The 9 Things You Didn't Know About Capitol Hill

It feels like months ago my roommates and I were at Target, pushing carts filled to the brim with food and essentials for our empty Capitol Hill house, but it has only been four weeks. As I spent a sunny Saturday morning at a coffee shop reflecting on my first month in this new city, I boiled all of my thoughts down to nine interesting things I’ve learned since beginning work on Capitol Hill.

1. Sending “snail mail” to the Hill is a horrible idea

Due to the anthrax scare in 2001, incoming letters are first sent to a remote screening facility and irradiated, adding 1-2 weeks to the amount of time it takes to reach any Washington, D.C. office. If you want to contact your senator or representative urgently, call. If it’s not urgent, send an email. If you’re not tech savvy --dare I say it-- you could even send a fax. But please, for your own good, don’t bother sending anything time sensitive through the mail.

2. Capitol Hill = Ant Hill

The offices of the 100 senators who represent all 50 states are spread out between three Senate office buildings to the north of the Capitol. The offices of the 435 representatives are spread out between three House office buildings to the south of the Capitol. The buildings are connected by a system of underground halls and a subway system that zips passengers back and forth between the office buildings and the Capitol Building. The original subway dates back more than 100 years to 1909, yet many people are still unaware of the labyrinth of tunnels connecting these buildings underground.

 The U.S. Capitol Building

The U.S. Capitol Building

3. The front desk of almost every office on Capitol Hill is staffed by 20-somethings

If you were still oblivious to the fact that millennials secretly run the Senate and House (probably the White House too), call any U.S. senator or representative’s office. Chances are, the person you’re speaking with was in middle or high school when the iPod mini was released and would be happy to discuss the many toils of emerging adulthood. Some articles link this phenomenon to low pay and long hours, a common characteristic among congressional staff positions.

4. Things are more bi-partisan than you may think

You’d be surprised to see how policy advisors on the Hill work across the aisle to build coalitions that collaborate on bills and push them through the House and Senate. Enduring friendships and mutual respect between legislative staff in Democrat and Republican offices can supercede partisan politics. When it does, it's a beautiful thing. Issues like education are where political lines tend to blur and both sides can agree that working to ensure bright futures for children is a priority.

 CDC’s Report to Congress on Traumatic Brain Injury Epidemiology and Rehabilitation. (Guess the average age of the audience)

CDC’s Report to Congress on Traumatic Brain Injury Epidemiology and Rehabilitation. (Guess the average age of the audience)

5. The legislative staff working on the Hill are our nation’s best and brightest

This notion may be skewed because I don’t know many of the legislative staff in other offices, but the policy advisors working in my office are people with jaw-dropping educational backgrounds and extensive work experiences to complement them. On top of that, these scholars and professionals could be getting paid a lot more in the private sector but have chosen to dedicate themselves to public service. Not only do these people have big brains, they have an equally large heart.

6. Living in D.C. is expensive

Residents in the D.C. region on average pay more than New Yorkers for housing. According to the Building Height Amendment Act of 1910, no building in the District of Columbia can be more than twenty feet taller than the width of the street that it faces. It’s simple economics: the housing supply is limited, so the prices go up. Not to worry though, there is hope because…

 A standard lunch box given to guests of lunch briefings on Capitol Hill

A standard lunch box given to guests of lunch briefings on Capitol Hill

7. Free food is plentiful on the Hill

Why pay for lunch when you can go to a briefing at noon and get a boxed lunch complete with a sandwich and chips just for attending? Add to that the various dinners, events, and functions open to 20-somethings in D.C. throughout the week and it’s quite easy to save money. Seek and ye shall find free food. Not sure where to start? Try this.

8. Networking potential is absofreakinglutely amazing on the Hill

I attended a lunch briefing for an international organization and while chatting with the spokesperson after the presentation, I was invited to a dinner later that day. My Uber driver dropped me off in front of a luxurious mansion filled with very important and influential people; many of which had CEO, President, and VP garnished on their business cards. That evening I dined and sipped wine among D.C. elite until the sun went down. #onlyinDC

 Tony Podesta, Founder and Chairman of  Podesta Group

Tony Podesta, Founder and Chairman of Podesta Group

A diverse array of influential experts and powerful individuals is what makes the capital of the United States such an amazing place.

9. If you’re here, you’re very fortunate

There are a ton of students and young professional 20-somethings in the District of Columbia, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that everyone who has made it here is incredibly fortunate. Living in D.C., even for a semester, is an invaluable experience. The professional and personal development potential here is arguably higher than any other place in the country. A diverse array of influential experts and powerful individuals is what makes the capital of the United States such an amazing place.

 The Washington Monument reflects on the Potomac River at sunrise

The Washington Monument reflects on the Potomac River at sunrise

As time quickly passes, I realize that the key to unlocking all D.C. has to offer is to remind myself how fortunate I am to be here.

Stay hungry, stay foolish.