Senior Autumn Patterson Travels the Globe in Preparation for a Career in Foreign Service.
August 29, 2012

Autumn Patterson, C’13, Political Science, is fulfilling her dream to travel the globe as a Foreign Service Officer. With the help of a Fellowship from the U.S. Department of State, she spent the summer traveling across southwestern Asia, working with Peace Corps volunteers and interning at a U.S. Embassy—and she’s just getting started.


What influenced your decision to study international affairs?

I always had a strong desire to work with others, beginning first in my community in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, then in Washington, D.C. at American University, and finally now in Philadelphia. My matriculation to the University of Pennsylvania as a transfer student gave me many opportunities for academic and professional growth. I studied Turkish and Spanish languages, United States foreign policy and Middle Eastern politics with political science professor Ian Lustick before pursuing an internship at the World Affairs Council. My research on India-United States relations, with Professor Francine Frankel, who taught my Politics and Society in India course, allowed me to develop a qualitative skill set that prepared me for the 2012 Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship application, which is now allowing me to fulfill these dreams of working abroad.

What are your responsibilities at your various Fellowship internships abroad?

I spent the first half of my summer in Azerbaijan working at the Ganja Education Information Center assisting Azerbaijani students with educational programs and study abroad opportunities in the United States. I was given the opportunity to work directly with Peace Corps volunteers where I witnessed the development of civil society efforts right before my eyes. My students were incredibly hardworking and dedicated to ensuring a secure future for themselves and for their country.

 After transitioning to Turkey, I interned with the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. My primary responsibilities included the development of the relationships between the United States and Turkey, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia with regard to agricultural affairs. This work strengthened my understanding of Southwest and Central Asia. I also realized the critical importance of sustainable agriculture practices around the world.

What has your time in the Middle East taught you about the culture?

The time I have spent forging new friendships and exploring new cultures has allowed me to develop a greater self-understanding and to effectively translate my skills to serve as a Foreign Service Officer in the future.  For me, the hospitality I received in both Azerbaijan and Turkey will remain my most treasured memories. Sharing stories over many glasses of tea in Azerbaijan, I came to learn firsthand about the Nagorno-Karabakh region.  

In Turkey, I used my free time on weekends to travel. My trip to Van was a highlight of these adventures. The city was ravaged by an earthquake in October 2011, and the remains are visible through collapsed buildings and portable housing. The blend of Kurdish, Turkish, and Armenian cultures in Van demonstrated the historical demographics of Anatolia. My experiences in the field, coupled with my professional internships, have been wonderful opportunities that I would recommend to any student interested in Southwestern Asia. These adventures have only furthered my research interests in the region for graduate school and beyond.

What career advancement opportunities will the Pickering Fellowship provide?

The Fellowship will allow me to pursue my dream, a graduate degree in Middle Eastern Studies, while continuing my acquisition of Turkish and Azerbaijani languages. I will complete an internship with the State Department in Washington, and then another abroad, hopefully in India or Thailand. The second component of the fellowship will allow me to enter the Foreign Service and to represent United States policy in foreign contexts. I hope to enter as a Public Diplomacy Officer and to receive assignments in the Middle East and South Asia, especially Turkey and Afghanistan.