Familiar Novelty

I have absolutely no sense of direction. I still get lost even in my own hometown. Therefore, adjusting to a new city is always a long and arduous process. I have tried many methods to get myself to better understand where on earth I’m going. I have stared at Google Maps until I was blurry-eyed, attempted to memorize every street name in the near vicinity, begged strangers for directions—you name it, I've tried it.

But Washington, D.C. has been a different story. I have lived here almost three months now. The time has flown by quicker than I could have imagined. At the same time, I have also become acquainted and comfortable with the city quicker than I could have imagined. Within weeks I was able to make my way around without much trouble. What has helped me overcome my deplorable sense of direction? Probably the fact that some of the most famous places in the world tend to make good landmarks for finding one’s way.

It’s remarkable to think that this is all familiar to me now—that I have been calling this place home. My casual Saturday workout routine just happens to involve a jog on the National Mall, where hundreds of people from around the world come to experience the novelty of such a historic place. One of my favorite restaurants happens to be next to the White House, where at any moment of the day there are dozens of families taking photos, citizens protesting, and security guards heavily policing the area.

As part of a typical assignment for my UN fellowship, I went to hear Secretary of State John Kerry speak at a hearing on the Hill. I sat two rows behind the man! Last week, I exchanged business cards with the United Nations Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, Sandra Honoré. Two months ago I didn't even have business cards.

When I sat down to write this blog, I was racking my brain for things to say. Then I realized how remarkable it is that I did not immediately think of the dozens of novel experiences I have had in the past weeks. The fact is that this novelty has become familiar. This in itself is truly amazing. My daily life here is filled with so many experiences that were inconceivable to me a few months ago. Though I never wish to take any of it for granted, I enjoy and marvel at the idea that I now feel at home in this environment. These experiences are both mundane and extraordinary. Washington, D.C. has become a place of familiar novelty, and I would not have it any other way.


Dasha Burns is a UC Berkeley senior double majoring in Anthropology and Media Studies. She is currently studying and interning at the United Nations Information Centre as a Matsui Washington Fellow at the University of California Washington, D.C. Center.