Capital Semester: From the Students’ Perspective

For this week’s blog, we talked to Roberto Cerrud-Rodriguez, Jessica Kwan and Zackary Quintero, all students participating in the Fall 2010 Capital Semester program in Washington, DC. They shared some of their insights into the program and experiences thus far, as well as some words of wisdom for future DC interns.

What has your experience in the Capital Semester program been like thus far?

RCR: My Capital Semester experience has been exciting and full of extremely useful learning opportunities, both academic and professional. Our professors have focused on the operation of free markets and the importance of taking into account unintended consequences in the creation of policy. In my internship I have had wonderful opportunities for networking and learning new skills, such as social media management strategy, which will definitely help my career options once I return to Panama.

 What has been your favorite memory of the program?

Zackary Quintero

ZQ: My favorite experience was when I was taken through the underground tunnels within the Department of Treasury on the first day of my internship.

 JK: The people in Capital Semester – they are diverse and intelligent. Also, during our tour of the National Mall, the tour guide explained that Lady Liberty always faces the east because “the sun never sets on freedom.” That was another favorite memory.

 RCR: My favorite memory thus far is the day we visited Mount Vernon. We visited George Washington’s home early in the program, so were able to take advantage of the chance to get to know each other better. Some of us even managed to take a boat tour of the Potomac River while there!

Have you had any eye-opening experiences as an intern in DC?

RCR: Yes. I have learned how important it is to establish contacts at your internship site and beyond. It is crucial to make the most of every networking opportunity: always ask for business cards, send follow-up emails and, whenever possible, schedule a get together with those you meet.

 You never know what opportunities may arise out of a casual conversation in a cafe – that’s how I ended up helping organize a fundraising dinner featuring President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia as the guest speaker!

Jessica Kwan

JK: Through my internship, I have been required to attend House and Senate committee hearings. The experience has really opened my eyes to the realities of the legislative process. I didn’t realize how the hearings were conducted. I thought government hearings were secluded and held behind closed doors, rather than open to the public.

What is one thing you have gained from the program so far that you don’t think you could’ve gotten elsewhere?

ZQ: The ability to see the American government from the vantage point of working within the nation’s capitol… Seeing how an individual can create and implement change has been incredible.

 RCR: The perfect combination between theoretical understanding and real-world experience. My internship experience at the Atlas Economic Research Foundation has helped me learn about working at a nonprofit think-tank organization, including how to connect with donors, organize fundraisers and advance your message using social media.

Do you have any “words of wisdom” for people entering the program next semester, or students interested in interning in DC?

Roberto Cerrud-Rodriguez

ZQ: My advice to future students is to remember that DC is filled with talented, informed and extraordinary people. When you arrive here and spend time in DC, you come to realize that it doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where you’re going and how badly you want to get there. Leave DC with the utmost certainty that you completed much more than the original goals you set out. Give it everything you have and fear nothing in the process.  

 RCR: If you are interested in interning in DC, then apply to the Capital Semester program right now! It is a life changing experience, you get to enjoy the diversity offered by your group of classmates – in my semester, I had classmates from places as close as Chicago, Illinois to places as far away as Amman, Jordan – and make friendships that will last forever. These are 15 unforgettable weeks that will change your life for the best!

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