Internship with the United States House of Representatives and Study Abroad at the University of Oxford, St. Catherine’s College
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Joshua Branch

Paterno Fellow
Major: Political Science
Minor: Sociology 
Hometown: Lebanon, Pennsylvania

How did you learn about these opportunities?

I learned about the House of Representatives internship through the Liberal Arts listserv advertising the Penn State Washington Program. I learned about the study abroad experience by visiting the Penn State Global Programs website.

Tell us a little bit about your experiences.

During my United States Congressional Internship I had the privilege of interning with the office of Congressman Tim Holden in Washington, D.C. At first I was really afraid that the congressional workers might be unapproachable, but they were really nice, laid back, and incredibly helpful. In fact, I have received several letters of recommendation from both assistants and the congressman himself! I held multiple duties such as giving tours to constituents, summarizing the impact of legislation, and attending briefings. One of the most memorable experiences however, was meeting Vice President Joe Biden at Congress and having the opportunity to take a picture with him. He was personable and full of humor, which I’ll never forget.

“My experiences have impacted my decision for graduate school study by opening my eyes to areas of research I thoroughly enjoy.”

My time at the University of Oxford was also memorable in a different sense. When I first arrived in England, I was the first student from my program to land into London. I remember feeling like the loneliest person because all the other students were arriving a day later. The next day the students from the Oxford program arrived and we immediately hit it off. We traveled to Scotland together, different parts of London and Paris, and we experienced the academic rigor of Oxford. We still get together when our schedules permit and bumping into each other on campus is priceless because they are friendships you’ll never forget; I mean you were a close-knit family in a foreign country for 4 or 5 months.

How did these experiences impact you academically?

The Congressional interning opened my eyes to the reality that Congressional professions really do entail a lot of work. I thought prior to interning that I wanted to work in a Congressional office in Washington, D.C. Although I enjoyed the people I interned with and the internship itself, I think the experience opened my eyes to the fact that I didn’t necessarily want to do that my entire life. I did however, become interested in policy and evaluating the effects of policy, which is very research oriented and has led me to thinking about pursuing a PhD in Political Science, Master’s in Public Policy, or law degree.  I never really considered any of these options prior to my internship.

Studying at Oxford also impacted me but in different ways. The undergraduate coursework at Oxford is styled similarly to graduate school here in the states. It was nice to see that I was able to keep up with graduate school pace of work. More importantly however, I fell in love with research at Oxford, which I never thought I would prior to leaving. Also, studying at Oxford helped me to develop a more global perspective. I have been very focused on American public policy, American politics, American—well everything. I think we often forget there is more to the world than our own country. I had the opportunity to meet students studying at Oxford from the Middle East, all countries of Europe, and Africa.  It was amazing to talk about public policies issues on a world level.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did these experiences impact them?

Right now I’m torn between pursuing my PhD in Political Science or my law degree. I never imagined that I would be very interested in analyzing public policy, but it turned out to be a topic that that I found extremely fascinating.

Would you recommend these experiences to other Liberal Arts students?

I would definitely recommend interning in general to anyone interested. Specifically if there are students interested in government or political science I would highly suggest participating in an internship program in Washington, D.C. There are a couple things one can get out of any internship experience. You may decide you love what you are doing as an intern and confirm the career path you hope to pursue. Or, you may decide you don’t like what you’re doing that much. I think this is almost a more important experience because it makes you think more critically about your future career. Lastly, you can have a hybrid experience in which you like certain things about your internship position and dislike other aspects. I think this is what most students experience as an intern. In my internship, I realized that I loved dissecting policy and found a passion in an unexpected career field.

As for studying abroad I am a big proponent of experiencing the world as much as possible. I don’t necessarily believe the Oxford program is for everyone because it’s one of the most academically challenging programs we have. However, I would say that studying abroad in general is by far a great opportunity. You’ll go through an experience with people you’ll never forget, have the opportunity to be exposed to different cultures, languages, foods, and sports. At the end of the day I always ask my friends who are considering studying abroad this one question: when will you ever be able to spend months in a foreign country at a relatively low cost? The answer is now – while you are in college. College students can study abroad for 3-6 months at a college cost, with housing provided, and be able to travel without having to worry about kids, your career, etc. Students are in college to educate themselves and get a better understanding of the world, and you really can’t do that without experiencing the world first.

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