by Katie Durvin
We were tired, wet, and cranky. Our twelve hour bus ride earlier that day from Ottawa to Washington, DC was finally taking its toll on us all, but we were determined to see some of the great city’s sights before turning in for the night. A large group of us wandered the streets, searching for one special building and feeling lost without the use of our cell phones. We finally stumbled upon a street lined with police cars and police officers and looked up to see a small white house, modestly lit up, behind a tall black fence. “Is this the Whitehouse?” someone questioned out loud. Most of us brushed the question off thinking the building was far too small and did not look anything like how it does in films or on the news. But we had not walked all this way for nothing, and so one of our group members walked up to a police officer and asked, “Excuse me sir, what building is this?” The officer stared back at him, “That’s the Whitehouse.” We stood there in the pouring rain in total shock until finally someone said, “Well, I guess we better get a picture then.”
From our first night in Washington, DC to the last, the city kept us on our toes and dazzled us with its rich history, stunning architecture, and pulsing political scene. Our first morning, we were welcomed at the Canadian Embassy by two Foreign Service Officers who discussed the daily realities of working in high level embassy positions, the high sacrifice but high pay off lifestyle, and the importance of knowing your personality and values before starting a career in the Foreign Service. Afterwards, we remained in the beautiful Canadian Embassy and listened to a lecturer from the Millennium Project, an organization seeking to uncover creative new ways of solving world problems. For many of us, this was the most controversial presentation of the trip and got our blood pumping- the sign of a good debate! After the presentation, we hopped back on the big bus and stopped at a classic DC sandwich shop for lunch before splitting with the School of Public Policy and Administration who headed off to Georgetown University.
We proceeded on to the Inter-American Development Bank where we heard an informative and engaging presentation by James Hayley, Executive Director for Canada (he was also a former NPSIA Professor!) on the history of the Bank rooted in Cold War geopolitics and how it has transformed over the years adapting to controversies and political change. We then hopped back on the bus and finished our first day of briefings at the Hudson Institute, where we received an in-depth lecture on Canada-US relations and an American’s view of Canada’s political system, party discipline, and predictions for the next federal election.
After a long but rewarding first day, many of us hit the town in search for a delicious dinner and some much needed ice-cold beverages. A group of us stumbled upon a packed traditional southern barbeque restaurant and managed to squeeze in off of the waitlist. Washington, DC is technically in “the south” and so we were looking forward to trying a taste of one of this region’s signature dishes-and we were not disappointed! We got to select our type of meat, how many pounds and a vast array of mouth-watering southern side dishes. After our meal, we could barely move but still managed to slurp down some thick milkshakes at a little shop around the corner. As we headed home for the night, we were thankful for DC’s subway system and looked forward to another full day of briefings.
On Day 2 in Washington, DC, we awoke to the sight of bright sunny skies and warm air on our skin. It wasn’t raining anymore! Our first stop of the day was at the Environmental Protection Agency, where we learned about the US government’s attempts to manage climate change and other environmental issues and received a quick glimpse into the politics behind this process. Next, we headed over to the World Bank where we received back-to-back presentations from Canadians working for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Both presenters acknowledged the controversies and mistakes the two organizations made in the past, specifically destruction caused by the building of dams, and highlighted their attempts to include social and environmental welfare into new policies and programming. Afterwards, we dined in the gigantic World Bank cafeteria featuring foods from all over the world, before hopping back on the bus and heading to the State Department. We received a thorough security search before being led to a large boardroom where we listened to a presentation from three employees specializing in American relations with Canada and we were able to ask questions surrounding the impact of Quebec elections results on the US, immigration and customs agreements, cyber-security and the Artic.
Our final briefing was at the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars where we listened to a frank presentation on power relations between Canada and US and learned that most Americans do not even know the name of our Prime Minister. In order to pick our spirits back up, a large group of us decided on pitchers of margaritas at a fantastic Latin American restaurant and enjoyed juicy tacos, steaks and fajitas. Later that night we visited the monuments around the city such the Washington Monument, World War II Memorial and finally the Lincoln Memorial. I will never forget sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial overlooking the reflecting pool, with a powerful silence filling the air, picturing the thousands of Martin Luther King supporters and later Vietnam War protestors who gathered below demanding a more just and equal world.
On our third day in the big city we were free to explore DC’s overwhelming variety of attractions, such as the Smithsonian museums, Capitol Hill, monuments and more. Some students met up with friends, received private tours from colleagues, and enjoyed Washington DC’s legendary Happy Hour with Capitol Hill political staffers. The following morning as we trudged onto the bus to head back home to Ottawa, we were completely and thoroughly exhausted from the trip, but satisfied with all we were able to accomplish in just a few short days.
The organizer and leader of the trip, MA Administrator Tabbatha Malouin (one of NPSIA’s finest), did an exceptional job “herding cats” and bringing us back to Ottawa in one piece. We all were so grateful for her dedication to this trip and for her unbelievable organizational skills allowing us to cram in as many briefings as possible during our time in DC. Thank you Tabbatha!
Washington, DC exceeded my expectations in every possible way. Now, I just need to start saving up so I can go back again next year! Maybe next time I’ll actually get to see Frank Underwood…