If I close my eyes, one of two things appears: the vividly blue sky pressed against the Potomac River as I look out from the piazza at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, or a long row of Dutch-style bikes overlooking Prinsengracht, one of the canals in central Amsterdam. I’d be lying if I said transitioning back into my time at Temple after the fulfilled dreams of this summer is easy. I’ve actually been having a tough time readjusting to life in the U.S. But it helps to reminisce and reflect on who this summer shaped me to be.
If you’d asked me in mid-April what I hoped for summer 2018, I probably would have told you that I just wanted a sense of normalcy back in my life. Within the span of just a few weeks at the end of March and the beginning of April, my car was totaled, I had to suddenly move apartments, and I ended an almost two year-long relationship. Even so, I had a strange but welcome peace in this season of my life; I knew these things were disappearing to make room for better things to appear. But I also felt impatient waiting for better things to show up, and found myself counting down the days until I left for the Mount Vernon Leadership Fellows program in Washington, D.C.
To be quite honest, I’m still not exactly sure how to best reflect on my time spent at Mount Vernon. The MVLF program was a whirlwind 6-week experience full of new people, new places, and new perspectives. I learned a tremendous amount from my fellow fellows and I’m extremely thankful for the people I met there. But perhaps most importantly, I learned even more about myself. When I arrived at MVLF I was sure I’d pursue a dual law degree and masters in public policy immediately after graduation. I expected my time in our nation’s capital to validate these pursuits. However, I left the program with a vision for a new non-profit and a desire to learn more about the world around me before selecting any graduate or law programs. A lack of clarity on future plans somehow gave me more clarity; opening my mind to other post-graduation possibilities seemed to just feel right.
Fast forward to exactly one week after I boarded my flight to Missouri after MVLF… now I found myself in another airport, this time in Reykjavik, Iceland, awaiting my flight to Amsterdam. I dreamed of traveling to Amsterdam since 2014, and my dream was finally becoming a reality. Again, much like I felt before MVLF, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew my experience would be transformative. It was nothing short of that.
You know those ice-breaker questions where people ask something like, “if you knew you only had 3 days left to live, what would you do?” If I only had 3 days left to live I’d spend every last penny on a one-way ticket to Amsterdam to visit that city and its people once more. A spark of passion inside of me was fully ignited once I landed in there. Between the canals and coffee shops I found myself in conversation with people from all across the globe, and each encounter pushed me to redefine my values, passions, and career interests. I’m in awe of how perfectly my summer fit together–my time at the home of our country’s first president challenged me to embrace new possibilities with an open mind, while my travels to a completely new and exciting city helped me realize which new possibilities best suited my interests.
While shopping for souvenirs towards the end of my Amsterdam trip, I came across a postcard with the following quote on it:
“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember and remember more than I have seen.”
There truly is no better way to summarize my summer than the fact that I “remember more than I have seen.” I saw some amazing sights this summer: the Lincoln room in the United States Capitol, the couch on which John Quincy Adams died, behind-the-scenes artifacts that once belonged to the first president of the United States, how the Atlantic ocean looks from a plane window, the breathtaking Central Square in Belgium, incredible museums in Amsterdam, and endless beautiful canals. But these sights pale in comparison to the memories of my summer that you can’t see–namely the connections I formed with diverse people from different states and countries and the new dreams and goals I possess as a result of my travels. I know it will take me a long time to fully process everything I learned this summer, but this blog post is a pretty good start. I’m left thinking about something my friend Ben said to me during our time at MVLF: “sometimes God sends you things you weren’t ready for, but desperately need.” I desperately needed Mount Vernon and Amsterdam. These places reminded me who I truly am, and for that, I’m forever grateful.