Yalun (Aaron) Feng (Solar Electric Light Fund)

Aaron Feng and Mentor

Aaron and his alumni mentor Kirstie Kwarteng

Summer internship in DC breaks Vanderbilt college bubbles in Nashville and throws me into the real world for almost two months. DC is no longer the city I perceived last time as a tourist, with dozens of museums on the National Mall and tons of magnificent Roman-style buildings. It is a city packed with ambitious high-degree graduates, opportunistic businessmen, and fast-paced politicians. Different though they are, many of them share one thing in common – goal-oriented and pragmatic. To be honest, I enjoyed the fast environment very much at first as if I was immersed in a metropolis. There is always something happening here.

In DC, instead of going back home right away after finishing their work, young professionals go to happy hours at bars. I followed the rule – I went to several kinds of networking events – alumni-based, topic-based, and career-based. The networking event is like a bazaar, where you sell yourself to others. College students here are shaped by the environment to be very career-oriented and professional. I was told by a friend at Georgetown University that every other week they attend networking events tailored to young professionals in this city.

During one conversation, you are supposed to sell yourself in an attractive way, show genuine interests in others, and exchange your contact information. If you fail to find what you want to buy from the current conversation, feel free to move on strategically. Smart and pragmatic people here do not waste their time. During a two-hour networking event, you got to talk to up to twenty persons. You cannot avoid someone crashing in your conversation when you are talking. This is a free marketplace of human resources. At first, I was very nervous talking to people or asking them for name cards. However, I gradually learned from the experience – asking to grab a coffee to follow up.

Most people working in DC are somehow idealistic when they move here – they want to be the change of the US, or even the world. However, it is normal that you feel stressful and lost here – you do not know what you are doing and how it is relevant to your goal when you decided to move here. Fortunately, you are not alone. I have met many “successful” young adults admitting they surrender their dreams to the reality. In response, I would like to share a thought raised by a USAID expert in the international development with my idealistic friends. When you have choose between a high-paid job in World Bank and a field work job in Congo, go to Congo because the World Bank job won’t go away. But it will be costly to pursue your dream after you grow older and have a family to raise.


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