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10/15/2016

Living in the capital of world politics (II)

It has been a while since my last blog post but the summer passed so fast that it’s hard to realize that October’s here again.  To be honest, it was the busiest summer I have had during the last couple of years. Preparations for the NATO Warsaw Summit and lots of traveling across the continent to explore this amazingly huge country didn’t let me even think that it can be any better. In Lithuania we say “happy people don’t count time” and I couldn’t agree with this more.

Ok, but first things first.  This time I want to share with you not only my summer adventures  but also to talk about my professional experience here in DC since this summer was of a great importance for the Baltic countries in the context of Europe’s changing security environment.

On the way to the NATO Warsaw Summit

First of all, for those who are not familiar with NATO and transatlantic security issues, let me provide you with some general background information, so that you could have a broader picture of why I want to draw your attention to the Warsaw Summit and how it is related to my professional internship in the USA.

NATO Summits are periodic gatherings of NATO member countries’ leaders to evaluate and provide strategic directions for the future of the Alliance. The last NATO Summit was held in Warsaw, Poland this summer and marked a key milestone for the security of the Baltic States. Why? Because for the first time since the end of the cold war, NATO heads of countries decided to enhance NATO’s forward presence on its Eastern flank through the deployment of rotational battalions in the Baltic countries and Poland. In other words, starting next year, NATO will deploy a 1,000-strong multinational allied battalion to each of the Baltic States.  Germany will lead a battalion in Lithuania, Canada in Latvia, and the United Kingdom in Estonia.

The Atlantic Council, my host organization in the USA, played an important role in shaping this year’s NATO summit and was one of its official public diplomacy partners. For me as a young professional, it was extremely interesting to work on the preparations for the summit. The Council convened a lot of meetings and hosted a number of high-level officials to prepare for the Warsaw NATO Summit and follow up on its key deliberations as the Alliance transitions to implementing its decisions. Furthermore, I also had a chance to contribute to the NATO Summit Special Series by writing a piece on Lithuania’s priorities for the Summit which can be found here .

Frankly speaking, professional development opportunities here at the Council in terms of getting first-hand experience, expanding one’s network or building expertise are amazing. Working with senior fellows and helping them with their projects is definitely one of the best ways to enhance one’s understanding of American foreign and security policy, which undoubtedly is important to the Baltic States as well.

Embrace your journey

Traveling makes you richer. Definitely yes!  It lets you grow and discover yourself. Even more, it changes you and “you are not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”

And this summer we have been traveling a lot! By saying a lot I mean that I could hardly remember any weekend spent in DC. Even if there were any, we were still circulating around and going our way – trying to get to know this country and what it has to offer.

Dipping our toes into the Atlantic Ocean

Oh yes! Being on the other side of the Atlantic can be really exciting,especially if it’s the first time you are dipping your toes into the ocean from the other side of the world! Haha! In the middle of June we visited Assateague Island which is located close to Chincoteague Island, Virginia, and Ocean City, Maryland.  The place is known for its wild ponies and pristine beaches. More than 300 ponies wander the beaches so you can enjoy them while lying on the beach or simply meet them on the parking lot. We met a few of them near the parking area. The island is well known because of its wildlife and can be a perfect weekend destination for those who miss real nature.

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As the island is located close to Ocean City, we used the opportunity to stop in the city to look around. And to be honest, this is not a place I would visit twice. The place is really overcrowded and noisy. Maybe it’s just a bad first impression, but if you ever consider going there, think of other places along the East coast.

Annapolis!

You might notice that I used the exclamation mark to emphasize the name of this city and not without reason. Annapolis is an amazing town situated on the Chesapeake Bay. This small seaport is the capital of the US State of Maryland which also served as capital to the newly forming American nation. Moreover, it is home to the US Naval Academy and a place where the Treaty of Paris, ending the Revolutionary War, was ratified by Congress. Definitely one of my favorite places around DC!

One of the must-do things when visiting Annapolis is eating crab or at least tasting crab cake. And believe me, crab cake is just awesome! I think the best crab cake I have had so far was in Annapolis. Remember before going!

 

 Niagara Falls and Canada

Visiting Niagara Falls and Canada (basically Toronto and The Thousand Islands) was one of the three biggest trips I took this summer. After almost ten hours of driving, we finally reached this well-known tourist destination. The view was pretty amazing, especially getting closer to the breathtaking flow of water. We took one of the Niagara boat tours which brought us as close as possible to the falls and it was a really unforgettable experience. Highly recommend doing that! However, if you wanna see the whole beauty of the falls, you have to do that from the Canadian side of the river. 

 

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With another BAFF PiP Fellow Karoline from Estonia. Great time spent together!

On the way to Toronto we also stopped at the small Canadian town called Niagara-on-the-lake which is located in Southern Ontario or just a half an hour away from Niagara Falls. This city is often described as the prettiest in Ontario and I believe it really is. A well-preserved 19th-century town that has its own charm which brings you back home to Europe.

 

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Niagara on the Lake

Toronto is a nice place. Some people compare it with NYC or sometimes say that Toronto is a Canadian version of NYC but I still haven’t been to NYC (on my list!) so I cannot tell you how it feels in reality. However, Toronto has its own vibe. Somehow I found it very cozy. We also used the opportunity to have lunch at the CN Tower with an amazing overlook of the city. Yay! Another recommendation if you once decide to go there.

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Toronto, Canada

Where America comes from

I guess one of the most exciting things about being in the United States is the rare opportunity to discover its rich history by visiting all the places which played an important role in shaping this countriy’s early days. And Williamsburg, VA is one of these historical cities that played an important role in the American Revolution. From 1699 to 1780 the city served as the capital of the Colony of Virginia. Today, with its 18th century houses, Williamsburg serves as a great place to feel the historical vibes of the times when America was just born.

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Besides, those who love military history and would like to find themselves transported back to the days of the American Revolution should read the book “1776” written by David Mccullough. I definitely recommend that!  Then traveling on the East coast becomes even more exciting and feels like traveling back in time.

Somewhere down in Texas

“Howdy Y’all!” as Texans would say! Visiting Texas was another big adventure this summer. It was more or less a spontaneous decision to go there (that’s what happens when you find cheap plane tickets) but definitely worth going. Texas is so different comparied to the East coast, at least the northern part is. It is quite flat and sometimes you feel like your are in the middle of nowhere. We drove basically 6 hours up north and passed only several small towns on our way. IN addition to that, I happened to see only few cowboys riding horses! Haha! However, one thing Texas is famous for is its canyon which is the second largest in the whole country. I still haven’t been to Arizona but even visiting Palo Duro Canyon National Park was something remarkable. I will be repeating myself again but one thing this country has is its nature. The greatness of America definitely resides in nature.

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Fort Worth, TX

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Palo Duro National Park, TX

Oh! I forgot to mention – before heading to Texas we stopped in Chicago. I really liked the place. Thanks to our host, we had a chance not only to see the city but also to visit the Lithuania World Center, which is located in Lemont, IL. Established almost 20 years ago, the center promotes and preserves Lithuanian culture. Pretty amazing to find a piece of Lithuania somewhere in the state of Illinois.

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Chicago, IL.

Visiting the West Coast: I-LEAD

At the end of August I had the opportunity to take part in I-LEAD (Intern Leadership Enrichment and Development Program) which was held in Seattle, Washington. It is the first ever program funded by the US State Department to enhance leadership skills and build cultural awareness while working on social ventures with young professionals from all over the world.  Together with peers from 27 countries I spent a week working on different activities focused on building leadership experience, developing entrepreneurial capacity, and learning about community engagement to make a difference in our home countries. It was an incredible experience to meet, talk and share insights with young professionals coming from different parts of a globe – Peru, Mexico, Kuwait, Philippines, South Africa, South Korea, Europe and Asia. The biggest takeaway from my experience of participating in I-LEAD probably is the understanding of how different we are. The fact is that, even though we all live in the same world, the_way we see, understand and communicate is so diverse that it’s hard to describe. I really enjoyed Seattle and our stay at the University of Washington.

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Actually, the city kinda reminded me of Nordic countries. Maybe because of the chilly weather and the mountains which can be seen in the distance. And of course – the sunsets, beautiful sunsets on the West coast. After I-LEAD was over I, together with two fellow colleagues from Hungary and Latvia, visited Rugby beach located on the West Coast and National Olympic Park. We reached the beach by the time the sun was about to set on the Pacific Ocean. The view was splendid! I have never seen anything similar in Europe.  The next day we headed to National Olympic Park to see the rain forest and do a bit of hiking.

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Seattle, WA

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Post Scriptum

Another thing which was a totally new cultural experience for me this summer is baseball! Needless to say,baseball is the most American sport you could imagine. Well, some Americans might disagree with me, but as one guy from the West coast told me “kids usually learn how to pitch first and then how to speak”!

In any case, I would say that going to a baseball game is absolutely one of the must things to do when you are visiting the States. Basically not because of the game itself but because of the whole show and atmosphere it creates. Americans are crazy about baseball!  And Washingtonians are crazy about the Nationals (or Nats as they call them).  Maybe even more than Lithuanians are crazy about basketball!

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Fall seems to be pretty busy as well. Furthermore, the upcoming US presidential elections make life here in DC even more vibrant and interesting. That’s how life here looks like. I hope you enjoyed reading this.  BAFF gives you really an incredible chance and it depends on you how much you are ready to take from your time here. Believe me, you can take a lot. So keep going and never stop moving forward. There is one old phrase which I like: “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”Definitely true.

See you!

09/14/2016

Pondering upon Civic Diplomacy

In San Francisco, California's history, the evolution of a Maritime Trade Centre. Located at one of the best natural harbors in the world entrance. San Francisco is the city and county where the same common borders name. From the gold rush of the night in 1849 and immediately became a bigger and more important center of commercial, financial and maritime city on the west coast of the population. It devastated earthquake and fire in 1906, but quickly rebuilt. It remains an important center for financial services center, [dubious - discuss] and the rich has increased over the past year, its proximity to Silicon Valley.

Difficult to understand, isn’t it? How about if I try to switch full stops to commas and vice versa? Would that help me understand the text?

This is English, right? Maybe there are a number of verbs missing? What if I try to fill in the missing verbs? Would that help me understand the text?

What else can I try to do? I cannot understand what I cannot understand. I’m close to reaching the point that I don’t even understand anymore what I do understand.

Recognize this feeling? Maybe some of you do. This is one of the first emotions moving to a foreign country and taking up a job in an unknown culture. I did learn my English, but why does everything feel like it’s Google-translated. Well, that’s exactly what I did in this first paragraph - Google-translated Wikipedia article about San Francisco to Estonian and then back to English. This is what it felt like the first couple of weeks working at my internship.

And then I end up surfing through the BAFF web page once again and stumble upon this notion of civic diplomacy (communication with foreign publics to establish a dialogue designed to inform and influence). Maybe they actually meant it, when they said that this scholarship is a compliment for me and my professional ambitions, but this internship is also a little bit for my country.

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. 

Letters

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.

IMG_2551Miami Downtown landscape

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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.

http://acrosstowncab.com/

http://annarborcooks.com/

http://mcubed.umich.edu/

https://nest.com/about/