I decided to study away this spring when I attended The Washington Center information session last year. Only one other person showed up, so rather than being subjected to a formal presentation, we had an in-depth discussion with the liaison. I’d like to think that this is what helped me make up my mind, as just another powerpoint would have little effect. So far, I’m very happy that I signed up.
The Washington Center is a program that takes in students from around the United States, as well as many other countries, and sets them up with a guaranteed internship in the nation’s Capitol. On top of the internship, students take an academic course, take part in volunteer opportunities, attend a professional development course and go to a speaker series where people with incredible experience are invited to have discussions about the current political climate. An example of the speakers invited to one event The Homeland Security Secretary from 2003-2005 and a National Security correspondent. They were here to talk about, and this may be obvious, homeland security.
The internship is what takes up the large majority of our time here. It goes from Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.. The hours may vary depending on where some people work, but the overall time should amount to at least 30 hours per week. The places my peers work are incredibly varied, as is the pool of interns here as well.
I work at the University of Chicago’s Office of Federal Relations. Two of my roommates work on Capitol Hill answering phones for Members of Congress and giving visitor tours of the Capitol. Some other places where interns can work include the Kennedy Center, Brookings Institute, the Mexican Embassy and many, many banks.
D.C. life is vastly different from the day-to-day in Keene. This makes sense, seeing as it’s nearly twice the area in square miles, and has more than 30 times the population of Keene. On an average day, I’m on the Metro, D.C.’s subway system, for about an hour back and forth between work and home. Having lived in New York City for a few years, subway travel isn’t new to me. However, the amount of overcrowding during rush hour is insane.
All the interns are housed in a large apartment complex-style building. Classes take place on the basement level, very much in the same way that Huntress and the LLC Building have classes on their bottom floors. The apartments have two bedrooms apiece and four residents total. The size of apartments varies wildly and calls into question the sanity of the architect, though it’s hardly an issue.
Weekends are filled with plenty to do here. Aside from the amazing cherry blossoms, Washington D.C. seems to take pride in some sort of strange ownership over the concept of brunch. While I find it strange that a city can think it invented eating breakfast in the middle of the day, I haven’t avoided participating. My first brunch experience came with some enlightenment: it isn’t necessarily about the food, it’s the $10 bottomless mimosas.
Most of the friends I’ve made here speak English as a second language. In fact, two of my suitemates are from Puerto Rico, my roommate is from Mexico and one of my best friends is from Spain. The population of foreign students is about 40 percent, if I remember correctly. Of that percentage, most are from Spanish-speaking countries. So, diversity in the peer group here is not an issue if that’s what people are looking for coming in.
While the experience has been nice for the most part, I’ve noticed a few blemishes, which may water down the experience for many. First and foremost, the most glaring issue I’ve seen in this city is an unacceptably high homeless population. It’s absolutely criminal that we have so many without homes in the very epicenter of public policy and legislation. Also, the professional development course (LEAD), is mainly seen as a burden that The Washington Center puts on us so they can say we’ve been getting professional development; most of us think it’s useless. Also, many interns are having a hard time getting actual substantive experiences at their workplaces. I’ve had to advocate for myself at my internship site to get what I consider a substantial “D.C. experience.”
In light of the issues I listed above, I’ll be returning to Keene with a solid foundation of experiences and a network which will help me get a head start in my professional life. I encourage anyone to send an application to The Washington Center. It doesn’t matter what your major is, there’s an internship out here for anyone and everyone.
Atticus Rollins can be contacted at email@example.com