The Foggy Bottom Dance

In the basement of the State Department Harry S Truman building, there’s a cafe called the “Foggy Bottom Circle Cafe,” which is pretty much just a boring cafe. However, every hour and half hour, a peculiar thing happens: people start to show up and wait around, anxiously glancing at everyone who walks by. Occasionally you see one of them break out and come up to someone to say, “Uh… are you…?” The response is either a resounding, “Yes! Nice to meet you!” or “No, I’m actually waiting for (someone else).”

This ‘dance’ usually happens in the prime networking area within the State Department: the little cafe in the basement. Employees and interns will reach out to others, usually through email, to meet and discuss their work, make connections, and see if they can help one another out. Oftentimes they meet at the Foggy Bottom cafe without having actually met each other face to face. When I first took part in this dance, I was so nervous about not knowing what the person who I was meeting looked like. However, after I realized that almost everyone else waiting around me was going through the same thing, I started to find it pretty amusing.

Networking is probably one of the most important things you can do in Washington, DC, but it’s also pretty nerve wracking– even for an extrovert like me. It helps you to get a job, or at the very least it allows you to know what jobs are even out there. Of course, most of us hate that word: “networking.” It evokes images of being fake and pretending to like talking to someone just so you can eventually use them for something. You have to engage in small talk with someone who you barely know, and you have to do so in a way that’s charming enough for them to want to talk to you again.


First impressions are always hard, but usually by the second or third time you meet and have at least built a rapport, I’ve noticed networking get easier. I’ve been doing a lot of networking lately, and although I’m getting a little exhausted from all of it, I have to say it’s been really useful. Sure, out of the countless meetings, probably about 15% have led to anything promising, but with the sheer number of meetings that means I’ve been able to create at least a good handful of contacts who I have a decent amount of things in common with. Of course, I’m totally burnt out on networking and I never want to so much as see the Foggy Bottom cafe again, save for my daily dose of caffeine at 2 PM. But, I don’t think I would take back any of the work I did. I got to learn so much about not only different parts of the State Department, but different agencies and organizations around DC.

Ultimately, networking is kinda like standing at the top of the high diving board at the pool– there’s two options: take a leap and jump off the front, or climb down back the way you came. If you jump off the front, you have a chance of looking like a pro if you have some skill, or just looking like a goofball if you don’t have any. Either way, you’ll get to the pool a lot faster than if you climbed down, and you’ll have learned a tiny bit about diving as you go. And I’m sure people aren’t going to make fun of you for looking like a goofball, especially if they’re sitting there in their bathing suits too. So you might as well go for it!


Journey at the Nuclear Brink

Every so often the Bunche Library at the State Department has an author come in to give a talk on a recent book that employees at State might find interesting. I’ve been to a few of these, and the topics range from women in the workplace to combating ISIS. No matter how random these may seem, the series has been been wonderful to attend and provided some great food for thought. This past Tuesday was a particularly special speaker– the former Secretary of Defense William Perry, speaking about his book My Journey at the Nuclear Brink where he discusses events that he saw during his time in government, like the Cuban missile crisis and dismantling over 8,000 nuclear weapons.


There’s something particularly striking about the dichotomy of nuclear weapons in this day and age. On one hand, nuclear weapons are scary. Really, really scary. And nonproliferation is essentially in everyone’s best interest. However on the other hand, there is the very real dilemma of deterrence: as long as they have weapons, we need them too. At the State Department talk, Former Secretary Perry gave his thoughts on how we are closer than ever since the Cold War to using Nuclear weapons, and something has to be done to ensure that doomsday never comes. He discussed what it was like to see life in the Defense Department during a time like the Cold War, and he concludes in many ways that nuclear weapons endanger our safety rather than protect it.

The bureau at State where I’m interning focuses on nonproliferation issues, and since being here I’ve seen the whole spectrum of rhetoric on weapons of mass destruction– and in turn I’ve realized just how complicated the issue is. There are many layers to the process of preventing others from getting nasty weapons, as well as getting rid of the weapons people already have. There are chemical, biological, and conventional means to consider, and possession of these serve to send a message just as much as they serve to harm others. I’ve learned an incredible amount in a field that I knew next to nothing about, and it’s changed so much of how I view issues of national and international security.

When I first decided to come to Maxwell, it was after seeing both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Peace Parks. I remember two images in particular: one of a Japanese boy unable to bear the burial of his brother, and the other the skeleton of a domed building that used to be the center of science and technology in the city– the A-Bomb Dome. These images cogjured up a tightness in my chest and tears in my eyes. Thinking of this still brings these strong feelings of grief, but now that’s combined with mixed feelings of just how hard it is going to be to completely get rid of our nuclear weapons.
Photograph by Joe O’Donnell (1945)

In my national security class, I remember one of my classmates saying that one of the only reasons there wasn’t a second Korean War or that the US hasn’t overthrown Kim Jong Un like they did Ghaddafi in Libya was that supposed arsenal of nuclear weapons sitting behind their borders. When deterrence like that exists, what motivation does anyone have to reduce their supply of weapons?

This is the messy world of international relations. There are no simple solutions to the big problems that we have, as much as we try to create them. Ultimately, what I’ve realized is that the process toward a more peaceful and prosperous world is going to take a lot of time, effort, and passion from those working in the field. Going to this talk by Former Secretary Perry, I’ve been reminded just how powerful the ideas of peace and the danger of nuclear weapons are. Sometimes I get so caught up in everything that it takes a simple phrase or image to bring me back to why I came to Maxwell in the first place. What motivates me to push through a long paper or an early morning waiting in the snow for the bus to class. Ultimately, it’s all worth it in the end to see where I end up.

From the UN Plaza in New York
From the UN Plaza in New York


A More Secure World

On November 5th I had the good fortune to attend the annual Public Diplomacy (PD) symposium entitled: “Building a More Secure World: Public Diplomacy for 21st Century Actors.” The symposium is put on by PD students who are pursuing dual degrees in international relations through Maxwell and public relations through the Newhouse school. It’s a day-long event in Washington, DC., complete with speaker panels on issues of public affairs and diplomacy, networking events with alums and other professionals in the field, and plenty of free food and thought-provoking conversations. At every turn there was someone who had expertise in some specific niche of international relations, and through panels and small talk I learned so much about what others do around the world.

I attended this after my internship supervisor generously let me take the entire day off, and I will admit it was well worth it. My classmates came all the way from Syracuse to attend– and many of them weren’t even PD! It was an impressive feat of logistics and sheer student-power, and it was able to connect generations of Maxwell students with professionals in the field. I don’t have a PD background, but this event didn’t make me feel like I needed one. Simply by existing in the world that we have today, I’m already participating in the sphere of public diplomacy with a small “p.”

The world has undergone a communications revolution, and organizations both within governments and outside through NGOs and private companies all have to contend with the best ways to relay information and reach the necessary publics. Even if you’re involved in a technical field like security or IT, you still have to find ways to communicate to others– even if it’s just telling your family at Thanksgiving what you do for a living. Especially in my DC classes, which tend to focus more on the nitty gritty of security, I’ve found the ability to seamlessly convey a message to be indispensable. And, with so much information floating around, it’s become even more important to make sure that people know what you’re doing and want to help you do it.

photo 3 (2)

At the end of the symposium, the keynote address was given by Anita Sharma who worked for the UN Foundation. She spoke about the UN Millennium goals and just how close the world was to achieving them. The speech was, as she put it, told through rose colored lenses, but in my opinion the optimism of it was no mistake. In many ways, the world is getting better– we’re more connected than ever, even in some remote regions. Medicine, technology, and networks are becoming more advanced and have more people connected than ever in human history. However, with things like poverty, violence, and environmental damage we still have a long road ahead, and it will take all of us working together to keep going in the right direction. I think it will be important to not only keep the hardships in mind, but to remember that things are still able to improve. We should use our optimism not to pretend issues of the world don’t exist, but to become energized to do something about them.

It’s no secret that when everything seems hopeless, you lose your energy to even try. Sharma’s main message that I took away was that instead of giving up, we should pay attention to what’s going right and use that to inspire us to continue to work for a better world. It can be easy to get sucked up into the day-to-day minutia that distract us from this, but I think events like this symposium are crucial in reminding us not to give up hope.