My semester as a White House Intern by Fulbright, Anika Michel

IMG_4027I wanted to share with you all an opportunity that I’ve had the pleasure of partaking in during the spring semester.
I have spent the past few months as an intern at the White House. It was an amazing experience, and quite different from any other professional endeavor that I have pursued. It is an environment that is very busy and at times, extremely high-strung. Many of the staffers work 13-hour days, and even if they leave at a reasonable hour, they still have to do more work from home. They are extremely dedicated to their work because they know that what they’re working on contributes a great deal to the mission of the Administration. For an intern like myself, who had never worked for the federal government before, it was very interesting to observe this type of atmosphere and the different personalities that work there.
I was assigned to the Office of the Vice President, which is a department of many sub-divisions that all support the Vice President’s agenda. Within this department, I worked in the Office of the Chief of Staff and the Office of Correspondence. I had a wide array of responsibilities, from reminding the VP’s Chief of Staff of his appointments and meetings, greeting his visitors, conducting daily reports about various constituent groups, and drafting response letters for constituents. I usually arrived at work around 8:45am (the start time for interns is 9am, but I always liked to arrive early) and worked until 6pm (although there were some nights when I stayed until 7pm or 8pm). Everyday I felt like my work was contributing to helping Americans in some way or another, which made the experience all the more fulfilling. Even on days when things got tough and I felt very stressed out, I would come across a letter from a constituent who expressed gratitude for the work that the Vice President has done. One letter that I remember came from a man who said that he wrote in a couple of months before because his family did not have healthcare, and that he was writing in again because he had just received a call from the Medicaid office, which informed him that they were contacted by the Office of the Vice President and that they would be providing health coverage for both he and his mom. He was extremely grateful. Letters like those were very rewarding because it demonstrated that my efforts (as well as those of my fellow interns, and the staffers) were contributing to a greater cause.
IMG_0668The overall internship program was incredible. They set up a weekly speaker series with senior staffers, in which each one told us about their careers and how they ended up working at the White House, and even answered the questions that we posed to them. Notable speakers included the President’s speechwriter, the First Lady’s Chief of Staff, the President’s Chief of Staff, the Press Secretary, and of course, the First Lady herself, and the Vice President himself. We also had the opportunity to take a group photo with the President and hear him offer us some advice as we embark on our careers. One of the things he said that stood out most to me was «don’t focus on who you want to be, focus on what you want to do.» He said that oftentimes when people enter public service, they get caught up in the idea of a position (i.e. Senator, Governor, House Representative, etc.) so much that they lose sight of what they want to do and why they want to help others. I was very inspired by his talk. Between his advice, and talking to senior staffers on a daily basis, I felt very humbled and honored to have served this administration. I am even reconsidering certain career goals, now focusing on opportunities that are more policy-oriented. I am also more interested in government and foreign policy, and I hope to have a career that allows me to have experiences as interesting as the ones that I have had a White House intern. It was truly amazing.
Anika Michel
Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Spain 2013-14