Korpel shares experiences from semester in Washington DC

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Ian Korpel | Contributing Writer

When I stepped off my flight at the Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., I was immediately uncomfortable, yet optimistic about my new adventure. Now, I had been on my own before, but this was somehow different. I was completely responsible for myself since any familiar contact was hundreds of miles westward. I felt like a true adult with personal, real world experience for the first time in my life. Unfortunately, this feeling does not necessarily translate to actually having real world experience. This confidence, inevitably, lead me to become lost in the ghettos of Washington D.C. well past sunset, as I hopelessly searched for some recognizable street name.

Fortunately, I was able to swallow my ego long enough to return to the metro station (now some miles away) before I was either mugged or frozen solid. With a little help from a friendly police officer (they are your friends, kids) I found my way to my apartment complex in one piece.

When I was asked to write about my experiences my first thought was, “This will be downright impossible.” The last four months have been a flurry of new experiences and stories that I can’t possibly convey in such a short piece. So, I will try and be as brief as possible.

I should probably provide some background for those who don’t know me. I am currently working at the North East South Asia department of National Defense University in Fort McNair. My job centers on foreign dignitaries, who visit Washington to discuss foreign policy with the United States and regional issues with each other under Chatham House Rule (anonymity). These visitors are high ranking representatives from a vast swath of land. We get officials from Northern Africa, the entire Middle East, and all of the way up into Central Asia.

Living in Washington D.C. is incredibly different from any other place I’ve been. There are so many contacts, officials, and businessmen clumped together in the District. I have the elite of the United States, literally, mere blocks from my apartment. The Washington Center Program in combination with working for the Federal Government has given me many opportunities that would not have been offered to me as a regular citizen. For instance, I was able to eat lunch in the penthouse of the CSIS (a massive think tank) and I’ve been given private tours of the Capital from the former Congressman Dennis Hertel. I’ve even been able to meet with my current Senator, Tom Harkin.

I don’t want to get too tripped up on these things. Though they are very exciting to me, I’m sure many readers may not have quite the same passion for International Relations or U.S. Politics as I do. So, for the sake of the less-politically minded readers, I won’t go into details. Fortunately, Washington D.C. has much more to offer than government.

There are tons of events every week; last weekend I saw fireworks over the waterfront and enjoyed live music at the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Before that, I greeted veterans, arriving from all over the country at the WWII memorial. This city is alive and energetic, a real cultural melting pot. The night life is more exotic than anything I have ever experienced. To give you an example, I went into a club that was five floors high, with a different kind of music on each floor. The main dance floor was on the ground level and the air was open above us. The other upper level dance floors were in the form of balconies overlooking the ground level. It must be one of the fanciest clubs in the country. To give you some perspective, you are not allowed into this club in street clothes; button up shirts and dress shoes are required. There is, however, a flip side to this coin. There are some less than friendly areas of the city that I have found myself in. For the sake of space, I won’t go into those details. If you would like to hear about those stories, come find me on campus next fall!

Before I end this piece I absolutely have to describe to you one of my top 10 favorite experiences in the city. An old family friend travels to D.C. every few months for his business. He heard I was living in town and took me out to dinner. The restaurant that he chose was called, “Fogo de Chao,” a Brazilian steakhouse. The procedure was as follows. You sit down, order some drinks, and are given coasters with a red side and a green side. When you are ready for food, you flip it to the green side. There are waiters walking around the restaurant with huge kebabs of meat. This includes everything from sirloin, to polish sausages, to bacon wrapped steak. It was incredibly tasty, and all you can eat! After dinner, he taught me how to properly enjoy port wines. For those of you who don’t know, this is a sweet wine typically sipped after dinner as a desert.

This restaurant experience is exactly what I am trying to describe. You could find a new and interesting thing to do every week for years living in the Capital. I encourage any of you who have never been to D.C. to take a trip out and experience the amazing culture and history of the city.

Photos courtesy of Ian Korpel