A Leap of Growth: An Account of My Time as an Intern in Rome

by Marina Bishara

If I were to describe a time as the most pivotal in my life, I would certainly speak of 2018. Last summer, I enrolled in the Canada-NATO Field School Program. It was only then that my learning reached beyond the walls of a lecture hall: getting to interact with and be trained by experts in the field of foreign affairs, witnessing firsthand the implications of peace and war, apprehending complex concepts and developing a deeper understanding of international relations. Then, there came the moment when these newly emerged skills were to be put into practice. During our time in Latvia, one internship position was offered to the group by the NATO Defense College Foundation (NDCF). The successful candidate was expected to relocate to Rome in the following September.

Fast-forward two months later, I was on a plane from Vancouver to Rome – not knowing what to expect, but quite excited. The mere fact that I was stepping into unknown territory evoked a sense of courage which I had never experienced before then. I was shortly being immersed into a professional environment that I wished to be part of. The NDCF office seems a lot like a beehive – figuratively. Primarily, NDCF Staff plan series of conferences all-year round while NDCF Researchers produce papers relating to their geographical area of expertise. I was lucky enough to take part in both processes.

Conference speakers were distinguished scholars, professionals, ambassadors, and ministers from all over the world. It was always thought-provoking and enlightening seeing people with opposite views sit on one panel, present and discuss: Afghani-Pakistani, Chinese-American, Muslim-Non-Muslim, … I was awed by the respectful environment NDCF was able to establish for discussion and I admired all the more the speakers’ willingness to participate and share their ideas on quite controversial topics. My role was mostly to assist in the organization of the events and to facilitate the Foundation’s campaigns on Social Media. Besides, for the conference “Afghanistan and Central Asia: Looming Priorities and Regional Unbalances”, I was responsible for drafting the conference proceedings. Such a publication requires an extensive amount of diligence and meticulousness, yet it is worthwhile. This kind of work, for me, was not about refining my administrative skills – it was more about diving deeper into the arguments presented, engaging with the content and identifying points of agreement as well as points of contention. My conference experience is surely one that I will cherish.

As for the research component of my work, I was encouraged by my supervisors, Ambassador Minuto-Rizzo (NDCF’s president) and Professor Politi (NDCF’s director) to identify a topic that I am passionate about and to study it in-depth. For this, my topic of choice must have included Egypt, my motherland, and its relationship to NATO, my area of concentration study! It was then evident that the Libyan crisis must be the center of my attention since it is prioritized on both NATO and Egypt’s agendas. My takeaway lesson from this paper was how to reach beyond strictly factual academic writing and into more executive political advising. I would consider having this work published under my name as the most significant accomplishment of my internship.

Another highlight of my internship was our visit to the NATO Headquarters (HQ) in Brussels. The HQ’s Public Diplomacy Division (PDD) and the NDCF often work together on conferences and other events since both entities have the common goal of fostering dialogue. It is, then, essential for NDCF Staff to be on the same page with contemporary issues raised by PDD. Aside from the content of the meetings, it was an enriching experience being inside the building where the bulk of NATO’s decision-making occurs. Generally, I have greatly benefitted by being there and building a stronger professional network.

I cannot end this entry without referring to how amazing it was to live in a city as vibrant as Rome for four months. As crazy – for a lack of a more expressive word – as traffic is, Rome is abundantly beautiful in every way possible. Rome has challenged me to temporarily adapt a new lifestyle, step way out of my comfort zone, learn a new lingua and make lasting friendships and memories that I will keep forever. This paragraph may be cliché-sounding, but it depicts the essence of everything that I have experienced. Last, but certainly not least, I would like to express my deepest appreciation for Dr Alexander Moens who has granted me this opportunity and has been an extraordinary teacher throughout this journey.

Research: Out of the Stalemate: Can Egypt and NATO Help Libya?

Conference Proceedings: Afghanistan and Central Asia: Looming Priorities and Regional Unbalances

NDCF Website: www.natofoundation.org

Canada NATO Field School: www.sfu.ca/natofieldschool.html