Monday, September 28, 2009

National Museum Day

Saturday was National Museum Day. In celebration, my new friend Katharine (who is super awesome) and I went to check out some DC museums.

We started out at the American History Museum where we learned about the history of transportation and decided that presidents have been generally good looking men since Gerald Ford. But Gerald Ford...

Next stop was the Natural History Museum, which is where all of Washington DC's dinosaurs and whales live. Two observations from the natural history museum:

1. Animals from other periods of time look really silly. Why were the horses so small? Why was everything else so gigantic and awkward-looking? And what's the deal with every animal having unnecessarily large teeth?

2. Someone at the museum who makes all the signs and placards has a penchant for apocalyptic onomatopoeia (yeah, I typed that). There were a whole bunch of signs referencing extinction events (both past and future) using words like "POW!" and "BAM!" Example: "Mammals kept a pretty low profile during the Mesozoic era until -WHAM!- the dinosaurs were killed off in a major extinction event and mammals began to fill the empty niches the dinosaurs left behind."


Friday, September 25, 2009

A Potential for Awkwardness

This morning I had class and then stopped by UNHCR to finish a project for about two hours. While walking back, I decided to stop by the offices of Independent Diplomat.

Independent Diplomat is this awesome organization that employs ex-diplomats, international lawyers and the like to help unrecognized countries, semi-autonomous regions, opposition parties and other groups with little to no diplomatic infrastructure to navigate international diplomacy. ID played a role in helping Kosovo work with foreign governments before it was internationally recognized as a sovereign state. They currently work with the government of Southern Sudan, Western Sahara and Somoliland to name a few. When I first found out about the organization back in June or May, I got super excited, checked out the book by their founder, Carne Ross, and read it in one sitting. I subsequently applied for a fall internship there and had an interview but was not selected.

Fast forward to today, when I decided to go check out ID's offices and maybe say hi to the woman who interviewed me (she was very interesting to talk to). It didn't even cross my mind that it might be a tiny bit awkward to visit, uninvited, the offices of an organization that decided not to select me for a job. That possibility came crashing down on me as I told the receptionist who I was and who I wanted to see, "Well, um... I applied for an internship here over the summer, and... well, I wanted to come check out the offices. What was that? Oh, no, I won't be starting here... I wasn't selected."

Out came a young woman who looked worried that she had an ex-intern candidate that was about to go postal on her whole office. It was kind of awkward town.

Things worked out, however, and I got a chance to chat with that woman (who turned out to be the same one who had interviewed me). It was a pretty cool experience to learn about their organization a bit more over a cup of tea (I burned my tongue a bit). I even found out that their Washington staff will be attending the Nansen Award ceremony that my UNHCR regional office is putting on. I left feeling not-so-awkward and I think I'm glad that I went to go check out Independent Diplomat. What they do is still intensely interesting and I like to keep up with what they're up to.

So stopping by was a motivated, proactive thing to do, not awkward at all.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009


You are looking at (okay, reading about) the proud new owner of a Zipcar card! I signed up to pick up a mattress for my new place, but at $7 an hour, I think I'll find some excuses to keep using the service.

Yes, thanks. I know I'm helping young entrepreneurial businesses and the environment at the same time. You can direct your thank-you letters to:

Thank You Bryan Schell!
1308 W St., NW
Washington, DC 20009

DC Bicycle Adventure

I decided on Sunday to do a little DC exploring by bike. The plan was to explore north into Columbia Heights and Woodley Park, bike west to the Potomac, and then follow the river down to the Mall/Monument area.

I got about two miles when I saw a woman carrying a heavy bookshelf down a street. If you know me at all, you know that I'm into helping people (that whole Boy Scout "Do a Good Turn Daily" thing), so I turned my bike around and asked if she needed help. It turned out she was only going three more houses, so she didn't need help, but she thanked me and alerted me to a house a street up that was giving away furniture. Furniture? I need furniture!

I'm moving into a new, large, unfurnished room this week and I need to fill it. I ended up getting a pretty sweet dresser for free. The only problem was I had to lock my bike to a road sign and take the dresser onto the Metro back to my house. My arms are still kind of tired.

After walking back to my bike, I continued on my bike ride, but I kind of needed to cut it short. I went to Zipcar and picked up my new card, picked up a GRE book and finished off at the Lincoln Memorial. It was crawling so thick with tourists that it made me uncomfortably conscious of how similar people are to walruses, monkeys and birds in their ability to sit around in large groups, staring off into space. I think I'll go back again in the middle of the night in the dead of winter to pay Ol' Honest Abe a decent tribute.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Booyah Khaled Hosseini!

So, Khaled Hosseini, the author if The Kiterunner and A Thousand Splendid Suns came into town. In addition to being a well -known author and an inspiration to joosty twenty-somethings everywhere, Khaled is also a goodwill envoy for UNHCR.

He just got back from a trip to Afghanistan where he was representing UNHCR and talking to newly-returned Afghan refugees and IDPs. He was questioned about the situation of the Afghan people on Thursday by the Senate and then led a discussion planned by the Migration Policy Institute (pictured). On Friday, he stopped by the UNHCR Washington Regional Office (my office) for a discussion on refugees and Papa John's Pizza. I got to take the extras home.

He is a very well-spoken man and I'm glad he's on our team (the pro-peace, anti-fleeing warzones team).

Drama in the House!

I knew it would be an interesting week.

On Thursday, I had the honor of taking notes for UNHCR again at a House of Representatives hearing. This time, I sat in on the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight discussion on Iraq's committments to the international community and the fulfillment of UN Chapter VII mandates from the Saddam Hussein era.

There were two parts. The first half was an academic discussion with congressmen questioning three lawyers/academics/lobbyists on unfulfilled Iraqi commitments. The second part was much cooler. The two guests were ministers from Iraq's legislative body, the Council of Representatives: Ayad Allawi (the former Prime Minister of Iraq) and Saleh al Mutlaq. The ministers read statements and then were questioned by different congress members about the upcoming elections and political situation in Iraq.

The last congressman to ask questions was Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) who railed into the ministers. He lectured and yelled at them for a perceived lack of gratitude of the Iraqi people for the sacrifices of Americans:
"I have never heard one word of gratitude from the Iraqi people about the 4,300 Americans who lost their lives."

"We went to Iraq to try and free your people and now we're being blamed for sectarian violence. Don't blame us because that type of bloodlust exists in your society."

Allawi responded politely, reassuring Rohrabacher that Iraqis are grateful for the sacrifices of American troops. Al Mutlaq, was a little more indignant (I would be too after a tongue-lashing like that) and responded, "We did not invite you... the invasion destroyed our country."

Rohrabacher stood up in outrage and walked out yelling "Goodbye!"


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chicken Fajitas --> Chicken Fiasco!

Oh wow, our house smells bad.

I decided last week to make chicken fajitas, but didn't get around to making them until today. The chicken smelled kind of funky coming out of the fridge, so I decided I could probably cook it to kill whatever was making the smell. POOR CHOICE.

Cooking it made the smell more intense and it radiated through our whole house. It was a disaster. My roommate had to leave the house to go get incense. In a previous life I was good at cooking. And food storage. The funny part is that afterward, Google auto-filled almost my whole search query, "chicken smells like eggs."

Maybe I'll go to McDonalds.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Weekend in DC!

My first full weekend in DC without tons of stuff going on was relaxing. With some networking and catching up on the side.

On Friday evening, I met up with Lindsay and Steve, two fellow Stanford kids, and a few of their friends for some drinks. Saturday, I woke up late, watched Stanford Football lose ingloriously in the fourth quarter on a friend's TV (by the way, I used to be skeptical, but I am now SOLD on HD) and did some work at home. Sunday was a nice trip to the farmer's market where I met up with a friend of my old roommate Becca. Friend of a friend was the phrase of the weekend.

All in all, things are going smoothly. Don't worry, not all updates will be boring. Big week coming up.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

DC Metro

An observation about the DC Metro.

It is 50% BART and 50% Space Mountain.


House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Today has been one of the more exciting days I've had since arriving in Washington. I work in the Public Information department of UNHCR's Washington office. However, this week everyone else from my department is on vacation so Intern Bryan has been adopted by UNHCR's External Relations. What's the difference? PI does educational outreach to the general public and the media and ER deals with the politicians in DC. Today, I got a little taste of politics myself.

I woke up extra early this morning to get a good spot in line outside the room where the House Committee on Foreign Affairs meets. Today, they had a hearing on Iraq, the expert witness being none other than US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill. My job was to take notes and report on anything that would be relevant to UNHCR. Turns out Iraq has plenty of problems with refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. To tell you the truth, the hearing itself wasn't any more interesting than CSPAN, but the experience of being in that awesome, ornate room, within spitting (or at least heckling) distance from some of the House's most powerful congressmen was amazing.

Two things made my day even better:

1. My temp-boss told me that my notes/summary were super perfect and that she was going to use mine as an example for all other interns from now on.

2. I was able to track down a video from the Today Show from 1985 (I'll explain a few posts down the line) that no one else in the office could find. I got kudos for that too.

In summary: awesome. Tune in next time when I get a weekend!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New Week, New House

Hey kids,

Lots of news. I started my sublet and last night was the first night I've slept in a bed in about two weeks. My roommate, Rochi, is this awesome Argentine who agreed to help me get my Spanish back. She's extremely nice.

The big news is that I found a place! A genuine, permanent place! The rent is affordable, the location is sweet (coincidentally, 1 block from where I'm staying right now) and I'll be living with someone I know. Ryan Cunningham, an old friend from high school who grew up on my street just happened to have a roommate who got married and was moving out. Timing worked out and I moved in.

Work is cool, I got to sit in and listen to a meeting of representatives from all the UN's DC offices and on Thursday, I'm going to get to take notes at a Congressional hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Pretty excited. To paraphrase John Lennon, things are coming together, right now...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Making a Difference vs. Making It

An interesting observation. The stereotypes and cliches in this town seem to be much more rigid and scorn-filled. I've heard people working for non-profits scornfully talking about "jerks" that wear too-nice clothes and work on the Hill. I've heard people who work for the World Bank talk scornfully about those who work in an industry where they don't make any money. Douchebag. Stupid idealist. Sell-out. Where do the insults stop? Why do they happen in the first place?

As far as I can tell, there seems to be a split in Washington DC between people who are here to make money or gain power (the consultant/economic-research/congressional aide crowd) and those that are here to change the world (the non-profit/interest-group crowd). I'm obviously not a sociologist and these are very vague, probably poorly thought-through categorizations, but it's interesting to think about. Why am I here and what do I want to do with my time here?

It came up because the guy I'm going to be subletting from (works for the World Bank) said he might have some job opportunities he could throw my way, and then gave me crap for working at the UNHCR for free. I'm going to hang out with him tonight and some of his friends (who are State Dept., so maybe my theory is already failing) so maybe I can think a little bit more about all of this.

I do wonder if I were offered a paying job before my internship was up, would I take it?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

First Day of Class

So, I'm taking introductory macroeconomics because I made the unfortunate decision to take my Stanford econ class pass/fail. Today was my first day! All we learned today was the definition of GDP. I think the semester system will take a little getting used to.

Pictured is the building my class is in. It's called Funger. It's no Munger, but then again, it kind of is.

In other news, I decided to sublet this apartment in the U Street Neighborhood for the month of September. Hopefully I find a place by then!

Signing out...