The passing scenery, the hum of the engine, and the gentle rocking of the train offer the perfect opportunity to reflect on the journey I am about to begin, interrupted, perhaps ironically, by a short trip home. Home is truly a strange phenomenon. When my parents, brother, and I moved here from Ukraine, home, for a while, remained my grandparents’ house in the small village I grew up in. In those first few months, I remember shutting myself in the bathroom of our first apartment, crying on the floor while my mom tried to coax me out; I had little interest in the new reality. Nowadays, my parents like to poke fun (in good spirit, I swear) of just how much I cried as I struggled to learn English, do my homework, and adjust, but I know that the adjustment for them was much more difficult than for me, if not outwardly. In the span of twelve years, ‘home’ changed locations four times – thankfully in the same city. The comfort of stability was hard to achieve. However, over time, I realized that our old apartment, or now our house (three years strong!), had become home; they had become a place to return to. Home is thus not, like most aspects of life, permanent, and I am fortunate enough to always have at least two homes in my heart.
My naive musings on home aside, regret is similarly a word that for me carries little of the weight and depth that comes with age. I will say, though, that I do not wish to have been born in the U.S., or not to have been an immigrant. My experience provides an interest in the world, an appreciation of hardship, and much-needed humility. Coupled with an inherited interest in international affairs – my dad was a history teacher in Ukraine – political science, and now economics seemed like natural fields of study. I always found great comfort reading my older brother’s history textbooks growing up, and now I have the privileged opportunity to learn what makes the world tick in my classes, and, to finally get on topic, to participate in the Penn in Washington program. Through the program, I am able to intern at the State Department, which would otherwise have been out of my reach. The allure of the State Department is perhaps another strange phenomenon. I don’t vigorously reject the idea that there are other ways and means, private or public, to serve your country or better the world or earn a living. I also won’t say that diplomatic work is the most important of all jobs. Certainly, the perks of the job play a role in my interest in a career in the State Department: assignments to different regions of the world, the ability to meet people from all walks of life, the pomp of a diplomatic passport. Most importantly, however, diplomacy is an intersection between my interests and a calling to serve; the perks don’t hurt either.
So, as I start on my internship with the State Department, my goal is to test the imagined to the real. Whatever the journey may bring, I am ready because I have a place to return to, home.