Every experience is rewarding in a different way. Some are purely learning experiences, where the knowledge of a new technical skill or the understanding of a process is made. Others are focused on the experience itself, about being in the moment and having a good time. Both are valuable, and both help to further develop you in many different ways. My time in DC was a learning experience for sure. Although I have always been interested in taking part in politics, I had not previously done so. Most of my knowledge was from having the news on in the background or from seeing what was going on while reading online newspapers. I wasn’t actively seeking out what was happening on a day to day basis. Living and working in DC, I learned how important it is to stay informed. In order to stay connected with what is going on, it takes effort to follow stories and the knowledge of how to do so. Learning the sources that the people working in politics go to in order to find out accurate news and how they kept up with multiple sources at a time helped me to overcome the initial challenge of being fully aware of what was happening in Washington.
My time here has also taught me to be more critical of what I hear and to always think about both sides of every issue. I like to think about this as not only being applicable when listening to information given by the media, but also in everyday situations. When talking with people, their side of things is always as important to listen to as your own. You have to respect other people’s views because you can never know exactly through what lens they are viewing things through. Even if you try to relate with people, it is an individual’s own experiences that shape how they view the world. It is important to recognize that and try to understand as best as you can.
If there were one recommendation I would give to NYU DC, it would be to have everyone work the same number of hours a week at their internship. Because there is such a high variation in the number of hours people work, teachers cannot accurately assign levels of work that is accommodating for the whole class. Some people chose to only work a few half days a week, while others chose to work almost full time. For me, working an average of 30 hours a week was a much bigger task than my classmates only handling 15 hours. When we are all getting assigned the same amounts of work, I think it hurts those that either chose or were required to work longer hours. Although I appreciate the freedom to have control over my work schedule, I do think it would be better for NYU to establish a reasonable number of hours that way student’s academic work is not negatively impacted.
The most rewarding aspect of my time spent in Washington was seeing how much I accomplished over the semester. I had never thought of myself as someone that would be interning on Capitol Hill, especially in the actual Capitol. Realizing that this was something I wanted to take a chance on to see if I liked it was intimidating at first since I knew I had very little working knowledge of Congress. Watching myself accomplish the goals I had set for my time here and learn a ton about something I knew fairly little about taught me about my own perseverance and strength. I now look forwards even more to what the future holds for me.
Tips and tricks are often given for students planning on studying away at an international site. New cultures and customs can make life there difficult, and at times it can even seem impossible to navigate, but people rarely give tips for others traveling across a few states. Staying in the same general region of the country, no one really gave me tips for moving from New York to Washington besides a few good restaurants I should try to go to. I have learned a lot this semester through being challenged and pushed beyond by comfort zone, and the tricks that I have complied to make my life easier here may help someone in the future. Whether just considering whether this city is the right place for them, or just wanting to know what to plan for, I hope my advice can provide guidance and recommendations for the most successful time spent in D.C.
The first step someone should take when considering whether or not to study in D.C. is to evaluate their reasons for going. Almost everyone that comes here comes with the intent to pursue an internship opportunity that is not available to them in New York. For many of us this semester, that meant Capitol Hill. With every upperclassmen in the program holding an internship along with classes (granted there are only around 40 of us), we are bound to run into each other at some point. I remember my surprise when I ran into my classmate that lives across the hall at a briefing in one of the House office buildings. But working while also being a student is difficult, especially in a office where working until 6 or 7 can be expected. When you have students that are all working in politically affiliated offices, taking classes surrounding various political topics, and are living in the nation’s capital, the environment gets focused on politics 24/7. And if you are interested in politics, then you will love it. Even outside of work and class you will often find students debating one another about the validity of a certain candidate or on a vote that took place on the Senate floor that day. But if politics isn’t your thing, then you’ve been warned.
For someone already planning on coming to D.C., I would say that the most important thing is to already have established what you want to get out of your experience here. There are a ton of highly connected people here, but it is easy to get stuck in a routine and not take advantage of the opportunities around you. If your goal is to get recommendations for your future internship/job hunt, then make sure to take advantage of the chance to impress those that can put in a good word for you later on. If you want to get connections because you plan on returning to Washington, use your office, as well as NYU, to meet people that you can start building relationships with. NYU has a vast network of alumni working in D.C., and simply asking to be connected with some people could lead to a close relationship down the road. Networking is part of the culture here, but it doesn’t have to be formal. Most people are willing to grab a coffee with you during the week, which is a good chance to learn about what they do and to ask them for advice.
Many of the tips and tricks that help make living here more enjoyable can be learned early on, but if you came here for the wrong reasons, or end up missing out on what the city had to offer you, then they won’t help in the end.
Living in Washington, DC, has taught me a lot about myself. The struggles of day to day life are much different than what I experienced while living in New York City, though some of the same problems do persist. The NYU building here creates an interesting environment that I will probably never experience again. With classrooms and dorms located within the same structure, there is a constant battle between relaxation and academics. Balancing an internship along with 18 credits worth of classes has taught me more about what does not work than what does. My actual internship has matured me and informed me more than I would have ever been able to do on my own. I initially did not think that moving from New York to DC would be a big change, but spending a semester here has shown me how different two major American cities can be. Comparing it to my home city of Dallas, the differences between all three are even more prominent. My ability to adapt and thrive in different environments will help me for the rest of my life, teaching me the importance of recognizing and accepting differences within a whole body.
I do not think I would have had nearly the same experience here if it had not been because of my internship. As an intern for Senator Harry Reid, I got an inside look on how our Congress functions. Near the end of my internship, I would always find myself having these mini self-realizations as I was leaving work. The low murmur of voices, the brisk air on my face, and the night sky lit up by the capitol building—the setting alone was practically begging me to have an “Aha!” moment as I walked down the steps of the capitol.
These moments that I experienced were less about me realizing my grand purpose in life or anything like that, and were more about me realizing what I was accomplishing and what I had learned. If someone had told me 5 years ago that this would be my life in 2015, I would have had some serious doubts. I did not show any real political interest up until recently, which even has surprised myself. It is interesting to reflect upon my own mind’s response not to being introduced to a new topic, but to being submersed into it. The political world, although functioning for the general public, has a set of goals different from what you will find from those outside of it. Every policy can carry vast consequences, which creates an air of intensity around every vote. This semester has shown me that I do not have the same goals of those working there to enable me to devote all my time to the life of someone else. Seeing the devotion that employees have within the office, some working the same place for over 20 years, made me really consider whether or not I would be willing to do that for someone. The struggles that come with serving in the public sector had to be considered as well.
Throughout life, learning what you don’t enjoy doing is just as valuable as learning what you do enjoy. For me, my internship experience helped me understand the type of workplace that I best thrive in and the type of work that I feel most fulfilled doing. Even though it did not necessarily narrow down my interests, it did help me understand how I think and approach assignments compared to others. Knowing myself better helps me better understand others, enabling me to work better with the world around me.
Misadventure happens to the best of us. Sometimes all the preparation in the world can not help us avoid a mishap. These hiccups that often happen while traveling can feel like major setbacks. In the moment, a missed flight or a wrong turn can feel like it will throw your entire day out of motion. Mix in the stress of traveling to an unfamiliar place, and that feeling only intensifies. What I find most frustrating about mishaps that happen while traveling is that a lot of the time, the problem is out of my hands. I can understand if I cause something to go wrong, but when it has nothing to do with my actions and I am forced to rely on the strangers around me, that is the hardest.
My most recent mishap happened while taking a bus from DC to New York City. I was heading up for the weekend to visit friends in the city, and having had a positive experience earlier in the semester, I figured it would be a smooth trip like last time. I should have known from the start that things were bound to go wrong.
Arriving early to Union Station so I had time to grab dinner and then get in line for the bus, I felt ready for the 4 hour trip ahead. Typically, people begin to get in line about an hour ahead of the departure time, with boarding starting 30 minutes before departure. For my trip scheduled to leave at 4pm, I got in line at 3pm and was surprised to see that a few people were already in line. Having stood in line for around 20 minutes without a bus in sight, I started talking with the people in front of me that looked equally distressed by the lack of a bus. I soon found out that they had been scheduled for the 3:15pm bus, but had been forced to take a later trip because it had been overbooked. It was unsettling to learn that there were problems with the previously scheduled trip, yet it was somehow comforting to have other people there with me in a similar situation. By the time it was 3:45pm I started to get really concerned. This was the first time I was taking the bus on my own and I knew that I wouldn’t know what to do if the bus did’t come. To my relief, the bus came right at 4pm and were on the road a few minutes later.
Unfortunately, the hour late bus was representative of the trip as a whole. As I was putting my stuff in the bins overhead, a man walked by with a large backpack that had locks hanging off the zippers. My back turned to him, the locks caught in my braid and pulled me by the hair as he continued to walk down the aisle, completely unaware. Then, as I was walking down the aisle back to my seat, the driver slammed on the brakes. The forceful stop pushed me forward, throwing my knee straight into the corner of a chair. To top it all off, the trip that was supposed to take 4 hours dragged on for 6 slow hours because of traffic.
This bus ride to New York was unenjoyable to say the least, but despite all of the unfortunate events that happened, arriving to be with friends in the city made me feel like it was all worth it. I wouldn’t say that I learned much from this experience, except maybe patience, but I do feel like misadventures such as this are an undeniable part of life.
I feel as though my time at NYU’s Washington Square campus really spoiled me in terms of great restaurants. With tons of options no matter what part of town you are in, it is hard to find a bad meal. Before coming to DC, I had not given its array of restaurants much thought. When I think of DC, I typically think of politics or art, but not food. To my surprise though, this city has some lovely spots that are too delicious to keep to myself. From a French bakery, to some farm to table home cooking, to even an all American chili joint, this city is filled with some not so hidden gems that are not only satisfying to the palette, but have unique atmospheres as well. Trying out new restaurants with friends is a fun way to escape the all work no play atmosphere that can take over the city during the week.
Located right down the street from the NYU building, PAUL is a French bakery over 120 years old that is known for its fresh bread that is baked daily through traditional methods. Besides their wide variety of loafs, they offer sandwiches, coffee, and delicious pastries. Although PAUL has many locations all over the world, it feels like a cozy yet modern shop, a perfect place to study if you like the hum of a calm, public space. When I have a lot of work to do I like to take time to head down the street for a fruit tart and a coffee.
Our nation’s Founding Fathers understood the need for a country that provided basic civil liberties for all people, but Founding Farmers understands the need for quality food straight from the farm. A co-op-owned restaurant, over 40,000 family farmers of North Dakota supply the kitchen. And trust me, you can taste the difference. Perpetually crowded, there is a wait even if you have a reservation. They have three locations, but the one in central DC is by far the closest to me. My two favorite things to order here are their chicken and waffles and their fish and chips. Both are equally delectable and make you feel like you are having a real meal made up of true comfort food. For dessert, the beignets are a must, they come piping hot with three different dipping sauces. For me, Founding Farmers not only makes me feel good about eating there because they support the family farming industry, but their food is satisfying and comforting as well.
When you hear that a president favors a restaurant, you know it must be good. Establishing itself in DC in 1958, Ben’s Chili Bowl has become an iconic staple for locals and tourists alike, even receiving visits from President Barack Obama. Obviously, their speciality is their chili. A simple place, Ben’s Chili Bowl has a straight forward menu that focuses on what they are good at. Their chili is made with a secret family recipe that they won’t share with you even if you ask (and I have). It does not have any fancy additions or crazy flavors to it, but instead, tastes like the kind of chili you hope your great-grandmother once made. Perfect for cooler nights, it is easy to see why it is a DC tradition.
While DC never seemed to me like a city that would suit a foodie, I have had the chance to try some really great spots that have helped me to understand the flavors of the city. For me, experiencing the popular restaurants and cafes of a city supplements my knowledge of the culture that exists there and helps me to see DC through the eyes of the locals.
When I think of DC, I do not think of secret hideaways and cozy nooks. I do not think of rustic cafes and little vintage stores. But contrary to my own initial belief, this city is filled with a ton of hidden gems, all perfect to either study in, relax in, or maybe even just waste time in. Having a space to escape to, or a “third place” as Ray Oldenburg calls it, is vital to the life of a community. People can not exist only at home and at work (although many people in my office do just that), they need places that they are comfortable, but also alive in. The outside interactions that these places provide, whether it be random conversations with the strangers at the table beside you, or between you and your friends while grabbing a coffee, lead to a brighter disposition. For society as a whole, places such as parks and libraries provide the backdrop for collective relaxation and casual interaction. While some people try to use work to escape their home life and vice-versa, each place carries with it a unique set of emotions and challenges, and one will end up simply shifting the stress to another subject. True escape is in the third place.
For me, my third place is the Kogod Courtyard within the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. When I think of a museum, I often don’t think of relaxation. Most of my experiences with museums start off with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, with a plan to see every piece of art they have on display. About halfway through, I begin to fade. Everything starts to look the same, but I know I came in there with a purpose, so I persevere. By the end, I feel completely defeated. I never see everything I had planned in the beginning, mainly because my feet start to hurt and I do not have the motivation to stand for more than 3 hours straight. But let me tell you, this museum is different.
First, you have to see the courtyard.
Upon entering the courtyard, the first thing you notice is the sheer size and openness of the space. At 28,000 square feet, the courtyard immediately provides a breath of fresh air from the condensed hallways of the museum. Surrounded by the original walls of the old Patent Office Building, there is a strong mix of classic and modern architecture that makes the aesthetic of the space highly dynamic. Giant ficus and black olive trees are bundled together throughout the space, adding a strong sense of nature without adding in the various elements as well. Large slabs of marble surround the plants, providing ample space to sit or lie down in addition to the cafe sized tables and chairs that are scattered about. The ceiling, which is without doubt my favorite aspect, resembles a wave viewed from the ocean floor. Curving overhead, the grids project different shadows onto the floor depending on what time of day you visit.
Often when I spend time here, it is so that I have a place to study that has natural light but is not outside, has a nice amount of white noise, and has coffee. Checking off all three of these boxes, the Kogod Courtyard features a fourth thing to enjoy, centuries of valuable art. One of my favorite things to do during the middle of a study session is to take a quick break and wander the halls. Many spots in the museum feature comfortable couches if one desires a change of scenery.
Because the NYU DC building hosts our housing and classrooms all under one roof, it is easy to have the distinctions between general life and school blurred. When I need a place all to myself (but not really), I escape to the courtyard.
Upon first glance, the fashion world of DC can appear limited at best. Men in suits, women in dresses and heels, it all begins to look the same. But who can be to blame? This lack of diversity in dress is not helped by the fact that Washington is a city known for work, not play. Often called a 9-to-5 town, individuals must dress appropriately for their workplace. These workplaces, unlike what you might find in another major city such as San Francisco, are traditionally minded in relation to how a workplace should be viewed. Men are most often dressed in suits and ties, or at the very minimum, a collared shirt. Women have developed a small amount of lenity in their dress, switching from the Clinton-esque pantsuit to a variety of blouses, skirts, and dresses. Some women have even ventured away from the staple work heel, opting to wear ballet flats for their comfort and functionality. Exuding professional style, the residents of DC dress with a certain touch of refinement that is required in an environment such as this.
Nike, Adidas, Reebok, all common brands you will find on women’s feet during their morning/evening commute. This was one thing that I first noticed after I moved here, and although it is kind of surprising at first, I understand why and have even succumbed to the trend myself. If you go and stand outside, you will see women dressed up all the way down to their ankles, and then will spot clunky athletic shoes at the bottom. It is actually a little humorous. But no matter how odd this looks, this is a trend that will never die because it is one of pure necessity.
Yet is does carry with it a feeling that who people are at the office only begins once they arrive at the office. That fashion only matters once you arrive at your destination is different from my experience in New York where street style is just as important. There, your commute to wherever you are heading has to be dressed just as well as what is expected when you arrive. Women here in DC have blatantly rejected the discomfort that comes with common dress shoes, at least during their commute, and have replaced it with whatever they choose.
While style in office spaces remains traditional, style outside of the workplace is beginning to evolve to give DC a look of its own. The air of the city brings with it a sense of conservatism. Classic architecture, federal buildings, established museums, these all fill the city with traditionalism. But individuals can be seen breaking those traditional expectations. Bright, mixed patterns can be spotted on patrons of popular restaurants such as Founding Farmers, bringing a pop of color to the setting. At the Kennedy Center on the symphony’s opening night, the gala revealed colored suits and modern gowns. If the workweek is the city’s time to dress to classic aesthetics, then the weekend is its time to let go. With the after-hours fashion also comes a different air to the city. A sense of relaxation takes over, with people a little less rushed to get where they are heading. The casual feeling is brought on by the freedom that being outside of the workplace provides.
The style permeating throughout Washington is without doubt one of classic professionalism, but as younger generations continue to pour into the city, the style here is evolving. While DC seems lacking on many of the “trends” seen in other major cities, it does not seem right for it to be a city of trends and fads. With such a deep history, style in DC can only develop on its own terms.
I have already seen almost every location I have on my list to visit while here in DC. Areas of Georgetown, streets of Alexandria, parks in Virginia; I can imagine exactly what they look like. Not because I have been there, but because I have already meticulously planned out each of my anticipated trips. I have looked up photos, researched places to eat, and even budgeted for tours and specialty events (such as using a pumpkin cannon at a fair in Virginia). My preparation through technology, the internet and various travel apps, has allowed me to see my future destinations in a depth that earlier in history wouldn’t have been possible without a physical visit.
Before the vast onset of technology into our everyday lives, travel was much more mysterious and unpredictable. Travelers could not pull up photos and compare hotels the way we do now. I personally like to pull up a hotel on google maps and then explore the entire neighborhood while in street view, but I doubt anyone was doing that 15, 20 years ago. The simple act of showing up was intertwined with feelings of anxiety and excitement. What would the room look like? Would it be in a nice area? What if what you heard about the space wasn’t true? The traveler would have been filled with delight if the space lived up to their expectations, but imagine the disappointment if the pictures in their mind significantly differed from what was in front of them. While disappointment is still common in situations such as this, there is no denying that travelers can take greater preparations and now hold considerably more control over their outcomes. An article on the Reach to Teach website, a company that helps send teachers overseas to teach English, writes on how technology has changed the way we travel and the way we think of travel. I had not previously considered some of the aspects they write about, such as the influence of online reviews on the traveler and the reviewed company.
Companies such as Travelocity and TripAdvisor not only make themselves involved in providing visuals of travel options for people, but help ensure that the trip as a whole will be a pleasant experience. Reviews are available for every aspect of a trip, from airports to restaurants to excursions, any and all travelers can voice their experience, positive and negative, for the whole world to read.
Reviews can hold extremely vital information for planning a trip, but two key problems can arise with their use. First, they can lead to a mindset of indecision by flooding the person with excessive information. With so many options available, it is possible to become paralyzed by variety. A second problem is that it is difficult to discern the validity of a single online review against another. A bad experience for one person can weigh just as heavy as great experiences for 20 people, especially if not all 20 people write a review. Another aspect of this problem is the history of each traveler. For example, for someone who has never visited the oceanside, a mediocre beach may be rated quite highly by them, not having anything to compare it to. On the other hand, an experienced traveler that visits a nice beach by typical standards may rate the experience low because they have experienced the top tier of travel. Moving even deeper into the problems, those who post to these websites are a subcategory of travelers all their own.
Technology has immensely impacted the way we travel. This impact is especially seen in how we prepare for and manage our expectations of a destination. I feel as though the research that is now put into planning a trip diminishes the extent of the sense of adventure that comes with visiting an unfamiliar place. But to contrast that, I think that our ability to use technology in planning a trip helps us to add variety and prepare for activities that might not be available without the research. For me, I will risk losing a little bit of shock for a vetted experience.
“With so few past landmarks preserved, it is easy to lose sight of the rich heritage of the city’s architectural landscape, and thus it becomes ever more important to retell the stories of these lost places for new audiences.” —James Goode, Lost Washington, D.C.
There is no denying that DC is a city saturated in history. Representing our nation’s past, structures such as the National Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial make citizens immediately aware of what DC once was. A land of revolution and innovation, the image of the city is a present day representation of the traditional American spirit. DC leads you between marble and glass facades, momentarily pulling you out of the present. But underneath all of these modern structures that now surround classic monuments, lies a DC that we will never experience. John DeFerrari, a government worker and cityscape blogger, writes about the historic city in Lost Washington, D.C., a tale of how our old architecture has been lost to urban development. He writes about 23 buildings and landmarks, varying across residential, commercial, and industrial. Of these buildings, 10 of them are still standing in some way, shape, or form. The loss of these structures prevents my ability to fully experience DC as it was built to be experienced, but with DeFerrari’s insights into the past, I have gained a better understanding of what once existed.
Strolling through central DC, the history is obvious. Placards with names and dates are upon many of the buildings here and statues depict men that once walked these same streets. But as my impression of DC is shaped by what I can see, DeFerrari reminds me that I must be aware of what I can not see as well. The Knickerbocker Theater is a perfect example of this. Built in 1916, on the corner of 18th Street and Columbia Road, the Knickerbocker was an impressive movie theater, able to seat 1,700 patrons. In 1922, Washington came under heavy snowfall. The city amassed 28 inches of snow, collapsing the roof of the theater and killing 98 people. Afterwards, the theater was rebuilt as the Ambassador Theater and stood until 1969 when it was torn down. A bank now sits upon the lot. DeFerrari argues that this piece of land succumbed to the fate similar of many lots around the city. He says that an urbanization of historic areas has resulted in “our collective failure to preserve the city’s cultural heritage.” While to the average American citizen Washington appears to be overflowing with history, they would be devastated, much like I was, to learn that so much has been lost. DeFerrari points his finger at politicians and developers for robbing the citizens of their country’s past.
While much of DeFerrari’s writing focuses on a physical past, he does manage to familiarize the reader with those entrepreneurs who helped develop the city’s expanding identity. One particular character was Frank Munsey, a significant figure in the publishing business who owned numerous national papers and even a local bank. Munsey developed a printing process for magazines that combined poor quality “pulp” paper with racy content, bringing about the era of pulp fiction. Despite all his success, Munsey’s own development could not escape the tragic fate that has taken hold of so many buildings in DC. DeFerrari writes that Munsey built a grand 12 story Italian Renaissance Revival building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. This was used to house his banking and publishing headquarters. It was demolished in 1979.
Although it is easy to become somber at the thought of what has been irreversibly lost, DeFerrari writes not with a message of gloom, but with one of hope. He calls readers to realize that through resources that document this lost city, one is able to better understand both the past and the present DC. Personally, having learned that there are so many factors that shaped DC into the city it is today, my overall view of the city has shifted to accommodate this vast historic knowledge. Without appreciation and knowledge of the past, how can we have it for the present?
I appreciate the organization that routines bring into my life. Although I try, I have never been the person that can readily agree to last minute plans, or leave situations merely up to chance. For me, a routine establishes balance, something hard to come by naturally when juggling classes, an internship, student government, and extracurriculars. A routine provides me with stability in an otherwise chaotic day
Moving to a new city practically promises to throw your routine into chaos for the first few weeks. Not only is everything more difficult, but it takes longer as well. For me, my first challenge I faced was stocking my fridge. Although I now have a car here in DC, which turns out to be particularly useful when grocery shopping, my first experience involved the public bus, a friend, and a grandma style shopping cart. A store 20 minutes away does not seem that long when planning a trip from the comfort of your own bed, but those deceivingly short 20 minutes can quickly feel more like an hour when you factor in summer heat, a tight schedule, and a crowded bus. My weekly trip to the store has undergone a complete transformation, thus altering what I consider my routine.
6:30am – Wake up
Don’t let this time deceive you, I am not a morning person (although I am slowly being forced to become one). Unfortunately for me, my office does not cater to the preferred hours of interns, so my day starts off before the sun is up. I have grown to appreciate this time in the morning, when it is still dark out and my roommate is still asleep, as my own. Cooking is something that I genuinely enjoy, so after I get ready I will focus on getting my breakfast and lunch ready to take to work. I find that starting off my day with something that takes my mind off of things, while also being sincerely enjoyed, is quite gratifying.
7:50am – Get on the train
Now that the weather has cooled, my walk to the metro helps me wake up and feel refreshed for my day. Most people are only out this early if they are picking up coffee before work, so the streets are usually not too busy. The train seems to have a schedule of its own, to be routinely unreliable, which normally throws a bit of havoc into my day. Some mornings I get to take my time walking into work, enjoying the landscape around the Capitol, while other mornings I hope that I do not appear as frantic as I feel.
8:30am – 5:30pm – Work
While I can’t write on specifics, I do have a small routine within my workday, but besides these few set tasks, it can be pretty unpredictable.
6:15pm – 9:15pm
After commuting back to my dorm, I head straight to class. My schedule is tight, but it keeps me on track since I know my time is limited. We get a break in the middle of class, which is my chance to grab a quick snack to help hold me over until dinner. Luckily, my professors all know that the majority of the class comes straight from work, so they allow eating. It is around this time that I feel the toll of my day.
9:15pm -Dinner, HW, Sleep
Finally! So close to sleep! At this point, I make dinner and work on any homework I have due within the next few days. I try to go to sleep at the same time every night, but it usually ends up being later than I intended. A consistent time to go to sleep is something that I wish I could make a routine, but with factors I can’t control, such as how long it will take me to make dinner or do homework, it tends to vary.
While my weekdays remain fairly consistent, I like to free up time on the weekends for things like exploring the city, hanging out with friends, or even just watching Netflix. Giving my weekends variability helps me feel balanced between having a schedule and having freedom to relax. For me, a routine helps me maximize the use of my time. While I make sure to allow for flexibility within each day, there are so many unknowns in the world that having something planned can help me feel grounded. I am not bound to a routine, it helps me live freely.
Much like New York, DC is not the city where you usually find residents taking a casual stroll. Also like New York, if you do happen to find people walking at a leisurely pace, they tend to be a large group of, dare I say the word, tourists. Yes, tourists. The dreaded individual wishing to familiarize themselves with a foreign place, hoping to expand their understanding of the world by seeing how others experience life first hand. Obviously, I am not a tourist, living in my single semester dorm room with the majority of my items back in Dallas. I am not a tourist when I get confused on the metro and take the train heading the completely opposite direction of my destination. And I am definitely not a tourist when I discretely pull out my phone to take photos of national monuments among the flurry of guided walking tours, complete with headsets and lanyards. No, I live here, and therefore do not act in these ridiculous ways.
But, on this very special occasion, I allowed myself to fall into temptation. I took a stroll, I pandered my desire to take my time when passing the Capitol, and I even stopped to hear some flags beat in the wind. I slowed down this weekend to experience my surroundings, and they did not disappoint.
I headed to the U.S. Capitol Building, an area that I am fairly familiar with. Although it is covered in scaffolding, the Capitol’s vast white dome can not be missed. Flanked by the House and the Senate, the dome holds in it an associative quality, bringing together the two houses to be united within one building. Although this building is also my office, there are qualities of it that pass unnoticed when I am walking in during the early morning hours. The typical soundtrack of the city, undistinguishable speech and cars/buses, is not found. Instead, it has been replaced with the wind, rustling though my hair and filling my ears, only interrupted by soft voices that appear much further than they are. I can smell fall coming in the crisp September air and continue walking.
Beginning to steer off my daily trail, I pass the Hart Senate Building. A few of my classmates work in that building, and they instantly come to mind, their regular path so slightly different from mine, yet our destinations vastly different. During work hours, I travel between the two underground, with the sweeping magnolias that now line my path out of sight. There are less voices in this area, which I am appreciating as a break from the constant murmur that I had previously become accustomed to. As I keep turning, a clear destination still not decided, I find myself on a street that runs parallel with the back of a long line of buildings, beaming in their sweaters of white marble and sharp peaks. This street stands out from the others by being flanked by a long botanical garden. Standing strong outside of its element, leaves held high and proud, it provides a daring contrast to the monotone surroundings. I feel as though it was here before the buildings were built, casting their shadows down on the innocent shrubs and blooms, but I can not be sure. An embrace of sweet florals faintly passes me by through the wind and I instantly wish I had found this area sooner, but with deadlines sitting stagnant back at my dorm, I head back.
Winston Churchill once said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”, and for many people I would assume that change is interpreted synonymously with movement. Moving forwards, pushing towards a goal, keeping the fire burning, it is all crucial, yet also preventative. We lose the moments that nature should be able to easily compel us to notice, setting our eyes on the end target without stopping to see, hear, or smell anything on the way.
Botanical Garden D.C.
“Calling for a cloture”
“Votes required to stop a filibuster”
“Includes sunset provisions”
Languages are complex, vast, and often serve as a barrier between two people that speak different ones. Not only are the individual words different, but many times accents can stand in the way of a nonnative achieving that perfect pronunciation of a new language. If the language uses something other than the standard English 26-letter alphabet, then that brings with it a whole other set of problems, such as a differing sentence structure. But what if you face challenges within your own language?
Moving to DC, I never thought of language as something I would have to prepare for. But soon after starting my internship in the Senate, I realized that I would have to learn the meaning of many new terms and words very quickly if I wanted to keep up with current events. I had prepared for how I would get there, what I would wear, what tasks I would need to do, and had even reviewed the staff list for my office, but language never crossed my mind. Political terms that I have never had to use, or even realized that I needed to understand, had been thrown into everything from my daily briefings to economic reports. It felt odd to be exploring a world of my own language.
Within every community, whether it be a neighborhood, an organization, or even among close friends, people create terms to help them convey their message. Subject specific terms are convenient for those using them, aiding in a group’s ability to function collectively, as well as serving as a binding point among all involved. But I have to wonder what happens when, within your own language, you begin to isolate others.
I have seen this begin to happen in my own conversations. For example, I will be trying to talk to a professor that works for a nonprofit, or a classmate interning for the Department of Justice, and words and phrases that have become commonplace in my office impede conversations held outside of their respective settings. How can I discuss the current status of legislation with my peer, who is also trying to tell me about a court decision that was made recently, when neither one of us can understand the specialized terms the other is saying? It has occurred quite often, and you either have to try to guess what the individual meant by using context clues, or you have to interrupt and ask for a further explanation, disrupting the flow of the conversation. But these moments happen just as often on my own as they do when involving another person. I will find myself reading through reports and prepared documents, when all of a sudden I come across a word I have never encountered before, only to find out it is a formal or specialized version of something that I do, in fact, know. While I understand the purpose of specialization of terms, I question the consequential separation among people through a medium that is supposed to unite us all.
While working with a communications committee, I have realized that there must be a balance between keeping the language a certain way to accurately convey information, while also keeping it accessible to the general population. No matter how many acronyms and phrases a group comes up with to make their everyday tasks easier, they cannot be used unless first introduced to the public. This handling of language is another aspect of the variety that lies within a single language. Sure, I have faced language barriers while abroad, and a few times even here at home, but only in the most literal sense. Here in DC, my understanding of what it means for us all to be speaking the same language is constantly being challenged.
If I am heading somewhere new, or if I don’t remember how to get somewhere, then I immediately turn to a map. But not a physical map, no, those aren’t nearly detailed enough for a direction-impaired individual such as myself. I need the map app on my phone, the navigation system in my car, every type of subway, bus, and rail app I can find to help me on my way. I know that like clockwork, there will come a point in my journey (that was supposed to be a 10 minute drive to the local market) that I will:
A. miss so many turns that I have to completely reroute my directions
B. become so restless with the path that I’m being told to take that I ignore my directions, try to get there on my own a.k.a. get myself completely lost, turn back on navigation, and spend the next 5 minutes trying to get back to where I just was
You see, I have absolutely no sense of direction. But here in the states, that doesn’t cause much of a problem; I grab my phone and I can go anywhere. Every once in a while, I will have to ask a stranger for help, but it is not common enough to cause any impact on my life. Because I am often following a specific route to get somewhere, my image of the city I am in forms along certain streets and corners. The buildings that line the path to my internship everyday form the background for my life in DC.
My experience is almost completely reversed when I remove myself from the familiarities of the USA and travel beyond the reach of my online maps. When out of the country, I immediately give up the reigns and rely on someone else to lead the way. The most significant difference is that here in DC, I’m often traveling back and forth on my own, and when I’m out of the country, I’m always with my parents or other people. It is easy to let go and be comfortable wandering around a new city when you know you have someone willing to keep track of how to get back home, but if you are the person responsible, then it makes it impossible to truly be free from the restraints of navigation.
There is such a difference between becoming lost, and allowing yourself to become lost. The admission of defeat to a world so much larger than ourselves brings with it such a deep immersion into an environment, so new, that we gain the ability to observe, to absorb, all that was once so close to becoming background noise. I now look back and wonder what I have missed in places that I have been, but have not truly seen. There appears to be a state of immersion, the ability to soak up everything around you, that is achieved with the perfect balance of uncertainty and confidence. They work with one another to make the individual wholly present in a space.
I have experienced the distinction of becoming lost, and of allowing myself to be lost. My most vivid memory of truly becoming lost, not purposefully, took place in Italy. My family, my boyfriend, and myself were all on a road trip from Rome to Pompeii. We figured it would be just as convenient to drive ourselves there rather than take the train. After an exciting visit to the ruins, we load back up into the rental car and realize that the hotel had only printed us directions for going from Rome to Pompeii, not for the way back. We had the outrageous task of trying to reverse the directions they had given us in an attempt to find the hotel that was a few hours away. Many times during that drive we became truly lost, having to stop multiple times for directions.
But there are plenty of times when I experienced the blissfulness of being lost. Wandering throughout the narrow side streets of Madrid, drifting across hidden portraits done on the side of a building in downtown Dallas, these are the moments in which I can allow myself to be submersed into my surroundings, the moments in which I realize the distinctive nature of my geography.
My first three days here in Washington, D.C. have by this time, thankfully, dissolved into one big blur in the back of mind that I hope will never have to be relived. As Alain de Botton wrote about in The Art of Travel, our expectations often shadow over the reality of travel, including all the complications that are unforeseen at the time. Flying into D.C. a day before my move in time, accompanied by my parents, I was expecting a seamless transition over the next few days. Although only a sophomore, I found myself ready to take on a new environment, figuring D.C. would be an easy switch from New York City (especially after the nightmare of moving into my freshman dorm during August, which coincidentally lacked air conditioning).
There I was, on the plane, feeling prepared and confident to take on my new city, when it hit me. First, just slight nausea; I attributed it to turbulence from the plane. Two hours later, it returned, stronger, but still manageable. We were about to head to the hotel and I thought I would be fine once I could lay down for a few minutes. Now enters the cab ride. Less than a minute in and the feeling came back, but this time with a vengeance. Full on panic mode, I quickly doubted whether I would make it alive to the hotel, and after the drive there (consisting of a few pit stops for the car’s sake), it really went downhill.
For the next 24 hours I was sicker than I had ever been in my entire life.
The morning of my move in and I can barely walk, I have my parents, but there is nothing they can do for me. I faint in the shower and realize that I have to pull myself together if there is any chance of me moving in and my parents catching their flight home. Even though they offer to stay another day, I decline. We walk what feels like miles with my luggage to the new building (which I later looked up to be .2 miles away), adorned with residential life administrators poised to greet what they expect to be eager students. Although I fought my parents on moving in my stuff my first year, I take the backseat role and let them do with my room what they choose. I get moved in, they leave, my suite mate hasn’t arrived, and I’m left alone.
My purpose in narrating the true struggle of my arrival here is to say that I came here with so many expectations, so many wishes for this to be everything I had seen on tv, in pictures, and read about, never dreaming that I would fall ill the day before this new part of my life began. It happened to me, and in a way I am grateful, not for being sick, but for having my expectations lost in the chaos of it all. I am not starting out my semester slowly figuring out that the real D.C. is less than what my mind had created, but instead, I have a blank slate upon which I can build new understandings.
Already, less than two weeks in, and I am understanding what it means for me, a proud Dallas native, a sophomore in Gallatin, a dancer, to develop myself from a blank slate in the same way that I am developing my ideas of D.C. If I had not been thrown into this environment head on, without the chance to process what was happening to me and how my life was about to change, would I have adapted as quickly? Would I be sitting here typing this with the calm and optimistic outlook that I now have on the semester? I’ll be safe and assume that I wouldn’t.