My Week at the Iowa Caucuses: an Elon student’s experience with Study USA

stefanie1_rgb“Before coming into college, I couldn’t even tell you who my senators were,” sophomore Stefanie Milovic joked. Today, Milovic is an executive officer in both North Carolina Student Legislature and Elon Politics Forum. Less than a month before the election, I sat down with Milovic to learn about her experience at the Iowa Caucus.

Because of the time she spent in Iowa over winter term 2016, Milovic found a new passion. “This past summer, I’ve interned and worked under my senator, one I didn’t even know the name of before, and that was an incredible experience,” she said.

While not as common as study abroad, Elon’s Study U.S.A. program holds many unique opportunities. This specific program was a month jam-packed with experiences in all areas of politics and just enough time to instill that passion in Milovic.

The first week of the course was spent on campus, laying the groundwork for the trip and learning about Iowa and the Des Moines area. Milovic said they studied past elections and relevant literature such as “Boys On the Bus.”

“We were focusing on both historical and current politics and trying to derive similarities between the two,” she explained.

Once out in Iowa, Milovic described the typical day as very long – even as long as 15 hours a day. Students would spend most of the day working on their respective campaigns and fill the rest of the time with events. Dinner meals acted as group discussion time and often featured guest speakers, like professional journalists.

As most students chose a candidate to work for, Milovic focused on the Bernie Sanders campaign. She spent most of her time phone banking and canvassing, as well as attending special events, such as a Martin Luther King celebration in Des Moines.

“They insisted as part of the course… to expand your horizons and go see everyone speak,” Milovic said.

bernieselfie_rgbWhile in Iowa, she had the opportunity to attend almost every candidates’ speech and to meet them as well, including current frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. While Milovic noted Clinton’s professionality, she learned a different lesson from Trump.

At one of Trump’s rallies, Milovic wore a Sanders jacket. When Trump was making the rounds greeting people and Milovic wanted a selfie, he refused to take it unless she removed the jacket, to which Milovic responded: “You know what? No.”

“What’s the point of that picture – just to show that I met Donald Trump in comparison to standing up for what my values are? I’m not going to change who I believe in or change what I strongly support over a guy that I have laughed at over his policies this entire year,” she stated. “There’s no point [in compromising] yourself or what you stand for based off of any other individual, political ideology or otherwise.”

Trump was not the only person to widen Milovic’s perspective during the Iowa Caucuses trip. Phone banking, which is how you reach out to prospective voters about your candidates’ positions, introduced Milovic to a man with an eye-opening story.

“This guy, he started off with saying, ‘Have you ever raised a family of five on $35,000?’ That was a question I simply couldn’t answer as a college student,” Milovic explained. “It opened me up so much more. Later on when he was asking my opinion, he was pleading for it because I’m someone who is so much more well versed in what Bernie Sanders’ [stance] is. Being able to kind of explain it to him, saying why this mattered to me.”

After detailing this story in a blog account of her trip, much to Milovic’s surprise, Leslie Sanchez from MSNBC picked up the story. This is just a peek at the professional world Milovic is preparing to enter while in college.

“[The trip] has provided me with professional experience and set me up for that professional experience that will later be able to combine into a career or may be able to, at the very least, provide better connections later on,” Milovic said.

Though Milovic is an independent major, she is confident that the experience she gained through her Study U.S.A. trip is something she will carry with her in the future.

“People think you have to be a huge political person to be involved or like [politics], but you just have to be in love with any single field to like politics,” Milovic explained. “In my own regards, as I’m pursuing something along the lines of event coordination, I could really fall into any field, including politics.”

As college is a great time for exploration, Milovic promises the opportunities you take will all be worth it.

“If there’s something you’re even kind of passionate about, pursue it…you will never realize what the perfect opportunity is if you don’t take all the imperfect opportunities that come your way,” Milovic advised. “You’ll learn so much from [taking every opportunity], whether it’s good or bad. That’s how you’re going to start realizing who you are and what you want to pursue.”


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