Prestigious political internship an ‘amazing’ experience for graduate
How three months in Washington, DC, inspired Montana’s career path
When Montana Byers reflects on her three years of study at the University of Wollongong, there is one notable highlight: the Uni-Capitol Washington Intern Program.
As the 2017 UOW representative in the prestigious program, Montana spent two months at the heart of the American political system, interning in the office of Congressman Mark DeSaulnier.
In addition to providing an intimate look at the intricacies and intrigues of the world’s most dominant political sphere, the experience has changed the course of Montana’s future career plans.
“I’m really interested in politics, especially in a support and advisory capacity. I love that behind-the-scenes work,” said Montana, who today (Friday 20 April) graduated from UOW with a Bachelor of International Studies (Dean’s Scholar), majoring in International Relations.
It is an interesting time to be studying politics, particularly American politics.
Living and working in Washington DC, where Montana took part in town hall discussions, attended briefings for Congressman DeSaulnier, met constituents, and answered phones, was an “amazing” experience that opened her eyes to the world.
Montana spent two months as an intern in the office of Congressman DeSaulnier, a Democrat who oversees the 11th Congressional District of California and was a progressive leader within a divisive political environment.
Montana attended President Trump’s inauguration, on a freezing day in Washington DC, a moment she describes as “intense”.
Montana Byers on the eve of her trip to the United States, in 2016. Photo: Paul Jones
Being placed in a Democratic office in a political environment ruled by Republicans placed Montana on the precipice of the fierce cultural wars raging in the US.
It also enabled her to dive into the issues she is passionate about, including mental health and gun control, and provided her with a greater appreciation of the need to work together – regardless of nationality – to overcome political differences.
“The United States is incredibly divided. Being in Washington made me realise how essential it is, whether in Australia or in the US, for people to come together to bridge those divides. To talk through those differences,” Montana said.
“I’m really interested in mental health and gun control, so it was fascinating to be able to see how those issues affect citizens. And I also learnt a lot about health care. It made me realise how lucky we are to have those things in Australia.”
During her internship, Montana visited the United Nations building in New York, spent time in the Congressman’s district in California, and commuted daily to the office on Capitol Hill from her temporary home in northern Virginia.
She encourages all students to apply for the Uni-Capitol Washington Intern Program, which runs every year. Now looking at life beyond university, Montana is excited to use her political knowledge and experience to carve her own path.
“Taking part in the internship has been an amazing life experience, and I am really excited to be able to use what I have learnt in future positions,” Montana said.
“I’m working as a staffer in an electoral office now, which I love, and I’m also interested in the security side of government, so it’s exciting to explore those opportunities.”