Spotlight Iowa City: UI law student interned at World Bank

By Nora Heaton, The Daily Iowan

The hardest thing Rachel Nathanson had to do during her internship last summer was not do hands-on work.

Sitting in the World Bank building, interning with the World Bank Inspection Panel, Nathanson did some desk research with internal bank documents, but the “doer” felt conflicted and stifled. A first-year law student, she said, she prefers to be “out in the field.”

The panel, the internal accountability agent of the World Bank, ensures that the bank is complying with its own policies, procedures, and directives to provide social and environmental benefits and avoid harm, according to the group’s website.

Nathanson went to Washington, D.C., on a Harry S. Truman scholarship — 60 such scholarships are available nationwide — over this past summer after completing undergraduate degrees in economics and geography at the University of Iowa. She also earned a minor in Spanish.

She will present her internship experiences at an Iowa City Foreign Relations Council luncheon today at noon. And she is excited to do so, said Nathanson, a soft-spoken 23-year-old who speaks with her hands, waving them to accentuate her points.

“I’m kind of the adventurous one in the family,” said Nathanson, who — aside from the stiff prestige of her law schooling, her Truman scholarship, and her distinguished summer gig — still enjoys a good salsa dance now and then.

She hopes to branch out from law school’s academic confines and take elective classes she loves, such as Portuguese and courses abroad.

“People say, ‘Rachel, you need to focus on class and apply for jobs,’ and I say, ‘I know, I know,’ ” she said. “One of my least favorite words ever is networking.”

One of her favorite words may be travel, she said. During her undergraduate years, she traveled to Spain, Ecuador, and Mexico, where she worked with coffee cooperatives.

“I had never felt so powerless [as when working with the cooperatives],” she said. “There’d be torrential rainstorms, nobody would know the bus schedule, and the phones wouldn’t work. There was this sense that time didn’t matter.”

Still, there were benefits to the madness — it was a huge confidence-booster, said Nathanson, who now wants to work in a legal-”ish” capacity at the U.S. State Department, possibly taking a break after law school to work for the Judge Advocate General Corps.

“Being so clueless and powerless and having to deal with it, I realized I could pretty much be comfortable everywhere,” she said. “That gave me a lot of confidence. If I can do that, nothing in Iowa’s going to scare me.”

As a result of those experiences, she said, she does her best to make those in her home country feel at ease.

Her kindness is visible, said friend Chris Page, who knew Nathanson when she worked with the UI Environmental Coalition as an undergraduate. He best describes her as “driven, enthusiastic, and kind.”

Sister Lisa Nathanson echoed Page’s sentiments.

“I can see how driven she is to achieve her goals, but also she stays down-to-earth and stays connected to her family and friends,” she said.

And being driven doesn’t always mean driving in one direction.

“People often classify, and say, ‘This is your path. This is how you should get there,’ ” Nathanson said. “But some detours might not be that bad. They might put you on a path better than you anticipated.”

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