Hill Climbers: Foreign Affairs Interest Brings Staffer to Hill

Posted September 28, 2010 at 4:36pm

Washington’s opportunities to explore foreign policy are as diverse as the houses sprinkled along Embassy Row. No one knows this better than Sadaf Khan.

“I’m first generation; my parents came here from Pakistan,” she said. “The thing that got me interested in public service was that my grandmother was a graduate-degree-educated woman in a country where they still don’t let women go to school in some areas. She pretty much devoted her life to social work, and I wanted to do something along those lines.” [IMGCAP(1)]

Deciding that she could accomplish her goals in D.C., the New Jersey native started working for Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) this August as an executive assistant and scheduler. Although she hasn’t pursued a career in social work like her grandmother, she still hasn’t abandoned her familial roots; Khan’s family visits Pakistan once a year.

“We usually go in the summer, but it’s 115 degrees when we go. I’ve been in the winter, and it’s definitely way more fun,” the 23-year-old said. “I go out with my cousins to eat and do the same things that we do over here, just with a lot more food and a lot more family.”

In 2009, Khan received a bachelor’s degree in political science and communication studies from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her senior capstone projects focused on the exploitation of children and human rights abuses, which mirrors her grandmother’s work with women, children, family planning and education in Pakistan.

Khan wasn’t sure how she wanted to tackle her broad interest in foreign affairs, but she knew she wanted to be involved on the legislative side. She took an internship with Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.) in the summer of 2008 and was hired full time a year later.

During her stint with Sires’ office, Khan used her free time to become involved with outside organizations, such as the Women’s Congressional Staff Association and the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association.

“It’s great to meet other Muslim people on the Hill and in D.C., because they have a similar culture and mindset to yours,” Khan said. “Our parents tried really hard to cultivate that upbringing for us, so this is a great way to carry it on.”

This August, after moving to Baca’s office, Khan became responsible for directly handling the Congressman’s schedule, which includes booking flights and making travel arrangements. The new staffer is also in charge of coordinating the interns, which has been an easy task because of her experience as an intern in Sires’ office.

“My old office was good about giving me assignments that I was interested in, so I try to do the same for our interns by prioritizing their tasks and keeping their focuses in mind,” she said.

Other elements that have helped her adapt to her new job include seeking advice from her roommate, fellow Congressional staffer Kate Thompson. But while Thompson may work in a Hill office, she comes from the opposite end of the spectrum, working for Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert (Texas).

“I think people are more surprised than we are that we don’t have an issue living with each other,” Khan said. “When we come home, we don’t want to talk about the government, we just want to de-stress. We are more worried about what’s for dinner.”

The bipartisan pair have a daily post-work routine: exercise at the gym, cook dinner and watch a lineup of reality TV. Rarely does politics come up in conversation, unless it revolves around one of their favorite shows, “The West Wing.”

Eventually, Khan wants to pursue a master’s degree in international relations because, she said, she’s “definitely not done with school just yet.” Until then, she plans to use Baca’s office to jump-start her political career, and she admits she couldn’t have found a better place to do it.

“Congressman Baca comes from a very large family, and he is also a self-made man. I feel like his message is very similar to mine, in that he always remembers where he came from,” she said. “His biggest thing is to fight for those who don’t have a voice. The things he stands for, I can understand why he’s passionate about, because they are parallel to my own drive.”

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