From Westfield, MA to Washington, D.C.: What I've Learned on My Journey to Interning at the Department of Homeland Security

March 9, 2020 Emilie Jean-Jacques

From Westfield, MA to Washington, D.C.

Interning for one of the largest federal agencies in the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security, can be nerve-wracking. I knew that I had to be on my A-game.

I first heard of The Washington Center (TWC) back in 2016 during my freshman year at Westfield State University. Seeing the interns stand tall and proud in front of Capitol Hill, I knew that I wanted to take part in this experience. I remember thinking to myself, I want to be the Olivia Pope of Washington D.C. (except without the scandals). 

As a political science and criminal justice major, I can’t think of a better way to end my college career than to spend my final semester interning at the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C.

Emilie Jean-Jacques

Fast forward to 2020, the final semester of my senior year. Moving into TWC’s housing facility in NoMa felt surreal. I could not believe that I am now just minutes away from Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court, the White House, and all the monuments and memorials.

Even if it’s just for a semester, I’m now living in the center of it all.
Even if it’s just for a semester, I’m now living in the center of it all.

Even if it’s just for a semester, I’m now living in the center of it all, where every decision that prominent political figures make will have an impact on our day-to-day lives. My time here at Washington D.C. will be spent interning at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is the third-largest federal agency in the U.S. and has over 200,000 employees. It’s a huge step up from my small-town state school in a predominantly white town where there is not much to do.

Interning for one of the largest federal agencies in the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security, can be nerve-wracking. I knew that I have to be on my A-game interning at such an important federal agency in the nation’s capital, which is where the lessons I learned from previous jobs came especially handy.

Lesson 1: Don’t take feedback personally 

I’ll admit, this is something I’ve struggled with, because I would always take it personally when given an evaluation on my work performance. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that if you react based on how you feel, you will come off as defensive. Instead, I’ve learned that it’s better to listen and ask questions so you can understand someone else’s side. For example, you can respond to feedback with a follow-up question like “Can you give me an example where I displayed [XYZ] behavior?”

Lesson 2: Use the first week to familiarize yourself with your work environment

Use the first week to familiarize yourself with your work environment.
Use the first week to familiarize yourself with your work environment.

Create a mental map (or an actual map) of things you can and cannot do (for instance, you are not allowed to use Google at the DHS, which has honestly been a huge struggle for me) and even really simple things, like how to get back to your desk (I remember one memorable time where I got lost for 45 minutes on the massive DHS campus, not making that mistake again!). And remember, don’t be afraid to ask questions — as an intern, you’re here to learn and it may be surprising, but people are actually nice and willing to help! 

Lesson 3: Understand your work environment before inserting yourself into it 

The last thing you want to do is to start off on the wrong foot — first impressions are everything!

As a political science and criminal justice major, I can’t think of a better way to end my college career than to spend my final semester interning at the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C.


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About the Author

Emilie Jean-Jacques

Emilie Jean-Jacques is a criminal justice and political science major at Westfield State University interning at the Department of Homeland Security in Spring 2020.

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