Postcard: Wilson Center

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Greetings from the Director’s Office, here in the Wilson Center! Located in the same building as USAID and snuggled next to the Dept of Commerce, IRS, EPA, and the White House, the WC is a bipartisan research and policy center that is also the official living memorial for our 28th president. The Wilson Center provides a strictly nonpartisan space for the worlds of policy-making and scholarship to interact.  By hosting experts and scholars from around the world, releasing critical reports, and hosting events, the Center convenes policy-makers into a dialogue about the challenges facing the US and the world today. My impression so far is of a collegial environment, where colleagues interact in a very egalitarian and genial way. The institutes and programs are run hyper-efficiently, with little bureaucracy in sight.

Our boss, Jane Harman, has been serving in her current role since 2011, and is the Center’s first female Director, President and CEO. As a former Congresswoman, she served on all major security committees, and is recognized as a national expert on the nexus of security and public policy. She has received the Defense Department Medal for Distinguished Service, the CIA Seal Medal, the CIA Director’s Award, and the National Intelligence Distinguished Public Service Medal. Nowadays, in addition to running the Center, she serves on the policy boards for the Dept of State, Defense, Homeland Security, Director of National Intelligence and the CIA. As queen of networking, she maintains close contacts with people as diverse as Secretary Hagel to Wolf Blitzer to ambassadors to supreme court justices. She appears often on CNN and Fox News, and travels regularly to attend events both domestically and internationally. The energy and passion she demonstrates in her work is incredible.

As her interns, our main role is to stay on top of news and current research. For example, we recently received the Presidents of Somalia and Burkina Faso. When these events were upcoming, we kept busy monitoring and synthesizing information from the relevant regions, and processed it into internal memos for her situational awareness and public talking points. I guess if you boil it down, our role is to make sure she always looks good. It’s been such an engaging experience, as I’ve gained more institutional knowledge into areas such as cybersecurity, the NSA, and the ME/NA region. So much of foreign policy is simply staying on top of the news and commentary surrounding critical issues. In between large tasks, my fellow intern and I keep our eyes out for free food from Wilson Center events, and are always busy with random assignments. I’ve called an Italian hotel long-distance. We took a call from Secretary Kerry’s office. For high-level visits, I went to IKEA to pick up a new tea cart, which I’ve never been in the market for. When picking up a delegation of Egyptian politicians from their hotel, I memorized how to say “Good morning” in Arabic, and loved that the men could walk arm in arm.

Every morning, I walk past President Wilson’s bronze cast in our lobby, and always appreciate the impact he had on US foreign policy. I’ll leave you with some of his words, for all you practioners of international affairs and rights and security:

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.

Now if only Congress could get their act together, we can finally move forward in that errand together.

Be well,
Xian Zhang

This post reflects the author’s opinion only, not the official views of the Wilson Center. All photos are credited to the Wilson Center. 

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