When I knew I was supposed to blog about life as an exchange student here in D.C., I made a wrong assumption.
It was that I had to go out of my way to make my exchange life interesting enough so that the Office of Study Abroad would not regret making me represent Exchange Fall 2013 in this blog.
I came on the first day to check-in, expecting a routine, cookie-cutter, exchange orientation programme doled out every semester. Meaning to say, I was not expecting much since we were just going to be here for 4 months to a maximum sentence of a year and we were not going to be true “colonials” anyway. I naively thought of 2-3 fun activities off the top of my head to do by myself to fill up the first blog post since my arrival.
I was wrong, of course, because after getting our keys and going on a short but sufficient trip to Target for logistics, we began the week with a pool party at Mount Vernon. “Eyebrow-raising” is probably the closest adjective I can find to describe the past week.
Okay, the pool party was conservative because we were restrained by the awkwardness of barely having known each other’s names.
So, not to send any more wrong ideas to our parents who might be reading this (Hi Mom), here are some of the things that made my first week in D.C. worthy of a blog post:
We were given an informative tour of the memorials in the national mall at night, beginning with the Washington Monument and including the National World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.
In the near-silence of the night, the tour was deservedly respectful where necessary, reminding us “non-resident aliens” that even though locals may occasionally drunk-memorial (verb), we would be living so near a place that holds significant symbolic value to the people here. Besides that, the entire place is as beautiful during the night as it is during the day and I realized I may be coming here quite often – sober.
50th Anniversary of the March on Washington
When my friends and I heard that this was not part of the programme, we knew we had to somehow find a way to get ourselves involved. Even though I come from a place so distant from this very significant part of history, I find myself inspired by the narratives and even more by the people who, after 50 years, still have a strong emotional connection to this moment in time. It was just massive; people with all kinds of signs and posters, marching for old, unfinished causes and new ones.
We thought it would be pretentious if we borrowed a cause to march for, so we marched for our own personal causes and beliefs. I was just really glad to be part of this moment.
I even went to the Lincoln Memorial the night before to reflect in private.
Fall 2013 Exchange Orientation
Last but not least, the orientation programme itself was really fun; not merely because of the activities planned for us (I could go on and on about it), but because of the people who were part of it. You could sense the sincerity of the EXO leaders from the way they welcomed and got to know all of us.
They were volunteers and they did not really have to put in so much effort (in both senses – that is they could decide not to put in effort anytime, and that they were awesome people so their presence alone was premise for fun).
Yet, they still extended a hand of hospitality and some of them even hosted parties. In my case, my EXO leader, Ahana, was from Singapore. She and Charles really made me feel at home. As an exchange student, a traveler a wanderer in a foreign land, the guidance we received from the Office for Study Abroad, the facilitation we experienced with our EXO leaders and the nascent friendships we engendered were all precious blessings we really needed to kick-start life as a Colonial.
Our attempted “Flashmob”!
Special thanks to everyone who made my first week away from home bearable, including my Dad who was with me for a few days before I moved in.
Being “Colonial” means different things to different people. So I guess, it gives me the freedom to define for myself what being a non-resident, alien, temporary “Colonial” means. Hence, I would like to begin my exchange life with Al-Haddad's intention for seekers of knowledge which I shall re-purpose to fit this new context of life, in the world’s most powerful city where monuments and memorials stand to remind others of the price of freedom and the value of peace and justice, in a place that attracts the brightest of minds and the most intelligent of beings.
I intend to study and teach, take and give a reminder, take and give benefit, take and give advantage, to encourage the holding fast to exemplary virtues and noble values, and calling to guidance and directing towards good, hoping for the countenance of God and His pleasure, proximity and reward, transcendent is He.