No one arrives in a city like Washington, D.C. without a prefabricated image in their head. We have all seen countless portrayals of the city in movies, TV shows, books and news articles. Washington, the city of fictional president Frank Underwood and actual President Donald Trump. Washington, the city where history was made when Abraham Lincoln ended slavery and when Martin Luther King gave his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech. Washington, the city where the future of the world is shaped by institutions like the World Bank and the IMF.
Looking out the window of the Wallenberg Fellows’ shared flat perfectly reinforces these expectations: Located next to Arlington cemetery with a view of the Washington monument, the scene reproduces images we have seen a thousand times. However, the city presents itself in a nuanced way that challenged both my traditional perceptions of America in general and it’s capital city specifically.
Being the political center of the United States, Washington D.C. is a city that encompasses people of all viewpoints. Over the last few months, chance encounters with a variety of people ranging from congressional aides of both parties, to Black Lives Matter activists, and devoted Libertarians, exposed me to a variety of unique opinions and world views. This diversity constantly provokes discussion and a city shared by loyal supporters of both American political parties presents a brilliant opportunity to step out of one’s bubble. Additionally, Georgetown’s diverse student body guarantees that you will always find someone to discuss even the most specific issue with. This exchange is further facilitated by D.C.’s cultural events. I will never forget the theater play “The Bitter Game” on police brutality that Agris and I watched together, which provoked an all-night discussion on issues of race, social justice and inequality.
Being located geographically in between the historical North and South, Washington D.C. is also the perfect city to explore the American past. Over a dozen free museums around the National Mall provide information on every crucial event in American history. Even the physical locations where these historic events took place are not far. The Wallenberg flat lies not only within a short bike ride of the Lincoln memorial, but walking ten minutes in the opposite direction, one discovers General Lee’s mansion. Within a three hour bus ride lie both the historic Northern city of Philadelphia and the old confederate capital of Richmond. Besides appealing to the history geek within me, this exposure to American history helps to explain how the American mindset came to be and how American institutions where shaped.
Finally, interning in Washington, D.C. is more than working at the State Department, World Bank or IMF. Instead, the city is home to a wide range of institutions of every size and form. In our internships, the current cohort of Wallenberg Fellows has worked at institutions ranging from a 700-employee think tank, to a 40-employee NGO and a even 5-employee hedge fund. Given the nature of the program, we are exposed to all of these worlds and meet representatives of an even wider spectrum of organizations. A lot of this happens by coincidence: quite often, the person you share an Uber Pool with turns out to be a speech writer working in a ministry or an engineer working on new infrastructure projects for the federal government.
All these components make participating in the Wallenberg International Fellows Program more than just an excellent academic or professional experience. It goes without saying that the internship opportunities are unique and that the teaching at Georgetown is amazing. But more than that, the program helps to facilitate a better understanding of the fascinating country that the United States of America continue to be.