The DC Experience

In May of this year, my husband and I took a trip to DC in order to meet people and check out job prospects. It was great to catch up with so many friends and class fellows from the Monterey Institute who shifted east after graduation and hear their internships and employment stories.

The minute we landed in DC I received an email from Huffington Post Live about appearing on their show the next day HuffPo to talk about women voter influence in Pakistan’s elections. Despite an already busy schedule that morning, I accepted the invitation. The interview ended at 10:30 leaving me just enough time to hop in a cab and make it to my other meeting with about 2 minutes to spare.

I met with various researchers and fellows from an array of think tanks in DC but most of them made it pretty clear that interest in South Asia is dying down, particularly as the withdrawal from Afghanistan approaches next year. Think tanks mostly follow the money and funds for research in South Asia have dried up. Instead, interest has shifted to Africa and the Middle East. Another observation I made was that the South Asian specialists in DC are rarely of Pakistani origins. Perhaps, the US strategy towards Pakistan would have been more successful if they had better firsthand knowledge rather than relying on opinions from outside experts. I’m sure some of this sentiment comes from my own feeling of being undervalued, but I am equally certain that there is no substitute for direct experience.

Interns seem to be the lifeblood of Washington, from young pages dashing around the Capitol to Graduates spending long hours just trying to get their foot in the door with NGO’s. Many of these internships are unpaid and are filled by people who already face 6-figure college loan debt. In order to pay their rent these interns often end up working a second job in the evening, e.g., waiting tables. Since the economic crash in 2008, unpaid internships have proliferated and have replaced paid jobs. Take the recent case of the “Black Swan” movie which earned over936full-black-swan-poster $300 million, yet did not pay its interns a dime. Eric Glatt one of the unpaid interns for Black Swan sued Fox Searchlight Pictures in 2011. Federal District Court Judge William H. Pauley ruled that Fox Searchlight should have paid the interns, because they were essentially regular employees. The US federal law states that unpaid internships must benefit the worker, not the employer, and should be a part of a formal training program, without replacing a paid employee’s job. The Black Swan “internship” — much like a lot of unpaid intern situations — violated all of those tenets, ruled Judge Pauley.

1. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid and IbOne of my friends from the Monterey Institute works for the Senate majority leader, and thanks to him we were able to meet Senator Harry Reid during an event he held for visiting constituents. The long-time Senator inquired about how “his friend, Imran Khan” was doing following his fall at an election rally in Lahore.

In between meetings, I did manage to squeeze in some sightseeing and checked out many – but not nearly all – of DC’s monuments and museums. During our tour of the Capitol we saw Senator John McCain on the senate floor recording his statement and urging the US to attack Syria. On the floor of Congress, Paul Ryan was standing around with fellow Representatives while they were voting on a bill. I couldn’t help but think of all the lies he told regarding his workouts, marathon (26.2 miles/42km) time and even the fake photo op in a soup kitchen during the election campaign in 2012. He claimed to have run a marathon in 2 hours 50 min where as his actual time was 4 hours 1 minute! No one forgets their 1st and only marathon time; my husband finished The Big Sur marathon in just under 4 hours and he says he’ll always remember it.

11. Indus river photo Smithsonian MuseumAnother thing that I couldn’t pass up was the chance to see a photograph of mine which was selected for permanent display at the Smithsonian for their spotted pond turtle exhibit! It took awhile to spot the smallish 4”x6” shot but I was happy to see it was still in place. After a quick photo in front of the exhibit, we jumped on the Metro rail and caught the Washington Nationals baseball game. They have a beautiful park that is just a short walk from the nearest train stop. The locals and most fellow tourists left the game in a cheerful mood after an easy win for The Nationals.

DC is a vibrant city exploding with different cultures, restaurants and policy institutes. My husband and I enjoyed our stay there, even though it was packed with meetings and “informational” interviews. Thank you for the experience, DC and my MIISers. Since interest in South Asia is dying down, I’ve decided to dedicate my efforts to make the best of my life in California, which has always been our long term intention anyway. However, if the right opportunity presents itself, I still reserve the right to consider the cross-country shift once again. Till then I’ll continue to focus on my writing and may even have a beginnings of a novel.


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