27 January 2015

Exploring the Big Apple and getting lost in Capitol Hill

Jenny Chen is an undergraduate student at the University of Sydney Business School. She is currently in the United States as part of the Washington DC Placement Program, offered by the Business School in partnership with the United States Studies Centre

Ah, New York. The city that never sleeps. An appropriate nickname seeing as that's exactly what we did. We didn't sleep. Our 12 days in New York were jam packed with tourist destinations, shopping, food, shopping, food, and did I mention shopping?

For a city known for its hustle and bustle, lines never seemed to move fast in New York. 70% of the trip comprised of waiting around, whether for an attraction, restroom, traffic light or food. It was a test of my patience to say the very least. However, for all waiting, it was worth it. We experienced several breathtaking moments, including:

New York Sunset
View from the Empire State Building
The pond in Central Park
Frozen pond in Central Park
The Statue of Liberty
Times Square

The buzz of the Big Apple prepared me for the crazy work and study schedule that awaited in DC.

On our first day interning at Capitol Hill, my roommate, Ari, and I were thrown into the deep end. We got swamped by phone calls from passionate constituents who were eager to give their views and grilled us about who the Congressman was going to vote for in the Speaker Election, which was being held the following day. The rest of the week was just as intense but still a lot of fun.

Everyone in our office has been incredibly friendly and helpful. They love asking us questions about Australia and I have taken it upon myself to educate them on all things Australian. I will not stop until Australian phrases have slipped into their vocabulary. When I first met Congressman Peter Roskam, his wife and two sons, Mrs Roskam even attempted the Australian accent.

In order to make us feel more at home, the legislative correspondent printed out a picture of the Australian flag and taped it onto our wall. Much to our delight, he is also a fan of the Australian comedic genius himself, Chris Lilley. Now I'm not one to play favourites, but I think I found a strong contender for the coolest staffer.

I’ve also had heaps of fun getting to know the American interns in our office. It's extremely interesting discussing different aspects of life with them and comparing how growing up here is different from growing up in Australia. Despite cultural differences (we constantly bicker because supposedly I say funny phrases and pronounce words weirdly), it's nice to know we can still engage in some classic office banter!

You may remember that in my last blog I mentioned my struggles with geography. Well just my luck, Capitol Hill is a gigantic labyrinth. Every corridor looks the same; the buildings were designed to be symmetrical.
To help us find our way, we were sent on a scavenger hunt around Capitol Hill, where we wandered the underground tunnels and rode the Capitol subway back and forth between the office buildings and the House and Senate. The subway rides always remind me of a mini rollercoaster ride.

Since we have class after work, it is an absolute struggle when we have 9am - 9:30pm days. I'm a huge fan of coffee and I'm all for downing cups and cups of it to ward off sleep. However, the coffee here just isn't as good as it is back home. The search for good coffee in DC is on. At least the classes that I take, 'The History of the Central Intelligence Agency' and 'Energy – Powering the Economy in an Era of Climate Change/Political Instability', are interesting, making the eternal fatigue worth it.

I'm sure you're all wondering how we're dealing domestically. I'm happy to report that we are all alive and there has not been a case of food poisoning or scurvy. Yet.

After my first day of work, my friend offered to order me pizza so I had food when I got back. In my state of extreme hunger, I decided that I should have an entire pizza to myself. He failed to mention that each slice was bigger than my face. Many dinners later, a lonely slice of pizza still lies in our fridge.

As I document my culinary struggles on Snapchat, several friends have criticised me for not eating properly. Our American flatmates however, have got this down. Their stocks of spices, fresh produce and meat make my microwave meals, instant noodles and Reese's Peanut Buttercups look absolutely pathetic.

One week in and we’ve already witnessed our first culinary disaster. A friend forgot to fill up his instant noodles with water and put it in the microwave for 2 minutes. Their flat smelt like burnt food for the rest of the week. His excuse? "I was hungry."

Having survived the first week, I’m surprised that so much has happened already. I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks have in store. Check this space again to follow my journey!

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