Learning Curves and Woodland Retreats: Navigating the Daily 9-5 Grind

person on their computer in a cafe

Tara YarlagaddaMatsui Washington Fellows

November 22, 2013

So, a few things have changed in D.C since my last blog post. The federal shutdown ended after a grueling 2 1/2 weeks, during which the public and House Speaker John Boehner’s tears grew infinitely larger as they wept at the sad state of our nation’s democracy (or in Boehner’s case, his dismal electoral prospects in the upcoming 2014 midterm elections). As a Matsui Fellow and someone who believes in the importance of compromise and civil engagement to the legitimacy of our democratic republic, I felt the federal shutdown was almost cringe-worthy to watch. Ted Cruz may be brilliant; to a certain degree, I admire his determination.  But gosh darn it, if I have to watch another politician get up on his bully pulpit and faux-filibuster a bill for 21 hours come time the second round of spending and deficit talks hits in January, I may just renounce society altogether and become a hobbit.

However, following the shutdown, all federal employees–minus some contractors and other personnel–received retroactive back-pay for their salaries lost during the crisis, so all is well again in the nation’s capital…for now.

About my internship with the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center: I really do love that I’ve found an internship in which I’m not just making coffee and copies. Although: please note that I intend no offense to interns whose task descriptions include these assignments. Hey, what’s the harm in making copies during your downtime in the office on Capitol Hill if it allows you the opportunity to rub shoulders with prominent individuals like Anderson Cooper and John Boehner? I wouldn’t complain either! But I digress. It feels truly rewarding to be doing work that will contribute to the overall longevity of the organization, and working on our center’s largest exhibition to-date among such incredibly knowledgeable and qualified individuals has been a humbling experience.

However, I can’t deny that the weekly 9 AM-5 PM grind wears on me like no other.  Getting up on a daily basis around 6 AM, trudging half-awake out into the frigid cold, working for 8 hours a day in a cubicle–albeit a very nice and comfy one–and then coming home straight to class or face-to-face with a laptop to commence research-paper writing is simply exhausting. After getting incredibly spoiled with inconsistent college schedules, in which I had the luxury to sleep in until 10 AM on some days and go to bed at 2 AM on others, it’s jarring to be thrust back into a fixed daily schedule. Now, I know that the vast majority of post-college working world adults out there (or any students who work full-time while going to college) will likely roll their eyes at me and scoff: “Do that for another 10 years, and THEN you’ll earn the right to come back to me and complain.”

Fair enough. I do have the luxury of knowing that the my next meal isn’t dependent upon the hours I input at the office,  and that is a privilege I am grateful to possess and never wish to take for granted. However, I won’t deny that having to adjust to this unfamiliar daily routine, in addition  to the perennial dilemmas of student life (“OMG how will I ever finish this paper? I have a draft due this Friday and I haven’t even begun researching.”) added onto new college senior drama as I figure out what do with my life (“Honors thesis or invest more time into studying for LSAT/GRE? Which fellowships should I apply to?”) has left me feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about the future at times.

Navigating office boundaries and ascertaining what my role is as an intern has also been an unforeseen challenge, yet a  crucial learning opportunity as well.  Learning how to take constructive criticism gracefully, exhibiting professional behavior with peers and superiors while maintaining my gregarious nature in an office setting has not been without its struggles, but I do believe that I have grown personally and professional as a person, and it has all been for the better in the long-run. Life isn’t like a J curve (all the science and math-y folks reading will get a hoot out of my belabored metaphor here) with a neat and gradual progression upward; it’s more akin to a sine curve in which we have our highs and lows, but learning moments are plentiful throughout the roller-coaster journey.

Despite any setbacks or difficulties, I still wouldn’t trade this internship experience for anything else in the world. Getting to serve as an impromptu photographer for an event in which I learned about  love songs serenaded by Japanese immigrant workers in the cane fields of Hawaii,  teaching children new drum beats and dance moves in an activity that could one day be featured at a museum,  or seeing the light-bulb go off in an teacher’s head when I promote our organization and they sign up for our curriculum materials is nothing short of exhilarating. The feeling that I get when I call up a potential artist to feature in an exhibition, or the sense of accomplishment after having compiled an extensive spreadsheet of organizations and potential donors for our biggest exhibition to-date–these all make any difficult experiences or hard learning curves worth it. Having the privilege to participate in talks regarding the future and vision of our organization while palling around with cheetahs during a retreat in idyllic rural Virginia (picture below!) is pretty incredible as well.

Although, I have yet to finish my internship, I know that the learning opportunities I’ve gained here have been the most important collective experience I’ve had so far  in getting me ready for the working-world. So to any college students out there contemplating taking a semester off to pursue an internship in D.C, Mumbai, Geneva, or anywhere, I have the following two words for you: DO IT. More than anything else in your college life, this experience will prepare you for the reality of the ‘real world’ post-graduation: warts, wonders and all.

You may not see a cheetah in the wilderness of Virginia, but I promise that your future internship will have plenty of other exciting opportunities in store for you.

headshot of Tara Yarlagadda

"My name is Tara Yarlagadda, and I am honored to be a recipient of the Fall 2013 Matsui Fellowship. I would like to give special thanks to the Matsui Center for its vital work to create a more democratically engaged nation and empower individuals to become involved in public service. I have been interested in the UCDC program since I attended an informational session during the first semester of my freshman year at Cal. I have had my heart set on being a part of the program ever since. As a Political Science and South Asian Studies double major, D.C. interests me for several reasons, not the least of which is the plethora of opportunities available to interact and network with knowledgeable professionals and similarly passionate individuals. I am excited to experience D.C. not merely as a tourist, but also as a resident by exploring its various nooks and crannies and understanding its unique culture as a melting pot of diverse peoples and visions. UCDC in particular offers such a well-structured program with much guidance and support from the staff directors, in addition to a variety of classes taught by renowned professors, that I could not pass up the opportunity to apply before I graduated from Berkeley."