Sunday, October 20, 2013

Columbus Day Weekend: Food Festivals, Old Flames, and an Exorcism

No, there wasn't really an exorcism. Sorry. But kind of. Well, you'll see.

I have finally returned, and I come bearing gifts! I'm happy to announce that this blog post will have a few more pictures than usual, so you won't have to get too bogged down with reading about everything that's been happening (a lot, to answer that question) here in the good old District of Columbia.

Despite the ineptitude of our elected officials throughout the government shutdown, the city has been as lively as ever. And in fact, the weeks that have flown by during this whole federal debacle have been some of the most interesting and rewarding of the semester to date. I'll start with last weekend, when my girlfriend from Bowdoin was kind enough to make the trip south from Brunswick for the lengthy Columbus Day weekend.

Although it was wet and dreary all four days, from Friday night through Monday morning, the weather could not bring our spirits down. I was determined to show how much beauty and excitement this city has to offer. On Saturday morning we met up with two of my friends from class, Alex and Koichiro, and took off to the infamous Pennsylvania Avenue to attend the day-long Taste of DC, an enormous food festival where scores of restaurants lined the entirety of the street and offered samples of everything from beer, wine, and homemade root beer to doughnuts, hummus, and mouthwatering bowls of chili. Tickets to get into the venue were $10 each and the samples of food and drink ranged from no cost at all to $12, depending on how much was offered. Lines were long--especially for the beer and wine, naturally--but the wait for the food was more often than not worth the wait.
Skyler and me at the Taste of DC on Pennsylvania Ave.
We were also fortunate enough to get our pictures taken with these two studs at the festival. The one on  the left is Teddy Roosevelt, on the right, George Washington.

Before this picture was taken, there was a man on the street who tapped me on the shoulder while I was stuffing my face with some savory chicken terriyaki and fried rice who had apparently noticed that I was sporting one of my Bowdoin jackets. He asked us if we were students, and after we told him yes, he informed us that his son had graduated from the College in 2002 and had gone on to medical school at Harvard to become a surgeon. It's a really small world, and encounters like this reassure me that there's still hope of avoiding life as a hobo post-graduation. Knock on wood, though.

Following the day-long festival, we ended up going out to dinner shortly afterward, of all things, even though we really weren't hungry. Alex, Ko, and I had gone to Sichuan Pavilion a couple weeks prior, and the food was fantastic despite the lengthy amount of time we had to wait to receive a table. Only two metro stops away from our home in Woodley Park, Sichuan Pavilion in Farragut North offers a range of spicy dishes influenced by the renowned food in Sichuan Province, China. When we went again that Saturday with Skyler, we were able to get a table immediately, and forced ourselves to eat more food. Worth it? Absolutely.

When we arose on Sunday morning having (partially) recovered from our food comas, we set off to see the monuments in DC. Whether they were closed or not made no difference--we were going, and we would not be dissuaded. Before our trip we met up with one of Skyler's old friends from high school who attends George Washington University, Jack, and went out to eat at a quaint Italian restaurant just off the Foggy Bottom metro stop, before we began our tour. Jack was a great guy--and incredibly knowledgeable about all the sites--and took us everywhere: we saw the World War II Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the Vietnam Memorial, and a the FDR Memorial. All were beautiful; and for many, the blockades that had been set up were simply moved by tourists. Thus, we got to see about every part of each memorial with the exception of some of the fountains that had been turned off. This was unfortunate, as my favorite memorial has always been the one that honors those who served in World War II. It is especially beautiful at night with the lights and the fountains on.
The World War II Memorial during the day with the fountains on.
A plaque in the ground at the entrance to the World War II Memorial.
Abraham Lincoln in all his glory. 
Can't keep us out!
When day eventually turned to dusk and we finally left the Jefferson Memorial on the Potomac, we took a stroll to the George Washington University campus before ultimately deciding to spend the rest of the night in Georgetown. After passing the famous Watergate Hotel, we sauntered beside the beautiful boardwalk that ran along the shore of the river. We turned and walked in the direction of the city and passed through the lovely Georgetown district, home to Georgetown Cupcake and Georgetown University, among other notable establishments. I found it to be a really wonderful place, part metropolitan shopping district, part upscale residential neighborhood. If I ever come back to DC for graduate school or for a job, I'll definitely be spending more time in Georgetown.

Since we were in no rush, Jack brought us through the residential part of Georgetown, and up through the Georgetown University campus, which was spectacular. We even had the opportunity go traverse the eery and drawn-out staircase that was featured in the horror movie, "The Exorcist." It is in fact as creepy as it seems.

The stairs featured in the 1973 horror film, "The Exorcist."
That essentially concluded the long weekend, as Skyler had to return to New England that Monday morning. It was quite the weekend, however, even though the weather could have been a little more cooperative.

I will hopefully return with some philosophical where-is-my-life-headed posts soon enough. My time here in DC was all that I had hoped for and more. I am almost certain that I want to return and spend at least some time living and working here after graduation. I started the semester off knowing that I wanted to truly immerse myself in the foreign policy realm, where it all happens. I have not been disappointed; and each day I envision myself working in a place like the Pentagon or the State Department, rather than in a law firm. And it feels good. 'Till next time, friends!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Thomas Friedman, Ethiopian Food, and the Four Seasons Hotel

I told myself I'd be consistent with my blog posts this time around, vowing to write each Friday about my weekly experiences. Unfortunately it's only week four and I've already broken this promise. So for that I apologize, but in my defense this week was particularly busy and there are so many things to talk about.

Adams Morgan Day Festival and Ethiopian Food at Meskerem
This past week began last Sunday, September 8th, with the annual Adams Morgan Day Festival, a day-long event located about 20 minutes by foot from our apartments in Woodley Park. As usual, it was a hot, humid, and cloudless day in D.C., and a couple of my international friends from my class and I took a stroll at around mid-day to take a look at everything that was going on. We definitely weren't disappointed, and noticed as we approached the festival that throngs of people from all around the area were beginning to congregate at 18th Street NW, between Florida Avenue and Columbia Road; it was blocked off by the police, and even from a distance loud music could be heard. We had arrived.

The blocked-off street was divided in two by a long line of vendors selling everything from greasy fried food and refreshments like lemonade and smoothies in coconuts, to clothing items like shirts, belts, and any other type of merchandise you can think of. At various locations along the street there were performances from local artists--indie bands, rap artists, and the like. As we navigated through the droves of people devouring food and intermingling, we passed by myriad coffee bars, nightclubs, and ethnic restaurants. None of us had eaten, and so the sight of all the food at the festival naturally made us hungry, so we decided to try something a little different: Ethiopian food.

Eating meat dishes with injera bread at Meskerem during the festival.
We entered a restaurant called Meskerem on the right-hand side of the road and took a seat at a small table that gave us a perfect view of the street; it was a great location for watching passersby laughing, eating, and hauling their newly acquired gifts from place to place. The walls were lined with large paintings of Ethiopia and of people eating infamous injera bread (think thin and crepe-ish) and different types of meat. The place itself was quite ornate: red and yellow sun rays sprawled out across the vibrant room; the walls were covered with Ethiopian trinkets and paraphernalia of different shapes and sizes; and fancy embroidered cloths were placed across all of the tables.

We learned that in Ethiopian restaurants--and I imagine in Ethiopia itself--guests order their food individually, but all of their orders are placed within the same communal bowl so that everyone has the option of sharing food from one another. The large bowl is lined with injera, and the food is eaten with the hands: you can either rip off a piece of the bread from the bowl, or take pieces from side bowls that are offered, and scoop up your food with it. It was a really fun and exciting experience, and it's always fun to try food from around the globe. The great thing about D.C. that I've come to realize, and that I continue to emphasize, is that there is an endless amount of places to visit and explore--whether it be different ethnic restaurants, embassies, museums, landmarks, or coffee shops. And speaking of coffee shops, there is a worryingly limited amount of Dunkin Donuts in the D.C. area, and I may be experiencing withdrawal. I may make this topic an entirely different post in the future. Keep a look out.

Interning at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
On Monday and Tuesday, I had my first intern orientation at AEI and found out what I would be doing there for the next couple of months. The Institute is fantastic, and the lives of the policymakers who work there are pretty nice (understatement). I learned that AEI is the second-oldest think tank in the United States, bested only by the Brookings Institution, as well as the third most cited think tank in the nation. Needless to say, being able to work in that sort of scholarly environment with constant exposure to so much consequential policymaking--and the policymakers themselves--is quite amazing. To put this in perspective, I'll give an example. As an intern I work on the 10th floor at a little designated area for the other interns working for the various scholars in the Institute. On that same floor there are research assistants, usually recent graduates and/or former AEI interns, and of course, the scholars. I work on the same floor as well-known figures in foreign policy like Leon Aron and Frederick Kagan, the brother of Robert Kagan. Above me scholars like Paul Wolfowitz, former president of the World Bank and deputy Secretary of State, work on important issues like diplomacy, economics, security, and education. Politicians Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney are also associated with the Institute and have walked through AEI's doors many times in the past.

After meeting my supervisor, I was given assignments to do research on chemical and cyber warfare. My entire day generally consists of looking through databases and reading articles on these issues, and expanding the list of sources for a possible future book or scholarly article. I am learning a lot about different types of warfare, and the historical usage of things like mustard gas in World War I and why chemical warfare in general was largely absent in World War II. I've also touched upon topics like international law, which has been nice as I'm finding many similarities between what I'm reading and topics I learned about in my International Law class I took back at Bowdoin.

The interns at AEI are also extremely nice. There are part-time and full-time students from places like American, Georgetown, and George Washington, but also places as far away as Yale and the University of Michigan. The breakfasts and lunches are entirely free, and the food provided is wonderful. There is a fancy dining room on the 12th floor of the Institute overlooking the city where all of the interns and scholars congregate and can socialize. There will be many Intern Happenings and networking events available about every other week. There is also an intern dinner at the end of every semester where interns are celebrated for all their hard work. I recently learned that we're able to invite one guest, and so my girlfriend from Bowdoin will be joining me for the exciting festivities! It will be so much fun to reconnect, and to show her all I've learned, and all of the amazing places to see around D.C. It makes me more and more excited about getting back to my family and friends over winter break and during the school year back at Bowdoin in the spring.

Thomas Friedman, The Four Seasons at Georgetown, and the Middle East
On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, our days consisted of nothing but talk and discussion of regional issues in the Middle East, with a focus on developments in Egypt and in Syria. The first two days were spent in class with our professor, who happens to have his specialty in Middle East relations. He gave us a history of how these relations have developed, and why things like religious ideology and natural resources like oil have played a large part in the current conflicts plaguing the region. We had lengthy question-and-answer sessions that were really informative.

The week concluded with a day-long event on the subject of Egypt hosted by the Middle East Institute (MEI)  at the five-star Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown--home of the renowned Georgetown Cupcake, and of course, Georgetown University, alma mater of figures like former POTUS Bill Clinton and current Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. We arrived early in the morning at around 8:30 a.m. looking snazzy in our suits and ties, and helped ourselves to unlimited quantities of coffee before our first of four informational panels began. There were four panels in all throughout the day, each lasting an hour and a half and moderated by well known individuals such as three-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. In-between panels we had an hour-long lunchbreak and were able to sit outside with one another and socialize with other guests who were attending the event--journalists, MEI scholars, and other students like ourselves. After six hours of discussion on Egypt, the freedom of the weekend that followed immediately after was definitely
Coffee and myriad desserts during our lunch break at the Four Seasons in Georgetown.
Next week, we talk about Turkey.

No, not the bird.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Swimming in the Ocean that is Foreign Policy

My third week here has been absolutely incredible. The initial anxiety of having to adjust to city life--and to a new living environment in general--is slowly dissipating, and I've been able to venture further out of my comfort zone and explore more of the city and all it has to offer. After this week, it's just dawned on me the unbelievable amount of access to high-level officials students have here in D.C. I knew studying here would offer me valuable exposure to the foreign policy world, yet I never once fathomed that in just one week--not even that, four days--I would have the opportunity to sit in a room with a former president of Spain, or speak and shake hands with a distinguished ambassador and former deputy national security advisor. Let me explain.

Following the lengthy and relaxing Labor Day weekend, which fortunately was sunny and beautiful, we jumped right into a week filled with a number of lectures about transatlantic relations (the relationship between the United States and with the rest of the "West," ie, Europe), and journeyed throughout the heart of D.C. in order to hear from distinguished officials who study the issue day in and day out.

The first of such meetings took place on Tuesday, September 3rd, in a small conference room at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), known to be one of the preeminent graduate schools for international relations in the world. SAIS has many campuses abroad, and allows its graduate students to study in any one of its three campuses: Washington, DC; Bologna, Italy; or Nanjing, China. It is comfortably situated near embassy row in Dupont Circe, and is right next to some of the top global think tanks such as the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Once we arrived, we heard the former president of Spain, Jose Maria Aznar, speak about the current challenges that are facing Spain, and more broadly, Europe, at this time. He discussed at length contemporary issues such as the eurocrisis, Europe's problems of solidarity and identity, and the emerging transatlantic trade agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Jose Maria Aznar, former president of Spain, at Johns Hopkins' SAIS.

On Wednesday we met Heather Conley, a senior fellow and director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), who was incredibly fun and engaging; she was also clearly brilliant, having served as deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs with a slew of critical responsibilities in many countries, including those from the post-Soviet sphere like Ukraine and Belarus. She had a lot of insightful information to offer, and I got the chance to ask her about the future of the Ukraine. She was very helpful and I hope to include her thoughts within the research paper I am currently working on.

Yesterday morning we met with Dr. Jackson Janes, acting director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS), which is uniquely one of the only think tanks associated with a university--again, Johns Hopkins. He's an expert on German-U.S. relations, and was able to offer us information on how Germany has been handling the eurocrisis as one of the only countries within the eurozone that has been able to stay afloat and free of debt. Germany will hold elections in a couple of weeks, and many are looking forward to seeing what will come of them, and what that will mean for the trajectory of the debt crisis in Europe. Will Germany continue to be a willing pillar of aid to the southern European countries like Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Greece? We'll have to wait and see.

Today was probably the most interesting day of all. In the morning we met with former ambassador and deputy national security advisor James Jeffrey, who discussed the future of U.S. foreign policy with a focus on Iran and the Middle East. He was a very impressive speaker, energetic, and really personable; I suppose to some extent ambassadors have to be. We introduced ourselves and where we went to school, and he was very familiar with Bowdoin, and told a little story about Joshua Chamberlain, one of the most lauded figures in Bowdoin's history.

After meeting with the ambassador, we quickly took off to the British embassy, where we spoke with diplomats there about their experiences working in the United States on issues like energy policy, nonproliferation, and of course, the TTIP trade agreement that I addressed previously. One of the diplomats served abroad in Moscow, Russia for three years, and so I asked him to talk about the experiences he had there, which were really interesting to learn about. The embassy was much bigger than I would have imagined. It was a very modern building with many large glass panels, allowing for natural light to flow in. There were many spacious conference rooms, and I noticed that there were a couple of American interns working at the embassy. Perhaps in the future I can look into working for a foreign embassy as well!

In other news, I visited the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, one of the Smithsonian's 14 free museums in D.C., with a fellow friend in my class from Tokyo, Japan.

As for my internship, I will be starting Monday at 10:00 a.m. and am incredibly excited to get going. I will be working all day Monday and Tuesdays, and may even be able to work half-days on Wednesdays. There are a great number of opportunities for interns to meet with scholars at meet-and-greets, resume-building workshops, networking events, and free admission to all AEI-sponsored conferences. I have also been told that there are opportunities to be published in AEI's online magazine, The American. Hopefully I can hop on board that train and get a few articles published and my name out there! I'll have much more to say about that, and the internship experience, next Friday! There are also complimentary breakfasts and lunches on-site at the Institute.

Entrance to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), 1150 17th Street, NW, DC.

And free cookies on Friday. Yes you heard that correctly.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Week #1: Adapting to City Life

After my first week here in the heart of D.C., I can safety say that I believe I have finally settled in. Life here, as you may imagine, does not quite equate to what a typical day would be like in Grafton, Vermont or Brunswick, Maine. Rather than pass by cow farms, historical one-room schoolhouses, and rolling green mountains on my way to school or to work, I am instead enshrouded by the hustle and bustle of city life: horns honk ceaselessly, buses and metro trains rush from one stop to the next, and people young and old alike emerge from the Starbucks lining each and every block and quickly stroll to their various destinations.

After a few mishaps taking the wrong bus or taking the metro a couple stops further than anticipated, I have (astoundingly) learned how to navigate the D.C. transportation system in order to get to where I need to go on a daily basis. I have also managed to locate the library on campus, printing stations, and a number of shopping areas. This is good. For the time being, it seems I will survive.

Our first set of classes was scheduled for this week, and so we spent the majority of our time discussing U.S. foreign policy on a broad, introductory level. We learned about U.S. national interests at home and abroad, and analyzed the current international arena. Much of our lecture was based around the role of various states, and their current (and historical) roles in shaping the international foreign policy sphere. After our lecture and debate, we quickly went to campus to hear former ambassador to Nigeria and current senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, John Campbell, talk about U.S. diplomacy in Africa and the increasing militarization of the continent.

I have spent the last few days working alongside my professor to narrow down my research paper topic, and have decided to tackle the issue of Ukrainian security and prospects for its integration into Europe by means of NATO or EU membership, amid its close ties with Vladimir Putin's Russia and its aggressive resistance in ceding authority over Ukraine to United States and the West. This topic is both new and exciting to me, as it's the first time I'll be able to integrate my interest in Russian with my fascination with international relations. I am hoping I'll find a way to travel to the Ukraine or to Russia next summer and continue my studies of Eurasia.

I am also thankful to have been offered a fall internship with the American Enterprise Institute's Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies. For two and a half days a week, I will be working for co-directors Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt on issues of strategic studies, national security, defense, intelligence, and the role of U.S. leadership abroad. Hopefully next week I'll be able to elaborate on what my responsibilities will be, as I'm not sure exactly what I'll be assigned to do for the scholars.
There are a lot of new and exciting things happening each day, and I look forward to continue sharing my experience with everyone. It's been great keeping up with my friends' blogs, and I think it will be amazing once we all return to Bowdoin in the spring and share everything we've all learned and experienced.

'Till next week!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bowdoin's Ubiquitous Presence

Just when I try to escape for a semester to Washington, D.C., nearly 600 miles away from Brunswick, Maine, it seems there's no escaping Bowdoin College. During my first full day here in the heart of our nation's capital, I have run into a recent Bowdoin graduate on the street, and have learned that many other Polar Bears are within a brief metro stop away from where I live, or where I'll be going to school for the next couple of months.

After a drawn-out orientation to American University's Semester in Washington program at a church near the university's main Tenley Campus, I made my way to the newly constructed and world renowned School of International Service (SIS), where I was informed I would be having my first meeting with my Foreign Policy class and its professor, John Calabrese.

Astoundingly, I quickly found out that Professor Calabrese was once Bowdoin's associate dean of students, as well as a faculty member in the Government and Legal Studies Department. For such a small institution, I realized, it was clear that the College punches way above its weight, at least in terms of post-graduate placement in prominent positions in places like Washington; Polar Bears are everywhere, and it feels good to know that I have had the opportunity to be a part of the family.

Understanding that I have a tendency to overwrite, I will try to be concise about my arrival here in D.C., but thorough, in order to paint and accurate and detailed picture of how my time here has been so far, and what I will exactly be doing until mid-December.

The American University's (AU) Semester in Washington Foreign Policy Program allows both domestic and foreign students to work within D.C. as part-time interns for a variety of foreign policy related organizations, while simultaneously taking seminars on the subject. In my case, the program has three components: a research course that requires students to produce a research paper of about 35 - 50 pages on a relevant foreign policy topic; participation as a part-time intern for two days a week at a relevant organization or institute; and completion of a foreign policy seminar that looks at a variety of foreign policy topics, and includes frequent meetings with high-level officials and scholars who have been indispensable drivers of policy and debate here in D.C.

Thus far, it seems as if I am studying abroad in a foreign country, as the vast majority of students who I will be taking classes alongside, and the friends I have made and am living with, are from locations as far away as Japan, France, Germany, and Norway. The diversity within both the city and my classroom will undoubtedly have a valuable impact on the way I will begin to learn about issues both domestically and abroad in faraway regions such as the Middle East, to places like the Asia Pacific.

I have also found that my previous studies at Bowdoin have helped me start exciting and intriguing discussions with my fellow classmates, and with complete strangers I've come across on my exploration of the city. For example, I have enjoyed discussing the territorial island disputes between China and Japan to students I've met from Tokyo; with my friends from Germany and France, I've inquired about how they view the current Eurocrisis, and what they believe will unfold within the foreseeable future.

I also have students from Bates and Tufts in my class; interestingly, it's as though I've not stepped a foot outside the NESCAC, yet at the same time have journeyed to exotic lands far, far away from home.

And so here, I'll cut the story short and leave you hanging--at least for the time being. Within the next week, I'll be able to share much more about the internship I have (hopefully!) secured, the research project topic I've decided to pursue, and the myriad speakers I've had the chance to speak with and question. I'll also have had the chance to experience the city a little bit more, and will be happy to candidly describe my experiences to anybody who would be interested in hearing about hints, tips, tricks, or tidbits about living in D.C.

Until then, friends.