Posted by Sanaa Tejani
I first fell in love with D.C. during the annual trip that freshman McDermott Scholars take to the nation’s capitol. I can remember the exact moment, too. During the trip, a few of the other 2014 Scholars and I ran through the city to make it to the Library of Congress before it closed so that we could enter the breathtaking main reading room. (Though this instance of running through the rain resulted in me spraining my ankle and being on crutches for the rest of the trip, it was worth it!) Spending just a few days in a city filled with so much history and beautiful architecture convinced me that I had to come back. Thankfully, the Archer Fellowship Program gave me the chance to do just that.
I moved to D.C. four months ago, and since then I’ve gotten to work at my dream internship, take classes unlike any I’ve taken in my undergraduate career, explore this amazing city, and make endless memories with 47 of the most talented, intelligent and passionate people I know.
I spent the semester interning full-time with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), an experience I never thought I would get to have as a pre-medical student. I truly loved the multicultural experience of working in a UN office. In my department alone, I could find people who spoke Dutch, Arabic, Creole, and Bosnian, among other languages, many of whom had spent significant time working in another country. I also got to know senior staff who had spent 20 to 30 years working with the UN. I spent hours listening to their inspiring stories about working in Rwanda during the genocide or in Liberia during the Ebola outbreak. Working for UNHCR at a time of transition for the United States as well as the United Nations made for an interesting semester. I received opportunities beyond measure, such as chances to speak with the newly instated High Commissioner for Refugees about the global refugee crisis and to discuss sustainable development with the senior Vice President of the World Bank. All this was in addition to the incredible work I had the chance to do this semester, from learning about international asylum law to working directly with refugees from around the world. Not to mention, someone in the office was always visiting or returning from business at UN Headquarters in Geneva, resulting in an endless supply of Swiss chocolate for the office.
Post-work evenings usually consisted of class. We would either be at the Archer Center waiting to see which accomplished, inspiring, and high-profile guest speaker Dr. Chin had procured for her policy class, or we would meet at one of the many monuments or memorials in D.C. and spend the evening enchanted by Dr. Swerdlow’s ability to bring the city to life and teach us about the importance of national memory. These classes were unlike anything I’d taken back on campus at UTD as a Biology major. Instead of lab manuals and textbooks, I learned from the city, its people, and the vast amounts of history found in the streets of D.C.
When I wasn’t at work or in class, I usually explored the city with some combination of the 47 other Archer Fellows in my cohort. My experience in D.C. would not have been the same without the other Archers. From all 48 of us navigating the metro together during our first week to attending inauguration festivities to scoping out the best tacos in the city (nothing here comes close to what we have in Texas), my time in D.C. was infinitely better for having spent it with the other Archer Fellows. Together, we devised ways to meet our political heroes, woke each other up for early morning weekend classes with Dr. Daly, and went from complete strangers to a close pack of 48 people determined to change the world in one way or another.
As I write this blog post in the reading room of the Library of Congress, the same place I was trying to get to when I sprained my ankle 2 years ago, I realize that this semester has given me opportunities I never thought possible as a freshman. I’ve had the chance to meet incredible people and had the experiences of a lifetime over the course of just four months. As I reflect on my time in D.C., I can’t imagine leaving this city forever, and I know I’ll be back soon enough.