US program a life-changing experience

Congressman Jerrold Nadler and James Brooks.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler and James Brooks.

A Monash University student recently returned from the United States where he took part in a prestigious internship program which gave him rare access to the US political system.

James Brooks, a fifth-year Arts/Law student at Monash University’s Clayton campus, was one of only 12 university students, and the first from Monash, selected from almost 100 applicants to take part in the Uni-Capitol Washington Internship Program (UCWIP).

The students were placed in a range of Democrat, Republican, House, Senate, personal and committee offices for their two-month internships in Capitol Hill, Washington.

“I worked in the Office of Representative Jerrold Nadler from New York,” James said.

“My role involved a lot of constituent contact and required me to work closely with staff and other interns in the office. There was a sense that, even as an intern, I was involved in important issues as they unfolded on ‘the Hill’.”

In addition to the daily work in their respective offices, the interns attended a host of briefings, meetings and other events aimed to broaden their understanding of American politics and international relations.

“Highlights for me included attending the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony, visiting the Australian Mission to the United Nations in New York and meeting former Transportation and Commerce Secretary, Norman Mineta, who was in his role on September 11, 2001.”

James said one thing the program taught him was despite the similarities between Australia and the US, there are fundamental differences between the two countries with respect to political discourse, culture and institutions.

“We were in Washington D.C. while the Congress was debating gun control, the fiscal cliff and sequestration. The kind of debate we saw simply wouldn’t happen in Australia,” James said.

“Opportunities for foreigners to work in the US Congress are few and far between. I’m very grateful to have had such an enriching and unique experience.”

Monash University is one of a select number of Australian universities who participate in the UCWIP. James is currently completing a research task for his law studies, comparing campaign finance laws in the US and Australia.

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