Inside Washington Students

Preparation

For the first three weeks of the program, you will be running (often literally) to sites all around the District and surrounding cities. You could say this is the "class" part of Inside Washington, but it's unlike any class you've ever taken. The following information will help you prepare for the program:

It's important to know what's going on in Washington before you get there, so get in the habit of reading major papers, political blogs, and other political news (you will probably be quizzed in some form…).

Many of the locations you visit have strict visitation policies and security checkpoints. It's not uncommon to pass through half-a-dozen airport-style checkpoints in a day. Minimize the amount of metal you carry and avoid metal on clothing (if you normally wear a belt, consider buying one with an aluminum buckle that won't set off metal detectors; the same goes for some dress shoes). Coins, pens, and some cell phones won't set off most of the detectors, but sensitivities vary greatly among the locations.

Along with security checkpoints, ID checks are common and you should bring several forms of photo ID to Washington. Often, your driver's license, Miami ID, or Boston University Center ID will be sufficient, but at some places you will need multiple forms of government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license and passport.

During the first three weeks you will be lucky to get two "traditional" meals in a day. Make sure to have snacks or energy bars handy to keep you going. But be aware of the rules at the various locations you will be visiting; the Metro has a strict 'no eating or drinking' policy in all stations and trains; you will not be allowed to bring food or drinks into the Capitol complex at all, so bring only what you can eat before you get there (the House office buildings are exceptions; most of the time you will be able to bring bottled drinks and wrapped foods into Longworth, Cannon, and Rayburn). See The Food for more information on meals

It's important to dress properly during the program and the dress codes listed on each day's schedule are valuable guides (see a past schedule). Because you will be moving quickly from one place to another, many students have found it helpful to bring comfortable walking/running shoes as well as their dress shoes and switch as-needed during the day. DC is hot and humid in the summer, there's simply no getting around that, but you can prepare. Girls, pack some professional skirts along with dress pants; guys, try to find lighter suits and dress shirts that "breathe". And don't forget to stay hydrated.

Even though professional dress will be the norm, remember to bring enough casual clothes to wear during the evenings and free days. Dupont Circle has a public pool and you can often sneak into the Marriott across from the BU Center if you wish to go swimming.

You should also bring a camera to record the places and people you experience (and to keep this site fresh!).

Most people have a cell phone already, but, if you are not among them, it would be a very good idea to get one. Make sure your plan will cover you for a decent price in the city. Washington is known as the 'most-wireless city' in the country, so getting reception is rarely a problem in most of the places you will be going. Verizon has a deal with the Metro that gives its customers cell coverage within most underground stations and tunnels.

While Inside Washington isn't like a traditional class, you will need some traditional supplies including paper and pens for note-taking. You should also bring a bag (backpack, tote, briefcase, etc...) to carry this stuff, food, spare shoes, and whatever else you want during the day.

Here's a suggested packing list for students written by IW '06 alum Margaret Sweeney. Of course many of the items are optional or do not apply to everybody, but it should give you an idea of the types of things you may find useful.

The Housing

WISH Wooodly Park is located at 2807 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20008.

Each 6-person apartment shares a locked mailbox in the lobby and packages sent to the building can be picked up from hall staff (make sure your apartment number is on all your mail).

Each apartment has a kitchen with a full-size refrigerator/freezer, stove/oven, dishwasher, and microwave. There is ample storage space in cabinets for food items and plateware. Dishes, bowls, glasses, and silverware are provided, though some past participants have also used disposable supplies to avoid cleaning dishes every day or so. Obviously, your experience may vary.

There are two full-bathrooms in each apartment. You will need to supply your own toilet paper, soaps, rugs, and towels. WISH Woodly Park will supply shower curtains if they're not already there when you move in. With six people often trying to get ready at the same time, it can be helpful to talk with your suitemates about scheduling in the mornings.

There is an elevator in the building. It won't break any speed records, but it's great when moving heavy or large items or when you come back from an exhausting day and don't feel like trudging up the stairs.

The Center supposedly has WiFi, but you'll need a miracle to get regular access, especially above the second floor. Each bedroom and the common room in every apartment have ethernet jacks and you can set up your own wireless router if you are desperate for good mobile access.

In the basement there is a coin-op laundry room (beware of the phantom dryers that spin, but don't heat up; if you are unlucky enough to use one of them, post a note on the machine so other residents know), basic vending machines, and a computer center. The computer center is great for students who don't have a laptop since bringing a desktop PC is awkward (each apartment has two desks, total, and they're in the common room not always in good computing locations) and is also useful for printing documents.

Every bedroom and the common rooms have cable TV jacks, so discuss who is bringing a TV with your suitemates before leaving. It's a good idea for there to be at least one TV per apartment, but don't get attached to any particular shows unless you plan on recording them...

WISH Woodly Park has a front desk security guard 24 hours a day and is quite different from Miami in its visitation and conduct policies, so make sure to read the information you're given by the WISH Woodly Park staff.

Woodley Park Centeris an upper-middle class residential neighborhood along Connecticut Avenue just blocks from Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, Rock Creek Park the National Zoo, and many other attactions.

There are several stores within an easy walk of the Center including:

  • Manhattan Market - A small supermarket with cereal, milk, frozen foods, breads, and some fresh produce. It's more expensive than Giant (below), but when you factor in Metro costs, it's a good place if you only need a few items. Also, it's one of the rare places you can buy quarters when the BU Center's change machine runs dry.
  • CVS - The pharmacy that also carries energy bars, basic medical and toiletry supplies, and some snack foods.
  • Dry Cleaners - There are two dry cleaners near the Metro station on either side of Connecticut Ave. They have comparable prices and service. Try them both and see what you like or stick with one unless they give you reason to switch. Make sure to plan ahead what clothes you'll be needing since turnaround time is usually 1-2 business days. Remember to ask when your items will be ready and keep in mind that they follow posted hours closely.
  • Giant - Okay, it's not really an "easy walk"--you have to take the Metro two stops north to Van Ness--but once you're there it's literally right outside the north exit. Giant is a full-scale supermarket (think Kroger) with all the usual goods. Most people find it worthwhile to go with some of their suitemates the first weekend to stock up on apartment supplies (dishwasher soap, toilet paper, bathroom rugs, hand soaps, and paper towels) as well as food. Whenever you're out of enough things to justify the cost of the Metro, head up to Giant (just make sure to only get what you can carry back on the Metro, or bring a hand-cart with you). See the customer service desk to get their free discount card.

The City

Washington isn't just stuffy shirts and onmibus legislation. DC knows how to have fun. While most of the big decisons are made by the older partisans you see on TV, most of the work that keeps the system running is done by twentysomethings. As a result, there are plenty of youthful places to chill after a long week.

Nightlife

The WISH Woodly Park apartments are in the Woodley ParkCenter, a middle-class residential area. Entertainment is never far away. Closest to the Center (a 15-20 min walk with great views of Rock Creek Park on the way) is Adam's Morgan. This neighborhood has a large college student population and the associated restaurants, bars, and clubs. Happy hour food deals are also a great way to eat out cheaply.

A longer walk (or one Metro stop) down Connecticut Avenue is Dupont Circle. A higher-end version of Adam's Morgan, the area around Dupont has fine dining, outdoor taverns, a movie theater, boutique stores, and even a Krispy Kreme. There is also a public swimming pool nearby to help you cool off.

There are many historic and otherwise-notable establishments on Capitol Hill. Staffers flock to Hawk & Dove, west of the Capitol, for drinks after work and there are many more shops, restaurants, and bars in and around Union Station.

Culture

If Washington DC were a state, it would be the second-wealthiest on a per capita basis (behind Connecticut) and the myriad cultural opportunities show it. Get a free dose of the Bard with Shakespeare in the Park, see a Broadway hit (or a show on its way to Broadway) at the National Theater or the Kennedy Center. Go paddle-boating on the Tidal Basin. Rent a Segway and ride around the city. Check out some of the most closely-guarded secrets of the Cold War at the National Spy Museum. Catch the Nationals playing in RFK Stadium or the WNBA's Mystics at the MCI Center. See amazing monuments and memorials, then head to any of the gigantic Smithsonian Museums. There's so much to do and much of it (including all of the Smithsonians) is free.

Should you want to catch a movie during the summer, there are surprisingly few options in the city (but many more out in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs). Still, you can see nearly every first-run movie at the Regal Cinemas complex in Chinatown (Gallery PL-Chinatown Metro stop), a smaller selection close by at the AMC Theater in Dupont Circle, or independent and small-run films at the E Street Cinemas (across from the ESPN Zone) (Metro Center or Gallery PL-Chinatown Metro stop).

The government doesn't just run the city, it also provides plenty of tourist attractions. At the National Archives you can see the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and an early copy of the Magna Carta up close, watch your money being made at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, visit the Supreme Court or Library of Congress on Capitol Hill, step into history at National Park Service historical sites like Ford's Theater, or stage a protest outside the offices of whatever government agency is ruffling your feathers.

Events

During the Summer, you'll have two excellent opportunities to see how DC celebrates important holidays on Memorial Day and Independence Day. On the last Monday in May, wake up early and head to Arlington National Cemetery for the somber but patriotic tribute to the nation's combat casualties. Observe the President and Cabinet members laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or grab a seat in the nearby amphitheater to hear the President's address (you won't be able to do both). On July 4th, the entire city is deluged with tourists. Get to the Mall by mid-afternoon to have any chance of claiming a spot. There are several events that go on throughout the day. The two main shows are the Capitol Hill concert (arrive at the east lawn by 7 p.m. to have a chance at good, free public seating) and the fireworks launched right after from nearby the Lincoln Memorial. Have an exit strategy planned and leave before the fireworks end if you want to spend less than two hours getting back--the Metro becomes instantly overwhelmed by the exiting masses.

DC is home to amazing parks and monuments. Along the National Mall are the Washington Monument, and the Abraham Lincoln, Vietnam War, Korean War, and World War II memorials. Out along the Tidal Basin are the Franklin Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson memorials. All around the city are statues and small memorials to the nation's heroes and leaders. There is history all over the place, from scandals (the Watergate and "Signature", Jack Abramoff's restaurant) to success (many of the oldest buildings still bear scars from the War of 1812).

The newspaper The Economist has a free online guide to Washington that is kept current and provides information that will be more specific than this page once you arrive.

The Food

Eating is very important and can easily be omitted from the schedule during hectic days. Buy plenty of food you can eat on the run (such as energy bars or granola). Also know the rules for the locations you are visiting ahead of time. Eating and drinking are arrestable offenses on the Metro trains and in all the stations. You also will not be allowed to bring any food or drinks inside the Capitol Building until after your internships begin (and then only people working on the Hill will be allowed to).

WISH Woodley Park apartments each have their own kitchen with full-sized fridge, stove/oven, microwave, sink, and dishwasher. Some plates and cookware are provided with the apartment, so cooking is an option. On the other hand, some students have survived the program on PB&J and chinese take-out.

Preparing your own meals a tWISH Woodley Park is one of the cheapest ways to eat in DC, but there are also high-quality options for eating out on a budget. Plus, you might as well explore the city in your spare time.

In the Woodley Park neighborhood where you live, there are restaurants ranging from McDonald's and Chipotle to the Lebanese Tavern and higher-end italian dining. When you arrive at WISH Woodley Park, your introduction packets will include some menus and ads for local restaurants and carry-out; explore the area and try a little bit of everything.

More good retaurants, and the local bar/pub scene, are a 15 minute walk away in Adam's Morgan. Many college students live in and around this neighborhood, so there are more businesses catering to younger audiences here. Take advantage of Happy Hour deals to save even more.

For a super-cheap sit-down meal that still will fill you up, head to Chinatown (Metro Red, Yellow, and Green lines). In addition to hosting a large cinema complex and high-end restaurants, not a block away from the Metro are several very cheap Chinese restaurants. Often, you can get a full meal for under $10 (plus tip) at these places and the food is great.

While your travels will take you all across the city, one place you will come to know well is Capitol Hill. There are two main cafeterias on the Hill, in the basements of the Longworth House Office Building (LHOB) and the Dirksen Senate Office Building (DSOB). You can get sandwiches, pizza, fruits, and other things you could find in a typical dining hall here on campus. There are also dozens of smaller cafes, restaurants, and sub shops throughout the Capitol complex. Be warned, food is expensive all over the Hill, but especially so in the Capitol eateries.

Outside of the Capitol, there are many other options. Walk one block east of the Supreme Court and you'll find several rows of restaurants and pubs lining the streets, including the famed (infamed?) Hawk & Dove. The H&D is a prime hangout for many Hill staffers after a long day of work. To the north of the Capitol is Union Station (Metro Red line). There are high-end restaurants and eateries throughout the first and second floors of the station, but down in the basement there is a vast food court with some usual fast food places (Great Steak & Potato Co., Cajun Grill, Flamers, New York Deli...) and some unusual ones too (you can discover those on your own).

Don't be afraid to buy hot dogs or pretzels on the run from street-side vendors. They are usually quite filling and are a huge time-saver.

If you're playing a tourist and visiting the Smithsonian Museums, beware: the prices at their cafeterias are very expensive. You can feel good about your purchases there since most of the markup goes to cover museum operations (the museums are free to enter, so count your blessings). Just don't enter while hungry if you're light on funds.

Closer to home, in and around Dupont Circle (Metro Red line), you can find more cozy eateries and your favorite chain restaurants. Embassy Row is nearby if you're looking for more international flair.

Farther away, you can find more adventures in fine dining. Ride the Red line North to the Tenleytown-American University station to find more avant garde shopes. Or continue into Bethesda and the other Maryland suburbs to find more traditional suburban restuarants.

Experience Old Town Alexandria and its specialy shops and cheat eats. Walk east from the King St. Metro staton (Blue, Yellow). Also along the Blue & Yellow Lines are the Mall at Pentagon City and the underground complex of Crystal City where you can find food courts and other mall-style resturants.

Check out The Economist's Guide to DC for more information on restaurants and nightlife in the city.

The Metro

Washington's subway system is known as the Metro. Operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), Metrorail opened in 1976 and has grown to become the second-most ridden subway system in the country after New York's. It covers quite a bit of the District and its surrounding suburbs. Nearly every location you will be going in D.C.--from the site visits to your internship--is easily accessible from the Metro. It serves the Pentagon, Reagan National Airport, RFK Stadium, and everywhere in between.

Stations you will get to know well include your home at Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan (red line); the two Capitol Hill stations, Union Station (red) on the north (Senate) side and Capitol South (orange and blue lines) on the south (House) side; Farragut West (orange/blue) and Farragut North (red), the two stations closest to the White House; Metro Center (red, orange, and blue), the only transfer station between Metro's three biggest lines; and Gallery Place/Chinatown (red, yellow, and green), another transfer station and entertainment district near the FBI Building.

The most common question students ask about the Metro before going to D.C. is, "how much does it cost?" Unlike other major subway systems, the Metro is not a single-fare system. Rather, like a toll road, you are charged based on the distance you travel and the time of day (rush/non-rush). You could use the Metro's website to calculate ahead of time the exact fares you will spend in a day, but it's usually just easier to estimate that, on average, each trip will cost you about $1.50.

Because you are based in the city, and not in the far-flung suburbs, most of the trips you take will be at or close to the minimum fare of $1.35. From the Woodley Park station, it costs $1.35 (non-rush) or $1.45 - $1.60 (rush) to travel to the Capitol (Union Station on the red line is fifteen cents cheaper than Capitol South on the Orange/Blue line).

There are three ways to pay for Metro fares, two with pre-loaded cards that decrease in balance and the third, with unlimited ride passes. Most students purchase the "7-day Short Trip" passes that allow unlimited rides of $2.20 or less for the week. Nearly all of the trips you will make are under this threshold, and you only have to pay the amount over $2.20 on any rides that go above that limit. At $22 per week, these passes pay for themselves after just 17 rides at the minimum fare. While you may not ride that much during the internship period, it's definitely worthwhile during the site visits.

The decreasing balance cards come in two varieties: the regular paper farecards that look similar to the 7-day passes and the "SmarTrip" cards. The paper farecards are generally worthless if demagnetized or torn and theft is a possibility. The rechargeable SmarTrip cards cost $5, on top of the stored fares, but are more convenient and safe than the normal farecards and passes. The cards are credit-card sized with an RFID chip inside that allows users to pass the card by the turnstiles and move through quicker than inserting the paper passes. Through the free online registration process you can also recover the full value of your SmarTrip card (minus the $5 charge for a new card) if yours is lost or stolen. The SmarTrip passes are only sold at Metro Center and the suburban stations with parking lots or you can order one online.

Regardless of how you pay for your trip, it's very important to hold on to your ticket because you must swipe it both on entering and exiting the system. Also, paper farecards with any value remaining can be combined and added to a new farecard or SmarTrip pass.

While Metro is reliable, it does have shortcomings.

  • First, it closes at midnight on weekdays and at 3 a.m. on weekends. This won't be a factor on many days, but on the occasional night off, it can be fun to walk the mall at night or check out Bethesda's nightlife. Know when the last train leaves your station, because it may be before the official closing time.
  • Second, Metro doesn't go everywhere. Among the most popular locations inaccessible by Metro is the Georgetown neighborhood.
  • Third, off-peak trains can be few and far-between, mid-day and late-night passengers may have to wait 10-25 minutes for a train.
  • Fourth, Metro has a strict no eating or drinking policy in all trains and stations. Transit police arrested a 12-year-old girl just a few years ago for eating a french fry on the platform; they're not kidding around. Having food is fine, but don't let them see you eating it. The WMATA protects the cleanliness of its stations rather fiercely.

Never fear; in downtown D.C., you're always close to a taxi.