Zaliah's US Institutions class at the State DepartmentZaliah Finegan
American Politics

December 2 | I can’t believe this is the last blog post of the semester! As cliché as all of this is going to sound, keep in mind that it is also all true. I love this program and I am so happy and thankful I chose to spend the semester in DC. The opportunity to study American Politics in the country’s Capitol has completely revitalized my love for political science, as well as giving me a perspective impossible to get in a normal classroom. Interning on Capitol Hill with Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office has opened my eyes to so many job opportunities that I had never considered before. I’ve met wonderful people both from the program and the internship, and I struggle with the idea of having to say good-bye to them soon. Okay, if this wasn’t cliche enough for you, this next part should satisfy you. Not only did the Washington Semester Program, introduce me to a world of new opportunities, but the experiences changed me as a person. I am more confident in my abilities, more defined in my interests, less of a pushover, and more aware of the inner-workings in D.C. I can honestly say that pre-WSP Zaliah would not recognize soon-to-be-post-WSP Zaliah.

The last two weeks have been full of exploring the east coast. I traveled to Williamstown, Massachusetts to visit a close friend from high school! I met her friends, toured her campus, and connected so many dots from the years of listening to her stories about school. It was magical to drive through small New England towns covered in snow!

Zaliah at Central Park in New York CityThe next weekend, my roommate and I spontaneously bought bus tickets to go to New York City! We were the ultimate tourists. We saw the 9/11 memorial, got scammed in the process of trying to visit the Statue of Liberty, walked the Brooklyn Bridge, took pictures in Central Park, and ate multiple bagels, all in less than forty-eight hours. We stayed with my close friend who just got a new kitten so, at night, it was all about her! I’m so glad that I took a break from exploring DC to explore the rest of the coast around me!

The next few weeks are filled with a (mostly) fun end of the semester activities. Tomorrow I get to have lunch with Senator Feinstein! The perfect way to finish up my fantastic internship in her office. Any future California WSPers, I urge you to intern in her office, it’s a fantastic internship and has so much to offer! My seminar class is going out to dinner to celebrate the end of the program, and the program itself is having a holiday party. My friends and I are planning a holiday dinner of our own as well. On a less exciting note, I have to finish up projects in all of my classes.

Zaliah's DC Exploration listAnd of course, I have to complete my DC exploration list! Since the last update, I’ve been to Baltimore, New York, Senator Feinstein’s holiday potluck, and the national archives. Unfortunately, I can’t update you if I ever complete the last few things on my list, but I recommend that you come to DC yourself and complete the list! This last semester has been my favorite college semester (and I only have one left!). I can’t imagine I almost decided against coming because I was nervous about trying something new and that I wouldn’t be prepared enough.

Blog History

Class photo with Ryan Costello!Zaliah Finegan
American Politics

November 11 | I’m back! Midterms have finally subsided a bit, but I’ve had to accelerate the exploration of DC to make sure I fit everything in before the program ends. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind as usual. From venturing to Maryland in the pouring rain to go thrift shopping, to touring the White House, to meeting CSIS’s Chief Communications Officer, Andrew Schwartz, and former Congressman and WSP alum, Ryan Costello, there’s been a little bit of everything in my schedule recently.

The Political Communications elective is really interesting. I was so excited when I saw it being offered because it ties my two majors, political science and communications, together. I told you all about going to NBC’s Meet the Press filming in late September, but we’ve got the opportunity to do a lot more as well. The professor has made an effort to introduce us to a variety of different forms and people in the field of political communications. Schwartz shared his entrepreneurship in the field of communications and how he was able to elevate CSIS’s social media presence, expanding their viewer base immensely. We also met with Daniel Lippman, a POLITICO Reporter and Editor of the Playbook. It was really interesting to put a face with POLITICO because it is such a vital part of most DCer’s lives. He shared the importance of networking as most of his tips and sources come from people he’s made a good impression on over the years.

Lastly, we met with Philip de Vellis and he talked to us about what goes into political campaign commercials. The variety of speakers in this class has made me more aware of the complexities of communication positions, especially with the addition of social media and the news. These people are constantly working behind the scenes and most of their work is taken for granted because we are so used to seeing advertisements, reading articles, and browsing websites.

Matilda and Zaliah dressed as “It’s raining cats and dogs.” On a completely different note, Happy belated Halloween! I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m the scrooge of Halloween, but since high school, I’ve done little to celebrate October 31st. However, the last couple of weeks have been full of celebratory activities. The biggest probably being the search for a costume. Our search brought me and my close group of WSP friends out to Maryland to explore thrift stores. Unfortunately, the weather took a drastic turn recently, and it was pouring all day. We didn’t let it hinder our shopping, but it definitely added some unnecessary uncomfort to the day.

Despite not finding any costumes, I did discover a very nifty pro-tip for future WSP students. Thrift stores around DC have the best selection of professional business attire! It makes sense when you think about it, most people here wear business attire five out of seven days of the week so of course, the thrift stores are full of it too. I found some nice things though, and I wish I had thought of it before I bought stuff from other places. And don’t worry, with an hour to spare, I finally came up with a Halloween costume. I went to a Halloween party with my fellow intern, Matilda, and we dressed up as it’s raining cats and dogs! I was pretty happy with it!

The Nationals ParadeAlong with Halloween, DC celebrated something else last weekend too: the Nationals winning the World Series for the first time! I take pride in my lack of interest and love for baseball, but it was sweet how excited and supportive DC was for their team. On Saturday, there was a big parade in their honor! The streets were a sea of red with lots of sharks wandering around. And oh my, a lot of the baby shark song, a song I thought was repetitive after just one listen. I have never lived in a city before so this was my first time experiencing the excitement of a sports team winning and the sense of comradery that spreads through the city. It was really fun to get to be a part of it!

Zaliah and her aunt at the National Air and Space MuseumI forgot to update you on my DC exploration in the last blog, my sincerest apologies. I’ve been able to cross off the National Gallery of Art, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Arboretum, watching Jane Fonda get arrested by Capitol Hill Police in the Hart Senate Office Building (pretty cool!), touring the White House and the Department of State, exploring local farmers markets, and trying Beefsteak, Chef José André’s restaurant. Don’t forget to check back in two weeks for the last blog post and to find out if I’m able to complete my DC to-do list before the program ends!

Zaliah by Diane Feinstein's office signZaliah Finegan
American Politics

October 21 | It’s been another two weeks! I hope midterms are treating everyone well. They are certainly in full swing over here. From papers to exams to reflections, I’ve had a bit of everything in a short amount of time. But midterms aren’t unique to the Washington Semester Program or DC, so instead, I want to share my internship experience with you all!

In the first blog, I mentioned that I’m interning with Senator Dianne Feinstein, but I didn’t get a chance to go into any details about it. Here we go! I just finished my sixth week and I love it. However, I wasn’t always so confident. Before the internship started, I was plagued with doubt. I had applied to a variety of internships and I was unsure which route to pick. Even once committing to Senator Feinstein’s office, I was uncertain I’d made the right decision.

Zaliah and fellow intern Matilda exploring DC togetherTo make matters worse, a few days before starting the internship, I was warned by a friend who did a similar DC semester program last year that she’d heard a rumor that Senator Feinstein’s office environment was very cutthroat and intense. So at this point, I was pretty certain I’d made the wrong decision and was convinced that for the next fourteen weeks I’d be interning in a hostile work environment. Luckily, all this apprehension and fear dissipated when I arrived at the office, met the other interns, and started working. The actual internship has been wonderful! I am assigned to the health portfolio and education portfolio, so I do research, attend briefings, draft letters, and anything else the legislative teams ask me to do.

I especially enjoy the work I do for the health portfolio! I’ve been assigned a lot of really interesting projects such as researching medication abortions and extended foster care programs, attending a cancer report briefing, and following the e-cigarette related lung disease outbreak (don’t vape!). When I’m helping my legislative teams, I can be found answering constituent phone calls, responding to constituent mail, giving tours of the Capitol, sorting mail, or helping the staff assistants. From what I’ve heard and gathered, Senator Feinstein has a very organized and good quality internship program, splitting up the interns’ time between the legislative team and administrative tasks so we can experience both sides of working in a congressional office.

Meggie, Nery, and Zaliah hanging out with all the other interns after work! There are some fun perks that come with interning on Capitol Hill too. We have access to all the events. A few weeks ago, I went to a taste of Connecticut event where it was lots of Connecticut vendors giving away free samples and food. Because of the amount of free stuff, I got from this event I was able to put off grocery shopping for at least a few days. I also had no one idea Pepperidge Farms and Newman Owns were from Connecticut! I can also give personal Capitol Tours to all me relatives who come and visit me! So far, I’ve given a tour to my grandma and my aunt. They both raved about how cool it is to not only get a personal tour, but to be able to bypass all the lines.

The office currently has thirteen interns, and we seem to keep getting more! I enjoy working in an office with a bunch of other interns for a couple of reasons. Firstly, as the senate office with the largest staff, there is no shortage of work that needs to be done so it would be unmanageable with fewer interns. Secondly, having other interns creates a very fun work environment! In addition to hanging out in the office and helping one another, we’ve been able to explore the local Boba and happy hour scenes together and have all gotten to know each other quite well. Most of us are from California so we can always talk about home, complain about the lack of authentic Mexican food in DC, and question the east coast hype around Wawa.

My friend’s warning sometimes still pops into my head, but now I just laugh at it. I would never describe the office as cutthroat and intense. The entire staff is very supportive of each other, as well as all very friendly people in general. I have three theories on the existence of this rumor. 1) The entire staff was replaced since the time my friend was in DC and she had heard this about a completely different group of people. I know this theory not to be true because a lot of the staff have been working for the senator for years. 2) A previous group of interns was intense and cutthroat and the rumor was started about them. This could be true, even though the staff definitely would frown upon this competitive behavior. 3) It really was just a rumor. This is the one I’m leaning towards. Luckily, I didn’t let it scare me away from the internship and choose another option. One of the primary reasons I chose WSP over studying abroad, is the opportunity to have an internship in DC. I love interning on Hill, much more than I thought I would actually, and I’m glad the nerves and the rumors didn’t scare me away. That’s about it for now though. Be sure to keep an eye out for my next blog post in a few weeks!

The filming of Meet the Press featuring Chuck Todd! Zaliah Finegan
American Politics

October 7 | It has already been two weeks since the first blog post? And the entire program is already one-third of the way done? WSP alumni warned me this program flies by, but it really does! There is so much to do on weekdays with classes, internships, and learning the necessity of meal prep, and the weekends are booked with museum visits, catching up on sleep, and attending a Meet the Press filming - of course, I will talk about that! - that the semester simulates standing under a waterfall: everything is crashing down around you, and it’s amazing and overwhelming at the same time. That being said, I’m having a wonderful time!

I chose the American Politics concentration and we’ve done so many neat things since the last blog post! So far, my favorite two classes have been visiting Massachusetts Congressman and Chairman of the Rules Committee, Jim McGovern, in his office in the Capitol building and talking to Lissa Muscatine, Hillary Clinton’s former speechwriter. Both speakers have been meeting WSP students for years and they were so excited and willing to share stories, advice, and answer our questions. The seminars here are unlike any other classes I’ve attended and I’m really enjoying them. It’s very little lecture and lots of field trips and guest speakers. The professor does a wonderful job of introducing us to DC and everything it has to offer. It’s a truly remarkable experience.

US Political Institutions seminar with Congressman Jim McGovern in his Capitol officeIn addition to the American Politics seminar, I’m also taking the Political Communications elective. As mentioned before this week we attended the Sunday morning filming of NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd. I never watch Sunday morning talk shows, nor does my family, so I knew very little about Meet the Press before arriving in DC and starting this elective. I am a fan of The Daily Show and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, so I have definitely wondered about the logistics of filming a talk show. It was so cool!

Our attendance was scheduled about a month in advance so there was no way to predict that impeachment proceedings would have started the week before our visit, but the timing couldn’t have been better. The guests consisted of Democratic and Republican Congressmen, the former Russian Ambassador, and Iran’s Foreign Minister. It was great to hear different perspectives on the issue, watch how the guests and Todd chose to approach the interviews, and observe the actual filming process with the staff. I left the NBC studio wondering how I can get my next internship there!

On a different note, last week I celebrated my 21st birthday! When I decided to come to DC for the semester, I realized that meant I would be spending my birthday away from everyone I know, and it was very intimidating. However, I’ve done more celebrating for this birthday than I’ve done in years! On my actual birthday, I went out to dinner with a fellow Senator Feinstein intern (and of course Skyped my mom), the next day I happy hour hopped, and on Saturday we put on our tourist hats and went to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. The presidential portrait exhibit was especially cool. My roommate and I made an effort to walk by each one, in some cases discovering a president we have never heard of. It was really interesting to look at the differences in styles and how the portraits have transformed over the decades. Shout out to Thomas Jefferson for his unique oil and wood portrait! I have been really amazed by how everyone I’ve met so far, from my fellow interns and staff assistants at Senator Feinstein’s office to my classmates to my roommate, went out of their way to make my birthday special.

Post Baked and Wired expedition, pre tasting the cupcakes! My grandmother also came to visit for the weekend and we went to Georgetown to explore the neighborhood, browse the shops, tour the historic Tudor place, and of course try the cupcakes. I’m not a cupcake connoisseur because I’m really not trendy enough and my work-study income doesn’t include a large pastry budget, but I’ve heard enough about the cupcakes of Georgetown that I knew I needed to try one or two. There’s a rivalry between Georgetown Cupcakes and Baked and Wired, and I cannot compare them (yet), but I can recommend Baked and Wired! I chose this cupcake place because I was told that it’s where the locals go, while Georgetown Cupcakes is where the tourists go. We tried three cupcakes: “pretty bitchin’,” a chocolate and peanut butter cupcake, “smurfet,” a lemon blueberry cupcake, and the “dirty chai” cupcakes. They were all amazing, but I especially recommend the dirty chai cupcake. It was unlike any other cake I have had, and it was delicious.

Our touristy photo at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In terms of DC experiences, in the last two weeks I have been able to cross off the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, Tudor Place Historic House and Garden in Georgetown, exploring the farmer’s market scene, and having Senator Joe Manchin steal my elevator. I do need to step up my exploration game if I am serious about seeing all the sites before the end of the semester. Make sure to take a peek at my Instagram takeover this week @WSPintern and keep an eye out for my third blog mid-October!

Washington Semester ambassador Zaliah poses with a classmateZaliah Finegan
American Politics

September 23 | Hi everyone, I’m Zaliah! I grew up in a rural, coastal town in Northern California and I’m a senior at Austin College, a small liberal arts school outside of Dallas, TX, where I major in Political Science and Communications. I am thrilled to be spending this semester exploring DC, learning about American Politics, and interning with Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office. I’ve never been to DC before so it’s all new to me. I have a long list of things I have to do and places I want to visit before the semester ends. I’m very excited that you guys will be along for the ride!

Washington Semester Program students at the American University carnivalSince arriving in Washington, DC, a few weeks ago, everything has been a whirlwind. Orientation is now just a memory of blurred faces, nonchalantly peaking at name tags because you instantly forgot their name, a very intense game of rock, paper, scissors, and WSP’s The Amazing Race. The Amazing Race was pretty fun! My group sprinted around the national mall taking selfies with the monuments, learning that my roommate always keeps a $2 bill with her for good luck, and searching for a single piece of shrimp - we never did find that one. Unfortunately, we got fourth place, so all the fancy embassy events were just out of reach. I guess $2 bills aren’t that lucky and we should’ve searched harder for the single piece of shrimp. We did win a bottle of sparkling apple juice though!

The second weekend of the semester the Library of Congress held their annual National Book Festival. I went there excited to see Ruth Bader Ginsberg speak and to get Barbara Kingsolver to sign my copy of one of her books and to pass on the message that my mom loves her. Long story short, I didn’t do either of those things, but I did attend Diane Rehm’s interview with Chef José Andrés. Their discussion about immigration, food, and disaster relief was both comical and interesting, and I was just as satisfied with the afternoon as I would have if I had met RBG and Kingsolver.

Newseum exhibit of 9/11 newspaper headlines from around the globeOne of the highlights from class so far was visiting the Newseum. Unfortunately, this First Amendment and free press focused museum is closing at the end of the year. I doubt anyone reading this will have the chance to visit before then, but if so I highly recommend it. As a class, we rode the glass elevator to enjoy the dazzling view of the capitol building and city itself, and of course, get a group photo. Then the professor set us loose. Starting from the top, I slowly made my way down the 7-story museum, enjoying the variety of exhibits. They ranged from a 9/11 gallery which not only depicted the horrors of that day, but the struggle journalists endured to report the disaster. It struck me that as the chaos broke out, journalists and photographers went running towards the destruction rather than away, with no idea what was happening, just to ensure the story was covered. There was a wall featuring newspapers from around the world reporting the disaster that had just struck the US. It was very moving.

A very eager museum guide also showed me, a fellow student, and the professor the filming studio in the museum. Up until 2013, ABC’s “This Week” used to be filmed there! Which I’ve never seen but I still thought it was a pretty nifty fact. It was a great location because the window overlooked the capitol. It was interesting to see everything they don’t show you on talk shows; the teleprompter, the huge cameras, and the clutter of the filming area. The museum guide had us pose for some photos on the stage. She even asked for a selfie when she learned we were from out of the area!

In their “First Dogs” exhibit, I learned that George Washington had three dogs of which he named Tipsy, Drunkard, and Tipler and Calvin Coolidge had a pair of raccoons along with his nine dogs while living in the white house. Although I may name my future dog Tipler, I am not going to take any tips from President Coolidge on which animals make the best pets.

These last few weeks have made me incredibly excited for the semester, even though I’m already panicking that I won’t have enough time to see and do everything! This is a very busy city. So far on my list, I have crossed off the National Book Festival, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of American History, the Newseum, the Botanical Garden, walking the national mall, and exploring Georgetown. Stay tuned for more in a couple of weeks!