Wilmé Verwoerd – Some DC Observations!

After 15 days in DC I have finally managed to unpack. 3 suitcases later I find myself forcefully stating that I will pack less and lighter next time. Unlikely. Settling in with our new host family hasn’t been hard. Along with Leanne my roommate from county Antrim in the North of Ireland (my attempt at diplomacy), I have moved to a beautiful neighborhood in Northwest DC called Colony Hill. It is somewhat like the Beverly Hills of DC. We have a pool, much to the envy of everyone else. Not so long from now we will be visiting the family’s holiday home in Virginia, which happens to have 16 bedrooms. But now I’m just showing off.

Aside from winning the jackpot with my host family, this week has been a brilliant but challenging few days. Walking from Union station towards Capitol Hill for my first day interning with the Senator was one of the more surreal moments in my life. The accompanying rain seemed only appropriate coming from Ireland. Dressed in my finest business attire, ‘dress code one’ as it is better known; I found it hard to believe that I somehow managed to find myself in this extraordinary situation. The Senator, he who remains unnamed (senate security policy) is from a state in the Mid-West and chairs several committees. I’ll leave the guessing to you. I am working in his personal office. His dog, which must remain nameless also, keeps guard outside his office. I have had the exceptional responsibility of walking him some days. If the intern identification wasn’t enough, this just screams ‘intern’. I soon gathered that he was a popular ‘pooch’ around the Hill finding myself asking to take him for walks. As the days went by I have gradually received more responsibility, which I too cannot speak of. The hours are long but they fly by with all the happenings of the day. So far I am really enjoying it and it is definitely not lost on me how privileged I am to be in this position.

Most evenings were filled with events that WIP had planned. A reception at the Irish Embassy hosted all 30 students from Ireland as well as the SAWIP team from South Africa. It was a great opportunity to get acquainted with our sister program. Listening to the guest speaker, Hilary Clinton’s policy planner Jake Sullivan was remarkable, particularly for those interested in foreign policy. Having asked him what area of foreign policy the US was overlooking at present and why, I was surprised that he remarked it was climate change. I guess I was looking for a different answer.

A rather more challenging event was a panel hosted by the Heritage foundation, an ultra- conservative think tank in DC. Not surprisingly the topics of healthcare, abortion and gun laws came up. I was infuriated for the most part of the discussion and found it rather hard to understand the hard-line Republican way of thinking. I was quite shocked at how much it bothered me. Upon reflection, I came to realize it was more about the manner in which opinions were being conveyed as opposed to the content of the views being expressed The aggressive assertiveness and dismissive nature of the talk was something which led me to question how I react to people who hold strong polarized views in relation to my own. For one, I realized I didn’t and don’t particularly like it. But more importantly I felt, the panel illustrated the power of words and the dangerous potential they hold, in how they are shared and interpreted. This is something that has also been evident over the last two weeks in discussion amongst fellow WIP’ers. One thing said is potentially another thing understood.

Dealing with difference is a theme that is resonating through our program this year. Given my background, I thought I was quite qualified in this area. After some consideration I think my position has changed somewhat. A brilliant but challenging few days.