by Andy Mychkovsky, 2010 APAICS Intern
Can I possibly describe my overall experience in Washington, DC as an APAICS intern at the Department of Veterans Affairs in two words? Yes. “Life changing.” Let me explain why.
Imagine yourself an adoptee from South Korea, with two amazing parents who have absolutely no Asian American cultural ties, in a town of 6,000 people in Northern Michigan. Imagine yourself as the only minority on the hockey team, the only minority in your close circle of friends, and one of the only minorities in the entire school. Imagine yourself leaving home to attend a liberal arts school named Grand Valley State University, based in a city with less than 2% Asian American population. Now imagine yourself leaving that environment to participate in an internship program named the Asian Pacific Americans Institute for Congressional Studies. Imagine arriving in Washington, DC without having any legitimate housing plans, no social connections, and no solid idea what it really meant to be an Asian American. This was my reality.
On my second day in DC, I attended the 2010 APIASF Higher Education Summit. It was successful event in which a number of strong speakers from various disciplines discussed topics such as the “model minority myth,” which had never been explained to me in great detail before. All things considered, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and left satisfied, except for one lingering observation that seemed so distant to me. I had never seen so many Asian Americans in one room.
This strange concept seemed to pester me throughout the following week, until I finally brought this observation up amongst a group of other Asian American interns. It was at this point when a fellow intern at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Vivian, rationally explained how my current perspective with regards to the Higher Education Summit was flawed. She asked the question, “Why if a large group of Caucasians are congregated no one flinches, but if a group of Asian Americans do the same it is suddenly different?” In retrospect, my former point of view seems so petty. Even though we are considered Asian American, emphasis needs to be placed on the latter, American. This new thought process laid the foundation for my summer experience and was paramount in the cultivation of my new mindset. I now have a much greater understanding of what it is to be an Asian American and have a strong desire to continue learning.
As I reflect on my experience here, I’ve come to realize how fond a memory this summer will be for the remainder of my life. Two months ago, I never would have imagined walking the halls of the U.S. Capitol and meeting with members of Congress as prestigious as Senator Akaka and President Pro Tempore of the United States Senator Inouye. I never would have imagined watching the sunrise from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial over the reflection pool, with the Washington Monument in the background. I never would have imagined sitting in the same exact seat at the Senate Appropriations Committee table as the late and great Senator Byrd. I never would have imagined being in Washington DC on the fourth of July, with patriotism pouring into the streets in the form of red, white, and blue attire, replacing pressed suits and leather shoes. And I never in a million years would have imagined that on my birthday, former Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta would have sang happy birthday to me along with the other APAICS interns, right after discussing in detail how he brought down over 4,000 planes within a few hours on that September 11, 2001. This truly has been the summer of a lifetime.
With that being said, I can honestly attribute majority of my incredible experience of these last two months to the fellow interns of the 2010 summer class. Who knew I would be fortunate enough to befriend some of the best people I will ever have the pleasure of knowing here in DC. The other interns in the APAICS program have taught me more than I can even comprehend right now and for that I am forever grateful. The pedigree of academia and experience that each intern possesses has pushed me to pursue an even higher level of community involvement and intelligence. Hopefully we will remain in contact and I only wish them the best of luck in all their future dreams and endeavors.
Andrew Mychkovsky is a 2010 APAICS Summer Intern at the office of the Assistant Secretary L. Tammy Duckworth for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He is currently studying Health Science with a minor in Political Science as a rising senior at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, MI.