The DC Experience /// A New Chapter In My Life & Site Visits pt. 1

Before getting into the meat of this next entry, I would like to formally redact a statement that I issued in my last blog post. If my memory serves me correctly, I listed “eating Buffalo Wild Wings” as one of my hobbies – it is with a heavy heart (and most likely clogged arteries) that I must announce, as of Thursday, May 23rd, Buffalo Wild Wings and myself have decided to go our separate ways. Though we certainly had our fun over the past few years, it is time that our relationship must meet its end. You are undoubtedly asking yourselves how a holy union could possibly end so abruptly… Well allow me to be your muse.

I, Arvin Alaigh, have been a buffalo wing enthusiast for as long as I can remember. This particular Thursday, I was entranced by the temptation of 60-cent/wing night, so much so that earlier this day, I made the conscious decision of eating a light lunch. As a result, I was understandably famished by the time we finally headed to BWW around 7 PM. Once there I absolutely crushed my twelve boneless hot wings in about six minutes flat, scarfing them down with a tangible intensity that still haunts me today. This proved to be my ultimate undoing. The events that followed this “meal” were excruciatingly painful. Apparently, the Buffalo Wild Wings hot sauce has a corrosive property unbeknownst to most customers – I had the privilege of experiencing this firsthand. For the next few hours, I could feel my stomach and intestines slowly incinerating at the hands of this seemingly poisonous liquid. I spent the rest of the evening grimacing about in bed, chugging Pepto-Bismol, watching reruns of The OC on my computer and begging to God for mercy. I still felt aftershocks of my chicken wings the morning after, and it was then that I made the executive decision to sever ties with the restaurant. I acknowledge that I cannot blame anyone else for my misgivings, and I assume full responsibility for all events that transpired.

My first two weeks in Washington were mentally and physically exhausting, but in the most rewarding way possible. The Leadership & Community Engagement class consisted primarily of lectures, discussions and site visits. Though there was no set daily schedule, our activities fell between about 9 AM – 4 PM every day – the bulk of this time was spent visiting various individuals around the District. We ended up having eighteen site visits, most of which consisted of individuals representing their respective organizations in the nonprofit and/or political sectors. I could individually chronicle each detail of every site visit, but I feel that may be somewhat monotonous, and my goal with this blog is to secure my readers’ interests. For this reason, I’ll break down my top eight site visits (in no particular order) accompanied by brief descriptions –

1. Class of 1975 alumna Karen Schultz was our first visit of the Institute, and undoubtedly she was one of the class’s favorites. Her political career was highlighted by the hotly contested race for the 27th District of Virginia in November of 2007. Though she ended up losing in a widely controversial fight, she gained much insight and expertise on how elections are run, much of which she shared with our class. But in my opinion, the most appealing aspect of Ms. Schultz was her authenticity and genuineness; frankly, she was one of the nicest, most sincere individuals with whom we had met. She has also been a faculty member at Shenandoah University since 1981, having served as the Director of the Institute for Government and Public Service at the university since 2009.

2. Mike Henry is currently the Chief of Staff for Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, whose primary expertise lies in managing campaigns, boasts an impressive resume with a wealth of experience in local, state, federal and even presidential elections. In addition to this, he also worked with the ONE Campaign, a nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to ending extreme poverty around the world. Mike was relatively soft-spoken, yet he captivated the class with stories from his days managing campaigns, comparing them to his time at ONE. He also shared valuable insight on effective leadership qualities, speaking at length to Senator Kaine’s abilities as a leader and an effective agent of change.

3. We met with Mickey Bergmen of the Aspen Institute on the third day of our site visits. He is the Executive Director of the Global Alliances program at the Aspen Institute, which serves as “the Institute’s expert platform for establishing and implementing partnerships between the Aspen Institute, US government and public offices, the US private sector, and local counterparts and communities throughout the world.” His work specifically deals with promoting private-sector relationships as a means of assisting relationships between nations with little diplomatic interactions, such as Israel and Palestine. He quickly won over our class with his kind and jovial nature, captivating us with many stories from his adventures facilitating diplomacy around the world. My personal favorite set of anecdotes was regarding his January visit to North Korea – he explained the dynamic of the government and its officials, and told several humanizing stories of people with whom he had met. He pointed out how Western society tends to villainize North Koreans, but his interactions with them showed that they were ordinary people, just like us. This was a theme throughout all of Mickey’s anecdotes – though we have our emotional differences propagated by our respective individual identities, at the end of the day, we are all humans. Regardless of whether we’re Israeli, Palestinian, North Korean, Russian or American, we will laugh, cry and emote, and it was refreshing to see Mickey’s candor in discussing this. In summary, Aspen was a phenomenal site visit. Though I am not particularly interested in mediating foreign relations, Mickey’s personability and knowledge made it one of the most captivating and enjoyable site visits of the two weeks.

4. The Millennium Challenge Corporation is a foreign aid agency that was first commissioned by Congress in 2004, so it is still relatively new. Essentially, it distributes very large sums of money (usually in the hundreds of millions of dollars) to developing countries over a certain period of time. A nation’s eligibility is determined by its score on 17 different indicators under three categories: Ruling Justly, Investing in People, Economic Freedom. These indicators are compiled by outside parties, such as Freedom House, World Bank Institute, and World Health Organization. As for the site visit itself, it differed greatly from any other that we had – as we entered the office, we were greeted with an array of national flags and portraits of world leaders. Immediately, I felt a certain energy about the office; MCC’s staffers seem to don a motivated, professional aura that was especially fitting for such champions of international development. Our presenters were informative in detailing the specifics of MCC compacts, going in depth on the protocol of how they are granted and implemented. Though it lacked the personable quality that made Mickey and Karen special, we still loved MCC and its work. We witnessed an organization truly excel at what it set out to do – that is, to effectively distribute hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. Out of all of the sites our class visited, I believe that MCC objectively operated on the grandest scale, and as a result generated the greatest number of tangible results for those in need. I feel that their work environment was representative of how the organization itself ran – with great professionalism, efficiency, and aplomb.

Okay because this is a lot longer than I anticipated (and I’m not sure I want this post to be >2000 words), I will post my next four site visits as well as some reflections on my next entry.


Categories: Community Engagement & Service, Student Blogs, Student Leadership Development, Study Away, W&M in Washington
1 Comment
  1. Nate K

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