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College Students Gain Work Experience as Interns in Washington

Each summer, thousands of college students flock to Washington to work as interns. Some contact their congressional representative or senator to volunteer on Capitol Hill. Others do online research to find internships offering grants or stipends. And some students pay organizations to help them find the right internship. Suzanne Presto narrates this report.

College student Crystal Bouziden has three months off between classes at the University of Iowa. But instead of taking it easy, she went to Washington to work as an intern and interact with lobbyists she hopes may one day offer her a job.

"I get goose bumps going into work, just being around this, and stuff. This has definitely shaped my future plans and, really, if I didn’t come here this summer, I am sure I would still have no idea what I really wanted to do,” she said.

Bouziden studies political science and psychology. Although she is not getting paid for her work, she is earning credits toward her degree. She obtained an internship with a lobbying firm through The Washington Center, a non-profit organization that places students in the Washington area.

The application process was not a simple one.

"I began my application process at the beginning of January,” said Bouziden. “I had my references set up and letters (of recommendation), and I worked on my personal statement and turned in the application and was very happy to find out I was accepted."

There is more to the summer program than just an internship. Students attend symposiums, where they can meet people in their field of study. They attend lectures given by diplomats and politicians. They also must take an academic class.

Bouziden is taking a course on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

"I really wanted to take a class I could not take at the University of Iowa. I really wanted a class that would be very different, and would educate me and give me a lot more experience," said Bouziden.

Michael B. Smith is the president of The Washington Center. He says students benefit from the variety of activities. "It is an academic internship. It is a full-time internship that will, in fact, help you get a job after college, help you get into law school [for example]. But come for the education experience. Come to lean about public policy. Do the job. Take the lectures. Take the course. It is that well-rounded structure that I think sets us apart," said Smith.

Smith says the type of students coming to Washington has changed in recent years.

“In the middle of the 1970s, about 80 percent of the interns were interested in politics and interning on Capitol Hill, or the executive branch,” said Smith. “Now, we have developed placements over the last 30 years, we like to say, ‘from A-to-Z’ -- from Arts to Zoology.”

Bernard Nolan attends Dickinson College in the northeastern state of Pennsylvania. He is interning at a brokerage firm.

"I start off every day going online, looking for recent mergers and acquisitions, I.P.O.'s [Initial Public Offerings], looking up funds. So I'm basically researching a lot through the day. It's great for me, because it gives me a lot of leeway, where I can learn on my own and try to put things together,” said Nolan.

He says Washington was the right place for an internship. "I just feel that D.C. offers more. This is where our country comes together. This is our nation's capital. I'm gaining that business knowledge that I need for my career goals in D.C.,” said Nolan.

He wanted an internship where he could use his knowledge of the Chinese language. He has spent a year studying in China.

"I can speak a little. I can speak proficiently. One of the other interns in this office is from China. We have developed a great relationship,” said Nolan. “He is one of my great friends now. We actually speak Chinese all day. It's funny, because, sometimes, he says, 'Bernie, can we speak some English now?'"

Smith, of the Washington Center, says it is bringing a growing number of international students to Washington.

"We think our international numbers will frankly grow from 15 to 25 percent over the next few years. We are actively engaged," said Smith.

A couple of those international students are interning at Voice of America in the Korean Service.

BoSeok Kim is a South Korean college student, who has been studying in the United States for the past year. She says her work at Voice of America is preparing her for a career in journalism.

"I translate English news into Korean, which is going to be broadcast on the radio and the Internet. After I translate the script, I also do voicing in the studios on a weekly basis. I want to do my career in English. So, I need to improve my English, and I need to get practical skills in journalism. I think I'm catching two birds at the same time," said Kim.

Internships can be expensive to obtain. The Washington Center charges several thousand dollars to help place students in internships, provide academic classes and housing. The center says 85 percent of its student interns receive some type of financial assistance.

Students, such as Crystal Bouziden, say the experience is worth the cost.

"It has answered a lot of questions I had. Coming in here, I thought I liked politics. I thought, ‘This is something that I want to do for a career.’ Even though I have only been here for a month, it has definitely solidified the idea that this is something I want to do," said Bouziden.

And for a college student preparing to graduate and begin a career, that type of knowledge can be priceless.