By Himani Reddy, MPIA 2014

I raised my hands in the air like I just didn’t care as I walked through the body scan system through the security check at the airport. I sat down and sipped on a salted caramel mocha and craned my neck a little to watch CNN while waiting for my flight to Arlington, Virginia. Panic struck. I will be providing free labor to the U.S. Department of State in an expensive city that I am unfamiliar with and with people who might not necessarily think my candor is hilarious. I was told to watch out (by more than a couple of people) for gunshots in the Southeast and Northeast side of Washington, D.C. I found my roommates through Craiglist and it does not help that my sister repeatedly jokes, “oh watch out for the Craigslist killers!”

After some time of panicking at the airport, I saw that everyone had glazed-over eyes as they stared at CNN. There were images of Secretary of State John Kerry with the breaking news regarding Syria’s agreement on dismantling their chemical weapons. Just a week ago, the U.S. had been about to pursue a military strike to eliminate the current repressive regime as well as its chemical stockpiles. Now, however, Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad was a key player in the ongoing negotiations in the United Nations Security Council. My excitement to soon be working for the Secretary who is negotiating the chemical weapons agreement overrode my anxiety of the unknown.

I was ready.

I finally arrived at Reagan Airport. My new roommate picked me up and gave me an old-friend vibe rather than an axe-murderer vibe and the town I am going to live in, Alexandria, Virginia, is adorable! My roommate has cats and I found one sleeping in my bed and another one clawed at my leg so I shook it off…it has been a while since I’ve interacted with live animals so this will take some getting used to.

Things I have learned during my first weekend here

1.) Everything in Old Town Alexandria is adorable. I would like to metaphorically pinch the cheeks of all the buildings and the cute little trolley that takes you through King Street (the main drag).

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2.) Window shopping here is great here. The best type of shopping for an unpaid intern.

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3.) One of my roommates gives ghost tours around Alexandria so I went on one. I accidentally went to her competitor but learned a little about the history of the town as well as the ghosts that are said to haunt it.

Ghost Fountains

4.) George Washington and General Robert E. Lee attended the same church. Outside of the church there is a small graveyard. Apparently the headstones are blackened because after conquering the city, the Union soldiers used them to block the wind when making a fire.

5.) Yes, General Robert E. Lee. I somehow keep forgetting that Virginia was part of the confederate. I prepared myself to head to the north and meet some Yankees while the ghost tour guide imitated a southern drawl when telling the stories. Below is a picture of Alexandria during the civil war.


6.) In the 19th Century, women used fans to express their interest or disinterest in men. For example, if a woman starts fanning her fan, it means she’s interested. If she hits her fan on her wrist, it indicates that the conversation is over. I wonder if young men had flash cards to memorize this with…I could imagine it getting very confusing. Check out the Fan Language!

7.) I repeatedly saw this license plate on many cars. I was told that it was because residents of the District of Columbia are subject to federal taxes like all other states, however, they cannot elect representatives in both houses of Congress. For those unfamiliar with this slogan “No Taxation Without Representation”: it is was used by Americans during the American Revolution when they believed the colonies were unjustly taxed by the British government without proper representation in parliament.


Tomorrow will be my first official day as an intern for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the Office of International Religious Freedom. Wish me luck!

Thanks for reading.