Reflections Following My Time in Washington, D.C.

I spent September-December 2014 interning in Washington D.C.

Living only an hour away from home, I never really grasped the true meaning of “coming home for the holidays” during winter breaks away from UCI. I went home once a month anyways. However, this last fall I was a part of UCDC, the UC’s internship program for University of California students in Washington, D.C., and coming home this time around was probably the most uniquely humbling feeling I had had in college.

Going through college close to home, I always thought I was going to get the hell out of Southern California and go somewhere completely different from my element. I wanted to travel, to get culture shocks, and to develop a sense of who I was as an individual without the help of people I had grown up with. However, I found myself in tears the night before my flight—literally. As I sobbed over how far I would be from friends and family and how much I’d miss my favorite L.A. spots, my dad simply remarked, “You think about this the next time you say you want to move out of California.” It’s still in mind, but after getting to travel all over the East Coast for four months, I’ve still got a sense of wanderlust in me.

Immediately upon flying into Washington D.C., my eyes went from red and puffy (crying for 12 hours straight will leave its evidence facially for a marked period of time) to wide in shock and excitement—all flights going into the Reagan National Airport cross most of the major monuments in the city, and they’re all beautifully lit at night. I immediately changed from depressed and home sick to eager and anxious. I was going to get to hang out and explore an entirely new city for the next four months.

Over the next fall, I lived in such a way that I never could in SoCal. I took the subway and walked everywhere, I worked 30 hours a week at C-SPAN, a media company overlooking the U.S. Capitol Building, and bundled up in temperatures ranging 23-63 degrees toward the latter half of the program. I know a lot of people at UCDC were startled and scared by these totally opposite changes, but for me it was something new and exciting to conquer. I quickly went from being horrible with bus routes to easily navigating the Metro and telling tourists which stops to get off at. Walking amongst the nation’s monuments became a casual occurrence for me as my friends and I would walk to dinner or to explore another part of the city for the weekend. It was kind of like living in someone else’s shoes. It was refreshing and just plain fun. I got to travel to other cities that I had never been to before also. New York City was an entirely new life to step into for me, as its fast-paced nature was a whole new level from the already fast-paced vibe of Washington, D.C. The cultural variety and amount of things to do in NYC was wonderfully overwhelming. In Miami I felt that I had stepped into another Cuba. Surrounding me were thousands of Spanish speakers and rich, flavorful foods. The paradise-like beaches surrounding the city were bright, hot, and beautiful. I had never done as much traveling before as I had done this year—it was amazing to witness first-hand just how varied the United States is.

Despite the amount of entertaining things I got to do, I still endured the difficult parts of my “East Coast lifestyle” too. As soon as I got off the plane, I could feel my clothes sticking to my body—I arrived toward the end of the summer, and the humidity was terrifying. All the walking tours I did around D.C. left me covered in sweat and sunburns. Reversibly, when it got cold, it got cold. Walking to a bus stop while freezing winds were vigorously slapping my face became a regular thing when the first cold front hit, as was breathing through my mouth instead of my nose outside because it was frozen, red, and runny.

Waking up at 7:30 A.M. every morning for work was quite a shock from waking up for lectures that started at noon. Doing the 9-5 grind for four months made my one day of 10 A.M. class seem like heaven in terms of sleeping in. Eight-hour workdays in general are mentally draining and have made me realize that a 9-5 lifestyle just really isn’t my ideal way to spend life after college (cuts out a lot of options for me huh?).

Having to live in a dorm again was kind of a pain in the butt. Yes, the units are labeled as “apartments,” but they might as well be dorms with a kitchen and a living room in how they were structured and placed next to other UCDC participants. The people I had spent such a long time in college building friendships with were gone. It was hard to have to start from scratch, socializing with people who were totally different from one another and so much older too. It’s hard to make lasting friendships with people within a span of three months, and despite the amazing friendships I did make with people in D.C., I also found myself talking on the phone with friends and family on a frequent basis.

Even though I spelled out an equal amount of pros and cons of my trip in D.C., I have to say that the pros outweigh the cons by far. Although I felt miserable leaving friends and family, I got to be a part of something I will probably never have the opportunity to do again in the future. I hate to be cliché, but I really did make memories that I’m going to carry with me for the rest of my life. I will find myself comparing the convenience of public transportation to the not so convenient nature of L.A. driving on a regular basis. I will miss the nightlife that seemed to engulf the entire youth of D.C. every weekend, and I will simply miss being in a city that is architecturally stunning. Coming home for the holidays was a humbling feeling, but it was also a chance for me to really reflect on who I’ve become because of this program and who I’ve become as a young adult in these last four years of college. I feel that my time spent in D.C. and at UCI have shaped me to be a responsible, independent and driven adult who is, honestly, overall ready for post-grad. This last winter break was kind of a way to forget, but to also get excited about the next step to come.

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