Capitol interns find comfort in numbers

Moving to a new city can be a daunting task for anyone. Aside from the possible culture shock, securing a place to live, making new friends, learning how to use public transportation and even finding where to get a quality haircut can be exponentially more challenging alone in unexplored terrain.

These issues are compounded for new interns in Washington, D.C., who, due to the temporary nature of the assignment, are forced to do all these things in short order while working long hours, taking care of school work and trying to squeeze in a little fun along the way.

“We only have one semester here,” said Allie Schleisman, an intern in Sen. Saxby Chambilss’s (R-Ga.) D.C. office. “So we were always told that everything that you want to do, try to get done as soon as possible because you’re gone before you know it, and there is so much to do it just gets really hectic.”

Schleisman, who moved from Athens, Ga., for her internship on Capitol Hill, along with 20 of her classmates at the University of Georgia, found a way to bypass loneliness in a big city by participating in an intern housing program called Washington Intern Student Housing (WISH).

“We all live together, and that really helps because everybody that lives in the apartment building is also an intern in D.C.,” she said. “Everybody is young and doing the same thing as you, and they have the same sorts of interests. We hang out with everybody, it’s been a lot of fun.”

WISH has multiple locations within walking distance of Capitol Hill. The organization gives safe and secure housing to all types of interns and students and quiet hours to study if they need it, but more importantly, WISH provides interns with the opportunity to network with other interns who could quite possibly be the future leaders in their chosen fields.

“By the time we are adults and have jobs, some of the people I’ve met might be working in the nonprofits or in the media, and if I ever need to deal with them I can say ‘Oh, I already know somebody,’ and I can call them,” said Sarah Chambers, a fellow intern in Chambliss’s office and resident at WISH.

Schleisman and Chambers both agreed that the most important service provided by WISH, though, was the community they shared in their apartment building and not being forced to go home to an empty house to be alone after work.

Nancy Kim, an intern in Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) office, found her “Washington, D.C., family” at the Loftstel, a local hostel in the northwest Petworth neighborhood that caters primarily to student interns. She said she loves being able to come home after a long day at work knowing her 35 roommates are there waiting and looking for something fun to do.

“If we want to go out for drinks we can just go out to one of our neighborhood bars together, everyone is always down to do anything. I love it — it’s kind of like a second version of college life,” she said. “This is not their home, this is not my home, but together we make it a real fun second home.”

Jeff Pan, the owner of Loftstel, said he knew how hard it was for interns to secure affordable housing for such a short period of time, and said he wanted to create an atmosphere where everyone would feel welcome for the entirety of their internships.

“You come home from the internship and you’re sitting there eating dinner with a Brazilian kid interning at an NGO, who’s sitting next to a kid interning at a civil rights group, next to girl who interns at the White House — it’s a fun mix,” he said. “The fact that most kids stay and have fun for the time that they intern is a testament to the fact that it’s a good thing.”

Kim, who speaks nine languages, said the thing she likes most about living with the rotating stock of international guests is her ability to speak with people in their native tongue.

“There’s different personalities, different languages, and I love just coming home to that international atmosphere,” she said. “I’m really passionate about learning other languages, and so far I’ve improved my Portuguese, my German, my Japanese and my Spanish.”