Out of Sight, Out of Mind

As part of our latest Life at the Embassy series, we talk to Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) final-year student Casey Tan to find out more about her internship at the General Services Office Section at US Embassy Singapore.

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Her section is neither the beauty nor the brain of the US Embassy.

But the decisions undertaken by Miss Casey Tan’s office often form the cornerstone of the image and the policies put forth.

The General Services Office (GSO) intern said: “From procurement requests to hotel bookings, we will look into every detail and make sure that everyone’s needs are taken care of for a smooth operation of the Embassy and visits.

“For instance, procuring an Uncle Sam costume for our Independence Day event may seem frivolous to many, but it is actually essential in bolstering the US’ image and scoring brownie points for public diplomacy.”

With the sheer number of high-level visits to Singapore this year, Miss Tan is honoured to have participated and prepared for two – Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and Asean Summit – where she got to meet secretary of state Mike Pompeo, as well as vice-president Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence.


She admitted it was not an easy task.

“To an outsider looking in, they will never know how many people were involved in the planning process.

“Before the Asean Summit, an advanced team of 20 to 30 officers travelled from Washington D.C. to do a short recce session of the hotel, sightseeing venues and other aspects of the itinerary together with the Embassy, and raise concerns, if any.”

A concern raised in particular was the location of their country room at the AMM and the Summit.

Miss Tan enjoying the view at the Embassy’s canteen. | Photos by: Casey Tan

The US was not so keen to have their room in close proximity with China’s as compared with Canada or South Korea because of their existing conflict, said Miss Tan.

“Thus, these site visits made me become more aware of the sensitivities involved during the planning process and also highlighted countries’ current relationship with each other.”

During the actual visit, her main role was to provide logistical support to the D.C. team at the hotel and ensure that there were no hiccups throughout their stay.

One important aspect of it was to secure sufficient vehicles and ensure its punctuality for the team to move around efficiently.

Miss Tan said: “Our team from the Embassy has to station themselves at the hotel in the day to liaise with the rental car service vendor and hotel staff as their working hours or number of rooms may keep changing due to last minute requests from the D.C. team.

“Thus, we have to be highly adaptive throughout and keep track of all these in our contract with them if not we would encounter payment issues later on.”

Besides being in charge of logistics during those visits, her office is also responsible for housing and transportation arrangements for new diplomats who have just arrived in order to assimilate them to the new environment.


While her work may not be exactly visible beyond the embassy walls, she nevertheless feels content.

“It’s okay if people outside cannot see our contributions.

“As long as we know that we’re contributing and the rest of the team recognises and depends on it, that is more than enough.”

Miss Tan with the Chargé d’affaires, Stephanie Syptak-Ramnath. | Photos by: Casey Tan

Her biggest task to date, also known as the Capstone project, would be to analyse and compare the costs between their motor pool and taxi trips in order to identify the areas of improvement.

It was definitely a daunting one at first as she was not familiar with existing motorpool issues and, terms such as mileage and fuel cost.

“But with time and support from my officer, I slowly learnt the ropes, and eventually found a common ground with the motor pool supervisor to calculate the costs more efficiently.

When asked if she knew what she was expecting when she joined the GSO, the final-year International Relations student confided: “Not exactly, but the work here definitely left a lasting impression.”

Elaborating further, Miss Tan shared that she always imagined the Embassy to be simply a place for people to apply for visas and settle other administrative issues.

Celebrating Fourth of July with a “parade” of cakes. | Photos by: Casey Tan

But the experience made her realise that it was way more than that.

She said: “I truly understood that the responsibility to support the American community here goes further than what I thought it to be during my stint here.

“I saw how the Embassy took care of all the needs of the American officers and diplomats very much like a hotel would care for their guests. That is true hospitality.”

However, what really makes it interesting for Miss Tan is that she can never anticipate how her day would look like until she enters the office.

While her daily routine mainly consists of her working on her capstone project or getting sent to the Finance Management Office to help out with invoicing, it is always fluid and there is always a surprise element involved.

“There were days when my officer would extend an invitation to a meeting or a site visit which I had no prior knowledge of.”

Revealing that her first and most memorable meeting was the Trump-Kim Summit After Action Review, the 22-year-old told The IAS Gazette that it was definitely an eye-opening one.

With just three weeks to prepare for the Summit, her department had to craft up a contract pronto so as to settle hotel and transportation arrangements before the entire entourage from D.C. came down.

“Attending the review session gave me the opportunity to delve deeper into the inner workings of the Embassy and made me realise that many a time, challenges arise due to the lack of communication and not ability.

“It was a hectic period for my colleagues but the meeting also allowed the team as a whole  to gain new insights on how such issues can be better managed in the future.”


Miss Tan also went on an adventure of her life during Halloween.

Each section had to unleash their creativity and dress their office up to compete for the Best Decorated Office.

Trick or Treat at the Embassy. | Photos by: Casey Tan

A trick-or-treat session gave her the opportunity to experience the Harry Potter’s Forbidden Forest, The Addams Family set and Freddy’s Haunted House all in a span of two hours.

“I went in with smiles and came out in tears,” said Miss Tan, who dressed up as a bat.

“But I would do it all over again if I have to.”

Nevertheless, she enjoyed the internship so much that she decided to extend it.

Her reward? Scoring a Meet-and-Greet session with Pence and a selfie with his wife.

Meet and Greet session with vice-president Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence. | Photos by: Casey Tan

“Even though I’m just an intern, his speech made everyone feel appreciated, and that each and every single person in the room played a part in making a significant contribution to advancing the US mission to Singapore,” she quipped.

Students who are inspired by Miss Tan’s story can get involved via SIM’s internship portal, UNICORN, a one-stop integrated hub for students and employers to apply and receive applications respectively.

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The IAS Gazette is a news site run by undergraduates from the Singapore Institute of Management’s International Affairs Society (IAS). Founded in 2018, it traces its roots to The Capital, a now defunct bimonthly magazine previously under the IAS.

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