Reflecting on the year

May 7th
Seattle Airport

This morning I woke up at 5:30 am to get on a plane to New York. I sat next to one of those inquisitive elderly types that love to ask young people questions about their life. Somehow I found myself relating my entire life story. At the end of the flight the man told me “I’d tell you good luck but it sounds like you don’t need it, you already have it all figured out.”

Last summer, before I left for Kenya, I remember trying to come up with a catchy tagline for my newly started blog. Andrew suggested “making the world and greener and hyphier place.” I kind of liked that one but spent so much time attempting to explain to my mom what “hyphy” meant that I decided to change it. So I decided on “trying to figure it all out.”

Initially, I think I was trying to figure out if all the myths about Africa were true. I’d just taken a Politics in Africa class and heard so much about the negative stereotypes of absolute poverty, violence and corruption that simply failed to capture the joy and vast differences between the 54 countries of the African continent. I also wanted to know if there was anything I could do to help or if more Western intrusion was simply making things worse. Three months and a successful biodigester project later, I found that I could be helpful. At the same time, I began to question the success of the international system in carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism in helping to fund renewable energy projects in developing countries when the amount of bureaucracy to even get our project considered was prohibitive.

After leaving Kenya I went to Washington D.C. There I studied International Environment & Development, interned at the United Nations Environment Programme and worked at a restaurant called Nando’s. I’ve never had a class I loved so much, I felt like everything we were learning about was exactly the type of information I wanted to know. My internship at the UN introduced me to the most amazing people, both in D.C. and in Chicago where the youth network I helped launch held our first conference. As one of the only white girls at Nando’s and definitely one of the only ones that wasn’t struggling to pay the bills, I saw a whole new side of our capitol I never would have experienced. I started to question the values of a country where the people distributing government money (politicians) are able to ignore the astonishing high poverty rates in their own backyard.

When I first arrived back at Whitman, my first reaction was “whoa, I have so much free time.” That’s when I realized that my study “abroad” experience where I often had myself booked from 9am until 11pm when I got of work at Nando’s was a little insane. Despite recognizing that insanity, I quickly went about making sure my life at Whitman was just as busy. I’d already signed myself up for five-hour commitments to Northwest SEED, UNEP’s Kick the Carbon Habit Education Campaign and the World Bank’s Youth, Peace and Development network. These positions also meant that I went to a fair number of conferences, attending the Clinton Global Initiative in Austin, Texas and Powershift in Washington D.C. While this was fun, it sort of made me question if all of those conference calls and conferences were actually helping anything besides my own resume.

I got back involved in club life at Whitman. I helped plan a curriculum on climate change called “Cool the Schools” that sent 30 Whitman students into classrooms for three weeks. On Earth Day, I led 20 students from all three colleges in Walla Walla on a project to distribute energy efficient light bulbs in lower income neighborhoods. Although I loved both of those projects, I wanted to find a way to make them into something sustainable.

I’d worked in those neighborhoods previously doing community-based research for the State of the State for Washington Latinos class. I’m currently in the continuation of that class which is public communication about my research. This class has sent me all over Eastern Washington and to Olympia to speak with people about the importance of neighborhood organizing for engaging Latinos. Last night was our final presentation in Yakima. For the first time, I presented without my notes. It was thrilling to be in front of people without any safety net. And yet sometimes I wonder if my research is really going to change anything.

I spent an inordinate amount of time this semester filling out applications. I applied for the Truman Scholarship, made it to the final interview round in San Francisco and didn’t get it but made some new friends. I got the Udall Scholarship for environmental leaders and am excited to attend the Scholarship Orientation later this summer. I also got accepted to be part of the SustainUS youth delegation to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, hence the reason I am on my way to New York. I can’t wait to see what an international meeting actually looks like. On most of the applications I’ve written that I want to be a diplomat when I “grow up.” I have no idea what that actually means, perhaps this conference will help me figure that out.

Perhaps most exciting was when I got a call from the White House saying that I’d been accepted into their summer internship program. I’m guessing that interning at the Office of Political Affairs is going to give me an entirely new perspective on the way politics actually works.

After sitting the airport for a couple of hours thinking about everything I’ve done since I first started this blog, I realized that I really haven’t figured anything out and probably never will. Everything I’ve done has just given me more questions that I can’t answer. If I ever see that gentleman again I’ll correct him, telling him “No, I haven’t figured it all out, but actually, I sort of like it that way.”