Colleen Willis

Contributing Writer

Although Washington, D.C. isn’t “abroad,” studying for a semester in the nation’s capitol has been a foreign experience.

As someone who was born and raised in Keene, I was antsy to gain outside exposure but wanted to remain in the United States, being a political science major with an emphasis on domestic policy.

When Professor Waller concluded one of our genocide classes with information on a new program called the Washington Center, I was instantly drawn and decided to become Keene State College’s first student to participate.

The Washington Center is an organization that pairs college students with internships in their field of interest. I currently intern at the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and coming to D.C. is one of the best decisions I have ever made! Upon arrival I was already experiencing new things. I have three roommates from all over the world – Tajikistan, Mexico and Texas. Within the apartment we share – which is provided by the Washington Center – I regularly hear four languages: English, Spanish, Russian and Shugni, which is the language of the Shugni minority group in Tajikistan.

My Tajikistan roommate Amina is a Muslim, and prior to sharing a room with her I had admittedly never met a Muslim before.

Colleen Willis/ Contributed Photo

Colleen Willis/ Contributed Photo

It did not take long for my Mexican roommate Sofia to ask me how I felt about Donald Trump, and Amina, being from a formerly Soviet-occupied region, was curious about the American perception of Vladimir Putin, whom she views favorably.

Even Ali, my Texan roommate, and I constantly contrast our backgrounds from the north and south. My conversations with the three can turn into debates, but they never fail to be educational.

Tajikistan and Mexico are not the only nationalities represented in our apartment – we have friends coming in and out from England, Gibraltar, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, France, Pakistan, Canada, Brazil and Belgium.

This cultural diversity is not exclusive to the Washington Center, because it’s widespread throughout D.C., one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

There are so many events that reflect the vast array of people who live here and I never run out of things to do. Obvious attractions are the monuments.

Even after having lived here for three months, I am still a tourist, constantly revisiting the sights that attract people from all over the world. My personal favorite is the Lincoln Memorial. I appreciate the direct view of the Washington Monument across the reflecting pool, but the main reason I keep returning is the incredible view of the D.C. skyline from the back. I would highly recommend visiting it right before the sun sets and hanging around until dark to see the city lights reflect along the Potomac River.

When I am not exploring the capitol, I am interning at the DNC which too has been an incredible experience.

I am in the Political and Community Engagement Department, and the primary duty of the interns is to gather research for political briefings intended for President Obama, Vice President Biden, Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz and other senior figures within the Democratic Party. The briefings provide a “brief” run-down on a state that the recipient will be visiting designed to keep the recipient informed and up to date.

The briefings are checked by about a million people before leaving the DNC, but knowing they begin with the interns and that such important people will read words I wrote is awesome. The research is very interesting and I have learned a lot – for example, I now know more about Tennessee than I would have ever imagined. The redistricting controversy in Florida?

I can give the timeline for the past six months. If you were not aware that the governor of Maine is bizarre, you are now. Interning at the DNC has come with great benefits. My coworkers and I received passes for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the White House, tickets for the White House Garden Tour, and we have volunteered at high-profile events such as the Women’s Leadership Forum, where I personally ran the mic for Mayor Muriel Bowser of D.C. and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore. President Barack Obama and the three remaining Democratic presidential candidates gave remarks too, and some of my coworkers got to meet them.

I regularly run into Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz in the elevator. One of these days I’d like to introduce myself to her, but for now, hearing about her morning is just as cool. One thing I was not prepared for before coming to D.C. was the celebrity status New Hampwwshirites hold during the presidential primary season. Never in my life had anyone cared that I was from New Hampshire, and never again in my life will anyone care aside from this unique exception. My advice to anyone in the political field traveling to D.C. is to casually reference this as much as possible, because you are a resource.

Even if you are not in the political field, it is still an experience to hear someone exclaim “oooohhhh woooooow New Hampshire!” So, if you’re ever here, try it out. Another thing I would recommend is going out to brunch as much as your financial situation allows. Brunch is huge in this city, and there are so many unique restaurants that serve amazing food. My personal favorites thus far have been We the Pizza and Founding Farmers.

Food trucks have a growing presence and are good as well. If the broke college student thing becomes a reality as it did for me, fear not because there are plenty of free things to do here, and many organizations such as the Brookings Institute, the Center for American Progress, and the Heritage Foundation offer really interesting events. Might I add there is often free food, and these events are great places to network. I connected with Senator Shaheen’s office and obtained passes to Congressional sessions, so you never know what can come out of networking. Most museums are free as well.

The best way to take advantage of the D.C. experience is to simply stay open minded and try new things, because like I said before, diversity is abundant here and you will never be able to do it all – try not to do the same thing twice.

As I write this I cannot believe I have less than a month remaining, and although I feel I have used my time here well, there is still so much left I want to do. I am sure someday I will return, but soon I will return home and it will be another Keene State student’s turn to go. Whoever you are, I hope you have as much fun as I have had!

Colleen Willis can be contacted at

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