Transformation and Change: First Time in the Nation’s Capital!

student Phoebe Pham sits cross legged and smiling in the middle of a road with a tunnel directly behind her that's surrounded by bushes and trees

Washington D.C. has been a whirlwind of change; a refreshing escape from the mild weather and dryness in California, an exciting opportunity to be at the epicenter of the nation’s capital, and a thrilling eye-opener into career opportunities in public service and the federal government. As a graduating senior this fall, the Matsui Fellowship provided me this one in a life-time-chance that came at perhaps the most important part of my undergraduate journey: the closing of my undergraduate years and beginning of a new unknown. My first time on the east coast, without a doubt, has been both transformational and empowering. 

I was fortunate enough in that my internship was fully in person, witnessing the seasons change from Summer to Autumn. Everyday, I walk in awe of the majesty of the capitol building, filled with a hubbub of masked reporters, journalists, congressmen, staff rushing to and fro. As a student seeking to explore my fascination for foreign affairs, I have spent my time in D.C. as a Legislative Intern for Senator Coons (D-DE), where I primarily worked on foreign policy. I also assisted the Economic Policy team, and in the Judiciary, Energy and Environment departments. As a person curious about how the interaction of academic research and legislation are shaped, working on Capitol Hill provided me a front row seat in understanding the role of research and policy in providing for the people. My colleagues have been absolutely phenomenal in answering the questions I had (which were endless), understanding the balance between adjusting to a new work environment and providing challenges to grow with important projects, and providing encouragement and advice when it came to questions of career advice and life as a fresh graduate. I’ve gotten to shadow Sen. Coons, meet almost nearly all the Senators, and explore even the most remote crevice of the capitol building. Doubtlessly, it has been a very surreal experience to meet the highest level of government officials in passing, meet and greet Ambassadors, and communicate with embassies in D.C. and abroad. To hone my interest in research, I also assisted the Political Violence Lab on the subject of social media bias in foreign affairs reporting, where I’ve learned to code in RStudio and have gotten to meet famous journalists and reporters. The 9PM-5PM may stop when the work hour is done, but there's always something to do after work - and that’s part of the joy of being in DC, from happy-hour networking, to spoken word at Busboys and Poets, to late night cafes which I frequently study. 

Days off have looked like brunch dates with friends at Le Diplomate, where congressmen and other VIPs frequent, exploring as many museums as possible, and sometimes latin dancing or visiting national parks and other outdoorsy activities. There is simultaneously a juxtaposition

present in the nation’s capital: a tiny city that receives a wide array of international travellers, with a vibrant and fast-paced environment, full of politics, art, and history. It is absolutely spectacular. 

As I exit my undergraduate years and continue to pursue a higher calling of public service, my time with the UCDC program has confirmed my commitment to international affairs and foreign policy. I am extremely thankful to have received support as a Matsui Fellow as it has brought me one step closer to fulfilling my dream of working in foreign relations. After graduation, I plan on moving back to D.C. and work during my gap year, before tackling my Master’s in International Affairs. My experiences through the federal government, diplomacy, and policy, have catapulted me into the next chapter of my life. To sum this all up: say yes to new experiences, take advantage of being in THE capital of the United States, and meet as many people as you can! Thank you so much to the Matsui Washington Fellowship for supporting my endeavors this Fall!