Internship in Washington DC

(29-07-2022) Anton Van Den Abbeele, Master's student in International Politics, did a 4-month internship at Washington DC. Discover his instructive and exciting experience.

Hi everyone, I am Anton Van Den Abbeele, I am normally graduating this year in 2022 in the master's degree in international politics. I have had the opportunity to live, study and work in Washington DC from January 2022 to May 2022. This is through 'The Washington Center' a non-profit organization that offers internships and studies to students from all over the world. Below I give my experiences about my internship in the USA.


I first heard about 'The Washington Center' at the faculty information session about Erasmus. There was only a brief mention of this internship because it is only for top students and not easy to get into. I want to nuance this, access to a scholarship from the Flemish government for this program is not easy but not unfeasible. Your grades have to be good and you have to be motivated. Which is not illogical because you get a large amount of money through the scholarship, about 10 000 euros. A small sidenote, that 10 000 euros goes entirely to the cost of the program and your apartment that you get at the disposal of the Washington Center, money for your flight and life there you have to arrange yourself. I had good marks during my bachelor, but you certainly don't have to be the best of your year to have a chance to win this scholarship. You can participate in the selection either in your third bachelor year or your master year. You can go either in the first semester or the second. The internship lasts about 3-4 months. I chose to participate in the selection because I was always interested in America and wanted to improve my English. Having to speak English continuously has helped me improve my speaking skills tremendously.


What is true is that the whole procedure takes some time. You first must be accepted by the Flemish government, then by the Washington Center, and then you have to get your visa in order. Because of the strict American laws, this is sometimes stressful. But this only makes the reward, once you arrive in Washington DC, even better. 


WashingtonWashington is a very nice city. Relatively small compared to nearby cities like New York and Philadelphia but very pleasant. There is extensive public transportation Metro/tram/bus and because of the small scale, everything can be done by bike or scooter. Through a cheap bike sharing system you can explore city perfectly. In addition, a relatively safe city, as in European cities you can best avoid certain neighborhoods, but 90% of the city is very safe. DC is in many ways the exception in America: strict gun laws (for example, there are no gun stores or shooting ranges), strict coronation measures etc.. There are many festivals: Mardi Gras (a kind of carnival), St. Patrick's Day, Cherry Blossom Festival, Chinese New Year. In addition, sports are also very important in America and therefore also in DC: ice hockey, basketball, soccer, baseball there is something for everyone and at those sporting events, in my opinion, see the real American culture. The American national anthem is sung loudly by everyone, food and drink in gigantic quantities, the attention for veterans and the huge amount of advertising. Georgetown, the famous university is also in DC, and you should definitely visit to see for the beautiful architecture and vibe of an American campus. Of course, you have the endless American monuments on the mall, the many wonderful (and free) museums and the many political buildings. Think the White House, the Congress, the IMF etc....


The nice thing about Washington DC is also that it is close to other nice places on the East Coast. New York and Philadelphia are just a bus ride away from Washington. I went with a couple of other Belgians on a long weekend trip to New York. Besides the famous monuments, journalist Björn Soenens invited us for a coffee in Brooklyn. Alexandria and Annapolis are two beautiful harbor towns that are easily accessible from DC, where you can enjoy fish and seafood and take beautiful walks. For nature lovers there is also Shenandoah, a beautiful national park that is relatively close, and those who want to see crocodiles can go to North Carolina for a weekend.


The program itself has three parts. First, you work (unpaid) 4-5 days a week in an American company, government agency or NGO. It is very important that you make a good choice in this and choose something that suits you. I mainly had to do academic research, and after a while that became very monotonous. Other Belgians who took part also had varying degrees of success with their internships; some had very interesting ones (with the army, with lobby groups), others were less successful. Secondly, you have an evening class one evening a week, with a very wide range of subjects: politics, law, media, etc. You must do a number of tasks: a presentation, paper and/or exam. In my experience, the level is certainly not higher than in Belgium, so it is certainly doable. Third, you have to do about ten workshops. These vary in quality in my opinion. I learned a lot about using Linked in, attending lobbying sessions, learning how to apply for jobs etc... The workshops on yoga were less like me.


MallFinally, I would like to tell you about the housing and the people. You sleep in an apartment with 3-4 people. In principle, you can share the apartment with people of the opposite sex, but, most apartments were separated between men and women. You share a bedroom and bathroom with one person. For this, before the program starts through a kind of matching system, you can choose someone who fits you. I had the coincidence of being assigned to another Belgian. In the beginning I thought I would not speak much English, but after a week we spoke English to each other. You share the kitchen and living room with two other people. The apartments are a bit outdated and not very big. There is an extensive gym in the building, a large terrace, and a large lobby. Because of the differences (sometimes also cultural) about for example temperature, cleaning, and noise there were sometimes discussions. But I think that living together with strangers also teaches you a lot, and the opportunity to meet people from the other side of the world is a very valuable experience. In the program there are about 70% Americans and then 30% from around the world (mostly South Americans, Europeans and people from Asia). I thought there were going to be more international people, but the presence of many Americans leads to many opportunities. They know the cultural do's and don'ts, know good cafes and restaurants, can help you with specific problems. By becoming good friends with several Americans, I could often ride with them to events and trips outside DC, which was very convenient. American youngsters are generally very friendly and open, they are quick to invite you to do things, which was a very positive surprise for me. In addition, there were quite a few Belgians (about ten). Even though I didn't really seek them out in the beginning, it's helpful to have a few people who can help you with problems and concerns in your own language. By getting to know them, you then get to know even more people such as their roommates, for example, and you can thus expand your network. I do want to point out that these are not a cheap 3-4 months. Of course, you choose how much you order food, how much you eat and how many trips you make but life is still more expensive in America. Especially healthy food and alcohol are very expensive compared to Belgium. Other things are cheaper: electronics, clothes etc. Try to have a big enough budget, there can always be unexpected expenses. If you watch your pennies, it is certainly affordable with a smaller budget. America is a country where you constantly get the incentive to spend money and many things are also worth the money.


CapitoleI hope I have been able to convince you of this opportunity, it is a wonderful chance to live in America, and make friends for life both in America and the rest of the world.

Finally, I would like to thank Ghent University, the Flemish government and Washington Center for this opportunity. I will cherish this for the rest of my life. To those who are interested in this internship, feel free to contact me via email or social media if they have any questions, I'm happy to help!


Anton Van Den Abbeele