diplomats and governmental affairs experts. The internship is divided into seven categories in which interns are assigned based on their education and interests: the categories include economic affairs, energy and environment, foreign and defense policy, advocacy and public affairs, congressional and intergovernmental affairs, innovation and data studies, and media/social media relations. 

Interns have the opportunity to conduct political and economic research by supporting policy development and advocacy efforts, as well as by engaging creatively and practically with digital diplomacy all in an online setting. Completion of the internship grants five credits toward the Canadian-American studies internship course.

“I find that the ability to immerse myself in Canadian affairs from home in Bellingham is nice,” Coulter said. “I haven't run into any big problems in completing my work remotely, either. It has more benefits than drawbacks, at least for me.”

The internship is only offered to Canadian students or students with dual citizenship in Canada, which narrows Western’s potential candidates down to about 10 students, not all of whom are even studying Canadian and American relations. 

Christina Keppie, director of Western's Center for Canadian-American Studies, said that this internship is invaluable to the Center.

“This internship allows the Center for Canadian American studies to further develop its off-campus partnerships with Canadian organizations on either side of the border,” Keppie said. “It ties in well with the goals and mission of the Center, which is to bring awareness to students of the interesting dynamic between the two countries, the opportunities and the challenges they share. So this is a very unique experience.”

As worldwide rollout of the COVID vaccine begins to take effect, physical distancing restrictions are relaxing and workplaces will, hopefully, soon be reopening again. Due to COVID’s unique impact on working from home, opportunities like this one will hopefully continue; in fact, Keppie is currently working with the Center and the American Consulate located in Vancouver, B.C. to create a similar leg of this internship there. 

“I'm really glad to see that there's a growing awareness of Canadian-American relationships here at WWU,” Coulter said. “The Center is a great place for students to expand their knowledge on policy, foreign affairs, trade and much more. My internship at the Consulate is a great synthesis of all this, and I would recommend it to anyone who gets the opportunity.”