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Hill Climbers: An American Abroad Remains the ‘Texas Girl’

What’s more nerve-racking than starting a new job? For most people, it would be starting a new job in a new city. But not for Legislative Correspondent Jennabeth Taliaferro.

“It’s been easy for me to adjust to change,” Taliaferro said. “Moving to a new place and not knowing that many people is kind of a common thing for me.”

The Abilene, Texas, native started working for Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) on June 21 after her graduation from Southern Methodist University. The 21-year-old staffer, who moved to D.C. a few weeks ago, is no stranger to change; she studied for two semesters in London and Madrid.

“Last year I spent more time abroad than in America,” she said, laughing.

Taliaferro kicked off her adventures abroad with a semester in Madrid during the spring of 2009, when she was enrolled in a homestay program through her university. While in Spain, Taliaferro, a corporate communications and public affairs major, worked on her Spanish minor.

“Being abroad made me learn more about myself and my country than any other experience,” she said.

[IMGCAP(1)]Taliaferro and three other girls lived in a home with a “madre,” who cooked for them and helped them speak Spanish. The girls navigated the city, attended classes and established a social life. Although she quickly became acclimated to her new environment, the vastly different food made the transition more difficult.

“It was a lot more simple in Spain, mostly rice and meat. The food I missed the most was Tex-Mex,” Taliaferro said. “And, of course, my mom’s chicken tetrazzini.”

After reveling in her time abroad, Taliaferro decided to pursue a second semester in London during the fall of 2009, which was a completely different experience than Madrid (and, she added, significantly more expensive). She stayed in a flat with four girls and traveled to Ireland, Austria, Germany and Barcelona.

“I got really close with the people I met,” Taliaferro said. “I mean, you have to be close with the people you’re abroad with because you’re all American and all going through the same adjustments.”

Her ability to swiftly adjust may have stemmed from her press internship with the Republican National Committee in the summer of 2008. During her D.C. internship, she answered reporters’ phone calls, attended weekly luncheons and compiled media clips. The most cherished memories from her experience in Washington, however, are rooted in the thrill of being independent in a completely new city.

“My favorite moments on the Hill were lunches,” Taliaferro said. “It was great just walking around, taking our lunch hour and exploring the area every day.”

Taliaferro knew she eventually wanted to come back to D.C., so she began hunting for Hill jobs as her graduation date approached. She met with the mayor of Abilene, who eventually put her in touch with Neugebauer’s chief of staff. After an interview in Texas, the Congressman’s office offered her the choice between a position as staff assistant or legislative correspondent. “I don’t want to disparage staff assistants in any way, but the LC position was just a better fit for me,” she said.

Her job duties include responding to constituent letters, managing the mail system and being the systems administrator. The Hill is a self-professed perfect fit for Taliaferro because she’s had an interest in politics since her high school days at a Virginia boarding school.

“People started knowing me as the Texas girl, and I took a lot of pride in that,” she said. “I guess it kind of somehow morphed into me liking Texas politics and policy.”

Taliaferro was further attracted to D.C. because she loves being where decisions are made for the American people — and she enjoys being part of the action. The legislative correspondent plans on staying on the Hill for at least a few more years and hopes eventually to transfer over to the press side of politics. But moving to a new city isn’t completely out of the question, despite how difficult it might be to pick up and move across the country.

“I think anyone can do it. It’s not an impossible feat,” Taliaferro said. “You just have to really want to do it.”

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