For an entire week, eight of us got VIP fast-pass access to some incredible people and offices. As a newbie who thinks Instagramming work badges is a thing, I was in awe listening to these people talk about their work and how they got to where they are today. I mean, this stuff has kept me awake at night over the last couple of years since graduating. What am I gonna do with my life and how am I going to even get there?
Some of my favorite moments includes when Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s Chief of Staff, dropped in our White House meeting. A few of us were moved to tears telling her about our Let Girls Learn projects and the hope FLOTUS gives to the girls in our classrooms and communities. Also, hearing from Sarada Peri, one of Obama’s speechwriters and the only female/woman of color on the speechwriting team, talk about feminism in the workplace was so legit. She’s so smart and articulate and I totally have a professional girl crush on her.
Another favorite moment was when we visited the National Geographic offices to meet with Ryan Fouss, former Peace Corps videographer who was in his second week at Nat Geo. He was telling us all about his new job, his passion for digital strategy and media and his take on getting a Masters degree vs more experience. We’re all sitting there thinking, man this guy has got his shit together and he’s like only a few years older than us. But then Ryan kind of went silent, looked at us closely and exhaled, “But guys … it’s really hard here.”
The other 50% of the week’s schedule was devoted to Third Goal-ing. Peace Corps has three main goals and paraphrased, they are the following: 1) Provide trained volunteers to countries who request us 2) Share the American culture ie I am an American and I come to you in peace 3) Share our country’s culture with the American peoples.
Our first Third Goal event was a recruitment event at American University. We had brought artifacts and things from our country and the Third Goal office provided flags and printed posters of an image from our service. The students filed in and we were basically acting recruiters for the night. I met a few students who were interested in going to Mongolia, which was kind of surreal, and I even met a girl who had already been invited to next year’s cohort, the M28s!
After tabling for about an hour, we moved into a conference room where each of us did a brief 101 about our country of service (we all winged this and each time we presented, we all kind of talked about something different) and then we sat for a Q&A panel. Afterwards, we moved back to the tables for more mingling. This was the format for the majority of our Third Goal events except for the day we visited D.C. public schools classrooms.
The bloggers were split into three groups and between the eight of us, we covered six schools. Brittany and I started at Stuart Hobson Middle School where we each presented in our own classrooms of 6th graders. My classroom was unique in that the teacher was involved in the Embassy Adoption program where different embassies in D.C. organize a penpal exchange with a class from its country. The teacher in my class, Ms. Mitchel had been paired with Mongolia! So as I’m walking into the school, I see artwork of the Mongolian flag and when I asked the kids what they knew about the country, they were spitting out Google facts like it was nobody’s business. I was so impressed and I was so excited to share the more cultural side to Mongolia. I brought felt crafts made from students at my town’s technical college, sheep and goat ankle bones given to me by one of my counterparts, coloring pages from a highly popular adult coloring book called Magnificent Mongolia, dried milk curds, and kid-sized traditional hats.
The kids were super intrigued by the ankle bones. Almost all of them thought they were teeth. I also had them try auruul, the dried milk curds, and solicited opinions about how it tasted or smelled. Auruul is a staple Mongolian snack and probably the only acceptable food item that teachers will let students eat in class. It’s a little funky tasting, especially to the American palate, but most of the kids were very respectful when sharing their opinions. For those of you who have never had auruul, here is what you should be prepared for according to these 6th graders:
- It taste lemony and has a dough-like texture.
- It tastes like a farm.
- It tastes like sourdough bread.
- It smells like spoiled milk.
- The aftertaste is super strong.
I grew up feeling shameful about eating Korean food in school or having friends over while my mom was cooking dinner. I knew there was a distinct “smell” that kids could be rude and merciless about so I was a little nervous about bringing auruul into the classroom. I know auruul isn’t from my own culture, but I’ve grown to become protective about Mongolia. I considered just having them out for display but people encouraged me to have the students try it and I’m relieved, pleased and utterly impressed that these 6th graders (including the ones at Hardy Middle School) could be both exploratory and respectful of something so new. It gives me hope and makes me appreciate the Third Goal so much more.
I’m getting to go back to my service with a renewed sense of appreciation and wonder. That’s the best part to come out of the Top Bloggers tour. Sure, I got to practice my public speaking skills on the fly and network like a true Washingtonian, but I still have nine months of service left. I have nine more months to live in the present moment and soak up every bit of my content-rich, growth-inducing life. So get ready for more stories and more observations! cuz it’s time to level-up my blog game.