My decision to spend a semester abroad was easy. As an American Studies student it seemed only a natural step that I should go to the United States, and be a part of the culture that I have been concerned with and interested in for so long. To carry the decision out, however, proved less easy.
Preparation for my semester abroad began last spring, as I applied for American University’s Washington Semester Program. Several factors made American University an attractive university for me. First off, it is located in Washington, DC, which is on the top of my list of cities I want to study in. As a self-proclaimed politics nerd, I figured, what better place to go to than the political center of the world? Secondly, American University offers a program called Washington Semester Program. A program that combines traditional studies with guest speakers, field trips and an internship two days a week. Being an intern in DC is an excellent opportunity not only to put theory into practice, but also acquiring important work-experience for my resume. It is not exactly a secret that jobs within the field of American Studies do not come easy in Odense.
Since American University does not have a partnership with University of Southern Denmark, I needed to go through the entire application process by myself. That was fairly easy; therefore, the biggest issue of applying to a non-partner university was the funding. A semester in the United States can easily cost around 100.000 kroner, so the 22.500 kroner granted from SU-Styrelsen, will not get you far. There are, however, many scholarships to apply for but there are also many applicants. When contemplating a semester abroad, one must take into consideration the price, and decide if it is worth that kind of money. I have been asked quite a few times why I was willing to use my savings to pay for education that I could either get for free in Denmark, or with minimum self-payment through a partner university. Once I had learned of the possibilities at American University, though, I could not pass up opportunity of being able to study in the capital of the United States.
So here I am. In Washington, DC. I take classes Monday-Wednesday on American Politics and American Government. A typical day usually starts around 9:00 am with class discussion. After that, the first speaker of the day is scheduled downtown. So far, examples of guest speakers have been political consultants, pollsters, congressmen, speechwriters, journalists, and former presidential staff members. DC is definitely living up to its reputation as a city of networking, even as a student I have found it very beneficial to always have a business card on me. After the guest speaker another guest speaker or a lecture at, for instance the CATO Institute or the Library of Congress, will typically wrap up the day.
The amount of reading is substantially greater here than what I have been used to and unexpected pop quizzes keep students motivated and keep students on their toes. In addition to this, attendance is mandatory and part of your final grade. Furthermore several papers are assigned throughout the semester and they need to be passed in order to pass the whole course. I like the fact that your grades are not solely based on your performance during exams, but are instead more likely to resemble your actual knowledge and level of commitment — something that one proves throughout the semester. That being said, the midterm and the final exam are very much based on ones capability to remember specific facts, such as dates or names, and the ability to analyze, like the American Studies exams at SDU require, is not tested. There are obviously pros and cons to both ways. For instance, I am trying to understand the fact that I have to do my midterm and final exam by hand without notes or a dictionary, as just another unique part of my Washingtonian experience!
On Thursdays and Fridays I work as an intern at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and this is how entering White House grounds and meeting Obama comes into the picture. The DNC has several departments. An opening at the marketing department just happened to present itself to me only a few days before the President gave his State of the Union Address. There are certain perks to interning with an organization whose party is in the White House; one of such perks took place on a cold Tuesday in February. All interns from the DNC were invited to the White House arrival ceremony for the French President, which was scheduled to take place on the White House South Lawn. With DC experiencing an unusually cold winter, standing outside the White House from 7:00am was not exactly pleasant, but it was definitely worth it. Standing 10 feet away from President Obama while he gave his remarks was an amazing experience. I’ll never regret making the decision to study abroad.