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The Daily Tar Heel

The ?surreal life of the D.C. intern

There’s a whole page in the nightlife section of the Fodor’s guide for D.C. about interns, and how to recognize them by the eager expressions, intern badges – and hangovers.

It sounds cynical, but the truth is worse.

Securing an internship in D.C. requires stellar references, resumes, writing samples, interviews and more. All for the chance to work in a political office in the American capital.

And you are making sacrifices: paying your way to work for free, in a city which definitely is not as cheap as Chapel Hill.

Because this is it, right? This is where you will get that experience, make that connection and step up on your path to greatness, to serving your country.

Well, maybe you will. But for a lot of people, the actual internship means grunt work, tempered only by the chance to catch a glimpse of your heroes, and plentiful free time for happy hours.

Already, a lot of discussions among interns seem to center around sightings and chance encounters with political “celebrities” — a political Page Six.

Everyone seems to have a tale about riding the elevator with a member of Congress, running into Henry Kissinger in the bathroom, or doing some mundane activity tenuously related to one of their political heroes.

It seems to validate otherwise tedious tasks. Maybe you spend all day answering the phone, despite being a straight-A student from a top university, but you briefly met this famous political activist about whom you have read.

Or maybe you photocopy all day, but you are working in Congress (and so on).

Last week, Washington, D.C. was ablaze (not literally — my countrymen last caused that in 1812), thanks to a visit by the Chinese president.

So, the state visit added yet another celebrity spotting hurdle to contend with – who would manage to see Hu Jintao?

And when one of my housemates succeeded, albeit from the back of an auditorium, she immediately sent us the photo.

It is not quite on the level of Sasha Obama, who got to practice her Chinese with him, but an exciting diversion nonetheless.

I will admit it is easy to be swept up by the enthusiasm — I stood at a crosswalk while the black limousines with fluttering Chinese and U.S. flags swept past.

One fellow UNC student keeps a tally of presidential motorcade sightings: She has two photos of “the Beast” (Obama’s tank-like limousine) outside our home.

The president driving past our house? You definitely would not get that in Chapel Hill, or anywhere else around the country for that matter.

But it can be tough to see how being here is more meaningful than university or more beneficial than getting a paying job, albeit one with fewer celebrity-spotting opportunities, unless you simply could not imagine working anywhere else.

There seems to be no shortage of students in this city willing to put in eight hours a day on mindless tasks; so, maybe they are able to console themselves by being in the thick of government, and somehow the celebrity-spotting makes up for all of the trials.

And if not, there is always happy hour.

Mark Laichena is a guest columnist for the Daily Tar Heel. He is a junior poli sci and peace, war and defense major from London, UK. Contact him at

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