by Sarah Belanger '00
I grew up three miles from the Scripps campus, in the relatively small town of La Verne. So, venturing out of Southern California for anything other than vacation was a foreign concept. But here I was, three months out of college, moving to Washington, D.C., to start my first job as an economic research assistant with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
Through my Scripps network, I met my roommate, Anna Ekindjian ’98. She had been living in D.C. for a year and was quick to educate me on the “do’s” and “don’ts” of the town, as well as bring me up to speed on all the political jargon and information necessary for surviving in a political hub like D.C.
My job allowed me to meet people from all over the United States, and so many were surprised I had ever left Southern California.They were amazed I would give up fantastic weather year-round for the humid and cold East Coast. I found myself living in D.C. during unprecedented times for this country, including the 2000 Presidential Election and September 11.
To be in the nation’s Capital during a time of such uncertainty was exhilarating. Politics was everywhere—in the bars, on the streets, on my recreational softball team, on the metro. I felt the pulse of the city come alive over in-depth political happy-hour conversations. I witnessed protests and military personnel directing traffic in army tanks on the streets I walked every day. I was angry when my civil liberties were being taken away for “my protection.” I attended a candlelight vigil on the steps of the Capitol. I had never experienced anything similar in La Verne.
In that year and a half in D.C., I was acutely aware of how my actions were a testimony to my political beliefs, which took shape through participation in fund-raisers, rallies, and campaign involvement. Everything I did enabled me to meet new people and broaden my horizons. I was figuring things out, as a woman living on her own and a woman finding herself in the world. I bought my first car and tackled the cold weather, experienced my first snowfall and was awestruck at how beautiful it was, and grieved for a lost family member miles away from home.Through it all, I gained a greater understanding of my strength and spirit.
I was able to make several trips home, and each time I was back in sunny Southern California, it became more difficult to leave. So, in January of 2002, I promised myself the next time I stepped foot in California would be when I was home to stay. I spent four months conducting a long-distance job search during a bleak economic time.
In April 2002, my diligence paid off, and I was offered a job with The Capital Group Companies, a private investment management company in West Los Angeles. I returned to California with a new outlook on life, much paler skin, and a slight East Coast accent (at least according to my sisters). I have spent the last year reconnecting with old friends, watching my brother’s football games, and hanging out with my sisters and my mom and dad.
Every now and then I miss D.C.—it will always be my home away from home. Now that my brother is a Midshipman 4/C at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, I know I’ll be back often to visit. I will never regret my decision to move to the East Coast or my decision to return to Southern California. My experiences at Scripps gave me the strength to move 3,000 miles away from everything familiar, but also gave me the insight to acknowledge those things which are most important— being true to myself and home (it truly is where the heart is!).