Day 1: June 15, 2013

June 15, 2013 § Leave a comment


I was prepared for the overwhelming happiness that I felt upon touching down in Washington, D.C. at 4:30 in the afternoon after six long hours of travel.

I was prepared for the confusion in finding the right Metro path to take in order to get to our dorm rooms and for the gratitude I felt upon realizing that at least two of the six other people in my group that had been on my flight knew where they were going.

I was prepared for the long walk from the Metro stop to our dorm and the fact that I would be sharing said dorm with several (but, luckily, awesome and kind) girls.

I was not prepared for the immense, overwhelming feeling of homesickness I felt upon sitting down on my bed.

It was weird. Here I was, in D.C. after five long years of anticipation, and I felt overcome by the vastness of the city, the way people walked up and down the sidewalks as though they belonged, which they did. I felt so small. I felt so insignificant and lost.

I’m absolutely exhausted but have to at least scribble down some notes as to what all happened today.

It was a six hour flight, and I was so happy I was with some of my fellow group members. After a brief stop in Houston, we went on our merry way to our nation’s capitol, and the second we were below the clouds, I scanned the ground below with as much anticipation as a young child seeing Disneyland for the first time. I was ridiculous in my excitement, but I didn’t care.

We got off the plane, got on the Metro, got off, and walked what felt like a mile and a half to the bar where our faculty director was. I was so thankful it wasn’t hot – it was maybe 85 degrees with a nice, cool breeze. I didn’t get any glimpse of the Washington Monument from the flight or during our walk. We are currently on the George Washington University campus, so there are lots of tall, brick buildings.

After getting our itinerary, keys, and a mellow welcome from our faculty director, we checked in at the dorms and went to dinner. I was feeling really dizzy and sick, which wasn’t helping the fact that I was nearly tearful with unexpected homesickness. Thank God for one of the girls in the group that was my age (most of these students are grad students) whom I talked to as we walked. Her name is Gina. I sat next to her on the plane, and she is so sweet.

Gina, another undergrad Sean, and I broke off to go to an Italian restaurant where I force fed myself a chicken Ceaser salad as we talked about our itinerary for the week. After we were done, I was full of energy and I set out with them, headed back to our dorms, wanting desperately to walk around and explore. Luckily, Sean knew the area well, and said that the White House happened to be two blocks away from where we happened to be standing at the moment. So we went for it.

There were lots of people around the White House, and it was surreal to see it at nighttime. There were lots of fireflies lighting up the grass that grew darker as the sun went down.

And then – as we finished taking pictures and marveling at the White House, the glorious words came out of Sean’s mouth.

“Well, we’re only a little bit away from the National Mall. Why don’t we just go?”

Gina seconded this. I kept perfectly silent. If I opened my mouth, I would have started shrieking with excitement.

The sun was down and the moon was just starting to come out as the last bits of light left the sky when I saw the Washington Monument again. There were construction rings all around it, but happy tears came to my eyes upon seeing it.

We went to the World War II Memorial, too, and by then it was completely nightfall. That was really something else. The monument was so beautiful lit up.

We walked back after glimpsing the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial from our pathway. When we got back, I moved my stuff over to the next room, where there were several empty beds. There was a smaller room in the big room with two beds, so Gina and I are camped in here together.

I’m so, so tired, but so happy to be back!


The Six-Days-Before-Departure Post

June 10, 2013 § Leave a comment


There came a time during this past week when I finally stopped asking myself, “Is this trip really happening?” I think it has all sunk in. The fact that I’m actually going to Washington D.C. and London has finally started to hit me.

I’m due to leave bright and early this coming Saturday, but my packing process has already begun. I get very anxious about not being prepared (truth be told, I get anxious about many silly things – more on that later), so I like to have a lot of time to make and go through lists of things I need. Then I like to have even more time to double-check and cross those things off, preferably multiple times. A few days ago my mom came in my room and asked whether or not I had thought about buying travel-sized toiletries for the trip. I laughed and showed her three perfectly packed makeup bags filled with little shampoos, conditioners, lotions, toothpaste, etc. that I had put together days before. Three steps ahead of you, Mom.

Excitement is officially starting to build. The funny thing is, though – the excitement of going to London hasn’t hit me quite as hard yet. You would think that it would be the other way around, that I would be far more excited to go somewhere I’ve never been than a place I’ve visited before. But I have wanted to go back to Washington, D.C. for so long that knowing I’ll be there in less than a week is so overwhelming. I know I’m going to be that ridiculous person on the flight with tears in her eyes as the plane lands.

I am convinced that there is a difference between excitement and anxiety, and so I’ve made a list of things that I’m anticipating with regards to both:

Excited for:

  • seeing the National Mall again. When I left a piece of my heart in D.C. five years ago, I’m pretty sure it was left in that specific area.
  • putting my hands on the Washington Monument again
  • maybe having time to see the Library of Congress and National Archives again?
  • going to another country for the first time in my life
  • going through customs (yes, I’m actually excited for this!)
  • seeing D.C. from the plane for the first time in five years
  • seeing the London skyline from the plane for the first time ever
  • hopefully having time to see the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Big Ben, the Tower Bridge, the Palace of Westminster, and Westminster Abby (but if I could only choose one place to go to, it would probably be Westminster Abby, though the Tower of London is a close second)
  • getting to spend time with my classmates and geeking out about sustainability with them
  • comparing the concept of sustainability between two different governments and cultures
  • talking to government officials (just a heads up: I’ve been told I’m not allowed to blog about anything the officials may say to us since our meetings are strictly off the record)
  • soaking in a different culture

DSCN0530Nervous for:

  • my overly-sensitive stomach and how it will react to excitement, nerves, being busy all the time, a different eating schedule, and the heat
  • eating a lot of food that may or may not be good for me (my tummy does NOT like certain food)
  • the planes. I’m a lot better than I used to be when it comes to plane rides, but I have an eleven-hour flight ahead of me. Oy.
  • getting from the airport to our resident halls
  • looking like a stereotypical ignorant American in London
  • somehow offending someone that lives in England
  • finances and using debit/credit cards abroad
  • my safety and the safety of my belongings

So it goes without saying that I have a little anxiety about this trip in addition to blissful excitement. But I’m relieved it’s not any worse. Truth be told, I am really, really proud of myself.

My anxiety used to be absolutely debilitating. It developed in April 2012 as a side effect of a horrific stomach issue that had kept me sick since September 2011. Long after I was physically healthy again, the anxiety stuck with me well into the fall of 2012. I had been sick for so long that I started to fearfully anticipate the nausea I’d been getting regularly for months, particularly when I was in public. I would get so worked up about not wanting to get sick (i.e. throw up) that I would actually, unintentionally just make myself sick. Some days I couldn’t leave my room without having a mental breakdown. The idea of having to be around people was enough to make me curl up into a ball. It was bad.

Then, last December, my dad booked a trip for my siblings, my step-mom, and I to fly to Ohio to visit family. I was forced to get over my anxiety very quickly in order to leave my room and go on the trip. And by having to take my classes in person this past semester (as opposed to online, as I had done during my sickness), I was forced to rejoin the real world again.

Somewhere along the line, I realized just how tired I was of living my life with fear. I pushed myself through panic attacks, through anxiety about sickness and everything else, and through pointless barriers in my head that I had constructed. I pushed myself to do it all without medicine, since my body reacts horribly to just about every kind of medication. It wasn’t easy, and every now and then I still get twinges of nervousness that are so bad they make me want to throw up. Come Saturday, I’ll probably get a little nervous to get thrown into such a radically different schedule than I’m currently used to.

But life is too short to listen to stupid fears. I want to go on this trip far more than I want to stay behind, curled up in my room and miserable. And even if I have to drag myself to the airports, even if I have to live off of peanut butter crackers for two weeks, even if I have to experience these incredible places with knots in my stomach, I am going, dammit. I have waited to be back in D.C. for far too long. And I know every second of my trip is going to be worth it.

It has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember to be in D.C. on the Fourth of July, my favorite holiday, so I can see the fireworks go off over the National Mall. And while I won’t see the National Mall lit up by fireworks this time around, it will be far more than enough to simply see those indescribably beautiful monuments again. As for London, I have a feeling I will be too overwhelmed byeverything to have any preferences of where we go (though I’m really, really hoping I get to visit Westminster Abby and the Tower of London). I’m ready. I’m ready for whatever is yet to come.

This week, I’m going to finish packing, meet with my bank, copy the important documents I haven’t copied already, and take some deep breaths.

Six more days. Only six more days until I officially embark on this trip of a lifetime.


June 4, 2013 § Leave a comment


[also published here on the 2013 Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives Global Sustainability Studies Programs blogsite]

I left a piece of my heart in Washington, D.C in July 2008. At the time, I was sixteen, blissfully naïve, and participating in a program called the National Young Leadership Conference during which I spent ten days walking around our nation’s capitol in awe-struck wonder. Everything about the city from the beautifully crafted monuments to the history that envelops everything creates a unique, energetic atmosphere that I have never forgotten.

It hasn’t quite sunk in yet; it doesn’t seem real that I’m going back. I’ve dreamed of the day of my return for far too long for this to seem like reality. On that note, it doesn’t seem real that I will be visiting London on this trip, too. I have never been outside of the U.S., and if there had to be one city outside our borders that I could have chosen to visit first, London would have definitely been it.

Looking back at the description of the program I am going to participate in, I realize that of course it would take place in Washington, D.C. and in London. The comparison of sustainability across cultures and governments could not possibly be done outside of the political heart of the United States. And if D.C. is the heart of our country, London is certainly the cultural, economic, and bureaucratic center of the United Kingdom. Now, if I could pinpoint the most important thing that I have learned so far from my classes at the School of Sustainability, it would be that the concept of sustainability is ridiculously complicated. Its ties to all aspects of life, from society to economies to the environment, just add to its intricacy. Studying it from a political standpoint adds even further dimensions, but add another style of government to that analysis and forget about it. Truth be told, I am relieved I get to study this kind of complexity at the political centers of two of the most influential nations in the world. Where else could I possibly begin to understand policy and governance in sustainable systems unless I were actually where all things related to government are derived from?

Many months of happy anticipation later, I still don’t know what to expect from our meetings that will take place during the two weeks our program runs through. I’m predicting that I will sit in polite confusion for many of them. I’m really afraid I will ask some very obvious questions to which everyone else will know the answers, or fire off inquiries I should have already figured out on my own prior to the program. Because of the fact that the more I learn in the field of sustainability, the less I feel I actually know, I fully expect to be stumped, confused and more than a bit overwhelmed at times.

But I am discovering that the beauty of study abroad trips is that they are just as they sound: they are a chance to study, a chance to learn, and a chance to grow. I may not be the one with all the answers, but come June 15th, our departure date, I know I will be that one person in the group with a lot of the questions. I am so lucky to be able to ask them – and receive answers! – in two of the most incredible places on the planet.

Today, I’m twenty-one, still pretty naïve, and I still fully anticipate walking around both cities in awe-struck wonder. I may be a relatively inexperienced sustainability student, but I know that there are just some aspects of sustainability that cannot be taught; rather they must be felt and experienced in person. And as I soak in the unparalleled energy that D.C. thrives from and live through the excitement of being in London for the first time, I know I will learn more than I believed possible.

D.C., London, I hope you are ready for this study abroad group.

Here we come.

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