Until We Meet Again, D.C

plane flying across the sky

Tara YarlagaddaMatsui Washington Fellows

December 23, 2013

In the span of three days, I went from 25 degree F weather to 65 F, from craving hot chocolate in blistering D.C. cold to sipping my mother’s homemade smoothies produced with berries fresh from our humble orchard in sunny California. Talk about a jarring (yet welcome!) change of pace.

This was my third time ‘studying abroad’ in a sense, and I have to say, that lump that wells in your throat as you part with a friend for the indefinite future or the emotions that boil over when you walk by a place you may never see again, the surreal feeling of hopping off the plane in your home state and being suddenly jerked back to reality…it never feels any less odd or jolting as the years go on.

But now, with the frenzy of finals over, D.C thousands of miles away, and ample time to reflect upon my experience, I’ve had time to parse through this whirlwind of a semester and figure out what truly mattered the most to me. At our last coworker dinner together, one of the fellow interns asked me: “What was your favorite D.C memory over this past semester?” Being the finicky person that I am, I couldn’t settle upon just one. And so, I’ve compiled a list of the very best moments that can sum up, in a nutshell, my UCDC experience. Until we meet again, D.C. Hope you enjoy!

5. Road Trippin’ in Virginia, Maryland and Philly

As my dad was temporarily working in Virginia while my brother was studying in Philadelphia and I in D.C, we got to have an unusual family reunion on the East Coast  by road tripping through Philadelphia, Maryland and Virginia. Getting out of the hubbub of D.C into idyllic Maryland for a good ole jousting match at the Renaissance Festival, touring the streets of Philly with my brother (still didn’t get my authentic Philly cheesesteak though! Boo…) and exploring caverns in rural Virginia was one of the highlights of my D.C experience. Anyone studying or working in D.C should ride a MegaBus up to Philly or rent a Zipcar for the day and take a scenic drive through Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley–you won’t be disappointed, I promise.

4. Smithsonian Teachers’ Night 2013

Every year, the Smithsonian hosts a Teachers’ Night event in one of their many museums, showcasing all that the Smithsonian has to offer and providing curriculum materials (and appetizers and alcoholic beverages) to thousands of K-12 educators. Each section of the Smithsonian puts on their best show, and my unit, the Asian Pacific American Center (APAC), dazzled teachers with an array of snazzy educational posters and tales about our upcoming exhibition. They were sold. Seeing the curiosity on their faces and  the desire to educate their kids about Asian Pacific American issues made my heart beam with pride. Also, providing dozens of teachers curriculum materials per minute while live tweeting and photographing the event wasn’t  easy, but we got the job done. Good job APAC! Teamwork at its finest.

3. Research Presentation aka ‘Capstone Forum’/Internship Graduation Day  

The moment had come: The semester was almost over, and it was time to present the summary of my research project to the whole staff. This project was my baby (a whole 45 pages!) and summarizing it in a brief presentation seemed like a daunting task. Yet I managed to do it with a sense of accomplishment and bittersweetness as I realized that my internship was coming to a close. I came to feel at peace, though, as I said my goodbyes, munched on goodies baked by coworkers, read the heartfelt cards that our supervisors wrote to us, and was sent off with the rest of the interns with the best farewell anyone could have asked for.

2. 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial

This was before the stress of classes and the weariness of internships set in. Back when all the students were getting to know one another with ease and friendly smiles, and just grateful to be there to witness this historic moment, listening to powerful speeches by the likes of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton while soaking together in the pouring rain in solidarity. D.C set the bar pretty high with this incredible welcome, and it hasn’t disappointed me since.

1. National Christmas Tree Lighting

Having Michelle Obama recite a Christmas bedtime story to thousands of viewers and then listening to heart-stopping, lively renditions by greats such as Train, Mariah Carey and Aretha Franklin? And, to cap it all off, hearing the President himself honor fallen leader Nelson Mandela while the White House flag stood at half-mast for the fallen leader in the background? The White House Christmas Tree lighting was nothing short of incredible.

Our spirits were ever so-slightly dampened (literally and metaphorically) by the rain pouring cats and dogs over our heads, particularly when we had to lower our umbrellas so all the audience members could view the mega TV screens telecasting the event. However, we pressed on, whistling and cheering in support of the performers when it was too blazing cold to remove our gloves and getting up and dancing to the tune of the Christmas jingles at other points.

As an aside before I tune out of this blog post : It’s funny – mid-way through my internship, I swore that I would never again attempt to juggle a nearly full-time unpaid internship along with coursework. Despite the fact that I enjoyed my internship, the stress compounding from impending midterms and papers, on top of the ache in my feet and body after waking up at 6 AM everyday for my 9-5 job, left little desire for me to do a repeat of the same.  And yet here I am, looking up internships on Idealist.org during my (last?!) semester at Berkeley, doing what I swore not to do. I guess it’s the same principle as students who devote themselves to student group upon student group, despite their grueling academic schedule: you may complain along the way about STRESS STRESS STRESS, but when you find an organization embodying principles or work that inspires you to get up every day, you don’t want to let go of it, and once you’re without it, you seek another intellectually stimulating and challenging activity that fulfills your passions.

As I head off to graduate in a few short months in this still dismal economy, I doubt that I’ll secure a job or fellowship that makes me feel that way right away, but I’m going to keep trying. But for now, I’m going to take pleasure in the fact that I have no pressing-concerns for the next week or so, indulge in a House of Cards Netflix binge and attempt to whittle down my ever-growing stack of ‘must-read’ books. And for all of you students about to finish your final exams, I suggest you make the most of your long break and do the same.

Happy Holidays everyone!

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."