Longest government shutdown disrupts Jan Term study abroad trips to Washington DC

by Esther Brown | Staff Writer

The Smithsonian Internship Jan Term program, lead by Professor Aaron Putzke, had to perform last minute rearranging with three-days notice of the government shutdown before the group’s arrival on Jan. 3. The syllabus planned for 3 ½ weeks of touring several Smithsonian museums, institutes, and archives to give students different perspectives of what goes on in different parts of the Smithsonian.

Months were spent scheduling tours and times with curators and researchers at specific exhibits. However, everything had to be changed because the Smithsonian, a federal institution, closed due to the shutdown.

“Washington D.C. is a fantastic city even without the Smithsonian… there is so much culture and diversity in that city that I think most people don’t have time or don’t take time to experience,” said Putzke. “I think that was a great pro for all of us, we came away seeing it from a different view.”

The class visited a range of locations, including private museums, The Kennedy Center, Artechouse, and the National Mall. They also invited different people to come and speak to them.

Students had the opportunity to meet and talk with Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Senator Patty Murray about a range of subjects, but particularly about how they were dealing with the government shutdown. They later went and watched both the Senate and the House of Representatives from the gallery.

“It was a really interesting perspective because one, I think it really humanized our politicians, they’re not just people in the news, and we got see what it actually looks like and the struggle that they deal with as politicians on a daily basis,” said Putzke.

Although the class had a unique set of experiences, several still felt disappointed. Ironically, the government shutdown ended just a couple of days after class ended.

“It was pretty upsetting,” said senior Morgan McKeague. “I’m a history major, so I think it’s interesting to be witnessing history because it was the longest shutdown in U.S. history… but I was also upset that the opportunity I had set aside time and money to really learn from the Smithsonian, and I was really excited to learn from that, it was a letdown”

The class “Media Impact in Contemporary U.S.,” composed of seven students and Professor Kevin Grieves, started in New York and traveled to Washington, D.C. for the second half of the trip. The purpose of the class was to visit media outlets as a way to explore the realm of media as well as help students network. While the government shutdown did not affect the original itinerary greatly, senior Meghan Foulk said it had an impact on students’ personal plans for their free time.

“Because things were shut down, we definitely had to get creative with the tourist destinations,” said Foulk. “Having the government shutdown and the government being the primary thing of D.C. really does force you to try to find interesting things to do that aren’t the mainstream tourism.”

One place the group visited was the American Sign Language Starbucks, something they saw trending on social media.

“It was a very cool experience to be able to go and be in an environment that was not crafted for me, a hearing person, and being able to successfully, and unsuccessfully, try to operate within that environment. It makes you realize how often the environments we are in are not crafted towards people with disabilities or those that don’t fit into expectations of society,” said Foulk.

Although the Smithsonian internship and media class itineraries were affected by the government shutdown, both were able to make last-minute plans. While Jan Term is typically known for unconventional classes and study abroad trips, the two groups experienced a particularly unusual and memorable trip.