Leadership Academy – Week 9: Rice Things (Helen Yu)

 In Leadership Academy

It began and ended with Rice Things.

I envisioned my first day at the office of California State Senator Ben Allen to be like the scene from Mean Girls where Cady brings her tray to the bathroom and sits inside a stall, eating alone. Luckily, when the fateful 12 o’clock arrived, another intern sitting at the desk beside me, Anam, asked me if I had brought my lunch. I had not. She drove us to an Asian restaurant down the street called Rice Things, where you could get a two-tray meal with teriyaki chicken and a sushi roll for less than $10.

We talked and laughed as we shoveled the food into our mouths, realizing that we had a lot in common, despite her having lived and studied in SoCal all her life, and me, up and down the East Coast.

On my last day, she and I ate Rice Things together again, joined by the supervisors and the other interns in the conference room. One of my supervisors is taking the LSAT in September; one intern just moved here from German, where her family lived as refugees from the Bosnian War; and another is starting his senior year in high school and pursuing a career in journalism. Anam is applying to transfer out of her community college into a four-year school.

After nine weeks, it is hard to remember everything I did in my office, but the people I have worked with stay fresh in my mind. I have worked on constituent cases, reviewed applications for the Executive Assistant job opening, spearheaded outreach projects, and researched different policies. Yet, sitting here in my shared room in Gardena, the memories that linger with me are of touring the Jet Propulsion Laboratory with my fellow interns, visiting the Federal Reserve with my Senator, and having insightful conversations during long traffic-buildups on the way to staffing various events.

I have worked glamorous jobs with terrible people, and terrible jobs with wonderful people. This time, I was lucky enough to have it all – a great job that challenged me to grow while expanding my view of the political world. I was able to work under competent and empathetic leadership, with coworkers who have both guided and supported me. And along the way, I was even fortunate enough to ruminate on my future career.

I still have plenty of unanswered questions about my future: What should I accomplish during my last year in college? What will I do with my life? What am I passionate about? Yet, having lived in so many different places both within the US and outside it, I am only more convinced now, that the “what” is never as important as the “who.” Who will I surround myself with? Who will I become?

I hope that during my nine weeks, I have absorbed some of the good qualities from the people around me – the Senator’s down-to-earthness; Sam’s resourcefulness; Lila’s organization; Allison’s straight-shooter attitude; Jamie’s good humor, Anam’s sense of purpose; Kristina’s ambition; Debbie’s optimism; and Elma and Omar’s emotional resilience to public transportation problems (which occur with astounding frequency in LA County). These are the fruits that I carry back with me.

Ultimately, because of the people I have come to know, along with the technical work that I have done, I am equipped with the skills necessary to better understand the complexity of social issues, collaborate with others in finding a solution, and live my life dedicated to doing rice— I mean nice, things.

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