Going Abroad at Home: Penn in Washington

By Jake Ebright, C’19

I stood around waiting and watching as the numbers on the elevator display clicked one by one closer to my floor. There were rules on Capitol Hill—you stood on the right side of escalators and walked on the left.

As for elevators, you didn’t ride the ones that were marked for members of Congress only. Or did you? Being that it was only my first day of work, I still wasn’t really sure. After all, I had seen another intern take the Members Only car earlier that morning.

I figured I’d give it a try since it didn’t seem like anyone was around—I was pondering the question of to ride or not to ride during a momentary lull between the frantic maneuvering of Congressmen and Congresswomen attempting to avoid the impending government shutdown. You see, this was back in January of 2018.


Jake in front of the White House

Anyhow, the Members Only elevator was nearing closer and closer to my floor when, *DING*, the elevator stopped and the doors slid open. Waiting in that elevator were two individuals. The first seemed to be a staffer or personal aide; the second, much to my surprise, was none other than Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.  Funny enough, the only thing going through my mind at that moment was a rather deliberate calculation of whether or not to enter the elevator. If I remember correctly, my thoughts went something like this, “Huh, Bernie Sanders…member? Yes, definitely a member, better not get on that car.” But right then, all within a second or two, Senator Sanders’ aide motioned me a welcome onto the car. That was all the invitation I needed.


Jefferson memorial during the blooming of the cherry blossoms

But this wouldn’t be a very good story if all went smoothly, now would it? Well, fortunately for story-telling purposes, it sure did not. As my left foot crossed the threshold into the elevator car, the doors began to shut. Evidently, the time I took making my decision fooled the elevator into thinking nobody was coming aboard. Perhaps the elevator was fed up with my indecision, because, when the doors began to close, they didn’t stop.

So there I am, half my body in the elevator and half my body out of it, with the doors still stubbornly trying to close around me. It was right then that I heard a familiar and gruff Brooklyn accent, evidently fed up with my indecision as well, let out in a startling grumble, “Aw cuhmon!”

After finally making it through the doors and into the car, I stood in silence, grinning. That was my first interaction with Bernie Sanders—and a memorable one at that.


Jake with Joe Biden

In all seriousness though, this past semester that I spent in D.C. through the Penn in Washington exchange program was one of the most exciting and fun experiences that I’ve ever had. One of our weekday classes was taught by the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Senate Affairs and the other was taught by the former Editor of the Washington Bureau for the New York Times. Every week different speakers sat in on our classes and talked with us. Such speakers included journalists like Eric Lipton, Maggie Haberman, and Michael Schmidt, and former government officials, like Bill Burns and Jake Sullivan.

Additionally, I had the opportunity to work in the congressional office of Maryland Congressman John Delaney. As an intern there, I got to talk to constituents and go to briefings on various policy arenas including refugee policy and health care. I got to lead tours of the Capitol, too.

Words can’t describe the depth or degree of gratitude that I have for Penn and for our program director, Dr. Martinez, for affording our exchange group each and every tremendous experience that we had there. It was truly a once in a life time experience.

In closing, I’ll leave you with a small piece of advice. If you’re ever on Capitol Hill, you’d better decide quickly whether you are going to get on or stay off the elevator. And should the doors open and find you face to face with Bernie Sanders—it’d probably be better to stay off.


The women’s march from the steps of the Lincoln memorial

Jake is entering his senior year in the College where he is majoring in Economics and Public Policy. In addition to previously serving as co-chair for the Penn Traditions Committee, Jake is also a brother of the Delta Tau Delta Fraternity.


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