The District Feels Like Home

Nickole with mom at Jefferson memorial

Every city has a word, and Washington DC’s is policy. No matter what you’re passionate about, there is someone here doing something related to it, and usually in policy. People here know they are making history.

Washington is a very different place than Berkeley. There are things about the Bay Area that I miss, like seeing the ocean every day, the fresh produce, cheap avocados, and how environmentally-conscious everyone is. I was shocked my first day of work when I saw someone throw stacks of paper into the trash – and good luck trying to find a compost anywhere in this city. But Washington has stolen my heart, and it did that the first time I came here as a freshman in high school. The city is very walkable, and the metro is fantastic. The plethora of museums, shows, talks, and seminars about every topic one could imagine, many of them free, makes for a constantly intellectually stimulating experience.

I am working in the Member Engagement department of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and in the Advocacy and Government Relations department of Amnesty USA. The idea of two internships seemed a little stressful at first, but I have come to love it. It’s great to get exposure to two very different organizations, and I am able to fulfill my interests in both domestic elections and foreign policy through these two orgs.

Having come to DC many times previously, I’d already visited the classic museums like the Air and Space Museum, Natural History, etcetera. I’m sure I will go back, but I wanted to start by visiting some new ones. So far that has been the National Portrait Gallery and the Newseum. The Newseum is definitely worth paying for the admission price. A five-story building, there are multiple exhibits covering world news, a memorial to fallen journalists, and several special exhibitions. The first floor’s gallery of every Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph from the advent of the award to now, with video footage of the photographers speaking’ and a story about each photo, is heart-wrenching. I felt obligated to read every story, look at every picture, to try and do justice to the people whose lives (and often times, deaths) were preserved immortally there.

Living with students from other universities, especially the non-UC students from across the country (and as far away as Australia!), has also been a learning experience. Cal may be a large school but there tends to be a general consensus on what people have learned in class and how they view the world – even around different ideologies. From my experience so far, it seems that Berkeley students are more familiar with analyzing situations and world events through a socially-conscious framework that addresses race, sexism, classism, etc. We are very analytical participants in class discussion and vocal about our knowledge on several issues. It has been a good challenge to be in class with students of very different academic backgrounds, because it allows me to break out of the Berkeley bubble and understand that not everyone’s university experience is the same as my own. I expect people at these prestigious universities to have a certain level of knowledge about historical and modern systems and all the positive and negative aspects of them, and I have realized this is not always the case. This isn’t meant as a criticism of these schools or these students, who are all very smart and doing excellent internships. It has merely allowed me to place myself and the education I am receiving in a better context.

I have come to the conclusion that Washington and the Bay Area are the two places in the US I can see myself the most in, and considering I live in both places currently that’s not a bad thing. Despite having been here for just over 3 weeks, it feels like much longer and the district feels like home. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of all DC has to offer me and learning even more in the rest of this engaging semester.