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WLP 2016 - Week 1 - Riveting First Week in DC

As Mishi, Faryal, and I were walking back to our George Washington University dorm this past Saturday, we were amazed that it had only been a week since the program began. It seemed like we had already known our fellow WLP scholars for years.

Although we had created a group chat months before we came to DC, the conversation came to life and was suddenly bursting with messages the day before our orientation. We spontaneously decided to grab dinner on Friday at Indique, an Indian-fusion restaurant, and we spent hours afterward chatting in Safiyah and Shruti’s apartment. By the time orientation began Saturday morning, I already felt so comfortable with my fellow WLP scholars and even more excited to see what the summer had in store.

Orientation on Saturday began with a riveting introduction by Sam Arora, a former State Delegate from Maryland and a WLP alumnus. He walked us through ways to increase our efficiency and productivity as we juggle through our many roles this summer – interns, WLP scholars, students, siblings, and even children. Afterwards, we were introduced to many WLP alumni who either permanently settled in DC or were spending the summer interning as well. As someone interested in eventually going to law school, I realized the impact WLP has the potential to make on a South Asian immigrant’s life: I met more lawyers during the two hour alumni panel than I had in my entire life. It was an honor to sit alongside such accomplished, humble, welcoming people who were so forthcoming in answering each and every question the scholars asked. We concluded day one of the formal orientation with a communications session, where we were taught how to eloquently present ourselves in networking events, with a particular focus on perfecting our personal elevator pitch.

The fun began when we were divided into two teams and set on a DC scavenger hunt, rushing to take pictures with monuments and tourist attractions. Suparna, one of the alumni we had met earlier on the panel, generously invited both scholars and WLP alumni to her home for a pizza party afterwards. Although I went to sleep exhausted from the day’s programming, I fully recognized how wonderful this summer had the potential to be. On Sunday, we wrapped up orientation with a discussion on goal setting, a panel with legislative staffers, and the finalization of our leadership proposal – a project completed each year by the WLP class to promote civic engagement within the South Asian community as a whole.

Each week, WLP organizes two networking events in the evenings with different South Asian leaders in DC. Our event on Monday, the first of many, set the bar incredibly high. We were introduced to Faiz Shakir, the Senior Policy Advisor for Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid. Our discussion shifted from gun control, to immigration, to his perspective on Islamophobia as Muslim policy leader in Washington, DC. I personally looked to Faiz as an inspiration as not only a South Asian who has truly embraced his political ambitions, but also as a Muslim who recognizes his unique role in the Senate Minority Leader’s office. We concluded the event by taking photos on Senator Reid’s balcony, with a gorgeous sunset backdrop of the Washington Monument and the National Mall. On Thursday, we were introduced to foreign service officer and WLP Alum Sita Sonty along with Policy Advisor Sabeen Malik from the State Department, each of whom had unique perspectives to offer as South Asian women representing the United States in different countries abroad.

Although I was told by a friend who completed this program two years ago that WLP has the potential to completely change the course of your life, I underestimated the impact of his words until now. I could not be more grateful to be in such a unique program that introduces South Asian students interested in policy to influential South Asian leaders, each of whom is more than willing to answer our every question. Considering this is only week one, I cannot wait to see what the next seven have in store.

Rahima Jamal


University of Pennsylvania

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