Lexie Shah had a practical reason for spending her summer with the Canada Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: she’s from there. “As a Canadian, it’s really nice to look at U.S./Canada relations from the perspective of being in Washington,” she tells us. While her summer focused primarily on various research projects, Lexie made the most of her DC experience, attending a wide array of events at think tanks and agencies throughout the area. We discuss that, her museum trips, and more in her summer profile.
What areas of public policy interest you?
My main project for the summer was to conduct research on a contested freeway in the Arctic between Canada and the U.S. One of the key issues there is climate change. The issue has been reinvigorated by the fact that climate change is melting the ice in the north, which is opening up trade passages and new areas for economic opportunity. That’s something I’m super interested in. I’m a Public Policy Research Scholar, and my policy tract is energy and the environment, so my work this summer really compliments that.
I’m also really interested in tech policy. We had a round table event with Amazon a few weeks ago, looking at Cloud based services and the fin-tech industry in Canada, and how policy is framing those conversations. Overall, it was a very interesting event about a topic I care very much about.
What does a typical day in DC look like for you?
I wake up at 7am, get ready, and listen to a few daily news podcasts; typically NPR, the New York Times, things like that. I get to work around 8:30, open up some Canadian news sources, and browse the news for the day. For interesting stories I find, I create tweets, submit them for approval, and then get them scheduled for posting to our Twitter. The rest of the day is typically very fluid. Most of the time I’ll be working on my own independent research. At the beginning of my internship, that involved a lot of looking at the Arctic, but now it’s more about the upcoming Canadian federal election. I go for lunch around noon with the other interns, which typically involves some heated debates about American politics. I look forward to those discussions everyday. Then in the afternoon, I continue working on my research, or anything else that my supervisors need. As of late, I’ve been making calls for our awards dinner in October, following up with the invitees about any questions or concerns that they may have. After work, I go home, make dinner, and have spent these past few weeks working on a paper for school. Since I’m an international student, I’m required to do an independent study to get legal authorization to work in the U.S. over the summer, so part of the course I created involved writing an essay on Canada/U.S. relations, and discussing how they’ve shifted in over the last few years.
Have there been any surprises regarding living and working as an intern in DC?
I was positively surprised about the fact that there are always events happening and a lot of them are free, which is really good for a student on a budget. Something I really love about my internship is that my supervisors are really flexible in giving me the time to go to interesting events during the workday. I’ve gone to dozens here at the Wilson Center and at other think tanks, learning about various geopolitical issues or international relations related issues. It’s opened my mind to different policy areas that I wouldn’t have even thought of, and helped me get out of the bubble of Canada/U.S. relations.
Name one object that you brought with you to DC that reflects your personality.
I have this necklace that I wear everyday that I got when I graduated from high school, and it’s just a really nice reminder of home. I haven’t been back to Toronto very often this summer, and I definitely feel a little homesick, so the necklace is a nice reminder of my family and friends in Canada.
In 10 years, what will you remember about living and working in DC?
Ten years from now, I think the biggest thing I’ll remember are the relationships that I’ve built here. I think living in DC, especially as an intern, there are a lot of networking opportunities. Those are great, but I think what really made my experience at the Wilson Center unique and positive was the fact that there are so many interns and we’ve all become really, really good friends. They’re what has made this one of the best summer experiences of my life.
Give an example of an experience that signifies why you came to DC.
I’ve always been interested in doing an internship or a semester in Washington, DC. From an outsiders perspective, I saw it as this hub of political activity, and I felt that I wanted to be at the center of it all. I chose this internship because I’m unique in the fact that I am Canadian but go to school in the States, so I wanted to bridge that gap and reflect on who I am. Being in DC working with a group that focuses on Canada relations fits me perfectly.
What is one tourist attraction or thing outside of work that you are excited about?
Every weekend since I’ve been in DC, I’ve tried to go some of the Smithsonian museums. I think it’s such a shame if you’re here for the summer and not going, because they’re both amazing and free. The new African American History Museum is fantastic. I’m the type of museum goer that reads every single word on every single exhibit, trying to absorb the information as best I can, and it took me two whole days to go through the exhibits there. Museums are a part of what makes this city unique and full of history, and they make me really excited to go out on the weekends and learn.
What does being an intern in DC mean to you?
I think that being an intern in DC is almost like a symbiotic relationship. DC runs on interns, and a lot of them are unpaid, so we’re volunteering our time and our energy to help make all of these institutions, companies, and government agencies function. While that’s a really empowering thing for us to contribute towards, we also get a lot out of it this experience. We learn so much as it relates to policy, how to interact in a work environment, how to network and find new opportunities, and how to get outside your typical scope of learning and knowledge. For me, personally, I learned a lot about myself: what I like and dislike about an internship, what I like and don’t like about living in a city, how to be independent. It has really helped shape my ideas for the future. It’s truly an experience that is unforgettable, and has left a mark and influence on what I’ll do in the future. I know a lot of my future will involve bilateral Canada/U.S. relations, and that in part is because of this summer.