Rodrigo A. Vargas '00

Summer Internship, 1999

Foreign Commercial Service

Unites Sates Embassy

Lisbon, Portugal


I began my internship in Portugal in mid June and ended in late August 1999. As the only intern with The Commercial Service, Lisbon, I took on a variety of duties and increased responsibility. Some of the day to day activities included answering requests from Portuguese firms interested in American exports, assisting US firms based in Portugal, and, in general, facilitating transatlantic business transactions. Projects I took on while in Lisbon included, researching and writing several IMI's (International Market Insights) which where then made available to US exporters and European importers via the Department of Commerce's "Showcase Europe" web site, I have attached copies of two of these reports, one on Franchise Master Fees and the other on Pharmaceutical reimbursement practices in Portugal. I updated Lisbon's quarterly major projects report and contributed to the Portuguese Country Commercial Guide for 1999.


While at the Commercial Service I was able to engage in a variety of activities that extend beyond normal office work. While gathering information for IMI's I interviewed the Director of the Portuguese Institute for Franchising Information and a representative of ACAP, Portugal's automobile industry observers.


A number of times I was able to interact with some of the leading company officials in Portugal. On one particular occasion I was at a meeting with the Ambassador (Gerald McGowan), the Commercial Attache (Patrick Hope) and the President of Opel/GM Portugal. Opportunities such as this one allowed me to observe, first hand, the role commerce is playing in modern diplomacy and its increasing importance.

A meeting with the Portuguese firm Nutrinvest was particularly enlightening. This is an established firm with strong interests and a working relationship in Lusophone Africa. They are now seeking joint ventures with American firms, contributing their contacts and know how while, at the same time, enlarging the dimension of their operations, gaining entry into the US markets, and reducing economic risk. This struck me as an interesting relationship and prompted me to do more research. I later discovered that Portuguese companies maintain strong economic ties and exert considerable influence in Lusophonic nations. These contacts are now being marketed by several government and non-governmental agencies including FLAD (The Foundation for Luso American Development) and are the focus of a conference taking place in Washington, DC this fall with the support of Ambassador McGowan.


At a personal level, my working experience could not have been better. Everyone at the Commercial Service was more than hospitable and accommodating to me. My work assignments were always meaningful and greatly contributed to making mine, a very enriching internship. My colleagues at the Embassy went beyond providing simple work related assistance. Two examples of this include setting up a tour of FLAD and introducing me to some key government individuals in the Portuguese tourism sector. These contacts then served as advisors and wrote letters of support for the Fulbright proposal to research rural tourism, which I will submit this September. On my last day at the Embassy they even threw a party, but I guess there are two ways of interpreting this!


Some practical considerations:


It is difficult to find housing in Lisbon for short periods of time. Plan on at least a week to find a place.



Portuguese is not necessarily required at the Embassy, although some knowledge of it will make contact with Portuguese business people easier and increase social interaction. A large portion of young people speak English in Lisbon and tourist centers, although an attempt at speaking Portuguese, such as saying "obrigado" (thank you), will get you farther.


Social Options:

Needless to say there will not be very many US students interning in Lisbon. Like other big cities meeting people will take some time and you will have to put yourself in a position to do so. Living in student dorms or similar housing may be an easier way to meet people. As part of their fund raising efforts, the Marines have Happy Hour on Fridays during the summer. This is a great way to get to know other people at the Embassy and interact in an informal environment.



The food is good and relatively cheap in Portugal. Lisbon is a very late city. Dinner is usually served at around 9 PM and cafes and bars only begin to fill at around midnight. The Docas, Bairro Alto, and the Expo site were some of the major night life areas in the Summer of 1999.



Email is available in the Commercial Service, at the Portugal Telecom building, and in a few cyber cafes. Cell phones are cheap in Portugal and may be a good way to keep in touch. You can get a prepaid cell phone for about $40, including $25 of calls, depending on the offer. The people at the Embassy can fill you in on this.



Lisbon's metro system is modern, clean, and safe, although not very extensive. A monthly path that includes subway and bus services will allow you to see the city best.



Lisbon publishes a free monthly guide to all the city concerts, performances, exhibitions, and activities. Its called "Cultural Agenda". Get it at the various tourism posts, but do so at the beginning of the month because they run out quickly.

Student Discounts:

Portugal is very student/youth oriented. Having a valid international student ID will get you into most museums for free and provide discounts through out the country.


Overall I consider my experience at the Commercial Service of the US Embassy, Lisbon very fruitful and would say that it exceed my expectations. I would recommend it to any other students interested in Foreign Policy, International Business, or simply experiencing another culture.

Rodrigo Vargas '00 is a Geography major and Portuguese Literature minor, and will graduate in June. Rodrigo took part in two foreign study programs. One to England where he studied history, and most recently to the Czech Republic, where he studied geography.

Rodrigo used his spare time in Portugal this summer to develop a Fulbright proposal. He will research rural tourism's affect on the Portuguese social and economic landscape if his proposal is accepted. Upon returning to the United States Rodrigo plans to pursue a career in regional or urban restructuring and development, with a focus on culture and recreation.

Rodrigo is currently involved in Sigma Phi Epsilon and Habitat for Humanity and is a Portuguese language drill instructor.

He may be contacted via e-mail at:


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