Washington DC: Reconnecting with a Familiar Space

Gurchit blogPosted by Matsui Washington Fellow Gurchit Chatha

In 2014, after having just transferred to Cal, I decided I’d take it upon myself to independently apply for an internship in Washington, D.C. and begin dabbling in the political world. Though I had a stellar experience interning for Congressman Mike Honda, because I was on my own, I was forced to rely on personal finances and limited funding from the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) to manage the hefty costs associated with living in D.C. In retrospect, boy was that a huge mistake! DC’s housing costs climb every year, eating out averages around $15-20 per meal, and keeping up with the city’s chic fashion trends is no poor man’s task.

A couple of friends and I got our Library of Congress Researcher cards!

A couple of friends and I got our Library of Congress Researcher cards!

Fast-forward two years, and here I am again embarking on another journey in DC, this time interning at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Effective Public Management as part of the Spring 2016 UCDC class. Thankfully, however, with lessons learned from the past come greater prospects for the future: I remain grateful to UC Berkeley and generous donors like the ones that make the Matsui Center Fellowships possible for helping me finance my stay in D.C. It’s no understatement that financial stability has great effects on one’s mental health, and thus, being able to perceive these next few months through the lens of a worry-free college student is a privilege in it of itself.

The Lincoln Memorial on my first day in DC.

The Lincoln Memorial on my first day in DC.

So, how exactly has my time fared thus far? Assuming one is able to hold it down financially for the long run, DC is a remarkably captivating and awe-inspiring city. Starting with my internship, I’ve learned that every ounce of work produced in this town has potential to act as a multiplier for change around the country. Having been at Brookings for only two weeks, the team at the Center for Effective Public Management is already having me research democratic deficiencies in US politics, flaws in campaign polling, and foreign policy proposals in this year’s Presidential hopeful speeches. Furthermore, looking two weeks ahead, a fellow Cal Bear and I will be in charge of collecting data on the upcoming Congressional elections as part of the Center’s “Primaries Project.” Put shortly, the magnitude of being in DC is motivating and refreshing. I feel as if nearly every scholarly article to which I contribute will have profound effect on government practices. As the internship continues to unfold, I’m excited to see what growth and learning lies ahead.

Spoken word at Busboys and Poet's Open Mic Night.

Spoken word at Busboys and Poet’s Open Mic Night.

Celebrating the Brookings Institution's Centennial.

Celebrating the Brookings Institution’s Centennial.

Growing professionally is cool ‘n all, but what really matters with short-term academic experiences is the time one is able to spend immersed in local culture. Having spent my fair share of years at Berkeley, I’m all about them positive, laid-back vibes. Assuming you’re not stuck working after hours on a time-sensitive political issue, when the clock hits 5, D.C. locals are out and about partaking in a wide array of shenanigans. So far, I’ve battled the cold and biked through the National Mall, downed delicious chili from DC’s very own Ben’s Chili Bowl, read books on a Sunday morning at Kramer’s Bookstore and Café, jammed to Open Mic Night at Busboys and Poets, and shared a laugh with students at George Washington University’s Improv Comedy Club.  Just a few days ago, I also had the unique opportunity to reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the nation’s capital. I visited the MLK Memorial, learned about African-American History at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and conversed with my peers about racial prejudices and systems of racism that have yet to be dismantled. From kickbacks to passionate politics, DC has it all.

A quick shot I took of the the MLK Memorial on MLK Day.

A quick shot I took of the the MLK Memorial on MLK Day.

Though these past two weeks have been packed with fun and growth, I feel as if they have already flown by. Keeping time’s fleeting nature in mind, I look forward to the next three months of not only building professional skills, but more importantly, bonds and memories to last me beyond the Spring 2016 semester.


Gurchit Chatha is a senior at UC Berkeley studying Political Science. He is currently interning for the Brookings Institution’s Center for Effective Public Management as a Matsui Washington Fellow.

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