PCJ students pose for a photo in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

PCJ students Tea Cimini (left), Ivana Vujeva (centre), and Natalie Boychuk (right) pose for a photo in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Since 1970, the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress (CSPC) has invited fellows from around the world to Washington, D.C. to learn about leadership and governance, share their research, and explore careers in public service. The following PCJ students were three of fifteen students selected as members of the 2017-2018 Class of CSPC International Fellows and have reflected on their experiences in the program after returning from an introductory conference in Washington, D.C. in late October.

Natalie Boychuk
As someone who incessantly follows US politics, travelling to Washington, D.C. as an international fellow with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress was an equally enjoyable and eye-opening experience. The center is a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington that was founded at the behest of President Dwight D. Eisenhower because there was no existing think tank to document the key lessons learned from presidents. As fellows, we will be completing original research on a foreign or domestic policy issue, using historical analysis, to demonstrate applications for future policy challenges.

We were accompanied by international fellows from Japan, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and Panama, which was one of the most enlightening aspects of our visit. It isn’t often that a political science student can sit down with a Spanish student to discuss the Catalonian question just days before the Catalan government was to make a decision regarding its secession; this opportunity was invaluable for understanding different perspectives of foreign policy issues. As someone who primarily writes from constructivist points of view, speaking to other fellows was particularly interesting for understanding how different groups of people perceive the United States’ position in the world.

Our trip began with tours around Washington and to Gettysburg, where we were able to stand at the spot where Lincoln made the Gettysburg address and changed the shape of the United States. We also visited the Washington monument and the portrait gallery, where we learned more about the roles various presidents have played in the current position of the US. While I found the planned sightseeing to be fascinating, I had to sneak away to see the Constitution and the Bill of Rights on one of our free afternoons.

The Center’s conference featured prominent actors in campaign communications and journalism to discuss the changing nature of civility in political culture. I resonated with this portion of the conference in particular because I find the role of the media in current affairs to be incredibly important and took a French media analysis class during the course of the US Presidential election. I had long since speculated about how, for example, online newspaper articles which allow anyone to comment in contrast to former letters to the editor, change how we as the public share our opinions and engage in political discourse. To listen to a seasoned political journalist and communications strategist discuss the impact of increasingly digital communications on democratic processes, and in particular, Hillary Clinton’s loss, was invaluable. Moreover, it is important to remember that as Canadians we are not immune from the ever-decreasing civility in politics; this conference helped me understand what we can do to keep dignity and civility at the forefront of democracy.

The Washington, D.C. streetscape with the United States Capitol Building in the distance.

The Washington, D.C. streetscape with the United States Capitol Building in the distance.

Ivana Vujeva
When I first heard I was selected as one of the International Fellows for the CSPC fellowship, I immediately thought back to the students—many of them my friends—who represented PCJ in this opportunity in years past. Each was a highly-accomplished student who I admired. It was an honour, then, to count myself amongst such high-achieving PCJ-ers.

Having recently returned from the first of two conferences that I and my co-fellows will be attending as part of the fellowship, I can only say how happy I am that, several months ago, I decided I might as well give the application a shot. Not only did I enjoy myself in Washington, DC, but I also came away from the conference with a better understanding of my research.

For me, the experience was anchored by my interactions with the other international fellows, with whom we spent the first three days of our trip. Not only did we get to take in the sights of DC with them, but we also got to discuss our projects, our future plans, hobbies and lives back home. And, the world being as small as it is, I discovered that another fellow was involved in Model UN as I am, and was running a conference I plan on attending.

As the US fellows arrived, I appreciated the open discussions we had about our research. Although no one in my group had any specialty in my subject matter—legislative decision-making regarding cultural trafficking—they brought in different scenarios from US politics that I would have never thought of otherwise. Moreover, it was fascinating to hear what the other fellows were interested in researching, and offering feedback wherever I could. The exchange of ideas left me feeling so much more confident in my research project, and excited to return and present my results in the spring!

Tea Cimini
My research at the Centre for the Study of the Presidency and Congress focuses on the implications of the proposed budget cuts to the State Department and USAID. Over the next few months, I will be closely following the developments in congress and in the White House. As such, being in D.C. to pursue this research and meeting practitioners and academics in the field was an amazing opportunity.

Being an International Presidential Fellow was all in all an amazingly enriching opportunity. During the first few days, we had an opportunity to explore D.C. and get to know the other international fellows, coming from four different continents. It was an amazing opportunity to confront my ideas with those of other students belonging to different cultures and educated in different academic settings.

D.C. itself was marvelous! We were able to tour many historical sites, such as the Lincoln Memorial in the National Mall and go to various museums, such as the International Spy Museum. I especially enjoyed one section of the National Museum of American History dedicated to the role of the First Lady. It was interesting seeing how the role has evolved since the beginning of the Presidency and what approach different women have adopted in carrying out their role.

During the second part of the week, we were joined by domestic fellows, coming from various universities and military academies across the U.S. Throughout the conference itself, the quality of the discussion was always very high and comments by other fellows informed and thoughtful. Having in the same room scholars, practitioners, and students from all over the world discussing the modern-day challenges of the Presidency and Congress was stimulating and rewarding experience. We got to learn a lot about what working on the Hill looks like, as well as what decision-making and policy-making in Washington D.C. look like.

I am very much looking forward the second half of the conference in the Spring of 2018!