First Week and First Thoughts

After finishing up class last Friday, I felt a sense of happiness and comfort, both in the friendships I had made through the class and the feeling of internal reflection I had experienced over the two weeks of classes. I think I was also taking comfort in the fact that I was finally in a routine: going to class from 9am to 4pm, exploring DC for about 2 hours until 6pm, and finally heading home on the metro for the rest of the evening to cook dinner, write our nightly reflection, read a book, or watch a movie. I took pleasure in the leisurely pace of life during those two weeks. I was also extremely nervous for starting my internship at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). It was my first internship; I knew I would be out of my comfort zone for a while, trying to get acquainted with my supervisors, the other interns, and whatever projects I’m assigned. Alas, this was what I came to DC for, though, and I wanted to make the most out of the experience.

Tuesday morning I got on the metro, and still managed to get lost in DC even after two weeks in the city despite the fact that my building was one block over from the metro stop. Good thing I got there fifteen minutes early. The first day was mainly orientation. I will be working on the Project for Prosperity and Development which focuses on policy research in international development. In the morning, I got a tour of the building, including the ever-important coffee-maker. I was assigned a cubicle, shared with another intern, and a work email. I learned how to manage the project listserv and organize events for the department. It wasn’t the most impressive first day, but I definitely appreciated taking things slow which gave me time to get to know my two supervisors. We all went out for lunch together along with a few interns and simply chatted about our backgrounds and what we hoped to do after our internships. I found it so interesting to meet other college students from around the country traveling from Stanford to Carnegie Mellon to Vanderbilt. Sometimes I feel trapped inside the William and Mary bubble and forget that there are other students interested in the same topics and issues of social injustices as me. I loved having this opportunity to get to know other students in the same situation as me: looking for a way to use my passion for international development.

For the remainder of the week, I was assigned several projects to research and work on. The first project explores the charitable giving and social responsibility of corporations. I am compiling a database of the extent to which these private sector businesses donate resources to development research or actual projects. I have actually been struggling a bit because of the broad scope of this project. Regardless, I find that it ties in perfectly with our class discussion about the sector that is best equipped to address social issues. Many of us answered that it takes a combination of some or all sectors to address most problems since each sector presents a unique strength. I think it will be interesting to see which corporations donate the most and to which sector. I think this is exactly the type of information that needs to be collected and analyzed because I believe it can lead to more thoughtful consumer spending. If we know which companies are socially engaged or trying to improve the communities they work in, then we an better choose which to endorse and support.

The second project is a bit more relevant to my academic studies and research at W&M. We are looking at “triangular cooperation” in foreign aid and the way three countries can work together to better implement development projects by drawing on experiences from middle-income countries in addition to the high-income countries of the West. We are drawing on examples of successful cases of triangular cooperation and whether it can be formally incorporated into development approaches of many Western nations. This project really drew me in because one of my favorite things to study at college (TWAMP, I know) is foreign aid effectiveness and sustainability.

Besides these two more major projects, I have also been doing some small intern tasks for my supervisors. I have been working on editing and revising papers, which I have found surprisingly stimulating. I have also been able to write a few paragraphs here and there on different aid projects that will hopefully be used in reports and proposals for the department.

I think more than anything, I am trying to use this summer as a trial run for the “real world,” which will be hitting me in about one year, when I graduate from William and Mary. For most of my college career I assumed I would go into some sort of non-profit work to help communities through on-the-ground work. Only this past semester or two have I considered going into the public sector or a think tank for policy work. Through my studies and experiences while volunteering, I see that policy is the only way to change the status quo; the underlying issues need to be addressed through appropriate policies. This process is the most complicated, frustrating system to work through and this fact was why I was previously very interested in circumventing the policy change, heading directly for nonprofits and NGOs working with communities. I still don’t know which one is best for me, but hopefully this summer will help me decide my feelings toward policy work and its potential widespread impacts globally.

My personal goal for this week includes talking more one-on-one with my supervisors and other employees at CSIS to find out their motivations for working there as opposed to other possible paths for impacting communities. I also hope to just get to know people better and build relationships. If there was one thing I took away from our two week class, it was that all great leaders are able to relate to others, to communicate well, and build relationships to empower others to forge a greater tomorrow for themselves.

~ Michelle Selim

Categories: Academics, Careers, Community Engagement & Service, Student Blogs, Study Away, W&M in Washington

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