By Morgan Spencer - 03/08/11 11:50 PM EST
To Capitol Hill from a path abroad
R.J. Laukitis, the legislative director for Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), spent two years with the Peace Corps on the island nation of Dominica after graduating from Macalester College in Minnesota.
Working with government social workers in six villages involved conflict mediation, grant unity, bookkeeping and teaching.
“Learning the dynamics of the village counsels in Dominica teaches you lessons on how to manage personalities and establish goals that are reachable in trying circumstances.”
Laukitis said his experience in the West Indies “taught a lot about patience, establishing goals and creating a path.” It was a path that led him straight to work on the Hill for former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.).
Even those who have spent minimal time abroad notice a difference in how their experiences in other countries influence their work on the Hill.
Catherine Gatewood, communications director for Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), spent the summer of 2004 working for London’s Institute of Ideas, a think tank focusing on educational policy.
Gatewood returned to the United States with a new perspective on how the educational system works here and there. The experience also led her down a different career path —communications instead of education. She has worked in the offices of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and former Rep. Anne Northup (R-Ky.).
“I definitely recommend the experience and recommend going longer than a summer,” Gatewood said. “Living in London, England, allowed us to travel to other places as well because it is easy to get around there.”
Studying or working abroad is a great way to discover yourself at a young age.
Chris Griffin, military legislative assistant for Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), took 10 months out of his junior year of high school in Texas to study abroad in Kitakyushu, Japan.
During his time at Yahata High School, as the only foreign exchange student there, Griffin witnessed a number of events unfold that opened his eyes to the world: the Great Hanshin earthquake, the Tokyo gas attack and the Oklahoma city bombings, to name a few.
“It was really an eye-opening experience. It showed me how much there is in the world worth trying to figure out,” he said.
Working on the Hill can be just as eye opening as working in a different country. “It was difficult to be new on the Hill — it’s like learning a different language. You are told certain things and expected to understand,” said Nafees Syed, foreign policy legislative aide for Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas).
“You think you have the understanding after studying government, foreign policy and international affairs, but you really need to dive into work on the Hill to see the action happening,” she said. “You learn how policy is done on a different end and it helps you learn how the government works.”
Originally from Roswell, Ga., Syed has been living in Washington, D.C., for a year. Life in the nation’s capital has not been without its struggles, as she adjusted to the culture and the weather.
But the Harvard grad looks to the experience she gained working abroad for The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands, and the British Parliament in London.
“It is important to experience the world abroad in this globalized society we live in,” she said. “It is hard to fully appreciate issues unless you have these global experiences.”