Reflecting on a Once-In-A-Lifetime Experience

Overall, the Global Gateway Program in Washington DC left me with a lot to think about and process. Everyday was busy, and everyday had some new experience waiting around the corner. It was an experience that I will never quite forget.

With every new experience, I found challenges that I needed to overcome. This was my first time flying, first time staying in a hotel room by myself, the longest time I have ever spent in a different time zone, so on and so forth. Of course with flying there were issues with being nervous and not panicking. With other encounters, though, it was exhilarating. I felt alive.

This experience also instilled within me a mindset that I can be flexible. Not every day worked out exactly as we had hoped, from Capitol Hill being locked down due to a bomb threat to the weather being the exact opposite of the forecast. And of course that led to being nervous and disappointed, but never once did I lose hope, and nor did the rest of my classmates. It is okay to be nervous and worried. Flexibility is a mindset that can coexist with emotion.

In the past few weeks, we as a class grew to be close. We spent almost every day with each other to some extent. Although I have been in classes before with other people and socialized, I have never felt as close with a group of people as I did with these students. Perhaps it was chance that we all got along, but I chose to believe that through all of the setbacks and changes that we had to make, we weathered the storm together and that brought us closer.

Perhaps the most important and impactful thing that we did was go to the Holocaust Museum. It was more than just a museum presenting artifacts. It was a story. The curators displayed the facts in a way that put you smack in the middle of the story and showed just how it is possible for a government to commit such atrocious acts against ethnic and racial minorities. It put race relations in the US into perspective. Hitler modelled some of his programs after programs in the US even. Then, it is not hard to imagine what the Smithsonian museum of African-American History and Culture would look like if slave-owners and the government had documented slavery in the US better and had the documentation. You can put systematic oppression into a context that makes it easier to understand, and unfortunately, it weighs on you. But more importantly, it motivates you to reflect and think about ways to improve your own community.

The Global Gateway program in Washington DC left memories that I will never forget, but also inspired me. It seems more possible that I can talk with others about race relations in the US and strengthen my arguments without making things personal with someone I disagree with. Most importantly, I can enact changes within my community that can lead to positive improvements and inclusion and equity.

Jess Harlan