Our Week in Washington DC

At the beginning of October, we received the incredible opportunity to travel to Washington DC for a week. Our little blog was chosen from hundreds of great Peace Corps blogs, so we got to represent Morocco in the 3rd annual Blog It Home Technology Tour. (Ironically, this is our most long-overdue blog post!)

Found this cool Arabic logo at the Peace Corps Headquarters!

Found this cool Arabic logo at the Peace Corps Headquarters!

It was a wonderful, whirlwind week.

The first ever Peace Corps sign from the first staging group in 1961.

The first ever Peace Corps sign from the first staging group in 1961.

These are the other bloggers who won, all incredible individuals with fascinating stories. Go visit their blogs:

SJ, the Philippines. 

Dominique, Jamaica. 

Brent and Bonnie, Zambia.

Stephen, Mozambique. 

Katrina, Ethiopia. 

Brandon, Senegal. 

Jonathan, Ecuador. (Who, unfortunately, could not make the Blog It Home tour.)

Connecting with them was inspiring and clarifying. We all have such different backgrounds, different sectors, different host countries, different timelines, etc. Yet, we kept finding more and more in common. It seems that being Peace Corps Volunteers pulls people together in a deep way. Maybe there are certain things in the world that no one else but a fellow PCV will ever truly get.

The theme of the week was Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn campaign, and we attended several events promoting this. We also met with important media folk, gave numerous cultural presentations, and (of course) ate plenty of American food! Our days were packed from early in the morning to the evening.

 

Here’s the rundown of the week, not in any particular order:

Voice of America, where we talked to journalists about international media and got a bunch of free swag. (If there’s anyone who properly appreciates free swag, it’s Peace Corps Volunteers.)

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The White House! Alas, we didn’t get to meet the Obamas. I think all of us were holding onto a dim hope that perhaps Michelle would attend one of our events, but alas! We did get to meet some really cool people though: the White House media team (they run the White House website, Obama’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.), Obama’s Chief Technology Officer, a member of Vice President Biden’s staff who is an RPCV, and Michelle’s Let Girls Learn staff.

With Megan Smith, Obama's CTO, outside the White House.

With Megan Smith, Obama’s CTO, outside the White House.

With the media team member who runs the White House social media accounts.

With the media team member who runs the White House social media accounts.

In the White House’s historical Indian Treaty Room, we gave presentations about girls’ education in our various host countries. We loved listening to the other PCVs speak so passionately about their work and their communities.

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On the side of the White House!

On the side of the White House!

School visits! We all got to do cultural presentations at several DC public elementary and middle schools. This was definitely one of the greatest parts of the trip. I feel like this is where we felt most in our element, at least. Robert and I did a few presentations together and a few separately. It was incredible getting to teach kids about Morocco. They had endless questions (anything from “Which philosophers inspired you so join the Peace Corps?” to “Do they have more squirrels or camels in Morocco?” to “Do they have ice cream in Morocco?”). One kid even confided in Robert that his new stepmom is Muslim and he had questions about Islam that he was too shy to ask her about. They had an adorable conversation, and by the end, the kid came away with a new understanding of his stepmom.

Plus all the kids waited to be called, despite eagerly waving hands in the air, instead of jumping out of their seats screaming “TEACHER TEACHER TEACHER” or “ANA ANA ANA” (Translation: “ME ME ME”). So that was a really nice change, hahahahaha. 🙂

Cheering on an American kid as he'd pouring "tea" Moroccan style!

Cheering on an American kid as he’d pouring “tea” Moroccan style! (Wish I had some real Moroccan glasses, but ah well!)

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This little scholar stopped me in the hallway and had a million extra questions.

This little scholar stopped me in the hallway and had a million extra questions.

(The casual caftan and scarf in hair combo was because I was going for a Dounia Boutazout Laundry Detergent Commercial sort of look. I don’t own a jellaba, haha.)

Lunch with the Peace Corps Director. Carrie Hessler-Radelet is one of the most down-to-earth, genuine, and chill people we’ve ever met. When she hugged me, I almost kissed her cheeks, Moroccan style. I think she would have been okay with it if I had.
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Recruitment Event at George Washington University. This event was really cool because we got to speak with university students who were considering the same life paths that we’re currently on.

Our cultural table.

Our Morocco table.

Gotta represent

Gotta represent

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With Brandon (Senegal), all representing in our host country garb. Hamdullah.

National Geographic. We met the person in charge of NatGeo’s amazing Instagram account. (Of course, the explorers in the field do the actual photography/posting though.) And we got to explore the fun museum.

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Things got a bit silly too. :)

Things got a bit silly too. 🙂

Professional Development. There was plenty of time to talk to professionals in the field about strategies for our own careers. Most of the other PCVs are on a more international development path than Robert or me, but it was still very interesting. (And this inspired us to eventually write blog posts on how Peace Corps fits into our respective paths into a medical career and academia. Inshallah this will be one of 2016’s upcoming series!)

Plus our "home base" room at the PC headquarters was also chock-full of snacks!

Plus our “home base” room at the PC headquarters was also chock-full of snacks!

Report-Out Speeches at HQ. This presentation was different than any of the other ones because we were speaking to a roomful of RPCVs. We didn’t have to hold back on lingo/terminology, and we got to speak extremely frankly about our service.

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Congressional visits. We were able to have meetings with our Washington State representatives, Senator Maria Cantwell and Congressman Jim McDermott. I think we successfully planted a seed in Senator Cantwell’s mind to visit Morocco someday soon! Plus, their offices were decked out in Washington State things, and it made us a bit homesick.

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Let Girls Learn Event at GWU. We topped our week off with this lovely event, attended by a huge number of local girls and organizations. We started at booths and moved into a fun performance-filled event.

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At the event, girls from all over the greater DC area filled out these inspiring placards.

At the event, girls from all over the greater DC area filled out these inspiring placards.

Filling our stomachs and hearts. Last but not least, the constant theme of our week in America. We didn’t think we’d go back for the full 27 months, but we made the most of our unexpected visit 10 months in. One of the best parts was that Robert’s parents were able to visit us for the first half of the trip! They got to laugh at us as we overreacted in various restaurants. Another best part: we got to see our brother Gabe! We lived with him and our host family for our first three months in Morocco, until his service ended. Luckily, Gabe was able to attend a few of our events, plus get some American delights with us. It had only been half a year since he was in Morocco, so he understood perfectly.

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We also indulged (A LOT) in our other favorites:

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We’re so grateful to the amazing Third Goal Office at PCHQ for the wonderful week they gave us! Thank you guys! 🙂 It definitely brought a renewed vigor to our service, and we’ll never forget the connections and experiences we had.

At our last happy hour, a lovely table filled with PCVs and RPCVs!

At our last happy hour, a lovely table filled with PCVs and RPCVs!

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

 

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