CT Dialogue: Living and Breathing Politics in Washington D.C., an Intern Abroad Interview
German student Rafael Eggebrecht is a self-proclaimed politico living and interning in Washington D.C. this summer.
My friend Rafael and I were part of a group of five American Studies majors from the University of Leipzig, Germany, who got to study abroad at Ohio University for this past spring semester. We were all required to get summer internships as part of our program. Rafael majors in political science and his big passion is American politics. He now interns at the Congressional Study Groups which organizes international legislative exchange. I caught up with him on Skype and asked him about life and work in the U.S. capital.
Q: Why did you chose Washington D.C. to intern?
A: Washington is pretty much a city that lives and breathes politics and I really wanted to experience that. I’ve met so many interesting people who do really meaningful and important work. I really wanted to do something political so I applied for a couple of organizations and eventually ended up at the Congressional Study Groups. We organize a lot of Capitol Hill events for senators and members of the house when guests from Germany, Turkey or Japan – those are our three major study groups – are in town. And we also organize travel for Members of Congress and their staffers. But I’m mostly here for the experience, the internship is just the icing on the cake.
Q: Where do you live and how do you commute to your internship?
A: I live in a lovely studio apartment in Foggy Bottom in Washington D.C. It’s is one of the priciest neighborhoods in the District, but I got a discount on the apartment I sublease . It’s home to the State Department, George Washington University and I think the World Bank is also within the neighborhood limits. I only live about a mile away from where I work, and since I do Bike Share. It only takes me about seven minutes to bike there. Otherwise it would be about a twenty minute walk. Many of my coworkers, however, live far away and they need to plan with an hour of commuting one way.
Q: What are your favorite places in Washington and what do you like to do on your days off?
A: Foggy Bottom is one of the most conveniently located neighborhoods in the District. It’s about ten minutes from the White House, about ten minutes from the State Department, the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts is five minutes from my door and there is also the World Bank and the IMF, so it’s a very interesting cosmopolitan neighborhood. You really feel like important things are happening around you.
I jog every day and split my running time every week between the National Mall and running across the river to Northern Virginia. Theodore Roosevelt Island is right in the Potomac with a beautiful path on it’s shores and a nice Theodore Roosevelt monument in the middle. I also like Georgetown which is the oldest neighborhood in D.C.
Last Sunday, I biked to Mount Vernon which is the old country estate of the first president George Washington and I plan to go to Annapolis or some other place in the next couple of weeks. For me it’s the perfect combination: D.C. was recently named the fittest and the gayest city in America and it’s also obviously the most political city in America.
Q: So did you enjoy Pride in D.C.?
A: I have. I actually marched for Ready For Hilary, a political action committee headquartered across the river in Arlington county.
Q: What are some sights or activities you would recommend for students especially?
A: So many things that you get to do here are free: All the Smithsonian Museums – the one for Air and Space, the one for National History, the National Portrait Gallery. The Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, even though they have very expensive performances at night, has so-called Millenium Stage Performances every day at 6 p.m. I’ve been to jazz concerts, to indie rock concerts, to stand up comedy performances, to classical performances and it didn’t cost me a penny. D.C. is a very expensive city but there is actually a lot of stuff that you can do for free.
Q: Why did you decide to study abroad here? What fascinates you about the United States?
A: The US is a much more diverse and dynamic place than Germany. Over the course of the last seven weeks which is how long I’ve been here, I’ve just met so many people from all over the world – Brazil, Peru, Japan, Turkey and a number of African nations. Also, the political system just fascinates me a lot more as a political science major. I know many Americans actually envy the German political system because it’s so civilized and sane and money doesn’t play a big role. But I really like the political entertainment they have here in the US; the two big parties really battling each other to death, people shouting at each other on television, and billions of dollars being spent on the most outrageously false television ads. For me that’s what the United States is about: big contrast, big debates – a big circus in many ways.
Q: What’s the most amazing cultural experience you’ve had?
A: My most memorable cultural experience was Hillary Clinton’s book signing in Pentagon City in Arlington County across the river in northern Virginia. We decided to turn up at the Costco at Pentagon City at 7 a.m. and there were already around 200 people lined up. When we finally got to go inside at 9:30 a.m. there were 1,200 people in one long line. It was really nothing like you would experience in Germany.
When Hillary Clinton arrived at the Costco everyone was screaming. She was surrounded by two tons of paper towels and bottled water to shield her from gazes and probably sniper shooters. You got to shake hands with her, she signed your book, gave it back to you and then you got to squeeze in a sentence. I told her that I really hope she runs in 2016. And then you were escorted away. You weren’t even allowed to take pictures. There was a really big, scary Secret Service guy telling you, ‘Put the cellphone away!’ In Germany nobody would line up for five or six hours to get a signed copy of a political memoir that is written very safely without any juicy tidbits.
Q: How has studying and interning abroad impacted your personal growth and professional development?
A: I would say Washington is a very career-driven city and so you learn very quickly to really sell yourself. You pretty much shove your business card in all faces and really learn how to suck up to people, keep in touch and use personal relationships to get ahead. It sounds kind of nasty and unpleasant but even if you don’t like it, you have to do it here. You realize pretty soon that everyone does it and it’s not that bad.
Also until now, coming from Germany I didn’t care too much about American niceties and small talk. But I have to make a lot of phone calls to congressional offices, talk to schedulers and make inquiries. Some people thought I’m rude because I would immediately move over to business and tell them what I want which is what you do in Germany. So now I exchange some platitudes and then move onto business.
Q: Any advice you would give yourself looking back?
A: I definitely would have told myself to go out more and meet more people during the spring semester which I spent in Athens, Ohio. Because it was winter, the days were very short and it was so cold, I was kind of depressed. But after my Washington experience so far I would definitely tell myself: try to experience as much as possible, talk to as many people as possible, go out a lot and have fun because eight months can go by pretty quickly.