Intriguing Sophomores: What a Difference a Year Makes

Freshman year is about taking risks and getting involved. The following four sophomores had freshman experiences that went above and beyond what they expected. The intriguing sophomores reminisce about their pasts, passions and the part-time jobs they had last year. They also try to give advice and inspire incoming freshmen who desire an atypical underclass experience.

Natalie Abuchaibe, Ambassador in training

When Natalie Abuchaibe left Colombia to study at GW, she said she hoped to get a taste of American culture. She did not realize she would end up spending much of her time working with GW Por Colombia, a student organization that brings Colombian culture to campus.

Abuchaibe was a major player in organizing a giant Colombian cultural awareness festival at Kogan Plaza in March, which had an unexpected turnout of almost 200 people. She will be Por Colombia’s relations representative next year and will be in charge of advertisement for the organization’s events. Her favorite part of the job is being creative and organizing an event people will enjoy, she said.

“I realized when I came here that in my country, we have a reputation of war and drugs, but it’s not true.” Abuchaibe said. “There are so many good people and motivated people who want better opportunities.”

Abuchaibe’s original intention coming to GW was to pursue bigger and better things by majoring in political science.

“I knew I wanted to come to America for the better education and to study political science from a completely different perspective,” she said. “But I miss my hometown – Barranquilla – which is beautiful and full of very interesting people. In fact, my dad played tennis with Shakira’s dad.”

Abuchaibe complimented her education with experience during her freshman year. Despite her heavy involvement with GW Por Colombia and membership in the Organization of Latin American Students, she also interned for the office of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). It was worth having the internship her freshman because she was able to put into practice everything she learned in class, but by the time she is a junior she wants to start looking for a real job, she said.

Although Abuchaibe wanted to connect to American culture when she came to Washington to study, she said she will never forget her roots while adapting to the political landscape of Washington.

She said, “People have a totally different view of Colombia, and I want change it. We have an awesome culture, great music, Nobel prize winners and the best coffee.”

Tobin Van Ostern, Facebook politician

Most students in college like to build up their resumes with internships and jobs, preferably paid. Tobin Van Ostern, however, will be able to buff up his resume by helping a presidential candidate find his way to the White House.

Van Ostern, who is now deputy director of Students For Barack Obama, put in almost 50 hours a week during the school year for the organization, watching it grow and develop into something professional and consequential. The organization is high structured with different departments. As deputy director, Van Ostern works with the department heads and makes sure they are on the same page. He also focuses on campaign strategy.

Van Ostern first got involved with Obama’s campaign when Students For Barack Obama was a Facebook group. The founder asked him to help out with a Web site, and from there things took off to a grass-roots organization. When Van Ostern got Obama to speak at George Mason University, Students for Barack officially became part of Obama’s campaign. The rally attracted about 3,000 audience members and more than 100 members of the media, he said.

“This is a crash course in political campaigning, and a great way to meet people in what’s hopefully going to be my career, a political consultant,” said Van Ostern, an international affairs major.

Despite the fact that his grades from last year could have been better, the experience of running a grassroots organization has been well worth it, and more than educational, he said.

He said, “Dive right into whatever you’re interested in, there’s no reason to hold back, especially now, starting in college when you have newfound freedom and time.”

James Barnes, Student politico

When James Barnes came to GW last year, he took on the school and the city full force. Passionate for politics, he interned at the White House spring semester of last year, coordinated GW College Republican campaign activities, joined Program Board and worked through a laundry list of other activities.

“I love GW because I can do so much here, and I’ve met some of the best people through all the stuff I do,” Barnes said. “Where else can you intern at the White House and go to classes afterwards?”

Last year Barnes took the reins of coordinating the GWCR campaigns in Pennsylvania, leading two campaign trips to Pittsburgh in the first semester of his freshman year. He also worked on campaigns in GW’s own political scene and coordinated Student Assocation senate campaigns.

“These are experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything else. I would encourage any freshman to get involved with their party whether they are Republican or Democratic,” Barnes said. “Just find something you’re good at and go with it.”

As part of the GWCR’s, he was able to meet former Attorney General John Ashcroft and talk at length. Meeting Ashcroft was surreal and it was one of his most memorable moments from freshman year, Barnes said.

“GW is a school designed to get involved in and if you don’t, you miss out,” Barnes said.

But it was not all work and no play for Barnes. As a part of Program Board’s concerts committee last year, he was able to help organize Fall Fest, Spring Fling and Jerry Seinfeld’s performance during Colonials Weekend.

Vyomika Jairam, The next Oprah

Most people do not become TV stars by the time they enter college, but Vyomika Jairam already has a taste of what it is like to be a recognizable on-camera personality.

During her freshman year, she interned for Darshan, an Indian American broadcast show televised locally in the Washington area on channel WHNZ. Jairam had been involved in her high school paper, but by the time she got to GW she was sick of print journalism and wanted to experience something else. When she was offered an internship at a TV show she snagged it, she said.

“When I go anywhere locally that’s Indian, like a restaurant, I know people recognize me. Especially when I go to the events with a cameraman, about 10 or 15 separate people come up and say, ‘You’re the Darshan girl!’ It’s the funniest feeling ever because I have no idea who they are,” said Jairam, a journalism major.

Darshan is a talk show that often has a panel. Her first show aired in September of last year, just a few weeks after she started classes. Jairam hosted the show, introduced the guests, and joined in on the actual discussions, throughout her entire freshman year.

“We discuss so many issues, about anything and everything that had to do with the Indian-American community,” she said. She also taped special segments, such as meetings for the Indian Chamber of Commerce and the anti-war rally that took place last March. She edited segments that she had taped.

“The experience was really cool,” Jairam said. “I learned what it was like going in once a week and getting my hair and make-up done, getting to wear (traditional) Indian clothes.”

Jairam was extremely busy during her freshman year (she also interned at the Department of Transportation), but she would not have it any other way. Although she loved the experience, Jairam said she probably would not pursue broadcast news as a career.

As advice to incoming freshmen, she said: “If you find something remotely interesting, sign up for it and go to the first meeting, and if you don’t like it, then at least you know that.There’s so much to do in D.C. and there’s definitely something for everyone, so there’s no point in hesitating.”

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