I got on the plane wondering why I hadn’t just blown off the idea when it came to me in February. But, that’s not how I am. Of course I went. I flew from Atlanta to Reagan National on Aug. 19 to start a semester in Washington, D.C., with the UGA Washington Semester Program.
I applied on a whim, shortly after returning from a four-day trip to the city with PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America) to visit public relations agencies. I got a spot – and a scholarship for it. But after a summer spent between my home in Wyoming and studying in Oxford, England, I was ready to spend my senior year in Athens (and I thought anyone who wasn’t crazy would want the same). When I walked up out of the Metro and into the streets of Washington that February night, I found an empty city, completely snow-covered and glowing in the late night streetlights. (I look back now and realize I flew in right in the midst of “Snowpocalypse,” or whatever we dubbed that latest storm that shut down the federal government for over 24 hours.)
It was peaceful and exhilarating and made me want more. After four months in Washington this fall, I still find the city exhilarating, but for new and more intimate reasons than that wintry night in February that – though I didn’t know at the time – would alter my senior year more than I could have ever dreamed.
When Don DeMaria, the program director, interviewed me and asked why I wanted to spend four months in Washington – half of my senior year for goodness’ sake – I told him I wanted to push my limits, that I needed to push myself further than I had done yet and knew an experience like the D.C. program offered just might do that. Washington is a city like no other, as anyone who has spent time there will tell.
I think everyone feels a little bit of ownership over the city after living there, and those who really love it seem to connect with it immediately. I saw that in some of my housemates, and occasionally I felt it myself. But regardless of how strongly the city tugs at your heart, my four months in Washington opened my eyes, and I’m so grateful. The program itself took up most of my time. I worked full-time as an intern at a boutique public relations and strategic communications agency on K Street (which, as I learned, is essentially the heart of lobbying and communications in Washington), and I took three classes a week after work.
As an athlete, I’m used to having most of my day taken up by class, practice, workouts, and mandatory appointments, but it was still a massive adjustment. For some absurd reason, sitting at a computer in a window-less office from 9am to 6pm every single day is completely exhausting. I’d come home drained, and the only thing that got me through class was the fact that I was doing it with the housemates who quickly became my best friends.
We lived in Delta Hall, a three-story colonial home just a stone’s throw from the Capitol building (okay, not really, but it was no more than a quarter mile). That’s still surreal to me. There were 23 students in the program, and a good number of those people became some of the closest friends I’ve made in my entire life. We jokingly called our group “The Real World: D.C.,” (not as funny now but we thought it was kinda good) but I don’t think we had any idea during that first week or so just how much we would come to know about each other, laugh with each other, roll hysterically on the floor with each other (I’m talking to you, Cydney), and love each other.
But it’s true. I’m so grateful for the time I spent with my housemates, because I’m pretty sure it was their influence and friendship that changed me the most of anything I experienced that semester. We found more adventures than I can summarize in a short blog.
We saw the Nats play, we went camping in Shenandoah National Park, we (a select and crazy few – that’s you, Rob) called the National Mall our “regular” run route and saluted Lincoln on the days we felt good enough to run six, we went to New York, and we felt like we belonged in the city after a just few weeks of exploring. In fact, it kind of felt like the adventure never ended – even in the house. I’m a social person, but at the end of the day, I like to be alone. Whether that’s as boring and lonely as it sounds or whether it’s the romanticized introvert’s paradise of nighttime reading and quiet meditation, it’s what I like. But living in close quarters with my housemates changed the way I spent my time. For four months, it didn’t matter if I went to bed at a decent hour or had two Monsters after 10 p.m. (gross, I know) and woke up totally ragged.
When I was angry or just tired of being around people after a long day at work, walking into the house to find those friends became the best part of my day. I have no doubt that luck played a role in it, but the group of people in the house that semester was the most unique, talented, dynamic, misfit collection of people in the world and we found a rhythm and bond that I really don’t think comes that often.
I’ve never met people so incredibly challenging and motivating yet effortlessly loving and fun and inviting. Without that group I know my semester would have been much less positive, and I probably wouldn’t look back at Washington with the warmth and love that I do now. They helped form the support from which I used my experiences there, both positive and negative, to evaluate who I am (to the extent that any 20-something can do that) and what I think I want.
I applied for the Peace Corps. I applied to graduate school. I almost applied for a job teaching English at a sustainable alternative high school in the Bahamas (and I would have, had its start date not conflicted with graduation). I called about working as a housekeeper on National Geographic’s Lindblad Expedition cruises.
I thought about a lot of different things, mostly because I quickly – very quickly – realized that I’m not going to be happy spending my life at a desk (unless it’s a writing desk that’s covered in coffee stains and books, in front of a window looking out on pines and mountains, but that’s another post).
So while I went to Washington to, essentially, “figure it out,” I left feeling completely lost, having abandoned any hopes I had had of following a traditional career path. But, at the same time, something changed for me personally, and I’m okay with that. I love not knowing what agency I’ll be at or how I want to use my degree, or if I’ll even “work” at all (ha! Isn’t that an idea?). Washington isn’t just full of productive politicians who want to change the world; it’s full of productive people.
That may sound like a trivial difference, but Washington is so much more than the people in suits and the big, white buildings that identify the city. What I saw when I lived there was thousands – millions – of people who were energized, determined, and living to do something important. But, most importantly, each of them had a different and very unique idea of what her purpose was and what was driving her as an individual.
I saw this in my housemates most strongly. Each person was so incredibly different from the next, and comparing one’s passions and successes to another’s was out of the question. Yet, we were all on paths toward what I believe will be overwhelming fulfillment in ways as unique and personal as we are. They showed me that what one person lives for may excite absolutely nothing in another, and that’s okay. It’s really great.
I realized, too, that what lights that fire in my life doesn’t have to be working at Edelman in New York City or starting the world’s greatest nonprofit in a developing country. My path can be (will be) totally unique, and there’s no timetable for creating it. In fact, there is no “creating” it nor is there even “finishing” it; there is only living it. I’m on my path now, and I’ll be on the same path in twenty years.
It may twist and turn and take me places I couldn’t even dream of at this moment, but one thing will remain: it will always be my own. Morgan Beavers is a senior at the University of Georgia studying public relations and English. She rides on the NCAA Women’s Equestrian team and calls Wyoming home. Morgan has a passion for horses, the mountains, words, and all things wild.