Mihretabe GizawInternship: Truman National Security Project
November 6 | It’s crazy to think that we are halfway done with the semester. These things don’t hit you until you’re hanging out with your friends and one of them starts talking about how we only have about four weekends left together (that’s if we don’t count the week of Thanksgiving and finals). We’ve vowed to make the best out of the time we have left. I’ll preface this by saying that doing the Washington Semester Program has been a major highlight of my college career. My advice to anyone thinking about doing the program would be to take 30 minutes one day (maybe more if necessary), get a calendar, and get a sense of how much time you really have to do all the wonderful and exciting things you’d like to do while in D.C. I’m saying this because I am a testament that planning helps. I like being spontaneous more than I like structure and schedules because I feel like schedules can be constricting at times. However, a little planning doesn’t get in the way of spontaneity. Planning even just a little bit ahead might be the difference between a good and a great semester.
On the night of October 26th, the Ethiopian & Eritrean Student Association (ESA) at AU hosted an event titled BunaTime. It was inspired by a podcast that was launched recently by a group of Ethiopian and Eritrean-Diaspora from Texas. In Amharic, the primary language used in Ethiopia, “Buna” means coffee. Therefore, “Buna time” indicates a time for gathering and socializing with friends and/or family to share life with one another, which typically involves coffee. That night we conversed on the topic of gender roles in the Ethiopian and Eritrean community. We were able to have a productive discussion highlighting the difference in perspective regarding this issue among various generations. Furthermore, since students who are not Ethiopian nor Eritrean attended the event, we heard about experiences in other African countries that were similar to the ones we shared.
On November 1st, our seminar had the wonderful opportunity of going to 3M’s Washington D.C. office. For those who are not familiar with the company, they are famous for making Post-its among literally a thousand other things we use on a daily basis. We had a chance to hear from Rory J. Yanchek, Vice President and General Manager of 3M’s Government Markets and Omar Vargas the Global Head of Government Affairs and an American University alum. We visited the company along with a graduate class from AU, and it was interesting to see how the WSP experience, in a way, put us “on the same level” as these students who had already completed their undergraduate degrees. WSP is almost like a pre-grad program due to the level of concentration on a subject and the exposure it offers. Being side by side with the graduate students also made me highly appreciate the work that our Professor puts into making these talks happen. It’s easy to take for granted, but I know I’ll be walking away with knowledge, skills, and a mindset that will be useful for a lifetime.
We’re halfway through this semester, and I already feel like I have grown tremendously. The rest of the semester will be filled with exciting things such as a visit to Goldman Sachs and Bloomberg in New York City, a visit to the White House, a Mavericks vs. Wizards game, and who knows what else. I am very excited for what lies ahead and incredibly thankful that my Professors back at Linfield encouraged me to do this program.
Mihretabe Gizaw Global Economics and Business
October 23 | The Global Economics and Business concentration surprises me almost every week. This last week our Professor was able to help us sign up to attend the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) annual meetings. Attending these meetings put us in the same room with top business executives, policy makers, economists, and some of the most influential people in the world.
Toward the end of the day on Tuesday, I walked over to one of the World Bank buildings to get my badge that would give me access to all the meetings. The woman that took my photo for the badge recommended that I go immediately to the next event. Titled Challenging Business as Usual: A Conversation between Jim Yong Kim and Hamdi Ulukaya, the event featured the President of the World Bank, Dr. Kim, and the founder/CEO of Chobani, Hamdi Ulukaya. One of the most notable aspects of this discussion is that Mr. Ulukaya mentioned the successful practice that his company has implemented of hiring refugees. It was very inspiring to hear how Mr. Ulukaya started his company and how he as a businessman is contributing significantly to solve one of the most difficult challenges multilateral institutions, non-governmental organizations, and countries face, namely the refugee crisis.
Something that is engrained in D.C. culture is that every interaction is in one way or another a networking opportunity. That is a skill that we have picked up over the last few weeks. Throughout the week, I was able to connect with several people at the annual meetings who may be able to provide insight for my research project or potentially even a future internship. These people include the secretary to the CEO of Chobani, the CRO for Zipline, the Director of the African Department at the IMF, the Vice President for Manchester Trade Ltd., and the President of the United Bank in Ethiopia. This might sound like people in D.C. view other people only as a means to an end, but there is more to it than simply that.
People in D.C. value their time and typically know that they could be helpful in the development of your educational or professional career. There are ways to be genuine when interacting with these people, there are ways to promote yourself without bragging, and there are ways to connect with them on a deeper level than simply networking. Most of them enjoy conversations and getting to know you; some simply don't have time for that and want you to get straight to the point. Figuring that out is a key aspect of surviving in the D.C. environment.
Our class recently also had the wonderful opportunity of hearing from not only a Washington Semester Program alum, but one that went through the Global Economics and Business concentration. Manal Elattir is an entrepreneur and advocate for women and youth employment. She founded ASILA, a company previously known as Anarouz, and it is the first social business in Morocco that aims to empower women in rural areas through leadership, entrepreneurship and market access. Following that, she launched a global e-commerce business known as ASILASHOP that partners with women-led handicraft businesses and cooperatives to create a new luxury style that fosters ethical fashion, preserves Morocco's craft heritage and empowers women entrepreneurs. She shared with us the story of how she was motivated to start her company after a period of time when she struggled to find her calling. It was great to hear that she experienced some of the doubt and uncertainty that we as undergraduates experience, and she gave us some helpful tips to avoid some of the potholes she fell into whilst pursuing her dream.
Despite having a midterm on Wednesday, this past week has been very inspirational! We're learning a lot and experiencing a lot more and so far the semester has been incredible.
Mihretabe Gizaw Global Economics and Business
October 9 | On the morning of September 25th, my class met in American University's Spring Valley Building for a lecture on the role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the global economy. In some respects, the lecture was similar to one that my Intro to International Politics Professor gave back at Linfield College, my home school. However, that afternoon we went to the IMF Headquarters and got to hear from Patrick Cirillo, the Deputy Chief of Operations in the secretariat at the IMF. He gave us an in-depth look at the history of the IMF, how it has evolved, how it operates, and its role in offering global economic stability. To me, this type of experiential learning is what sets the Washington Semester Program experience apart and is what has enhanced my academic and professional journey already.
At my internship this week, my boss sent me to attend a hearing in the House of Representatives. The House Foreign Affairs Committee called to witness Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan to gather more information on proposed reforms to the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The committee also inquired about how they can collaborate with the State Department on addressing corrupt regimes that have national security implications for the United States. In addition to this, the committee raised questions about what is being done to address recent natural disaster damages in neighboring Caribbean nations. I wrote a memo summarizing the key points of the hearing.
When the hearing was over, I saw several activists going over to take photographs with Congressman Tom Garrett (R-VA). During the hearing, he had acknowledged and thanked the activists for being persistent in pressuring the committee to prioritize a regime change in Iran. After they were done, a TV network conducted a brief interview with Congressman Garrett. Finally, I was able to talk to the Congressman about the movement the activists were advocating and how a later interview with him could help me with the research I am conducting this semester. He introduced me to his scheduler, and as I was walking out of the House Office Building, I got a text from her with an email address saying that I should feel free to reach out!
On Saturday night, I was able to go to an event hosted by the Ethiopian & Eritrean Student Association (ESA). An impressive aspect of this association is that they seek to unite the Ethiopian and the Eritrean community and regard these communities as one people-an issue that is a point of contention between the governments of the two nations and hence some of their constituents as well. The event featured various performances, including several cultural dances that highlighted the different regions of Ethiopia and Eritrea. They also served excellent cultural cuisine. The night ended with some music, dancing, and promotion of cultural unity that had been well exemplified by the event. The internship along with the seminar keeps me pretty busy, so it's great to have clubs like ESA on campus to have some fun. Also, the relative easy of getting around D.C. has enabled me to have something different and exciting to do every week.
Mihretabe Gizaw Global Economics and Business
October 2 | This has been a very eventful week. Each day that passes I love D.C. even more. We got to visit the Capitol during one of the days we had seminar, and it was magnificent. Professor Sosland's lecture on the political system of the United States to a class largely consisting of international students was very intriguing and engaging. He was able to point to the many artifacts and models in the Exhibition Hall dedicated to telling the story of the U.S. Congress. Later, we also got a tour from one of the staff and went more in-depth about the history of the Capitol. I have been to four state capitals including Sacramento, CA; Salem, OR; Des Moines, IO; and Austin, TX; and I have had the opportunity to visit each of their Capitol buildings. But believe me when I say the one in D.C. is on another level.
Although that was a great highlight, this last week was pretty stressful. The deadline for securing an internship was coming up, and I couldn't go out with friends because I was applying, applying, applying to so many different places it's hard to count. (I should've started applying before the semester began to save me some stress!) You can imagine the relief I felt when I read an email saying that I was a perfect fit for an internship position at the Truman National Security Project.
It was a position that I really wanted, and I had taken a risk by turning a previous internship offer down in favor of this opportunity. Most of the internships I applied to conducted phone interviews, and that sufficed as an application-in addition to a cover letter and resume, which are the basics for all internship applications. Truman, in addition to a phone interview, wanted me to write a memo on a hearing on the Hill and submit it to them to assess my writing skills. This made me nervous because I didn't have experience writing a memo, but they liked it and offered me the internship.
So now not only do I have an exciting internship, but I can also go out with my friends again, and that's exactly what I did on the night of September 15. The Dodgers were going to be playing the Washington Nationals, and a group of us decided that we would celebrate our week's accomplishments by going to the game. We decided to be fashionably late and arrived at the bottom of the second inning. None of us had strong data connections in the Metro tunnels, so we couldn't see the score until we got to the stadium. It was already 6-0, Dodgers. WE COULD NOT BELIEVE IT. We rushed in to catch the rest of this madness.
If you've ever been to an MLB game, you know that between innings they have races between life-sized mascots of ketchup, mustard, and something else. Well at the Nationals park, they have what they call a President's Race. That night, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson were running their hearts out, and 30 yards from the finish line, something unexpected happened. Abraham Lincoln came out of nowhere, stopped the race, and handed the three other presidents a large poster that read "Thank you." Confused, the three looked at each other wondering who or what the poster was for, and more importantly, why Lincoln had interrupted their race. Lincoln signaled for them to look on the back of the poster. It read, "for the win," but before any of them had a chance to understand and act on what was going on, Lincoln sprinted towards the finish line, winning the race! The stadium was surprised by Lincoln's little trick but loved it and roared in applause and cheers. It turned out to be a fun night, and the game ended 7-0. We learned never to be fashionably late to a baseball game again. Also, just a note, D.C. people love, and I mean LOVE, their Nationals.
Mihretabe Gizaw Global Economics and Business
September 18 | This is not my first time in D.C. and neither is it for some of my classmates in the Global Economics and Business concentration. In conversations prior to our first seminar class, most of my classmates agreed that the real reason they applied to the Washington Semester Program was to be able to say they did an internship in D.C. I also thought the seminar classes would be just like any other college course - but that could not be further from the truth. Sure, it had some similar structural elements to any other college course, but what makes a WSP seminar so special is that you not only get to hear about the subject matter, but you also experience it.
When Global Economics & Business Professor Jeffrey Sosland took the class to the National Mall and began lecturing with Capitol Building to his left and National Monument to his right, I was incredibly captivated.
To read about the historic architecture and city planning that went into making D.C. can be kind of boring. When you're standing right in the middle of it and can see with your eyes the vision of Pierre Charles L'Enfant (the urban designer who designed D.C.) as it lives and breathes, it is something quite astonishing. And I'm normally not even that interested in architecture!
Soon after that, we went to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's memorial. As we were walking up to where the Professor had decided he would give us the lecture, I was impersonating FDR's voice to a classmate and quoting the famous words from his first inauguration speech. We were both laughing at my poor attempt to sound like FDR, but I guess you could say I was trying to show off my knowledge about FDR. Professor Sosland's lecture progressed through the years of FDR's presidency and went into depth about the challenges that administration faced and the innovative ways they overcame them. As it did, I felt bad about thinking I knew about FDR.
I could have never understood the significance of FDR's charisma, his bold leadership, and the special place he held in the hearts of the American people if the Professor had been lecturing out of a textbook. I had walked through the memorial several years ago, but side by side with the lecture, it was an entirely different experience. WSP, on the just the second day of seminar, had lived up to its promise of D.C. as a classroom.
So that marked the beginning of a great semester ahead, and it has made me more optimistic about re-visiting the different sites with the class. It was not enough seeing the city on a bright and sunny day, so a bunch of other WSP students and I went at night to see the Capitol building and Washington Monument, something I definitely recommend!