Before I explain everything — I am enrolled in the DukeEngage in D.C. program that focuses on national science policy and dissemination of important science findings to American policymakers and the general public.
So let me start: I am a Korean national. Beyond that, the way I kept up with important political events for most of my life was tangential. I’d hearing about it from family and friends, in passing, the TV screens where the debaters and mediators would zealously deliver their points. Prior to my junior year in college, I did not bat an eye at these issues, how people would protest over their rights, or others’ rights. Being politically active while young was a bit taboo where I grew up and to be honest these street protesters, who seemed almost demagogical and so righteous at the time, were scary. I always remember this kid in my homeroom that went on a one person strike and got made fun of for an entire year. To think that I would turn to policy, a world in which you have to keep up with current affairs like a Spanish nanny watches a telenovela, and join a political research think tank on K street — neither I nor the ones who know me very well could fathom it.
Perhaps it was a random chance happening. This adventitious venture into this wonderful program from opportunities granted to me as a hardcore science or nerd major has proven that I, too, am interested in policy. It really is like watching a drama unfold. But it’s all sorts of drama, it turns out, or at least on the think tanks’ side of it. A bill passing, watching how fast or how slow a proposal moves on the floor, or hearing about a big concession made by industry in our favor or an approval from congressional members, etc. And it’s really not hard to get sucked into this world because it’s so dynamic and interesting.
The organization I intern for is called the Global America Business Institute. It’s a nuclear policy research think tank on the public education end. A range of issues fall into this theme, such as nuclear energy, nuclear weapons (and its sister, denuclearization) and a broader theme of renewables. Other think tanks established along our line of work can focus more on informing and influencing congressional members with connections and conversations, but we stick to our side of things by publishing briefs to be publicly available, and interacting with other information sources.
My first event was on the State of Germany’s Energy Transition at the Dirksen Senate Office Building — real grandiose, the kind of room that when you walk in you have to take a minute to look around. Nobody handed me A Handbook to Policy Internship on my first day of work, but I was surely given a place to go to, with an assignment. I wrote a seminar report on the event which would soon be disseminated to other cooperating think tanks, as well as partners based in other countries, including Korea. A week in, I am starting to pick up on the language and the ethos that characterize our office, that is different from those used at a public hearing, that is nuanced, that is educational and enlightening in an eye-opening way to a first-timer. And so I find myself closer to the policy world and understanding its players at different levels, how they run, and maybe beginning to chip away at the wall of simplicity I had built all these years.