Hill Climbers: An American Abroad

Posted May 19, 2009 at 4:13pm

Republicans have been getting the cold shoulder in Washington for a few months now, but Caitlin Poling has been feeling the isolation for longer than that. As a study-abroad student in Avignon, France, she often found herself on the opposite end of the political spectrum from the people she met there and even from her host family.

[IMGCAP(1)]“When people recognized me as an American, they would either cheer for me and be like, Yeah, Obama!’ or stop me and ask who I was voting for,— she recalled. “When they found out I wasn’t on the same side with their views, it was like, Oh, we don’t even want to go there.’—

Being a conservative in a house of socialists made for some unique conversations, as well.

“I had to bite my tongue a lot,— she said of her time in France. But the political discussions she did have were not necessarily negative.

“By the end of the trip, my host mom was like, You changed my mind about American conservatives,’— Poling said. And while her own views did not change, she did appreciate being able to see issues from new perspectives.

“It definitely gave me a better understanding of the world and even the role of America in the world,— she said.

That diplomatic attitude is serving Poling well in her new job, as staff assistant to Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio). The most difficult part of her job, she said, is fielding phone calls from angry constituents who are either mistaken in their information about the Congressman or the legislative process.

“It’s sad to see so many people not knowing how the government works,— she said.

[IMGCAP(2)]But that’s only one element of her job, and she seems to genuinely enjoy the rest, which includes writing occasional opinion pieces and giving tours of the Capitol. The self-described “huge history nerd— said imparting quirky historical knowledge to constituents is one of her favorite tasks.

Poling hadn’t set out to work on the Hill when she moved to Washington, D.C., in January. While a student at Ashland University in Ohio, Poling interned with the Heritage Foundation. She quickly became hooked on the District and decided to return after finishing her semester in France, rather than go back to her home state, Michigan.

“I kind of fell in love with the city,— she said. Poling was attracted to the sense of being at the “center of everything.—

“I just thought it’d be neat to be a part of that, whatever small part that might be,— she said.

Poling returned to Heritage as an intern in January. While there, she worked with the organization’s B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies researching topics such as the D.C. voting rights bill, as well as editing a book on progressivism that she said will likely be published in 2010. Though she didn’t have her heart set on a Congressional staffer position, Poling was interested in finding out what it was about and applied for the job in Latta’s office.

Having gone to Ashland, Poling was familiar with Latta’s district, which made the staff assistant job appealing. More importantly, however, she was impressed by the Congressman’s dedication to the Constitution and his genuine nature. She recalled discussing the job and her new boss with her mother.

“I was like, Mom, I don’t know if this is an oxymoron, but I think he’s actually an honest politician,’— she said.

Though Poling’s travels have surely made her a savvier staffer, it is no doubt comforting to work in an office that is friendlier to her worldview.

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