Many opportunities come across the life of our College students,it’s just a question of how and why should an opportunity be seized.Winter and Spring semesters of my junior year helped provide an answer.
During those two semesters I interned at a Department of Defense affiliated strategic studies center focusing on the Near East and South Asia. How, might you ask, did I come across such an outstanding opportunity? Initiative, commitment, and The Washington Center (TWC) sum-up the answer.
I first came across TWC during Christmas break of my sophomore year. I was invited to join a two-week seminar on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. Since then I’ve been frequently in touch with faculty and staff at TWC. Those who have the political buzz of D.C. call it networking, a number one priority on everyone’s mind who has ambition of joining the political economic front.
When I figured the proper time of doing an internship, I applied through TWC. The application process was eased because I had attended their programs before, and by our campus liaison, Dr. Jasper LiCalzi. Admittedly, I did not have a clear idea about my placement chances at a DoD-affiliated center, but I was adamant about getting a spot there. I did.
When I arrived to D.C. I immediately remembered certain places, but was also prepared to even go further. I knew that this time the puzzle of my experience would only get bigger, I just had to stick the pieces together.
Amidst the excitement of successfully joining the internship program I wanted, I had to keep my feet on the ground. In addition to TWC’s 23-page syllabus for the International Affairs Program, I realized that a massive work load awaited me. On average 50 hours a week for the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies (NESA Center), and occasionally some weekends. It didn’t matter. Those long hours were fully occupied by conversation with brilliant individuals who are experts in many fields: development, counter terrorism, nuclear security, transnational threats, international diplomacy, economic security, intelligence strategies, state building, conflict resolution, and many other specialized fields of political economic study. Such discussions were not only stimulating, but also challenging. To expose one’s view and to leave one’s comfort zone probably teaches the most valuable lessons.
The five months I spent at NESA revolved around arranging several seminars. Those seminars were, on average, attended by 45 military and civil diplomat participants from the NESA regions as well as the United States discussing policy-making, and attempting to reconcile differences for the sake of mutually beneficial international relations and assuring global security. Unlike what most people think, there are outstanding individuals out there whose passions about peace and security really transcend borders. No matter what, the ultimate goal was that of reconciliation.
As an intern, I should say that the work environment was much more relaxed than I had anticipated, especially for a government institution. The NESA Center staff and faculty were friendly, flexible and willing to accommodate my TWC program requirements as best as possible. Constructive criticism was welcomed, too. Besides myself, there were 5 more interns from across the United States. All of us were simply assigned this task: complete whichever duty in a timely manner. Soon enough, it became clear that we made a great team.
My accommodation was outstanding. Luckily, TWC had established its own housing just two years ago. It was a spacious and fully equipped apartment, with the necessary survival package for interns. Think wireless internet, print-center, and conference rooms. My roommates, 3 of them, were a diverse bunch. They came from Iowa, Pennsylvania, and South Korea. The times we spent socializing and learning from each other turned into a lasting friendship. Mind you the messiness of our apartment got me a little irritated a few times.
Besides my time at the internship site, I also registered for a class: The Psychology of Conflict, War, and Violence. Ever thought about the statistical chances of how two parties will act? Ever thought of why they act in such ways? The class was instrumental in shaping some of the answers.
Another academically related puzzle piece of time was focused on a project, namely a civic engagement project. My project involved approximately 25 students who advocated for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an ultimate resolution. Our advocacy group met with several congressional representatives, from both the U.S. House and Senate. It was an eye-opening experience into the inner workings of advocacy and lobbying.
The last puzzle piece of time I had, which I joyfully labeled “free time,” was spent between socializing, touring the District, and meeting new people. Life in Washington, D.C., can be agonizing to many people, but I simply fell in love with it. Mind you the odd weather patterns: humidity, rain, and heat at once, added to the experience. I had the chance to visit several national memorials, surrounding universities in search of graduate school programs, and many of the district’s diverse restaurants. Besides the Palestinian cuisine in D.C., the Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines are the best, you just need to know where to go.
My time in D.C. reminded me of my high school’s mantra: choose two between sleeping, socializing, or working. I certainly was sleep deprived, but I have no regrets. One of the best things about spending the spring of 2011 in D.C. while interning for a government center focusing on the Near East was this: the Near East was, and still is, undergoing a massive paradigm shift known as the Arab Spring. Seeing firsthand how U.S. and other policymakers were trying to complement such changes with the necessary policies was rather fascinating. Simply put, I think I was in the right place at the right time.
This glimpse of my experience might leave one still asking why and how should an opportunity be seized? Well, there isn’t a right answer. All you need to know is that if you want to do something, be committed to it, and be willing to invest yourself into it. These are things that are highly valued by our College’s faculty as they are determined to afford you the necessary opportunities for your own betterment. Only then will any opportunity, small or big, feel like no other. A piece of advice that I’d like to share is this: seek your passion, find out what keeps you awake at night, and do something about it.