Uncharted Territory

As I write this, it is now my second official snow day. As a California native who never really ventured to far from home, I must admit this is still all amazingly surprising and surreal, to say the least. The first time I saw snow was last week. I was so shocked I halted in my tracks in awe to watch the first little snowflakes fall from the sky. Little did I know those cute little snow flakes would turn into a blizzard that would trap us all inside for four days, but hey, I guess you should be careful what you wish for!

Besides the natural elements and the surprises they brought, D.C. in general is all so new to me. I will be frank with you, as I boarded my plane at SFO Airport I didn’t know what to expect. The fear of the unknown caused me to cry as the plane began to take off. I have never been this far away from my hometown, let alone for this long. That fear dissipated into reality when I saw the White House for the first time on my walk to Whole Foods a few hours after my arrival. The White House is casually located a few blocks away from the center, and you have a clear view of it when you walk past 16th street. My fear slipped away into pride and understanding that I was now in an extremely historic place, and I knew my life was going to be forever changed from this experience.

In the short three weeks I have been here, there have been a lot of ups and downs. Being in such a new environment, I guess that is to be expected. I lost my California ID the first week, and boy was it a hassle to get a new one (don’t worry though, the issue was quickly resolved thanks to some amazing Residential Advisers in the center). My internship at the Department of Education was postponed because of the aforementioned ID issue. I definitely did not bring enough socks and I must say Target brand snow “boots” are definitely not up for this kind of snow. But with each of these experiences has come a lesson of perseverance and resourcefulness (i.e. opening a wine bottle with a potato peeler). And as I sit here and reflect, I cannot help but smile at everything that is happened, the good, the bad, and the snowy.

When applying to the UCDC program I had anticipated the bulk of what I would learn here would have to do with government and politics at the federal level. Now that I am three weeks in I realize this program is so much more than that. Having worked in state politics before, I imagined the federal level of politics to be some grandiose machine of wide sweeping power and influence. While I do feel and see that power at times, working in the Department of Education has made me realize the importance of state politics, and the reality of what can be done on a federal level (which sometimes isn’t very much). It has reasserted my belief and passion for California politics, and is preparing me for a future career as a public servant in my home state. Not only that, but this program has given me a sense of appreciation for the diversity of experiences of the folks who populate this program. UCDC isn’t about just going to your internship, taking classes, and seeing monuments. It’s about the personal connects you make with people from all over the UC system as well as other universities across the country. It’s about cuddling up for warmth as you walk to the metro, exploring history (such as St. Michaels cathedral) in ways you never would have imagined before, and making pancakes and cookies for breakfast. It’s about late night trips to CVS and impromptu seventies dance parties in your neighbor’s apartment. And ultimately, for me personally, it’s about going out of your comfort zone and accepting that new people, places, and experiences do not mean sacrificing who you once were as a Bayarian (“Bayarian”=someone from the Bay Area). Rather this new place with all its wonder and glory simply adds to your being in a reaffirming and meaningful way that allows you to grow as a person.

 
Elizabeth Householder is a senior at UC Berkeley studying American Studies, with an emphasis on Politics, Policy, and Justice. She is currently interning for the Department of Education as a Matsui Washington Fellow.