Laps in a pool followed by a restorative bath in a jacuzzi in a hotel basement. Viewing Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy of the Quran and the first print of the Declaration of Independence in the Library of Congress. Cycling from work in a downtown high-rise office down M street, AirPod Pros on full blast, to meet a friend for coffee and a quick stroll down the Potomac in Georgetown.
What connects these three intriguing tales? In just a few short weeks, all of these experiences and many more have become a daily part of my life as a Cornell in Washington student. The program combines learning from Cornell’s faculty and gaining real-world internship experience at a D.C. firm of the student’s choice.
Life in Washington, D.C. is a stark contrast to life in Ithaca. City life, and specifically life in D.C., creates a different set of challenges and also deals an entirely new hand of opportunities. The fast-paced and high-stakes environment in the nation’s capital can be both exciting and overwhelming — and most importantly, an unmistakable crash course on life as a city professional.
As I hustled out of the firm’s office shortly past 5:45 on Monday, I caught a glimpse of the sunset among the townhouse buildings lined up along my walk home. I had just less than 30 minutes to hand in my assignment in time for my Political Journalism course. Without time to make a proper meal, I quickly completed editing my assignment and submitted the short paper. My commute time to class — a short elevator ride away from my room — was less than a minute. Following a brief discussion, our Professor introduced our captivating guest speaker, a senior member of the team at Axios, a burgeoning political publication. After concluding his remarks, his positive outlook and determination toward his vocation drew stellar reviews from all of my classmates.
In D.C., opportunities for internships, networking and exposure to the inner workings of government and politics abound. Though the competition for these opportunities is high and the will to succeed is palpable, the Cornell experience in Ithaca and the residence in DuPont circle both provide tremendous backing for unlocking the district’s offerings.
For one, the confidence, soft skills and conscientiousness secured at Cornell through successfully maneuvering professional, social and academic endeavors is irreplaceable and will impress colleagues and supervisors in D.C. Second, the network of friends, adjunct professors and mentors from Cornell provides an instant boost in the internship search and even opens up unique insider experiences only offered in the district, such as lunch at the Capitol Hill Club.
Last I recall, I visited the district as a middle school student and twice thereafter. Each time I came and left as a mere tourist. I may leave town this time around with fewer souvenirs, but at least I will have gained a polo shirt and tumbler with the name of the firm I am working at. In any case, the experience and exposure from city and firm life trump any material possessions I could ever hope to gain.
In contrast to D.C., Cornell provides a slower environment, and the unique and spirited student body creates a student-centric scene, which is often missing in the hustle and bustle of D.C. and the wide range of ages and backgrounds among city residents. The capital’s nightlife definitely boasts more options than Ithaca, though Ithaca’s cheap prices and camaraderie make it all worth it. Not to mention, weather-wise, D.C.’s February is Ithaca’s April.
Despite the differences between Cornell in Washington and Cornell in Ithaca, both offer unique and valuable experiences: D.C. provides opportunities for growth and professional development, while Ithaca’s isolation provides a sense of community and introspection.
Ultimately, it is easy to get caught up in the demands of academic and professional life, but it is important to take a step back and remember why we attend college in the first place. After attending this University, I have a sense of confidence that I hope will extend far into my career and adult life. In today’s competitive landscape of innovators and go-getters, that Is a privilege that I am lucky to have and intend on making full use of — no matter what city I am living in.
Aaron Friedman is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Honest AF runs every other Tuesday this semester.