Case study: Summer internship at United States Congress in Washington, D.C

Hi! I’m Patrick, a final year undergrad studying International Relations. Over the summer I interned for the United States Congress in Washington, D.C. Specifically I worked for Congressman Steve Israel, who represents New York’s 3rd Congressional district and is the current chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (the national organizing arm of the Democratic Party). My internship was by far the hardest experience I’ve ever undertaken; when you’re working for someone whose schedule frequently includes “meeting with POTUS” (President of the United States), you know that a lot is expected of you.

Patrick with Congressman Steve Israel outside the US Capitol.

Patrick with Congressman Steve Israel outside the US Capitol.

I worked on a broad range of issues, ranging from constituent work such as answering questions and concerns over the phone and by mail, to actual legislative tasks including research on major concerns facing the United States. My background in International Relations made me a prime candidate to help facilitate the work of our office’s Foreign Affairs assistants and directors.

I found myself attending several Congressional hearings that drew upon the education I have thus far received at Birmingham. It was eye-opening to be at the forefront of Congressional responses to major world events, particularly the recent offensive by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Suddenly everything endowed to me by my professors and tutors in the POLSIS department at University was tangible and very real, no longer distant or purely theoretical concepts.

As Congress, the branch of US government tasked with declaring war, sought to weigh its options of response against ISIS, I not only witnessed debates on these matters, but also learned an immense amount from policy-makers on the Hill. While the media usually provides an image of Congress featuring political stagnation, I found that while the entire organism may be suffering from perceived lethargy, each individual actor is working incessantly to further the interests of not only their respective constituents, but of the nation as a whole.

The most enjoyable aspect of my internship, although cliché, was being able to help the citizens of Long Island, the region of New York that is my home. Sometimes it would be something as mundane as merely listening to a concerned mother talking about the local price of higher education; sometimes it was hearing the stories of Veterans who had sacrificed so much for my country; but regardless of specifics, I had the opportunity to help my fellow countrymen, and for that I am beyond grateful.

That’s certainly not to say the entire experience was “a walk in the park”. The Hill is a difficult place to work, as is any job in life. That dreaded feeling you have walking into campus for that 9am lecture? Make it 8am, wear a suit, and be sure to walk with good posture and a smile on your face, as you’ll have to stroll past the offices of the Speaker of the House, the Majority Whip (see House of Cards for a description of this role), and multiple Senators, Representatives, and dignitaries at some point during your day; you’ll never know who you’ll bump in to. One minute you’ll be enjoying a very one-way phone call with a constituent claiming it’s your fault America is in decline, and the next you’ll be half-jogging to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office to meet the Congressman for his upcoming interview with NBC.

My point here is that if you’re reading this as a student you likely attend the University of Birmingham, which means you study at a top notch world university, which means you will likely find yourself one day in a similar position in any career path, which means you will learn, as every other person before you has, that the “real world” beyond Edgbaston is not as welcoming as “Welcome Week” in first year was. But I promise you that this fine institution has provided us the tools to navigate and thrive beyond our campus. Conversely, cherish every moment you have in university. If anything, my internship has taught me to make the most of my upcoming final year.

Finally, the most lasting part of my internship is the realization it provided me that I had been blind to beforehand. It litters our campus in probably a couple hundred places, and yet most of us go about our days unaware of its existence. Per Ardua Ad Alta. “Through efforts to high things”, our motto; our rallying cry. Nothing will ever come easy in life, we must work tirelessly for it. But if you put in the effort, the big, bad, real world will make you feel like you did on that first day in Welcome Week.

Terrified.

And ready.

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About careersbham

Student Engagement Officer for Careers Network University of Birmingham

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