Behind the Scenes with Five Germans Interning in Congress

Running into Stephen Colbert or House Speaker Paul Ryan in Capitol hallways may seem like the highlights of a congressional internship. But for German intern Dan Netev, the most striking gain from his time interning on the Hill was a fresh confidence in his knowledge of American politics’ inner workings.

Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange intern Dan Netev met Stephen Colbert during his Congressional Internship Program.

“I was able to experience the root cause for many aspects in politics where I could not find a satisfying explanation before,” he explained.

For six weeks, beginning in January, Dan served in the office of Rep. Steve Chabot, who hails from the Cincinnati district where Dan studied and will intern for the rest of the academic year. His experience was part of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals (CBYX).

Dan was one of the five German CBYX Fellows chosen to intern for members of the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the Congressional Internship Program, now in its 18th year.

L to R: The 2018 class of CBYX Congressional Interns is Toni Christoph, Dan Netev, Tina Wolff, Lea Droste, and Josef Manhart.

Other takeaways Dan highlighted included constituents’ impressive level of involvement with the issues, along with the fast-paced nature of crafting official responses to the news.

The democratic chorus and practical urgency of politics inspired him. He hopes to become even more politically involved after returning to Germany.

Tina Wolff interned for six weeks in the office of Rep. Sam Johnson (Texas, 3rd District)

Fellow congressional intern Tina Wolff echoed Dan’s thoughts on the frequency and intensity of constituent engagement. She was surprised by the role Facebook and Twitter now play in House members’ relationship with those they serve. Tina believes her experience will be valuable as she pursues an international relations degree at the University of Aberdeen later this fall.

Each member of the group brought a singular perspective to the internship. For Lea Droste, “The Congressional Internship Program is so much more than a career path into politics. It is a great experience that contributes to professional and personal development.”

She noted how the program improved her English, encouraged her to ask questions, and gave her an admiration for the dedication and long hours staffers put in.

Lea interned for six weeks with Congresswoman Norma Torres of California.

Working in Rep. Norma Torres’ office provided a very personal glimpse behind the scenes. As Lea put it, “I got the feeling that the people in the office know and treat each other really well – almost like a little family. The Congresswoman was really busy, but whenever she had a free minute she was chatting with the people in the office, not only regarding business.”

The depth of the system also amazed Josef Manhart during his internship with Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado.

While accustomed to mostly seeing the President and White House affairs covered in the media, he was surprised to see there could be more than 20 staffers supporting a given representative.

The value of flexibility, open-mindedness, and respect in the Capitol also stayed with him.

Josef Manhart poses with Congresswoman Diana DeGette (Colorado, 1st District).

He reflected, “At the end of the day, everyone has the same goal: the best for their district, their state, and of course the United States.”

There was no typical day for Toni Christoph over the course of six weeks interning with Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett.
Some days his internship consisted of normal office work, others centered on issues affecting the entire nation.

Among the highlights, he cited the opportunity to attend various hearings and briefings, including one concerning the Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME, concerning public unions.

Toni interned in the office of Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who represents Texas’ 35th district.

“Since I want to get more involved in politics, I think this was a great chance to collect experience about political processes and how things work,” said Toni.

Perhaps Toni’s most memorable moment in Washington came during a meet-and-greet with another D.C. office.

“I wanted to tell you that my big wish to meet Senator Elizabeth Warren became true,” he said, with a photo of the Massachusetts Senator and himself proudly displaying a CBYX poster.

Toni was inspired by meeting Senator Elizabeth Warren.

For nearly two decades, the Congressional Internship Program has shaped young Germans’ perspective of Washington, and in turn, they have helped to shape Congress’ perspective on international exchange.

Whether it’s through daily responsibilities or spontaneous conversations in an office or corridor, CBYX congressional interns share their experience of living and learning in the United States.

Of all his hallway encounters, Dan added, “I introduced CBYX to every one of them and advocated for it. Who knows what impact that might have in the future for the program?”

Congressional intern Dan Netev poses with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on Ash Wednesday.

The 2018 class of CBYX Congressional Internship Program participants is:

Participating Student Representative (District) Toni Christoph Lloyd Doggett (TX-35) Lea Droste Norma Torres (CA-35) Josef Manhart Diana DeGette (CO-1) Daniel Netev Steve Chabot (OH-1) Christina Wolff Sam Johnson (TX-3)