Washington Semester students at the NewseumVerena Achterberg
Sustainable Development | International Law & Organizations

November 19 | It is unbelievable that three quarters of my time in Washington, DC, are already over and this is my final blog post. Time has been flying, and I cannot believe how much I have seen during the last three months. I studied a lot and went to so many museums, brunch places, sports events, and parties. I can’t believe that there is only one more month to go!

Last week I went to the Newseum with Professor Maisch, my Global Politics class, and my parents, who were in DC visiting me. The architecture of the Newseum itself is very magnificent. The whole building is bright and spacious, and there is a roof terrace with an amazing view of the Capitol. It was especially beautiful because all the leaves on the trees have turned orange and red by now.

9/11 artifact from the twin towersIn the museum there are different exhibitions, all of which deal with media. There is, for instance, an extremely interesting exhibit about the FBI. There are different cases discussed and outlined, and I was surprised to learn that sometimes the FBI cooperates with different media channels to track down a person. For example, they might publish a picture of a wanted person or pictures of how a person who has been on the run for years or decades might look now. By doing so, they have sometimes managed to catch the person with the help of the general public. Another part of the Newseum dealt with 9/11. It focused on the newspaper front pages published after the tragic events. I was really surprised and kind of shocked how differently some newspapers depicted the attack.

My favorite part of the Newseum showed a lot of different photos that won the Pulitzer Prize in the last several years. The pictures and the stories behind the pictures were really impressive! A lot of them showed significant moments and dealt with world-shattering topics, such as poverty, pain, war, or death. In my opinion, photo journalism can have a high impact on the world because with photographs journalists can spread a message pretty fast around the whole world. Everyone can understand it, no matter what language they speak or if they are able to read or not. Photography can really help to make people aware of problems or just about the way of life in another country. I also think that most humans can relate much better to a situation if they actually see a real person suffering rather than if they only read a text. I was really impressed, fascinated, and moved by the exhibit, and I can highly recommend going there!

Last weekend I went to an Atlanta Falcons vs. Washington Redskins American football match, which was a lot of fun, even if it was freezing and we lost. It was my first time at an American football game, and I really liked the excited atmosphere on the stands. The rest of the last two weeks were pretty relaxed in class and at my practicum, and therefore I could spend a lot of time with my friends going downtown, shopping, and doing other fun activities. Right now, I am planning a trip to New York next weekend, where I am going to meet my sister and two friends from Germany. I am so glad for everything I have experienced in the last few weeks at my practicum, in class, and in my leisure time. I have had so many good experiences and made a lot of new friends! Washington, DC, definitely feels like home now, and I really don’t feel ready to go back home in a month!

Blog History

Verena at the World BankVerena Achterberg
Sustainable Development | International Law & Organizations

November 5 | My last two weeks have been marked by the midterm exams; I spent a lot of time in the library studying or finishing my papers. Fortunately, after my Global Politics midterm, we got to spend some quality time playing: Professor Maisch had prepared a surprise Halloween party on a playground close to the university! We spent the whole afternoon outside playing soccer, eating cake, and sitting on a climbing structure. :D

At my practicum I had the opportunity to participate in a really great event at the World Bank last week. In honor of World Poverty Day there was a fair at the World Bank’s main office in DC. I talked to people from different organizations about nutrition problems and poverty around the world, and afterwards I listened to a panel discussion. Jim Yong Kim, the current president of the World Bank, talked about the latest and most accurate trends in global poverty and shared prosperity.

Verena at a talk discussing global poverty‬Anna Rosling Rönnlund, who is the Vice President of the non-profit Gapminder, also gave a pretty awesome speech. Gapminder is an NGO founded in Stockholm that aims to show the achievements of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. They published the book Factfulness, which is now an international bestseller, and they have a cool website where they provide a lot of different statistics and data about various topics such as economy, education, health, and work. Their website makes it easier to compare the living conditions in different countries around the world.

‪‬‪The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC‬Ms. Rosling Rönnlund demonstrated to us how similar the living conditions around the world are. Gapminder staff took photos of living rooms, bedrooms, cooking areas, and bathrooms in different countries and sorted them according to the income of the families. It was really interesting to see that when you compare pictures of a fire place or a toilet from two low-income families, the pictures look nearly the same, even if the families live on different continents. Ms. Rosling Rönnlund’s speech made me think about how we divide the world into countries and thereby sometimes oversee that there actually a lot of similarities between the populations of different countries.

Verena with friends in their Halloween costumes‬Over the weekend my parents came to visit me in Washington, DC. Yesterday, we went to the National Gallery of Art and visited the modern art exhibitions. They have a lot of exhibition pieces of really famous artists, such as Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein, and Alberto Giacometti, and I can highly recommend going there!

In the evening I went to my first American Halloween party, which was a lot of fun, too! Everyone had great costumes, and the whole apartment was decorated. Overall Halloween seems to be a much bigger deal here than it is in Europe, and I definitely enjoy it!

Verena with friends at Shanendoah National ParkVerena Achterberg
Sustainable Development | International Law & Organizations

October 22 | The last weeks in Washington, DC, have been very interesting from a political perspective. Nearly everyone has been discussing the Supreme Court nomination of and sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, and there have been protests all over the city. One day I even found myself in the middle of a march on Capitol Hill, where I went with a colleague during my practicum!

I particularly like being in DC because you can tell that history is made here! In the last two weeks, I’ve learned a lot about American politics and the role that the citizens play in it. Especially interesting for me is that it seems that a lot of issues in the United States end up as a conflict between the two parties, even if the original problem is “non-partisan”.

An American University event hosting Parkland High School shooting survivors However, sexual harassment was not the only world-shattering topic being discussed around me in the last two weeks. Last Tuesday, three students who are a part of the March for Our Lives movement came to American University and talked to students. The movement came into being after the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last February. Since then, a group of students from Parkland has been traveling the country and trying to stop gun violence. They want to ensure that what happened at their school never happens again and thereby create a safer nation for younger people to grow up in. At American University, they especially encouraged everyone to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. I really appreciated that they did not only talk about the bad past but above all about how to change the future positively.

The forest in Shanendoah National Park. My leisure time has been great, too. I went to an American cinema for the first time in my life and really enjoyed the comfortable seats! Furthermore, I spent a night at a Washington Wizards basketball game, and yesterday I went to the Shenandoah National Park with some friends. We rented a car for the whole day and went to a lot of different viewpoints in the park. It was great to spend some time in the nature, even if it was freezing! The rest of the time I spent in the library preparing for midterm exams. Now I am really looking forward to some more fall days in DC and especially for the end of midterm exams and some more free time to explore further places in DC! :D

Verena with her internship supervisor at the Capital Building.Verena Achterberg
Sustainable Development | International Law & Organizations

October 8 | The first five weeks of my adventure in Washington are already over, and by now I've totally gotten used to my life here. My internship becomes more exciting every week, and I think I'm actually a help to my team, as they are entrusting me with increasing responsibilities. I did a lot of research on the people who may become new Members of Congress in a few weeks, and I helped to organize an event at our office. Last week a lot of faith leaders and Bread for the World staff from all over the country came to our office, and we talked about global hunger and poverty. Afterwards, we went to Capitol Hill in teams (already my second time there 😊) and talked to different Members of Congress who already seemed to be interested in hunger issues and food security. I even met Congressman French Hill in person and took a photo with him! At the end of the week, we got the good news that the U.S. House of Representatives had reauthorized the Global Food Security Act for five more years. It is so great to see that the work we do at the Bread for the World office is actually affecting decision making in U.S. politics.

I‪Verena with her class at the European Headquarters downtown‬ have also met many interesting people in class during the last few weeks. With my Global Politics class, I went to the Holocaust Museum and talked with a Holocaust survivor. At the museum I was especially positively surprised that there was a lot of information about the White Rose (Die weiße Rose in German), a Nazi-resistance group from my hometown. They are really famous at home, so for me it was great to see that people appreciate what this group did during World War II in other countries, too. Another person we met was Michael Isikoff, an investigative journalist who, among other things, played an important role in uncovering the Clinton affairs. Yesterday evening I went to the Office of the European Union with Professor Maisch and two of my classmates for an optional extracurricular event, and we met Isak Gasi, a lead prosecution witness at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. He told us about his horrible experiences in captivity and reminded us all of how quickly discrimination and segregation can end in war or even in genocide.

Verena at an art fair in Maryland‬With my other class, Human Development and Global Issues, we have gone on various site visits, too. One of our trips went to the Southwest of Washington DC, where we talked about gentrification, a process that is about to happen there. Gentrification describes the development of an area from a poor region to a popular and expensive area. As a consequence of the gentrification, the poor population will soon not be able to afford living in that area anymore. I already knew a little bit about gentrification from my studies at home in Germany, and therefore, it was really interesting to see the same process taking place in another country.

Last week we went to the US Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, where we talked to economist and author Matthew Rabbitt about food insecurity and poverty in the United States and across the world. The topic was closely related to what I am learning about at my internship and therefore especially relevant for me. Especially interesting for me was to learn more about the food security scale, which has been used to measure food security in the United States for about 20 years. Afterwards we visited the USDA Farmer's Market, where we had lunch. At the USDA farmers market farmers, ranchers and small food businesses sell organic fruits and vegetables and homemade food. As you can see, classes have been extremely fascinating so far!

My weekends have been great, too! I went to an arts festival in Hyattsville, visited some more museums, and I did a lot of shopping (too much shopping probably :D ). I can’t wait for the next weeks!

Verena with her friends in New York CityVerena Achterberg
Sustainable Development | International Law & Organizations

September 24 | My name is Verena Achterberg, and I am an undergraduate student at the University of Augsburg in Germany. At home my major is Geography, but in the Washington Semester Program (WSP) my concentration is Sustainable Development with an additional course in Global Politics. I am really interested in environmental issues and especially how global actors deal with problems caused by climate change and environmental pollution. Ever since I heard about the possibility of studying Sustainable Development at the American University, I couldn’t wait to enroll. Here we have the perfect opportunity to learn about the key actors in the global community affecting issues such as inequality, education, hunger, poverty, conservation, and climate change. Apart from that, of course, Washington, D.C., seems to be a great place to learn more about various governments and different political structures. I am so excited for the upcoming adventures, and I am looking forward to telling you about my experiences!

I arrived in D.C. about three weeks ago, and so far, time has been flying! I live in Leonard Hall on the American University campus, and I share my room with two American girls. It’s the first time I live in a dorm with shared rooms (in Germany that’s not common), but I really like it! Firstly, I get deep insights into university life in the US, and secondly, I live on the same floor with a lot of other WSP students and am therefore able to spend a lot of time with my new friends.

I have already finished two weeks of classes, and it has been quite interesting. We talked about a lot of different topics, and next week we will meet our first guest speakers. WSP is definitely characterized by the different backgrounds all the students have. Different countries are represented, and every student has a different major at his or her home university. That means we all have different levels of knowledge depending on the topic, but it also induces lively discussions.

Verena holding up a sign that says Last week I also finally started my practicum. I work at Bread for the World in the Government Relations department. Bread for the World is an international NGO dealing with global hunger and poverty. Since this is my first practicum, everything has been overwhelming. The office is on the top floor of a skyscraper, and it has a breathtaking view of the Capitol. I have already attended several meetings, and I learned a lot about various hunger issues. Furthermore, I started my own research project on the affects of climate change on global hunger and poverty. That is probably the best part of my practicum because it really combines my Geography studies at home with my Sustainable Development classes at the American University!

Apart from classes and the practicum, I’ve also had the opportunity to explore the city. I took a walk on the Mall; saw the White House; went to Georgetown, Dupont Circle, and Chinatown; visited the National Museum of American History; and tested some frozen yogurt shops with my fellow Germans. Last weekend (Labor Day Weekend), I even went to New York with some friends and saw the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time.

In a nutshell: the first weeks of the WSP have already filled me with a lot of impressions, and I can’t wait for the next weeks!