The Washington D.C. Semester Program: Tripping into Adulthood

 

I am a first-generation college student who identifies as a Latinx woman (Indian, Dominican, and Puerto Rican) though my mother would feverishly tell you I’m more Dominican than anything else. My hometown is Lawrence, Massachusetts, made of a predominantly Hispanic community and Washington D.C. is nothing like any place I’ve been to. Metro buses swarm the industrious city: if you look right you’ll see a woman in designer shoes fashionably strutting her way down Fair street without a care in the world, yet look left and you’ll see a man of small stature gripping a coffee mug for dear life and walking on his heels at the speed of light attempting to catch a Metro bus (maybe he was late for his 9 am board meeting). 

 

 

 

I realized instead of planning out when to move C.elegans worms for the third fertility assay of the week in my Holy Cross lab, I’d now be creating a schedule for my entire day at the Federation of American Scientists including when to review the congressional calendars and when to work on different projects simultaneously. Instead of noting where an experiment went wrong in my lab notebook, I was taking notes on Chairman Nadler’s input during the judiciary hearing from the House; the parallels between my Holy Cross life and new job life were slowly intersecting.

 

 

Being an adult was something in my reach, but never in my grasp. I drove to D.C. with my parents, got dropped off at my luxurious apartment, and an eerie feeling appeared taking the form of my face, staring back at me. Is this adulthood? After all, I was the owner of a brand new, limited edition Metro pass and it had my name printed right on it (not really). I did groceries too, at my nearest Whole Foods (which was alright, I really miss Market Basket though). In hindsight, doing groceries and taking the Metro does not make you an adult. Sorry if that’s a bit disappointing. With my two months’ experience of working a corporate job, I can tell you that even you reading this blog right now possess all the capabilities to harness the act of being an “adult.” Yes, the act of being an adult. There is no age when one feels grown. There is no amount you can spend on your groceries to prove you are an adult and there is no amount of times you can ride the Metro to prove it either. 

 

 

Rather, it is the choices you make and the confidence you have within every breath you take. Being an adult is learning how to carry yourself with composure, forgiveness, and strength. It is helpful to be more open-minded and to grace others with your nurturing presence. Be someone who never comments on what they already know, but on what you want to keep learning. If you aren’t good at it now, you’ll be great at it later. Everyone around you is doing what you are doing: just trying to figure it out. Attempt to harness your own energy and begin thinking about how you want to make your mark on today’s world!

 

The Art of Grounding Yourself in Your Workplace

Twenty years old, there I stood with my red college-ruled notebook and metro card in hand — looking up at the glassy skyscraper building where my new internship would be: The Federation of American Scientists. I recently started Holy Cross’s Washington D.C. Semester program, here’s how it’s going:


I found myself culture-shocked and homesick — Was my handshake too aggressive? Do I actually know what I’m doing? What is biotechnology and why does my google spreadsheet keep closing? There I sat at my desk, burying my head in my chest, sulking in dread. The first week consisted of me suffering from Imposter Syndrome to the highest degree: I felt like I spoke too little, knew not enough, and was overall average. Suddenly all my credentials meant nothing — that A in my freshman year writing class meant very little as I figured out how to condense a 60-page report to 3 pages. Day by day I started to realize this internship was going to consistently ask more of me and as a result, I had to ask more of myself: How does the work I’m doing at FAS affect other people? Am I passionate about high-skilled immigration policy? If not me, then who? How do I take skills that I learned while working in Prof. Mondoux’s laboratory and translate them into my new job?

I realized instead of planning out when to move C.elegans worms for the third fertility assay of the week, I’d now be creating a schedule for my entire day at FAS including when to review the congressional calendars and when to work on different projects simultaneously. Instead of noting where an experiment went wrong in my lab notebook, I was taking notes on Chairman Nadler’s input during the judiciary hearing from the House; instead of incubating C.elegans worms, I monitored the congressional calendars. 

To feel my composure slip; to suddenly feel how your toes take up space in your shoes; to feel yourself panic in the deepest part of your chest knowing it’s only 1 pm and there are 4 more hours in the workday are all emotions I had to learn to control. As someone who meets anxiety every Tuesday at 9 pm, I had to establish ways to ground myself with every individual I encountered at my first “real” job, and here is what I gathered:

  • Understand they hired you because they think you are capable of the job, after all: if not you, then who? Who else could do what was always meant for you? 
  • Own your words when they come out your mouth: there’s no need to feel like what you are saying is not good enough. Even you will get more familiar with the terminologies of your new job and if you don’t understand something, just ask.
  • Dress up and work on feeling comfortable taking space. Especially if you’re a minority or person of color: Understand your voice has the ability to break generational barriers and that you are more than capable of bridging the gap between the crumb of your vast culture that you bring to an environment that has not seen people that look like you. As one of the three people of color at my job, helping to understand that there are mental barriers to overcome in order to feel comfortable in my space helped me greatly.

 

Lastly, I’ll leave you with some questions to answer that helped me with my journey: What do you want to do with the 24 hours you are given today? How can you ensure your actions have a lasting impact on the issues you want to solve? Who will you be when you get to campus? College is an opportunity, how will you take advantage of yours?