What’s It Like to Intern on Capitol Hill? We Asked Our German Fellows

Five German students recently spent six weeks interning for members of the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals’ (CBYX) Congressional Internship Program.

The students were selected from among a group of 73 CBYX Fellows from Germany currently spending a year studying, interning, and living with American hosts as part of this longstanding U.S.-German exchange program, which is joint funded by the German Bundestag and U.S. Department of State.

Since 1998-99, the Congressional Internship Program has provided 85-plus CBYX Fellows the chance to learn directly about U.S. government and policy-making through this unique personal and professional experience.

We recently caught up with our five congressional interns to find out what it was like interning on the Hill in this inauguration year.

Leonie and Representative Conaway, from Texas’ 11th District, pose in front of the U.S. Capitol.

Leonie Bohle

Interned with: Representative Mike Conaway, Texas 11th District

Hometown: Berlin, Germany

Host University: University of New Mexico

Host City: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Field of Study: Vocational Training as a Foreign Language Assistant

What similarities have you found between German and American politics?

Besides the common values of democracy, America and Germany are facing the same global issues with the threat of ISIS or the rise of populism in western countries. The interesting question now: if we find a common ground to overcome the issues, then maybe we find even more similarities which connect our countries, not only on a political but also on a social level.

What is it like to work in an office of an American politician?

The work in a congressional office is not easy. It depends on the office you are working in and how the staff members treat you. I had a great experience, and I was integrated from the beginning. My day started at 8:15 a.m., when Congress was in session, and ended at 6 p.m. My first duty was to organize the incoming post and newspapers, after that I listened to the voicemails and took down the messages. My main task was to answer constituent’s phone calls, take down messages and log them into a system. Sometimes, I was also sent to run some errands or bring documents to different offices around the hill. This was actually the most interesting part since you can discover different areas of the building and sometimes sneak a peek at places which are impossible to enter without a staff member badge.

Johannes Stahl

Johannes (second from the left) poses with Representative Fleischmann (center) and Jürgen Hardt, a member of the German Bundestag (right)

Interned with: Representative Chuck Fleischmann, Tennessee 3rd district

Hometown: Gilserberg-Moischeid, Germany

Host University: Dyersburg State Community College

Host City: Dyersburg, Tennessee

Field of Study: Business Administration

Why did you apply for the Congressional Internship Program?

I have taken part in several political organizations in Germany and have had in interest in law, history, and politics from an early age. I ran for office in a local election in my home district, I was a camp leader at international camps where we studied and compared the different systems for governing our home countries, and I wrote reports for the local newspaper in my hometown. I wanted to research more about the ways that American government works, now and throughout the history of the United States.

What is one thing that surprised you about your internship experience?

I was surprised about the relaxed, but goal-oriented working atmosphere.

What lessons will you take away from this experience?

It’s not the grades you make, it’s the hands you shake. This sentence really summarized my experience at the Hill. Everything is about a good network.

Daniela Vogel

Daniela poses with Representative Reichert after a personal interview. “He is 3 quarters German and gave me a House of Representatives coin as a gift, which was really nice,” said Daniela.

Interned with: Representative Dave Reichert, Washington State 8th District

Hometown: Schweinfurt, Germany

Host University: Clover Park Technical College

Host City:  Lakewood, Washington

Field of Study:  Industrial Mechanic / Mechatronics

Why did you apply for the Congressional Internship Program?

I am an industrial mechanic in Germany – so really nothing related to politics or working in an office environment, but the CIP had from the very first moment my full attention. It’s not just a unique experience to be part of politics, but also a huge honor to be part of it in a very different country. Moreover, the CIP gives you the opportunity to further your knowledge, grow personally, further your communication skills and gives you hands-on experience how politics work.

How has working with an American politician changed your perception of American politics? Has it changed your perception of German politics? If so, how?

The work with an American politician definitely changed my perception. I never realized how many people one single congressman represents. In my case, it’s about 600,000 people. Compared to my German representative, it’s more than double. So it’s really hard for Americans to get hold of their representative which made me appreciate it even more, that I could easily attend a town hall meeting in Germany. Working with a Republican congressman in a Democratic state also gave me the chance to hear so many different views and talk to so many different people. This made me even more open-minded and gave me more understanding for both parties.

Paul Kreutzer

Paul Kreutzer poses with Representative Steve Chabot from Ohio

Interned with: Representative Steve Chabot, Ohio 1st District

Hometown: Düsseldorf, Germany

Host University: Kennesaw State University

Host City:  Kennesaw, Georgia

Field of Study: Economics

How do you think your internship experience will benefit you professionally?

Meeting so many interesting people throughout the six weeks I spent in Virginia and in D.C. has had an impact on my perception of the American people. I have made new friends, and I have seen how different lives can be across this great country. Overall, I think it is beneficial to connect with as many people as possible, and to leave an impression on those that have ambitions and strive to achieve their goals. Who knows if they might ever end up being in a position where they can help you out later in life. Even if it does not benefit me personally, it is a fantastic chance to give people a positive impression of my country and my culture.

What is it like to work in an office of an American politician?

In the mornings, I sorted the daily newspapers and prepared the stack of the Congressman’s favorite papers. During the night, constituents would call the office phone and leave voicemail messages. Therefore, one of the interns listened to the voicemail in the morning and took down phone numbers, names, concerns, and additional contact information that callers might have provided. During a regular work day, our office received up to 200 phone calls. Whenever the responsible staffers could not attend hearings or briefings themselves, they sent interns to attend and take down notes. Additionally, interns were responsible for sorting incoming mail through digital software and assigning them to the suitable staffer. Sometimes we were asked to draft responses, too.

Ersin Demircan

Ersin poses with Representative Jim Himes from Connecticut’s 4th District.

Interned with: Representative Jim Himes, Connecticut 4th District

Hometown: Cologne, Germany

Host University: Lake Region State College

Host City:  Devils Lake, North Dakota

Field of Study: Digital Marketing and Sales

How has working with an American politician changed your perception of American politics?

I have much more respect for people who work in a congressional office or with a Congressman/Senator/etc. than before. Everybody should see how things are really working, that could change your views on politics in general. Especially during such a contentious time in U.S. history, working in Congress was extremely interesting and exciting. In Germany, you won’t get much of that excitement or enthusiasm as you will get in here. That can be good or bad. Personally, I found that really refreshing and motivating.  

What is one thing that surprised you about your internship experience?

I thought I would never see my representative, but he was much more available than I thought he would be. He even took me to the Congress gallery, explained to me what he is doing when he is on the House floor, and took me to his live CNN interview! He is a really nice guy and hard working and is really committed to his work.

How do you think your internship will benefit you professionally?

After this experience, I know I want to do something with politics. Also, I think having the House of Representatives in my CV will help me a lot. Not because it’s just written there, because I really learned a lot.

Ersin working the phones and fielding constituent calls

The 2017 class of CBYX Congressional Internship Program participants:

Participating Student Representative (District) Leonie Bohle Mike Conaway (TX-11) Ersin Demircan Jim Himes (CT-4) Paul Kreutzer Steve Chabot (OH-1) Johannes Stahl Chuck Fleischmann (TN-3) Daniela Vogel David Reichert (WA-8)

The Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals is a fellowship funded by the German Bundestag and U.S. Department of State that annually provides up to 75 American and 75 German young professionals, between the ages of 18-24, the opportunity to spend one year in each other’s countries, studying, interning, and living with hosts on a cultural immersion program. The program consists of three phases:

Cultural Vistas has administered CBYX for Young Professionals for over 30 years, together with its German partner organization, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit. Learn more about the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals at