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He trucked a big suitcase with him as he wandered the streets near the White House on New York Avenue Northwest. Paul Blocher was looking for his hotel, and when he finally asked a police officer for directions, he was told he wasn’t in the right place — at all. His hotel was on New York Avenue Northeast.
“In Poland, I had used Google maps and figured that it had to be almost right next to [the] White House. I was patting myself on the back thinking that I had outsmarted all those suckers who were paying like $350 to stay at hotels in the vicinity,” Blocher said.
It was 2005, and this was Blocher’s first night in Washington, D.C. A cabbie drove him to the right hotel — it had barbed wire around the front; on the inside, the rooms were gutted. The room was $70 a night.
“I usually tell this story to poke fun at myself,” Blocher said. But it also serves as a reminder about where he started.
Before coming to the Hill, Blocher was a student at the Uniwersytet Jagiellónski in Krakow, Poland, where he earned a master of arts degree in European studies.
“It was like being in ‘An American in Paris,’” he said, except he was in school (and in Poland), but like most educational experiences abroad, it left an impression.
“There wasn’t the sort of blind, knee-jerk liberalism you see on American campuses,” Blocher said. “This was due to my professors’ experience living and teaching under Polish Communist Party rule, especially under Gen. [Wojciech] Jaruzelski and martial law in the ’80s.”
Some of Blocher’s professors were aligned with the Solidarity movement, a federation of trade unions that resisted the communist dictatorship. “They had to fight for their right to teach. Free speech was not a simple thing,” he said.
Although fascinated with European history, the Wisconsin native returned to the U.S. after finishing his thesis. “Politics was an interest of mine. I figured it was something you could do in life,” he said.
In Washington, he took a part-time job working the front desk at a Holiday Inn. It may not seem like prime preparation for a career in politics, but he said he learned a crucial lesson that got him where he is today.
“Don’t be afraid to do the little jobs that aren’t fun but need to be done,” Blocher said. “Try to be great at whatever task you are doing, whether it’s writing press releases or licking envelopes.”