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Walking into the office of Longwell Partners at 1100 Vermont Ave for the first time, I was petrified and questioned my belonging in this DukeEngage program and work for this partner. After all, I was a progressive spending the summer working in an office of former/moderate Republicans. I took a deep breath and managed to walk out of the elevator. Glancing around, I noticed an extravagant conference room with a mini fridge stocked with every La Croix flavor imaginable. Walking past “The Pods” I found a full kitchen with snacks and several elaborate espresso machines.

After being introduced to my cubicle (and home) for the next eight weeks, I met the team. A motley crew of individuals with drastically different experiences, I was enamored by their deep connection to preserving democracy, and admittedly a bit nervous to see how I would fit into this environment.

Once I was onboarded, I sat at my desk reading breaking news articles before being called into a luxurious conference room for a meeting with my supervisor. I sat in an all too professional chair and couldn’t help but feel like a kid rather than an actual intern. Taking notes, my boss chuckled at me and asked if I was a Sanders supporter. Flustered at first, I realized my personal laptop is marked with an unironically large “Bernie for President” sticker. After quickly composing my thoughts, I expanded on my personal political beliefs and expressed my gratitude for organizations like the Republican Accountability Project that aim to reduce hyperpolarization in today’s politics. My supervisor chuckled and expressed the importance of uniting under a pro-Democracy agenda given today’s fascist political threats.

Only lasting for about 10 minutes, this exchange was impactful and one I’m glad I had the opportunity to have. Though a bit uncomfortable to deal with, and something I wouldn’t want to discuss with Sarah Longwell quite yet, I truly feel like my liberal values are respected, even in an office filled with conservative-oriented individuals.

Photo of student Juliana Alfonso-DeSouza with Representative Adam Kinzinger
Juliana with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) following a talk and meet and greet with the Congressman

Working at my desk and eavesdropping on the coffee chatter, I hear a lot of things that shock me. Whether it’s idolizing people like Bill Kristol or yearning for another McCain era, I can’t help but feel a bit ostracized. It doesn’t help that upon introducing myself to the other interns who seem like mega-policy geniuses, I’m forced to reveal my plans of attending medical school and graduating with psychology and chemistry degrees. I’m sure they didn’t think much of it, but in the moment, I felt like a fish out of water.

Despite feeling out of place—and my chronic overthinking—it was the smallest of interactions that made me feel like a valued member of the team and motivated me to take a step forward each day, even if I ended up fumbling along. Getting into a routine, I noticed the office’s most prized possession: the Nespresso milk frother. Afraid to attempt maneuvering the frother, I would make a bad cup of coffee each morning using the darkest roast since I couldn’t interpret the Nespresso color system. And each morning I would sip my cup of joe as if it were a Starbucks nitro cold brew with sweet cream cold foam.

After successfully completing a few arduous data organization tasks, I felt like I had earned a somewhat steady footing. But the next day I knew my intuition was right when one of the lead political writers taught me how to use the beloved Nespresso milk frother. Though this was a basic task that I could have easily figured out myself, it felt like a rite of passage and an appreciation of my work ethic by one of the senior members of the office.

I know I have a long way to go in working toward understanding our political landscape, but each day, as I sip my delicious cappuccino, I feel safer bringing all my life experiences into this new setting as I dive deeper into my research and connect with those in the office.