Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obama/Biden Rally in Virginia!












My time in D.C. is complete now. I went to an Obama/Biden rally today in Fredericksburg, Virginia. A friend told me about it on Friday, and the rally was on Saturday, so it was a pretty random thing that I even heard about it. Our friend Trey drove me and three other girls in my program to the rally, it was about an hour south of D.C. Virginia is a big "battleground" state, so both candidates have been spending time and energy there.

The first presidential debate happened last night in Mississippi, so everyone was all fired up. As we drove into the area where the rally was going to be held, we were "greeted" by people standing along the highway holding McCain/Palin signs. They were definitely in the minority though.

We really underestimated the time we should've arrived... We got there at like 4:30 (Obama/Biden were scheduled to speak at 6:30) and people had been there since around 8 am... The line was literally about 2 miles long winding around the university campus it was being held at. We hung out in line for about an hour, which wasn't too bad, until it started to POUR down rain. It was like being in a shower... We were so soaked, we stopped even caring that it was raining...
After a while, the long line sort of dissipated into nothing since people realized that they had reached capacity and were no longer letting people into the outdoor stadium. So, we found ourselves going on to plan B - working our way through the huge crowd of people on the outside of the stadium, trying to find a place where we could see a view of the stage.
We got pretty close and if we stood on our tiptoes and squinted, we could see the main stage pretty well. There were cops standing on the roofs around the rally for security. It makes you think about the sick people that would want to assasinate Obama...

I felt really lucky just to be there! Presidential candidates never come to Alaska, and actually seeing these people in person made the election even more "real" to me.

I also felt lucky that BOTH Obama and Biden were there. At this point in the election, most candidates split up from their VP to cover more ground, but it was really neat to hear both of them speak and talk about each other. They seem like a really good team.
One of the things that stuck with me about what Obama said when he spoke was what he said about the previous night's debate: "Last night you heard John (McCain) talk a lot about me...but he never mentioned any of you. He never once said the word 'middle class' or 'working class'." He also talked about how McCain is very disconnected from the economic crisis, and he also talked a lot about the Iraq war and Afganistan. He was a very inspirational person to hear speak. I found myself the whole time not even believing that I was actually there!

One of my goals while I was here this semester was to see Obama speak, so I feel my time here is complete :) Although I had to take an hour long metro ride, hour long bus ride, go hours standing outside in the rain without a bathroom anywhere in sight, it was all worth it!!!





Friday, September 12, 2008

Peace Corps

Yesterday I saw an article by the Brookings Institution regarding updating the Peace Corps (PC)for the 21st century. They actually have a few related articles: (http://www.brookings.edu/search.aspx?doQuery=1&q=peace%20corps)

There are currently about 8,000 volunteers serving in the the PC, and starting in January 2009, in just about four months, I hope to become one of them! The PC was born during the cold war, and "created to win hearts and minds in the non-aligned developing countries."

I was "nominated" (the first step to PC acceptance) in February, and after a verrry lengthy medical clearance process (think of every test/exam you can have, and multiply that by two, and then add in the all the bureacratic forms, and time to snail mail it, and that's what I had to go through). I'm currently awaiting my "invitation" (step two) where I will find out my exact country and area of service. I've been told little details of this process so far, but I do know that I will be placed in Central/South America and should be departing in mid-January. Although it's subject to change, I will probably be working in healthcare education or perhaps community development. Yesterday, they said I have about 4-6 more weeks until I'll know for sure.



I'm very excited, but also nervous. It's been a long process, and a lot of patience has been required. I'm not very good at making decisions that affect my future, when my future is dependent on something so unclear. I've been trying to keep busy in the meantime-graduating, finding an internship here in D.C., and that has helped a lot so I'm not constantly waiting by the phone for the placement office to call.



This article that I saw, and related ones on the website really solidified my thoughts about joining. It's a difficult thing to commit to: 27 months in another country. Right now that feels like a lifetime! But after talking to many returned PC volunteers and hearing about what an exceptional program it is, and how valuable the experience is, I know it's what I want to do.



These recent articles on the PC, and recent talk by both presidential candidates on the PC are making me really excited to leave. Everyone seems to agree that a critical challenge for the next president of the US will be to convince the rest of the world that we are more interested in being a reliable partner than a military superpower. Reversing the negative attitudes that have built up over the past few years in other countries towards the U.S. will be something that the PC can have a significant role in. In 1966, there were around 16,00 volunteers, and currently, it's half that size. Both presidential candidates agree that we need to scale up the size of the volunteer force.



I'm really excited that people are beginning to talk about this kind of thing. It shows that we have a real interest in our reputation abroad, and know that interdependence is key to a successful nation.



I do think that one of the things they'll have to do to increase participation in the PC for the future would be to make the application process a little shorter and more transparent.... (sense the annoyance...)

I'll let everyone know as soon as I do about my placement! I'm hoping for South America, but at this point, I'm really open to anything. I think I can learn from wherever I am placed.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Couchsurfers

I don't know if you've ever heard of the website, "couchsurfing.com" - but I'm becoming more acquainted with it, and yesterday, through some friends, I actually met some D.C. "couchsurfers." Couchsurfing.com is a social networking site, sort of like a mix between Facebook and Myspace and a hostel (but for free). You create an online profile of yourself, and make friends with people in other cities/states/countries, and if you're traveling through for a night or two, they might let you "surf their couch" and stay with them for free. I know, I know, it sounds pretty weird - but there are a lot of ways the site is working to "authenticate" the people that are on there, and you can read what previous people who stayed with them had to say, etc. I've personally never used it and I don't know that I will anytime soon, but I have some friends who traveled around Europe and swore by it.


It is a cool site to meet people from a different area though, and last night after work, some friends and I went to "Jazz in the Sculpture Garden." And outdoor concert held at the National Gallery of Art in their sculpture garden. Hundreds of people were there sitting outside on the lawn and around the lake listening to music. And a few people came who were from couchsurfing, and they were really neat people to talk to! One was from Venezuela, one from Peru, and one from DC. I got to speak Spanish all night! They told us about some local hangouts, and showed us a neat bookstore/bar/restaurant in DC called "Busboys and Poets" that had some of the coolest interior decorating I've ever seen.


I don't know if I'm actually going to stay at someone's house on couchsurfing anytime soon, but social events with those people are fun, and a good way to get to know a city you've never been to...


Here's a photo of the jazz in the garden event:

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Brazillian Day NYC!

So, my second weekend here in DC, and I decided to take the 4.5 hour bus ride up to New York City! I've never been there, so when my friend Luisa said she was going up for "Brazillian Day," I couldn't say no... Luisa was born in Brazil, but moved to Iowa when she was around 10. I studied with her in Spain the year before last.
We took the infamous "Chinatown bus" because that was the cheapest option. $35 round trip will get you a somewhat clean bus without a working bathroom, and a very nice bus driver though! His name was Muhammad and he was from Egypt originally, and Luisa and I enjoyed good conversation (mainly about the upcoming election-he wanted to know everything about Sarah Palin that I knew...) since we were sitting in the front two seats :)

We were dropped off practically right in the middle of Times Square-and what a thing to see at night! So many lights and people! Although Luisa had been to NYC before, we were both getting dizzy looking up at all the skyscrapers.

We stayed with some of her friends from high school in Iowa who are now living the typical NY lifestyle; i.e. aspiring dancers, actors, singers... They had a great apartment in Queens though and I would love to see them again.

Sunday was Brazillian Day- and when they say "day," they mean it. It started at 10 am and went until 6 pm. And we were there for all of it (wearing green and yellow of course to match the flag!) They shut down 25 city blocks and I guess they estimated there were around 1.5 million people there. It was crazy- and got increasingly more crowded and dirty and sweaty as the hot day went on... There were famous bands/presenters from Brazil there, and every type of fried food you could imagine. I couldn't resist getting an Acai smoothie bowl (the Brazillian "superfruit"). It was bright purple and cold. Perfect for that weather.
Luisa and I took a couple breaks from the Brazillian "locura" a few times; walking around Central Park and Times Square a bit, and we even tried (unsuccessfully to get tickets to RENT). By the end of the day we were exhausted and sweaty-but that didn't stop us from hanging out with her friends from Iowa a bit- I got to hear some well-told stories from her theater friends, see some clips of their work on "As the World Turns", and some music from her aspiring musicians, and her friend Tony Chem gave me one of his cd's he came out with a couple years ago...


A few observations about NYC that I saw; the DC metro is much cleaner than the NYC one, there is diversity everywhere, and everyone seemed to be a little stressed out...haha
















Back in DC now, and it felt nice coming back to my new "home" and seeing the familiar faces of my roommates. This coming weekend there are plenty of things going on in DC though to keep me busy. Last night my roommates and I watched Sarah Palin speak at the RNC. For once, I feel like I know a little more about politics than these east coast people being from Alaska :) I feel like I picked the best semester ever to come here to DC. This election is really turning out to be something for the history books- or then again maybe the tabloids.
I'm already thinking about when I can go back to NYC again...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How did I get here?

Well, the past few months have been, let's just say, "nomadic" to say the least. I graduated in May from University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF) with a double-degree in Spanish and Communication. However, when I crossed the stage at commencement, it was really a lie since I actually had 3 more credits to complete!!! haha So, I had to stay after graduation to do a class for a couple weeks, taking refuge at my friend Mary's house :)
After that, I was back in Sitka, working at Mountain Miss to earn my wonderful discounts on highly expensive outerwear... Caught up with a few friends, saw my family, and generally got my fill of Sitka for a while.
From June-August I was in Anchorage, AK doing an internship through the First Alaskans Institute at the Rasmuson Foundation. If you don't know what the Rasmuson Foundation is, check it out, because they most likely have given thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to an organization, artist, or program that you're close to... (www.rasmuson.org)
Anchorage was alright, but I'm not set on if I would ever live there. Too much driving... Although I did fit in a few fun things (bike ride from Anchorage to Seward - 130 miles, a half-marathon, fishing with my uncle, hanging out with my fellow interns, and doing the ever-so-exciting "networking" in Alaska...)

Which brings me to my current location: Washington, D.C. How exactly did I end up here this fall? Well, I'm not sure, but it was a combination of "networking" and things just working out... I love it when these things happen. I'm doing an internship for External Affairs at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the program I'm doing my internship through is out of American University. So, I'm staying in the dorms (hello sophmore year again, right?) and I'm also taking a couple classes on the side.

I just arrived at the end of August, and I haven't stopped since. I really like D.C. I haven't been here for four years, but some things just don't change (but Administrations do...) All the monuments and major sights are just as I left them. I really liked flying into Reagan Airport and being at eye-level with the Washington Monument...
My two roommates are also in my internship program. Desirae is from Oklahoma and Amy is from Florida. We get along well (when we have the time to even see eachother...) It's a little crowded though having three girls in a room, but I'm not complaining.

Last Sunday, I spent the whole day at the National Gallery of Art. It's actually made up of two buildings (one for classical art and one for contemporary) and a sculpture garden. They're hosting an exhibit right now on Afgan Treasures that were found buried recently. Amazing tiny gold medallions and crowns and pins... Very intricate and well-preserved.

I'm a little in shock about how different the two sides of our country are. I can barely believe I'm still in the same nation!
More later. Right now I'm off to bed. My 50 minute metro ride in the morning to work really cuts down on my sleeping time!