My Declassified Intern Survival Guide

Posted on Saturday, Nov 10, 2018

Every intern’s experience is unique, but here are a few general tips to help you get along:
  • Your new motto: “Everything is my job; but nothing is my problem.” Look, you’re an intern. That means you’re going to be tasked with many different things-most of which you will receive little to no guidance on. Do your best on your tasks! Ask questions and be proactive! But at the end of the day, don’t stress too much. The show that is public policy will go on.
  • Learn the office dialect-- especially the email colloquialisms. Here are a few examples and their true meanings that make me chuckle:
    • “See below.” (used when referring to an attached forwarded email) = I’m forwarding you this email to answer a question you posed in the hopes that you can just figure it out.
    • “Per my last email” = Do you read?!
    • “It was my understanding…” = YOU SAID…
  • Don’t feel like you’re bothering anyone with questions or by being proactive. Being an intern is like having diplomatic immunity—you’re innocent at all times.
  • Ask for what you want! Like I said, intern = innocent. No request is too outlandish for an intern. Want to tag along to that helicopter manufacturer visit next week and go on a demo flight with your boss? Just ask!
  • Sign up for email notifications on event topics you are interested in. Personally, I was interested in defense/military policy so I signed up for emails to Defense One talks. Ask your supervisors about think tank newsletters they like.
  • Don’t be afraid to spend time on your own. If you’re introverted, like me, then collaborating at work all week and living in a shared apartment with five other people can be draining. Don’t feel guilty if you just want to take a solo day wandering around the city. (Alexandria is a prime wandering location. Old Town has shops and restaurants lining both sides of King Street. As an extra bonus, when you reach the end of the street, there’s a beautiful park with a view of the Potomac.)
  • Don’t feel pressured to see and do everything! The most common line you’ll get when someone finds out you’re an intern in the city is “Take advantage of your time here and go out to see everything.” Your time in D.C. is what you make of it. Going out all the time can be expensive. If you have to stay in and study for the LSAT or GRE instead of going out on Friday night—do not feel bad!
    • Personally, I liked balancing going out with practicality. For example, my favorite place to be on Sundays is the Eastern Market farmers market. After perusing all the pop up vendors, I stop by Trader Joe’s to pick up the week’s groceries. (Pro Tip: The Honey crisp apples sold at the booth on the corner of the Eastern Market building are the best I have ever had.)
    • Also, look up weekend events in your spare time on Eventbrite or Most weekend adventures are initiated in the spur-of-the-moment, but having already researched the weekend’s happenings will give you backup plans. “Taste of [insert local city name here]” are always awesome events! My roommate and I went to Taste of Bethesda one Saturday and it was worth the hour on the Metro!
All in all, stay true to your interests, work smart, and enjoy yourself in DC!

Meredith Mendoza
U.S. Department of Commerce
Washington, D.C. | fall 2018