Having spent the spring semester of my junior year living and interning in Washington D.C, I unknowingly caught the “Potomac fever.” This virus can be loosely defined as the vehement desire to work within the DC-Metro area either as part of the federal government or, in my case as a Kenyan student, in close proximity to it. Thus, when the opportunity to apply and attend the PLEN seminar Women in Global Policy arose, I was beside myself with excitement. Returning to the city in lieu of my Potomac fever could be the only real remedy.
For the duration of the week, I along with about forty other girls from all over the US and the world, sat through informative panels from women working within NGOs to the Federal government. The tone of the advice we received from these panels ranged from sound concrete advice from those that had spent years working their way up the ranks in the State Department to personal anecdotes of how to balance one’s personal relationships with an intensive work-life. The women who worked as civil servants for the federal government, explained how their occupation and the decisions they make help influence the United States’ government’s foreign policy abroad. Whereas those that worked for different international NGO’s discussed the importance of study abroad experiences and learning a second language in bringing a fresh set of experiences to their organizations. Although, it would be impossible to give a succinct summary of the varied pieces of advice I receive, there were common pieces of thread that wove together recurring themes within the Global Policy seminar.
One of the pieces of thread was the importance of studying abroad and gaining field work experiences, as a part of influencing the global policies developed in Washington D.C. Women who had spent time within their areas of “expertise” either hailed from these regions, or had spent a substantial amount of time living and learning in these foreign countries. Another recurring piece of information would have to be the importance of networking, and meeting people within the city. Ever since I was younger, my parents drilled into my conscience the necessity of networking and growing the group of people you are familiar and acquainted with. Never have I ever felt the assurance of these words, other than my time in Washington D.C. Although both a Bachelors and Masters degree are important in advancing one’s career, what undercuts this above all is the importance of who you know. PLEN’s very own networking reception was a testament to nurturing the valuable importance of networks.
Without PLEN’s generosity, I would be unable to meet peers and role models with the same inclination towards influencing global policy in Washington D.C. The seminar gave me the tools in which I could make my future dreams a reality, whether it be here in the United States or back home in Kenya. Thus in conclusion, my decision to return to the root causes of my Potomac fever has now resulted in an even stronger blow of this virus. Only time will tell whether or not I will be able to free from its symptoms.
Xaviera Gitau attended the 2016 Women in Global Policy seminar as a junior at St. Lawrence University.