First Adventures in D.C. | The Washington Center

First Adventures in D.C.

At home, I know the friendly faces that pass me as I walk down the street. To me, there is something profoundly comforting about direct eye contact and a warm smile from a stranger. My undergraduate community at Stockton University is home to a similar atmosphere with the shared mantra of “Always Stockton Friendly." At my university, students wave hello to one another as they are walking to class and there is hardly a time where a stranger remains unfamiliar for very long. As I walk around my new neighborhood in Washington D.C., I notice that the social currency of direct eye contact and a smile is a rarity, having been replaced by faces adorned with sunglasses, neutral expressions and earbuds that block out the rest of the world. Talk about culture shock. Luckily, I have a secret weapon to help me adjust: the community at The Washington Center (TWC).


By way of introduction, my name is Julie, and I hail from a small town in northern New Jersey. As a kid, I believed that life was really just a musical waiting to happen: at my most emotional moments, I would often burst into song and dance. This is something that I have since grown out of (…mostly).  Friends often tell me that my resting-smile-face makes it difficult to take me seriously when I am angry. I love to read, and I feel enamored whenever I enter a bookstore and get a whiff of that well-read book smell.


My dream job is that of an ice cream taste tester, something I plan to pursue as a second career post-retirement. In the meantime, I am looking forward to a career in public health that combines my passion for strong communities with preventative medicine. The Washington Center is helping me get there: this summer, I will complete an internship at the Arthritis Foundation, where I will be working in the world of advocacy and health policy. I’m especially excited about my internship because I will be able to give back to an organization that helped me establish a sense of identity when I was newly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was seven years old.


Okay, enough about me - lets talk about Washington D.C.!

I have now been here for ten days - usually when you start to settle into a new place or niche, the world starts to feel a bit smaller and more comfortable. But in D.C., you start to realize just how big the world really is. This city is an adventure waiting to happen, especially for someone that comes from a small town like me. On my morning commute, I find myself making mental lists about all of the new restaurants, museums, parks, book stores and food trucks that I want to visit. My list keeps growing and growing, and I don’t know that I will be able to accomplish all of these now ‘bucket list’ items in the short ten weeks that I will be here. But I sure can try.


Here is an picture I took during the Memorial Day Parade!

 

I arrived in this city in the days leading up to Memorial Day Weekend. The holiday weekend gave the interns at TWC time to settle into their apartments, bond with their roommates and explore the city. Our first adventures in D.C. were accentuated by an undertone of gratitude - for this country, for our history, for our freedom - a collective understanding that our experiences in our nation's capital would never have been possible if it weren't for the veterans that made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our home. At the Memorial Day parade, I felt a sense of belonging to my new city for the first time, sharing with my neighbors this experience that united us as one national community rather than a conglomerate of sunglass-wearing, headphone-listening, smile-free individuals on their way to work.


While the holiday helped me establish a connection to my new neighborhood, the TWC team helped me become a part of the community at the Residential Academic Facility (RAF). The week featured a number of opportunities to meet other interns, win prizes (like tickets to see the Nationals) and fall in love with D.C. As a Resident Assistant on my own campus, I appreciate the value of these "Welcome Week" activities and LOVE to participate in them. My favorite activity of the week was a walking tour of Capitol Hill lead by two of TWC's "Alumni in Residence." Our leaders took us on a path that lead up to a location that has been on my bucket list since the fifth grade, The Library of Congress.

My first view of the Emerald City.

 

When I was in elementary school, it was my ultimate goal to read every book in the library. Reading was my favorite escape as a kid: it was an activity that I could always enjoy, no matter how badly my arthritis was flaring. When I was growing up, my mom always told me that the world was my oyster, and I always believed her. This was especially clear when I outlined my career plans at the conclusion of the fifth grade and proudly declared to my class that I would be the first librarian on the moon. As a young adult, my career plans have changed a bit (remember, public health professional, followed closely by ice cream connoisseur), but my passion for books remains steadfast.


When we went to the Library of Congress this past weekend, I felt childlike excitement and exhilaration that would have made my younger self so proud. I felt a surge of adrenaline as I climbed the steps to the library of my dreams. I felt my heart flip and my apple cheeks start to ache from smiling so hard. The moment I walked into this library, I felt overwhelmed by the anticipation of a dream about to be fulfilled. Together with my three new friends, I set off on a mission to get a Library of Congress library card.

 

Giddy with excitement upon entering the Library.

 

Our mission required commitment, bravery and a lot of giggling. The four of us, all interns at TWC, shared a passion for reading and unabashedly owned our nerdiness. We consulted with the concierge, who sent us on a journey through underground tunnels to the office where we could receive our very own library cards. When we finally got to the office to complete the application process, my palms were sweating and nothing could wipe the smile off my face. My cheeks ached from my ever-present smile, the way they do at Prom when your parents have been taking your picture at every angle imaginable. The women in the office laughed at my excitement and helped me complete the application process and printed my library card. I don’t think that I have ever looked quite as much like a chipmunk as I do in my ID photo - worth it!

The first ever chipmunk to get her library card.

I shared this experience with three friends that have now seen me at my most excited: I feel especially close with these girls, now that I got to share my dream with them. I think that this is the charm of this city. Around every corner is another dream waiting to be fulfilled, another adventure waiting to be embarked upon, another moment that you can share with a stranger. Though the city can be intimidating at first with all of those individuals that block out the world on their way to work, there are also so many people here just waiting to share a moment with you. The folks at TWC are all a great reminder that your community is what you make of it and luckily for the Summer '16 interns, we have each other to share this new, exciting place with.


The newest gang of readers with membership to the Library of Congress, at your service.

 

On a personal note: Each week I am going to share with you some of my favorite tunes. At the end of the summer, I'm hoping to have a playlist of songs that string together the sounds of my summer in D.C. This week my song of the week is My Shot from the new musical, Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Give it a listen!

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