March 21 | I can hardly believe I am writing this, but this is my final blog post about the experiences I've had in DC through the Washington Semester Program. It is mind-boggling that time has flown by as quickly as it has. Three months filled with experiential learning, studying, sightseeing, culture-absorbing, and traveling are now behind me. Only one more to go! Since my previous blog post, I have had spring break, as well as an Instagram takeover to show some of my outings. The pictures can be seen on the @wspintern account on Instagram. Now I get to fill you in on the rest!
First of all, spring break was something highly anticipated and valued that everyone looked forward to. A lot of people chose to go home to their families, and I was so lucky that my family came all the way from Norway to visit me. I met them in New York, where we explored the Big Apple. One of the most amazing things we did was see The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. The musical was simply breathtaking, and everything from the scenography to the singing was perfect. We also sightsaw Central Park, Ground Zero, the Highline, and Chelsea Market and went to the top of Rockefeller center, to mention a few things. It was great seeing my family again! They spent some days in DC as well, and I got to show them all the places I've grown so fond of during the past months. When spring break ended, only a week passed until I got a visit again, this time from my boyfriend's family. We also went to New York, where we went to see the production of The Lion King. That was a spectacular musical, too - a must-see!
Back in DC, I am just landing again after spring break and family outings. There is still a lot of work to be done before the semester ends. We have already been to two site visits with my American Politics class. Last Friday, we visited the Cato Institute, which is a libertarian think tank dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace. A week later, we met with former Reagan policy advisor and former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III at the Heritage Foundation. The mission of The Heritage Foundation is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. It is very interesting to meet with people across the entire political spectrum and hear first-hand about their values and opinions. This has been the model throughout the semester; we read about issues and policies and couple that with site visits and discussions with people who work with said issues on a daily basis or have tremendous experiences in the topical field. That way of studying truly resonates with how I enjoy learning. So far, we've covered several topics, and we have progressed by category, such as Parties, Campaigns, and Elections. This week, we are moving on to security and defense topics, which I look forward to.
A typical week consists of two days of school; the first three days I spend at my internship at Running Start. A couple of weeks ago, we hosted Running Start's 12th Annual Young Women to Watch Awards. It was an amazing event and fun to be a part of organizing. The award honors the youngest women in politics. The finalists had already conducted impressive social media campaigns, a programmatic training through a nationwide contest to practice their fundraising skills by raising money to help Running Start train more young women. The Young Women to Watch Awards draws about 400 of DC's political elite as guests and 90% of the women in Congress joined the Congressional Host Committee. The event was filled with a wholesome atmosphere and was incredibly inspirational. Some weeks after the event, the interns went to Capitol Hill and delivered hand written thank you notes to the Congressional Host Committee, which was a really cool experience!
Through my internship I also had the opportunity to attend Vital Voice's 17th Annual Global Leadership Awards 2018. That is an event that honors female leaders who plant the seed of change in their communities and in the world. Among this year's honorees was a woman named Lina Khalifeh, who has founded a movement called SheFighter, which trains Middle Eastern women in self-defense techniques. It was amazing to see what she did for the safety, as well as the confidence, of Middle Eastern women. All the honorees were pioneers, entrepreneurs, and trail blazers in fields such as human rights, economic empowerment, and equity. It was a really special and inspiring event to be a guest at. The keynote speaker was Hillary Clinton, and wow it was cool to see her! People were encouraged to wear their traditional costumes, seeing as the awards honor international women. Therefore, for the occasion, I was so lucky to borrow a bunad from the Royal Norwegian Embassy in DC.
Spring has finally sprung in DC, and it feels amazing. The cherry trees are suddenly bursting with color: they appeared nearly overnight after we experienced two days of warmth. Along the Tidal Basin and the Mall there are pink trees and greenery starting to sprout everywhere - it looks wonderful. I would walk along the water there for hours if I could! Or better yet, scoot around on electric scooters. They are my current obsession, they are so much fun. However, I urge you to be careful should you try one. I fell off it once while I was not paying attention, and it was not fun. Wear a helmet if you can, especially if you are as clumsy as me.
I am not always about that daredevil life, though: another thing I recently discovered is Saturday morning yoga at the botanical garden. I tried it for the first time last Saturday, and it was a wonderful experience. With Love DC hosts one-hour yoga sessions inside a beautiful room in the botanical garden, but there is also an option to do yoga on the grass outside! After the session it was great to walk around in the beautiful botanical garden, which is full of flowers in all colors. Another must-see among so many.
Thus, this concludes my adventure as a first-time exchange student and blogger. Looking back at what I've experienced, I am so grateful I chose to attend American University and that I got an internship at Running Start. This has been the most meaningful and exciting semester I've had so far. I know that I will look back at this semester fondly and always remember what I learned here about American politics, Washington, and myself. I intend to enjoy the remaining time and make the most of it!
March 7 | The past few weeks have been all about getting to know the United States better - both culturally and politically. At the moment, there are several huge things going on in American politics, and I truly have a front row seat to history in the making. Roughly two weeks ago, there was a school shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. In the aftermath, there has been newfound engagement to amend the gun control laws by opponents of the current rules. What seems to be different this time around is the students' initiative to be at the front line of the discussions. Survivors of school shootings have been adding their voices to demonstrations against the right to bear arms in America, and they are organizing several protests and demonstrations this spring. President Trump also wants to do something about it, and one of his bids to keep students safe is to arm adept teachers. As with most issues of values here in the US, there is a partisan divide on that particular question. I attended a breakfast meeting last week hosted by Mike Allen with Axios (a digital media company) on the topic of what state legislators can do to improve education. In the wake of the recent events, there was no way around the topic of arming teachers. Governor of Kansas Jeff Coyler supported Trump's idea and said it might be the right solution for some states, if the decision is made at a local level. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, on the other hand, called the idea "ridiculous." I come from a country where we do not have the right to bear arms. It is unimaginable to picture people owning guns just as casually as owning microwaves. However, the second amendment is part of the American culture, and I can understand their justifications for owning guns, even though I might not agree with everything about the present laws.
The polarization in American politics runs deep on several issues, which I have been able to experience through our visits with my American Politics class and my Political Communications elective course. Two weeks ago, the news cycle began with the intelligence chiefs testifying that Russia aims to interfere with the American election system in 2018. Moreover, 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities were indicted for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election. There are different narratives of what this means, and what implications this might have, differing from news outlet to news outlet. My Political Communications class got to attend a live taping of the morning show "Meet the Press," where Chuck Todd, together with his guests, discussed just that. Republicans and Democrats can sometimes appear in complete disagreement over certain topics. Media outlets that lean to one side or the other might further the wedge in Americans politics through their coverage of news. This is at least the opinion of one guest speaker we greeted in our American Politics class last week when we covered the fascinating topics of media bias and fake news. But even on this matter, scholars and politicians disagree. Our class covers sources that advocate both opinions. One representative from the organization Media Matters said she did not think there is media bias in journalism of American politics. Her gravest concern was fake news. It was truly interesting to hear her talk about how the recent increase of fake news is affecting not just politics, but everyday life. This is not just an American problem though, but a global one. And because fake news is also a disputed term which different people ascribe different meanings to, it is even more difficult to combat. The reason behind fake news, nonetheless, is to create chaos. Safe to say, it has succeeded.
All in all, through my concentration and through my consumption of news, I am gaining a better sense of the American political system and the way it affects the lives of people. I learned about it in school at home, but it is certainly something else to experience it up close, while still being able to watch it from a different perspective, as a foreigner. I sometimes get the feeling that the American political system leaves something to be desired, even though I cannot exactly pin point what. Furthermore, it is hard to compare Norway and USA, because in spite of several similarities, we have a different history and different challenges, and the US is far bigger and far more populous than Norway, which makes it less manageable than Norway.
Even though I often entangle myself in American politics, I also try to have some fun. (Who am I kidding? Politics is fun!) Anyway, last week I attended the Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown. The weather was so nice, and a lot of people had gathered for the festivities. Afterwards, we went to the National Portrait Gallery where the new portraits of Michelle and Barack Obama had just been exhibited. I love how their portraits stand out compared to previous portraits of Presidents and First Ladies. Our class got a tour of the Gallery, and it was cool to get some more information about all the pictures we saw. I am amazed by all the opportunities we get through the Washington Semester Program.
Oh, and as promised, I have been to a basketball game since my last post. I went to see the DC team Wizards play at home, and even though we lost, it was fun watching the game. Moreover, I went to the African-American history museum, which was amazing. It is newly opened and hard to get tickets to. But if you manage to get one, it is definitely not an opportunity you want to miss. On Sunday, I visited the Woodley Park Zoo, which was cool, and also has free entrance. Perfect for a lazy Sunday stroll. The animals seem to live a comfortable and happy life. Lastly, together with the American Politics class, I went to the Newseum, a museum that exhibits current affairs and how stories have been depicted through the eyes of the media. The focus is heavily dedicated to celebrating the freedoms guaranteed to all Americans by the First Amendment. They have a grand display of the fresh front pages of newspapers outside each day, which, coupled with the First Amendment written on the façade, really makes an impressive exterior.
One thing we do not celebrate in Norway is Valentine's Day. But now that we are here, my boyfriend decided to surprise me while I was at my internship at Running Start. He totally surprised me and all the others when he arrived with flowers and chocolate. All I could think was that was very American. Since he did not quite know how Valentine's is celebrated, he got the inspiration from Hollywood. We quickly realized, however, that reality actually is not as in the movies, and I was the only one who got a surprise visit. It was so sweet, though. Here in DC, I get the feeling that everyone feels free to be themselves and do anything they want, which is great. When I ask people what they like the most about being an American or living in the US, many people mention diversity as being important to them. I have to be honest, at first it felt like a buzzword people threw around, but I can see now that it is of real importance to many Americans. I could not agree more. When facing grievances such as political disputes, it is better to celebrate the things that makes us different, rather than seeing them as obstacles.
February 22 | The first month here in Washington has flown by. In only five short weeks, I have settled in, made friends, and gotten to know the city better.
I have made it my mission to get to know my neighborhood by heart, and I try to do that by going on morning or evening runs. At first, I was very anxious about getting lost, so I simply chose a street and raced to the end and went back again. Don't laugh, there is very much to be discovered along Connecticut Avenue, which was my first route to map out the city in my head. During the run I visited vibrant DuPont Circle, and at the end I was rewarded with the sight of the National Mall, including the Washington Monument. I also live quite close to a place called Embassy Row, a street filled with Embassies from all over the world. The different ones are made distinguishable with flags, of course, and many also have statues. Outside the South African embassy, for instance, there is a tall and beautiful statue of Nelson Mandela. In front of the Norwegian Embassy, stands the Crown Princess Märtha. Running is an enjoyable way of exploring D.C., and I really recommend it!
Another way I have been getting to know the city is through the site visits in my American Politics seminars. We have been so lucky to talk to many interesting people and to see many interesting organizations in the past four weeks. This has given me a unique opportunity to understand more of American history, contemporary politics, and American people. I find it rewarding to hear from and exchange ideas with experienced politicians, lobbyists, political advisors, and my classmates from the U.S. As a Norwegian, and only one out of two international students in my class, I have a different perspective than many of my classmates when it comes to government, electoral systems, and understanding political issues. What we share is that we are all accustomed to the way it is organized in our respective countries. It is interesting to review the similarities with the Norwegian and American system and discuss politics in light of that.
Last Friday, we toured the Capitol building. We saw both the old Senate and the old Supreme Court, which was amazing. It was inspirational to be able to walk where famous politicians have worked and still work on a daily basis. We even strolled past Speaker of the House (and WSP alumnus) Paul Ryan's office! In D.C., every address is labeled with the orientation relative to Congress. When inside the Capitol, we got to see the place that marks the center of the city, which is the reference point for delineating each street address as being in the NW, NE, SW, or SE quadrant of D.C.
After that, we toured the Library of Congress, which is the research library that officially serves the United States Congress and the national library of the United States. It is also the nation's oldest federal building. Something that surprised me is that it is the largest library in the world, according to our guide. Among the vast collections was the personal library of President Thomas Jefferson.
Our tour guide explained all the intentions behind the art and architecture of the construction, and that nothing was coincidental. The art on the walls and ceiling were planned out to complement the architecture. The Library of Congress is definitely somewhere I would recommend everyone to go. It is possible to sit in the library and read, and once I get my library card I intend to go there to study. And a fact I've learned: Washington, D.C., was built with the sole intention of serving as the home of the government. Hence, it is not a state but a territory, which means that their Congressperson cannot participate in any votes taken in the House of Representatives. Because of that, their slogan is "Taxation without Representation." Further, it was chosen due to its prime location in the midst of the first states, and because of its climate and geography, the so-called "swampland" did not favor any crops, nor was it inviting to farmers, fishers, or others. Therefore, it would not compromise the intention to have a place dedicated only to government.
This week was the third week in my internship at Running Start. So far, my work has not been set in a certain way: I receive tasks when I walk in the office in the morning or continue on a project I started the day before. I work both alone and together with interns or staff. Therefore, the work is varied and exciting, just the way I like it. Some of the things I have done so far have been research, contact with Running Start alums, and several organizational tasks. Including me, we are five interns at the office. They are all great, and the environment in the office is inspirational. Only 1 out of 4 elected politicians in the U.S. are women; however, when women do run they have the same chance of winning as men. Apparently, women tend to devalue their own capability as candidates, so a reason why there are fewer women in politics is that fewer women run for office. Therefore, Running Start's mission is to encourage young women to picture themselves as candidates at an early age and to run for office early, whether in a student government, local government, or federal office.
Apart from school and internship, which take up most of my time, I enjoy taking the time to relax. I have not felt very homesick at all, although one of the stings came this week after the Olympic Games began. It is so much fun watching the games, and I gladly get up in the early morning to watch the Norwegian athletes crush it in Skiathlon. That is one of the moments it would be preferable to sit with a bunch of fellow Norwegians and eat vaffler with brunost and cheer our heroes on. Nonetheless, I am extremely happy I am in Washington, and I would not trade that for anything. Also, a huge congratulation to Mirai Nagasu who landed a triple axel, becoming the first American woman - and third overall - to do it in the Olympics!
The next weeks I hope to become more familiar with American pastime sports as well, as I want to go to a basketball game. In addition, I want to go to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery to behold the new portrait of President Obama and visit the botanical garden. Whether I manage to do all this and more remains to be seen!
Until next time!
February 8 | Hello everyone!
My name is Ingrid. I am currently working on a bachelor's degree in International Relations at the University of Oslo in Norway, and I am doing a semester abroad at American University. Ever since I discovered this possibility, I have been so excited to come to Washington, D.C., to enroll in the Washington Semester Program. Even though I am very interested in foreign policy, I figured that there is no better place than the capital of the United States to study American Politics, so that will be my concentration this spring. I am new both in the U.S. and D.C., so tag along if you wish to share in this adventure with me!
We have already finished two weeks of classes, and so far it has been great. In our American Politics class, we have discussed different topics each week, such as the U.S. presidential campaigns, the electorate, and the two major American political parties. The readings were penned by people who have authority in each field of topic, which makes it more exciting but also more important to be critical of the source. The past two Fridays, we went on site visits and spoke with people working in politics either directly or indirectly through organizations or corporations. We went to the Google office in D.C., the Fair Vote organization, and the Democratic National Committee. These meetings have paired really well with the theoretical discussions we have had in class and gave a heightened understanding of how American elections, campaigns, and politics work.
Hopefully, something that will pair even better with what I learn in theory is my internship placement. Three days a week I will intern at an organization called Running Start. They work to encourage and educate women to run for office. Running Start was founded to address the absence of equal representation in the halls of government and provides young women and girls with the skills and confidence they need to become the political leaders of tomorrow. I am eager to get started and to learn more about female empowerment, organizational work, and of course political impact.
Washington is certainly more than I hoped and expected it would be. It is definitely a political hot spot - everyone who wants to be something within politics should come here. There are endless possibilities when it comes to political organizations, consultancies, lobbyists, and the media. Whichever way you wish to influence, D.C. can provide it. It has been quite special to be here during the budget discussions which resulted in the government shutdown. However, it is not all about the frantic battles of politics. The city offers beautiful and charming districts such as Georgetown. Last Saturday I spent the entire afternoon strolling, eating, and looking at all the exciting stuff happening there. Furthermore, there is also the cool and vibrant Dupont Circle, where I have found everything from art and history to entertainment. It is a really great place to hang out with friends. And of course, while Washington D.C. is a modern capital, it is filled with history. There are many museums to visit, and the best part is that several of them are Smithsonian, which means they have free entrance. I especially liked National Museum of American History. However, everything in America is bigger, and the infrastructure is no exception. My first day here, I spent the entire day walking from monument to monument, from the awe-inspiring Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, the White House to the Capitol building, and my, it really takes a while to walk everywhere! Yet, it is a great way to get to know the city. A really cool tip, though, is to take the time to inside the Capitol. If you have a foreign passport or other valid form of ID, you are allowed to enter the galleries and see the Senate or the House of Representatives in session!
All in all, the past three weeks have filled me with so many impressions, and I am overwhelmed with what the city and the Washington Semester Program can offer. In just a few weeks I already feel richer in terms of new friends, new knowledge, and new favorite places to visit. (Though not financially, hello fancy Sunday brunches!) I look forward to feeling more at home here and to figure out what else D.C. will bring me.