Capitol Stuff, Old Chap (Or, Fulbright Orientation: Day 1)

I haven't updated this blog in over a month. When I stumbled off the Megabus into the Buffalo Bus Terminal (after already having endured a not-especially-comfortable Transatlantic flight), I basically went into hibernation. I've only dislodged myself from my heap of comforters and pillows to attend Fulbright Orientation in Washington, DC. Otherwise, I'm sure that I would still be buried in a landslide of hypoallergenic goose down.

This summer has forced me to ask one incredibly important question: "If Donald Trump were to become president, would I be willing to marry Calum the Attractive Sheep Farmer and relocate abroad permanently?" Surely, a lifetime of shearing Aran wool would be preferable to four years in Trump's America. (Especially if that deal somehow included a lifetime supply of Doolin fudge.) However, over the past few months, I've realized that I'm probably too much of a patriot to ever consider leaving the Good Ole USA. I used to think of "patriotism" as a dirty word -- one spoken by flag-waving Republicans with creationist bumper stickers on the backs of their pick-up trucks. But I've come to realize that there's many kinds of patriotism.

(This sign was parked outside of the White House. The first time I got teary-eyed during this trip to Washington, DC was when I saw the First Amendment printed in giant letters on the front of The Newseum. There's nothing more precious than our freedom of speech.)

During the first day of Fulbright Orientation, we had the option of taking a bus tour of Washington's monuments. Something you might not know about me: I cannot stand tourist attractions. I took a walking tour of Dublin's Southside and was mortified to be seen following a shouting man with a brightly-colored umbrella. Still, since I've never seen our nation's capital outside of TFA Summits, I figured that a monument tour might do me good. At the very least, it would allow me to meet some of the other Fulbrighters.

(Fulbrighters and family members at the White House.)

Reading the Gettysburg Address at the Lincoln Memorial, I was reminded of why I feel so strongly about this country. How relevant those words are even now, over a hundred years later. "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."

Former Fulbrighter Nicole Stellon O'Donnell wrote a compelling blog entry about our fixation on Finland's education system. Most of our research into Finland's best practices has focused on topics like their respect for the teaching profession and the agency/freedom given to their students. However, what we all-too-frequently forget is that Finland as a country looks nothing like the USA. Our country was forged, in large part, by immigrant groups that had wildly conflicting beliefs and values. The USA was an experiment to see if these groups (of divergent races, cultures, religions, languages, political views, etc.) could form a cohesive nation. Back in 1863, Lincoln saw our internal struggles as the means of "testing" that experiment -- and implored us to "highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

(Second time I got teary-eyed? The closing lines of the Gettysburg Address.)

The philosophical underpinnings of the USA are inspirational. One of today's speakers told us that Americans are eternal optimists -- something that puzzles other countries to no end. And yes, optimism is writ large on everything that we do. From the Statue of Liberty ("Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to be free!") to James Brown ("You may not be lookin’ for the promised land / but you might find it anyway"), we believe that the world's full of opportunities and that there's a better tomorrow waiting just over the horizon. How could you not be inspired by a country like that?

That said, I also strongly believe that you should never say never. So Calum, if you're out there, feel free to give me a call. I have moderate proficiency in knitting.

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