Hi blog! My name is Erika Byrne and I spent the summer of 2019 interning in Washington, D.C. as a Baucus Institute Fellow. To be specific, I interned for Senator Chuck Grassley, but more on that later.
Some background about me: I am a Junior at the University of Montana currently majoring in Political Science with a concentration in International Relations and Comparative Politics. I am also pursuing a minor in Business Administration. My GLI Global Theme and Challenge, as you may have already guessed, is Culture and Politics.
My internship came about through the Baucus Leaders Program. I applied to the program on a whim, thinking I had no chance at getting in. A few months passed and I was eventually notified that Senator Grassley’s office had chosen me to be one of their summer interns. When I first heard the news, I was shocked. Senator Grassley, a Republican farmer from Iowa, serves as the President Pro Tempore and is the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. In other words, he’s kind of a big deal.
While interning in Senator Grassley’s office, I got to experience things that I never would have been able to in any other position. I wrote speeches and op-eds, attended landmark committee hearings, and met some of the most influential people in American politics. At one point, I was even able to introduce myself to all three of Montana’s congressional members at their weekly Montana Coffee. (Here’s a tip for anyone interning on the Hill: Networking is heavily stressed. Attending events like these or asking people to coffee is expected.)
As for my global theme, this experience aligned perfectly with Culture and Politics. Not only did I learn more about American politics, I also learned a lot about how the U.S. functions internationally. A lot of this education can be attributed to the office I was able to intern in. Senator Grassley, being the Finance Committee Chairman, is a very outspoken supporter of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). This trade deal is critical for American businesses, seeing as so much of our exports are to these two countries. Without this deal, we would miss out on billions of dollars worth of revenue. I was able to watch debates about the issue in real time and even got to draft an op-ed outline for Senator Grassley. It was an incredible experience to be up close to the action. I was also able to attend a Foreign Relations Committee Hearing where they talked about the Ebola threat. Listening to an expert panel brief the committee on actions that are being taken in the realm of disease control was eye opening to say the least. It puts into perspective how small the world really is and how important it is that we work together globally to secure a better future for us and those who come after.
Working on the Hill was only part of the experience, however. Living in D.C. for six weeks comes with many opportunities and challenges. First and foremost: D.C. summers are absolutely brutal. You don’t know discomfort until you walk to work every day in professional clothes (think pants and a blazer) when it’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit outside with 90% humidity. Living in a big city was also an adjustment. For example, I am now comfortable navigating public transportation with a million other people. Speaking of people, dealing with so many personalities was it’s own challenge. Although these personalities can be overwhelming or even intimidating at first, I quickly realized that it’s really not that big of a deal. At the end of the day, everyone is trying. Trying for different reasons or with different intentions, but trying none the less. I think that’s the biggest lesson I learned while in D.C. and it can also be applied to other areas in life (especially when in a leadership position).
I can confidently say that being in the “room where it happens” taught me more than any classroom or book ever could. Not only did it give me the tools and knowledge to grow professionally, this experience aided in my personal growth as well. I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity and I look forward to my future adventures as a global leader.