Zane Kalniņa is currently studying international economics and diplomacy at the University of Latvia. This summer, she came to Washington DC for a two-month long internship with the office of Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL 15). The office received an award as the best internship place by The Fund for American Studies. JBANC met with Zane to talk about her experiences and interning in Congress.
“My hometown is Gulbene; it’s a very dear city to me,” says Zane at the beginning of interview. It’s a small town located in the north part of Latvia. She finished her high school there before heading to Latvia’s capital Riga for studies. As with many students, Zane also struggled with her career choice, but in the end she made a decision.
“International economy and diplomacy combines the practical and diplomatic. While one teaches you about the choices people make from an economic perspective, the other is pure diplomacy. I had participated in various projects abroad while in high school, and I had learned about other cultures. We have a lot to learn from others, but we also have a lot to give,” she explained with respect to her choice of studies.
After three years at the University of Latvia, Zane received a scholarship from the George Viksnins Scholarship Fund (named after the prominent Latvian-American economics professor) and was on her way to the capital of the United States of America.
Breath in, breath out – meeting the congressman
“The goal in Washington was to understand my ability to work in an international environment. To add, John Shimkus is the co-chairman of the Baltic Caucus. Therefore, I was also interested in seeing how people from Congress are helping the dialogue between the U.S. and Latvia. I wanted to be a part of it,” explained Zane.
Coming from Latvia, it's an extraordinary experience to work for a congressman in the U.S. She remembers her first day at the office: "The internship absolutely exceeded my expectations. Of course, it was a challenge. On my first day, before meeting the congressman, I breathed in and out, counted to ten, and only then went in. I knew, that it was a big responsibility for me to not only represent myself as a person, but to also represent Latvia."
Zane tells us she soon got used to her work at John Shimkus's office. Her daily work included answering calls from the congressman's constituents and guiding tours at the Capitol. She also went to various briefings, conferences and learned about the work of Congress.
Congressman Shimkus: “Zane did an exceptional job”
The office received an award as the best internship place by The Fund for American Studies, and Zane believes it’s mostly because she was so happy about her experience there. “I had no problems fitting in since everyone was so nice, and I was always given interesting tasks. I told all of that to the supervisor of my scholarship,” says the student from Latvia.
JBANC went to the congressman’s office to meet with Zane and to ask about her experience there. The reviews were outstanding.
“Zane did an exceptional job working in my office. Her interpersonal skills with our constituents was pitch perfect,” said Rep. Shimkus. “Many of those she interacted with,” added the congressman, “left the office with a much better understanding of the vital U.S.-Latvian relationship. Zane could easily be an Ambassador for Latvia and for me.”
“Ms. Kalniņa was a delightful person to work with. I worked with her on foreign affairs matters. She is charming, personable, and charismatic. She keeps tabs on her surroundings and tailors her demeanor and communications to suit different environments perfectly. Her attention to current events ensured that she was always ready to discuss and address new developments. Her interpersonal skills and pride in her country amazed me. She taught me a lot about Latvia. She was an invaluable asset to our office and I am very happy that she interned with us. Latvia has in her a future stateswoman with an incredible intellect, and—most importantly—a heart of gold,” commented Flávio Cardon, Foreign Affairs and Legislative Assistant at Rep. Shimkus’s office.
Zane has returned to Latvia now and is ready to start her fourth and final year at the University of Latvia. She admits, that the experience gained this summer has been exceptional, and she’s looking forward to future experiences. “We Latvians need to take more initiative and we shouldn’t be afraid to pursue our ideas. We’re in the European Union now, and it gives us so many options,” says Zane.