All posts by carolinee

12 Aug

Parting Words

Last spring I read a lot about readjustment, all the weird homesicknesses and whatnot that one feels upon returning from study abroad, a sense of being stuck between two cultures because, in a more realistic version of the teenage statement, nobody understands you. Somehow that hasn’t happened yet on the way back from Russia, though there’s a lot I miss.

But I feel like some kind of adjustment phase will hit when I leave DC. At the risk of hyperbole, there is nothing like living here—at the center of all things. There’s an element of elation too from living alone, from finally feeling independent. Which, while not the sole purpose of my internship, was my motivation in living away from home for two months after doing it all year, and does fit into the prospect of career exploration. After all, how can I think about where I might live next year if I’ve never dealt with all the joys and hassles of grocery shopping, having fun, and recovering from my moldy nut encounter?

It will be strange to feel that I’m no longer on Capitol Hill, that I no longer have a hand or even a pinkie fingernail in helping the gears of Congress churn, albeit slowly. This internship has definitely made me more interested in national news and politics, something I’ve been trying to feel for a long time. It has made me feel more confident in the value of the things I care about, and convinced me that I really do want to be active in my community.

(That said, it hasn’t convinced me to go to law school. I cannot think of anything that motivates me to go to law school.)

While I head to my grandma’s house to see her and read and write and relax, I’ll leave with some thoughts of what I might do next time, or what you could do in my case:

  • Learn the famous Members of Congress (not just Pelosi). Know their faces and their issues. Not only will fetching office supplies be more fun, but the staffers know almost everyone, and you’ll appear better informed.
  • Organize your news reading. This gradually became a necessity over the summer, as the number of career-type blogs and foreign affairs sites I was reading rapidly increased. Personally, I have to make plus for feedly (RSS reader for blogs, tumblrs, whatever else you like), and unroll.me, which unsubscribes you even from the sites that do not comprehend “unsubscribe.” A godsend.
  • Have a few documents ready on your computer at all times: a resume, a list of questions that can easily be tailored to a professional in certain industries, and some language for a sample letter of recommendation—for yourself.
  • Write down what you do at work every day—I jot down notes on the steno pads we use for all the other little notes—and ask if it’s okay to take home the memos you wrote for a portfolio.

Thank you to the Dickinson Career Center for their financial support through the Internship Grant, intellectual support through the Internship Notation Program, and broad support through the staff, alumni, and events they organized. Thank you to the Illinois State Society for awarding me an intern scholarship to help fill in some of those gaps at the end of the summer. Thank you to everyone who met with me, bought me coffee, and supported me in becoming a real human being. It’s been fantastic.

05 Aug

Foreign Affairs and Congress

For Dickinson’s Internship Notation Program, in which all grant recipients participate, we had to outline some learning objectives for the summer. Most of mine were focused either on practicing my networking skills and professional demeanor, or on researching opportunities for a person who wants to work with the former Soviet area and international affairs but isn’t quite sure of her role within Congress. Where would I end up a year from now?

Thanks to a combination of cold LinkedIn messages, finding Dickinson alumni, and running into former classmates at Dickinson’s Networking Reception, I talked to several people who work in consulting or lobbying firms or in international development. It’s too early to say that these conversations have narrowed down my career interests, but they will help me figure things out over the next year.

Two other great events were an evening with a State Department employee and Dickinson alumna, who told a handful of students about her experiences abroad and here in the capital, and a Public Policy cookout at an alumni’s house. I met people who worked in several arms of the federal government there, and it was great to have these encounters towards the end of the summer, when everything feels a bit more organized in my mind.

Unexpectedly, I love being on Capitol Hill, which I’d expected would quickly become stale and bureaucratic. Somehow even the most mundane work is inspiring when you spend part of the day running documents over to the Speaker’s office or watching the House vote on a bill.

But from when I wrote my cover letter and interviewed, I’ve been a little unsure of how I could pitch my area of expertise. It’s not like our district is known for its overwhelmingly large Russian immigrant population or something. At first I didn’t expect to care too much about this minor detail of not actually knowing what I was doing here to matter too much, but as the summer went on and I loathed the thought of leaving, it was time to figure out what I could do in Congress.

From day to day, an office learns about the issues that matter to its constituents through staff briefings and meetings with district businesses, constituents, and lobbying firms. International businesses and X Nationality-American organizations fit in here. Although the region pertinent to my Congressperson doesn’t really connect to those about which I’m informed, it’s been interesting to see what kind of influences these organizations actually exude. We all hear (and perhaps complain) about lobbyists, but it seems to me that in terms of quantity, if not funds behind the visit, a great number represent human rights causes or local businesses, not evil corporations. Having seen how these meetings might influence an office, I also have a lot more faith in the value of such civil groups too.

Congrespeople themselves serve on a few of many committees, of which the House Foreign Affairs Committee is most relevant here, though Armed Services, Homeland Security, and Intelligence probably are too. As a member of a committee, the Congressperson would attend hearings where witnesses give testimony—for example, last week the Foreign Affairs Committee was briefed by “Caesar,” a Syrian army defector.

Between the staff in each committee member’s office who help him or her with committee work, and the staff that do research and work for the committees themselves, there are a lot of ways for someone like me to contribute, and my supervisor has said he can see me in this kind of position. As you can imagine, I’ve been browsing the members of the Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats subcommittee. Rather than feeling like no organization could use my skills after graduation, I’m starting to feel like I’m at a crowded buffet line—the only trick now is getting the food onto my plate.

 

30 Jul

Women. Yes, That.

Women in the workplace. Sometimes it’s seems like that’s the only topic on the table in so many conversations about Learning to Become a Professional and whatnot–perhaps because it’s alliterative?

I don’t deny that there are issues, as evidenced by conversations about childcare, the wage gap, or the recent Hobby Lobby case, that are still a long way from being resolved. On the Hill itself, lots of people bandy about terms like “Old Boys’ Club.” Yet I have met so many women in high-ranking staff positions, heard renowned female politicians and justices speak–women who are famous not for being women in a position, but for being humans who are really good at that job. Women from recent grads to thirty-something have had coffee or a phone chat with me, and there’s not really an element to our conversations of tell me, how did you win the fight against the patriarchy?

One yard away from Nancy Pelosi.

One yard away from Nancy Pelosi.

I have seen zero pushback against women, even in the typical subtle ways: for example, I’ve become a bit of an organizer among the interns, splitting up our projects and so on. Nobody has ever called me pushy because of it; I think I’m genuinely perceived as being on task and understanding what we need to get done. Our office’s staff is 60/40 female/male, and about none of them need I defend their drive or ability. One of the women is an active member of the Women’s Congressional Staff Association, but when we talked about professional development, she spoke of it more as a networking tool than something desperately needed.

On the other hand, Politico ran a piece this week about the vast discrepancy in men and women’s campaign donations. Less than one-fifth of Congress is female. All the staff who handle military or veterans’ issues in our office are male–and while maybe that’s a reflection of the fact that there are more men in the military, it’s weird that I see more guys at lectures dealing with national security-type issues, while there are often more female interns at lectures on things like the Peace Corps and global health. Books and blogs aimed at helping women succeed tell us what to do: cultivate relationships with mentors, asking them questions like “how do you balance work and family?” Does it say that in books for young men? Do those even exist?

I want to keep talking about these questions, but it can’t be in this same format forever. We need to talk about women’s equality as part of a bigger picture–economic equality, social justice, government reform, redefining the military’s role in the 21st century. We can’t fix maternal health in one region if we don’t figure out how to deal with consumption levels and trade in another.

I am trying to learn how to deal with this huge, tangled mess of questions every day, and to be a functional human (and gendered being) (and professional) (and student) alongside it. And I think the best thing we can do, anyone who has ever been within five miles of a copy of Lean In (which is technically everyone on the Dickinson campus), is keep talking and grappling and reflecting on ourselves.

27 Jul

15 Tips for Interning on a Budget

As you may have figured out by now, I applied for and received an Internship Grant from Dickinson to help fund all the details of unpaid intern life. This means I submit time sheets and some written reflections on my work, and share my experiences in a certain way–I chose to keep a blog. While I’d just be able to manage life without those funds, it’s a huge help that takes a load off my mind, since there’s no way I could work a part-time job this summer.

Unfortunately, Dickinson has not decided to pour funds into my checking account; I still live on a budget, like most other interns out there.

Here are my top 10 tips for how to have a comfortable life and stretch your money on a budget.

  1. Prioritize. For example, I want to have real meals, not cereal. This means I schedule time to go grocery shopping and cook lunch and dinner instead of eating out.
  2. …but set aside some funds for the things you felt were lower priority. If I’m trying to network and meet with other professionals, I’m going to need money for coffee and the occasional lunch out.
  3. Oh, and it’s a good idea to carry a snack if you have a work bag. Helps out on those “Oh look, free food at this event! And it’s that one thing I find disgusting!” nights.
  4. Discount cards. At Safeway and most other grocery chains, you can get a free membership card (not a credit card) to scan whenever you check out. This lowers prices of some items, and you can use their app to look up coupons (that don’t appear in the weekly ad) online and save them to your card. If you take public transportation, naturally your first day in the city should involve buying a SmartTrip or equivalent plastic card. (Also, if you have really nice relatives, let the number of your Starbucks or what have you gift card be known.)
  5. If your kitchen space allows (and I would strongly recommend prioritizing kitchen space in your accommodation hunt), buy in bulk to save time and money. Frozen vegetables are cheaper and easier than fresh produce.
  6. Buses are cheaper than the metro. Might not be a great idea to take them to work, but on the way home you can read or play with your phone.
  7. That said, account for transportation when you choose where to live. If you have to take a bus and metro to work, is it really worth the cheaper non-downtown rent? As in #1, when looking for a place to live, you have to think about what matters most to you–solitude? Kitchen space? Proximity to people? Being with other interns? Facilities?
  8. Learn how to do minor clothing repairs. Oh, and you can hand-wash in cold water some things (e.g. polyester tops) that say dry-clean only.
  9. On the wardrobe note, I’ve noticed several things. You may have to expand your current “oh right, have to be a professional adult someday” closet for summer weather, especially if you live in a delightfully humid city. If you haven’t lived in that part of the country before, it might be worthwhile to buy some clothes a week or two after you’ve gotten in the swing of things–you can wear your basics for the first week, then copy your office’s dress code.
  10. While I am not yet 21, it’s fairly clear from other interns that one should at least determine some kind of balance in terms of happy hours. Happy hours are happy, yes, well done. You have worked hard. Do you deserve a happy hour every day? Um, no.
  11. Buy nice things. If you love cupcakes, buy the cupcakes. If you want to cook with olive oil, buy it. If you want a book or magazine to relax with, buy it (okay, actually in this case you should go hang out at the library, and also ask the person from whom you sublet to borrow their library card, but you get the point). Basically, if it something you want enough that you will otherwise think about it Forever and Ever and Ever and Ever and okay just take the blow. That said, for bigger things (e.g. Georgetown has so many cute stores!) window shop one weekend and don’t buy anything–you can come back if it’s that important.
  12. Free classes. Some gyms, yoga studios, etc. give you a free one-day or -week pass. There are all kinds of hiking and other exercise-y meetups online. Museums! Lectures! So many free things! (But please don’t be the person who feasts at the reception. Everyone can tell that you have obliterated the little sandwiches.)
  13. Get a budget app. I like Toshl because I prefer to use cash, and it’s very basic. I’ve set up my weekly budget to include groceries, transportation, networking, and fun.
  14. Don’t forget about those occasional essentials–garbage bags, medicine, thank you notes for your last week, sunscreen, etc.
  15. It’s going to be okay. It is okay not to make money for a summer. It is okay to go over your budget one week because something unfortunate happened. Have you ever heard of return on investment? This is going to pay off.
24 Jul

Mornings and Evenings

Ah, the busy intern life. Funny how concerned I was this spring about how I’d entertain myself on those interminable after-work evenings. Well, it turns out they are neither so long, nor as luxuriously calm as I’d hoped. And mornings, while a bit brighter and calmer (I just enjoy the freshness of waking up), are also held to a pretty regular schedule.

A rare pleasantly cool Georgetown morning.

A rare pleasantly cool Georgetown morning.

Here’s an overview of how my days look, and what yours might too.

06:00: Wake up. Drink glass of water and take vitamin. Stumble to kitchen, turn on kettle for coffee, or get cold brew coffee from fridge. Stretching and whatnot while water boils.

Might be too fond of coffee.

Might be too fond of coffee.

06:20-06:40: Get dressed in the outfit I (usually) chose the night before. Marvel at what humidity does to curly hair. (It’s actually awesome if you embrace it.) Put on sunscreen and makeup and stuff.

06:40-07:15: Some combination of reading, writing, to-do list creating, making breakfast, eating last night’s pre-packed lunch for breakfast, making another lunch, taking last night’s dishes out of the drying rack, etc.

Returning books at the library on the way every two days or so.

Returning books at the library on the way every two days or so.

07:15-07:30: Leave for work. There are a number of bus/metro combinations I can take, from right outside my door to a few blocks to 45 minutes away. Recently I’ve figured out how to catch the $1 bus, as opposed to the $2.45 metro. (Technically, the Great and Wonderful intern grant would cover metro both ways, but if I do this, I can use the saved money to go to Annapolis on weekends to see my aunt and uncle. And be fed.)

Usually around 8:15: Get on some kind of bus or metro.

Looks more like a space station...?

Looks more like a space station…?

8:45: Arrive at the Capitol. Go in through the handicapped entrance because there’s never a line. Say good morning to the policemen. Walk into work 10-15 minutes early.

I won’t outline work, because every day changes. The first hour or so is usually spent checking voicemail, doing some work for the press secretary, reviewing my schedule and projects, and reading the news or press releases. While I’m reluctant to call myself a morning person, I prefer to Get Things Done in the morning, so this schedule works really well for me: I get to do some enjoyable things (read, write, go for a walk) before work and have a set list of things to power through before the phones really start ringing.

17:00-18:30: Leave the office, usually closer to 18:15. Clean up my desk and refill my water bottle for the next morning before leaving. Catch the bus home; spend the hour-long ride in rush hour traffic reading.

Nice and empowering to pass the World Bank each day.

Nice and empowering to pass the World Bank each day.

19:00-19:30: Bus gets to my neighborhood. I try to buy groceries on the weekends and days off. It’s a 15 minute walk home. On a good day, I’m home at 19:00; worst case scenario is closer to 20:00.

19:30ish: Get home, change, take shower so my finicky curly hair can dry a bit. (Yes, my home schedule basically revolves around my hair. This is totally valid.) Cook dinner and eat at the picnic tables outside, perhaps while reading a newspaper or magazine. Enjoy the outdoors for a bit if there’s time.

I'm a big fan of this building and it makes me happy. Buildings make me happy. Okay?

I’m a big fan of this building and it makes me happy. Buildings make me happy. Okay?

21:00: Wash dishes and make lunch, then work on a Fulbright application, aka my one and only hobby this summer. Chip away at it constantly, though mostly on the weekends. Take care of other internet things, figuring out directions to places, sending emails, writing reflections for the Internet Notation Program. Obviously this doesn’t all get done in one night; I usually work for about an hour before turning off the computer to read. Or telling myself that I deserve fun computer time…and then it’s suddenly 23:00…okay, no, no, stop that.

22:30: Go read in bed before falling asleep. Feel slightly elderly and amused by my early bedtime, but for now it works.

18 Jul

Is Congress a Major?

Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away I chose to major in International Studies (and Russian! Must not forget!), not even so much because I wanted to travel and learn about other countries, but to think about the world as the result of many factors: politics, economics, civil society, the media, etc. In some ways the classes I’ve taken fit that goal; I especially value how well-rounded the coursework already is (and how that’s helped in a variety of interviews). Yet as a whole my coursework has both helped and hindered me this summer.

Here’s a breakdown, some pluses first.

  • The Global Economy (and prerequisites micro- and macroeconomics): Aside from being an all-around Best of Dickinson, it moves you beyond simple supply/demand stuff to complicated issues like foreign exchange, imparting a lot of background knowledge quickly, which as helped me work on tasks related to the Export-Import Bank and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, two hot issues now. It teaches you to think about business and government interacting; we don’t work in a bubble, and the staff meet with representatives of the private sector almost every day. It’s also the learning style of this class: read the news, stay on top of your game, delve into end-of-term video projects on topics you’ve never heard of.
  • US Foreign Policy since 1945: Since veterans’ issues are big in my office, this class has paid off in terms of relating to the staff and better understanding what’s going on. As Prof. Stuart often said when he taught this course, the US military-civilian relationship, how we as Americans envision our troops and our intelligence services, shape how our country actually functions. This course’s value comes from its focus on the US perspective, and has helped me think more clearly, being mindful of the difference between policy and my personal politics.
  • Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies: Okay, yes, reproductive rights and so on are a huge topic. That aside: not only did this class give me a solid overview of the past, much deeper than “Oh yeah, Roe vs. Wade,” it taught me not to make assumptions. I can’t assume that every unmarried woman from our district is a white, liberal, pro-choice, not-really-religious, young voter. I have to be aware of and challenge my own habits, like addressing letters to Mr and Mrs X but assuming that Ms Y and Ms Z are just roommates or friends: who knows? I have to be able to go beyond the basics and, for example, figure out how to communicate appropriately when a deaf visitor and his interpreter come by.

Some minuses:

  • Political science requirements: from my friends’ comments, Dickinson classes are good and interesting, but I find it odd that there’s no such requirement in International Studies. We have to know our own country in order to work with others.
  • Lack of statistics: A friend studying International Relations at another college has taken several such classes or used data in his work. While my science classes in computer science prepared me to plug data into a computer and get the results I need, I think all Dickinson students need stronger math requirements, especially related to statistics and accounting, to succeed in the real world. I’ve learned a lot about this through a program management internship last summer, but others may not be so lucky.

My takeaways from this reflection on how Dickinson courses have been relevant this summer:

  1. Every class is worthwhile; there’s no such thing as a dumb requirement or a random elective. Don’t take that attitude of having a blowoff class. You may not see them at first, but there will be real-life applications.
  2. An internship is kind of like another class–or rather, a semester’s courseload. Try to get out of the areas where you’re comfortable. Ask the econ major intern to teach you how to run regression analyses in Excel. (Google lots of things.) Teach another intern how to write more concisely. Stand out in the process.

I’m telling you to work harder and study more. May not be the most endearing of advice, but it’s true; we’re young and in this big world, we don’t have the luxury of complacency. There’s a lot to be said for pursuing an education “rigorously rooted in the traditional liberal arts and […] also ultimately useful” outside Dickinson.

12 Jul

Actually, the Expectations Were Rather Mediocre

If the “schedule” button starts working again, this will go live somewhere around the end of my fifth week–halfway through a 10-week internship. How is that possible? I’ve done so little, and yet so much. I’ve experienced the madness of long hours, and the relief of 4th of July recess, when the Congresspeople head back to their districts to shake hands and campaign. I’ve wandered through tunnels under the Capitol and seen so many cool people. And to be honest, these past five weeks have completely defied my expectations.

From all my pre-interview research, it was clear that such an internship would involve a lot of hard work, a lot of Excel and scanning and that one guy who abandoned some old folders and “disrupted,” in the bad sense, the filing system in the process. There are probably thousands of Hill interns that pass through every summer; I expected that no one would be particularly interested in my background or story. I expected that it would be a lot of politics and not very much exposure to skills useful beyond Congress. I was wrong.

I have filled out spreadsheets, reorganized the filing cabinets, wrote memos and press release, drafted constituent letters, worked on legislative overview and a huge stack of petitions. Found all the elected officials in our district (oh my. School boards. School board websites). Researched organizations for the staffers and compiled press for the day. Learned to navigate edgy phone calls and to answer everything diplomatically–and, meanwhile, begun to learn my way around huge amounts of legislation and the relationships (and lack thereof) that go into making it. Given a tour. Been the only intern in the room at a fancy luncheon and managed to camouflage my sudden terror at this rather well.

I’ve found people, right in my very own office, who attend grad school for areas I might go into. I have conquered one of the items that deeply frightened me, and asked people to coffee and lunch. It has worked out.

What has this taught me, so far? I’ve received an incredible exposure not to one, but several career paths–the benefit of researching so many issues, meeting so many people, be they constituents or other visitors. Oftentimes those visitors have led me to investigate some other topic in much more depth, be it trade agreements or Iran.

I’ve definitely learned some people skills: how to keep a demanding person at bay. How to compromise. How to ask for help, and how to ask other people to take on tasks. How to make small talk. During the interview, one of my pre-determined “strengths” was a sense of diplomacy and knowing my audience. Now I understand more than ever how important diplomacy is, and how much it crops up in everyday life.

Last summer I wasn’t prepared to accept an internship away from home, but this summer it never really crossed my mind to doubt it. Sure, with applications and whatnot for future goals, it’s really stressful at times. And I miss our garden vegetables almost more than I miss just being at home. Nevertheless: this opportunity coalesced at a perfect moment in my development, at a time when I was–and am–ready to seize it.

I’ll add that, of course, finances are always a concern. Having received an internship grant from Dickinson helps immensely. As mentioned in an earlier post, I decided to apply for internships regardless of salary (rather, lack thereof). I think there’s a time and a place for each, and this too happened to coincide, thereby saving me some stress.

So here I am, halfway down and still excited for the next five weeks.

 

06 Jul

10 Entries in the Sanity Category

Here we deliver some snippets of advice for maintaining sanity when all you want to do is relax with a good book or [insert summer vacation activity here].

1. Eat lunch outside. Get away from your desk. Or split that half-hour into a morning and afternoon break, just to hear something other than phones and the AC and look at natural light and use your distance vision. If that doesn’t work, eat dinner outside; have a picnic in a park. Aside from being generally pleasant, this helps give you some perspective in your life–I mean that literally, a sense of something bigger than a computer screen and less demanding than your job.

2. Wake up early. Do whatever you want with however much extra time this creates, but start the day on your terms (reading, a walk, cleaning, breakfast) rather than someone else’s. Even if you spend 10 minutes in the morning doing something simply because it makes you happy, it feels much more like the day belongs to you, not a list of should-tos and need-tos.

3. Don’t turn on your laptop and turn off data on your phone one night.

4. People-watch on public transportation instead of watching your phone/book/iPod. Being aware of other humans is good for your mind, too.

5. Make or buy in advance, when you’re organized and thinking rationally, the foods you’re not inclined to eat but probably ought to. For example, I hate cooking rice and all those other put-this-grain-in-a-pot things. I am terrible at it. (Do not ever speak to me about this, because I’m also really grumpy about it.) Is popcorn the same as quinoa? Sort of. Is it a good idea to every so often make a pot of quinoa and actually eat real-people foods for a week? Yes.

6. Also buy olive oil and chocolate and whatever expensive things you want, because they’ll make you happy. And well-fed.

7. Call your parents, preferably before the part where you’re so frustrated and busy and trying to cross what was once a good intention off your to-do list to enjoy the conversation. Or your friends that you kinda forgot about while abroad, or what have you.

8. Museums. Supplement your education, especially if it means thinking about something completely different. This goes for lectures, too–learning about your field is awesome. Learning about other fields is also excellent, with the added bonus of not feeling So Obligated to Take Notes and Ask Questions.

9. At some kind of breakfast event, or just graced with a coffee machine in your office (and addicted, as I am)? Mix decaf and normal coffee, because you really are lusting after said coffee but you don’t really need that much caffeine. Figure out what caffeine does to you (I’m a master of the this-headache-can-only-be-cured-with-more headache. False. That is the you’ve-had-too-much headache).

10. You will get stressed and frustrated; you will have times when the running around all day and trying to make your own food and clean your own apartment and deal with all your own stuff on your own builds up–and then you want to snap. At inopportune moments. You will get a person who calls in to deliver some of the most racist and homophobic comments you’ve ever heard. You will have the supervisor who has a bad day, etc. When this happens and you boil over: write down why you’re upset. Write about the things that are bothering you. Many of them may well be environmental factors–tired, hungry, unsure of a friendship–that you can separate out.

03 Jul

These Think Tanks Are All So Bright and Shiny

Due to the long hours and intern overflow, we each get a day or half-day off to attend lectures and check out the city–something I definitely need because these museum close so early. But Smithsonians aside, it’s surreal to have reached the moment where think tanks’ event pages are relevant to my life, and to walk inside their glass-panelled conference rooms, these places I suspect I’ll pass a fair deal of my life at some point, places that have received too many editions of my resume and will likely continue to do so. Now I’m on the inside looking out, or at least inside their events.

My first morning off, I walked down to the Woodrow Wilson Center at the staid, tall Ronald Reagan building. Maybe this is a nerdy academic thing, but I was so excited just to enter the world beyond their doors, as though I’d crossed into a sci-fi movie. To feel that sense of possibility–this old man in the elevator might be the German ambassador in the program, might be my future supervisor, might me someone else who gets all talkative and eager about the same things I do.

Like the world as not one story but many, the reason I’m majoring in International Studies. I couldn’t boil the world down to economics or computer science or even the great glory of the stars beyond ours, though I gladly dabble. I want to talk about Google and urban planning and Lenin and why seersucker is really unattractive and nuclear weapons and Taoism and Andrew Wyeth and Ernest Hemingway because, can’t you see, they’re all connected?

Perhaps the speakers aren’t quite as young and retaining-of-their-illusions as I, but they’ve got the elements of it. At the Wilson Center I learned about European/EU/NATO security given Russian events of late–something, to be honest, I know dreadfully little about from the “Western” perspective. I listened to Zbigniew Brzezinski–my International Relations professor recommended his book to me two years ago! My god!–speak on Kremlin ideology, this idea of Russia as a great civilization, русский мир (the Russian world…only more so). A concept that now means more to me, because, yes, I have felt the differences in worlds. I’ve lived on both sides of NATO. I have walked along the lines of the Berlin Wall and realized that not so many years ago, that wall could’ve been the defining boundary of the possible in my life. And simultaneously, I’m learning more about Germany and other great actors in this story, because one cannot study Russia only in the context of its own legend–a bit of a gap in my world thus far.

This week, continuing the self-designed Russian enhancement curriculum, I headed to the Future of Arctic Cooperation conference at the Center for International Studies. For most of a day I got to bask in a room full of people from so many sectors and countries, people of so many ideas, bounding ahead into the future of this underexplored theater, this world that we are uniquely able to shape in how we respond to the ecological, logistical, and security challenges it poses. These lectures and events are showing me–show, don’t tell, a writing rule that should apply more to the classroom–how the words and concepts we throw around are real. Institutions, realism and liberalism, energy security: these are not catchphrases but real-world, true things, and that sense of relevance and application only increases my enthusiasm.

So, if you’re in DC or at all close–check out the think tanks, for I guarantee on any weekday you’ll find a lecture well worth attending. And also an excellent fresh fruit spread in the mix (thank you, CSIS, for the melon and cherries this beleaguered and impoverished intern has been craving).

24 Jun

Episodes in Networking

Let me give a rundown of three rather inspiring moments from the last week.

Episode 1: Wednesday Morning
I’ve arrived to the office ten minutes early, as is my wont (and a good goal to shoot for when one is often accosted by long security lines at the door), and am sitting at the computer getting set up and checking voice mail. The legislative assistant who works on military and foreign affairs passes by.

Until now, he has been a silent presence, vaguely intimidating in that way some military-associated people have, that aura of having precise measurements ticking away the whole time. Thus far, our interaction has been limited to one day when he (silently) handed me a copy of Defense News, turned to an article about Russia/Ukraine, while I was minding the front desk. And walked away.

Silently.

Today he pauses by my desk and starts asking about my interests. Normally this question is off-putting in a blind conversation (how detailed do you want me to get? Who are you? Are you going to make some witty Ukraine comment?), but I’ve got the sense he knows something about me.

Somehow the conversation goes well. Really well. I’ve been working on this for the past week and a half—so very long, yes, yes, but trying to figure out How to Navigate These Chats and, really, how to explain what I want. He suggests programs and news feeds; we discover we’re both starting to get interested in some topics, like energy security. He sends me a long email full of resources, and at the end are recommened companies. Most reassuring and enticing of all, these are firms I’ve begun investigating, but for which I had no outside reference—no concept of what other professionals think of them.

It helps to have something like a “One mile to Exit 239A” sign along the highway, a feeling that one is headed in the right direction.

Episode 2: Wednesday Evening
Wednesday hadn’t struck me as such a productive day till I looked back. That evening, I went to a networking event/reception for a demographic to which I blatantly do not belong—let’s call it Future Blond Dentists of America. I was pretty tired, planning to check it out for half an hour, pretend I cared about root canals and duck out.

Somehow, I start chatting with the guy behind me. Expectation: being a full-time adult with a real job, he won’t want to talk to an intern. (We keep talking.) Everything will feel forced and awkward as I desperately fish for questions. Guess what? He studied in two former Soviet countries. Yes! Okay! This is going well!

What’s that? He’s now working with a topic kind of related to my Fulbright proposal? We have even more things to talk about?

Once the event started I, having no designs on a career in dentistry or suchlike, did end up leaving. But we exchanged contact info first, and we’ve been trading some articles and event links since. Could it be I’m getting a hang—or at least the ability to pretend it’s all great—for that networking thing?

Episode 3: Saturday Afternoon
You know that Facebook trap of maybe-I’ll-click-aimlessly-on-your-profile-and-daydream-about-having-your-life? Yeah, I may have a similar problem with LinkedIn. It’s so fascinating! So suspense-filling! Even occasionally inspiring, as I find someone who studied abroad, or interned on the Hill, or spent freshman year washing dishes and is now doing Really Cool Things.

Somewhere in the past year—and I really attribute this much more to Russia than to anything to do with the current internship, to a strong feeling that I and I alone am the one obligated to pursue what I want—I’ve started trying to connect with some of these people. Now, I’ve had fair success, but what does that really mean?

LinkedIn is interesting, it’s useful, but the idea of a connection can signify so many different things in our world. I’m connected to the grocery store cashier because we were both happy about coconut milk being on sale. And yet the Facebook interactions I have with some of my best friends are almost meaningless. Anyway, end aside.

For the first time, I asked someone to talk with me about her experiences. I can’t offer much advice: be straightforward and brief; offer flexibility, but know exactly what you’re asking for (when? How long? In person?). She agreed.

On Friday I put together some basic questions, some based on her career track, and reviewed some of my where-do-I-want-to-go phrases. Nervous, nervous, nervous, but it all went well when on Saturday she called. We had a short but very useful conversation; I discovered a lot of starting points and advice for things like grad school, topics that have always existed in that nebulous cloud of Sometime and are now, suddenly, quite present.

Oh, and a tip for if you’re a person like me who has to prepare for these kinds of phone calls and chats—keep your questions, save them all in a file or something so you can pull them up. You should be familiar with whatever the person already posts online in order to ask more interesting questions, but you can use this information to adapt a standard set of questions.

Bonus episodes: I ran away to my aunt and uncle’s house, was fed lots of tasty food, played with their cat, and went kayaking, because mental health and recuperation are also pretty great ideas. And I ordered business cards because people keep asking for mine.