Maggie Moroney, '17

April 7, 2017
U.S. State Department internship puts student at heart of Brexit, refugee crisis

Maggie Moroney, ’17, was thrilled to land a plum internship with the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava, Slovakia, in summer 2016. With Slovakia slated to host the rotating European Union (EU) presidency from July through December 2016, Moroney anticipated a busy summer of meetings between U.S. Embassy personnel and high-ranking European dignitaries to discuss the European refugee crisis and other issues.

What she didn’t anticipate was Brexit.

“We all knew the vote was coming,” Moroney said. “The morning after the vote, we all came into work asking, what happened? What does this mean? No one had ever left the EU before.”

Brexit added another dimension to Moroney’s internship, one that led her to ponder the rise of nationalism in many European countries and the United States and the importance of a well-educated citizenry to a healthy democratic process.

“Brexit represents a problem with disseminating information,” Moroney said. “Too much simplistic information became inaccurate information in the hands of voters. Many British citizens were looking for simple solutions to complex problems.”

Moroney’s internship in the EU presidency host country uniquely positioned her at the heart of animated discussions on Brexit and the refugee crisis, the latter having contributed to the former.

“Eastern Slovakia has seen a rise in neo-Nazism,” Moroney said, “particularly among younger people who don’t have any memory of extreme parties like the Nazis. Economic stagnation and the immigration crisis are driving neo-Nazism, especially in Eastern Europe. Slovakia has a very homogenous population and has taken only a nominal number of refugees—mostly women, children, and Christians.

“The U.S. Embassy makes many school and public presentations to counteract neo-Nazi ideology and to promote democracy. The neo-Nazi parties are pro-Russian, so the United States is trying to combat this narrative.”

For Moroney, a typical day at the U.S. Embassy included briefing section heads on U.S. and Slovakian news, managing visitors, reviewing grant applications before passing along a short list to her superiors, and providing administrative support on defense projects.

A New Jersey native majoring in political science and history, Moroney traced her interest in European politics and history to a high school trip to Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands.  

“I fell in love with Prague on that trip,” Moroney said, “which led me to enroll in a summer study-abroad program in Prague after my first year at UR. I took classes on Central European history and Eastern European literature and social change with Dr. Yvonne Howell.”

During her first year on campus, Moroney also enrolled in Perspectives in International Studies taught by Dr. Sandra Joireman, professor of political science and international studies,

“Dr. Joireman became my go-to person on campus,” Moroney said. “I’ve taken every class she’s offered.”

When Moroney learned about opportunities to intern with the U.S. State Department during a Career Services fair in her junior year, she turned to Joireman for advice. “I wanted to go back to Prague,” Moroney said, “but Dr. Joireman knew the EU presidency would be hosted in Slovakia during summer 2016. She had some friends who were Slovak diplomats. So I listed Slovakia as my first choice.”

Moroney not only got the internship, she also received a competitive F. Amanda DeBusk Civic Fellowship from the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement to support her internship, with Joireman providing academic context as her faculty mentor.

“Maggie did a fantastic job of making the most of this opportunity,” Joireman said. “I was impressed at her intellectual and personal development over the few months of her internship.”

“Packing up and moving to a city where I didn’t know anyone was really hard for the first few days,” Moroney admitted. “This summer was an amazing experience in terms of growing to be more adaptable and independent and in helping me figure out what I do and don’t want to do. While I may not pursue a career with the State Department, I want to have a job with an international component.”

Moroney expressed gratitude for the many chances she has had to explore the world as an undergraduate, including a 10-day pilgrimage to Bali, Indonesia, with the Chaplaincy in May 2016.

“I didn’t have a lot of background on this part of the world,” Moroney said, “but I was impressed with the Balinese hospitality and sense of community. The Balinese welcomed us with open arms, even inviting us to attend a village wedding.”

“There are a lot of opportunities at UR,” Moroney said, “and you realize you might never get these opportunities again.”