Before arriving to humid Washington, D.C. in August, few weeks before the start of my three month internship at the embassy, I had never been to the U.S. Now after living here for a bit over two months I have gained a better idea of the culture and politics of the country, but at the same time feel like I have just barely had time to scratch the surface.
At the embassy, I have been working as an intern at the Defense Attaché's Office. This has given me an interesting opportunity to get an insight glimpse of the fields of both Finnish Defence Forces and the embassy. I have felt very welcomed and a part of the team since the day I arrived, while the opportunities I've had and work itself have already exceeded my expectations. Despite being busy my colleagues are always ready to help me and to answer my questions.
In my studies I have mainly concentrated on International Security and to be able to do something so closely related to my study interests has been exciting and rewarding. As an intern I follow closely the news, contribute to our weekly summaries and write reports. I also get to attend various think tank events and public hearings at the congress. One of the most memorable events I got to attend was the 2017 AUSA (Association of the United States Army) Annual meeting and exposition, where I got to see the opening ceremony, hear the opening speech by the U.S. Secretary of Defense and to tour around the countless exposition stalls.
Washington, D.C, is like a Disneyland for any International Relations "geek". It has a significant standing in world politics and is arguably a center of political power. There are always multiple interesting events with speakers from political to military leaders to attend to, and getting to follow Senate hearings at the Hill is an experience itself. You also never know who you might run into; like seeing Bernie Sanders when walking in the Senate halls. There are also numerous free Smithsonian museums to explore, cool neighborhoods, such as Adams Morgan and Capitol Hill, with cute shops, rooftop bars and good restaurants, and there's probably no better way to spend a relaxed Sunday than to stroll around the National Mall. D.C. is also surprisingly green and diverse, nothing like the slightly boring conservative image I had in my head before moving here.
If you like to travel, D.C. also offers a great base for exploring the country. I have been very fortunate to get to visit multiple cities during my short time here from New York to New Orleans, and have a weekend trip to Boston still to look forward to. We also rented a car with the other embassy interns and drove around Virginia and North Carolina, at times in the middle of nowhere with no cellphone reception. Travelling around the country has given me a clearer idea of how big and diverse the U.S. truly is and how this is reflected in its politics.
Overall it's safe to say that my experience here has been great and I have truly enjoyed working at the embassy. While gaining invaluable work experience and being able to deepen my knowledge on the workings of U.S. politics, I've also made new friends and got to travel around the states. It will surely be sad to leave.
Text: Marika Hakkarainen