Hannah Johnsrud (Project on Middle East Democracy)

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I was more than a little bit nervous about this summer. I had never had a real internship before. I had never been responsible for all of my own meals before. I had only limited experience with public transportation. And perhaps most terrifyingly, I had an internship in a field that I was passionate about, but I am coming to the game what I felt was incredibly late. I felt underqualified for my position, and I didn’t know what was going to be expected of me.

So when I arrived to D.C. two weeks before the VIEW Program started because my internship started before the program did, I was feeling more than a little overwhelmed. But what I quickly discovered – and the most valuable thing that I have taken from this experience so far – is that I am more than capable of handling most of the things that young professional life throws my way.

That first weekend, I took a deep breath and jumped into exploring the city. I conquered the Metro system, frequently checking my Metro Map app. I ironed my pantsuits and didn’t put a hole in them. I made myself breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (Though I have learned that A. Nothing will taste as good when you make it as when your mom does and B. learning to cook is just making a lot of mediocre food.) When Monday and my first day of work rolled around, I felt somewhat more prepared.

The first few days of my internship were fast-paced, yes, but not the leagues beyond my skill level I had feared. The staff at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), where I’m a policy intern, are incredibly supportive and understanding of the learning curve all interns experience. And boy, was there a learning curve. Within days I was writing policy briefs, researching the positions all of the members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee had on Turkey, creating a timeline of Egypt’s crackdown on NGOs, and crafting the weekly news updates for Bahrain. Surely, I thought, it wasn’t possible to learn so much so quickly. I was wrong.

These first weeks of my internship have been an incredibly empowering experience for me. I feel independent, capable, and strong. Pushing myself to go to hearings, to ask questions, to explore on my own, and to set up meetings with people who I feel can help me learn about my potential future is difficult, yes, but ultimately so rewarding. I feel fulfilled by the field I have chosen to study – just over a year ago I changed my major from Music Performance to Middle Eastern Studies, and this headlong tilt forward has turned out more wonderfully than I could have imagined. My internship at POMED has affirmed that I made the right choice, even if I’m still unsure which direction exactly my career will go.

My proudest moment so far? Getting congratulated by my boss because the update I had written about the recent crackdown on rights activists in Bahrain was picked up by the Council on Foreign Relations, quoted in their well-respected blog, and sent to their email list of thousands of people.

I’d say this summer has kicked off to a great start.

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