Although it can seem a little daunting at first, interning in Washington, D.C. is one of the most formative experiences a student can have. After interning in both the private and public sector, I have found that some practices are best practices, no matter where you intern. Here are some tips to get the most out of your internship experience:
I was somewhat bewildered my first week at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) by the unending acronyms used to describe everything from organization names, to standardized tests, to new laws. When it got to the point where there were whole sentences I could not understand, I realized I should start asking questions – and did!
You are probably working with people you’ve never met before, so there is no way they can know all of your needs and vice versa. This goes along with asking questions, but extends to following up with projects, updating your supervisor on your progress and knowing when to ask for help. Pro tip: If you communicate with your supervisors, you will not be that intern who shows up on a snow day when the building is closed (or you could just download the OPM app).
During my second semester at ED, I was in the ID Office with a few other interns and we got to talking. It turned out one of them was roommates with a woman with whom I had studied abroad in Brazil, and the other intern and I had a class together at American University. I met another intern also in the badging office my very first day at ED, and we still keep in touch even though it has been months since he returned to Indiana for school.
It’s also important to connect with the employees in and out of your office. Ask them to coffee, invite them to lunch or offer to help them with a project. Everyone is very busy, but they are happy to take time to get to know you. I will never forget when I introduced myself as an intern and an ED employee whom I had never met before exclaimed, “I love interns!”
Take Advantage of Every Opportunity
Most internships offer opportunities to attend interesting events in D.C., participate in brown bag lunches and meet senior staff. I’ve been able to tour the White House and Supreme Court, meet two Secretaries of Education and go to a Wizards basketball game with other interns. The people in my office have also invited me to events outside of work, such as Women in Foreign Policy panels at the Department of State and this year’s Washington Area Model United Nations Conference.
Through the ED Goes Back to School visit series I was able to visit not one, but three schools serving students in grades Pre-K through 8th and really get a feel for what education is like in the District. I also had the opportunity to help plan this month’s ParentCamp International, which brought over 200 parents and community leaders representing immigrant and refugee communities in the DMV area to the Department of Education. And all I had to do to get involved was show up – it’s that easy!
Marina Kelly is an intern in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education. She will graduate from American University in May 2016 and will attend the University of Minnesota for graduate school in the fall.