Interning on The Hill: A Series

Donald Cortez ’14

I’ve run out of money for the metro, started begging for change outside of Union station, and been sneaking lunches from my office refrigerator; it appears my time on the Hill is nearing its end. All kidding aside, it’s been quite a learning experience. For this last piece, I’m going to share a couple lasting things you should take with you if you decide to spend a summer in DC.

The first thing I would offer up is to never forget you’re an intern. You’re here to learn about what it takes to work in an office, how to cooperate with people you may not necessarily like, experience the Capitol and meet people with similar interests and passions. What you’re not going to be doing is solving the immigration issue or fixing American relations with North Korea. This might seem obvious, but there are plenty of interns that go to work every day with inflated ambitions like these.  This is not to say you shouldn’t dream big, but realistic goals are more attainable, more fulfilling and overall, just sound less arrogant.

Another thing I would suggest is to get out and walk around the Capitol and the neighboring buildings. There are some days where work will be slow and you’re not given much to do. Familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of every building; find out which routes are faster so you’re not lost when you’re told to go somewhere. Some of the sculptures that line the halls of the Capitol are easy to miss when you’re rushing places; taking a stroll during office downtime will make sure you take everything in.

Finally, the most important piece of advice I would offer has to do with having initiative. People in your office won’t know what you are most interested in and what topics you especially want to learn about if you don’t seek them out on your own. Remember that everyone in your office has their own jobs and tasks they have to take care of. Also, keep in mind that your role will be different in an office than at school, and legislative assistants and coordinators won’t always have time to talk to you when you do reach out to them. They’re not being rude; they’re simply doing their jobs.  It’s crucial to understand this. When they aren’t busy, offer to help them in any way you can, and over time they’ll be comfortable assigning you more tasks. This is how you’re going to learn, and how you’re going to interact with people passionate about the same issues you are.

Above all, make sure you enjoy your time here. Some days are going to be hectic, others days are going to feel like an eternity, but make sure you use the opportunity to get a glimpse of what a career on the Hill would be like. I’d suggest keeping track of the several activities you end up doing, so when it comes time to update your resume, you have everything fresh in your memory. Personally, it has been a wonderful experience working here, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I hope this mini-series has answered some of your questions, and encouraged some to take the leap and experience our nation’s capital up close. Thanks for reading.