Why I missed Baltimore during a summer in D.C.

By ALEX WALINSKAS | September 12, 2019

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COURTESY OF ALEX WALINSKAS

Walinskas reflects on how D.C. compares to Baltimore, her longtime home.

Baltimore, I have a confession: I snuck away and spent my summer in Washington D.C. Our nation’s capital may be a quick MARC train ride away, but the city and its culture lies in stark contrast to our home here in Charm City. 

I’ve spent half of the last year pursuing my policy ambitions in D.C., giving me a lot of time to reflect on the stereotypes of the city and compare it to my experience in Baltimore. Now I’m here to stoke local rivalries and comment on the good and bad of Washington D.C. 

D.C certainly has a mixed reputation here at Hopkins. Many students love a good weekend excursion to see Smithsonians or cherry blossoms, but the city gets its critics. I’ve heard plenty of remarks about D.C. being a cutthroat and competitive city, with particular shade thrown at “Hillterns” (Capitol Hill interns) and others looking to enter the political world. 

To my surprise, however, I haven’t encountered this alleged competitive culture. Perhaps that’s a product of my own design; I’ve spent all my time in D.C. interning at think tanks, which I find to be intellectually curious, collaborative environments similar to my academic experience at Hopkins. 

The vast majority of young people I’ve met in D.C. are passionate and ambitious. They’re determined to be part of political progress and are as amazing as the smart young people I constantly meet at Hopkins.

The same goes for the adult professionals I’ve met, too. I had amazing mentors at the Niskanen Center, an exciting and fairly new think tank focusing on climate change, immigration and poverty and welfare. My boss went out of his way to help me think through my post-grad options, connecting me with professionals in my field of interest. 

Everyone I reached out to was so willing to meet and chat, breaking again from the stereotype of a heartless, “race to the top” city. 

However positive my experience has been, a major qualm I have with Washington D.C. is that it is not a fully accessible stage for young people to get involved in politics. 

High rent and an abundance of unpaid internships leaves opportunities out of reach for those who can’t secure funding or outside support. Even with a grant from Hopkins and a monthly stipend from my internship, I relied on financial support from my parents this summer to pay my rent. If I hadn’t been fortunate enough to have familial support, a summer in D.C. may not have been feasible. 

While living in D.C., I also found myself missing the deep sense of community here in Baltimore. My family roots are in Baltimore, and I feel part of a shared history with generations of Baltimoreans when I’m here. 

Most Baltimore citizens I meet care deeply about the well-being of our city and have a general awareness of local politics and history. D.C. has a rich culture and history too, but I get the sense that many young, transient professionals are gentrifying the city without getting to know, care for and identify with D.C. 

While the more transient D.C. population may be out of touch with local politics, knowledge of national affairs definitely pervades the city. As someone who loves the drama of federal politics, I found this incredibly exciting. 

The peers I met through the University’s D.C. program (the Aitchison Fellowship) and my think tank internships were always down to geek out on the latest news in policy and politics. I love the overall nerdiness that permeates D.C. 

Plus, being able to witness major events like national protests or congressional hearings in person is an incredibly cool experience. I walk around D.C. in a constant state of awe at how big and exciting everything seems. 

I’m really grateful for the time I spent in D.C. This summer in particular allowed me to step into the world of climate policy, the field that currently excites me the most. 

However, I’m happy to be back in Baltimore as I finish my degree, and I don’t want Hopkins to be the last time I ever live in this city. As I develop my professional and personal life, I hope to draw from the experiences and things I’ve learned from both Baltimore and D.C.

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