An Experience Working on the Hill

Written by Charlotte Kavanagh, Washington Internship Program intern, 2024
Charlotte outside the Rayburn building on her first day

Both during and after the Washington Internship Program, it is a guarantee that people will ask you:

“What do you think of the experience?”

Phoebe, Chelsea and I all lament that this is arguably the most difficult question to ask of us, and the only suitable response is:

“How much time do you have?’  

Interning on Capitol Hill is undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I must emphasize that what you get out of it is completely up to your own perseverance. Phoebe, Chelsea and I all had various reasons for the internship and we all have enriched our personal and professional growth as such.

My primary objective was to cultivate my networking skills and build established international relationships. Indeed, while a university degree can teach you about international relations theory, creating a network of contacts is crucial to facilitate your professional career. A significant highlight for me was when I connected with the Washington DC team for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. As an organisation that I one day hope to work for, having the opportunity to visit the office, discuss my experiences and passions, and gain valuable career advice over lunch was a monumental networking experience. While being an intern on the Hill may be monotonous in some of the day-to-day tasks, it affords you the privilege to witness, interpret and interact with key players in the international environment.  

Congressman Jim Costa speaking live on the news

If you are selected as an intern for this program, you are expected to act as an agent for yourself, your congressional office, but also, Australia. Interning on the Hill will incur a variety of international figures and organisations to ask you for your interpretations and understandings of global developments.

This became clear when I accompanied Congressman Jim Costa for a day, where he actively encouraged me to provide feedback on his comments on the security status of Europe and the Indo-Pacific after a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. Or when I assisted the Press Director for Costa’s office, capturing social media when Costa spoke at a rally for Ukraine, met with members of the European Parliament, or spoke live on national television. Finally, when we were asked to provide our educated opinions to DFAT staff regarding the reception of AUKUS, based on our lived experiences working on the Hill.

Ultimately the internship is invaluable for enhancing the skills necessary for you to succeed in international relations and any high-level critical thinking profession.

On a selfish note, I’d also like to highlight the erratic and exciting environment that I found myself in, such as:

  • Seeing Hunter Biden crash his congressional hearing on CNN in my office, before rushing past security, media, and staff to stand behind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and watch him snigger at Marjorie Taylor Greene.
  • Attending a Superbowl party with Pentagon staffers.
  • Receiving doughnuts and an early day to experience snow (for the first time!) on my birthday from my congressional office.
  • Watching the CEOs of Meta, TikTok, X , Snap and Discord be grilled in a Senate hearing. Despite Zuckerberg’s infamous apology to the families of social media victims, he spoke extremely placidly and was adept at dodging many questions!
Hunter Biden (lower left corner) crashing the Oversight Committee’s consideration for holding him in contempt of Congress

I hope I have illustrated how the response, “How much time do you have”, is not simply a wave-off for those who have asked us. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the two-month internship. I implore those who are reading this, if you are interested in any facet of foreign affairs, to sign up for the internship. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Posted in
Washington Internship Program

Leave a Reply