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What can your story be in the United States?

2 posts categorized "Martins Birgelis"


The Journey


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!


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.



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.


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.


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”.



Washington DC, how is it?

Is it as good as you imagined it? No, actually it’s’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.



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.


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 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,