For Capital Semester Fall (CSF) student Claudette Yazbek (CSF 13) to call her semester a whirlwind may be a mild description considering what was happening in the world during the time she and her classmates lived, learned and interned in D.C.
Between turmoil in Syria, the government shutdown and the national healthcare reform rollout, the latest class of Capital Semester students experienced a unique side of D.C. On the first day of the government shutdown, when Yazbek got to her internship at Al Arabiya, a Pan-Arab news company, her producer told her to hop the metro and meet the cameraman in Foggy Bottom. Yazbek and her cameraman eventually ended up at the National WW II Memorial.
“At the memorial, there were barricades up and protesters. Veterans wanted to get into the memorial. We talked to about four or five people. There were senators and Congress members there too,” Yazbek said. “From a professional perspective it was incredible to see how Al Arabiya, a Pan-Arab station communicated to the Arab world what was going on in Washington.”
Other duties in Yazbek’s internship included monitoring White House and U.S. Department of State briefings, researching for senior correspondents, interviewing subject experts, proposing story ideas and writing stories for the station’s website.
Prior to coming to D.C., Yazbek expressed her interest in political journalism with a focus on Middle East relations.
“TFAS helps your pursue where you want to go with your internship. I told them I was interested in the Middle East, and they helped me apply at Al Arabiya. I never thought I would be doing half of what I did,” Yazbek said. “I went to the U.N., I saw President Obama speak, and I would not have been able to do it without TFAS.”
One of Yazbek’s most memorable experiences is when she attended a White House press briefing through her internship. She said she has developed a deep respect for White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. At the briefing, Yazbek got to see not only Carney, but POTUS himself. She was almost denied entrance into the briefing because she is an international student, but she cabbed back to her apartment, grabbed her passport, and made it back in time to see President Barack Obama address the press corps.
“If my semester could be a hashtag, it would be ‘I met POTUS’,” she said.
Yazbek said the opportunity afforded by interning in D.C. is unquantifiable.
“As a writer, it’s difficult to have the kind of access you’re granted just by being in Washington. There are literally so many experts, political figures and attorneys,” she said. “I found everyone here is so generous with 15-20 minutes, especially with journalists. This town has a surplus of really intelligent people that you can write stories about.”
Yazbek received plenty of newsroom experience, and critiques of her writing from editors and senior correspondents.
“I learned a lot about how media actually operates in terms of pitching to your audience, and especially a Pan-Arab audience about American politics. Making sure that you’re explaining things in a real way. Coming from academia, this was my first opportunity to hone that skill,” she said.
In addition to her internship, Yazbek and fellow Capital Semester students took three classes on upper-level government and economics, accredited by George Mason University. Classes included: Constitutional Interpretation, taught by Professor John Samples of the Cato Institute, Economic Problems and Public Policies, taught by Brian Blase of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Internship Seminar, taught by TFAS Alumna and Professor Karen Czarnecki (ICPES 88)of George Mason School of Law and Professor Richard Benedetto formerly of USA Today.
Yazbek said her lectures with Professor Czarnecki and Professor Benedetto were especially impressive in light of the instructors’ real world experience.
“I learned a lot about what to expect in the working world. Their insight and work experience, and willingness to share, provided invaluable insight about what it would be like to work as a White House correspondent in the case of Professor Benedetto, or as a chief of staff on the Hill like Professor Czarnecki.”
Yazbek first found out about TFAS when she interned on Capitol Hill in 2012, through meeting TFAS Executive Vice President Steve Slattery. They stayed in touch for almost two years and Yazbek applied to Capital Semester.
“I met Steve Slattery who helped organize the exchange program I did in 2012 with my professor back home,” explained Yazbek. “I knew within a few weeks I had to come back to the district. The fact that TFAS offers a political journalism track is perfect.”
Like many other TFAS students, Yazbek was able to attend the program thanks in part to scholarship support.
“There is no way I could have come here without TFAS scholarship funding,” she said. “TFAS gave me a generous subsidy and it’s basically how I came back.”
After graduation next week, Yazbek will head home to Adelaide, Australia. She knows that she will keep in touch with her TFAS connections, and probably find more wherever she will go next.
“Irrespective of where I am in the world, I think I will be able to link up with other TFAS alumni,” she said. “There are a lot of people I’ve met through TFAS. Given my broader career goals to work and travel, I think it is an invaluable network to tap into.”
Would she stay longer in D.C. if she had the choice? Absolutely.
“I want to be in the U.S. not only for professional reasons and because I can see career advancement, but also because of the people,” she said “I met them through TFAS. I’ve met other people affiliated with TFAS and they’ve all been fantastic.”
Yazbek has been chosen as her class graduation speaker. She will address her fellow graduates, TFAS faculty, staff and guests at Capital Semester graduation on Dec. 13.
To learn more about the Capital Semester program, visit www.DCinternships.org/CS.