After six and a half months abroad, we are indeed back in the United States of America! On the afternoon of March 22nd, we arrived in New York City, a far cry from our last stop abroad – Addo national park in South Africa. I wouldn’t say I was necessarily looking forward to returning from abroad, but the rest of our trip should be good. The TBB program is not over yet; six weeks remain in our schedule.
We’ll spend a week each in New York City and Washington DC meeting with NGOs and larger organizations that relate to what we’ve been learning abroad. Then the group will retreat to an isolated center in Virginia to process everything we’ve seen and create individual “presentations of learning”. We’ll split into groups and present these projects to schools, interest groups, and philanthropy organizations around the country. My group will be traveling to Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Louisville. Our program will culminate with graduation in Boston on May 2nd and 3rd.
Our schedule in New York included various meetings with the New York State Department of Environmental Protection, the United Nations, Sustainable South Bronx, Michael Pollan – author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma – Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Just Food, UNICEF, and the Clinton Foundation. Many of the visits turned out to be briefings with Q&A.
One of our more frustrating days was our trip to the UN; I think most of the group came away from it with a sense that this huge organization didn’t have the ability to enforce it’s recommendations and was laden with bureaucratic processes. It actually put me in a pretty aggressive mood because nearly all of the questions we asked were met with defensive, prescribed and evasive responses.
We saw some more enlightening things, too. Michael Pollan’s speech was wildly entertaining; our visit to Just Food included a visit to a tiny, acre-large community farm in the Bronx; at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis we volunteered by preparing – I kid you not – “pussy packs” of condoms for distribution. Other highlights included mastering the subway system, seeing Bill Clinton’s office, and receiving an abundance of printed material about each of the organizations we visited.
I feel like I ought to have more culture shock, but beyond the first jet-lagged afternoon, I’ve mostly returned to life as normal. Having experienced only summer weather since the trip began, almost the most shocking part was the bitter chill of lingering winter. It’s nice to have access to the New York Times, to speak to anyone in English, and have cell phones; on the other hand, we’ve never spent more on food and the city is overwhelming.