Washington Semester Program student ambassador Katherine Spicer posing in from of Dirksen Senate Offices in Washington DC

Katherine Spicer

Sustainable Development

February 22, 2018 |

It's been a few weeks and I'm finally (kinda) settled into D.C.. I am still getting used to the environment, and the past few weeks have still held a lot of surprises for me.

For instance, I walked into Senator Bernie Sanders's office and it was one of the most exciting things that had happened to me. And yes, at the time I did think that only official people could enter these offices. I was extremely shocked to find out that I could actually go in there whenever I wanted, and the picture I took next to his name plaque has been replicated hundreds of times.

A ticket stub from a tour of Senator Bernie Sanders' office in the Dirksen Senate Building, Washington Semester Program You know what else I learned? That some people walk into this senate office building just to use the restroom or get some water. One person walked in with gym shorts and t-shirt, headphones in, back super sweaty. Next to them was someone in what seemed like a very expensive suit and a briefcase. One of my internship coworkers told me that she once got lost and just casually walked around the senate building, not realizing where she was. The juxtaposition of sweaty joggers just casually running through the building next to people who decide how our daily lives get influenced was so flabbergasting to me. But don't get me wrong, this place is still very serious.

After that meeting, my class got a tour of the Capitol. I am thankful that we were able to get a free tour, but that building design definitely exposes American race relations (in other words, white supremacy). Someone with us emphasized that if we don't like what we see, we should change it. While in this case, they were talking about specific statues in the building, I do think that sentence can go further. The tour helped me understand how changing small things can lead to bigger changes. For example, if one were to work on changing the statue of John C. Calhoun that represents South Carolina in the Capitol, it would give an opportunity to work with the local government. That momentum could then potentially be used to help with bigger projects people are working on in SC, like preserving Gullah culture in Charleston.

A Senate Only sign is hung at the elevators of the Dirksen Senate Building in Washington DC, Washington Semester Program I later returned to the Dirksen Senate Office Building to help with my first ICCF event! It's nice to leave the office with all my coworkers and work together as one big team. It was a lunch event to bring different influencers together (like congressmen and people from within the private sector) to help them learn about one another continue the shared goal of protecting our oceans. I just put up the name tags and recorded who was and wasn't there. My job was pretty easy, and I was able to go into the conference room to hear people tell their stories on conservation. I also got to bond with my coworkers and learn about them since we were able to just talk to one another for a bit.

Two classmates and I also got to meet with people from the Department of Energy and Environment. This meeting helped me see that my seemingly divergent interests can all come together to work on the problem of sustainable development. I felt more relaxed knowing that if I do pursue psychology in my future, that doesn't mean I have to ignore my interests in sustainable urbanism.

The front page of Street Sense newspaper, a local publication of Washington DC Before meeting with the DOEE, my class met with people who worked for Street Sense Media. One of the main things Street Sense Media does is sell newspapers. The vendor of the newspapers gets to keep the dollar, and the other dollar goes to the organization. This strategy is used to fight homelessness in DC. One of our speakers was homeless, and they told us the things he had to go through. After hearing the inhumane ways people are treated if they don't have permanent homes, I realized I need to spend more time reading about why homelessness in D.C. began to occur at such a rate, and how housing policies feed into this problem. I should be able to meet this goal since I'm taking an anthropology course on the home/homeless.

I'm curious how many more places my classes will visit this semester, and how much more informed my life will be after each one.

Blog History

Washington Semester Program student Katherine Spicer poses behind a statue at the Renwick Gallery in Washington Dc

Katherine Spicer

Sustainable Development

February 8, 2018 | Hey ya'll! My name is Katherine Spicer, and I'm a junior Anthropology major at Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin. I grew up in South Carolina and Moscow, Russia (I haven't spent an entire year in either country). I'm really interested in human development and what influences our behavior. I also love music and corny jokes.

I had no clue how happy I would be in D.C. It's only been about two or three weeks, and my skin has already improved due to my low stress levels (who needs dermatologists when you can just join the WSP?).

My First Night - Focus on the Essentials when Moving to D.C.

The first night of moving, I was in for a slight culture shock. At my home school, I had bought this huge fake cheetah print coat for $10. It was warm, and I wore it almost everyday in Wisconsin. This coat brought me a lot of stares in D.C. So getting used to the business casual clothing on such a consistent basis is definitely something I'm still getting used to. And while my cheetah coat will probably be sitting in the closet for awhile, I do finally get to wear one of my cute white sleek coats I never had the chance to wear before. Does this encourage my hoarding tendencies? Maybe.

About the hoarding, if you are going to live with two other roommates in one of the campus dorms, do not bring a lot of things! Focus on the essentials. Not only does that save space, but it is so much easier to be organized and clean when you don't have 20 million things in such a small space. This will save you time in the mornings when you have to get ready for your internship and classes.

Don't be Afraid to Get Lost in the City

Washington Semester Program students explore the metro system throughout Washington DCIf you get lost at my home school in Wisconsin, you find corn. Fields and fields of corn. But in D.C, if you get lost, you find the White House. I remember it took my friends and I two hours to get to Target using the metro buses (it should have taken us 20 minutes). At one point, my friend said:

"Guys, is that the White House?"

I thought, no way was that the White House, and Friend 2 pitches in:

"The fences would definitely be bigger if that was the White House."

We were fools, because it actually was the White House. So, please use the public transportation, even if you don't know how yet. You might be in for some pleasant surprises.

Also the fact that AU gives you an unlimited metro pass is amazing, and you might never get a chance like that again. Go everywhere you possibly can!

Make the Most of your Internship

I am interning at the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF). I was able to get an internship before I came to campus, which I think saved me a lot of stress. However, AU does provide internship fairs, and everyone I know in the program was able to find really good internships through it. I have never before in my life had a 9-to-5 job. I was a waitress, and my home-school internships all let me create my own schedule as long as I always met the deadlines. This 9-to-5 "job" situation has already forced me to improve my time management skills, which I am very thankful for. It is forcing me to prioritize and focus on the assignments. The feeling of having everything done by 5, and getting to come back to my room stress-free is not something I'm used to. No more "I'll just get it done tonight and not sleep."

My current research assignments at my internship are revealing the bigger picture to me. Getting to know the people at my office has given me the opportunity to do even more interesting tasks for different departments. I unexpectedly got to use photoshop today (which I love) because I got to know someone from the communications department. I'm also going to help with event planning and outreach. Since it is an international organization, sometimes important people have come from other countries. Apparently there was a prince once. We'll see who I meet.

My supervisor also told me that if there was ever a hearing I want to attend that I could just let her know. I didn't even know I wanted to attend a hearing until now!

The Academic Seminars are Lovely

I love my concentration. I'm in Sustainable Development with Professor Heather Heckel, and I already understand the world much more than I did three weeks ago. Our professor helps us see how interconnected everything is, which is lucky for me since I like to see things holistically. Plus, most of our class days aren't . We have been to the Newseum, the Environmental Defense Fund, and one of our assignments was literally to explore D.C. and visit different museums. I knew that coming to D.C. I would want to network as much as possible and visit as many places as I could. I was worried about juggling that while also trying to do well in classes. Turns out, I don't have to worry because our professor has integrated D.C. into our class. My stress levels are so low right now. I never want to sleep in class because it's so stimulating.

Also, to be dramatic, one of my homework assignments changed my life, and I now think I have more of a direction of what I want to do in life. I had to read an article from the Pulitzer Center, on our own preferred topic because, and the article I chose made me realize certain patterns in my own interests (for example, my interests in conflict-resolution). I came to D.C. to try to figure what I want to focus on (because let me tell you, I had no clue since I was interested in literally everything), but I didn't know it would come to me so quickly. This insight is going to make exploring D.C. even more exciting.

I'm also taking an elective -- an anthropology class on homelessness/the home. I'm in a class full of graduate students, which is not something we have at my home school. There is a lot of reading, but they are very stimulating and I'm excited to do them. How will I feel about the extra course work in two months? Perhaps a psychic could tell you, but I can not. I really hope my low stress levels and good skin stay with me. Oh yeah, my professor is also writing a book about the topic of our class, so maybe I will say something ridiculous enough for him to mention me.

The Experience Overall

I have met so many new people, and am really happy with my decision to come here. I can't believe I get to casually see national monuments when getting around to places. I also got to spend the weekend in the city without spending money because the museums are free, and so is transportation with the AU card. I have already learned so much from my courses and it is only the beginning. It will be interesting to see how much I change by the end of this semester. I am determined to use this opportunity to understand the world I live in better, and to explore who I am simultaneously.