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In late December 2010 Sam Kealey, final year International Studies/Law student, set off on a two month internship with the Commission on Cooperation and Security in Europe (the Helsinki Commission).
This internship was part of the Uni-Capitol Washington Exchange Programme, an educational and professional internship program designed exclusively for Australian university students.
Here is Sam's description of his time at Capital Hill.
I was assigned to the Helsinki Commission is an independent US Government agency, based in Washington DC, which was created in 1976 to monitor and encourage compliance with the Helsinki Final Act and other Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe commitments. Essentially the Commission is a human rights watchdog that covers much of Europe and Central Asia.
During my time at the Commission I worked with staff to formulate foreign policy and advise members of Congress on a range of issues such as the revolutions in the Middle East, the violent repression of democracy in Belarus and criticism of new media laws in Hungary. I learnt an incredible amount about government and politics, not only in the United States, but in international arena as well.
I really enjoyed learning about topics that varied from the Law of War Detention to Russian Constitutional Courts to Water Markets in Australia and the US. It was great to be able to see first hand how the Commission reacted to events (such as the demonstrations in Egypt), came up with policy, and had it implemented by a Senator or Representative.
I spent a lot of time attending information briefings and participating in the seemingly endless events that Capitol Hill has to offer. I had a great time meeting people at functions designed for networking, they seemed to be running every night Congress was in session. I was able to talk personally with senators, congressmen, the US ambassador to Iraq and even our own ambassador to the US, Kim Beasley.
Sam Kealey, interned with the Helsinki Commision
in Washington DC.
As part of the program, I was also able to go on a behind the scenes tour of the United Nations in New York, in depth tours of Philadelphia and Gettysburg, and have personal meetings with the Australian Embassy, the State Department and the Australian Mission to the UN. I also managed trips to Chicago, Boston, New York for New Years Eve and even a quick stop by Mexico City and Cancun. The entire trip gave me a tremendous insight into American culture and politics, not to mention Australia’s relationship with it all.
I returned to Australia at the end of my stay with a much deeper understanding of the world’s sole remaining superpower and I am immensely grateful to have had this experience. I fell in love with DC along with its fascinating history, beautiful architecture, free museums and friendly people.
It became quite evident during my stay that it is the centre of the political world and I am already missing being right in the middle of it all. Two months in DC was not even close to enough time and I'm determined to get back there, whether by finding another job on the Hill, something within the Australian Embassy or anything else I can get my hands on. It definitely won’t be long before I return.
Find out more about how you can apply for the Uni-Capitol Washington Exchange Programme (UCWIP).