It is a little bit strange for me to realize that the last time I’d written anything for public consumption was in 2014. My time in South Korea now feels ever more like a distant memory or dream, even while so many parts of that year remain vivid and influential on my current experience (the occasional Facebook chats from former Korean students are a helpful and welcome reminder)! As I’ve been told tends to happen while in your 20s, a lot can change in a few months.
As of mid-December, I find myself residing in the Inner Richmond neighborhood of the self-proclaimed #bestcityever of San Francisco. For those that don’t know it, the Richmond district is also home to some of the best Asian fare in the city—endless options for dim sum, bahn mi, pho, and, yes, kimchi. Needless to say, I feel right at home here. Transitioning back to the lifestyle of the west coast and NorCal has been a bit of a challenge. Prior to moving, I was working on an election project on K St. in Washington, DC, and going from a campaign-style level of work-life balance to a position where everyone is out the door at 5 pm on the dot is unsettling. The bottom line is this: I love my work and my new city. My new position, as an undergraduate college admission officer, gives me the opportunity to travel around the country, meet and learn about talented students, champion education, and think creatively about how to differentiate and communicate about our institution within a sea of great colleges and universities.
San Francisco itself is a treat. I had only been to the city twice before moving here. The first time I visited was as a child with my family, and I remember being thrilled to see the standard touristy things like the cable cars going up and down the extremely steep streets of Nob Hill, but didn’t have a sense for a spirit of SF. My second visit was while in college during spring break, a particularly rainy excursion of finding cheap dumplings and exquisite coffee from a then-less well-known Blue Bottle. While I think Washington, DC will always remain my favorite American city and I hope to move back there someday, SF’s unique neighborhoods and inherent progressive spirit make it a wonderful place to live, even if the rent is too damn high. My apartment itself is just a 20-minute walk from Baker Beach and a 30-minute walk to work, so I’m enjoying not having to deal with Metrorail, even if MUNI sometimes has its own challenges.
This past week, my good friend Jordan visited from NYC and I got the chance to really explore the city anew, walking almost every major neighborhood and visiting such sights as the makers of Anchor Steam beer, the Anchor Brewing Co, and La Taqueria, the home of FiveThirtyEight’s Burrito Bracket Challenge “Best Burrito in America.” Having a friend visit is a great excuse to be a tourist in your own city.
Now, I also have a strange sense of permanence. For the first time in many years, I’m not constantly wondering and asking what’s next. There’s not an inevitable graduation or move-out date the way there was with high school, college, or even my Fulbright grant. While I still relish thinking about what’s next to come, it’s also encouraging to settle in a little bit and get to know the people and the place. And, being in admission, I still get to leave pretty often (hello San Diego and OC this weekend, NYC next month!). Instead of “what’s next” being about a new job or position or city, it’s about finding strong community—now that’s a long-term project.
One of the less fulfilling parts about being abroad is that I’ve had few opportunities to engage in American politics. I absolutely love being in Korea, but as a political studies major, born Washingtonian, and all-around politics junkie, sometimes I feel pretty withdrawn from my passion here. While I’ve done my best to engage in the international politics side of things and follow American policymaking from Korea*, it’s much harder to gauge the political sentiment towards candidates and policies when your many miles and timezones away.
Honestly, when I think about my impending return to the USA, I’m a little apprehensive about the culture shock and the whole process of figuring out what’s next. Sure, I’m excited to see my family and friends, but America, as exceptional as it can be, just seems a little bit less exciting than living as an expat. However, since Rep. Eric Cantor’s loss the other night, my view is changing.
When I saw the notification on my twitter account, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; such was the reaction of every pundit. To quote the DNC fundraising email I received shortly after the loss:
“Eric. Freaking. Cantor.”
For those outside of politics, I equate Cantor’s loss to CalTech’s basketball team, a team that lost every game for 21-years straight, making it to the Final Four. As has been reported on extensively, Cantor raised over five million dollars for the campaign while his opponent Dave Brat, a Economics professor from tiny Randolph-Macon College, spent $200,000. Folks, the House Majority Leader just got primaried in a big way. Even Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight didn’t call this one.
So, in some ways, now feels like the perfect time to be preparing to head back to the States. Although Cantor’s loss means an all but indefinite hold on comprehensive immigration reform and is perhaps a sign that the Tea Party is rising again, it’s a reminder that there’s a lot of policy on the line this election season. No time to wait in the wings.
*I still haven’t fully accepted the routine of receiving the POLITICO Playbook at night.
UPDATE: There is now a movement and petition to #SaveFulbright. Visit SaveFulbright.org now to do your part! Thank you!
For some of the Korean students I teach, I am the first American they have ever met in person, let alone interacted with on a regular basis. From convincing my students that some Americans indeed do like spicy food to larger discussions about diversity and equality, I’ve been able to engage in ways that offer a critical and complex view of the world around us. I’ve learned a lot about Korea and Korean culture and have been able to share my knowledge with friends, family, and acquaintances back in the USA thanks to Fulbright.
The Fulbright Program is one of the best opportunities that America has to improve its relationship with the rest of the world. Instead of being bogged down in high-level diplomatic talks and lofty statements by politicians, Fulbrighters work to make a direct person-to-person impact. While there are other educational exchange programs that exist, Fulbright’s rich history and success has left an important mark with people around the world.
That’s why I want to talk to you about the recent budget proposal by the Obama administration to cut the Fulbright Program by $30 million.
The Fulbright Program’s current budget is $235 million per year. The proposed cuts represent 13% of the budget for the program. Worse, the administration has provided no plan for how the cuts would be implemented and which countries that they would impact.
We can’t afford to cut the Fulbright Program. No other program has such an established worldwide reputation; it is the gold standard in international educational exchange. It’s not just for Americans; the Fulbright program offers thousands of people from foreign countries the chance to teach and research in the United States each year.
Please, write Congress now and tell them that the impact of Fulbrighters around the world. Tell Congress that a $30 million cut is not acceptable.
Over 300,000 people have been able to learn about other cultures and exchange knowledge around the world because of the Fulbright Program. By allowing these massive cuts, we’re starting a down a slippery slope that leads towards more cuts in the future and ultimately threatens the existence of Fulbright as we know it.
Senator J. William Fulbright said that “educational exchange is not merely one of those nice but marginal activities in which we engage in international affairs, but rather, from the standpoint of future world peace and order, probably the most important and potentially rewarding of our foreign-policy activities.”
Together, we can send a strong message to Congress that the American people support the ideals of Senator Fulbright. In just 5 minutes, you can tell our elected officials that international educational exchange is vital to America’s foreign policy.
I’ve got about four months left in my grant year and I’m savoring every moment. Let’s make sure that the same number of people get this opportunity next year. Please, show your support for the Fulbright Program by tweeting or posting on Facebook using the hashtag #SaveFulbright.
Fulbright ETA, South Korea 2013-14
Campus Progress is the youth initiative of the Center for American Progress, a progressive left-wing think tank founded by John Podesta, a former Chief of Staff for President Clinton. The Center for American Progress is easily one of the most influential and well-run left-leaning political organizations in the country. Podesta also served as the head of President Obama’s transition team, so the Center maintains a uniquely close relationship with the current administration.
While the Center produces the excellent ThinkProgress blog and numerous data reports in good think-tank fashion, Campus Progress is working to create a movement for progressive action among youth. If there is one thing that conservatives do extremely well, it is building up their support among young people from early on. In contrast, the left is not particularly good at coordinating messaging between its leaders and supporters. Campus Progress and the Center ,however, are working hard to change this reality and create a far more cohesive movement.
Now in its eighth year, the National Conference serves as a counterpoint to CPAC, the major conservative youth conference. Poignantly, this year Campus Progress chose to hold their conference at the Marriot Wardman Park hotel, the same venue that CPAC uses for its event.
The plenary speaker highlights this year were U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, President of the AFL-CIO Richard Trumka, John Podesta, undocumented activist journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, marriage equality activist and YouTube sensation Zach Wahls, Senator Dick Durbin, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Overall, there were more than 70 speakers total.
It is a testament to the Center’s quality (and funding) that they could get top names while keeping the event free. When Campus Progress first announced the speakers, my gut reaction felt that it was an inspiring line-up, but heavy on the number of politicians. After seeing many politicians speak in recent years, I am used to having low expectations for them. Typically, they give stump speeches, especially in an election year. Many of the speeches left me pleasantly surprised. Rep. Debbi Wasserman Schultz painted a compelling narrative of her journey as a young woman in politics, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis highlighted her story as a Latina following the American Dream, and Senator Dick Durbin provided what was arguably the most engaging interview I have ever heard a political figure give, even throwing in a positive mention of Lisa Murkowski.
Minority Leader Pelosi garnered the biggest reaction from the conference attendees, receiving a standing ovation from the enthralled crowd as she walked to the podium. Her speech highlighted the successes of the Democratic party and progressive movement within the last four years, but the emphasis was on thanking activists for making it happen. Pelosi made it clear that liberal success was impossible without youth constituent support.
One of the more enlightening and fiery speeches of the day came early on when Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, took the stage. The modern labor organizing movement in America is struggling, but Occupy and new discussions around economic inequality have provided unions with new talking points to reengage the American public. While Trumka evoked some of this language, especially in concluding his speech with an intense appeal to “take this country back for the 99%,” his concessions about organized labor’s failures were stunning. Trumka emphasized his awareness of unions being out of touch with today’s youth, leading to a weaker movement.
The conference did have its weaker moments: a panel on citizen journalism turned into a circular repetition of talking points, the audience only allowed to ask questions in the last 10 minutes of the hour-long discussion. Meanwhile, an earlier panel on progressive foreign policy revealed deep disagreements in the definition of American leadership and of what constitutes infringement on sovereignty. On a whole, the conference reaffirmed that although domestic political literacy is growing among young people, we still have much further to go in creating a globally aware electorate.
Campus Progress should be commended for running the event, but the takeaway from the greater conversation on progressivism is this: it is time for action. While it is fine to be fired up about leaders and the issues, if young progressives want to create change, they need to take the effort into their own hands. I do not say this from a position in the ivory tower of activism, as I too need to become more active. Political conferences are only useful if attendees use the tools and inspiration they provide: whether this is the case for #CPNC12 remains to be seen.