From Island to Mainland: My time in Washington, D.C.

Since 1998, the College of Arts and Sciences has sent students to Washington D.C. to fulfill internships in various Smithsonian programs while receiving full-time college credit. Typically, three students are selected every year; the internships cover roundtrip airfare, room and board, and offer a monthly stipend.

This year, I was one of two UH Manoa students picked for Smithsonian internship positions. Within a matter of months, I found myself whisked away to the nation’s capitol.

Normally, my financial circumstances would be a huge obstacle if I wanted to travel outside of Hawai’i, but the financial support offered would make traveling to D.C. possible. As soon as I discovered the applications on the Office of Community and Alumni Relations website, I thought to myself, “I should give this a shot.”

The waiting game began as soon as I submitted all of my application materials. I tried to keep it out of my mind, but how I’d love to have the chance to travel to our nation’s capitol, a grand hub of news and media and haven for a Journalism student like myself.

Weeks after the deadline, I checked my e-mail inbox and lo and behold, an e-mail! Communication from the deciding powers said they were interested in interviewing me. I scheduled the interview and went in my best work dress: one that told them I meant serious business.

The waiting period began once more, but this time I could barely withhold my excitement. The possibility of an internship at the well-distinguished Smithsonian institution at the nation’s capitol seemed so real and so close.

After what seemed like an eternity later, but really was only about three days, I got a “Congratulations!” e-mail in my inbox. I had been one of three chosen for the internships. My jaw dropped as I thought to myself, “I’VE GOT TO SKYPE MY MOM!” who was on the Big Island; I was still living at the UH Manoa dorms at the time. Let me tell you: screaming and jumping ensued as soon as I called her via the internet phone and video program that is Skype.

Fast forward a few months later. After a long series of plane flights from Hawai’i to D.C., Jasmine Fernandez, the other chosen intern (the third chosen did not come for whatever reason), and myself, were picked up by President of the UH Alumni Association (UHAA) National Capitol Region Chapter President Byron Shorter, Vice President Ernie Takafuji and his wife Carol Takafuji at the airport. They were easy to spot, sporting various UH Warrior apparel and welcoming smiles.

My internship is actually supported by the UHAA National Capitol Region Chapter, one out of many chapters that unite UH Alumni around the globe. Periodic fundraisers are held by the chapter to replenish the scholarship fund for the students that come out to D.C. every fall. I had the opportunity to volunteer at a golf tournament and cookout in Virginia in September, an example of a fundraising activity for future students.

The Sarah and Francis Sogi Fellowship sponsors Jasmine, a sponsorship that requires that the student has at least one Ethnic Studies class under his or her belt. And, had the final student came, their internship would’ve been supported by the Hiram L. Fong Endowment in Arts and Sciences.

The trio drove us to our dorm rooms at Washington Trinity University campus, where we got the keys to rooms we’d call home for the next four months and dropped off our luggage.

The D.C. region chapter of the UHAA made us feel right at home and have welcomed us from the very beginning. They made sure we were stocked up on grocery necessities by driving us to CVS (known as Longs Drugs in Hawai‘i) the very first day we arrived. They supplied us with Cup O Noodles, a quick and delicious dinner staple of college students across the nation, and because both Jasmine and I are Hawai’i girls, we also got rice cookers and a supply of rice, spam and nori.

Even though Jasmine and I are thousands of miles away from the islands we call home, UHAA has made sure that we don’t get too lonely out here. We’ve eaten dinner at Karen Uemoto’s house (mmm, Middle Eastern couscous with dried cranberries and pine nuts. I’ve got to get that recipe!) Other days, we’ve been invited to lunch outings with Alumni members (if you ever find yourself at a Busboys and Poets, please get the steak salad. It won’t disappoint.) A newer member of the UHAA took us shopping at an outlet mall before she had to leave to fulfill education-related business in Switzerland and Peru. When my sister visited me all the way from the Big Island during the end of October, Byron drove us to Busch Gardens, an amusement park in Virginia, where we rode roller coasters until it was too dark and freezing cold outside to ride any more.

Prior to this, I had never visited the East Coast and don’t have any relatives on the East Coast, either. I missed my family sometimes, sure, but I never felt completely homesick. The UHAA felt like a support system, a family on the East Coast, that I could feel free to call if I ever needed anything.

As the date draws closer to my return flight home, I often reflect upon what a unique experience this trip has been. I’ve met so many wonderful people. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Like this article? It’s part 1 of a 3 part series. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3.

The Office of Community and Alumni Relations at Hawai’i Hall 311 is currently accepting applications for 2012 internships. The deadline for applications is March 9, 2012. For more information and application packet materials, visit www.artsci.hawaii.edu/alumni/students/scholarships_internships.htm.

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