As my 2nd Year of the Fellowship drew to a close, one of my last big projects at El Pomar was to plan for and host a delegation of young political leaders from Malaysia and the Philippines in Colorado as part of their American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) exchange. Though the Foundation has hosted ACYPL delegations since 1993, it was the first delegation El Pomar would host since 2019 and we were all excited to finally get to work on the program. I studied Communication Arts and Spanish in college and have always valued opportunities for learning and cultural exchange. Some of my favorite experiences as a Spanish major were attending “intercambios,” or language exchanges with Spanish-speaking community members and discussing current events with patients at COVID-19 vaccine clinics as a medical interpreter. I knew ACYPL would be a great opportunity for me to build on my interests, learning about places and cultures I had never experienced, and sharing American culture and all its nuances with others.
So, amidst preparing to leave the Fellowship, regional council meeting preparation, annual report drafting and Internship recruiting, the other ACYPL Fellows and I climbed into our giant rental SUVs and headed to the airport to pick up the delegates with a mixture of excitement and nerves. We had been planning their packed itinerary for months, complete with two receptions, meetings with high-level politicians, several tours and even a musical at the Fine Arts Center. We had our fingers crossed that everything would go according to plan.
From our first dinner with the delegates at a restaurant in downtown Denver, it became clear that all the hard work had been worth it. I was amazed at the breadth of the delegates’ experiences and their perceptive questions about Colorado. I was also humbled by the opportunity to engage with people like the youngest congresswoman in the Philippines and a physiotherapist turned Vice President of the Malaysian Socialist Party. We discussed everything from how racism presents itself in both Malaysia and the United States and the pressures of work-life balance as young professionals to our favorite musicians and stores at our local malls. By the end of each day, my head was swirling with facts I’d learned about the delegates and their countries.
Throughout their visit, between meetings, delegates exclaimed at the glittering golden roof of the Colorado State Capitol and the way that Pikes Peak towers over Colorado Springs. As we passed over railroad tracks on the southside of town, I was struck by the way they noted the beauty of the softly falling snow, having never seen it before. Their observations caused me to stop and take a second look at things I had taken for granted, from the mountains that have become part of my inner compass as a native Coloradan to the beautiful sunshine that warms even the chilliest of days here. Over the course of their visit, this theme presented itself again and again and I was able to see Colorado through fresh eyes. Based on the amazing delegation’s visit, here are a few things I would recommend to reinvigorate your own perspective of home:
- If the snow is right, stop and have a snowball fight!
- If you can, visit your local Coroner’s Office. We were able to meet with El Paso County Coroner, Dr. Leon Kelly, and tour his labyrinthine office. An important part of public service and helping the living is coming to terms with the fact that these people also die, and it was eye-opening to see the ways in which the Coroner and his team support those in El Paso County who have passed on.
- Admire the view. While the delegates stopped to snap photos of themselves in front of state landmarks and natural landscapes, I found myself passing by naturally, more focused on getting to the next location than I was on taking it in at first. I was struck by the fact that during our visit to Garden of the Gods, we ended up in a picturesque spot even I hadn’t seen before as we wandered the trails.
- Consider the fragility of democracy and American society, and how our systems differ from others. The delegates were shocked by how small our constitution was when they received small copies from Attorney General Phil Weiser. It’s wild that a document that can be truncated to a pocket-sized booklet forms the backbone of our country and its laws.
- Read the tourist-y signs. Some of the delegates’ questions about landmarks we passed stumped me. While I was glad to have retained some nuggets of interesting information from the last time I had studied Colorado in depth (fourth grade), I wish I would have paid more attention to the basic information about places I have visited my whole life. As we stopped to read signs together, it was fun to learn about different locations alongside the delegates.
- Reach out to your local Economic Development Corporation or Tourism agency to find out what sets your town apart. During visits to the Chamber/EDC and VisitCOS, I was thrilled to learn more about Colorado Springs, its culture and economy, and what brings people to our city.
- Take advantage of the time in between. Throughout the delegation’s visit, we maintained a tight schedule of informative meetings and tours. The times that I enjoyed most, however, were the quiet moments in between, over a meal or in the car on the way to the next location, where we got to chat about our varied life experiences. In the midst of an extremely busy transition season at the Fellowship, it served as a valuable reminder for me to slow down and take advantage of the connections I’ve made. This is a lesson I’ll take with me beyond the Fellowship.
I’m grateful to have had this amazing experience with ACYPL and the delegates, which reminded me why I’m so invested in the state of Colorado and supporting its people.