From June 22-25, all 65 of the YES Abroad students going to our respective 13 countries got together in Washington, D.C for National Pre-Departure Orientation. Here, we got prepared in a pleathora of different ways for the upcoming exchange year.
The scholarship covers our travel, so I got a ticket out of Greensboro to Dulles. After a mishap and cancellation of my flight, I had to spend a little more time in Winston-Salem, which turned out to be a blessing because I got to eat lunch with my grandmother.
I ended up arriving at Dulles at about 4:00, where I was warmly greeted by other YES students and staff waiting in the airport. Seeing some of these people was a surreal experience for me. We have all been in communication before meeting in person, so I felt as though I knew some of my peers before actually meeting them. We all got on a bus and rode to the 4-H National Youth Conference Center.
Throughout my whole time at PDO, we rarely had down time. The itinerary was full of sessions and places for us to be, making the most of our time there. Following that pattern, I was instructed to leave my bag in a conference room and go to meet me fellow peers going to Indonesia as soon as I arrived at the 4-H. I had spoken to the other kids going to Indonesia before, but it was fantastic to finally meet them. I am incredibly happy and proud to be going to Indonesia with them. The five of them (Jerimiah, Natalie, Isabel, Beverly, and Meir) are great people individually, and as a group we get along swimmingly. We chose to spend most of our time together, and I could not have asked for a more exciting group of friends with a real lust for life.
The next day, we never had a dull moment. We had eight “sessions” that each lasted one or two hours. They covered topics from Values and culture to Social Identity, and also had the Health and Safety session which was very scary to see what could happen, but I was reassured everything was going to be all right throughout the day.
On June 24th, we had a more active day in Washington. All the countries broke up and went to their respective Embassies to meet some staff and learn about our host country. We arrived at the Indonesian Embassy early, so we walked to a near bookstore.
At 10:30, we got invited into the Indonesian Embassy
Once inside, we met some of the employees and were escorted upstairs to a conference table. The man showing us around was incredibly friendly and was delighted we were going to Indonesia. He did mention their air conditioning was not working, so it was a little warm in the whole building.
From there, we chatted with the staff and asked them some basic questions about culture and such. After our Q and A session, they gave us a more official tour! The second part of the Indonesian embassy used to be the house of the owner of the Hope Diamond, Thomas J. Walsh. That being said, this building was extremely elegant. The ceilings were lined with gold and there were massive paintings everywhere.
After the visit, we took a bus to Union Station for Lunch. I had not been to Union Station in a long time, and just looking around at the vast and minimalistic the architecture was fantastic.
We then got to go to the Department of State, where we had to be escorted by groups of ten for “security reasons”. We got very official visitor badges and went through a lot of security. In groups of ten, we got escorted to the basement into a large conference room with a square desk and microphones at each seat. It reminded me of the situation room as I’ve seen in House of Cards.
We got to hear some words of encouragement from Mark Taplin, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. He told us lots of encouraging words and it got me very excited and proud to be here with YES.
Then, we got to meet some desk officer of our our countries. Desk officers are the people on the ground that deal with country specific situations. They were all Foreign Service Officers, so they only spend two years at this job and get moved somewhere else. We met with the ASIAN officers, which covered Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. They were really knowledgeable and gave us some advice and information on southeast Asia.
From there, we got to walk to the Lincoln Memorial for lots of pictures. This is where we all take our classic “country picture”, and it was fun to enjoy free time and laugh with friends.
After some sessions and a night with minimal sleep, we had to leave the next day. Before us kids who were flying departed, all 65 of us got in a circle and said one word about our feelings on exchange. Words like “excited” and “nervous” were flying around, and it ended with Isak saying “ready”, which gave me chills and helped me realise that I am prepared for my year abroad.
But, that feeling of preparedness will have to wait. I am leaving the United States on August 16th. Until then, I’ll be enjoying my last 45 days here with friends and family. Also, good luck to India, who is already with their host families, and Thailand, who leaves tomorrow! I look forward to reading about it!
With my love of music, I want to share one of the songs that I listened to while writing this post. When drafting this post, my favorite song was Lisztomania by Phoenix