I think the biggest lesson I learned while staying in Washington, D.C. is this: Journalism is all about details.
As one Washington Post staff writer told me: Take note of the type of shoes your sources wear and the type of cigarette they smoke; and always ask them where they grew up and what their parents do for a living. The essence of good journalism, that reporter told me, lies in asking not just the obvious questions, but in asking the unexpected ones and rooting up facts most other reporters overlook.
There were a lot of other things I learned in D.C., though: I discovered that Facebook is much more than a a social networking tool to keep me connected with friends and family -- it can be an invaluable tool to help track down leads and sources; and Twitter, in the right hands, can be a rich wellspring of hidden news tips.
But the overall experience of living and working in D.C. was just as important and beneficial as were the lessons I learned there. I remember remarking to my dad after returning home that my trip had been one of the best experiences of my life -- the people I met (whether in the newsroom or in a taxi cab) and the lessons I learned were immeasurably beneficial to me as a professional and as a student.
I cannot thank enough the professional reporters and editors who took me under their wing that January and showed me what made their jobs and The Washington Post so amazing. The lessons I learned, and the experience as a whole, will not be soon forgotten.