Here’s the hilarious story of how I got my first job working for a US senator, 5 months after arriving in America, with no skill, no connection, and terrible English 🤪
It was my first semester in grad school. I had landed in Washington DC for the first time a few months earlier with two suitcases.
I was 23, had no friends, and knew nothing about America. School was boring. I hated Taco Bell burritos for lunch every day but they were cheap.
How can I meet more people, learn about the country, have more fun, and improve English? I asked myself.
One day on campus I overheard two undergrads chatting about their internship on “the Hill”.
Which “hill” are they talking about? I wondered. It sounds not boring.
I googled and realized they meant the Capitol Hill, where the congress people lived.
That’s it, I thought. I’ll get an internship on “the Hill”, too. Hope they like foreigners.
I found there were 535 senators and congressmen. I figured I’d visit them all. So I printed out 500 resumes (not that there was much on it), and packed a sandwich for my day trip to the Hill.
At the time I just read a book by a guy named Barack Obama. He was the only senator I knew about. So I visited him first.
The receptionist: “May I help you?”
“Yes. Can I see Barack Obama?”
The receptionist looked startled. “I’m sorry. The senator is in a meeting. May I know your affiliation?”
I didn’t know what “affiliation” was, so I figured it probably didn’t matter. “Hmm, alright. Can I see the person in charge of here then?”
“You mean the chief of staff?”
“Yes!” Ah, a “chief of staff”, that’s what these people are called.
Sadly, I was informed that the chief of staff was “in a meeting”, too.
I told the receptionist I’d be back tomorrow, and went on to another senator’s office next door, this time asking to see the chief of staff.
I visited about 50 offices that day, and met 15 chiefs of staff and office managers.
Since these offices are essentially PR outfits, they are very nice to visitors. I was nicely told that either they were not looking for interns or they only took on interns from their home state.
The next day, I visited another 50, and got the same. I gave up and moved on with life.
A week later, I got a phone call.
“… This is [so and so] from Senator Coleman’s office… We would love to have you as an intern.”
I googled and found Norm Coleman was a Republican senator from Minnesota. Not that it meant anything. I couldn’t tell a Republican from a Democrat more than I could tell a whippet from an Italian greyhound.
Part of the intern’s job was to guide tours around the Capitol for constituent visitors.
The Capitol ground was a giant maze that I couldn’t even guide myself through, let alone guiding others. While guiding, I was also supposed to explain how Congress works and answer questions about the senator’s position on abortion.
I was a 23 year old Chinese kid who just landed in America. I didn’t understand half the questions, let alone answering them. It was nerve-wrecking.
The first week I lost 20 innocent Minnesotans on the Capitol underground train. I still don’t know what happened to them.
But I met interesting people, learned a ton, had fun, and practiced English.
And that’s how I became the worst tour guide in the US Capitol.