When seven ambitious UC Merced students signed up to participate in this semester’s UCDC program , they were eager to study and live in the nation’s capital, but they didn’t realize it would be the opportunity of a lifetime.
The UC-sponsored program provides students the chance to observe public policy processes and gain an extensive range of cultural experiences as interns for agencies such as the Smithsonian, the National Institutes of Health, the White House and the Senate.
For economics  major David Do, who is in his final semester at UC Merced, working in Sen. Barbara Boxer’s office has proved to be such a valuable experience, he is looking for a job so he can stay in Washington, D.C.
“I believe this will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I need to do while I am young,” he said. “Being part of the process I understand better how everything fits together. It takes an exorbitant amount of work, and I have a better respect for Congress.”
Do says his experience hasn’t been all work and no play. He spends his free moments attending book discussions at Politics and Prose, a mom-and-pop bookstore. He has also visited all the free monuments and attractions that D.C. has to offer.
“The best advice I have received here is never sit around and do nothing, because there is so much to see and do,” he said.
Before heading to the nation’s capital, Susana Inda, a political science  major minoring in Spanish and anthropology , was interning at the public defender's office in Merced. Now, the senior  from San Jose is gaining hands-on experience at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
“My internship has affirmed my goals and aspirations in becoming an attorney,” Inda said. “Every day, I learn something new and meet someone new that I am sure will help me in becoming a lawyer.”
The UCDC program is designed for college juniors and seniors, so sophomore Sam Sheldon considers himself extremely fortunate to have been selected to spend the semester abroad.
“It’s surreal and invigorating to walk down the hall. It’s all politics, all the time,” said Sheldon, a political science major from Palo Alto. “Making connections is invaluable if you want to work in the public sector. This experience is worth more than any GPA or test score.”
Sheldon highly encourages everyone to apply for the program, no matter their major.
“UCDC has something for everyone,” he said. “It's an opportunity of a lifetime for students who are willing to step out of campus life and experience the real world.”
Applications for fall 2010 will be accepted in March 2010. For more information about the UCDC program, visit: ucdc.ucmerced.edu .