Chinese Embassy

Noelle Johnson Foreign Policy

November 6 | It's not an exaggeration to say that working as an intern in Washington, DC, requires a lot of dedication - a typical week involves early mornings, lots of coffee, and learning how to run around the city in heels. But luckily the payoff is that working in DC also comes along with the perks of living in DC, a city with countless political events, concerts, food fairs, and museums. This past week I got a taste of the exciting experiences one can have in DC and also got to experience diplomacy first-hand thanks to my Foreign Policy Seminar.

My class was privileged with the opportunity to visit the Embassy of the Republic of China. We were awestruck by the beauty of the building, which is decorated with gorgeous artwork, sculptures, and literal red carpets. More importantly, our class spent almost two hours discussing the Belt Road Initiative with five Chinese diplomats and their staff. The diversity of the diplomats' backgrounds, some being political while the others were trade-centric, provided for a really meaningful conversation between our class and the embassy staff. This experience was amazing because I was able to actively participate in face-to-face foreign policy discussions, much in the same manner that State Department officials would do. This will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of my semester in DC.

Statue of a soldier at the Vietnam War Memorial

Another opportunity to experience what DC has to offer arose on Veteran's Day. As a current intern with a branch of the military, I have immense respect and admiration for those who serve our country and wanted to participate in something that day to say "Thank You." I headed on the Metro to the Smithsonian stop and ventured out in the bitter cold with the intention of visiting the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Somehow, my wandering landed me at an event that I wouldn't be able to partake in anywhere else! The Vietnam Veteran Memorial was having its 35th anniversary, and a crowd of probably 300 people had showed up for a ceremony. It was a moving spectacle - a color guard presented, the national anthem was sung by a Marine, and military personnel from all branches could be seen in the chairs, and bystanders were watching the event. Moving speeches were given by a former Navy Seal and a Nurse who served in Vietnam; both of these speeches spoke to the memory of those who are engraved on the memorial. One of the best parts of the event was saying the pledge of allegiance with the entire crowd. Such a moment of solidarity between young and old, military and civilian, is not so often experienced.

When others will ask me about my time in DC, I will think back to these moments and remember how incredible it was to experience all that I did. This semester has demanded constant intellectual and professional dedication, and yet I wouldn't have it any other way.

Blog History

Washington Semester Student Ambassador Noelle Johnson

Noelle Johnson Foreign Policy

November 6 | It's not difficult to observe that Washington, DC, is a hub of activity: although the Metro is packed to the brim at 5:00 PM, the work day rarely ends for most at this time. As a participant in the Washington Semester Program (WSP), I've discovered that my lifestyle in DC has also reflected the same trend I see in others! Although I may not always be working on a project or writing up a paper, I'm constantly obtaining new pertinent information and experiences that are contributing to my development as a student of Foreign Policy.

This week I worked on an exciting briefing project for my Foreign Policy seminar. The topic was the South China Sea dispute, which something I had overheard in passing on multiple occasions yet had never truly examined. The briefing was designed to teach our peers about the issue while also giving policy recommendations in regards to US actions in this region. I enjoyed the assignment tremendously because I got to employ firsthand knowledge from my internship and my strong interest in security issues to a graded project.

Outside of the classroom, our seminar has discussed and gotten involved in the foreign policy realm through various ways. One of the most significant visits we've recently made was to the State Department's Diplomacy Center. Here, our class did a mock diplomatic mission of negotiating an imaginary refugee crisis (an issue that is quite pertinent to current world affairs). Each team came to the table with a different agenda for their representative party, yet the afternoon ended with all involved finding a resolution to the crisis. Our efforts reflect the difficulties that US diplomats face but also reinforced the importance of diplomacy in peaceful conflict resolution.

For the remainder of my time in Washington DC, I hope to continually find myself in situations that positively influence my career interests while also being able to enjoy all that DC has to offer. With midterms and my major assignments behind me, I'm looking forward to having more free time to explore!

Noelle Johnson

Noelle Johnson Foreign Policy

October 23 | Recently, I've been contacted by friends and family back home who say "You look so happy" and "You seem like you've found your calling". It's interesting that individuals from 1,500 miles away can recognize this, and they're absolutely correct. But with midterms passing and my time in D.C. at its halfway point, I've had to take some time to consider this: Why exactly am I so happy here?

I think there are quite a few variables to why I'm thriving. For starters, I feel like I'm learning constantly and developing my repertoire in academic topics. Being an English major, my only exposure to Foreign Policy at my home school is through my minor in Peace Studies, which is a smaller portion of my studies. In the Washington Semester Program (WSP), I am learning about Foreign Policy from all angles. Each week, I learn in-depth information about a certain region. I especially appreciate the opportunity for case studies provided within my course because our seminar then builds off our general knowledge of the region to delve into a more complex and specific conflict. And better yet, my knowledge is again tested and strengthened by conversations with professionals who specialize on this given topic; each week my seminar's speakers align with the region we are focusing on. I've seen myself grow from this type of learning - I went from, during my first week, being confused and intimidated to now being able to ask detailed questions to prominent guest speakers. It's exciting to see the benefits of education within myself.

The people with which I surround myself also contributes to my overall success. I continue to have strong relationships with students in my program, all of whom have also contributed to a furthered sense of self. My friends come from many different places around the world, are all from different places on the political spectrum, and are for the most part not considering the same career path as me. Yet we have all found ourselves in D.C. and want to make the most of the experience while we can. Just like my classes, my friendships keep me constantly learning and expanding my ideas of what constitute the best relationships.

Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudia ArabiaMost important to an exchange student, I'm having such a great time because I'm doing and seeing things I never would back at my home school, Chapman. I'm attending art festivals, sitting by high-ranking military officers on the Metro, and even going to Saudi Arabia (even if it's only by the sovereignty rules of embassies). The constant change in scene has made it so that no one day is the same as the previous - I'm very glad to keep it that way.

Noelle and friends visiting a famous statue in the Capitol building

Noelle Johnson Foreign Policy

October 9 | As a senior in the final stretch of my undergraduate studies, the pressure to start the job hunt has begun. Yet, while many of my friends back at home are stressing about their future careers, I have yet to feel an ounce of stress. Undoubtedly, this feeling of ease comes from the resources provided by American University as well as my internship.

Right now I'm on the first step of my job search, which is research and discovery. My internship with the Coast Guard is one avenue of experiential research. I love my day-to-day tasks, the environment, and my colleagues. I could have felt the opposite way about my internship, which would have been a great learning experience as well. I think many people may get frustrated in an internship because they don't see themselves doing this kind of work for the rest of their lives. But that's okay, because you're an intern and not a full time employee-just because you are working there now doesn't mean you have to stay there forever. The most important thing, for all internships, is that you test it out to see if you'd be happy working in that environment for a post-grad career.

A second way I'm doing career research is talking to current professionals in the fields that I'm considering post-grad. I chose the Foreign Policy seminar because I'm drawn to international affairs, Foreign Service, and defense issues. This turned out to be a great choice, because the Washington Semester Program (WSP) provides students with the opportunity to meet with individuals with extensive and intriguing backgrounds. My class has met in-person with people who work or have worked at the State Department, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the Library of Congress, just to name a few. While their job titles are incredibly impressive, the best stories these guest speakers provide are those that relate to their own career development. And, even better, these individuals are very willing to meet with WSP students outside of their visit to help us with career and internship opportunities.

The last type of research I'm taking part in is attending grad school fairs around D.C. and going on grad school tours. Luckily for me, I'm in the hub of Foreign Service programs, so scheduling tours and meetings to gather further information is pretty easy and convenient. I recently attended the Idealist Grad School Fair and left with a bag full of pamphlets and business cards. It was a lot of information to take in, but it was exciting to see what kinds of opportunities exist for me once I leave WSP and graduate in the spring.

I'm so happy I'm participating in this program as a senior. With all the first-hand resources and mentoring available here in Washington, I'm excited to proactively work towards a fulfilling career.

Coast Guard emblem

Noelle Johnson Foreign Policy

October 2 | I've been living in D.C. for nearly a month now, and each passing day strengthens my conviction that I am exactly where I'm supposed to be. I have no regrets about lugging three jumbo suitcases and traveling across the country, leaving behind my friends, school, and lifestyle behind.

From my first moments in the Washington Semester Program, I could sense that I was in a different environment than I'd ever experienced before. My professor told my seminar group on the first day of meeting that we as WSP students are not simply "exchange" students but representatives in a high intensity professional development program. I'm being held to a certain standard of excellence, and frankly, this is exciting. I signed up for a program that would mold me into a strong candidate within the field of foreign policy, and I definitely found it.

Noelle at the Delegation of the European UnionWhile in WSP, I have the great privilege of interning at the United States Coast Guard Headquarters within the Civil Rights Directorate. The night after I applied for this position, I could barely sleep. I knew it would be such an incredible experience. However, I did not anticipate how lucky I am to be able to work in HQ. I get to intern for the entire department, which is full of veterans, civilians, and current CG officers with long backgrounds of service in the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and civil rights. My first day, the staff took the time out of their busy day to take me to lunch to learn about my aspirations and provide me with advice on how to succeed. My supervisors want me to succeed, which pushes me to do everything I can to contribute positively to this fantastic and kind group of professionals.

There has been a definite adjustment period here in D.C. The first thing I noticed on arrival was the change in pace. Sure, in California we work hard, but there seems to be a different energy about this city. Everyone is always writing, reading, or corresponding! I find myself not having lots of down time, which I honestly prefer, despite it being an adjustment.

Another big change in my lifestyle is the length and intensity of my day. I leave for work around 6:30 AM and commute for 1.5 hours to my internship. HQ is only 7 miles away, so it blows my mind that it takes so long to get there! I get home around 5:15 PM and am already pretty tired. Seminar days are similar, with lectures and briefings all around the city taking up the majority of my Wednesdays and Fridays. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say I'm giving a full effort to my studies and career.

Noelle with new-found friendsI have had the fortune of coming upon strong friendships already, most of which are in my seminar class. It's great to have a support system of individuals like myself who want to succeed but dually see the benefit in looking out for others. In the past few weeks, I've gone with friends to brunch, watched the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery, and attended a concert by the National Philharmonic on the West Lawn at the Capitol. There is so much to discover in D.C., so having a group of friends to share this journey with is something I couldn't be more thankful for.

Lots of more exciting developments are sure to come, and I know within the next few months decisions will be made about my entry into the workforce. As these changes occur, I'll be experiencing one of (maybe THE) best periods of my life.