Museums, Bookstores and Restaurants, Oh My!

Smithsonian American Art Museum

You’re probably starting to wonder whether I decided to join the Peace Corps and am off in some remote jungle with no internet access.  Alas, I have no good excuse for my lack of posting except for insane busyness and laziness.

I can’t believe I’ve been here for almost a month already!  The time has gone by so fast and I’ve only explored a small part of DC so far.  My first weekend here I tried to see as much as possible which included The Natural History Museum, The American History Museum and the memorial day parade and concert.  Since then I’ve visited The American Art museum and the Newseum.  Did you know that there are nineteen Smithsonian museums?!?! I’d like to try to see all of them before I leave, but we’ll see if that happens.  And that doesn’t even cover the other museums like The Holocaust Museum, The Spy Museum and countless others.

Berlin Wall

The Newseum, which isn’t part of the Smithsonian, is probably one of the most interesting museums I’ve been to yet. It’s supposed to be all about news and media but I think they took all the really cool stuff that didn’t fit into any other category and just stuck it here, creating one incredible museum.  One exhibit included pieces of the Berlin Wall and a guard tower from the wall.  Another chronicled major newspapers from the 1500’s to the present.  There was also an antennae from the World Trade Center.  Needless to say, that was extremely powerful.  One of the best exhibits was about gangsters and mobsters and the news coverage that they received.  The museum somehow obtained the actual shack that a gangster was shot and captured in!

Map of Freedom of the Press Around the World - Red=Not Free, Yellow=Somewhat Free, Green=Free

The list goes on, but I think my favorite part of the Newseum was a map portraying freedom of the press around the world.  Almost the entire continents of Asia and Africa do not have a

Guard Tower from Berlin Wall

free press, which is very disheartening.  As someone who’s interested in writing and journalism, this museum was definitely on my must see list and I’m glad I checked it out.

Another part of DC I’ve been exploring is its used bookstores.  So far I’ve found two and my wallet is definitely showing it(but not too much).  I have a weakness for books and have spent hours in both of these cheap caves of knowledge.

Very soon after arriving here I realized how expensive everything is and accepted that fact that I won’t be eating out very much.  However, the few restaurants I have eaten at have been worth it.  One day a friend and I checked out a West African restaurant down in the Adams Morgan area.  I was in heaven of course, and the food was delicious.  My friend had goat meat but I wasn’t feeling as brave and stuck with chicken.  A band came in while we were there and added even more West African flavor to our meal.

I’ve also experienced Chipotle for the first, which is like the subway of burrito restaurants.  The other day I checked out Potbelly Sandwich Shop, which everyone raves about.  It certainly lived up to its reputation.  Now that my wallet is a little thinner though, my dinners tend to consist of tuna and cheerios…

Peace Corps: The Hardest Job You’ll Ever Love

My office!

The hardest job you’ll ever love; this is the tagline used for the Peace Corps and I think it accurately describes my time there so far.  While my internship is nothing close to serving in a rural village of Kenya, it has been demanding and exciting.

I didn’t start my internship until a week after I arrived in DC, so by the time Wednesday came around I was anxious to get started at the Peace Corps.  The first day was slow going and consisted of a lot of training and waiting around. As part of my internship, I am working with databases, so I, along with my fellow interns, went through training on how to use those. Since the Peace Corps is a federal agency, everything is secure and needs to be accessed through a password, so we also worked on setting up those. A majority of my day was spent on the phone with the IT department getting access to the various programs and databases I need to do my work.  Needless to say, by the end of the day I was frustrated and ready to get my hands on some real work.

Thankfully, on Thursday and Friday I was put right to work with a combination of administrative tasks and bigger projects. My dad asked me if I was making coffee at my internship and I was happy to tell him that the answer was definitely no. My internship is giving me a first hand look at an underfunded and understaffed federal agency. Before I leave in August, at least four people are leaving my department and chances are they won’t be replaced anytime soon.  One of my tasks is to answer emails about the speakers match program which sets up returned peace corps volunteers to talk in classrooms and other venues about their experiences as a volunteer. Some of the emails were from weeks ago, telling me that no one has the time to keep up with them.

Much of my work will consist of work like this with the speaker’s match program. This will include registering new speaker’s and updating their contact information.  However, on Friday we had our first staff meeting and myself and my fellow intern, Emily, were assigned two bigger projects. The office I am working at creates resources for teachers to use in teaching about foreign countries and cultural competence. We were put in charge of creating webpages for each country in which Peace Corps volunteers are serving and making them accessible for children. Since its beginning, Peace Corps volunteers have served in over 130 countries, so this is quite an undertaking.  We are also completing the work of another intern who started a project about the history of the Peace Corps. The employees have already made me feel like a vital part of the office and acknowledge that I have significant insight to offer. Based on the work I have already done in this first week, this internship will be an incredible learning experience.

I’ve been thinking periodically about where I was last summer – Tanzania, and how different this summer is going to be. For one thing I lived in a rural village where time had no meaning and no one was in a hurry to get anywhere. My first day there I simply sat and talked with my students, without worrying about having someplace to be or something to do. I had to learn about a whole new way of life there and to some extent the same is true here. Here in DC it seems like everyone is in a hurry and walks with a purpose; I’m already getting caught up in that life. Whether it is learning to use the metro or introducing myself to a key contact, the professional world of DC is a whole new world to navigate.

When in DC: Settling in and Orientation

The Capital Building at Night

Wow. Let me take a second to catch my breath. I arrived in DC a week ago and I feel like I haven’t stopped moving, learning and taking in the sights.  There is so much going on in this city and it seems like everyone has someplace to be.  I know there is enough here to keep me busy for the next two months and I will continually be discovering new things.

For anyone who missed my last couple of posts, I’m participating in an academic internship program called The Washington Center.  I’m interning at The Peace Corps (which kind of makes me the rockstar here) and taking a research and writing class.

After a six hour train ride, I settled into my apartment and met my three roommates.  There was nothing scheduled for Wednesday so we just hung out and took a trip to Target to stock our fridge.  Our apartment is very nice and it’ll be a great place to live for the next ten weeks.

On Thursday we headed into the city for the first day of orientation.  Everyone got split up into their respective programs.  Mine is the Advocacy, Serve & Arts program.  Of course we had to start with a classic icebreaker to get to know each other and then our program advisor went over everything we’re going to be doing this summer, which is quite a bit.  The Washington Center includes many components besides the internship.  I have to do a “civic engagement” project which has to be some kind of ongoing service or involvement in public policy.  I’m still looking for something to do.  We also have a seminar which meets every Monday and varies every week.  It includes lectures from important people, networking and visits to various organizations.  In addition to my classwork, I also have to hand in periodic reflections on my internship work and develop a portfolio throughout the semester.  I’m going to be busy!!

In the afternoon, we traveled to the CityYear office, which is a long term service organization.  One of the goals of TWC is to expose us to as many options as possible for postgraduate work.  They also want to give us chances to network.  There was a  short presentation about the City Year and then we participated in some leadership activities.  The activities helped me become more aware of my leadership style and what I need to work on.  It also helped us get to know each other better.

On Friday we headed over to the Department of the Interior, catching glimpses of The White House, Treasury building and other important places along the way.  Everyone in the program gathered for a general orientation, which gave us a chance to meet even more people.  We listened to riveting (yes that is sarcasm) presentations about professionalism, the goals of TWC and diversity.  As the staff of TWC talked to us about the importance of making the most out of our internships and the fact that this is not a dress rehearsal, but a real job (albeit an unpaid one), the reality of what I was about to embark on really sank in.  Nervousness began to encroach on my excitement but Memorial Day weekend still stood between me and the Peace Corps.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that this summer is going to be very different from last…