In what seemed like a dream unfolding into a hazy reality, my acceptance into the Atlas Corps fellowship was the best thing that happened to me in 2016. Finding it hard to tender my resignation to my previous organization, I only jumbled together few handover notes and updates on pending tasks at the dire moment; all because I worked till the last moment (few days before my trip to the USA) to ease transition for the incoming Communications Lead. Just in a day, I packed my clothes-most of which I personally designed- and clutched few reading materials, all set for the year-long fellowship.
On a clear and lovely summer morning I arrived at the Dulles International Airport to be greeted by a local ambassador flagging an Atlas Corps placard. There was something about this host (whose face shone with optimism and the fulfillment that I was in the right place at the right time) that glued me to his personality, and weeks after my arrival we happened to be best of pals; even snatching him away from the rightful fellow he was an ambassador for. Unlike many other fellows, I saw the fellowship as a two-way street: either you know what you aim to do after the fellowship and use the program to empower and link you up to great opportunities, or you’re only limited to the social issue you care most about and expecting the program to unfold mysteries and plans as time progresses. To either end, the Atlas Corps fellowship provided me a safe home away from my biological home (which without my fellows and elder siblings is definitely not the safest anymore).
One thing was always clear even after few days in the USA-I had to get lost to be found; so failure or losing my way was nothing more than an adventure based on the ‘learning by doing’ mindset. I was never afraid to fail or lose my way in public transports and through this trial came valuable experiences that ought to be shared now with the new fellows.
- Start with Google Maps
With the plethora of apps for direction, transportation, purchases and just about anything, I saw the Google Maps as the basic for directions and transportation access which are most critical for any fellow. With this app all you have to know is the address of the destination (with the correct NW, SE, SW, NE suffix) and your current location (which most times can be automatically retrieved).
- Input the address of your destination and choose a starting point and then click search
- This pops up several alternative routes and transportation means to your destination.
- Since the US metro trains ply on either color-coded lines (red, green, yellow, blue, orange, or silver lines or letters) it is important to keep an eye on this as it’s displayed on the Google Maps. In the event that you need to cross several lines, this will normally be indicated in the result field. The Metro stations also have direction on the standby pillars; be sure to review them always.
- For example, when travelling from 325 P St SW to Atlas Corps office (641 S St NW), input these addresses in the correct fields and click search. If you forget any address, you can just type the name of the destination and a list of suggested addresses will come up. (A)
- As shown in the image (B), the map will tell you whether it’s a Metro Bus or a Metro Train; they both use the same Metro card for payment. Each of the buses has an identifier like the “74 bus” in (D) with an identification of their last point. When you click on any of the options outlined in the map, a detailed mapping of the route is displayed-telling you where you need to disembark. Note the shortest and most convenient route for your trip.
- In (C) you can choose the time that you intend to depart and as a safety measure it’s advisable to do check your routes at least an hour before you head out.
As you get used to the different routes of the city, other advanced apps for different utilities can come in handy, but start small and grow out.
- Map out your Fellowship Goal
Besides the fact that all Atlas Corps fellows have an interest in a social issue, it is important to have a tentative plan of what you wish to achieve during the fellowship. Consider the fellowship as a catalyst accelerating you to your next level and without a well-defined goal of what you want to do at the end of the fellowship you will be left to wallow in exasperated frustration. The goal you set out at this initial stage doesn’t need to be all-perfect but can be tweaked as you gain more experience, insights, and be exposed to more opportunities. For fellows who already know what they intend to do after the fellowship, this program can be a means of acquiring/improving the required skills needed for your project while pooling together all resources that might launch your idea a success. If you don’t clearly know what you want from the fellowship (like I was) be very mindful and note things that become exciting to you during the fellowship; thinking through how they can be applied in your home country.
- Evaluate these goals at least quarterly and during your fellowship be deliberate to treat every assignment in your host organization as a learning opportunity even if they might not initially align with your goals. Learning as we all know is a continuous process, so what you think is not necessary now might end up being your distinctive competence among peers.
- During your service in your host organization be willing and open to frequently discuss with your supervisors as the gap in communication breeds misunderstanding which translates to perceived incompetence and dissatisfaction.
- If in the first few weeks of your fellowship you find it hard to prioritize tasks (which I’m sure most fellows might be challenged with) ask your supervisor for help and be honest when you don’t understand any assignment. The best resources that did the magic for me were Getting Things Done by David Allen, The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey, and The One-Minute Organizer Plain and Simple by Donna Smallin.
- Sign-up for Networking programs and Facebook events
As the Atlas Corps fellowship “seeks to create opportunities for rising talents,” this mantra must always resonate within and in our daily actions. Sign up for as many professional events that relates to your passion and for which your supervisor might approve as possible, and in all of these be sure to craft a story line that inspires people about your experience, your social issue and the changes you so dream to create in the world. But be mindful not to be carried away by training and conference opportunities, as this has possibilities to negatively affect your performance if nor well-managed.
- Try to have a work-life balance since this increases your productivity to a greater extent. After-work exercises, a good nutritional plan and having enough sleep might help you greatly. Try as much not to trade these off for any tight saving plans.
- Strengthen the bond with your local ambassador even if they tend to be very occupied. Try to find a convenient time during which you can both hangout and be ready to move out of your comfort zone. I still remember losing my way on several attempts while trying to attend the H-street carnival (just few days after my arrival) but then made sure I danced the struggles out when the organizers asked for volunteers to dance on the stage. I vividly recalled the joy and pride I brought to my local ambassador for such a bold strive; in the event I not only made new friends, but got best friends that turned out to be my reference for all difficulties.
- During the weekends if you desire to get update on the different events going on in your states, be sure to check out the Events page on Facebook and most of the events can be free of cost.
- Stay up-to-date with your Atlas Corps email address and the Fellow’s Facebook page
As these are just part of the broad experiences you might be posed with, do not be afraid to get lost to be found. Welcome to the ATLAS CORPS FAMILY!