5 Survival Tips For Washington-Bound Interns


If you belong to the demographic that reads this website, there's a chance that you will be one of the thousands of teens and 20-somethings flocking to Washington, D.C. this summer to show families around the Capitol, make copies and database entries in a prestigious think tank, or maybe make the engineers' coffee at a government contracting firm. For you who are about to intern, I salute you.

Seriously, though, there is no better time to experience D.C. than when you are young. It is a young person's city. Here is a non-comprehensive list of all of the things that you should do in D.C. that your employers won't tell you about.

1. Always Take Advantage Of Free Food

Your politics might determine how well you eat in the city. If you are a conservative, there are organizations like the Kirby Center, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and the American Enterprise Institute that are hosting free events all the time. If you are a liberal, the Center for American Progress and the Brookings Institution does the same. And if you are a moderate ... well, I'm sorry. But you might as well learn how both sides live while you're at it. Sometimes, for those of you who are 21 and older, you can even find an open bar.

2. Go to the Good Restaurants That Are Supposed to Be Bad, Not the Bad Restaurants That Are Supposed to Be Good

The thing about Washington, D.C., is that it is a not an authentic cosmopolitan city. It is a synthetic one. That means that it has all of the kinds of food that you can probably find in New York City, but its Chinatown seems only the ghosts of an imitation that you can find at numerous other places around the country.

The best restaurants though, are the organic ones. Not the ones that serve organic food, but the ones that arose organically. The greasy spoons — think burger joints, pizzerias, some of the places in the basement of Union Station and a few hot-dog stands — make for great urban eating. Even the places that cater to younger people are probably going to take up about two hours of your paycheck, but some places are worth it, especially if you're with friends. 

3. Network With a Purpose

Some of you are looking to go to Washington and not return to Lincoln, Nebraska or Barrow, Alaska, and that's just fine. By all means look for work while you are there. You will probably meet more famous people in Washington than at any other time in your life.

And if you are working under someone notable, don't hesitate to ask for a letter of recommendation or anything else. Sometimes, directness pays and if it doesn't the source probably isn't worth the time of networking anyway. On the other hand, if whomever goes out of your way to set up a meeting between you and a potential employer, make sure that you go. To not do so is just bad form.

4. Play the Alumni Card

If you are moving to D.C. and you come from a state university that isn't particularly prestigious, chances are there are at least five or six of you in the area. A lot of universities have alumni organizations that put together baseball games and all kinds of other events that you might want to go to. And a lot of people from the same state or town will want to keep you around. After all, it will make them feel more at home. Not that you should over-share. The results are not always good. When I got locked inside the Library of Congress and the security guard found me wandering about aimlessly, he was even more perplexed when the only identity card I had read "Idaho Vandal" on it. 

5. Stick Close to the Universities If Possible

Consider using this formula for finding housing: The closest room to the capital that costs less than 60% of your monthly paycheck (if you're luck enough to be paid). Living on the outskirts, such as in Fairfax is not necessarily cost effective, especially considering that you are likely to spend as much as $4 more per day on the subway as if you live someplace closer, such as Cleveland Park.

BONUS: There are nine private undergraduate universities in Washington, D.C.; and some of the universities have off campus living websites; and some of these websites are accessible to anyone. Housing listed for students tends to be a balance of affordability; safety; and location, location, location. There are a lot of students who go abroad leaving roommates behind in the summer time. And others go home. But, one way or another, many of them will be looking to sublease their apartments. Register for as many of these sites as possible. You just might be able to find one of the best places in one of the best neighborhoods at price you can afford.