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Summer Fellows: Zoe Spicer

Hi everyone, and welcome to my blog! I hope to be as open and authentic as possible about my internship experience—not just the internship itself but everything that comes with it.

This summer, I’m working at The Vandenberg Coalition, a foreign policy think tank based in D.C. To give you the lay of the land, Vandenberg’s office is part of a Mindspace, where lots of different companies work on the same floor. It’s this trendy, modern setup with a brightly colored kitchen and common area flanked by standard corporate-feeling offices.

On weekdays, I sit in Vandenberg’s office, drink lots of coffee, and work on whatever projects come up. One thing that doesn’t change week to week is that I help write Vandenberg’s weekly policy newsletter, Beyond the Water’s Edge, by finding articles to feature and compiling pieces by Vandenberg’s Advisory Board and Media Fellows. I also help formulate weekly Tweets to promote featured articles.

Vandenberg covers a range of foreign policy issues, and I have been researching and writing first drafts of backgrounders on topics ranging from defense spending to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. to non-military aid that European governments have provided Ukraine. Vandenberg will use this research to draft policy statements, lead roundtable discussions, and provide handouts during briefings for Congresspeople and their staff. I like that my work at Vandenberg has end products that will inform those in government—while expert research is valuable, it does not always reach an audience with the power to use that information to make a difference. Vandenberg has also allowed me to immerse myself in the issues that people on the Hill care about, and it’s been interesting to hear how the issues they prioritize diverge from the academic community and other perspectives I am used to hearing at Duke.

Hirshhorn Museum

I’ve really enjoyed my work so far, but my experience wouldn’t be the same without the non-work activities—it’s that less tangible stuff that completes the “D.C. experience.” On weekends, I’ve been visiting the Smithsonians and trying lots of restaurants. I’ve also attended an AHS happy hour, a discussion about Middle East politics, the Congressional baseball game, and a roundtable on Indo-Pacific strategy. Vandenberg organized several of these events, and I think it’s rare to have an internship where everyone on staff knows your name, much less invests as heavily in interns’ professional development. I feel really lucky to have this opportunity.

Congressional Baseball Game
Congressional Baseball Game

Aside from my work and social activities, I would be remiss not to mention a third aspect of my time here: adult life. Let me preface this by saying none of these observations are insightful for anyone who has worked full-time before, but seeing as this is my first internship, it’s all new to me. And hey, it’s my blog after all.

There are all these things you don’t think about when you’re in college—if you’re getting up from your desk to get water too frequently, which metro line is closest to the event, why your friend’s mom jokingly calls Whole Foods “Whole Paycheck.” In part, that’s a function of the privilege of life at Duke, but I don’t think anyone would argue that college isn’t different from post-grad life. There’s no stealing a nap between classes anymore—it’s 9 to 5, or 8:30 to 5 in my case. The days fly by, and when I get back, I realize how little time I have left to do laundry. I applaud everyone who has the endurance to work while having a family, hobbies, or social life because it’s hard—and I don’t even have taxes or a mortgage yet.

Toki Underground
Ramen at Toki Underground

All of this would be trivial if it ended with the summer. But when I walk to work in the mornings, I’m surrounded by thousands of people also walking to work, and I experience these moments of sonder: Where do they work? Do they like their job? Do they have a family? I have this realization that in less than two years, I’ll be just another person in the crowd. Soon enough, this summer in D.C. won’t just be a summer internship—it will be my life, metaphorically at least. There’s this sense that all of this is about to become real, and it gets me thinking about what the rest of my life will look like and how I want to spend my finite time.

On that lighthearted note, that’s it for this week! Check back soon for more updates.

– Zoe Spicer, Class of 2025