Washington DC is one of the only places in the world where educated people come to spend their summers being exploited. The city would crumble without free labor.
When one of our lecturers said this the other day at orientation (not a direct quote, but this was the gist of it), we all laughed. Then people immediately began firing off questions about how to get internships and how to get in before students from the rest of the country (and world) flood in for the summer internship season next year.
It’s one of the reasons I’m here. It’s one of the reason the baby faced college kids in oversized dress pants or little pencil skirts and knitted cardigans are here.
One thing that has struck me quickly about DC is that so many people are here to do something big or to change things. I’ve been going to a lot of open houses in the last week (the housing market hell here is deserving of a separate post), and I’ve met Capitol Hill staffers, researchers working on cancer breakthroughs at the National Institutes of Health, grad students galore, people who have started their own non-profits, staffers from international organizations, embassy types, journalists, documentary producers, arts administrators, education policy analysts and more.
It’s where the driven come to push even harder. Even the conversations you hear on the Metro are not the usual. Policy debates, arguments about post-Maoist China, all loosened by an after work beer or glass of wine at one of the city’s hip bars.
When you think of Washington DC from the ‘outside’, the first things you likely think of are the big monuments, the television show “The West Wing” and Obama. They are all there (apparently… I haven’t had a spare moment to go see them yet). You might also think about how DC was once known as the murder capital of the US (that’s improved a lot, but there are still some pretty sketchy neighbourhoods). But behind all that there are streets filled with charming rowhouses, huge lush green parks, farmers markets, funky cafe and restaurant strips and kids going to school in yellow schoolbuses (yes people, that’s not just a TV thing). There’s a diverse multicultural population. There’s a whole real, very interesting city.
Perhaps one of the things that has most surprised me here in DC though is that the people are friendly. I wasn’t expecting a mean city or anything, but usually in a hypercompetitive city, people are a bit more guarded, a bit more rushed. Compared to say, London (sorry London), this city is super super friendly. Perhaps it is because a lot of people are here trying to work for the public good, rather than purely commercial gain. Perhaps its because networking is king in this city and you never know who might be sitting next to you on the bus. Or perhaps its because Washington DC is not an offensively large city (the district’s population is only 599,657, however there’s about a million people in here on a workday, according to Wikipedia). Anyway, its nice.
I feel like this is a city where I will never have enough time though, especially since I only have two years for school, internships, networking, learning a third language (either French or Spanish, I haven’t made the final decision yet). Time will fly here but I think I will enjoy it a lot.