Pretend Professional

When I was younger, my sister and I used to play “pretend” a lot. We’d pretend to be everything from princesses to animals, often changing our characters mid-game when we tired of them. But the one pretend game we never got tired of was “playing grown-up.” The game would begin with my sister and me sneaking into our mom’s closet, giggling as we borrowed heels, jewelry and oversized shirts that we belted at the waist as a dress. Before putting on our freshly looted goods, we would slather make-up across our faces, turning them into a mask of colors that much more closely resembled San Francisco drag queens than the magazine models we aspired to. After we deemed ourselves properly made-up, we would put on the rest of our ensemble and walk around the house, giggling as our heels clicked on the kitchen floor. Not all of our stolen goods were visible; wrapped around our heads as invisible shawls were airs of self-importance and maturity stolen from adults we had studied and movies we had watched.

Every morning in my new apartment in Washington DC, I sneak into my own closet, stealthily pulling clothes from hangers as my three roommates sleep soundly in bunk beds next to me. It’s usually still dark in the room but I have no trouble choosing from my spare selection of my mandatory “business casual” suit pant or skirt combination. Finding the right shoes is a little harder since I have to grab both flip-flops and the right color heels. Flip-flops and suits is a DC phenomenon, nowhere else in the world will you find so many women dressed impeccably down to their feet, at which point, they’re wearing flip-flops or sneakers. Their real shoes, of course, are hidden in the oversized purses that almost every DC woman owns.

After debating for a few minutes over which pair of heels to wear, I do my make-up. That is a sentence that did not exist in my life at Whitman. I wore heels once at Whitman and everyone asked me why I was so dressed up. I reserved “doing my make-up” for special occasions; last semester it wasn’t uncommon for me to roll out of bed 10 minutes before my class.

But DC is a different world and so once I’ve completed my costume, I walk 6 blocks to the Union Station Metro. My metro destination differs daily, on Monday and Tuesday’s I go to my internship. The rest of the week varies constantly, I could either be at the American University campus, or, more commonly, at the office of an international organization that deals with development.

My internship is at the United Nations Environmental Programme Regional Office for North America, the shortened version of all that being UNEP RONA office. DC people love acronyms, perhaps stemming from the fact that they live in a city with a name that is almost always shortened (how often do you hear people saying “District of Columbia”?). I LOVE my job. Over the summer I applied to be one of UNEP/RONA’s regional coordinators for their new campaign on climate change. Then, once I got to DC, I realized I needed an internship. Since the intern who had been spearheading the campaign went back to school, UNEP/RONA realized that they needed an intern. It was perfect.

I’m equally in love with my class. I said “class” singular although technically I have 2 other classes that meet around once a month. My main class is my International Environment and Development Seminar taught by the amazing professor Heather Heckel. In our first week of class we visited the Smithsonian museum of Natural History where we listened to a lecture by Smithsonian Curator Dr. Megonigal on how soil is cool. It was actually a lot more interesting than it sounds, I learned that there is 2x the amount of carbon in the soil as in the atmosphere so when permafrost melts or the rainforest is cut down, there is a lot of C02 released. Thursday was even more exciting, we visited the Earth Conservation Corps at Anacostia River, an organization that, in my opinion, really epitomizes what environmental justice is all about. This week we visited the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, listened to lecture on foreign policy by the esteemed diplomat Ambassador Thomas Pickering, visited the Bank Information Center,an organization that works to make the World Bank more socially responsible and then heard a lecture from Colman McCarthy the founder of the Center for Teaching Peace who said really interesting things like “Unless we teach our children peace, someone will teach them violence.”

It hasn’t quite hit me that my new life is real. Living on my own in an apartment, cooking my own food and working at an office where I wear a suit seems to be a lifestyle just as borrowed as my mother’s clothes. But I like this life and for the next four months, until I go back to Whitman, I can play pretend.

Person Thomas Pickering
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