It's my last night in the U.S.A. for a little while. Seems appropriate that I would spend it in its capitol.
I left Chicago right on schedule at 10 a.m., June 13, 2011, not a cloud in the sky. A smooth flight, a metro ride, and a walk several blocks had me at my hotel near Washington Circle.
During the next few hours I checked in, explored, found some lunch, had my first meeting, met a bunch of people, got coffee, and generally basked in how nice it felt to be back in a city again after several weeks of mostly suburbs.
After my CLS responsibilities were done for the day, my friend Kent was nice enough to show me around Washington, and I promised a homecooked Indian meal in return. We ate on his apartment rooftop, turned towards the view of Capitol Hill. It might just be me, but this city seems to have a different vibe from any other city I've been to. Perhaps it's a consequence of having so much control (and money!) concentrated in such a tight nucleus. It's no wonder people are seduced by the idea of attaining Washington power. The energy, the pull of it is tangible, heavy in the air. This is a city that worships policies above gods. If your policy wins, they'll even build you your own temple.
First impressions of the CLS program can be summed up in a word: awesome. The people are just lovely. Pretty much everyone seems super easygoing, genuine and excited to learn. I like the diversity of personalities and disciplines I've seen so far. I like gatherings of travelers and "language people," where I feel as though I'm among kindred spirits. Looking forward to spending the next few months in big and beautiful Amman with this big and beautiful community.
Today during orientation I was able to meet many wonderful people from the Department of State, as well as the Middle East Institute and the U.S. Institute of Peace. One of the things I found most encouraging was their own stories about their career paths. For example, our keynote speaker talked about how, during her undergraduate years, she had no idea what she wanted to do, knowing only of her interest in languages and foreign policy. (Sound familiar?) Her career has since led her from the CIA to the Dept. of Defense to the Dept. of State--so it was encouraging to know that I don't need to feel as if I'm behind the curve for not having a detailed itinerary of the rest of my life. It will definitely be interesting to see what opportunities might open up as a result of this program.
But I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I'm just ecstatic that tomorrow is the day I finally depart! I think it's safe to say that, while turning in my CLS application last November 15th, I never pictured myself actually sitting here, preparing myself to fly 7,000 miles away from home for what I don't doubt will be the most intellectually and emotionally rigorous experience of my entire life. And I couldn't be more excited!
It's only the beginning. :)