In the beginning, they had box seats in the U.S. Senate for the impeachment trial of the President.
In the end, even as much of the country tried to forget the episode, they watched as a Washington comedy troupe, the Capitol Steps, poked fun at Bill Clinton's sexual peccadilloes.
For 11 University at Albany students who spent the spring in the nation's capital for the Washington Semester program, it was very much the Season of Monica. The politics were coarser, the debates longer and the partisanship deeper than they had expected.
But at the same time, most of the students said they were committed to making the system better and would continue their pursuit of a Beltway job.
"I could tell that government as a whole got less done after the impeachment," said Bob Groff, who led a secret life as a Democrat in the office of Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana.
There was "a lot of heavy-duty partisanship," particularly regarding the war in Kosovo, said Groff, a UAlbany junior and political science major who wrote his semester paper on Kosovo. Even Republicans who sympathized with the war stayed mum because they were determined to turn it into "the Clinton-Gore War."
Yet Groff found a sympathetic ear in Sen. Lugar, one of the few Republicans to openly support the war. He often joined the senator for his 3-mile run in the morning and was able to ask him any question he wanted.
"I thought no one was going to talk to me because I was an intern," Groff said. "It was much better than I ever expected."
Austin Childs, who like most students in the program is a Democrat, said he was fascinated by the partisanship most Washington politicos take for granted.
"On a number of occasions, I'd be in the elevator and some Republican would say the congressman was a great guy," said Childs, who worked for Democratic Rep. Jerald Nadler of New York City. "This same person would totally rip apart our Democratic witnesses in committee."
Childs wrote his paper on how the independent counsel law has become "a mechanism to dash the President," meeting several members of the House Judiciary Committee in the process.
The access came in handy when Childs recently ran into a committee staffer during his search for a full-time job.
"I told him I sat through a lot of the committee meetings and really learned a lot," Childs said. "That's what Washington is all about: networking."
It was a heady time to spend in this, the second semester the UAlbany program has been offered. The brainchild of political science Professor Michael Malbin, a 17-year Washington veteran and a Republican, the program was designed to mix academics with real-world political experience. Each week, students spent two days in class and three in an unpaid internship, culminating with a major paper related to their interest area. The semester was also sprinkled with visits to places like the Supreme Court and speeches from press secretaries and agency heads.
Malbin said he wanted to create a program that matched those that the best private schools offered but was more affordable. The Washington Semester costs roughly $ 500 more than regular UAlbany tuition.
"They still have to compete with people from the Ivy League for jobs," Malbin said. "But they soon learn that once they get someone's attention, it's the quality of the work, not the name on the degree, that matters."