Today I had the privilege of giving the second week of Parlamentarisches Patenschafts Program Stipendiaten (Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Scholars) a tour of Hamburg. After leaving school a bit early, I headed into town to meet up with everyone. I showed them lots of interesting sights from the Chilehaus to the Alte Elbtunnel. This involved lots of walking of course, but we also got to take a ferry for part of it, and an old fashioned lift going in and out of the Old Elbe Tunnel. I was just doing it because I liked showing them around my city, and seeing my friends again, but the students and the liaisons got together and made me a photo and gave me a box of chocolate as a thank you. This reminded me that often even small acts of kindness can be really appreciated. Finally, we went back and watched Monsieur Claude und seine Töchter. It was an especially funny movie and showed cultural differences through marriages.
I know my Halftime Camp was a special time in my exchange year. To be completely honest, I was not especially looking forward to packing all of my things only to travel less than an hour away for a week, but it ended up being well worth it. I think what makes this experience so unique is that halfway through our exchange, we have been here long enough that for most of us, it really is starting to or already feels like home. On the other side, it still feels like we have some time left. I know it sounds a bit cliche, but I really can not believe how fast the time has gone. Although it will be interesting to see the Bundestag in Berlin, I think the End of Stay Camp will possibly have a bit of a sad note while we will all, at that time, be going back to the USA soon, just as we are really starting to have almost everything back to "normal" in our life.
I know I had an amazing week at my camp and I hope all of the other exchange students in the second week had a blast as well!
Photo is of the canal between the Alster (A small lake in the city center) and the Rathaus (Town Hall).
When you're on the road for this long you get good at rationing. In our case, that applies to batteries and to food. I just last week ate a vegan food bar that I bought in LA in the beginning of March.
We don't plan far ahead, so we never know exactly when we'll be able to buy acceptable food. Batteries are the same way. We're on a 32 hour train ride that spans two nights from Saigon in South Vietnam to Hanoi in North Vietnam.
It's the second night now, so it's time to burn off my batteries which I haven't really used much of yet.
One of the primary purposes of this blog is to document my life. I got to thinking a few days ago that I really want to make a written record of some of the proudest and most memorable moments in my existence on this earth thus far. So, I've decided to start an ongoing series of instalments entitled "Gordon's Milestones". These entries will document the most significant moments that have made me who I am today and who I will continue to become. I now present to you the first instalment:
You down with SEP? Yeah, you know me!!! You down with SEP? Every Last homie!!! Okay, so, you must be wondering, what, for the sake of Anne of Green Gables, is the "SEP"? Well, I'll reveal this later. I really should backtrack a little to the point at which this adventure first started. Back in American Samoa--the tiny Pacific island I grew up on--, I went to a private Catholic Highschool for boys called Marist Brothers Highschool in a little village on the west side of the island called Malaeloa. Most of my family and friends would agree at the time that I was very studious. My nose was always firmly implanted in several books, and I was fully entrenched in the pursuit of academic excellence. On the first semester of my freshman year, I had achieved a straight A+ average in all of my classes. I had kept this a secret from all of my classmates, but luckily for me, the entire school faculty was very aware of my private relentlessness. [caption id="attachment_232" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Marist Bros. High--Home of the Crusaders!!"][/caption] One day, early on in the second semester, my science teacher asked me to stay after class to discuss something with me. She casually handed to me what looked like some sort of application. She said it was in fact an application tailored specifically for "minority freshmen students who showed outstanding academic ability". (These were her words, not mine.) Only students who fell under this humbling description needed to apply, and those accepted would be carried away later that year in July on an all-expenses-paid trip to study all the major branches of science at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. Okay, so, drum roll please . . . the name of the program was the National Cancer Institute's Science Enrichment Program, otherwise known as the SEP. (Yeah you know me!!) This was a federally funded, nationwide program. Honestly, when she casually suggested that I apply, I thought there was no chance in hell that I'd get in. I knew that there would be several very exceptional and talented applicants. It was also not known how many applicants from my island would be accepted because they were taking applications from ALL OVER THE UNITED STATES!!!! So, I put the paperwork away. I had a month before the postmark deadline to send it off. Initially, out of fear of being disappointed and rejected, I was not going to pursue this, but over the next few days, I had one teacher after another casually asking about the application and encouraging me to go for it. So, finally, on the week it needed to be sent off, I went for it. I needed to fill out the darn thing, get a couple of teacher recommendations, include transcripts from my elementary school and for my freshman year thus far, and write an essay explaining why I deserved to go. My Mom drove me to the post office on the very day of the postmark deadline. I remember saying a little prayer before I dropped the envelope into the mail slot. As I turned around to get back to the truck where my mom was waiting, I vividly remember thinking that it's probably too late and that I missed my chance. Imagine my shock and surprise when the principle of my school came up to me one month later with a big fat grin on his face. He told me that my application was accepted and that I was one of only three students who got in out of all the applicants from the island. I could not believe it. Something like this had NEVER happened to me before. I didn't know that I would be on the brink of something that would change my life. A couple of months later, I was whisked away to Frederick, Maryland where I took up residence in the dorms of Hood College for an entire month of jam-packed activities. During the week, we took classes in biology, chemistry, and physics. The primary purpose of the program was to provide a science-oriented environment that encouraged minority students to eventually pursue a math/science field as a future career. The entire program was incredibly well-organized. It wasn't just about science. I had experienced many "firsts" on this trip. Here is a list of as many "firsts" as I can remember . . . 1. It was my first trip to the east coast of the US. 2. I had my first Subway sandwich. 3. It was my first time staying in a dorm (with a really cool roomate from Hawaii). 4. I rode on my first roller coaster ride. 5. My first visit to Washington DC--we went to the Capitol building, Lincoln and Vietnam Memorial, and all of the Smithsonian museums. There was probably one HUGELY siginificant thing that happened on this trip. It was the first time I can remember ever making real friends. Back in Samoa, I think I used books and studying as a shield. It was a safe pursuit that I was confident in. My classmates only ever related to me in an academic sense. I was the one to approach about homework or problem-solving, never the one to just hang out with. It kept me from really getting to know people and kept me very sheltered. Well, at the SEP, I had somehow befriended some of the most amazing people. We were all awkward teenagers who, strangely enough, all seemed like outcasts. We represented every extreme body shape imaginable, along with pimples, warts, and other lovely eccentricities. It was the first time I can remember being accepted as both a real person and a friend by my peers. This gang included Eddie and Teri from Texas, Becky from Virginia, Lori and Tulaga from Samoa, Jose, and a few other folks who I'm having trouble remembering. Of all the little groups of friends that formed, we were the most obnoxiously loud and carefree. I learned the true value of friendship at the SEP, and this changed me forever. It is a lesson I hold dear to this day. I look back on the SEP with the deepest fondness. Not only did I discover friendship in its truest sense, but it was one of the first times that I really started to believe in myself and to not doubt my own abilities. There is evidence that this actually happened. Click HERE to get a full official description. So, am I down with SEP? Yes. Always. -g