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Two college students from DeLand were able to watch from close up this fall as history was made in the nation’s capital.

“We literally have a front-row seat of all of the policy decisions going on in the U.S. right now,” Christopher Fortes said from Washington, D.C. He and Nina Oeberg spent the fall semester in a politics and policy program as part of The Fund for American Studies.

The Fund for American Studies is an educational program founded in the 1960s that provides opportunities for students across the country to study politics and policy in the nation’s capital. In the capital, students take classes and are placed with internships for their selected fields of study.

And Fortes wasn’t kidding about the frontrow seat — the apartment they stayed in is right next to the Supreme Court.

Oeberg said being in the heart of the city, they were able to attend the vigil for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and watched firsthand as protesting and celebrations broke out surrounding recent political decisions.

From the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, to the election of Joe Biden, this fall has certainly been filled with historic moments.

“We can definitely see how divided the country is,” Oeberg said. “When you’re in the middle of it all, you see it even more. You really see the behind-the-scenes also, instead of just reading it in the paper if we were back home.”

The two DeLandites agreed that meeting new people and being exposed to new ideas were both highlights of their time in the nation’s capital.

“Seeing people protest every day for what they believe in, it’s inspiring,” Fortes said. “It’s definitely eye-opening, it really exposes you to a lot of new ideas you never thought you’d be exposed to.”

Oeberg agreed. She said she learned a lot and hopes to come back to Washington someday for work.

“D.C. is kind of a big small town, so it kind of reminds me of DeLand in a lot of ways,” she said.

Fortes laughed, and agreed.

“It is a large city, but everybody knows everybody,” he said.

The two have finished The Fund for American Studies program and are returning to their respective schools.

Oeberg is a Flagler College student, and Fortes attends the University of North Florida.

Fortes, born and raised in DeLand, is a student of political science and international affairs. His goal, he said, is to have a career in human rights. He said the opportunity to go to Washington to further his studies was valuable.

“It gave me a good opportunity to connect with other people; similar people who also want to work in D.C.,” Fortes said. “I was placed at Mil Mujeres Legal Services, a human-rights organization that specializes in immigration. [Mil Mujeres] helps people that are victims of domestic violence in Central and South America gain citizenship and get to the United States.”

Oeberg, who moved to DeLand in 2017, is a pre-med student at Flagler College, but she studies political science, as well.

“The political atmosphere we’re in has really made it where, if you want to be a health care professional, it’s something you can’t ignore,” Oeberg said. “For me, it’s been a conscious decision to go into politics to be the best health care professional I can be.”

Her internship in Washington was with the Health and Medicine Counsel, a lobbying firm that specializes in patient advocacy and lobbying for the health care industry.

Both Oeberg and Fortes said their time in Washington — especially amid a contentious election and a global pandemic — was interesting and rewarding.

“It’s really a connections game. It’s who you know,” Oeberg said. “Being able to have conversations with people who don’t think like you, act like you, or look like you [is important]. Every connection matters.”

While the two are returning to Florida to continue their respective studies, they said they hope their time spent in Washington and the relationships they made will lead them to careers in advocacy and political action.

“The people I met in TFAS are people I’ll keep in touch with for the rest of my life, and a lot of them are very different politically than me, but we can see past those differences,” Fortes said. “I hope that translates to the other people in D.C.”


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