You can study a language all you want, but the best and perhaps only way to become truly fluent is to go to the place where that language is spoken and completely immerse yourself. That is exactly what I've done. And while I did study Spanish for five years, don't worry Mother, I haven't run away to Mexico. I'm talking about the other language I've been studying: Politics. And trust me, it's a language...and a culture too for that matter.
So here I am, living in Washington, DC aka the nation's capital; eating, sleeping, and breathing politics. When my alarm goes off in the morning I pour myself a bowl of cereal and flip on MSNBC to see what the early breaking headlines for the day are going to be. Then I get dressed (business casual) and head off to one of my Political Science classes. After class, I grab a paper and walk straight to the metro for the first leg of my hour-long commute to work. On the metro I see what the Washington Post has to say (a little conservative for my taste but the Metro Section is good for local news) only because my i-phone doesn't get internet underground.
I take the blue or orange line to metro center, a bustling metro stop where I switch to the red line. I quickly learned that if you're not running to catch the next train, you get the hell out of the way of everyone else who is. During morning and evening rush hour there are thousands of people rushing to be somewhere, men in suits with brief cases, women in skirts and heels, many also reading the paper...whoever thinks the newspaper is dead doesn't ride the metro. I like the metro best when it's so crowded you can barely squeeze in and everyone is hanging onto the rails on the ceiling for dear life so they don't topple onto their neighbors when it comes to a screeching halt. There's a real energy about DC at those times, it's like an unspoken urgency that everyone's got somewhere to be and something important to do.
When I get off the metro in Tenleytown, I have about a fifteen minute walk to NBC that I like to spend catching up on the rest of the morning's headlines via my twitter RSS feed on my i-phone that is working now that I'm above ground. Once at work, I de-robe on my walk from the lobby to the newsroom; UGGs to heels, take off my coat, my gloves, my scarf, my hat, and feel 10 lbs lighter. Then it's 6 hours full of non-stop politics. There must be a hundred TVs just in the main newsroom alone, at least two on every desk and many more mounted on every available inch of free wall space...all playing different news channels. It's sensory overload and terribly distracting for someone with a little bit of ADD. Nevertheless I do my best to zone it all out and focus on putting together the research my anchor needs to be up to speed on all the news in her show and all the guests she'll be interviewing.
Then it's showtime. Up to the MSNBC studio on the third floor where I watch the wires and hot messages in iNews to track breaking news during the show, and rush in reprinted scripts to the anchor during each commercial break as the producers in New York update the script during the show. But we're not always doing a show, sometimes it's just a day full of research, preparing for future stories and interviews, and since the producer that I work for is heading off to Vancouver this week to cover the Olympics for MSNBC, I've been spending a lot of time helping him prepare by brainstorming non-sports related story ideas and adding Olympian contacts to his outlook account (I was tempted to start jotting down some numbers, Hello Sasha Cohen, Apollo Anton Ono, and Shawn White on speed dial) but being star crazed is not an option in the news business, and if you're good enough they should be asking you for autographs not the other way around...one day.
When 6:00 rolls around I wrap things up and dart out the door, I am now one of the urgent metro riders, racing to get to wherever my night class happens to be that day. Sometimes they're back on the GW campus, sometimes we meet guest speakers in the Senate building. Last week I took the metro to Union Station after work and grabbed some Taco Bell (I don't eat fast food but I needed to eat fast), ran across the street from the train station to the Senate building, shoving tacos in my mouth. When I went through the metal detecter at the Senate, I found some taco crumbs in my coat pocket...decided not to share this fact with the hilarious Capitol Police men who were trying to convince us they were cooler than the Secret Service...I liken this rivalry to the bloods and crips. CA has armed gangs, DC has armed guards.
After more political debate and discussion in class, it's home to eat dinner part II, whilst of course watching more news. Even outside of the daily grind, life=politics here. Whether it's visiting a museum, meeting Senate Majority leader and Nevadan Harry Reid for an early morning constituent breakfast, or even just a casual meal out with the handful of friends I have here, where we will likely discuss politics. It's impossible to turn it off. I'm worried that when I leave here I will find discussing or thinking about anything else boring, irrelevant, and cumbersome. As people out here say: It's a company town, and the business is politics. I spoke the language before, but now I'm becoming fluent, and perhaps by the end of the semester you might even mistake me for a native.