The Jefferson Memorial is visible in the distance as the reflecting pool descends towards the viewer
Student Voices

My First Week in DC: A Week of Transition

Every summer, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst sends a cohort of about twenty students to Washington DC for an internship experience filled with opportunities for professional and personal development. I’m part of the SBS in DC 2021 cohort, and I’ve been in DC for about a week now!

Meeting the Cohort

My first week in DC was a week of transition. For one thing, I had replaced the three people I usually travel on planes with—my mom, dad, and younger sister—with three of my cohort members. It was my first time flying without my family, so I was very apprehensive at times—especially going through airport security and struggling to reach the shelves to stow my carry-on bag. However, the trip was only a bit over an hour long, and the taxi took us straight to our internship house where all twenty-one of us would be living.

Six University of Massachusetts students stand in Mount Vernon Square as part of the SBS in DC program in Washington, DC

We were immediately welcomed by other cohort members who arrived earlier in the day, and who stood out in the rain with socks on just to help carry our bags. Despite this kind gesture, I was still feeling awkward with the cohort. We had spent a semester together on Zoom, preparing for this internship experience, but it felt different meeting in person for the first time… and all at once. On that first day, I felt a little overwhelmed with social interaction. I was already missing home.

On top of that, I was feeling impostor syndrome—a sense that I didn’t belong here because everyone seemed so ready to hit the ground running while I needed time to ease into the flow of things.

An exciting scavenger hunt planned by our three resident assistants helped to alleviate my homesickness and impostor syndrome. We worked in teams and used the GooseChase app to explore the city. There were also fun little challenges to complete; like composing a rap song using our names. Having completed the most challenges before time ran out, my team won the grand prize of Hershey’s chocolates, Sour Patch Kids, and bragging rights. We also got to know each other a bit better because nothing says bonding like walking uphill to the Supreme Court in the DC heat, complaining about how exhausted we all were.

A statue of President Abraham Lincoln sits on a large pedestal within the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC

Later on that week, half of the group decided to go see the monuments at night. I stayed with the other half in the living room, where we gathered in a circle and revealed our first impressions of each other. In theory, this could’ve been a dangerous game to play, but no feelings were hurt. In fact, the opposite happened. It turned out to be such an uplifting activity.

A general trend surfaced: We found out that we were all a little intimidated by each other at first. Over Zoom, the goofiness and the reality didn’t show through as much; we were introduced to each other’s (multiple) majors and professional accomplishments thus far. I remember thinking that everyone was so well-put-together, and I know now that many others would resonate with that sentiment.

Actually, we were all in the same boat—one big group of UMass Amherst students, living together in a new city, gaining internship experience, and making unforgettable memories. At this point, things were starting to feel a lot less daunting. What started out as a first impression circle turned into a compliment circle; I was making genuine connections with my cohort members.

My New Internship

The theme of transition played out in my internship as well. I am working at a media internship with a refugee resettlement agency. I have two supervisors, but one of them happened to be on vacation my first week. It was also taking a while to get my company email account set up.

At first, I felt like I wasn’t getting much of an introduction or orientation into the ebb and flow of things. With over a year on Zoom, I had gotten used to working independently, but never to this extent. My biggest takeaway from that first week was not to be afraid to ask questions or to advocate for myself. My supervisors want this to be a robust experience for me too, and I want to make sure I’m putting in my best work. I would rather ask for clarification than continue to be confused about expectations.

I think that’s a very important and transferable lesson because it gives insight into the realities of work environments. There won’t always be extensive training; sometimes you have to be adaptable and able to learn on the way. I’m sure I’ll get a better handle on everything as the weeks go by. My supervisors have been very nice and welcoming so far.

On Thursday that week, I had the opportunity to attend a virtual webinar on messaging approaches relevant to the refugee crisis. It was essentially a presentation of research findings from a focus group to determine what kinds of storytelling methods about refugees were most effective to garner public support for resettlement. I learned so much from those insights, and they really gave me a deeper reason for how and why I want to use communication practices to do good in the world. If you’re ever given the chance to attend optional events at your internship, I would definitely recommend doing so, because events can enrich your overall experience.

Setting SMART Goals

My first week in DC was a good time to set some Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely—aka SMART— goals. Mine are as follows:

  1. I will establish and maintain at least two genuine connections in my office by the end of the summer program so that I can work better with the team and leave a good, lasting impression.
  2. I will actively participate in at least three events (in person or virtual) related to media by the end of the program in order to put myself out there and learn more about my field.
  3. I will finish at least one book by the end of the summer so that I can have personal development experiences to go along with my professional development.

After this first week, I felt like I had broken the ice with my cohort, and I’m excited to get closer with them as we go about our DC adventures. I’m also looking forward to more professional experiences and transferable skills at my internship. Tune in throughout the summer to read more about my time in DC!

Four University of Massachusetts students stand near the iconic gate of Washington, DC's Chinatown district
Here we're visiting the Chinatown District in Washington, DC.
We got some bubble tea while we were there!