A tour to remember!
3 weeks, 4 states, 5 cities, 9 airports, 23 nations, 21 meetings,endless conversations, road trips, and “selfies” . . . This was my recent U.S trip in a nutshell.
I was privileged to be invited by the United States Department of State represented by U.S embassy in Amman to participate in the IVLP – The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) which is the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program. Through short-term visits to the United States, current and emerging foreign leaders in a variety of fields experience the country. In addition to getting the opportunity to meet many world leaders, prime ministers and change makers. The program theme was “Media Literacy: Promoting Civil Society through New Media” and we were twenty-three participants from twenty-three different countries. We also shared different professional backgrounds but had the same interest in using new media.
Our program started in Washington, DC then it took us to New York City, followed by Pensacola, Sacramento and concluded in San Francisco. Every city felt like a new trip, a new experience. Every city had its own remarkable moment, sites, meetings and new people whom were the cherry on top to every visit. Washington, DC was the kick off- we spent 6 days there- where we visited many museums, had several formal meetings with many significant organizations. One of the visit’s highlights was the federal brief we had; it was profusely interesting to explore a sneak peek behind the scenes of the United States. It cleared up a lot of misconceptions that I had earlier. Another thing that truly captured my attention was our visit to the Newseum, it was mind blowing to have such an interactive place where everyone, including youngsters, can manifest their passion. What mattered the most to me there, was the Pultizer Prize section, it was a dream for me to go there, and it finally happened! I am looking forward to the day when I see my photos up there too. That is not just wishful thinking, but a goal for me. I would also like to highlight our meeting with State Department’s International Information Programs representatives, I admired their passionate demeanor to share with us, as international visitors, truly this meeting was one of the most interactive meetings in the entire trip. I am deeply thankful to everyone who met us and shared with us stories from U.S embassies around the world. I was delighted to share stories from the U.S embassy in Jordan too. Especially that they already highlighted it as one of the most engaging embassies. (Salute to the great team behind it! ). In DC, we experienced different weathers; snow, rain and sun with everyone it felt new city too. Also meeting few of my old friends made it even more fabulous..
After DC we headed to New York! I was so excited for many reasons one of them is that my friend Sahar came from Toronto to meet me. It was a great weekend. Among the remarkable experiences that I won’t forget was the Broadway show we attended, it was by definition the best cultural experience I ever had! Nevertheless, I enjoyed the meetings, and mostly was our meeting with PCI Media Impact which is a world leader in Entertainment-Education and communications for social change; I just admire the use of new media and creative art for development. It was nice to see what this organization is doing around the world. From here, we left New York with amazing memories especially after walking on Brooklyn Bridge that took our breaths away.
After NYC, we were split into 3 groups, and this was a hard part for all of us, since we started to bond at the beginning of the trip. However, this gave us the chance to know each other more as we were in small focused groups. My group and I went to Pensacola in Florida. A beautiful small town that was completely different than NYC. It took me some time to adjust to its tune. It’s very calm, few people, and more families. We got to visit a baseball game over there, as well as we did attend a basketball game in DC earlier. One of the visit’s highlights was our voluntary work with Save the Hunger Plus group, where we joined small group of elderly volunteers to feed the homeless in the town. I just admire their spirit to volunteer at that age of their life. The thing I loved the most among the whole trip was the home hospitality experience. It was mind-blowing; we were invited by Liz and Basil Family to their beautiful house where they gathered their friends to meet us too. I just admire how they took care of us, of every single detail, how they got in touch with us personally before we arrive and how they set up a welcome event that made us feel like we are at home. With this experience, I felt that I really visited the US, I got to know normal people out of professional meetings and right in their homes.
After Pensacola, we flew to California, to the capital; Sacramento. The beautiful green town. It was lovely and we really had a great time and meetings there, as well. One of the meetings I loved the most was our meeting with People Reaching Out organization. Remarkably, I liked them because I share with them the same project of teaching photography through critical thinking. I also enjoyed the home hospitality in Sacramento at Ms. Helen Flach’s beautiful house and her friends from the Friendship Force community. Ms Helen was a passionate lady that we had the pleasure to meet; she told me she was excited to meet me because she heard a lot about Jordan and Petra which she wants to visit eagerly. I discovered that I love being an ambassador of my country. This trip unleashed a lot of what I love doing. We left Sacramento with mixed feelings, happy to arrive in the fabulous San Francisco and also sad that the trip is almost reaching an end.
I was extremely excited for San Francisco as I was planning to meet many of my friends whom it has been two years since we met – during my visit to Stanford. San Francisco is such a special city, my heart goes directly to it if you ask me which city among the 5 was your favorite. I cannot help but love it! Love the weather, the architecture, the sites, the success stories of many companies there, the diversity, the food, and the list goes on!. San Francisco for me was all about friends, awesome friends who made all their way to meet me, who gave me a slot of their time to show me the place around. I had an awesome visit to Google headquarters in Mountain View followed by a nice ride to Half Moon Bay, Pasifica and other towns around SF, it was wonderful. It just amazes me that you can see such breathtaking views on your way back from your work! Thanks Dr. Fayeq for offering me this unforgettable trip and conversations. I also had one of my dreams come true, which is shooting the sunrise over Golden Gate Bridge. When we arrived there, I couldn’t take photos, the view itself was beyond the camera’s capabilities. I enjoyed it so much, and here’s thanks to my dearest friend Kathy who made it all the way and offered me this beautiful experience, it is worth mentioning that I met Kathy during her photography trip to Jordan. Photography always makes it work :). I also had a very nice visit to an awesome school where my friend Maurine works –The Town School for Boys where they use an old museum as they are refurbishing and building their usual school location. So interesting!-. I went to the trip next day after I had my dinner with her and Philip, my awesome friends who I met two years back in Stanford, Maurine was talking about her school passionately to the point I decided to take my fellow “the School boy” Ben Duggan and pay a visit in the next day early morning, it was very inspiring. My taste-buds definitely experienced delicious food too. I was really fascinated by the places which my friend Basel took me in SF. They were all very fresh and each place had its own signature of catering. Although the memories recorded were inclusive to the appealing atmosphere, distinguished dishes, and the overall remarkable experience; however, the experience of eating is often the most recalled memory when remembering the city.
Professionally the program was truly rich, and it’s a once in lifetime experience. It helped me know much better what I truly want for myself in the next few years of my career. All in all, I firmly believe that what made this trip remarkable and delightful to me were the people! The people I met, the participants, the coordinators, the organizers, and everyone we met along the way. I am always fascinated by the human interaction, by the simple touches that stay forever, by the gentle acts that make me understand what diversity really is. I am back home truly more tolerant and more understanding of others, of myself, of my country, of my religion and of my nation. I am happy to have been given the opportunity to learn before I enjoy and share with others. I felt that by spending three weeks with 23 strangers whom now I consider close friends, I got to know myself more, nurtured my knowledge, expanded my horizons and shared my dreams. I am thankful to everyone who helped me realize and reach this level. I am a strong believer that it is not where we go, it’s who we travel with; whether with ourselves, strangers or with our friends and families. This what makes a trip worthwhile!
I tried my best to highlight the trip and the meetings but I know it could never be enough, thus I feel I will be sharing other stories and highlights in the coming weeks.