Until We Meet Again, D.C

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Tara Yarlagadda.

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.

Dazzled by the jaw-dropping Luray Caverns with my brother Jay.

Dazzled by the jaw-dropping Luray Caverns with my brother Jay.

In front of the iconic "LOVE" statue at the University of Pennsylvania campus.

In front of the iconic “LOVE” statue at the University of Pennsylvania campus.

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.

Putting on a big smile with fellow employees as we hand out materials at Teachers' Night 2013.

Putting on a big smile with fellow employees as we hand out materials at Teachers’ Night 2013.

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.

Being given a warm send-off from my internship: a day replete with baked goods, fancy certificates, and good spirits.

Being given a warm send-off from my internship: a day replete with baked goods, fancy certificates, and good spirits.

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.

Standing alongside a fellow UCDC friend among thousands while honoring the memory of the late Dr. King.

Standing alongside a fellow UCDC friend among thousands while honoring the memory of the late Dr. King.

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.

The beauty of the National Christmas tree against the night sky truly takes your breath away.

The beauty of the National Christmas tree against the night sky truly takes your breath away.

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!


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.

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DC Recap: What I’ve Learned From a Semester in Washington

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Trinh Nguyen.

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White House rose garden tour (Matsui Washington Fellow Trinh Nguyen center)

I still need to pack. The UCDC building kicks us out tomorrow, and that move-out date totally snuck up on me. These past weeks have been spent going to goodbye dinners for all the quarter students leaving, finishing up projects at my internship, going to professional-social holiday parties (they’re kind of weird), and writing finals and research papers. I’m going to reiterate the same advice I’ve gotten numerous times from professors and UCDC advisers—FINISH YOUR RESEARCH PAPER EARLY. I know a handful of people that finished it weeks in advance, and they spent their last weeks travelling and exploring, stress-free. I, on the other hand, slept an average of 4 hours a night, and crashed on the weekends. (Hopefully this college lifestyle does not follow me into adulthood.)

I’m graduating next week, and am planning on staying in D.C. indefinitely. I spent the majority of the semester considering and reconsidering the move. The Bay is my home, and I want to move back. There were a lot of things that annoyed me about D.C., but I grew to like its idiosyncrasies. And I’m signing a lease today, so hopefully I don’t change my mind after the holidays.

I want to take you all through three things that I found peculiar of D.C. when I first moved out. Over time, I grew to understand them a bit better and it helped my transition into becoming a Washingtonian (haha, I kid myself). So if you’re thinking of doing UCDC (do it!) or making a move out here (that’s up to you), here’s some advice:

01. You don’t have to be a tourist.

The last time I was in Washington, D.C., I was no doubt a tourist. On an eighth grade field trip, my classmates and I experienced D.C. in a tour bus, only hitting the monuments and a handful of museums. I came away with too many postcards and $6 replicas of the Declaration of Independence. When my parents asked me what I learned from the trip, I said that the White House was smaller than I thought.

This time in D.C., I haven’t bought any souvenirs. I don’t feel like a tourist, even though I do many touristy things. My friends and I even rented out bikes to see the monuments at night. (Piece of advice: Do it in the summer. I don’t think my hands ever fully thawed.)

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Lincoln Memorial at Night

A few UCDC students and I were chatting a while back about the differences between the West and East Coasts. We were in our home country, yet felt like outsiders. As young adults tend to do, we were trying to label ourselves. We were in a weird limbo. Nobody automatically assumed we were interns, because we were not a part of the summer intern frenzy. Random people on the street would ask us for directions, and didn’t know that we constantly walked with our Google Maps app on. (Let me tell you about the time, after spending three months in D.C., when I stepped off the metro on the other side of the road, and took ten extra minutes to get home because I was so confused.)

The most salient aspect was just how the East Coast portrayed its American-ness. It sounds kind of ridiculous, because of course the U.S. isn’t all the same. I could tell you a thousand cultural differences between California and Oregon, San Francisco and Los Angeles, Berkeley’s north- and southsides, or Barrows and Soda Hall.

However, it’s obvious that East Coasters see their geographic-specific history as American history.

My public school Californian history studies began with the Russian and Spanish colonization, touched upon the Gold Rush, and focused on the Californian missions. Would anyone who grew up in New York, Maine, or Idaho or Arkansas, know any of that?

But all students have had units on Pennsylvania’s first governor, agricultural practices in Massachusetts, and the development of D.C.

In addition, East Coast history is so ingrained and obvious in everyday life. Aside from a few special places in California, history is kind of obscured. For example, where I grew up there are buildings and schools named after Maria Carrillo, Jack London, and Luther Burbank. Their historical contributions and narratives are recognized, but the majority of people in my hometown would not know who they were. What’s more, they would not define their hometown as “where Maria Carrillo lived.”

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Battlefield Fries restaurant, Gettysburg

When I visited Gettysburg, I saw stores and restaurants called Battlefield Fries, Union Drummer Boy, and General Pickett’s Buffet.

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Plaque identifying Paul Revere’s grave, Boston

I went to Boston and am sure the city was built as a memorial to Paul Revere. I was only in Philadelphia for five hours, and can probably name at least 100 places with “liberty” or “Franklin” in their names.

It’s cool to walk by random buildings and see plaques denoting America’s first dentist or first public school. It’s not that California doesn’t have historical figures and events that deserve recognition, but Californians seem to care less about defining their environment and cities around them.

FirstPublicSchool_Boston

Plaque identifying the spot of the first public school in the U.S. in Boston.

Of course, a country began 250 years ago in these Atlantic states, and federal power is still concentrated over there. East Coasters’ pride over their history is understandable.

At the same time, these monuments and memorials can be kind of jarring. The Capitol houses multiple statues (many picked by states), including figures who were pro-slavery, anti-women’s rights, and/or pro-imperialism. Also, the UCDC Center faces Scott Circle, where a statue is dedicated to General Winifred Scott, who historians dub the most accomplished general since George Washington. He helped Andrew Jackson execute the Trail of Tears.

02. Understand that your supervisors know nearly everything.

If you are interested in federal policy, you need to realize that D.C. is the best possible place to work with people who truly understand the arena, and who can answer all of your questions.

It seems that people in D.C. rarely change career tracks. They change jobs frequently, but stay in the same industry. I intern for a bipartisan education lobbying/consulting firm where nearly everyone worked together at one point or another on the Hill. They’ve battled across the aisle, compromised on bills, and wrote legislation together. Right now, my supervisors are advising their clients on potential bill reauthorizations that they originally wrote a decade ago.

If I ever have a question on an education (or labor, healthcare, appropriations, etc.) law, I can talk to the person that helped conceive it, the person who worked to move it through Congress, the person who assisted the federal government in implementing it, and the person who evaluated it later on … all in the same office suite.

I am job searching, and every time I mention an organization (regardless of whether or not it’s education-related), I immediately learn that this or that person worked with someone in the firm.

There are two things to point out from this. First, the people working in education (or healthcare, economic policy, environmental economics, etc.) ten or fifteen years ago are the same people working there now. If you come to D.C. now, you will be able to poke at the minds of very experienced, knowledgeable people. I had a weird “celebrity”-shock moment when I realized that the principals of the firm I intern for wrote education policies that affected me back when I was in elementary and middle school.

Second, since these professionals have been around for so long, many are choosing to leave D.C. to raise families or to retire. That makes D.C. prime for young professionals to enter in the field, now more than ever. Of course the job market is competitive, but I’ve realized that D.C. has a soft spot for big public universities, especially for Berkeley.

03. You gotta network, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I’ve been to a fair amount of networking events, including happy hours and holiday parties that blend social and professional. It’s awkward. I’m horrible at it. I don’t like the power divide. I am a lowly intern wanting someone more accomplished to lend me a hand. If I haven’t worked for that person, or they haven’t learned of my skills “organically,” it’s difficult to sell myself because I feel like I’m selling myself.

There are constant complaints in the UCDC building about the D.C. networking culture. That it’s not authentic or genuine. That it’s preventing them from forming “real” relationships. That it’s just plain exhausting.

We also hear lots of “success stories.” One of my friends ended up receiving a job offer from striking up a conversation with a stranger. Another found a vital connection to a fellowship she wanted at a happy hour. When I ask people how they got their first jobs, about three out of four say they just met the right person at the right time.

Regardless, I am still uncomfortable with networking for the sake of networking. But at the same time, I wonder where the disdain comes from.

What is so wrong with wanting a better job? A job that probably not only has more benefits, but one that also can tap into your skills and effectively applies them toward accomplishing your goals.

One of my friends who recently moved to D.C. graduated Berkeley with an impressive resume in international development and finance. Not only does she have the knowledge, she has the dedication to work tirelessly toward international social equity. She’s currently working at a job that doesn’t utilize her knowledge of economics or international trade, but only cares if she can collate papers or not. Why shouldn’t she tap into every resource available, including that of strangers, in order to make sure her talents can be better applied toward improving the world?

Networking with strangers may still be uncomfortable for many people, but networking within your organization or with your coworkers shouldn’t be.

D.C. professionals are generally very supportive of young people’s career development. They understand where you’re coming from, and genuinely want to help you. For example, I am currently looking for a full-time job, and the firm I intern for has extended my internship until I find one so that there’s no gap in my resume. Many of my supervisors constantly keep an ear out for job opportunities.

The point is, when you work, intern, or volunteer for an organization, you become a part of the team. Your supervisors and coworkers all want you to succeed, and will not think twice about helping you do so. On a more practical note, their organization will always be on your resume, so they of course want it associated with other great companies.

So go get some business cards and head on out! (Just to emphasize: don’t go to D.C. without business cards.)

UCDCstudents_ontheSpeakersBalcony

View from the Speaker’s balcony (Matsui Washington Fellow Trinh Nguyen right), Washington, DC

I’m going to be in D.C. for at least the next few years, although I’m thankfully spending the winter back in California, where there is always fresh fruit and a lack of fusion food. (As much as I loved Chinese-style duck tacos, I miss just regular food.)

I have been apprehensive about the move to D.C. (and still am). Professionally, I know it’s the right decision. I want to work in federal policy, and there’s really no where else to do it. Personally, it’s a city that attracts idealists and hard workers, and it’s fun being around them. It’s also cool to see another side of the U.S. (I’ve actually developed an affinity toward the northern Midwestern states from meeting people from that area.)

It doesn’t hurt to do at least a summer in D.C. I’ve heard that a summer is a lot more fun for students and young professionals than it is in the fall and spring. But it’s also good to get out of California, and get another perspective on how government, policy, and people function.


Trinh Nguyen is a UC Berkeley senior majoring in Political Science. She is currently studying and interning at the Penn Hill consulting group as a Matsui Washington Fellow at the University of California Washington D.C. Center.