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08/24/2017

In the words of PIP Anna Udre

First Chapter of One of the Greatest Journeys of my Life

By Anna Udre

On July 26th I celebrated my name day. It’s nothing special, but it’s nice, when people you love send greetings and good wishes from back home. July 26th wasn’t only my name day this year. It was also my one month anniversary of me being in the United States of America. Therefore, I took my time to reflect on what had happened in 30 days of my time being here.

Moving is both exciting and traumatic

Before arriving to Washington D.C. I had already imagined how it would be. It wasn’t my first time traveling, I had traveled alone to most exotic places in Africa and Asia, I had lived in Sweden for six months, I had slept in forests of Norway for a week, etc. What could surprise me? As the day of departure came closer, I was feeling very confident about myself. The difference was that I was moving away from home for a year (I had never been away from Latvia for such a long time). It only hit me, when I was saying goodbye to my parents and my dog at the airport at around 5 AM, that this was going to be life-changing, and it’s going to be the biggest change so far. I won’t come back as the same person, and nothing will ever be the same. That was an overwhelming feeling. Photo_1Since my internship had to start only after the 4th of July celebration, I had a week to organize my stuff and get used to the environment. But days went by fast. I had to make a bank account, get a new sim card, pay my first deposit for the room I was renting etc. During my first days I also went to have coffee with my employer and his friends. After meeting my boss-to-be I was very much looking forward to starting my internship at Joint Baltic American National Committee, even though I still had very little knowledge of what was I going to do there. Photo_2After two days of excitement and getting done all the practical stuff, I got really sick. There was no real explanation for that. Long story short – I spent over 24 hours with over 40 degrees before spending a night at a hospital. Turns out I was dehydrated, even though I believe I drank enough water. It was an experience, that made me realize - hospitals in the U.S. don’t really differ from the ones back in Latvia, but they’re hundred times more expensive. Good thing we have the insurance here, but this was a very tough first lesson – look after your health, be careful, and don’t end up paying too much for medicine here!

The capital for Latvians – Baltimore

After two days of suffering from fever I went to D.C. to meet some of my friends, who were visiting. The weather in summer here is tropical – it’s around 35 degrees and it’s really humid. Even though I was a bit cautious with exposing myself to the world (I really did feel like breaking free after spending three days behind closed walls), the excitement of enjoying the sun, the hot weather, the city and friends was real. And since the weekend of the 4th of July was coming up, people were happy and enjoying the great weather. Photo_3My friends were working as teachers at “Garezers” at that time. It’s the biggest summer camp for American Latvians up north, and they all had arrived to the east coast because of the Singing and Dancing festival. My next destination was Baltimore, where the festival took place.

I had no idea, where I was going to stay, what exactly I was going to see, where to go, but I knew the moment I got there, that I was going to have a great time. The city was packed with Latvians from all over the U.S. and some even from Latvia. Since I couldn’t get hold of my friends at first, I made friends with some Latvian-Americans  and went to see “Sola” concert with them. It was incredibly beautiful – to be surrounded by Latvians and listening to one of the greatest choirs of Latvia performing great songs. By the way one of my ex-classmates was singing in the choir. It was all simply magical. Photo_4I planned to spend only one evening and one night in Baltimore, but I ended up spending two days and nights there. The things I experienced are indescribable. Latvian-Americans are very proud of their ancestry. Even though most of them have been to Latvia only when they were very little, they know all the Latvian songs, they know how to dress traditionally and the list continues. During my days in Baltimore I made a lot of new friends, sang Latvian songs on the street, in hotel halls, danced to Latvian songs, listened to poetry and prose in Latvian etc. One of the highlights of this event was the final concert of the festival, where everyone was singing “Saule, Pērkons, Daugava” together. It’s a very special song, and it sounded as special here in the U.S. as it does back in Latvia. I felt like home. Photo_5Latvian heading to Congress

After experiencing all that first week had brought to me, I felt ready to start my internship. The night before that, I went to the national Mall to watch the 4th of July fireworks together with thousands of Americans and tourists, who had come together for this special occasion. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of fireworks, I have to admit that this really was special. I had never seen anything close as beautiful (if we’re talking about fireworks) before. It was a perfect ending to my arrival week. I had experienced a lot already, it was time to get to work. Photo_6On my first day of internship I learned that there will be “office days” and “city days”. On first ones we’ll be doing more practical and organizational stuff, whereas on others we’ll be “running around” D.C. for meetings, conferences, seminars, and other events. I learned that there are no certain tasks for me – everything mostly depends on my initiative to do stuff. And that was great news, because I had the freedom not only to  achieve what I thought would be relevant for the place I was working for, but also for me personally. To add, my boss and other interns at Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) were all great – friendly, helpful and with a sense of humor. Photo_7First three weeks of my internship passed by quickly. They were hectic, exciting, overwhelming, amazing, educational, and dynamic. If you’re interested in politics, then this is the place to be. Washington D.C. is the city of opportunities. Greatest speakers come here to talk about various international affairs topics, high level people from different countries are here to express their opinion and represent their home country, you can easily meet diplomats, great professionals and influential thinkers here. And that’s exactly, what I experienced during my first weeks of internship.

What JBANC does on daily basis, is advocating the Baltic nations. The goal is to represent the Baltic-American communities and to help coordinate their activities with the U.S. Congress and administration and its related agencies in conjunction with issues related to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Therefore we attend all the relevant events, that take place in Washington D.C., we keep in touch with all three embassies of the Baltic states, and we meet regularly with other, who support the same goals.

Photo_8

During my first weeks the biggest issue was the Russia sanctions bill that the House of Representatives needed to support. The JBANC team worked very hard to lobby for this bill, and therefore one of my first tasks was to hand out letters to congressional staffers (to pass to their representatives) to support the bill. There are a total of 535 Members of Congress. 100 serve in the U.S. Senate and 435 serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. We went to all 435 offices to hand out the personalized letters and talk about why it’s important to support the bill. It was pretty challenging since it was my first time actually lobbying something "on frontline". And it was endlessly exciting. Photo_9Seize all opportunities and say “yes”

What I’ve understood here, is that I’m not only representing myself here. I’m representing my country. Whatever I do, say or perform, for many people it will leave an impression of Latvia, because I might be the only person they’ll ever meet from there. And that’s something, that makes you “straighten your back”, be more confident and show the best side of yourself. It’s an honor.Photo_10Even though work is extremely exciting here, that shouldn’t take up everything else. It’s important to go out, meet new people, make friends, go on trips together and experience this country from other sides, too. You can never know, where one “yes” will take you. And it has happened to me many times here already. Photo_11I’ve met great people here, some of whom were simply strangers sitting next to me at one of the events. It’s all part of discovering this culture – through people, food, stuff they like doing. And I’ve come to a conclusion, that the U.S. is filled with so many different people, that you can’t really generalize anything here. State differs from state, even cities differ a lot. And people have ancestors from all over the world, therefore each one of them brings something different to here. And that’s what makes this country so interesting and at the same time challenging to be at. I can’t be happier about having this experience, and I’m looking forward to having on of the greatest years of my life!

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