By Jimmy Threatt
While the Stanford in Washington program does not offer all of the advantages of study abroad programs, it is still a terrific experience that possesses many wonderful attributes of its own. I attended the Stanford in Washington program during fall quarter. The program did not expose me to a foreign culture, nor did I have the opportunity to practice my foreign language skills. I did not have the opportunity to go sight-seeing in foreign cities and take in the wonders of another country. The argument is often made that it is important to learn about the cultures and histories of foreign countries. I do not disagree with this contention. However, I feel that many people in America, Stanford students included, are often grossly ignorant about American history and government. Whether your major is political science or computer science, it is a mistake to be uninformed about both American history and current events that often have huge impacts on our lives. Working, studying, and living in Washington D.C. for an entire quarter gets students out of the “Stanford bubble” and exposes them to the real world that most students feel isolated from while on campus. The program’s combination of classes that focus on application of theory in the real world, cultural events, and internships provides students with a wonderful opportunity that exposes them to the world outside of Stanford, just not a foreign country.
The most unique feature of the Stanford in Washington (SIW) program is the internship portion of the program. Students who study abroad through other Bing programs have the opportunity to learn about foreign countries and take classes, but they do not gain work experience. As part of SIW, Stanford students are placed in internships all over D.C., ranging in areas according to the interests of each student. I am interested in law, so I interned at the Department of Justice (DOJ), in the litigation section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division. My internship consisted of both substantive and administrative work, but I feel that the importance of the internships is not solely derived from the type of work. My internship was invaluable because of the opportunity to actually work in a DOJ office, meet people who work there and make contacts, and to gain insight into whether or not I might enjoy a similar job as a career upon graduating from Stanford. I am very thankful for the opportunity to meet lawyers employed by the DOJ who not only offered their advice and wisdom during my internship, but whom I can contact in the future for advice, letters of recommendation, or possibly a job interview. It is not uncommon for students’ internships to produce job opportunities after graduation, a terrific benefit of attending SIW and one not offered by Stanford’s abroad programs.
While the internship portion provides a dimension that makes SIW unique to Stanford’s abroad programs, SIW also schedules many cultural events that enrich the students’ experiences. These events range from daytrips to Philadelphia and Harper’s Ferry to operas, plays, and symphonies held at the Kennedy Center in D.C. Similar to abroad programs, these events are very successful in showing the students around D.C. and helping them experience everything the city has to offer. In addition to the scheduled events, D.C. is filled with historical landmarks that every student eventually gets to see by touring the city. Visiting landmarks such as the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial provide a certain experience that cannot be gained from reading a history book and are an instrumental part of the SIW experience.
Similar to Stanford’s abroad programs, SIW requires students to be enrolled in classes. The classes are taught by people who live in D.C. and are focused on the real world application of theories and ideas we often learn about from professors on campus. Classes focus on topics ranging from economic policy to education policy to congressional oversight and the press. Students also have the option of writing a directed research paper that relates to their internship. I took classes on US foreign policy and the history of the presidents, and I wrote a directed reading paper. I had a very positive experience with the classes at SIW, and it seems that most students have a similar experience. No offense to professors, but I found it very interesting to learn from people who actually practice what they teach. Another benefit of learning from people who work in D.C. is that, similar to the internships, the classes also provide opportunities to make connections that could be very beneficial in the future. Before attending SIW, I was very excited about my internship and the cultural events, but the classes also greatly enriched my experience.
The Stanford in Washington program is a terrific program that all Stanford students should consider. It may not expose students to a foreign country and its culture, but the program does a terrific job of getting students out of the Stanford bubble, exposing them to a work place environment, and is enriched by the cultural events that better the students’ understanding of life in D.C. and American history. While this may not seem as exciting as traveling to a foreign country, the benefits of the program should not be overlooked.