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Views of a DC Outsider: Reflecting on a Summer to Remember

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Perhaps the most exhausting aspect of grad school isn't drafting papers or creating presentation slides. It isn't the late nights spent studying for exams or taking notes on numerous book chapters. No, it's the race to secure an internship that lingers in the minds of so many students. I found myself in that situation, and in January, I made the decision to apply for the inaugural Catharine Hinman Memorial Fellowship program with the Silverado Policy Accelerator – a geopolitical think tank located in Washington, DC. Alongside the opportunity to conduct my own research and get paid, there was another crucial benefit – housing. After several months of interviews and revisions to my research proposals, I soon found myself on a plane, flying from Minneapolis to Ronald Reagan Airport in DC.

I was determined to fully embrace the city – the most densely populated place I've ever lived in. It offered a wealth of free public activities and experiences that were unparalleled. On the first weekend, I immersed myself in museums, devouring the exhibits. It took a few days to realize that there was no need to rush and attempt to see everything DC had to offer within the first couple of weeks. I had nearly three months ahead of me; there was time. Once I grasped this point, I began to relish each experience and stopped pressuring myself to cram everything into a single day. My roommate, another Silverado research fellow from Georgia, and I compiled a bucket list of activities we wanted to complete before the end of the summer. This list included roller skating, trying out the new rotating sushi place near our work, exploring the International Spy Museum, and visiting the botanical gardens, among others. I'm proud to report that we managed to check off all 16 items, even if the majority were crammed into the final week of our stay.

The list wasn’t the reason I was there though. I was there, first and foremost, to work. I couldn’t imagine a better place than Silverado to be given an initial DC opportunity. The team, a collection of ex-federal trade, environment, and cybersecurity experts, allowed for my personal flexibility to pursue my research interests and work towards publishing reports on different subject matter. Being a fellow at Silverado introduced me to the think-tank atmosphere of DC and allowed me to network with the people in trade and the environment that translated our work at Silverado into policy.

While a large part of the fellowship was open-source and database research, another part was getting to know who’s who in the DC trade and environment world. It included late-night networking events at the Reagan Building, rooftop trivia with the USTR staff, and the Washington International Trade Association’s annual dinner– otherwise known as “trade prom”. Between the different events, the hours of research, and pages of writing, it took dedicated effort to get out into the city, and in the end, it’s an effort I’m glad I made.

david kelm

While the excitement of exploratory outings to places like Navy Yard, Ballpark, Georgetown, and The Wharf was certainly memorable, the part that remains etched in my memory most fondly is the daily route to work that my roommate and I would traverse every morning. The journey took us down F Street, passing by the General Services Administration and the Organization of American States buildings. We'd proceed through the courtyard of the US Trade Representatives and emerge onto 17th Street in front of the Eisenhower Building. Our path led us along 17th Street, past the secured entrance to the White House and the Renwick Museum where K9 dogs guarded the entrance. We'd pass the people power-washing sidewalks and tending to the trees lining the road. We’d then cut through Farragut Park, where pigeons would perch on the bronze hat of an unidentified sailor, a statue towering above the little tables and chairs dotting the sidewalk. It was at this point that I'd begin to feel the sun's rays reflecting off the glass walls of the surrounding buildings – the omnipresent heat of a DC summer, no matter how early I departed. We'd navigate our way up to L Street and make the final turn onto the home stretch, passing by Peet's Coffee, the Oman Consulate, and finally arriving at the blue windows of Midtown Center.

Above all else, these walks shaped my perception of DC. Walking through the heart of the city each morning, amidst the buzz of those headed to work, and removed from the conventional tourist attractions, cultivated an atmosphere of ambition and determination within the realm of policy and government that was entirely novel to me. This transformation wasn't immediate, but day after day, those walks allowed me to feel like an integral part of something larger. What precisely that "something" was, I couldn't quite pinpoint, yet it was captivating and deeply fulfilling.

And now, once again, I find myself seated in a curved wooden chair within the confines of Mary Reed's third-floor walls. I'm back, back in Denver, back on campus, and back to where I was three months ago. While I haven't had ample time to reflect on my stint in DC, I've already donned my rose-tinted glasses – those I often wear when reminiscing about times gone by. I didn't embark on my Korbel journey with a preconceived notion of working in Washington, yet it appears that I'll be beginning my second year in that way. I've tasted a new form of fulfillment, if only briefly, that I would be hesitant to claim could be found elsewhere.


This article was written by Korbel graduate student David Kelm