TAM Goes to Washington: Part I
by Heidi Obermeyer
I’m going to be totally honest with you right now: I have done NOTHING so far this weekend. It’s been glorious. I watched Super 8 on Netflix, grabbed some dinner at Whole Foods, and did all the dishes I’ve been letting pile up for a few days. It’s a thrilling lifestyle, I know. Adding to the silliness is that I had one class that was cancelled all week, leaving me with both Monday and Wednesday completely free. Oh well! Doing nothing is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
Now that I’ve had a week to recover, I figured it was time to talk about my trip to Washington and all of the neat stuff I got to see while I was there. It was amazing! I must admit, I had low expectations going in because I really dislike the negative stereotypes I’d heard about DC- that people were cutthroat and slimey, and that the summers are nearly unbearable because of heat and humidity. Well, these stereotypes were to an extent confirmed by my DC-insiders, but so many surprising and wonderful features of the capital came out too, like the insane number of amazing organizations that have headquarters or branches in the city and are working to make the world a better place. And that’s something that I can get behind 🙂
So that being said, let’s back up a minute- we forgot to talk about the 5 hours it takes to get from Chapel Hill to Washington! T’was an eventful drive, chock full of napping, Disney song jamming, and a brief breakfast pit stop just a few miles in. Oh, and did I mention our spontaneous visit to the Stonewall Jackson Shrine? One of America’s greatest landmarks!
No, but seriously. We actually visited that one. Turns out it’s just where ol’ Stonewall died, although he is buried somewhere else in Virginia. There’s a whole lot of Civil War history here in the South, and I am very poorly informed about it. Yikes! Guess that’s what you get when your state is all about cooler stuff like Mesa Verde and slaughtering millions of buffalo during the days of Wild West. Errr… maybe those aren’t cooler. Just different things to be somewhat ashamed of. Similar amounts of bloodshed maybe?
There weren’t very many other people there, AND the bathrooms were really well maintained. I would highly recommend this a slightly-educational-yet-also-convenient place to take a quick break if you’re ever on I-95 heading to DC. I mean, just look at these cute old people enjoying their retirement through historical sightseeing! Let this be a lesson: learning never ends.
After our pleasant drive and brief tip of the hat to Mr. Jackson, we continued on and arrived in D.C. without complication. TAM had very kindly provided accommodations, and they were suh-weet! The super-trendy Hotel Helix was within walking distance of everything we were doing and had all kinds of fun modern touches. I dig that in my sleeping space.
I arrived first and claimed the big bed. A YOLO moment? Sorry guys. This hotel was so modern that they even had USB charging ports next to the nightstands. Technology brownie points!
We also had a nice little living room area in addition to the 2 beds besides mine. If I ever returned to DC with tiny humans of my own, this would be a great set up.
We had been pretty good about getting going that morning, so after we were checked in we still had all afternoon to explore the city. “To the National Portrait Gallery!” shouted no one, but thought everyone. And so to the National Portrait Gallery we went. Look how nice their courtyard is! The water on the floor is a fountain.
I like National Portrait Galleries- the one in London is also a delight- but I think it’s much harder to select who gets to be in the museum for a country as big as the United States. I think they did a fairly good job on the selection, but I knew fewer people than I expected to as we wandered and viewed the various portraits.
Some kind of banquet was being set up in the top floor atrium, which is a wonderful space. If I ever marry a politician, I’m keeping that one on the short list of reception locations. Museums are perfect for that kind of swanky stuff.
There’s also regular old art in this building, including some contemporary stuff. I’m all over it! One of the absolute coolest pieces I saw the entire weekend was this gigantic map of the United States made out of televisions and neon lighting. The videos playing in each state contain a bunch of random clips pertaining to the state- in Kansas it’s a continuous loop of the Wizard of Oz. Well played artist, well played.
Alaska and Hawaii were included too, in gigantic sizes on an additional wall. This one’s for you, Ali.
We also had someone’s acquaintance take a group picture while we were outside sitting on the steps. It turned out great! What a swell, good-lookin’ bunch of kids. We all agreed that this one should go on the next program brochure, haha!
While searching for lunch, we also made a pit stop at the White House. Throughout the trip, it was so sad to think that when I came as a kid we could just hop in line to take a tour at lots of sites in DC, and get shown around many rooms in the White House. We even joined a huge crowd of people watching a security guard playing fetch with the Clinton’s dog! Simpler times I suppose. Sadly, security comes at a price.
After a wonderful night of sleep in our nice, prepaid hotel, we got down to business- site visits! TAM’s amazing director put together a whole range of cool meetings for us, including the World Bank, Delegation of the European Union to the US Congress, my favorite, the State Department and several more! It was a fantastic experience and really interesting to find out more about these organizations, as well as to get an inside look at the huge variety of stuff that’s going on in Washington. I mean, a large amount of it is related to the political sphere somehow, but that can mean anything from development to economics to human rights to international law. Such diversity! And jobs for political scientists, jobs as far as the eye can see!
Walking to our site visits was actually quite helpful- we got to see a lot of the city and it helped me to improve my orientation, although I wouldn’t say I’m completely capable of navigating in Washington yet. The architecture in this town is seriously underrated! I spotted a lot of subtle gems.
Our very first site visit was to the World Bank, an organization that provides developmental funds to countries and people around the globe. In my Anthropology classes at CU I had gotten a really negative impression of the World Bank because (according to many anthropologists) their funds are often poorly allocated, fall into the wrong hands, or impact communities in negative or unexpected ways that aren’t visible to outsiders. In the presentation we were given, I was pleasantly surprised to see how aware the Bank has become of these challenges, and to get a feel for the positive goals and impacts that they strive for in their work. I genuinely got the impression that there is a commitment in the work environment to helping people through the funds and projects that they facilitate, which the Bank really needs in order to improve its image in the general public.
In addition to helping those in need… I gotta say, these people have an amazing lunchroom. It looks into this enormous atrium (I think those are a theme of my newfound DC admiration) and serves a huge variety of international food because the people working there come from all over the world. Hello dream work environment! I had a Thai curry, but it was a tough decision.
We had an economist speak for the second half of our time at the World Bank, and it seems like the more I know about the financial crisis the less I feel capable of coming up with solutions AND the less I feel like talking about it. I often want to say, “You’re preaching to the choir!”, but then each new speaker or professor or World Bank economist blows me out of the water with even more factual madness. Honestly, I could say that I’m more confused about the Eurocrisis than when I went into grad school. Here’s even more World Bank space:
The next day we started out at the Delegation of the European Union to the US Congress, where we got to talk to another economist who had some fire-y ideas about the whole
emotional financial meltdown situation happening in the EU member states. I decided after this trip that I quite like economists and find them to be in general a very rational sort of folk indeed!
Our final and best site visit was to the United States Department of State. It was so exciting to see the building where many of the diplomats working in Washington are based- it encompasses an entire 2 x 1 block-sized city block and has over 1,000 employees. Sadly, no Hilary sightings, but we did have an amazing info session and it was really inspiring to see our center for relations with the rest of the world. I wonder if we have a burn book like in Mean Girls? As you walk into the main foyer you see a huge wall of windows and flags of all of the countries on Earth. Someday I hope to have a hallway that looks like this in my house.
That about wraps up the business portion of the trip! It was very enjoyable. We also had a networking party with lots of the TAM alumni who live in the DC area now. With all of the travel that’s involved for us TAMsters, people get involved in doing really interesting things, so exploring some career paths was eye-opening. Coming up in Part II: Saying “Hey Girl!” to the Smithsonian and walking the monuments at night- a truly DC experience! 🙂