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What can your story be in the United States?

06/09/2016

Living in a Capital of World Politics

If the life gives you a chance – take it. If it changes your life – let it.

Stepping across the Atlantic into a totally different culture can be a challenging, but at the same time, very rewarding experience that develops your personality and broadens your horizons. Almost a year ago, I decided to change my life – to build my professional experience, leave my comfort zone and rediscover the world. And here I am - in a country which, since my arrival here, never ceases to surprise me.

Life in Washington DC is pretty busy and, not to mention, very different from what we are used to seeing in Europe. As a major political stage, it attracts many people from all over the world who make the city so international that sometimes it’s even hard to feel the real American life here.

Washington DC is a very vibrant city, offering you limitless personal and professional possibilities so that it’s hard to know where to begin your journey. I guess there is something for everyone in this city, whether you are looking for intellectual pursuits, leisure time activities or multicultural influences. Career-wise, being here is a unique opportunity as it lets you experience the rhythm of US politics and gain first-hand knowledge of it. And the time couldn’t be better. With a changing security environment in Eastern Europe, NATO reinforcing deterrence on its Eastern flank, the United States increasing its military presence in the Baltic countries, and, on the top of that, the upcoming US presidential elections, the time spent here is an invaluable professional experience. Everyone who has ever studied politics or been involved in it would agree that you cannot get understand it without experiencing it yourself.

I am extremely grateful for the chance to be part of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Centre’s team working with the Transatlantic Security Initiative. The initiative provides the forum to shape and influence debates on the transatlantic security challenges facing NATO and its partners. Working at the Council is extremely rewarding. The daily meetings with security experts and top US and foreign government officials give me an extraordinary opportunity to enhance my knowledge and expand the network needed to work with transatlantic security issues. The biggest highlight of my first month here was meeting former Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Phillip Breedlove. For those who are not familiar with security affairs or NATO, Gen. Breedlove served as the top US and NATO military officer responsible for the conduct of all NATO operations. Furthermore, given the current geopolitical situation, being a Lithuanian in a DC think tank gives me an even greater advantage as Lithuania is getting quite a lot of attention because of the security situation in the Baltics.

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Securing NATO's New Frontiers, Conversation with Gen. P. Breedlove, Atlantic Council

“The world is a book and those, who do not travel read only one page.” Saint Augustin

This is one of the things that make the United States so intriguing. Having lived in one city doesn’t mean you have discovered the whole country. You get the feeling of what life is like here only by traveling. Driving across the country is time-consuming but, at the same time, a fascinating experience letting you discover the diversity of American life. And believe me, this country has a lot of things to offer. No matter where you are, try to travel as much as you can, as it one of the things which definitely will change your impression of American culture and the country itself.

Even though it’s only the second month since I am here, I have had a chance to visit the Shenandoah Mountains, travel across Virginia and South Carolina, do some camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and hike to the Mount Mitchell, which is the highest point east of the Mississippi. The greatness of this country definitely resides in nature, which is really jaw dropping here.

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Blue Ridge Parkway, North Caroline

The world is really tiny

And it really is. I guess one of the most incredible experiences of moving to another country is meeting new people. What is even more fascinating is when those whom you are meeting have roots coming from your home country! It happened to me here several times, when a person whom I was talking to already knew Lithuania because his/her great grandfather or grandfather came from Lithuania! It just makes you feel that we all are somehow connected.

As this is my first blog post, I will stop here. But I promise to come back soon with more stories as the best is yet to come!

01/22/2016

A researcher visits...

The Enterprise Foundations team at CIEE enjoyed a pleasant break from their work routines with a visit from a BAFF Research Scholar from Boston. On December 2, 2015, Edward Laane set aside a day in his laborious researching schedule and braved the rainy weather for a morning with the CIEE team in Portland. At the time, this Estonian had been working on his seminal research on bone-marrow cancer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. During his Portland outing, Edward was first given a tour of the CIEE building, which is currently undergoing partial renovations. Next, Edward and the team indulged in an exquisite lunch at the Olive Cafe, where he eagerly shared his portfolio of photos depicting his experiences here in the U.S., while enlightening Kelly, Maggie and Denise with knowledge of his medical field. Thereafter, the group strolled through downtown Portland, and conversed over French-style coffees at Portland Patisserie and Grand Café. It was then that the coterie was compelled to part ways, and Edward enjoyed the remainder of his afternoon with a visit to the iconic Victoria Mansion as well as to the Body Worlds exhibit at the Portland Science Center. The afternoon was truly a memorable day, and we at Enterprise Foundations are grateful to Edward for gracing us with his presence. We wish him the best of luck in his endeavors to better this world!

 

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Enjoying a French coffee in Portland.
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At CIEE



01/08/2015

Only in the US and A...

Everyone loves a numbered list, right? Well, below you can find my Only in the USA list, written based on my 8 months of living in the USA, but I'm sure other Europeans in America will relate to many of these.

Having lived in a couple of places around the world, and having a background in anthropology puts me in a curious place to put together an Only in the USA list. Actually, it puts me in a pretty good place to put together such a list.

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1. Life is like in the movies. This may sound silly and you're probably thinking, "well, what kind of movies?". The thing is, life is like in the movies here because of the small things - - because everyone speaks American English around you, because of how the street signs look, because the products sold in your local grocery store are just like the ones you’ve seen on TV. After seeing a whole lot of American TV shows, movies and music videos over the years, not to mention everything online, these things just add up (well, and maybe playing GTA with my brothers has something to do with it as well). It's almost like all of that pop culture created another reality, and now you're in it.

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2. You get the feeling that the world is actually really tiny - - one day you get to put on the raincoat Robin Williams wore in Jumanji because someone your colleague knows was the locations manager for the movie. Or you find out that friend of your roommate you’re having dinner with was a certain rockstar's pilot for 7 years. And then a couple of weeks later, you have a business lunch with someone as accomplished as the CEO of Endeavor. And the list goes on…

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Wearing the Jumaji coat.

3. You drive from one shop to another… when they are just 100m apart. 

4. You accidentally walk onto the set of one of your favorite TV shows while sightseeing in LA, and see your favorite characters just strolling down the street.

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 Parks and Recreation stars on the streets of LA

5. Your waitress offers "potato salad, French fries, or rice" as a side dish for pasta… (Seriously though??) 

6. Free refills. 

7. You can go on a roadtrip covering more than 550 miles (~885km) in a day for $35. No, that’s not a typo, $35 per person for the car rental and gas with a company of 4 people. In 2015.

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8. You just go for months without using public transportation, even though you’re one of the few people here that does not have a car. Public transportation is just too inconvenient. I have never stayed in one place for more than 2 weeks without using public transportation, yet after moving to the USA I didn't use it until I was travelling with another European. The country was designed for cars (with some very few exceptions like Washington D.C.). If you don't have one, you're probably under 16, a foreigner or an environmentalist. Sorry. Anyone will tell you just how the US public transportation system just does not work well.

9. That being said, the public transportation facilities are not that bad actually. The long-distance Greyhound buses are, in fact, pretty nice (umm there’s WiFi, power plugs, comfy spacious seats - - what more would you ask for??). I was positively surprised when I took a 5-hour journey on the Greyhound after everyone had told me it was not a good idea (note that these were people who had not actually ever taken the Greyhound, because why would you). The Amtrak is no worse than many trains in Europe. My conclusion is that Americans are just too used to their personal space and the comfort of a car. It's more an extension of their home than a means of transportation. 

10. (Yes, I saved the best for the last.) People make friends building on the positives. It would have taken me way longer to realize this if a half-European friend hadn't spelled it out for me. This is the ONE single reason why Americans are stereotyped as being superficial. Foreigners are very quick to misinterpret the American way of socializing either as dishonest or shallow just because they are not complaining to you or wallowing in your sorrow. As my friend so eloquently put it: "In the USA, friendships are not made in co-misery."

People here will happily root for your success, cheer you on when you're sad, help you find the silver lining, or assist you in standing up if you have fallen down. And it's not because they don't feel for you, it is because they do. Moreover, they actually want to help you. And it doesn't matter if it's your barista, your boss, your roommate or your own brother. It's almost as if* everyone was asking "What's well with you?", and if you're in a low point, the question will translate to "Well, what can we do to make it better?". With these questions, they are not opening the door for you to start complaining (you can, if you REALLY want to make them feel awkward), but for helping you find what’s the next step. So don’t be surprised when you see a Polly Anna version of me the next time I’m in Europe. And I hope to keep it that way.

*"As if" - because these questions aren't actually articulated, but hidden in between the lines. To make things even more confusing for people that are not used to the American way of socializing, there’s a wealth of information in what is being left unsaid – so they will not spell it out for you. Americans are superficial only to those who can't read between the lines. 

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Epilogue: 

No wonder foreigners often note Americans are so ~*self-centered*~, that so many Americans have never made it outside of the USA, that they don't know what's Estonia or who's Riga or where's Lithuania… The USA really IS a world of it's own. Its size and variety will never cease to amaze me. You can start driving from one edge of Texas to the other early in the morning and still not make it outside of the state by the end of the day. While one nation, there are intrinsic differences between the East Coast and the West Coast, cultural and linguistic, not to mention the cuisine. Just as the Southern states stand out with their character and the North is unique in its own way - - not to mention everything in the middle. 

That's what really makes it a world of its own in my own - how each state can be so patriotic about being American and so proud to be a state/region of its own at the same time. 

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09/03/2014

The Journey

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As I look back on the past few months, it has become evident to me that coming to DC was the best decision I could have possibly made.  My  life's journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less.  It has been challenging, demanding and also extremely rewarding. This is the journey I still continue today.  Wherever I look, I still witness the work that has to be done, the challenges that still lay ahead, and battles that must be fought within me.  I am mindful of the privilege that I have been given, and I embrace it like one.  I remember with humble gratitude those kind people who supported my decisions all the way from the beginning and still continue to do so.  It is well known that nobody can achieve anything without support. I’m surely not an exception.  Thank you my family and friends!

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I have to say that time runs differently here than it did back home. A I friend of mine compared it to looking through the car window – everything moves really slowly at the back, in the distance, while in front of you life passes by at full speed.The  same reason is the foundation of my inability to express my self while having Skype conversations with my friends from Latvia – I have too many and too few words at the same time to describe my experiments with life in the USA. I take comfort in the knowledge that not all experiences and wisdom are communicable and that is also the reason that makes this journey so dear to me.

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Delfins

After coming to the USA, I found myself able to check off items from my “bucket list” faster than I ever could before. The big cities, important people, and luxury and infinite entertainment here all dazzled my senses. Even though I do not find that all so fascinating anymore, I still feel lifted by the sweet sense of possibility, determination and change that this place embodies.  I have been able to accumulate a fair share of valuable experiences, but I am also aware of the toll that this opportunity has extracted from me:  missing the opportunity to see my niece’s first steps and witness her first words, missing my friends’ birthdays, weddings and births of their children, not saying the last good bye to people who passed away suddenly, and not being there when my family needed me. At the end of the day, however,  I am reminded  that this journey is still worthwhile.  I am taking it for those who believe in me, and for the people who don’t have the chance to do the things I am doing.

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Recently, I have realized that the unwritten rules at my workplace are no longer a secret to me.  I have started to understand how  things run here, and I feel more connected to the work I am involved in. I often wish I could do more for the people who accepted me so kindly. I have witnessed truly remarkable and even historic successes.  These have included improving entire legal systems, providing and increasing access to justice, diversifying our donor base, increasing the number of countries with which we partner, and most importantly, helping to improve and save lives, especially of the most vulnerable and marginalized people around the world – all in the face of extremely challenging circumstances. Yet there is still too much hatred, injustice and violence present around the globe, and only now do I begin to grasp the true scale of that.  I find myself  believing that as long as the questions are still being asked and efforts made, what binds us together might somehow, ultimately, prevail. That faith can sometimes be hard to sustain. However, at the risk of sounding incurably naive, I still believe that mankind will be forced to find a way to reach the bright daybreak of peace.

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I also cannot underline enough how blessed I feel about living in the house I do.  My landlord Jerry a.k.a.” the Mayor of Jocelyn Street” is a truly remarkable man of integrity with a big heart.  I never stop admiring his cordiality, wit and unerring ability to encourage us when it is necessary. Never has he given me reason to doubt his hospitality. I doubt if he ever would.  Every person at our  “global ”house is adding his or her own cultural background to the overall atmosphere and it makes everyday life so much more interesting. We are all quite different in terms of our personalities, interests, and stages of life, yet what strikes me the most is that we all get along so well. The answer to this could be that we have a deep respect for each other and we are also sharing a common goal – to make the most out of the time here. I will definitely miss our evening chats, dinners, board games, trips, workouts, and all the laughter over some inside joke.  I could write a separate blog about our adventures at home, but for now let me say – Jocelyn Street has filled my soul full of simple, unquestioning gratitude.

I am half way through my year.  It is becoming increasingly obvious that my time here will be more than crossing things off  my wish list, excelling in my career, or making connections. It will be about living an authentic life. It will be about facing things you have to face.  The last few months have allowed me to see my weaknesses clearly without ceasing to believe in my capacity to change. I have always had the feeling that the only thing that is really required from me is being true to myself,  yet I have often failed in doing that.  I think each  of us has one thing that we know we should be doing or should be facing but still we run away from that as the first opportunity presents itself. We try to get caught up with work, small goals, new excitements and people, but once in a while we will  still get reminded about that one thing.  I have never been so fully aware of my Achilles’ heel, and more than anything, I am grateful that I have finally run out of excuses not to do something about it. There are moments when not changing is more painful than changing. This is one of those moments. The desire to overcome my weaknesses pushes me forward even when the path is uncertain. I will spend the next months of my journey here reinventing myself and conquering things that I have been avoiding for too long. I realize that DC has given me a bulwark on which to grow. Now I’m certain about what Frank Sinatra meant when he sang “The best is yet to come”.

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04/26/2014

I know. It’s been 112 days since my last blog

It’s been 112 days since my last blog. I have been almost 150 days in this continent now and have passed my ”100 days in America” and three and four months marks already. This is the latest statistics according to my personal calendar.

My first deadline for this blog was February - almost three months ago. But I somehow couldn't write it. I guess, because everything is happening so fast and it’s impossible to stop and summarize even the main things. Each and every day here is something completely new – people, places, emotions. Everything. And it’s getting more and more and even more with every day. I would really like to tell you how I am doing, but I can’t promise rational blog, rather – chaotic random sentences. :) But it’s probably better than nothing.

OK. Let’s try.

Times passes quickly, but slowly at the same time. Quickly – when I run from one event to another, write texts, read political documents and meet people. Slowly – when I wait for WhatsApp message from my loved ones, wait for my morning coffee to be ready or watch first spring flowers to begin to bloom in a close-up. Depends. Yes, Einstein, it’s all relative.

Past few months have been amazing, challenging and full of new impressions and life lessons. I can just repeat myself saying that this has been the best personal growth experience I have ever had and I am so grateful for that. It really is life changing. As it’s written in BAFF opening page :)

From snow blossoms to cherry blossoms

Although at the beginning people told me they don’t have winter in DC and snow can be experienced once or twice in a 10 years period.. it wasn’t exactly like that. I actually had real four months long winter with freezing cold weather, emergency snowstorms and paralyzed city life. And it was too much, I was angry and tired at some points, cause that kind of winter wasn’t supposed to be here at all! Rather back in Latvia.

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But now it’s finally over, I can wear my sunglasses and enjoy rest of my time here without snow (hopefully..).

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So, how am I doing here? Never ending progress – I think that explains everything. It is not only about professional experience, it’s about progress in all the possible ways. I try to make the best out of this – apply for different opportunities, engage in things, attend events, meet people, travel, read books, drink beer, wake up with sunrises, take challenges. I guess, my key to happiness has always been and still is living trying to fulfill myself for all 100% every day, in every aspect – professionally, academically, socially, personally.

Yale Conference – where PhD is just a small drop in the ocean

In the middle of March I went to my first, international academic conference – Yale Conference on Baltic and Scandinavian Studies. At first I was suprised that people took me seriously enough to confirm for the conference. But I felt honored, of course. Therefore the pressure before conference was even higher, especially when I started to google other participants that seemed really serious, with million academic degrees and published books. But I didn’t have a choice anymore and tried to prepare normally for it. But the feeling was a bit like waiting for a dentist appointment – when you know you have to do it and it’s good for your health, but still want to run away.

In the end it was even better than I expected. I think that’s the theme that saved me. Taking into account everything that is happening in world politics now, soft power and ice hockey, Latvia and Russian influence was a really interesting topic to talk about. Of course, as usually, I used all my presentation time and even got stopped by the organizers that said twice ”it’s time to finish”, but I felt happy that I had so much to say about the theme. Afterwards we had a good discussion and people perceived my presentation positively.

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After +/- 24 minutes soft power speech - feeling tired and happy among my panel colleagues from Baltics who also spoke about Russian - related issues

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Yale wisdom symbol - Harkness Tower

IMG_3136and impressive Beinecke Library - one of the World's largest libraries, full of rare books

Yale was a great experience and I met so many interesting, intelligent and ambitious people from all around the world! This was also one of those enriching experiences when I broadened my horizons and understood that there are so, so much to do. It is so good to step out of everyday life path, meet people and compare perceptions of life. Then you understand that your one or two degrees or one or two achievements in life are really nothing. There are so many passionate and purposeful people and ideas out there, we can just learn from them and keep up the hard work to improve ourselves.

What’s the main conclusion? Although I sweared that there won’t be any studies after finishing my Master’s, now I feel pretty confident about taking PhD or another Master’s somewhere. You just can’t stop. It’s almost like going backwards. At least for me. The main thing is to find your own way – the life you are satisfied with. And this is another challenge I am getting ready for.

 Enriching in different States

The end of March was again awesome. All people from Baltics and other countries that are having their professional internships in the U.S. met in a beautiful place called Savannah, Georgia. We were about 40 people and spent almost a week together – getting to know each other, attending different events and lectures, and drinking wine and other liquids, of course. Weather was nice, everyone – happy. What more do we need? Great time there. Quick recap:

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IMG_3437Enjoying company and getting creative @Savannah College of Art and Design

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and this is where Forest Gump used to sit 

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We were so inspired by the American Vanšu tilts we found in Savannah that couldn't resist drinking few beers in the moonlight there - talking about Latvia, our plans and this surreal home bridge feeling Summ1Our amazing latvians-only company exploring some of the best rancho places in area

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of course, life is great when you are surrounded by so many cool people and blossoms everywhere

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Is the trip already over? No, please, we should go somewhere else! And we rented Latvian - Estonian team car and drove all the way to New Orleans. Don't want to repeat myself, but seriously - this was again wonderful. With all the rain and floods, flight cancellations and scary-movie accomodation.. we enjoyed New Orleans at its best! Breath taking, inspiring city with brilliant architecture and jazz bands on every corner. 

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But this blog is way too short to tell the whole story..therefore everyone's invited to welcome story telling party some time in September :) 

Ok, I think  it's time to say something about my internship now, otherwise you'll get a wrong impression why I am here.

Daily work in a worst situation since the Cold War

How is work?

It’s awesome! Now I sound like a super optimistic person that is happy all the time, but I really am. I am so glad I ended up here, in Washington, DC, not in some sunny chill state. Mornings in Washington are magical, you can even smell politics in the air. It’s really like in movies - city wakes up, sun rises, there are full metros with 98% of people wearing business clothes, reading newspapers, drinking their morning coffees (ok, in metro it’s illegal, but they still do that), arranging meetings and looking so important and serious that at some point it starts getting funny.

With everything that happens in Ukraine and Russia now my daily work has become even more interesting and unpredictable. I would like to think that I am here in the best possible time, in a very special time. Ukraine type of things don’t happen very often and everyone here is really thinking and acting like this is the worst tension since the Cold War. 

So, what is JBANC’s role and what exactly do we do? As we are lobbying Baltic countries issues and Baltic countries start to appear more and more in conversations like ”What will be Putin’s next move?”, we have to work closely with Congress, NGOs and opinion leaders to educate them about the seriousness of the situation and ask for more to defend Ukraine and also Baltics.

We are writing and delivering letters to Congress, meeting with different organizations, attending politcal events, participating in demonstrations, communicating actively in social media, ”collecting” allies and friends that could also help. 

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Writing and afterwards delivering letters to all 100 Senate offices

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Representing Baltics and supporting Ukraine in White House rally

My organisation also is a member of broader coalition called CEEC (Central and East European Coalition) that consists of 18 different national organizations. So, together with them it is easier to achieve goals and arrange meetings with officials. Our countries have similar experience, similar problems and goals in relation to Russia, independence and defence.

During past few months we had three meetings with White House officials that advise Obama administration on Russian issues. Those meetings were off the record, of course, and I can’t get in many details here, but just this opportunity to be there, participate, shake hands and see how politics looks behind the curtain has been invaluable. Not to mention the fun part of going through security control with all the dogs and serious uniform guys.

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Meeting with White House National Security Council Russia Director Michael Carpenter

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My coalition colleagues after another Ukraine - Russia meeting

I also attended my first congressional hearings last month. For normal people – a hearing is a public event held on some particular issue where officials responsible for that basically account like in school what they have been doing, what is the situation like and what are the planned further steps. There are also few congressmen / women in a room that ask questions. At first I thought that this will be some kind of public theater and just a bureaucracy that has to be done, but I was surprised how deep, fruitful and critical were those discussions. Congress officials weren’t afraid to be provocative and sometimes even mean asking high officials questions like ”So, whay nothing is happening?”, ”Why we aren’t doing anything”? etc.

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Two hearings I attended were about Ukraine and in both hearings participated also Victoria Nuland who is one of the main publicly seen U.S. officials in relation to European affairs. And again I sat among all those people and felt like a child who has won a lot of candies. And I enjoyed them.

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United we stand for Ukraine @ Senate Foreign Relations hearing room

Oh, those Americans!

You probably remember my first blog about first impressions about americans, their way of life, communication and attitude. It’s been almost five months here and I start getting used to all this wierd stuff. Yes, I have started to use ”Hi, how are you?”, ”Oh, really?” and ”I very like your boots” kind of language that sometimes seems surprising even to myself. I am thinking in English and sometimes speak English to myself while alone at home (?!?).

IMG_20140219_010610Yes, that has happened. I am eating more hamburgers than at the beginning. But don’t worry and don’t expect me to come back twice as bigger :D I bought a bike and plan to do a lot of cycling. I already did my first 36 km trip from Rockville to Washington.

Anyway, there are still bunch of strange things I don’t and won’t understand about americans. One of them is about shoes when entering apartment or any kind of private space. They don’t take off shoes! And that is really annoying. I felt so stupid in gatherings at the beginning when at the end of parties I found out I am the only wearing socks there. Everyone else is just walking straight from the outside mud in people’s houses. I don’t get it and I find it irrespectful and impolite. But ok, it’s my latvian issue.

Here is more about strange stuff normal people, including me, can’t understand in America - http://sftimes.co/?id=466&src=share_fb_new_466

Enjoying sunshine with my sunshine

Senate, Senate, Senate and.. ta-daa - we are in Florida! Brilliant time spent in Miami and Key West with my Chuck Norris. Although we had a bit more than 2 weeks together, we enjoyed and experienced a lot. This was really a dessert among all the other adventures.

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IMG_2695Romance in Key West

IMG_2705Pretty happy when finally reached the southernmost point of continental U.S.

IMG_2713Cheers & life is beautiful!

Questions?

No, it’s not easy to be more than 7000 km away from your other side of apple. It’s tough, depressing, paranormal etc. and etc. But it’s good that there are all those quotes that really help to survive :D For example, this one - "Nothing in this world worth having comes easy." Completely true and we know it. Therefore we try to enjoy any kind of real or virtual time together and don’t cry about hard life in general, cause every experience teaches us something.

The same with friends and other people – those who are there for real, will stay there forever. No matter whether you are in Riga or Alaska. This is a great test for all relationships – some of them will die, some of them have already died, but some will just become stronger. Natural selection. As for us.."We are the perfect couple, we're just not in the perfect situation now." :)

I guess I have to finish now..

“It's all about the ride” or ” forever is composed of nows”??

I thought a lot about "main conclusion" or life lesson for this blog. I didn't come up with one particular this time.  But I can try.

Time passes and so does the life in general. My friends get married, have kids, lose jobs, finish universities, buy new houses, have family celebrations.. and I am still here. Is it good or bad – I don’t know. It’s all relative. Is it really only about moments and how you are composing your whole life of many, many "nows"? I don't know anymore.

One afternoon we were enjoying cherry blossoms in DC, walked around the Jefferson memorial and got amazed by cherry snow all around us. It seemed like a perfect day, what more perfect could happen? Then one guy asked to take a picture. Ok, nothing much, everyone is doing that here. But then this more perfect happened. He kneeled down, took small, black box out of his pocket and proposed to his girlfriend. Everyone around stopped, cheered and clapped hands, they both were almost crying, huging and kissing. And cherries all around. And I - taking pictures and suddenly realizing that whatever you do in the world, this is something you can't buy or earn with hard work. I guess, I just want to say that although life is all about  moments, you can't forget about the bigger picture, about people you care most and things you want to achieve most. Ok, this is going to be way too romantic, but that's pure truth - in the end it's all about love. 

Recently my grandmother and grandfather had 50 (!!!) years marriage anniversary and family were throwing a surpise event for them. It is one of the moments you don't want to miss. But I missed it. And no money or success can buy that. Therefore, I guess, the most valuable skill in life is to be able to seperate moments from the bigger picture and make proper decisions understanding - when it's ok to enjoy seconds and moments and when you have to start worry about the life in general that is passing away slowly. The end of story.

But not to sound so depressive, I  want to use the opportunity and send the best wishes to the most amazing couple I know - happy anniversary!

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P.S. And don't forget about bigger picture! 

And about love.

#coming back soon, don't go too far

 

04/17/2014

Spring!

 

When I arrived in Washington and bought a scooter everyone claimed that it is a great idea. They said winters in DC are usually short and without snow. All I can say, it’s false. We had a quite interesting winter. Weather was changing every week, sometimes during the weekend temperature will rise up to 16 degrees and sunny, but then Monday it’s snowing for 24 hours non-stop. Government in DC does not work on snow days and we had a lot of them. It was three weeks in a row when on Mondays we had snow days, however by the end of the week it would all melt.

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But let’s forget winter its now behind us and spring has arrived to Washington.

Spring is wonderful here - many people complain that during summer the temperature gets too high and due to high humidity summer are not easy. Even so, I never complain about hot weather. Spring is wonderful even for those people. It’s sunny every day, the temperature increased dramatically and every day we are having 24 – 28 degrees. During this season the streets are full of tourist and city becomes alive. I would like to share with you two wonderful things I explored in DC early this spring.

Baseball

Baseball season just started and as I am big sports fan, but have no clue about American sports so I had to visit a baseball game. I went to a Washington Nationals game against Atlanta, only the second game of the season. It was still a bit chilly to sit in the stadium that evening, however, the feeling was wonderful and the stadium grass was so green. The players did a great job hitting a few home runs and and a Submarine dive horn has blared after every Nationals home run and win—a nod to the park's location in Navy Yard. But the biggest impression left on me was from the stadium. I have to admit that Americans know how to build and place facilities like stadiums. Nationals stadium “Nationals Park” is huge, able to host up to 42 thousand fans and the park has a massive screen 31 meter long and 14 meter high where every player is introduced by his own song. I walked around the stadium to see how it’s to watch a game from different angles and from everywhere the view was fantastic. National’s stadium is also placed on the waterfront and if view of Marina, bridges and if the Anascostia river is not enough for you on the other sides you can enjoy great view at the Washington monument, Capitol Hill, or even Sakura trees. Just in case you don’t know why Washington is famous city, mascots of Presidents run during the break will refresh your memory and put a smile on your face.

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Cherry Blossoms

The Washington DC waterfront, not far from the national mall and Jefferson memorial, is surrounded by Sakura cherry trees which were gifted to DC by Japan. The trees not only establish a spectacular view, but also offer an amazing story.  The plantings of cherry trees originated in 1912 as a gift of friendship to the People of the United States from the People of Japan. In Japan, the flowering cherry tree, "Sakura," is an exalted flowering plant. The beauty of the cherry blossom is a potent symbol equated with the evanescence of human life and epitomizes the transformation of Japanese culture throughout the ages. Japan gifted 3,020 cherry trees to the US which took 7 years (1913-1920) to plant along the Potomac river. On December 11, 1941 four cherry trees were cut down in suspected retaliation for the Japanese attack against the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The exact reason for the vandalism was never was substantiated. In hopes of preventing future damage during the Second World War, the trees were referred to as the "Oriental" flowering cherry trees. However, in 1965 the Japanese Government made another generous gift of 3,800 Yoshino trees to another first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was devoted to the beautification of Washington. American-grown this time, many of these are planted on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Lady Bird Johnson and Mrs. Ryuji Takeuchi, wife of Japan's Ambassador, re-enacted the planting ceremony of 1912.

Cherry Blossom Festival Washington DC 2014

Cherry-Blossoms

Cherry blossoms are really wonderful it’s even hard to describe their beauty. If you live close to Washington DC I strongly advise you to book a trip for the cherry blossom season, it’s something you cannot miss.

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04/10/2014

COLLEGE TOWN SPIRIT

Having been based at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor that is ranked among the top college towns in the US, I felt keen on exploring more by going to universities beyond the borders of Michigan. I set my plan for two study trips combined with special events to be attended and choosing one private and one public university. In the Fall Semester I visited Yale University in New Haven, CT and in the Spring Semester I visited the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY.

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Yale University buildings in downtown New Haven, CT

In July I participated in hosting a group of Yale alumni visit in Riga. Further, I was invited to attend the annual Yale Alumni Leadership Forum in 20-23 November 2013, when winds blew cold as a premonition of winter, but I experienced warm welcome in New Haven, known as Elm City. Walking among the campus buildings, I could see the architecture that makes up the residential colleges of Yale with their sheltering quadrangles as a key ingredient in shaping a university experience that creates the lifelong loyalty of alumni. Indeed, Yale has a unique approach in cultivating the alumni connection through a variety of programs, including Bulldogs Across America (BAA), Shared interest groups (SIGs), Students and Alumni of Yale (STAY), Yale Alumni Service Corps, Yale Day of Service, Yale Educational Travel, Yale Global Alumni Leadership Exchange (YaleGALE). Having learned about all the programs offered by the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA), I feel I have equipped myself with new ideas that I am happy to share with colleagues back at home as well implement a few new projects working with the SSE Riga Alumni Association, especially turning fundraising more towards friends-raising that is a Yale approach.

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Yale University Old campus

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Entering the Old campus

Based on previous connections through a Fulbright professor Glenn Blomquist teaching at SSE Riga, I was invited to attend the 19th Annual Economics Teaching Workshop at the University of Kentucky on 28-29 March 2014. It was interesting to learn about the importance of experiments, games, graphics, photography, and interactive definitions and role plays in teaching microeconomics and macroeconomics. With 80 participants from approximately 20 universities, the discussions during the reception, breakfast and lunch gave opportunities to exchange ideas about teaching the new digital generation as well as broaden the network. I hope we can organize a similar seminar at SSE Riga, because economists typically organize research seminars on specific topics, but not on teaching economics. I took an opportunity to meet the faculty members who teach entrepreneurship, visit the Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship as well as have meetings with the Innovation Network for Entrepreneurial Thinking (iNET) team. Finally, I had to decide on taking ‘the right’ side when the University of Kentucky Wildcats with 75-72 won over the University of Michigan Wolverines in basketball. 

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Gatton College of Business and Economics, University of Kentucky

 

02/27/2014

JUST GO OUT AND DO IT

I find myself surrounded by entrepreneurial people, and my experiences range from meeting a taxi driver of a new cab company to the fathers of the iPod. Americans are said to be great entrepreneurs, and Europeans are coming over to the US to look at their experiences. I want to explore what makes Americans more entrepreneurial than Europeans; and a combination of being a regular resident for nearly a year and my role of a researcher allows me to grasp different angles of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial mindsets. The spirit of doing, a lot of energy and enthusiasm charges growth and development that I encounter every day. Below I share three mini-stories that I find characteristic of a trend.

Start small

When arriving in Ann Arbor by Michigan Flier from Detroit, I had to call for a cab to get to the hotel; I called one from the list named Across Town. Having reached the destination, the driver gave me his business card in case I needed any service in the future, mentioning that to plan his work it would be good if I called in advance, because they were two friends who had just started their business with only two cars. There are numerous taxi service providers, however, their service of bringing kids to schools and kindergartens in the morning and providing late evening services clearly secure a niche for taxi service Across Town have established.   

 

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Ann Arbor Cooks

Pursue your dream

In the same spirit of doing and not being afraid of a career change is the story of Natalie Marble whom I met when visiting Ann Arbor Cooks. In 2001 Natalie left a career in international finance to follow her life-long culinary dreams. Now she is a chef and owner of Ann Arbor Cooks. Having participated in the hands-on culinary class, I have experienced Natalie’s passion for teaching, the scope of activity including cooking classes, team-building events, private events, etc. When I looked at their calendar, I could hardly identify a free spot, because all dates were booked three to four months ahead. Natalie has created a place where people want to be on different occasions, and one can feel that as soon as you enter the school.

 

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Taking a cooking class

You never learn unless you try

Tony Fadell’s story that I heard when attending the M-Cubed Symposium provides a number of lessons of how to become a successful entrepreneur. I find the title of his presentation very strong, i.e. “Stem Education” where he refers to his grandfather and the importance of hands-on practical skills, starting early, learning by doing and being curious.  Next, during his studies at the University of Michigan he started two companies and learned to build and fail. After graduation he wanted to work out all to perfection, however, he learnt that you should pick a day when the product was ready.

Anthony Michael Fadell is "one of the fathers of the iPod"; in 2010 he founded Nest Labs, and in January 2014 Google acquired Nest for for $3.2B.

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02/18/2014

Something you can really experience only in the US

 

Dear All,

I have not made a BAFF BLOG for a few months. Hard to say why, as plenty of fascinating things happened. I went on the BAFF enrichment trip in Los Angeles and I cannot imagine better location. However, I am not going to talk about the enrichment trip much. It was an amazing experience, perfectly organized and most significantly we had the chance to meet other colleagues and exchange our experiences.  Summarizing, everyone is extremely happy and grateful about the opportunity but time is flying too fast.

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In this BLOG post I will talk about the experiences which are waiting for you in the US. I am sure you are familiar with Halloween and perhaps not so much with the Thanksgiving Day. Nevertheless, both can only be truly experienced in the US. Finally in the end I will tell you about my sports experiences visiting NBA games and watching players which I grew up admiring, as well as with an American religion which is not as big in Europe – NFL (American football).  

Let’s begin with Halloween. This is a holiday all kids are in love with. Nevertheless, grown-ups can have as much fun.

Pumpkin carving

Preparation for Halloween in our house started earl. The first step was pumpkin carving - I have never done anything similar before and therefore it was so much fun. I was provided with all required instruments (even the pumpkin) all I needed to do is to employ my creativity and hands. To be honest I am not the most artistic person and maybe that was the reason the the  girl’s pumpkins looked way better than mine. However, it was a great fun to spend an evening playing with pumpkins.  

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Forget about Madam Tussauds Museum, Welcome to Halloween parade!!!

Halloween is a very colorful holiday. Fun awaits you on the streets of the city. Besides the Halloween bike ride in downtown Washington, people go out to have fun all dressed up, some of them coming dressed up already to work. It’s ok in the morning to ride the metro with Batman & Robin, Hulk or even Barack Obama. Halloween is proof that people’s imagination is limitless. On the streets of Washington you could meet Queen Elizabeth or Prince William and Kate Middleton (with the baby), Alan from Hangover, Mike Tyson or Mohamed Ali. Not to mention, masses of robots, mummies, zombies and vampires. 

Thanksgiving, lovely time which reminds of Christmas

If Halloween getting bigger in our region, Thanksgiving remains a holiday which you might be less familiar with.  Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. It is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States. Thanksgiving has its historical roots in religious and cultural traditions, and has long been celebrated in a secular manner as well. An unusual annual Day of Thanksgiving began in 1606 following the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 and developed into Guy Fawkes Day. (For the last part, thank you - Wikipedia).

While Wikipedia helped me explain the significance of Thanksgiving, I will also try to illustrate what I’ve seen and experienced. First of all, it reminded me a lot of Christmas. Whole families gather together at one of the relatives place. Tons of food, with the main dish of stuffed turkey served with a cranberry sauce. Family members gather together by the table and pray before eating. Dinner is usually followed by sharing the latest news and watching American football. This is truly a lovely tradition and I strongly recommend you to experience it during your stay in the US.

By the way this thanksgiving was special because it falls on the same day as Chanukah. The next time the two will coincide would be when Thanksgiving falls on Chanukah eve in the year 2070. This will repeat in 2165.

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NBA Games

I am Lithuanian and it’s no doubt that I love basketball. One of the things on my “to do list” was, of course, to see a NBA game. I did it! And not just once. The first game I went to was Wizards against Timberwolves , a great game with a lot talented athletes. I also visited the Wizards against Clippers game to see the Chris Paul and Blake Griffin duo, in which Chris Paul pulled out an amazing performance scoring over 30 points and shutting  down any Wizards chances. I did not miss the opportunity to watch our big man Jonas Valanciunas, when he visited Verizon Center. Valanciunas was not playing very well, but the Raptors took an easy win. During the week I stayed in NYC I  had to visit the newest arena in the NBA, Barclay’s center, home of the Brooklyn Nets,. It was wonderful to watch Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams and other players you grow up admiring. Finally, the last game which I could not miss is of course was Miami Heat at DC. This was the most spectacular game I ever watched, not only because LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and other played, but also because Wizards played their best game of the season with the Wizards scoring 42 points in the first quarter. The arena was full, of course, a lot fans supported James and Miami, however, I supported the underdog Washington Wizards, who played an amazing game that night, taking the W. NBA games are really fun especially when great teams are playing, tickets prices are higher, but it’s worth every penny.

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Superbowl

I happened to accidentally be in the center of action during the Super Bowl XLVIII event as I lived in New York City for the week during which NYC hosted the Super Bowl.  This is another day for Americans to go crazy about their favorite sports. Tickets to watch the Super Bowl in the stadium cost from $2000 USD up to $22, 000 USD and the stadium is always packed. Fans gather to the hosting city from all over the United States. In this years NFL finals the Denver Broncos played against the Seattle Seahawks. You might already know, but there was no intrigue in this game at all, the Seahawks crushed Denver becoming NFL champions XLVIII. I don’t know much about American football and cannot comment much about the reasons why this happened. All I heard at the bar where I was watching the game was the Broncos are a “one-man team” and that Manning did not deliver that night. Once they found out I don’t know much about football was extremely, the Americans at the bar where extremely helpful explaining every rule of the game. Even so, my knowledge of American football is very limited, I know that one of the greatest NFL players is Johnny Unitas who was of Lithuanian descent and that was surprising for my American fellows. The evening was great - I did not care much about who won, all I cared about was the fun and I got maximum amount of it.

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Sincerly Yours,

Virginijus Sinkevičius

02/16/2014

Washington DC, how is it?

Is it as good as you imagined it? No, actually it’s not...it’s better! It has been three weeks already since I’m here and  I can truly admit – I have enjoyed every second!  I am really grateful to my family and friends back in Latvia who showed me so much love  and support which  really allowed me to come here in  high spirits and with a strong sense of gratitude. And of course , BAFF which made it all happen.

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I have to say that I am very lucky to live in a nice neighborhood with this terrific landlord,  Jerry , who is an extremely helpful, funny  and life-loving guy who really makes this place feel like home.   Up to now there hasn’t been a day when I have’t laughed to tears – that actually contributes a lot to my experience here.  For example, if a make a grammar mistake Jerry would always call me „Tarzan” and correct me. However sometimes I would try to argue my way out of the  situation by referring to some exceptions when my sentence would make sense and then Jerry would tell me „oh, now it is Tarzan the philosopher speaking” etc. Frankly, for me it is a lot of fun to come back home after work. In total we are 5 people at home and we often have dinner together, which I find really nice. We do our own small parties like – movie nights, board game evenings with Mexican food (when we were snowed in) but today it is all about the NBA All-star game.

Work

I work at the American Bar Association which really lives up to its motto „defending liberty,  pursuing justice”. It has top lawyers who are committed to making a difference and it is just a great honor to be working with these people. I received a warm welcome from my colleagues  - they took me out for lunch, showed me around and made me part of the team. I caught myself staring out the window thinking: „ Wow, here I am. I dreamed about this sooooo long. Now I’m here and and it feels exactly as it should feel like - great ”.  I want to make sure that I leave a good impression about Latvians and I learn as much as possible (there is a lot to learn), so probably I will get busier in the next few weeks. My working hours fly by very fast and I think it is because they manage to squeeze  in some fun activities during the day just to have some stress relief – every day at 2pm for around 15min  we do some exercises together(planking, wall standing, stretching etc.), we end meetings with some fun activities like „Flamingo challenge” and now we are planning a research office party. These people love  their jobs and they all have a good reason to do so.

Social life

The thing I really love about DC is that there is ALWAYS something going on. Actually most of the events are free – especially seminars, lectures, concerts, museums etc.  Also the Latvian Embassy here is very active, full of friendly people and they organize events  almost every week – it a great place to meet Latvians and other interesting people.

I am the most excited about experiencing some of the things that I used to see only in movies – like last week I went to a Gospel church and that was incredible – exactly like in the movies with all that dancing, singing and shouting „yeah,brother”. Needless to say people there  quickly realized that I was a new guy in town so they gave me a name tag, sang a song for me and people just came and shook my hand. That was quite an experience. These moments somehow really inspire me.

Lessons to keep in mind 

Some practical tips

1.       Don’t spend a gazillion dollars right away to buy something. Check craigslist and coupons first. Ask for advice!

2.      Want to visit some places but you brutally violated the tip Nr.1 and you're out of money ? – check out this website for lot of free things to do in DC

 http://dc.about.com/od/artsandentertainment/tp/25-Free-Things-To-Do-In-Washington-DC.02.htm It’s not all inclusive  but definitely a good list to start with.

3.      Don’t sign any contracts. Even if you do – there are never too many questions. Be really sure about terms & conditions (lawyers advice :D) If something looks too good to be true – it is.

4.      If you go somewhere, take your business card with you. DC is about meeting new people and networking.

5.      „What’s up?” is not a question that  requires an answer. It’s another way of saying „Hi” .

Universal lessons

You get more out of what you focus on. Along the way you will meet different kinds of people and find yourself in different kinds of situations, but you should not dwell upon negative ones too much. Somehow it is much easier to spot new opportunities or get to know awesome people when you truly appreciate the things you already have.  Therefore, some people will love DC some won’t – you choose.

Don’t have too many rules about life!  According to A. Robbins, a rule is an unconscious belief about how things are supposed to be. You have the choice to have lots of rules and a lot of stress or fewer rules and a lot of joy. If you find yourself getting upset about something, take a look at your rules. If my rule  for a great time in Washington were „Washington must have no winter and people must treat me like I’m this super fancy Latvian lawyer ”  I would not live on  easy street. And this is not about lowering your standards, it is the opposite – you consciously choose to work for things you can change and enjoy the things you can’t. Anyway, as a good friend of mine once told me „It’s all about the process, baby” – enjoy the ride.

Of course to get things you want in life - you have to work for them. This is huge for me because only now do I realize that nothing will really change unless I do. I’m the one who has to go out  and take life by the ‘cojones’. There is no later and there is no tomorrow. Don’t overanalyse! You want it –  go get it!  If there something you  really want, you should probably get busy.

The last one. The quality of your life is directly connected to relationships with people around you. You can have all the achievements and possessions in the world, but if you have nobody to care about, then it is like a drop in the ocean. We are humans – we need each other! I’m really lucky to have people I love back home and some wonderful people around me here and that makes all the difference. Invest time in good relationships – that will bring the most satisfaction.

 

Washington DC,  how is it? It is exactly  what you make of it. 

 

 

With love,

Mārtiņš