Leaving the campus for the capital

Erum Khan/File

While most of my UC Berkeley friends were binging on Netflix shows, catching up on some much-needed sleep or trying to follow through with their New Year’s Resolutions, I embarked on a journey for the experience of a lifetime.

On Jan. 5, I arrived in Washington, D.C., to represent UC Berkeley in our nation’s capital as a participant of the UC Berkeley Washington Program, otherwise known as UCDC.

Up until a few months ago, I was that girl who had been planning on taking a semester to study abroad since her freshman year — but when the time came to apply for study abroad programs, I abruptly decided to drop my plans and apply to be a spring 2014 UCDC participant after hearing about a friend’s life-changing experience in last spring’s UCDC program.

Why the sudden change of plans? Well, UCDC opened up doors that, honestly, study abroad programs couldn’t.

The UC Berkeley Washington Program is a competitive, full-time academic program that allows students to participate in an internship in the Washington, D.C., area, and to take classes taught by some of the most accomplished UC-affiliated faculty in government. Participants live and study in the University of California building in the Dupont Circle neighborhood with students from not only California but also other universities across the country and around the world.

With the help of the staff in the Berkeley UCDC office, I was able to obtain an internship at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in the Division of Consumer and Community Affairs, the division that conducts research on economic development in historically underserved areas. At the Fed, I had the opportunity to meet some of the most influential figures in Washington, including former chairman Ben Bernanke and UC Berkeley’s very own Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve. I got the chance to hear from former presidential speechwriters, influential columnists and government officials who hold question-and-answer sessions exclusively for UCDC students in the UC Center. And, most importantly, I have grown by picking the brains of the passionate intellectuals surrounding me, both at work and around the city, who have chosen to dedicate their lives to public service.

From weekend trips to cities such as New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia, to spending time in the lively Dupont Circle neighborhood, there is always something to do. Hundreds of museums, monuments and historical landmarks surround you at all times in Washington, and at your lunch break, you might find yourself checking out a new exhibit at the museum across the street or eating at President Barack Obama’s favorite restaurant. And let’s be real: Washington, D.C., is such a different world from the San Francisco Bay Area that participating in the UCDC program is almost like studying abroad.

As anyone in Washington will tell you, an internship in Washington, D.C., is the most invaluable, marketable and almost nonnegotiable experience for anyone interested in working in government. An expanded network and your experience at your internship office serve as tools that will transcend your UCDC semester, and they will open up doors in Washington for years to come.

I highly encourage anyone interested to check out the program at www.ucdc.berkeley.edu for more information and to complete a preliminary application. Apply, and I promise: You will not be disappointed.

Daphna Torbati is a UC Berkeley student majoring in Political Economy and a current participant of the UCDC program.

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