Swarms of students hit Capitol Hill each summer to proudly take their position on the low end of the political hierarchy as interns. This year, one office got more than the usual share.
Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) has a group of 10 interns bustling around his office, representing cultures from around the globe that include India, Ireland, Mexico and Lebanon.
The group closely resembles the people he represents in his district, which is one of the most diverse in Congress. The district is 40 percent Latino, 28 percent white, 17 percent black and 13 percent Asian, according to the Almanac of American Politics. Some of the interns are the first generation of their family born in the United States.
Each came to Washington with different interests, but all have been influenced by the city’s political climate.
Jennifer Rosenstock, 20, from Rockland, N.Y., interned at a Bronx criminal court last summer and came to the Hill to experience a different facet of the law. Although she still plans to pursue a career as an attorney, she said, “All I talk about now is politics.
“I was told I have the ‘Washington itch’ that doesn’t go away,” Rosenstock said.
Washington’s culture is clearly defined, and Marcela Alvarez, 25, from Mexico, said she “loves” it. “When we are at the Metro, or wherever, people are talking politics,” she said. “That doesn’t happen a lot in other places. It’s here. It’s the whole ambience.”
Alvarez said she is interested in foreign affairs and chose to intern with Crowley because he serves on the International Relations Committee.
Being a small fry in the company of power players can either be intimidating or make a newcomer hunger for more. Jonathan Misk, 19, of Lebanese descent, is no stranger to Capitol Hill. He served as a House page when he was a high school student, delivering documents to various Members of Congress.
He said he can definitely imagine sitting in a Congressional office one day, either as a Congressman or staffer. “I’m into politics … it’s not just something that I’m doing for the summer.”
Misk and Jason Ojeda, 24, are from Crowley’s district. Ojeda recently graduated from Queens College, Crowley’s alma mater, and came to Washington to expand his own political awareness.
Ojeda, whose parents are Argentine, grew up in a neighborhood he described as politically apathetic. Many people from his community are disillusioned with the political system from their homeland and don’t bother to get engaged in politics in the United States, Ojeda said. This can be to their disadvantage, since knowledge about the programs and opportunities available to immigrants can make their transition to the United States much smoother, according to Ojeda.
The group agreed that the some of the most interesting people they met during the internship have been each other. They have broadened their cultural perspectives and understanding by learning from one another.
Dvora Wilensky, 20, from Chicago, said that hearing stories from her fellow interns about their homeland or travels abroad spiked her interest in visiting different countries.
Although this is a large group, there is plenty of work to go around. The usual phone, faxing and filing duties that accompany almost every internship keeps them busy. They also attend five to 10 committee hearings and briefings weekly and report back to Crowley’s legislative aides.
Aside from watching Members, lobbyists and concerned citizens in action at the hearings, the interns also experience the occasional brush with celebrity. Conor Gadd, 21, an aspiring journalist from Ireland, said he enjoyed coming across television personality Montel Williams who was on Capitol Hill to testify in favor of medical marijuana. Other sightings include actress Diane Keaton and “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh.
When the internship started, there were some debates over dividing the hearing assignments, said 18-year-old Roshan Patel, who is of Indian descent. But the group learned to work through it, along with the space limitations.
“In the beginning, it was a little frustrating,” Patel said. “At first, we couldn’t even walk in the office. Now, that’s not a problem ever.” He described the office sentiment as “the more the merrier,” and said it’s reflective of the all-inclusive theme of Crowley’s district.
Crowley has also adjusted well to the full house, even offering his personal office space to help keep the work flow steady. It is not unusual to find an intern sitting in Crowley’s office and using his computer when he is away. “They help keep me grounded and remind me what it’s really all about,” he said.