Washington Semester student Andy Burnstein with classmates at the Freedom Forum InstituteAndy Burnstein
American Politics

February 13, 2019 | Hey everyone! My name is Andy Burnstein, I’m a junior history major from Whitman College, originally from the Seattle area. For those of you who don’t know, Whitman College is a small liberal arts school in Walla Walla, Washington, which is in the southeast corner of my beloved Evergreen State. Washington, DC has been quite the adjustment from the rolling wheat fields and looming Blue Mountains of the Walla Walla valley, but it’s been pretty exhilarating so far!

Beyond politics and history, my interests include theatre, the Marvel movies, playing guitar, sad indie romcoms, and re-watching Parks and Recreation for the fifth time. At Whitman College, you can find me begging my friends to register to vote, admiring excellent footnotes in my history readings, leading tours of the campus, and busting out a chocolatey-smooth bass-baritone in Whitman’s premier co-ed a-Capella group. In DC, you can find me hanging out with the Alexander Hamilton statue in the Capitol Rotunda because this semester I’m interning on the Hill with my Congresswoman, Suzan DelBene (WA-01)! It’s been a fantastic experience thus far, and it is just incredible to walk past the Capitol each day and come to work surrounded by dedicated public servants.

Washington Semester students in front of the US CapitolIn this blog, I’m going to be sharing with you some of my experiences in DC, and my general thoughts on life in the city and the program. Sometimes the posts might just be me listing off all of my experiences, but I also hope to create a little more thematic cohesion in future posts. For now, check out all this cool stuff I’ve done!

After arriving in DC, we started things off right: with a mad scramble against time in a city-wide scavenger hunt. The winners won tickets to a Valentine’s Day black-tie gala at the Italian Embassy. My group didn’t win, but we did learn that the real black-tie gala tickets are the friends you make along the way. Later that weekend, we were hit with some serious snow, so naturally we went back to the capitol to both see our workplaces and do a photoshoot. That day, we also began what has become a bit of a tradition: brunch. We visited a fantastic little spot called “Busboys and Poets,” a social-justice themed restaurant, coffee bar, and bookstore. Every inch of the space is adorned with paintings and quotes of famous activists and intellectuals, and I’ve never been anywhere quite like it.

Classes have been equally wild. It still boggles my mind just how much access the program gives you to hugely influential players in DC. Highlights from speakers thus far include the top Democratic political ad consultant in the country, several leading experts on Social Security and budgetary policy, and the new communications director of the Republican National Congressional Committee (RNCC). I have also been shocked by just how nice everyone has been. Speakers readily offer business cards and try to connect with us. For example, in my political communications class, we went to a VIP event at the Newseum for a book tour, and at the end we went up to the stage and asked if our class could take a picture with everyone on the panel, and they said yes without hesitation. All we had to do was ask and all the speakers took time to talk to us afterwards. As my communications professor said, there is a real “pay-it-forward” mentality in DC. Everyone only got to where they are because someone was nice to them: someone got coffee with them, or got them an internship, offered invaluable career advice, or introduced them to their future boss.

Washington Semester Ambassador Andy BurnsteinAnother thing that I really admire about the program is how it necessitates dialogue between opposing political views. For example, on the same day, we visited one speaker who made the case for privatizing Social Security, and another who made the case for keeping it public. Growing up, I’ve been very isolated from conservative people; in all the communities I’ve lived in, conservatives have been few and far between. Coexistence, let alone having a genuine dialogue or even friendship across party lines, is a skill that I haven’t had much of a chance to practice, and I’m grateful that the program is giving me an opportunity to do so.

That’s about all my thoughts thus far, I’ll see you all in a couple weeks! And if any prospective WSP students have questions, feel free to message me on social media!