Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Summer Internship in DC

 Amanda Bogan, MAIS '18, shares her experience of interning in D.C. at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China during her summer between her first and second year in Nanjing.  

While studying for my Master’s degree at the HNC, I have access to a wide range of professional development and internship experiences. As a member of the HNC community, I am regularly learning about new work and internship opportunities through the Career Services Center, the HNC alumni network, and casual conversations with classmates about their own experiences. In this post, I’ll be sharing about my experience last summer interning in D.C. with the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), while also giving some advice about finding, applying to and making the most out of any internship opportunity.

I became interested in doing work for the CECC ever since first learning about it from a conversation with the HNC’s Career Counselor, Robbie Shields.  After doing some of my own research on the Commission’s work, I knew I wanted to apply for their summer internship program. As it so happened, a recent HNC alumni and former intern was currently working at the Commission as a research associate and manager of that year’s Annual Report production. I reached out to her by email, expressing my interest in the Commission, and asked about what her experience had been like as an intern for the Commission. From our communications I was able to get a better idea of what kind of responsibilities and assignments I would be given as an intern. This is also an important step in the job or internship application process. Reaching out to people who are either currently working or have previously worked at the position you’re applying to can give you an inside look at an organization’s work values and environment. This will also make you better informed and prepared, both for interviews and for when you (hopefully) begin working there.      

Having thoroughly researched this internship and submitted my application materials, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview by phone, and, eventually, receive an offer to serve as a summer intern. Making the adjustment from life in Nanjing to living in D.C. and working on Capitol Hill took a bit of time, but it helped that I was interning in an office of dedicated China experts who also had extensive experience living, working, and studying in China. When I first started my internship, I was given a personal introduction to each of the portfolios that different research associates are in charge of putting together. They would explain to me one-on-one the scope of their research, the current projects they were working on, and I could ask questions about their work. This was a great way to become more familiar with the work that was being conducted around the office, while also giving me the chance to express interest in helping with certain projects or volunteer for assignments. As an intern, I also had the chance to help with an official Commission hearing chaired by U.S. senators in the Capitol Building (which was especially exciting for me, since it was also my first time visiting our nation’s capitol).

In terms of working in the office, one of my main assignments for the summer was to update and provide new research for the Commission’s Tibet portfolio, which would eventually become a chapter in that year’s Annual Report. Because the research associate who usually oversaw the Tibet portfolio was working out of the office for the summer, I served as her stand-in and took over some of her responsibilities. I was in charge of keeping track of all Tibet-related legal and political developments as reported in U.S. and Chinese news sources and made sure all new information was recorded into the Commission’s database on a daily basis. I also attended events related to the Commission’s mandate in the D.C. area, including a panel of Tibetan scholars who presented their research findings on ongoing political and economic developments in Tibet.

My time spent researching this area for the Commission was particularly interesting as it also built of my background knowledge of Tibetan affairs from my coursework at the HNC. In fact, part of why I was assigned to work on this portfolio is because I had let my supervisor know I had recently wrote a research paper on the modern history of Tibet, and would be interested in contributing to the Commission’s research in this area. In any internship, it generally doesn’t hurt to let whoever is in charge of delegating assignments know what particular areas you’re interested in, what you’d like to learn more about, or if you have a background in a certain area that might be relevant to working on an assignment.

Internships are not only great opportunities to learn more about what kind of work you might want to go into after graduation, they’re also a unique chance to meet people with similar interests and goals. While everyone at the office took their work seriously, we also had time for fun things like interesting conversations during lunch, birthday celebrations in the conference room, and happy hour events after work. Since I was new to D.C., my coworkers would often recommend fun places to go during the weekend and they also quickly filled me in on where all of the decent Chinese restaurants are in the area. One of my favorite places in D.C., Eastern Market, I first discovered on an outing with a fellow research intern who I shared a work-space with and became good friends with. I am still in touch with several of the people I worked with today, and am looking forward to seeing them again if I find myself working in D.C. again this summer.

Written by Amanda Bogan, MAIS '18