Dispatch From Our Nation’s Capital

This is my fifth night in Washington, DC, where I’m spending the next 10 weeks and three days. It’s been seemingly as major a move for me as the move to college back in September was; at least, then, I had my mother to help me move in the first two days, and a built-in support structure to help me and the other 1,250 members of my class in our first few weeks. And yet the first half of fall semester was still depressing and scary and lonely and all those things that a radical change in environment is, for me. Needless to say, these past few days have been a period of rough adjustment for me. I miss Princeton—my friends, the campus, the daily routine—almost every minute. I miss it when working 9-6 every day means that places where I need to run errands are closed by the time I get off work. I miss it when I come home in the evening and immediately grab my computer and set off again to the Georgetown University library (three blocks away), because I don’t have Internet access in my apartment. I went to CVS and bought a cheap little AM/FM radio so that when I am in the apartment, I can keep NPR on nice and loud. My roommate hasn’t arrived yet, and it’s lonely there without other voices.

I like my neighborhood, were it not for the Internet issue. Georgetown is disturbingly like Princeton, with its upscale commercial drags, its large university, its student ghetto filled now with toolish interns who are probably not too different from the people who inhabit it during term-time. I even, in some cruel twist of fate, live on a street called Prospect. But I have precious little time to enjoy it: by the time I get home in the evening, after battling rush hour on a bus, it’s usually starting to get dark, and the streets are filled not with strolling shoppers or people walking their dogs, but with drunk interns. It’s a little like the other Prospect Street I know, and just like Princeton, it makes me feel out of place in a location I love in theory.

This is all redeemed by my day job, though. The whole reason I’m in DC is that I’m an editorial intern at Campus Progress, and I’m reasonably certain that a better internship does not exist. One of my guilty pleasures in the past week or so has quickly become the DC Interns blog, and the ridiculous stories posted thereon make me realize how good I have it. Hill interns answer phones and stuff envelopes and run errands and give tours. I write and report, and spend a lot of time reading blogs and newspapers trying to piece together what I’m going to write and report about. Today, I called Sacramento to interview someone whose name isn’t well-known, but who is reasonably important in the context of the article I’m working on about the California budget crisis. I got a little rush saying “Hi, this is Emily Rutherford from Campus Progress….” Most interns don’t get to do that; most interns don’t get to do things that are fairly similar to what a real person working in their field would do. It’s a pretty sweet gig.

But at the same time, doing it has made me realize that, by shifting my focus away from journalism, I’m making the right choice. I couldn’t live in this world full-time. The 20-something professional world seems so very different from the 20-something grad school world I’ve gotten to know at Princeton, and each of these worlds leads to a radically different career track. I know which track I want to be on, and it’s definitely the one where you get your own office, and where you don’t ever have to leave university campuses. I realize that one of the things I’m homesick for is not just my friends, but the idea of university, the irregular working hours one can and does keep, the rhythms of the semester instead of the work week, and just some indefinable cultural ethos that means I unquestionably fit in. I really feel, on campus, as if it’s my world. I don’t feel like I own Washington, DC.

I don’t regret this summer, and I think I will come through it having enjoyed it. I think that, after a couple weeks, I will get in a rhythm, and maybe I’ll think about Princeton a little less constantly. But as of now, all I can think is that it’s 93 days until I’m back on campus, where the nerds like me belong.

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