It’s been an intensive journey of 16 and a half months of fellowship. As I publish this, I also finish work and the last day of my fellowship term.
Getting to the end of the fellowship, I reflect back on my expectations and perceptions at the beginning of the program, and the learnings and changes I see now in comparison to the ones a few months within the start of the program. Looking back now, I reflect on some key learnings I take from the fellowship.
Going back to the very beginning, I started the Atlas Corps fellowship application process a few times, although I only completed it two times; it’s a lengthy process and candidates need to devote some time to complete it. At both times, I saved my application to further review, and when I read them I noticed how different they were from each other! Not only I continued to build on my skills, knowledge, and experience throughout the years, but I was also much more intentional with my application for the second time, having reviewed and updated all my application answers, and guess what? That got me quickly selected for the second phase of the process, and later being featured among the top three candidates on the roster I was matched with my host organization.
Continued learning is a fact I am always observing and hearing about how important it is to survive in the capitalist job market. To be qualified and outstanding professionals, we have to be proactive in fighting knowledge obsolescence.
Atlas Corps selection process is unique for each candidate, some people apply and within a few days/weeks they are placed with a host organization, while others wait for years. My second time applying, It took me a few months to be notified that I was matched with a host organization.
I accepted to be part of the fellowship during the COVID-19 pandemic, and my country was among the ones with banned entry to the US for a while, so I served remotely for seven months while patiently waiting for my visa application process. When I started applying for the visa, I was able to only secure an appointment almost by the end of my fellowship term, so around eleven months from my intended appointment date. An extra anxiety factor was hearing about some fellows that were unable to get a visa in time and didn’t go to the US.
After some emails to the embassy and to Atlas Corps, cheering for changes in the COVID scenario, daily logging in on the application platform, and a lot of hope and patience, I finally got an earlier interview appointment. All that was almost six months after the fellowship started, I was the last person from my class to get the visa. Gotta say I didn’t even mind waiting three hours in line (plus other challenges in the process with documents) when I finally left the interview booth knowing the visa was approved.
Then, when I thought it would be easy peasy to just pack and go, my health decided to say no. After running several health exams before arriving in the US (tip for whoever is going away for a long period of time: if you can, do all the exams and medical procedures you might need in a place where you easily understand the health system), I had something a blur in one of my ultrasound exams that demanded a whole series of new and expensive exams. Luckily, it was nothing to worry about, but it delayed a bit more my travel plans.
Besides some other challenges that came on my way to the US, I was still very glad that I was finally arriving. In my first 30 days in DC, life hit me with COVID for the first time and in my first week at my new house, an unpredicted snow day, and the challenge of learning how to navigate the city without a sim card and bank card for a while. I knew there could be new challenges so I prepared myself the best way I know, and I was very excited for the new opportunities that would come once I was in the US.
Go with the flow
If there’s one big lesson I am still learning is to go with the flow. I like plans, and I create expectations that sometimes are not met. A therapy lesson that always resonates is that not everything is under my control, but I can control how I deal with my emotions and reactions.
It wasn’t my first time embarking on an international solo adventure, but I had expectations that made me feel somehow very lonely in the beginning, questioning the decision of doing the program. I soon had some thoughts on how to take action on what I could, and ever since it’s been a good experience this solo journey (thank you to all my lifelong friends that were very supportive by listening to me whining over messages).
By intentionally going with the flow, I avoid frustration, I do new discoveries of fun things in the city, I try different things and foods, I connect with new and interesting people, I learn more about myself, and I enjoy the time I am by myself.
Be inspired to inspire
Being surrounded by great and/or important people and places is for sure one of the things I had high expectations from this fellowship program.
Washington DC is a fantastic place for several reasons. As an internationalist, I was instantly attracted by so many embassies that are here, besides the opportunity to be close to some important landmarks like the White House, the US Capitolium, the Organization of American States HQ, the Inter-American Development Bank HQ, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, etc., besides being close enough to New York and its landmarks. And how exciting it is to say that I was able to be in/visit many of these places!
Besides connecting with fellows from different countries, cultures, and experiences, I also had the opportunity to connect with new and interesting people at the American Express Alumni Summit, the Social Innovation Summit 2022, at work and in my work’s office building, in some conferences at the IDB and the World Bank, including the Annual Meetings of the IMF and Boards of Governors of the World Bank Group, at some events from networks I’m part of, in some local, regional and national festivals and events across the city (like the biggest Cherry Blossom festival in the US, an ice-cream festival, a neighborhood festival, a street party, some festivals celebrating cultures of Japan, Turkey, EU, Poland, Mexico, etc.), in my neighborhood and at home (my current house owner is a US diplomat who lived in different countries, even the dog is not from here but from Bangladesh. I also had the chance to live with people from countries such as Ethiopia, Trinidad, and in the LGBTQ+ and neurodiversity spectrum), at a multicultural and multiage Thanksgiving dinner, at a United Nations HQ visit, and sometimes being randomly asked by someone on the street/store/museum.
Sometimes the place you are in or the people that surround you can be pretty inspiring by themselves, and sometimes you have to allow space and time within yourself to be inspired.
Trust your instincts
I don’t remember exactly when I first read about Atlas Corps, I was still an undergrad student and I wanted to apply from that moment, but I had to wait for a few more years to attend the selection criteria. I was selected to the fellowship program only years later and I’m actually glad that it happened more recently, because I am more aware of what I want, who I am, and how to benefit from this opportunity in a long term. Let me tell you, when I read my host organization placement description I knew it was a good match with what I could offer and was looking for! My expectations were high, but I also had a second and third backup plan, just in case. The match was real, and my fellowship experience with my host organization has been very good, I feel my relationship with my supervisor has allowed me the professional uplift I knew I could get at the fellowship. The biggest proof of it was being invited to continue working with my host organization after the end of the fellowship, now remotely from my home country.
In my life, especially through some lessons learned, I started trusting more and more my instincts. And I don’t mean it as trusting a bigger or unknown force, having a faithful prayer, or necessarily believing it’s a message from the soul to the thoughts. I mean that I’ve been owning the decisions I made, but not without having given considerate thoughts on each of them, seeing the pros and cons, and ultimately deciding on what feels more cohesive with what I do and what I am.
From a letter I wrote to myself in the first week of the fellowship program, I am to continue reminding myself to be intentional.
I am a lifelong learner, I build my resilience, I trust my instincts, I go with the flow, I connect with people and places, and I embrace new experiences and journeys. With intention, I have been applying all these learnings to have a better understanding of who I am, and where I am going. Now is my time to look forward.
Thank you for reading.
Photo by the author