You Made It!

Congratulations, you are officially one of many unpaid interns in the muggy political haven that is Washington D.C. You dream of casually running into your political heroes, of walking into a random bakery and witnessing an Obama-Biden romance, yet after hiking up 15 flights of stairs from the metro because the escalator is broken (per usual), you arrive sweating and panting to your first day at the office, bright-eyed and ready to change the world; to dredge the swamp; or to Snapchat yourself running down the halls with your flashy new badge.

The Dilemma 

You spend the morning mindlessly scanning documents and thinking up ways in which you can embellish the importance of this task on your resume. Suddenly, a staffer mentions the time — it's lunch, and you have conveniently forgotten to pack one.

"How about Sweetgreen?", someone suggests.

"I love Sweetgreen!", another staffer adds.

You pause, thinking to yourself. Sweetgreen? Sounds nice enough. It also sounds healthy, and you haven't consumed a decent vegetable in weeks. Your stomach growls noisily, interrupting your mindless scanning of the 935738th document on border security. You decide to go with your coworkers to Sweetgreen, partly because you need to network and partly because you're hungry as hell. You silently hope that it's affordable and filling because — as is referenced in the title — you're an unpaid intern.

When you arrive, you quickly discover that it is $12 for a salad. $12?! You internally scream to yourself and mentally calculate all the chicken nuggets you could buy with that much money. You silently curse your love for McDonald's and 4 for $4 deals. Your coworkers are smiling, evidence that this $12 must be a filling and enriching and oh-so-delicious investment. Your bank account weeps for you as you numbly swipe your card and receive a half-bowl of raw greens and a sad drizzle of dressing in return.

Is this the worst trade deal in the history of trade deals? Maybe not. But to an unpaid intern, D.C.'s perplexing love for Sweetgreen and other similar bougie restaurants is partly the reason why it's so hard for unpaid interns to live comfortably in D.C. Why anyone wants to talk politics over a depressingly overpriced salad is beyond me, but that's the lunch hour norm.

To assist my fellow unpaid slaves, I've brainstormed 5 efficient ways to eat as an unpaid intern in Washington, D.C.

1. Sneak Away for Some Chicken Nuggets  

Go with the rest of the office to whatever overpriced location they've decided to dine at. Order an appetizer, and claim you're "just not that hungry". Once everyone has returned to the office, sneak away to the McDonald's on C St. and 4th and sprint back before anyone notices you're gone. If they ask, say you were taking a 30-minute break to "get your steps in for the day". Don't forget to wipe off the Sweet 'n' Sour Sauce from your second-hand slacks.

2. Sip Very Slowly 

That $10 happy hour cocktail that's supposed to be strong but actually tastes like cherry Kool-Aid with a sprig of mint and a drop of alcohol? Sip it slowly — because you can't afford another one, my friend. I can't ethically suggest purchasing a flask, but here are some cheap ones on Amazon.

3. Bring Your Lunch and Eat It in the Cafeteria

The cafeteria is where you eat with the other unpaid interns who bring their lunches. They are your friends, and you should make nice with them. Pro tip: cafeterias on the Senate side have a wider selection of food, but you should also expect to spend around $10-13 for anything other than chicken strips and fries.

4. Attend Random Lunch Briefings/Discussions 

That policy briefing on the necessity of North American infrastructure programs that also happens to provide a free BBQ lunch? Sign yourself up ASAP. Offer to take notes for the office and bring a pad along with your grumbling stomach. Staffers are always getting invited to lunches, so check with them on any potential upcoming events.

5. Don't Eat

Not so helpful, but surprisingly effective.

Unpaid Interns – A Culture

Washington D.C., is home to a horde of unpaid interns vying for the chance to make a difference. There are typical arguments for unpaid internships, such as the fact that congressional offices can offer college course credit as an alternative, or that the experience itself makes up for the lack of salary. The truth is that experience or course credit doesn't pay for food or housing — only a salary does.

If an intern's family doesn't have that salary, interns look to alternative sources of funding such as loans, scholarships, or working additional jobs outside of the office. This results in a markedly different experience for unpaid interns who can afford to be in D.C., and for those who can't. To address this issue, the Senate and House have recently agreed to allocate funding for their interns, a decision that will hopefully level the playing field for 2019 interns and beyond to advance their careers and education on the Hill.  

We Still Out Here Though

As an unpaid intern in the best city in the U.S., I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to intern in a congressional office. The friends, the professional connections, and the inside knowledge of how the legislative process works are all invaluable. In five years, when I'm happily chomping on a $12 salad as an underpaid and overworked staffer, I'll chuckle to myself as I reflect on my unpaid internship and how constructive it was to learn to professionally starve in our nation's capitol — and I'll hope that the intern sitting next to me won't have to experience the same.