University of Calgary


Dec. 5, 2008

Postcard from Washington, D.C.

Arunan Sivalingam is a fourth-year student in the faculties of Communication and Culture and social sciences doing a double degree in international development and economics. He is currently in Washington, D.C on internship through the Washington Center.

Arunan Sivalingam on the lawn of the White House.

Arunan Sivalingam on the lawn of the White House.

Why do an internship in Washington, D.C.?

I chose to intern in Washington, D.C because I wanted to be exposed to all the diverse organizations that are here in the city. Washington is an organizational hub for someone who is interested in international development and policy. And, its proximity to other major cities such as New York was appealing, as well as the presidential election. 

I think that we all have many pre-conceived notions of our Southern neighbour, and I have learned there is huge diversity in the country, especially by state. I never realized how different the United States is in comparison to Canada because of differing historical and political factors

Tell us about The Washington Center Internship Program.

I am working for a housing developer in Washington D.C and also taking classes through the Washington Center. The Washington Center is set up so you work, study and also do programming. Through the Americas Leaders Program, I meet weekly with government and private sector representatives who work in the area of trade and international business. I have attended lecture series with top officials from the U.S government, such as members of congress. With the housing crisis, I have met with individuals involved directly with the crisis as it has been unfolding. I have done a lot of research around housing and community development in Washington, D.C.  My research revealed to me just how extensive the educational and wealth divide is in poorer communities in the district. In some areas, the unemployment rate stands at 18 percent and adult illiteracy rates close to 35 percent.

What is involved in the Leadership Forum component?

I been able to meet some very senior officials from former presidential administrations and those who serve currently in the U.S congress through the forum. I have also taken up various opportunities in D.C, such as working with a health organization looking at discrimination in health care. This has been a great experience, as health care has been one of the biggest election issues, and has helped me learn about the disparity of health care firsthand. I really have been able to see the difference in how politics plays out in the U.S.  I was able to go to Barack Obama’s final rally in Virginia and realized politics is much more about entertainment than actual campaigning. 

A typical session with government and private sector representatives.
A typical session with government and private sector representatives.
Is there funding available for the internship?

I was fortunate to receive one of the 8 grants available from the Alberta Government.

Tell us about a great experience you had.

One Saturday I was just walking by the White House, when I was informed it was one of the few days the garden lawn would be open to the public. I was able to go and be on the White House lawn and see it up close. There were a lot of historical pictures and interesting facts about all the presidents who had found residence there.

Any interesting cross-cultural interactions?

I think being in America is a lesson in cultural exchange. Like Canada, it is a country made up of a diversity of people. But I have come to understand the differences in D.C itself because it is a place where people come from all over America. I never realized how much slang is used and the differences in speaking by Americans from all different parts of the country. I learned it was a good way to identify which state a person was originally from.

I thought that America would be an easy place to understand because of its close proximity to Canada.  Yet I realized there was so much to learn about the people, culture and social environment in the U.S. I realized you learn the most from the people and places you would least expect. 

The Washington Monument and fountain.
The Washington Monument and fountain.
Future Plans?

This experience really gave me a short glimpse into the “real” world. Living by myself and working full-time helped me reflect on what I would like to do career wise. Meeting with various individuals, and being exposed to some of the highest level international institutions is something I would never have been able to do from the classroom alone.

I would like to work in public health, so my immediate plan would be going to grad school. My time in D.C helped me link up with graduate schools here and also with various major health related organizations.

For more information on study abroad programs please visit the Centre for International Students and Study Abroad (CISSA) website ( This postcard was supplied by CISSA.