Monday, July 27, 2009

A place to call home

I mostly wanted to focus my writing on experiencing the life and culture of this city, but before I can do any meaningful exploring and experiencing, necessities must be met. First on the list, an apartment. I have been here for nearly two weeks (gasp!) and have finally found a place to call home via the great match-maker, a.k.a. Craigslist. After looking at no less than a dozen various living arrangements, ranging from small dingy studios to 4 bedrooms with late-night party girls, I found a room a 2 bedroom near the National Zoo. The neighborhood, known as Woodley Park, is on the yuppier side of things, near Embassy Row and offering the spectrum of cuisines that you would expect to cater to visiting dignitaries as well as young professionals. Sushi, wood-fired pizza, and organic brunch fare stand between me and my walk to the metro stop, which is only 2 stops from downtown. Should I choose to ride my bike to work, I have the option of taking the trail through Rock Creek Park and in less than 3 peaceful miles, I am there.

Here is the map of my new neighborhood, I am at the corner of 29th and Calvert.

View Larger Map

It is all coming together, just one week until I start work and I promised myself that this week I will take on the many Smithsonian Museums with a purpose, so hopefully I will be able to conquer a few of DC's cultural highlights with the little bit of free time that I have left.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Where free-dom rings

I didn't realize it until I moved out here, but nearly everything that you could ever want to do in this nation's capital is free. As in doesn't cost you a single cent. Want to explore one of the many Smithsonian museums, such Air and Space or National History? Free. Want to see the big cuddly pandas and the National Zoo? Gratis. Have a burning desire to see a photography exhibit at the National Geographic Society museum? Absolutely nothing. The Department of the Interior even has a small Native American exhibit and some impressive Depression Era murals that are open to the public. It's amazing, really. I even went to a happy hour last night where from 5pm - 6pm you can have as many free drinks and appetizers that you can manage to obtain from the one overworked bartender. An open bar happy hour? Where am I?

All this free-ness is perfect, since I am still waiting to start work and probably wont see a pay check until the end of August, but the good news is that I passed my security clearance and am good to start on the 3rd. I still need to find a place to live, but there are a couple of promising situations out there, and I can only keep my fingers crossed that something will work out.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The halls of government

This past Thursday I visited the Office of Policy Analysis at the Department of the Interior (DOI), where I will be starting my work as a Program Analyst in just a matter of a week or so. Basically, my job will involve working on a team (or sometimes individually)  researching existing policies, or proposing new policy ideas that will impact programs and initiatives across the entire DOI, including National Parks, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife, and Indian Affairs. I will get to work on a variety of projects and get to learn about new issues, so it should be exciting.

Entering the Main Interior Building (MIB in Gov speak) for the first time was overwhelming. Completed in 1936, it was the first federal building commissioned by the FDR administration (as I just learned from the DOI website as I was looking for pictures), and the amount of stone and marble is amazing. As with all Federal buildings, I had to check in with security and get a temporary badge, which will soon be replaced by a real ID badge. My office is on the fourth floor near the end of a long marble hallway. Walking from the elevator, the loud click-clack of my heeled shoes made me wish that I had worn flats, but since the place is currently being renovated, there were not many people around to notice that I was nervously checking the building map as I searched for the right office. I found the correct wing and was instantly greeted by the Admin, my new Director, and the other analysts. While I know that they hired me for a reason, I couldn't help but feel nervous, young, and entirely out of my league. Everyone assured me that it was normal to feel unprepared at first, and that I would recover from the steep learning curve just fine. It was nice to hear that, and as I left from that first meeting, I was honestly looking forward to my first day of work.

Recreational opportunities wise, there is not a city that can beat DC for free social events. On Friday, I attended my first Jazz in the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Art, and listened to jazz music around the fountain, meeting new friends, drinking wine, and absorbing this new life. I have already started a list to keep on top of everything there is to do, from the National Zoo to the Smithsonian to free concerts and outdoor movies. On Saturday I somehow managed to get invited along to a day hike trip to the Shenandoah National Park, which is really beautiful and while it is no Mt. Rainier, the waterfalls, deciduous trees, and waterfalls were pretty amazing. This week is as yet mostly unplanned, and my main goal is the ongoing hunt for an apartment. As soon as I have a place to live and a neighborhood to call my own, I will surely want to tell all about it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A year underground

It has been almost a year since I signed off on my wildly popular "requisitive blog of a PCV" and entered into the anonymous life of a graduate student/environmental policy guru, and advocate for the wild hopes of future Peace Corps volunteers. Well, anonymous might be stretch since I did a brief moment in the spotlight thanks to the Seattle Times front page, but overall it has been a low key year. I returned to life in Seattle, found a wonderful, buttery aroma filled apartment above a French bakery with my roommate from my previous time in Seattle, who had herself just completed 2 years of Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa. Policy research, writing, and statistics quickly overtook most of my life, while recruiting new Peace Corps volunteers absorbed another good chunk. What was left over went to happy hours with friends and trying to plan for the future.
Oh, that ever present future that arrived so quickly. A year ago I could not have even come close to imagining the series of events that brought me to today, not to mention the still unknows that will make up the next few weeks. It all begin with a chance to take a silly little test. The Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF), an unlikely shot to get fast tracked into the US Government. Once my graduate school had nominated students from our program to compete for the PMF, the next step was to take a day-long standardized test consisting of writing, analytical thinking, and of all things, a personality inventory. So bright and early on the morning of Inauguration Day, I arrived at the US Federal Building in downtown Seattle, dressed in a suit and ready with my bottle of water, Luna bar, and as many pre-sharpened #2 pencils as I could find. My competition for the program appeared equally prepared, but as we were shuffled from our large conference room to a side-room off the cafeteria due to a Federal Employee Inauguration viewing party, my confidence started to wane. These people looked as if they meant business, flying to Seattle from Colorado, Nevada and who knows where else to take this test. I was just there to see what could happen.

Months went by, and as the day when I thought the results might come in approached, I began stalking the website hourly, hoping to find clues as to when I might get an email. Finally, I saw a new update, results would posted within 24 hours. The email arrived. No thick or thin envelopes, just one little email that would tell me my future. I clicked, barely able to absorb what I quickly saw printed there on my screen. Congratulations. It still gives me goose bumps and brings tears of gratitude to my eyes as I sit here in a coffee shop, just blocks from the White House, the World Bank, and my new office, the Dept. of Interior.

But I am getting ahead of myself. After becoming a PMF finalists, there is still the not insignificant matter of obtaining a position. Next step was a chaotic trip out to DC to attend the notorious PMF career fair, where hundreds of well groomed, highly educated, policy school grads battle it out for hundreds of positions at nearly every federal agency. Nine interviews in two days and I was exhausted, but was pleased to have received an offer of employement at the Dept of Energy.  However, turns out not everything is as it seems.

Without going into details that I can barely understand, the Energy position fell through because of Veterans Preference, the point system in the federal government, and the veteran status of the 2nd runner up for the job. I was disheartened, but not for long. As often happens in my life, the unlikely path turns out to be the right one. I was contacted by the Office of Policy Analysis at the Dept of Interior, had two interviews, and was offered a position. So here I am, getting ready to meet my new boss.

Stay tuned as I look for a place to live, explore what DC has to offer, and get my bearings in this strange, crazy life.