Myself and the other DC scholars outside of the Embassy of Ecuador (Photo Credit: TJ Cheng)
If you had told me that I would get to have frozen yogurt with a former ambassador on my first day at the Middle East Institute (MEI), I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But life, and Washington DC, is full of surprises. On my first day of work, my supervisor took the other intern and myself out for lunch and dessert, and, sure enough, as I was wondering about what topping to get, Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin, current head of MEI and former ambassador to Pakistan, walked through the door, recognized my supervisor, and joined us at our table. But the diplomat sightings did not stop there. That afternoon, former ambassador Robert Ford, who recently joined the Institute after serving in Syria, was interviewed by several reporters in the library. So in the space of eight hours I got to meet two ambassadors, not bad for my first day on the job. It’s one of the main advantages of coming to this city.
Washington DC is the capital of the United States, the setting of House of Cards, and, this semester, the host of 16 William & Mary students. Every President, except for George Washington, has called this town home, and it has changed quite a lot throughout the years. Founded along the banks of the Potomac River, the city was briefly captured by the British during the War of 1812. During the occupation, the British troops burned the majority of the government buildings, including the White House and the Capitol. During the Civil War, DC became the most heavily fortified city on earth, as the Potomac River was now the unofficial border between North and South. In the 1930s, unemployed World War I veterans came to the city to make their demands heard, only to be turned away at the point of a gun. In the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr. came to this city and gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. When King was assassinated, riots gripped the city for several days. Walking around the city today, you will be reminded of both the triumphs and tragedies of this nation, its successes and its failures. This semester I get to experience both the past and present of DC first hand as part of the William & Mary in Washington program.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. The fall W&M in DC program is a semester long program in which a group of William & Mary students are selected to spend a half a year living, learning, and working in the nation’s capital. The program is coordinated by the W&M in Washington Office, located in Dupont Circle. While here, we work a full-time (30 to 40 hour) internship, while also having class in the evenings and on Friday afternoons. The evening class, which meets on Tuesday and Thursday, focuses on the theme of the semester, in this case “Political Economy of Development – Model, Policy, and Change,” which is taught by Professor TJ Cheng of the Government Department. The Friday class involves a series of speakers coming into class to speak about the challenges of political and economic development. These speakers, who represent a wide variety of organizations, discuss topics that relate to the semester theme. Most of our speakers thus far, have focused on the challenges and possibilities for Latin America, and it has been very fascinating for me to compare and contrast the issues facing Latin America and the Middle East.
A semester in DC provides the opportunity to interact with the vast number of voices in the nation’s capital. As DC scholars, we have been exposed to a large number of influential viewpoints in the past couple of weeks, and it shows no signs of letting up. One of the scholars, thanks to her internship at the Center for American Progress, has already seen Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and Corey Booker. Another is helping to write speeches for Eric Holder (my idea of inserting puns into the speeches has sadly been ignored). Still another is working at the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where she is able to see the debate regarding the countless international crises happening throughout the world firsthand.
Needless to say it has been a very hectic, but rewarding couple of weeks. At this point, most everyone has settled into the swing of things at their internships and I’m looking forward to capitalizing (see what I did there?) on our experiences for future blog posts. Stay tuned…
Some of us in front of the Smithsonian Castle