Students at the Les Aspin Center take academic classes and intern throughout the capital, and many learn valuable lessons at work and in the classroom. Along with those lessons, the experience of living in Washington also taught me life lessons. The Les Aspin program and others like it are opportunities for students to grow in ways that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
The seven weeks I spent in the capital gave me a new perspective on what it means to be an American citizen and how our government really works. I gained a greater appreciation for our nation’s history. Though I had visited the city before, it was a unique experience to live surrounded by monuments, museums and historic buildings in a city that was designed to showcase them. I never had so much history accessible to me. One of the unique things about the Les Aspin program is that students learn about government and history while living among it. After that summer, I officially declared my history minor in order to continue learning about it and to continue making it relevant to the present day.
In D.C., I learned what it really means to be at the center of the action. That was the summer that saw the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis and the later months of the Arab Spring. As soon as I returned to Marquette, I changed my major back to journalism in order to feel that connection to world events away from D.C.
Another valuable lesson I learned that summer was independence. Since it was the first time I had lived anywhere other than my parents’ house or a Marquette dorm room, I was forced to grow up a little bit and really start to take care of myself. I had to plan and prepare my own meals, wake up on my own and ride the Metro to work every day and find ways to fill my free time (not a difficult thing to do in D.C.). I also had to learn my way around a new city on my own.
Tourists who crowd Metro stations and wander around the National Mall with maps, oohing and aahing at buildings they can’t even identify easily irk many residents of Washington. My time at Les Aspin helped me transform from the wide-eyed tourist to a confident “resident” of D.C. After about a week there, I got asked for directions for the first time. I was on a run from the Aspin house to the Washington Monument one evening when a couple stopped me and asked me how to get to Union Station. Even though I sent them in exactly the opposite direction of where they needed to go, I felt so proud to have been identified as someone who looked like she knew her way around. As the summer progressed, not only did I learn where Union Station is, I also learned what it takes to get around on my own in a bustling city (even one as small as Washington).
My learning in D.C. extended far beyond the classroom walls of the Les Aspin Center. The program provides Marquette students with a unique opportunity to experience an important part of our nation. While I encourage anyone who asks me about my experience to apply, many of the lessons I learned in D.C. can be learned in any number of ways in a university environment. Students who take the time to experience a city they have never visited, study in another country or spend a summer or semester in a workplace environment instead of in a classroom gain invaluable experiences that will serve them for a lifetime.
Caroline Campbell is a senior in the College of Communication with a major in journalism and a minor in history. Email her firstname.lastname@example.org.