While most students journeyed back to Hillsdale during orientation week, I said goodbye to Hillsdale on a 7 a.m. flight. My plane rose with the sun, and I sat in the window seat on the small Delta plane, unable to sleep or distract myself from thinking about the next three months.
As the captain announced that we were ready to land, I looked out my window and saw the city below me. The peaked tip of the Washington monument, the winding Potomac river, and the White House were all laid out on the ground underneath.
I became even more anxious and excited that I would be studying and working in Washington, D.C., and I couldn’t wait to get started.
I’m not usually a big fan of cities; they leave me feeling tired and smelly, and remind me why I stay in suburbia. However, D.C. has proved to me that not all cities are the same.
I discovered a love for D.C. with the help of my roommate, junior Liz Brady. The day after we moved in, Brady convinced me to go exploring with her.
We walked a few blocks to Eastern Market, an outdoor square that houses a bustling farmers market with fruit stands, jewelry shops, and thrift stores under canopies lining the street. Most everything is handpicked, handmade, or hand-selected by artisans and small business owners, making it the perfect stop for weekend mornings.
After grabbing some chocolate croissants and mapping out our adventure, Brady and I took the Metro down to the National Mall, the home of many of D.C.’s major monuments and museums.
After walking 11.7 miles, Brady and I visited the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, strolled through the Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials, climbed up the Lincoln Memorial, walked past the White House, and got some incredible cheeseburgers at a local restaurant called Ollie’s Trolley.
Later that night we picked up dinner and caught the sunset on the lawn of the Capitol building, watching planes fly over the Washington monument and tourists snap photos of the historic buildings.
And that was just one Wednesday afternoon. Brady and I have wandered into countless museums and past innumerable monuments since then because all of it is free — you never have to pay to experience the history that saturates this city.
As the nation’s capital, D.C. is very culturally diverse which I think is most tangibly displayed through the city’s food.
Walking around the city, it’s uncommon to see a Taco Bell or McDonalds. Instead, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and take-out options line the streets — it’s almost all incredibly tasty.
Our first experience with local D.C. food was during our orientation at the Kirby Center. Lunch was provided, but instead of catered sandwiches and salads, we had food from We the Pizza, a local gourmet pizza restaurant. Our options included white pie, buffalo chicken, and a margherita burrata pizza, not just cheese or pepperoni.
Along with specialty pizzas, the city is known for brunch, which we all experienced for the first time last weekend. A group of us went to Belga, a Belgian restaurant, where the menu was full of creative twists on normal breakfast options.
I got the banana Nutella crepes, a pretty straightforward option, but Brady ordered salmon eggs benedict, smothered in hollandaise sauce. Green eggs, scrambled eggs with pesto, were another favorite from our outing.
I knew I didn’t want to work for a congressman or senator while on WHIP, and I was nervous about finding an internship that actually piqued my interest. But D.C. isn’t just a place for social climbers — there are opportunities for every major and specialization, it’s just a matter of knowing where to look.
I am working as a news intern for the Media Research Center, an organization based in the D.C. suburbs. My main responsibility is to interview senators and write stories about their responses, but I have also been covering my fair share of national events and issues.
Working outside of D.C. and not having a car, I take the Metro to work some days. At first, this made me really nervous. The whole idea of being in a smelly, underground train with tons of people I didn’t know was not my idea of a relaxing morning, but Metro rides have quickly become my favorite part of my work day.
Once on the train, I didn’t need to worry about driving or being hyper aware of my surroundings; the Metro is the perfect time to pop airpods in, listen to my favorite podcast, and let my mind relax before the rest of my day.
Tuesday through Thursday, I walk to the Capitol in order to attend hearings and press events, and try to catch senators in the hallway for a quick interview. In order to have access to the Capitol and the senate and congressional offices, I had to get a press pass on my first day.
The Capitol’s I.D. office works like its own DMV. I show my driver’s license, take a photo, and get my pass, which gives me almost unlimited access within the Capitol.
To catch senators and interview them, I wait in the basement of the Capitol, right outside of the shuttles that run between the senate office buildings. As a reporter, I’m allowed to walk up to any senator and ask them a question and record their answer. If I’m still talking with them when it’s time for them to get on an elevator or a shuttle, I have to ask permission to join them.
My first day interviewing senators, I flashed my press pass at the door, went through security, and attempted to find my way back down to the basement. I got lost about six different times in the Capitol’s hallways and ended up asking a security guard for directions. After finally finding my way down to the shuttles, I stood among about 25 other reporters from various news outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, and Politico.
We waited for the senators to come down the stairs or exit the shuttle and tried to get a question in before anyone else could. It was very chaotic, and I was overwhelmed, but I knew there had to be some way for me to get to a senator before anyone else.
I moved to a spot away from the other reporters where I could see down a hallway that some senators were coming down. I heard a pair of dress shoes clicking on the floor, looked up, and recognized this man and his beard. It was Sen. Ted Cruz (R‑Texas).
I walked up to him, waited for him to finish his conversation with his staffer, and asked him my question, hoping he would respond. Cruz began to answer my question and noticed all the other reporters gathering around him, so we started walking down a tunnel towards the senate office buildings.
He rambled on for about two minutes, in order to take up as much time as he could so that he wouldn’t have to answer many more questions. I thanked him for his response, turned around, and walked back to my spot.
That day, I talked to Cruz, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D‑Mass.), and a handful of others. After my interviews, I go to an office in the Capitol that overlooks the lawn and I write up stories about the responses that get posted to the company’s website.
On top of working and exploring D.C., WHIP students can also take up to seven credits worth of classes. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I take off my heels, throw on my tennis shoes, and rush to the Kirby Center after work.
Because the WHIP classes are not offered in Michigan, we get the opportunity to take practical courses that give us insight into our jobs. Just last week in David Azerrad’s Contemporary American Political Thought class, we compared the economic and immigration policies of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
After spending most of the week writing stories about Afghanistan and problems at the Southern border, I understood how it actually affects Americans’ day to day lives.
Whether it’s answering phones in a congresswoman’s office or writing news stories, our internships provide real world experiences and perspective that we are able to take into a classroom in a way that students in rural Michigan simply can’t.
It’s so refreshing to walk back from class, talking with the other students and hearing how their work directly applies or relates to whatever we were just learning, whether it’s in our national security course or a politics class.
As someone who knew nothing about politics and hates cities, I didn’t think WHIP was an option for me. But it has turned out to be some of the most fruitful weeks of my life, and I’m just getting started.