This is a weekly installment in a series of blog posts submitted by a team of Centre College students studying away or abroad throughout the spring semester. Learn more about Centre’s nation-leading study abroad program, a guarantee of the Centre Commitment.
Hesed Payocong (Louisville, Kentucky) is a junior economics and finance major at Centre. Throughout the semester, she will be providing a series of blog posts detailing her study-away experience in Washington, D.C., as an intern for the American Maritime Congress (AMC), a non-profit organization that advocates for the United States Maritime Industry. By the end of the semester, Payocong says she hopes this internship will have provided direction for her future career, along with experience in government advocacy and “informing others about the crucial role the maritime industry plays in our economy and national security.”
I have been all over the city and use the underground metro daily, but I never really put together the two-dimensional map of the subway to the actual environment above it. It wasn’t until I got lost and walked the lines above ground that those two pieces of information combined helped me truly comprehend the layout of the city and find better routes. While this is an admission of poor spatial navigation, it’s also a great parallel for D.C.’s important role in my education, internship and personal life.
The D.C. program is this wonderful balance between maximum exposure to opportunities, manageable diverse responsibilities and minimal consequences that encourage taking risks. It’s a great sneak peek of what life after graduation will be, except it’s on an easier mode with unlimited activities. I learned to budget with groceries, metro rides, plays and leisure as opposed to daunting bills like rent and utilities. I was also able to explore a completely unfamiliar industry, because the accommodation for me as an intern is one full of opportunities to learn, as well as grace for the inevitable mistakes. Additionally, with a lighter academic load, I was able reflect on and truly process what I am studying, transforming my multi-disciplinary education to an interdisciplinary learning. While that is clearly the liberal arts curriculum that I signed up for, it’s a deeper and more satisfying form of understanding to actually experience it all come together outside the classroom.
Another aspect I appreciate about this program was how it humanized the academics for me once again. Sometimes, we get so caught up in research, tests, debates and papers that we forget that most of what we’re studying is either to record, celebrate, understand or enrich humanity—to remove individuals from the discussion is unwise and dangerous, especially on topics such as race and politics (the subject of our weekend classes). Seeing racial discrimination and privilege in the form of plays, and hearing about political ideologies from voices who can talk back and engage, makes a more thoughtful, more nuanced and less polarizing learning experience. It was a necessary reality check both educationally and personally.
The final advantage of D.C. that I want to touch on is the real-life application of lessons from the classroom and from home. The last several years felt like an accumulation of recipes for learning, working and living, but this semester I had to cook them for real or else I don’t eat. It’s absolutely necessary and a relief to experience it earlier with stronger safety nets, but it’s also difficult. Some work days would just wear you down, some weeks are harder to budget, and being away from family and friends for work is an “adulting” emptiness that’s difficult to fill. I am also exhausted all the time, and I don’t even exercise—and, man, am I tired of cooking for myself! The cherry on top is that, in just two semesters, this is partly the rest of my life as my Cowan membership expires, my employment goes full time, and my friends and I go our separate ways. Excuse the sentimental diversion, but D.C. made me even more appreciative of my college years, both on campus and away.
That being said, I find myself even more grateful for these experiences, and I’m determined to make the most out of the time I have left in the city. Since my last check in, I’ve visited all the museums in the mall and several off-the-beaten path, from Anacostia to Travilah. I’ve also visited Mt. Vernon and three presidential tombs on Presidents’ Day; watched Handmaid’s Tale film on the Lincoln Steps; saw Mandolin Orange, LP, James Bay and Bon Iver in concert; attended five different plays; and even saw Swedish Activist Acrobats and a Syrian opera singer perform. The Capital City does an amazing job at bridging economic gaps when it comes to transportation mobility and access to arts and culture, because a livable income is one thing, but for a 20-something to afford world class theater, amazing concerts and a last-minute trip to New York City? That’s when you start living.
D.C. has been such a transformative experience by simply giving me the means, the time and the opportunity to just let things in my life click—the “above ground” walk that’s finally connecting the dots. Whether through a fascinating weekend class, or getting lost around town, there are as many lessons to be learned as there are adventures at every block.
by Hesed Payocong ’20
April 2, 2019