Falling in Love with DC

My Cubicle!

I really slacked off on blogging this summer… I’ll try to catch you up on all the incredible things I’ve been doing and experiencing.

First of all I need to say… I LOVE DC … No but seriously, I love this city and would move here in a heartbeat.  Well, as long as I can travel to Africa once in a while.

Sitting at lunch with my co-workers the other day I had one of those moments when you realize that you’re exactly where you belong and everything seems a little clearer.  I’ve always had trouble living in the moment and am constantly focusing on the future.  Now I can honestly say that I am completely happy and satisfied with the present, which is a wonderful feeling.

Of course, a big part of this is the fact that I’m really enjoying my internship at the Peace Corps.  I don’t feel like a lowly intern, but a real part of the team.  My input is asked for and valued and I am included in everything that my department does.  While most of the work I am doing is data entry, I am working on an exciting project.  As a reminder, I am working with World Wise Schools which creates resources for teachers to help students become culturally competent.  I’ve been asked to create an informational video about what the peace corps does geared towards third graders.  WWS has programs that allow classes to correspond with current volunteers and have returned volunteers come visit them.  For this reason, it is important for the students to understand exactly what the peace corps is.  While I probably won’t be able to see the finished product, I’ll at least get to put everything together for it.  Part of the video will include interviews with returned volunteers which I’ll get to conduct, so that will be exciting.

The other reason I love my internship is that half the time I’m not even working (Although I probably shouldn’t spread that around too much).  Thursday myself and the other interns were invited to have lunch with the director of our office.  We heard his incredible life story and picked his brain about grad school, getting a job and the inner workings of the peace corps.  Wednesday was an “all hands meeting” at which Director Aaron Williams, who was appointed directly by Obama, and other senior staff talked about the progress of the Peace Corps and the future of the organization.  Congress asked them to conduct an extensive assessment last year so this meeting was mainly an update on the outcomes of that assessment.  It really helped me see the bigger context of what I am doing and was great just to hear whats happening in the different departments.

In addition to this, on Monday there was a “coffee talk” with three returned volunteers which was just a casual conversation about their service.  Throughout the talk all I could think about was how badly I want to join the Peace Corps.  In fact, that desire is being confirmed every day at work.

At some point I transitioned from tourist to regular DC professional, so I haven’t been site seeing in while.  I did check a couple more items off of the must see list though: walking around the memorials at night and the zoo.  I’ll try to write another post about those soon. (I promise!)

Museums, Bookstores and Restaurants, Oh My!

Smithsonian American Art Museum

You’re probably starting to wonder whether I decided to join the Peace Corps and am off in some remote jungle with no internet access.  Alas, I have no good excuse for my lack of posting except for insane busyness and laziness.

I can’t believe I’ve been here for almost a month already!  The time has gone by so fast and I’ve only explored a small part of DC so far.  My first weekend here I tried to see as much as possible which included The Natural History Museum, The American History Museum and the memorial day parade and concert.  Since then I’ve visited The American Art museum and the Newseum.  Did you know that there are nineteen Smithsonian museums?!?! I’d like to try to see all of them before I leave, but we’ll see if that happens.  And that doesn’t even cover the other museums like The Holocaust Museum, The Spy Museum and countless others.

Berlin Wall

The Newseum, which isn’t part of the Smithsonian, is probably one of the most interesting museums I’ve been to yet. It’s supposed to be all about news and media but I think they took all the really cool stuff that didn’t fit into any other category and just stuck it here, creating one incredible museum.  One exhibit included pieces of the Berlin Wall and a guard tower from the wall.  Another chronicled major newspapers from the 1500’s to the present.  There was also an antennae from the World Trade Center.  Needless to say, that was extremely powerful.  One of the best exhibits was about gangsters and mobsters and the news coverage that they received.  The museum somehow obtained the actual shack that a gangster was shot and captured in!

Map of Freedom of the Press Around the World - Red=Not Free, Yellow=Somewhat Free, Green=Free

The list goes on, but I think my favorite part of the Newseum was a map portraying freedom of the press around the world.  Almost the entire continents of Asia and Africa do not have a

Guard Tower from Berlin Wall

free press, which is very disheartening.  As someone who’s interested in writing and journalism, this museum was definitely on my must see list and I’m glad I checked it out.

Another part of DC I’ve been exploring is its used bookstores.  So far I’ve found two and my wallet is definitely showing it(but not too much).  I have a weakness for books and have spent hours in both of these cheap caves of knowledge.

Very soon after arriving here I realized how expensive everything is and accepted that fact that I won’t be eating out very much.  However, the few restaurants I have eaten at have been worth it.  One day a friend and I checked out a West African restaurant down in the Adams Morgan area.  I was in heaven of course, and the food was delicious.  My friend had goat meat but I wasn’t feeling as brave and stuck with chicken.  A band came in while we were there and added even more West African flavor to our meal.

I’ve also experienced Chipotle for the first, which is like the subway of burrito restaurants.  The other day I checked out Potbelly Sandwich Shop, which everyone raves about.  It certainly lived up to its reputation.  Now that my wallet is a little thinner though, my dinners tend to consist of tuna and cheerios…

Peace Corps: The Hardest Job You’ll Ever Love

My office!

The hardest job you’ll ever love; this is the tagline used for the Peace Corps and I think it accurately describes my time there so far.  While my internship is nothing close to serving in a rural village of Kenya, it has been demanding and exciting.

I didn’t start my internship until a week after I arrived in DC, so by the time Wednesday came around I was anxious to get started at the Peace Corps.  The first day was slow going and consisted of a lot of training and waiting around. As part of my internship, I am working with databases, so I, along with my fellow interns, went through training on how to use those. Since the Peace Corps is a federal agency, everything is secure and needs to be accessed through a password, so we also worked on setting up those. A majority of my day was spent on the phone with the IT department getting access to the various programs and databases I need to do my work.  Needless to say, by the end of the day I was frustrated and ready to get my hands on some real work.

Thankfully, on Thursday and Friday I was put right to work with a combination of administrative tasks and bigger projects. My dad asked me if I was making coffee at my internship and I was happy to tell him that the answer was definitely no. My internship is giving me a first hand look at an underfunded and understaffed federal agency. Before I leave in August, at least four people are leaving my department and chances are they won’t be replaced anytime soon.  One of my tasks is to answer emails about the speakers match program which sets up returned peace corps volunteers to talk in classrooms and other venues about their experiences as a volunteer. Some of the emails were from weeks ago, telling me that no one has the time to keep up with them.

Much of my work will consist of work like this with the speaker’s match program. This will include registering new speaker’s and updating their contact information.  However, on Friday we had our first staff meeting and myself and my fellow intern, Emily, were assigned two bigger projects. The office I am working at creates resources for teachers to use in teaching about foreign countries and cultural competence. We were put in charge of creating webpages for each country in which Peace Corps volunteers are serving and making them accessible for children. Since its beginning, Peace Corps volunteers have served in over 130 countries, so this is quite an undertaking.  We are also completing the work of another intern who started a project about the history of the Peace Corps. The employees have already made me feel like a vital part of the office and acknowledge that I have significant insight to offer. Based on the work I have already done in this first week, this internship will be an incredible learning experience.

I’ve been thinking periodically about where I was last summer – Tanzania, and how different this summer is going to be. For one thing I lived in a rural village where time had no meaning and no one was in a hurry to get anywhere. My first day there I simply sat and talked with my students, without worrying about having someplace to be or something to do. I had to learn about a whole new way of life there and to some extent the same is true here. Here in DC it seems like everyone is in a hurry and walks with a purpose; I’m already getting caught up in that life. Whether it is learning to use the metro or introducing myself to a key contact, the professional world of DC is a whole new world to navigate.

When in DC: Settling in and Orientation

The Capital Building at Night

Wow. Let me take a second to catch my breath. I arrived in DC a week ago and I feel like I haven’t stopped moving, learning and taking in the sights.  There is so much going on in this city and it seems like everyone has someplace to be.  I know there is enough here to keep me busy for the next two months and I will continually be discovering new things.

For anyone who missed my last couple of posts, I’m participating in an academic internship program called The Washington Center.  I’m interning at The Peace Corps (which kind of makes me the rockstar here) and taking a research and writing class.

After a six hour train ride, I settled into my apartment and met my three roommates.  There was nothing scheduled for Wednesday so we just hung out and took a trip to Target to stock our fridge.  Our apartment is very nice and it’ll be a great place to live for the next ten weeks.

On Thursday we headed into the city for the first day of orientation.  Everyone got split up into their respective programs.  Mine is the Advocacy, Serve & Arts program.  Of course we had to start with a classic icebreaker to get to know each other and then our program advisor went over everything we’re going to be doing this summer, which is quite a bit.  The Washington Center includes many components besides the internship.  I have to do a “civic engagement” project which has to be some kind of ongoing service or involvement in public policy.  I’m still looking for something to do.  We also have a seminar which meets every Monday and varies every week.  It includes lectures from important people, networking and visits to various organizations.  In addition to my classwork, I also have to hand in periodic reflections on my internship work and develop a portfolio throughout the semester.  I’m going to be busy!!

In the afternoon, we traveled to the CityYear office, which is a long term service organization.  One of the goals of TWC is to expose us to as many options as possible for postgraduate work.  They also want to give us chances to network.  There was a  short presentation about the City Year and then we participated in some leadership activities.  The activities helped me become more aware of my leadership style and what I need to work on.  It also helped us get to know each other better.

On Friday we headed over to the Department of the Interior, catching glimpses of The White House, Treasury building and other important places along the way.  Everyone in the program gathered for a general orientation, which gave us a chance to meet even more people.  We listened to riveting (yes that is sarcasm) presentations about professionalism, the goals of TWC and diversity.  As the staff of TWC talked to us about the importance of making the most out of our internships and the fact that this is not a dress rehearsal, but a real job (albeit an unpaid one), the reality of what I was about to embark on really sank in.  Nervousness began to encroach on my excitement but Memorial Day weekend still stood between me and the Peace Corps.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that this summer is going to be very different from last…

“Bloom Where You’re Planted”: Summer in DC!!

The other day I was thinking about the fact that this time last year I was making my final preparations to go to Tanzania. I can’t believe it has been a year already!

So you’re probably wondering what adventure I’m planning for this summer because obviously I can’t stay at home for an entire summer – my missionary spirit just simply won’t allow it. This past year I’ve been thinking and praying a lot about where God needs me to be right now. In the past year I’ve also had two people whom I admire tell me to “bloom where I’m planted”.

When I first returned from Tanzania I missed it so much that sometimes I didn’t want to think or talk about it. I felt like that was where I was supposed to be and couldn’t understand what God could possibly want me to do here in the States. It took me a while but I’ve finally begun taking that advice to heart and have realized that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.

So this summer I will not be headed to any exotic foreign places. Rather, I will be spending my time in the heart of our nation, Washington D.C. Although its not Africa, I am extremely excited for this opportunity and all that I will learn there.

About two years ago I began looking into a program called The Washington Center, which combines an internship and academics into one incredible and life changing experience. Finally, I decided that this summer was the right time to participate in it. If I can’t live in a foreign country, my dream has always been to work in Washington D.C., where I can make a real difference in the lives of the poor nationally and internationally through organizations like the United Nations or USAID (United States Agency for International Development). This program will give me the chance to get my foot in the door.

The best part of this opportunity is where I’ll be interning…the Peace Corps! I was already planning on applying to join the Peace Corps after graduation and when they contacted me about an interview for an internship I nearly fell out of my chair. This could not have worked out more perfectly. Oddly enough, I will not be doing social work tasks, but rather research and writing. Many of you know that I’ve been struggling to figure out how my passion for writing fits into what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. Anyway, I’ll be working with a program the Peace Corps runs called World Wise Schools. I had never heard of it before but its a neat program which provides an important service. Basically, they gather and organize information about other countries for teachers to use when teaching their students about countries around the world. As our world becomes more connected, it is more important than ever to be culturally competent and this program helps make students more aware of the world around them. Teachers can also request to have their class correspond with a current Peace Corps volunteer and their students can write letters to the volunteer with questions about their country. Returned volunteers also visit classes to talk about their experiences. The World Wise Schools not only creates cultural awareness but also promotes volunteerism. Since these are two things I am passionate about, I think it will be the perfect fit for me!

Going along with the writing theme, I’ll be taking a research and writing class, in which I’ll be concentrating on a research project of my choice throughout the summer. It’ll be a great chance to delve into something I’m passionate about.

As part of this program I also have to participate in a leadership forum, which is a kind of seminar that ensures the students make the most of their internships. We’ll work on career preparation, have speakers and other academic activities to supplement our internships.

So besides the incredible program itself just the fact that I’ll be in DC is amazing. There’s so much history and culture contained in one city, I know that there will be something new to discover every day. I’ve already started looking up lists like free things to do in DC and must see sights. I can’t wait to geek out at the Library of Congress and explore the Smithsonian.

From reading the blogs of current participants (found here) I know that this will be an incredible experience. I also now know that DC is really expensive so my skills for living frugally will really be tested… Like most academic programs this costs a considerable chunk of change so I’ll already be low on cash. However, I know that it will be more than worth it and the experience I will gain will pay off in the   future.

I’m looking forward to meeting new people, especially those from other countries, (apparently there’s a lot of foreign students) and living on my own for a few months. This summer will definitely be a taste of the real world and I expect it to be oh so sweet.