Sometimes you can read an article or listen to a radio story to learn about an issue. But nothing compares to actually engaging in the issues and events that shape today’s global world. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) Office in Washington, D.C. exists for precisely that purpose. Part of a globally recognized and respected think tank network, KAS’s Washington Branch regularly organizes events that connect transatlantic policy experts and decision makers in order to foster dialogue and support well-informed decision-making, particularly on issues related to German-American Relations.
Washington buzzes with policy issues most of the time, but particularly now. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, energy security Ukraine crisis, and emerging global powers, such as China, present daily opportunities to engage with ideas, listen and interact with experts, and apply liberal arts skills, especially analytical thinking, research, and writing. As a intern, or “Praktikanten”, my tasks range from creating Current Issue Updates for the project managers to contacting hotels and restaurants for event planning. Perhaps the most stimulating aspect of my co-op occurs when I encounter a concept I studied in my Antioch classroom in the policy world. Free trade agreements covered in a week or two in class from an immigration standpoint become increasingly complex when issues like the harmonization of labor standards, ensuring energy security, and maintaining internet privacy are thrown into the mix, along with some jostling for international prestige and power for some good, old-fashioned geopolitical fun. I have experienced a sharp learning curve in the early weeks of my co-op, but everything I have accomplished seems to reiterate, as clichéd as it surely must sound, all of the benefits of a liberal arts, Antioch education that President Roosevelt and our administration keep on about.
As a (for now) PECO major, living “the think tank life” in Washington, D.C. is pretty much a golden opportunity to watch classroom discussions and concepts come alive. And the biggest lesson I have learned so far is that the issues we talk about in the classroom are more complicated a couple blocks from Congress. Issues about trade, the environment, and foreign policy have consequences that I would never consider in a classroom. Plus, working for a German organization has perks beyond language practice – a 30 minute lunch can easily morph into a labor-friendly, hour and a half affair, but we discuss current events and ongoing projects so I suppose it really is just a work meeting. With espresso. And cake.