Since my last post, I’ve had the privilege of taking part in some pretty unique and exciting experiences! I visited Japan for nine days as a student ambassador through the Japanese American Citizen’s League (JACL), witnessed DC’s cherry blossoms in peak bloom, listened to Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka speak as part of the President’s 2016 Nuclear Industry Summit, had lunch with former Ambassador to the Czech Republic Norman Eisen, and got my first kite to make it higher than five feet off the ground at D.C.’s Kite Festival!
With just under two weeks left of my semester in D.C., it’s beginning to dawn on me just how quickly these few weeks have passed. Regardless, the experience’s lessons and takeaways are starting to become apparent.
I came into the UCDC program having already interned at the Capitol for Congressman Mike Honda two years ago. Working at the Brookings Institution this time around gave me a more research-oriented look at the political happenings of D.C., but I’d say that I was really exposed to the diversity of work by my peers. From biology and math majors to more traditional political science and international relations enthusiasts, every student with whom I conversed gave me better insight into what D.C. has to offer. D.C. is not just about policy formulation. I have friends working in public health clinics, tackling homelessness, coding at startups, and lurking behind the scenes on intelligence. No matter what the field, the nation’s capital holds opportunities for everyone. Looking forward, I know that whichever professional path I end up molding will always have a junction in D.C.
Specific to my interests, this semester has really forced me to buckle down and figure out my priorities. One of the most amazing things about being in a city like D.C. is the networking potential. I’ve had a chance to speak with Ambassadors, White House officials, research Fellows, returned Peace Corps volunteers, and so much more! Each conversation has helped me sort through the transition process that comes with transitioning from college to the real world. Even more, the experience was humbling. Regardless of his or her stature, each individual I spoke to had solid advice for personal development, far more valuable than a purely professional conversation can provide. In holding a deep interest in American politics, poverty research, and civil rights advocacy, I plan on returning to the west coast and reflecting on where each academic interest will manifest itself in my life. As of now, I find myself toying with the ideas of Peace Corps, applying as a research assistant at Brookings, or exploring the legal world.
Finally, and most importantly, being in D.C. forced me out of my comfort zone. D.C. is a fast-paced city, and as someone who prides himself in a slow, calm, and present lifestyle, I had numerous points in the semester where I was forced to compromise my environment with my preferred pace of living. Through trial and error, I learned to find a balance: I made time to work out every morning and keep pace with the fast-moving work environment at Brookings while allotting an hour in the evenings to read a book and unwind. In college, I was able to build a routine that helped me get through classes, extracurricular activities, and time with friends, but in D.C., I learned to stop relying on automatic and shift gears between my professional and personal life.
I definitely see myself back here in the future. The immediate months will hold some much-needed family bonding time and a commitment to helping my parents rebuild their small travel agency. Looking forward, however, the possibilities in D.C. are endless.
Gurchit Chatha is a senior at UC Berkeley studying Political Science. He is currently interning for the Brookings Institution’s Center for Effective Public Management as a Matsui Washington Fellow.