Around the World In 120 Minutes

This week’s focus and theme of programming was the Global Marketplace. Our speaker was a dynamic and energizing author and business man who spoke about our future roles as global citizens. I was so impressed with his presentation, I made a point to introduce myself and extend an offer for him to speak to the students at my home university! Programming usually begins in the afternoon and may continue into the evening; however, on this day things kicked off first thing in the morning and continued well into the night. Speakers and breakout sessions were scheduled from 9 am until 12 noon. At 3 o’clock, students could return and attend the cultural festival where international students shared food and other aspects of their home countries. [I’m not sure if I ever mentioned before,] The Washington Center student body is represented by over 18 different countries and 48 states!
After lunch, students were invited to return to the Residential Academic Facility (RAF) to experience cultural diversity by immersion. There are 10 classrooms located on the ground floor of the RAF. Each room contained at least two different countries – represented by food, decor, and several ambassadors on hand to teach fellow students about their country. The student ambassadors did a great job. Each booth was top-notch and I was pleasantly surprised by the level of creativity. I tasted desserts from Korea, entrees from India, Japan and Mexico, and drinks from Puerto Rico.
After being able to visit almost 18 different countries, students were treated to a night of international talent. My roommate Shahenaz participated in the talent show portion of the program representing Lebanon with a traditional belly dance. (Go Shahenaz!) There were performances from Korea, Mexico, Japan, India, Brazil, African-Caribbean, Gibraltar, Taiwan, and Puerto Rico just to name a few. The students of TWC defined the showcase by determining what they would share about their countries. Presentations included a short introduction of countries by students who shared the geography of the land, the GDP, national pastime, history and interesting facts in a way that only an insider could present. The garments were elaborate and authentic and not at all costume-like. Songs were sung in native tongues and the dances were a mesh of movements familiar to me but performed in new and unique ways. During the course of the festival, I felt like I’d traveled around the world and back again. Everyone was so proud to share their country with the audience. Both pride and passion were in abundance and was infectious as groups really rose to the occasion in their performances, each surpassing the next. With jubilee and delight, the crowd cheered and screamed in support. The call and response of cultural chants from performers to audience members was melodic and natural. I reflected on all that make us unique, juxtaposed with everything we have in common as citizens of the world and members of the human race. After all the performances, an overall winner was announced. The winner this semester – Puerto Rico! About 30 students participated in dancing and singing. They showed Latin dance, African dance, played Reagaton dance music, and left everyone breathless as we all spontaneously jumped to our feet with them to sing Ricky Martin’s Cup of Life. Here we go! Ole, Ole, Ole! Go, Go, Go! Ole, Ole, Ole! I tried to include 10 second videos and pictures of most of the performances. (I was too busy dancing with the Puerto Ricans to record theirs, sorry).

Short video playlist from You Tube of the performances.

Halloween in DC

10671465_337588133080069_1548837156639774807_nHalloween fell on a weekend… (If I have to explain this Geto Boys reference to you then, never mind! Oh and by the way, that’s the correct spelling of the 1990’s gangsta rap group). Those lyrics from Geto Boys seemed fitting as Halloween really did fall on a weekend this year. My roommates and I decided it would be fun to have a small gathering at our place for Halloween.

Since our social group is comprised of a number of international students, I thought this would prove to be a very interesting experience. Try explaining the concept of Halloween to someone who’s never experienced it –priceless! Luckily most students could refer to popular Halloween icons from movies that managed to make their way across shores, so they had some frame of reference. It turns out, it was the international students who managed to come up with some of the cleverest costumes of the evening. There was the 1980’s exercise guru, Richard Simmons, a beautiful serpent geisha girl, an evil surgeon, a snickers inspector – who looked a lot like Indiana Jones if you ask me, Thing 2 (I was Thing 1), Ginger and Gilligan, a Penguin, Robin – batman was a no show… everyone went out of their way to dress-up and show-up ready to party. IMG_0772

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Being an eclectic international group, we played music that ranged from Jesse Jay and Arianna Grande featuring Nikki Minaj to Ricky Martin and other artist I’m less familiar with. We showed each other our dance moves, ate snacks and shared libations. (Everyone was of legal drinking age of course!). I led the group in every kind of slide dance that I could remember. My roommate gave everyone a taste of Middle Eastern dancing and everyone joined in when the Salsa music came on! It was so much fun that my face hurt from smiling by the end of the evening. I met a few new people and became re-acquainted with some I hadn’t seen since the program started.IMG_076810347560_337587939746755_2824137373653894666_n

Apparently it wouldn’t be a “college party” without a game of beer pong. This is something that I escaped during my initial exposure to college life. I don’t quite understand the rules and get somewhat grossed out by the concept of drinking from a cup that has just had a dirty ping pong ball thrashing about, but there’s no judgment here. I can think of a few interesting games I’ve participated in and to each his own.IMG_0880 IMG_0878

The plan was for this to be a pre-party to all the parties happening on U and H Streets as well as in George Town. For all intense and purposes the party was a success. Everyone commented on how it was intimate the party felt, yet there plenty of guests in which to mingle. I think the steady stream of people stopping by and leaving out helped the ebb and flow of the night. There were conversations happening in at least 6 different languages at any time in groups around the party and when the music played there was no shortage of “Ohhh, I love this song!” as you grabbed the person next to you hand headed to the make shift dance floor or opted to dance where you stood.

Of all the things that happened on Halloween, the most surprising element of the night, we didn’t get a single trick-or-treater from the building. Now what to do with all these left-over treats…

Leading the way afterall

I have officially reached the halfway mark of my experience as a Washington Center Intern. I cannot believe how quickly time has passed here already. This week I faced some familiar challenges as it was- dum tadum dum dummmm – presentation week. That means the culmination of weeks of work coming together in the form of a presentation. Here, we are grouped together – dare I say randomly – and asked to present on a particular topic to the rest of the cohort. In case I failed to mention this in past blogs, I’m in the Law and Criminal Justice Cohort. In my academic past, I usually take on the leadership role within my assigned group. I understand that I have the kind of personality that is, well…exuberant, and in my estimation that’s the kind of intangible element every group needs in order to be successful! (or at the very least, memorable). However, this time I decided that I wanted to have a different experience. So, I did not take the lead in our project. (I know, I can’t believe it either). I wasn’t the first person to call everyone and schedule our meeting dates and times. I didn’t volunteer to collect and synthesize everyone’s research. I looked the other way when they asked if someone wanted to volunteer to type our handouts. My behavior was completely opposite of what I would normally do in group assignments. Everything was going along smoothly in my newly realized presentation-self until the night before the presentation. After weeks of being a passenger in the van, something happened to the group’s dynamics that changed everything – my members began to fall apart. It looked like fatigue had set in and people were beginning to unravel. The first sign of trouble was when one member couldn’t make the presentation due to work obligations. Then, one member decided that another member was discounting her efforts and leaving her out of decisions. Basically – things were starting to go south. I’m not sure when or why I made the decision or even if the decision was exclusively conscious but with kid gloves and the utmost respect, I ended up taking the wheel from the previous driver – I’m mean leader. My group topic was discrimination within the police force, something relevant with the recent case in Ferguson, MO. We built our presentation based on the history of discrimination and tackled why discrimination persists and how the lack of diversity has far reaching consequences. At the end of the day, I used all of my GSU-learned leadership skills on this project and we did well as a group. What I’m most proud of however, is that I allowed someone else to take the lead from the onset. I did not take over this project and impede others from having a full experience. I did my best to be supportive and agreeable and even when I thought my ideas would be better, I kept my sentiments to myself doing everything I could to make sure we had an amazing project based on legislation and facts. My folksy way of presenting seemed to hit a home run among my cohorts who’s evaluations remarked on my conversational way of presenting. I felt good about my decisions to approach this project differently than I had with past presentation assignments. Most undergraduate students, myself included, will tell you how we dread group projects and can rattle off ten reasons why in 8.6 seconds flat. Working with a group of colleagues from different areas, with different interests and priorities was nerve racking at times, but learning how to be a passenger instead of the driver was an important “leadership” experience to me and one that will no doubt be repeated as I continue my steadies and career pursuits.

Training Day

Traveling by rail.  Somewhere in Ohio.

 

Traveling by rail.  Somewhere in Ohio.
Traveling by rail. Somewhere in Ohio.

This has been a very busy and productive couple of weeks. I finished midterm exams here and high tailed it back to Chicago for some much needed R & R with my family. Since I am living here on a very tight budget, I decided to split my modes of transportation and take the train home and then fly back in time for a meeting with Senator Kirk’s office.

If you are anything like me, you may not have traveled by rail before. The carrier I chose has a station about 4 minutes from my apartment by Metra. The ride was scheduled to be about 17 hours long and included an overnight trip. The overnight part appealed to me because I thought I could at least sleep for most of the trip. Little did I know that this train ride, like most of my experiences here would not be ordinary and yield little rest for my weary bones.

As you would expect, the train was full on interesting characters or should I say travelers, headed to Chicago and destinations unknown. My first exchange was with a fellow first time rail rider heading to of all places, California! She was an engineer with 30 plus years in the DOD (Department of Defense, everything is an acronym in DC) was heading west for a regional conference. I was fascinated by her occupation and she shared how she manages over 300 federal employees. She explained the high demand for women, minorities and disabled citizens to create a more diverse workforce. I hadn’t really considered this for myself, but if you want a stable career and have an engineering degree, consider the government. Heck if you have any degree, consider a federal job, the government is the largest single employer in the US! Anyway, I really enjoyed talking to her. She was warm, funny and excited about our train adventure. The next traveler I encountered was a local comedian headed to Wisconsin for a gig. He was an African American, around my age and we chatted about his career, family and celebrities. If you know anything about me, then you know that I was cracking HIM up! We swopped stories about life and raising boys in between quick naps and bathroom breaks. The last cast of characters on this trip was a women traveling home to St. Louis. She professed to be an expert as she takes this route often between DC and her home. She was about 10 years my senior and had recently completed her THIRD master’s degree. Apparently she was accustomed to the look on my face in response to that news and the standard “why not a doctorate” question, because with some annoyance she replied, “I pursued the education I wanted”. We didn’t talk much after that…I’m kidding – I’m a kidder. Although I do fear my question was a bit irritating to her.

My adventure on the train was definitely out of my comfort zone and not what I am accustomed, which is in keeping with the theme of my life as of late.

Observation Car.  Allows passengers to enjoy the scenery as they travel.
Observation Car. Allows passengers to enjoy the scenery as they travel.

 

 

Stick-to-it-ness skills

This was one of the busiest weeks for me since beginning this internship. I work at a law firm that supports many different mental health interests on the Hill. One of our clients is the Eating Disorders Coalition and this week was their MOM March as well as Lobby Day on the Hill. The MOM March was held outside on the west lawn of the Capital and involved many speakers and vendors from around the country, united in the cause of increased awareness and medical coverage for those affected by eating disorders. Many participants were either in recovery themselves, there in support of someone directly affected, or there for someone who lost their battle with an eating disorder. The speakers were brave as well as passionate as they stepped up to the podium to speak. Their stories were powerful and at times heartbreaking.  I was disgusted by their seemingly unnecessary struggle for supportive legislation for people affected by this mental illness.  I wondered why it is often so difficult for this country to do the right thing for its citizens. Extending health care coverage to include comprehensive mental health coverage seems like a no brainer, but there are so many complications to pass legislation I fear it will never happen. For many of the Mom’s at the rally, it’s personally too late for their loved ones.

Capital Hill, West Lawn

 

About two hours into running around and setting things up for the rally, my supervisor and I had to leave to pick up the lunch our office was donating. The sandwiches were across town in the same neighborhood as the pentagon. I was excited to see a new part of D.C. that I hadn’t been privileged to see yet. You may recall that I informed you how no one drives in D.C., so we were going to use the car of the director of the EDC to pick up the more than 200 sandwiches.

As we walked to the parking area of the Capital, the director calls to inform us that she’d forgotten to mention that her car was a stick shift! My supervisor looked at me with a blank stare and I informed her with a smile – “Oh, I got this!” I had to get back to the deepest crevices of my mind to remember how to drive a stick. I did my best not to appear nervous and freak out, even when I initially stalled in the middle of the intersection! After that initial stall, we had a few more mishaps, but over all my skill and yes – driving stick shift is a skill, came in pretty handy. I didn’t think I’d be driving around Washington DC that morning when I prepared for the rally, but I’m so glad I was able to step up in such an unconventional way to help feed the masses.

I started to think about what other kinds of transferrable skills I might unmask during my time here.   Going forward, I will examine and appreciate my past experiences because I never know when I might have to call on them one day.

Birthday Blessings

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I usually spend two to three days during the week attending congressional meetings on the Hill, but rarely have time to appreciate my surroundings. However, this weekend I was determined to take some time to really enjoy some of what D.C. has to offer. Ok, I’m sure I was probably motivated by the fact that I’m celebrating my birthday this week, but who cares about the source of my motivation. It was finally time to let my hair down and paar-taay in D.C.!

My birthday began with a serenade from my roommates singing happy birthday and holding a cake with candles lit and the whole nine yards. Being remembered was so touching. When I began to thank them, I burst into tears of joy. They immediately surrounded me with hugs and I felt comforted by their embrace. It was the perfect start to my day.

I accomplished very little of the work I had intended because of all the fuss. The plan was to pump out a first draft paper, finish my blog and organize my calendar for the next month. A flurry of telephone calls, texts and face book messages soon followed and continued through-out the day. It’s almost embarrassing to receive accolades just for being born, but I must confess, I enjoyed every bit of the love and well wishes from my family and friends.

My roommates planned an evening of dinner and surprised me by inviting a few friends to join us.

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The eight of us all piled onto the Metra and rode five stops to Silver Springs Maryland. It was a beautiful evening and we were swept up in a wave of Nationals fans that were coming from the final game of the regular season – a no hitter, the first in 8 years! When we arrived, we walked the avenue, admired the street musicians and marveled at the unique shops. The Discovery Channel headquarters is in the area and as we passed by their eclectic lobby I thought about my children back home.

Dinner was simply divine. Our waiter was marvelous and demonstrated impeccable service skills and timing. I was pleasantly surprised by the customary dessert presentation for patrons celebrating birthdays, but was delighted when the entire restaurant spontaneously joined my group in singing happy birthday. Just before the evening ended, our waiter volunteered to capture the moment with a picture.

 

As we boarded the Metra and headed home, I found myself smiling and feeling grateful for the day. My D.C. family was so thoughtful and kind. I’d like to especially thank my roommate Shahenaz for being the principal organizer of the night’s events. She helped to turn an ordinary day into an extraordinary celebration of life.

As I close this submission and begin my 45th chapter of life. I am most appreciative that even at this age, my life is just beginning and the rest is still unwritten…

 

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