What DC Has to Offer: Attending Events Across Town

One of the more interesting aspects of my internship is the occasional need that I attend events around DC that are relevant to my Fellow’s research project.  There are so many opportunities for learning in the city that are provided to the public for free if you register (and sometimes even if you don’t).  My boss likes to say an event is a success if they serve you lunch!  (He’s kidding, of course).

Last week my boss attended an event on U.S.-Southeast Asia relations at the East-West Center on L St. while I went to the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs to attend a panel on President Obama’s recent trip to Asia.

President Obama’s 10-day trip to India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan encompassed a G-20 summit, an Asian-Pacific Economic Council summit, major holidays in India and Indonesia, as well as four presidential news conferences. A panel of experts provided commentary on the significance of his visit and the prospects for U.S. policy in the region.

Speaking on India was Deepa Ollapally, Assistant Director at the Sigur Center for Asian Studies (who co-sponsored the event with the Asia Society).  On Indonesia was Alasdair Bowie, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at GW, on Japan, Mike Mochizuki, Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at GW, and on Korea, Gregg A. Brazinsky, Associate Professor of History and International Affairs.

To my dismay, there was no lunch provided, merely a light snack of fruit, cheese cubes, and some vegetables.  I was grateful for the bottles of water, however, after my approximately 13 block, 20 minute walk.  The panel was pretty interesting, overall.  The general message was that the trip was a big success for India but now they are skeptically wondering what the U.S. wants in return for all the trade opening and international endorsement, a big disappointment for Korea who was hoping for a trade deal, a boring extension of an already disappointing policy relationship with Japan, and an extremely short though long-awaited trip for Indonesia with a disappointing speech on Muslim-American relations.

Much of the trip seemed to be a gauge of the Asian countries’ relationships and reliance on China.  A quite telling moment in Indonesia illustrated this type of relationship when at a news conference, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, following Obama’s comment on China’s need to play a more constructive role in the Asian economy, jumped in to say “China has been a good friend to Indonesia.”  He was at pains to signal to China that although Obama was there visiting, he was avidly keeping Chinese interests in mind.

I enjoyed munching grapes and taking notes on the panelists’ comments for my Fellow, and the walk was certainly excellent exercise.  I mustered up the courage to ask a question at the end of the panel as well, which I never seem to be able to do.  It was nice to feel that I was knowledgeable enough on the topic of one country that I could ask a relevant policy question based on a significant amount of background information!

I think it’s important to take advantage of all that the city of Washington DC has to offer.  I’ve attended author events and discussion panels in the past, and always felt that I was lucky to be privy to a great wealth of knowledge, available for the “tapping into”.  Even if your work doesn’t demand it, attend an event at some point while you are at school here because a school paper or your interest in the affairs of the country or the world might!

(The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policy positions.)