This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.
This entry is by Yuan Zou, COL ’19
In case you don’t know: DC summer internships are not just about building the “House of Cards.”
Summer is the busy time for crops to build their strength ahead of fall, and the past ten weeks in Washington DC was a growing season for me too. During this summer I worked at APIAVote, a national nonprofit that aims to promote voting and other forms of civic engagement in Asian American communities across the country. Without a doubt, the lessons that I learned from the internship are rich and impactful. Also, with the financial assistance from Penn Career service, I was able to embrace the rich cultural diversity exhibited in DC and the surrounding area.
The internship allowed me to observe the passionate and active aspects of life in DC that rarely gets outside appreciation. Initially, it was hard to transition my worldview out from the cynical perceptions that DC was a “House of Cards,” but my interaction with other activists and professionals changed my mindset. Along the way, I saw organizers, who would spend hours in calls to come up with strategies to engage with local communities, and activists who were willing to put their energy and sometimes their safety on the line to send messages to the administration. The commitment and effort of these real heroes behind the scenes helped make the world we live in a better place.
Moreover, different from my previous impressions that people in DC are always looking up in the sky, folks in the DC nonprofit/activism circle are often working on the niche but substantive issues. Several days before the end of my internship I went to a workshop that focused on explaining the consequences of including the citizenship question in the 2020 Census questionnaire forms. On the surface, asking Asian folks to check boxes stating whether they are American citizens seemed trivial and harmless. However, since a majority of Asians in this country are immigrants, and the U.S had a history of using census data against immigrant groups, including the citizenship question will deter Asian respondents from completing the questionnaires. Waking out of the session, I was surprised by the impact of this seemingly minor issue and felt a bit embarrassed for the reason that I did not have these facts in mind before the session. Nonetheless, on the way back to my office, I thought about the work that I do and realized: although my tasks centered around the simple theme of helping people to cast votes, the meaning behind was something bigger, something more impactful. Last (but not least), with the funding from Penn Career Service, I had the opportunity to engage with various cultures and people from different walks of life. Rising housing prices and gentrification have been an ongoing problem in the city for long, and without sufficient funding, summer in DC can easily translate into prolonged commutes. Luckily, the summer funding allows me to stay in downtown DC and have a chance to attend events, workshops, and conference without adding more burden to my schedule. Moreover, having the grant also empowers me to discover different communities and neighborhoods and interact with local folks. Their stories might not be as eye-catching as Smithsonian exhibitions, or congressional hearings are, but they give more textures and weights to my DC experience.