From the O.C. To D.C. : A Different Coast, A Different Urban Way of Life

Every quarter the University of California sends a small group of its best and brightest to our nation’s capital where they work gallantly for various government agencies and non-government groups under the banner of UC. I am fortunate to be participating in the UCDC program this winter with my fellow Anteaters along with the Bruins, Tritons, Bears, and that thing from Santa Cruz.

Born and raised in Southern California, I have never lived on the East Coast so I didn’t know what to expect — other than to leave my flip-flops at home.

Packing for an experience in Washington isn’t the easiest, but knowing you’ll be spending winter quarter at DC where the temperature goes below freezing means packing for warmth, so ladies, don’t bother bringing that ruffle neck top you just bought from Papaya.

I ditched the board shorts, sucked it up and busted out my hard-earned money for winter coats, sweater vests and scarves, which delighted the credit card companies. It may not be studying abroad, but a trip to DC certainly has similar costs.

After a typical flight across the U.S. sitting between a crying baby and a fat man, I arrived at Dulles airport, where the temperature was at 21 degrees..

Once I got settled in, I got to experience Washington on the ground level. I discovered a city bustling with color, architecture, and life. There were moments where I considered DC as resembling a European city filled with its motherland’s rich history and culture. Statues dedicated to prominent American statesmen were at the center of every traffic circle and roundabout throughout the city while the Metro (DC’s subway system) allowed a poor student with no car to fully explore the wonders of our nation’s capital.

With more than a week of free time before the start of my White House internship I made it a goal to get well acquainted with Washington and its scores of monuments, museums, galleries and of course, some pubs to help wrap up the day. Sure there were moments when I missed my beloved Los Angeles with its urban decay and homeless people roaming the streets, but Washington’s wonderfully urban environment took my mind off of it. Washington does have its fair share of homeless people so I suppose that aspect of urban life still applies no matter where I go.

The White House is not quite as majestic as the Palace of Versailles, but in its subdued beauty lays a favorite landmark for anyone visiting DC. Along the rail fence was the usual crowd of wide-eyed tourists mixed with zealous protestors chanting slogans about a variety of political issues such as nuclear proliferation, abortion and mind control.

Yes, there are those who believe our president is being controlled by a faceless mind controlling entity. Despite such superfluous claims, they were well mannered and civil, though I suspected they were wearing aluminum foil under their beanies. I left once my comfort level dropped and headed back to the UCDC center, for I was more accustomed to the crazies there.

Although DC is in the United States, it certainly feels like I’m in another country. As Americans, we always try to convince ourselves that there is a single cohesive idea of what constitutes the American identity, but being here has thrown a wrench in my perspective of what is “American.”

Living in Southern California, and now DC confirms my belief that although we are one nation, it definitely feels like we are worlds apart.