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

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Tara Yarlagadda.

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.

I pose with my coworker Paul as we both sport our new, shiny badges for our internship. Ah, first day memories...

I pose with my coworker Paul as we both sport our new, shiny badges for our internship. Ah, first day memories…

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.

A cheetah lounges on his  (her?) stoop at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia.

A cheetah lounges on his (her?) stoop at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia.

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.

Tara Yarlagadda is a UC Berkeley senior majoring in Political Science and South Asian Studies. She is currently studying and interning at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (APAC) as a Matsui Washington Fellow at the University of California Washington D.C. Center.


Cal in Sacramento: A Summer with Governor Jerry Brown

-To apply for the Cal-in-Sacramento Fellowship, click here and download the application. The application deadline is Nov. 6 at 5pm. Question? Contact Camille Koué at ckoue@berkeley.edu.

Posted by former Cal in Sacramento Fellow Alex Hirsch

Cal-in-Sac Fellow Alex Hirsch with Press Secretary Gil Duran, Deputy Press Secretary Evan Westrup, and Cal-in-Sac Fellow Kyle Simerly, 2011

Cal-in-Sac Fellow Alex Hirsch with Press Secretary Gil Duran, Deputy Press Secretary Evan Westrup, and Cal-in-Sac Fellow Kyle Simerly, 2011

I was very excited to spend two months during the summer of 2011 with the office of Governor Jerry Brown. I was placed in the press office where I was able to further expand the messaging and media skills I had developed over the past few years. My responsibilities included providing rapid media monitoring, coordinating press requests, and assisting in press event logistics.

Unlike Governor Schwarzenegger, Governor Brown preferred to keep a small and focused presence in the press; the vast majority of press requests for interviews and comments were declined. As a result, there were relatively few staffers in the press office. However, this was a great boon to the handful of interns in the press office because we were able to become very acquainted with some of Governor Brown’s top staffers. The press office is located inside the Governor’s private suite of offices known as “the Horseshoe,” which meant that many of the top staffers as well as Governor Brown himself would stop by daily in the press office and chat. My favorite daily visitor would be Sutter Brown, the Governor’s pet corgi, who had free reign of the Horseshoe and would wander around. Other highlights included weekly taco lunches provided by the press secretary for the entire press office and a private tour of the rotunda on top of the capitol building. My Cal-in-Sac experience was truly memorable and a great way to spend the summer before I started law school.

Alex Hirsch is currently a third-year law student at the UC Davis School of Law. Raised in the Sacramento area, he developed an early interest in California politics. Alex majored in political science at UC Berkeley, where he served as President of the Undergraduate Political Science Association and played trombone for four years in the Cal Band. After graduating from Berkeley in 2011, he went directly to law school. Alex is currently working at the Sacramento District Attorney’s office and hopes to land a permanent position as a DA after he passes the bar exam.

Bi-Partisian Learning in Sacramento

-To apply for the Cal-in-Sacramento Fellowship, click here and download the application. The application deadline is Nov. 6 at 5pm. Question? Contact Camille Koué at ckoue@berkeley.edu.

Posted by former Cal-in-Sacramento Fellow Maia Wolins (mwolins@norcalwtc.org)

— A huge thank you to Senator Figueroa, Senator Ackerman, Ethan Rarick, and the Institute of Governmental Studies for grounding me in bipartisan politics and helping to open up a world of opportunity in California’s capital.–

 2011-2012 Cal-in-Sac Fellow Maia Wolins

2011-2012 Cal-in-Sac Fellow Maia Wolins

So a Republican Senator and a Democratic Senator walk into a classroom at UC Berkeley, and– with the current political stalemate in Washington DC, this sounds like a joke with a painful punchline. In reality, that classroom and those two senators defined the meaning of bipartisanship and sparked my burgeoning career in California’s capital.

As a senior in Middle Eastern Studies in 2011, I was fortunate to be one of thirty students chosen for the Matsui Center’s Cal-in-Sacramento Fellowship. We learned the value and practice of “working across the aisle” under the experienced wings of former Senators Liz Figueroa (D) and Dick Ackerman (R), who held distinctly opposing political views and a shared intention for collaboration. In class each week, a diverse array of speakers from the capital sparked heated debates among my classmates and I, who hailed from all points on the political spectrum. The Senators moderated our discussions, encouraging us to push deeper into the subjects of high-speed rail, term limits, prison reform, business-restrictive taxes, etc, while maintaining respectful rapport with our fellow ‘politicians.’

Over the summer, we took these friendships and understandings to our jobs in the Capitol. My dual internships with the Senate Office of International Relations and Kaufman Campaigns pushed me further to align with bipartisanship. While the Senate Office was easily bipartisan, my work on the campaign trail pumped up my blood pressure. With the example of my Cal-in-Sac instructors in mind, I was better able to communicate my perspective about the issues at stake in the campaign without overrunning the viewpoints of those of the opposite opinion.

Now it’s been a year and a half since the Cal-in-Sacramento Fellowship and I’m still working full-time in Sacramento, just down the street from the Capitol, at the Northern California World Trade Center. My internship with the Senate Office of International Relations connected me to this opportunity, as their office works closely with the NorCalWTC to host international visitors, and it’s a perfect fit for me. Here, too, the example of cooperation that the Senators provided us in the classroom is of benefit. While my work is removed from the politics of the legislature, our efforts to strengthen California’s international relations and participation in the global market are necessarily grounded in deep collaboration across a world of different perspectives.

Maia Wolins graduated from UC Berkeley in 2012 with a degree in Middle Eastern Studies and a minor in Dance and Performance Studies. After graduating, she published a paper based on her senior honors thesis titled “A Shared State: Iraqi Refugees and American Veterans in the Aftermath of War,” which can be found online through the Institute of Governmental Studies and the Kroeber Anthropological Society. She currently works as the Program Services Coordinator at the Northern California World Trade Center.