A Letter to My Past Self

by Faizah Wulandana

Dear Faizah,

I remain connected to you through our memories. I re-envision the nights we spent lying in bed past 1 AM, thinking about those college applications that we really should get started on but can’t bring ourselves to do. I can still feel my stomach sinking as anxiety sets in and you wondered, “What if I don’t get into any of the colleges that I’m applying to?” Well, here we are now, 10 months later, in a place you would have never imagined for yourself to be in.

Firstly, thank God for the doors He has opened and will continue to open for you. Secondly, thank you for persisting through the rocky, at times unforgiving, road and for maintaining hope that things will turn out okay. Persevering was worth it. Today, you get to work with kids who have the brightest minds and the most colorful personalities. They are curious and brave, speaking their minds as they ask questions that are harder to answer than any college application you have faced. Their energy will motivate you, and put you on an emotional roller coaster everyday.

A day as a City Year is long.

Getting to and from your assigned partner school in Washington DC’s Ward 8, Moten Elementary School, is its own journey. As you travel north to south, you find yourself traveling from DC, into Washington, and back into DC. Witness the change in demographic of the passengers on the train – people in formal attire stepping off at L’Enfant Plaza and Navy Yard, and hordes of young school children clad in collared shirts boarding the train at Anacostia, crossing the river every morning in hopes that the other side may offer something better than the neighborhood that they live in. Step off into the dimly lit station, where the bus that passes Moten Elementary will come every 20 minutes, and at times, never at all.

Working at an inner-school is everything you expected and so much more. The back table is Ms. Faizah’s table, where kids will come for a quiet moment or when they struggle with focusing. The socio-emotional stress that consumes our students on a daily basis is subtle, but present. At the back table, I focus on keeping kids preoccupied with learning, turning their attention to complexly worded 4th grade math worksheets. I watch them light up once the standard subtraction algorithm registers in their minds; together we celebrate, and for a moment, all worries have flown away. The next morning is a reset. Perhaps Khamari will come in with a big hug for everyone, or we’ll see a fight break out as tension from events at home accumulates at school. I’ll never quite know what exactly my kids go through, and sometimes not knowing becomes overwhelming.

Then there is your partner teacher and the school administration, and the relationship between the two. You learn to get accustomed to different communication styles, last-minute field trips, and listening to passionate rants after dismissal. There is the school City Year team: a strong support net made of some of the kindest and most considerate individuals who never fail to bring a smile to your face. And lastly, there is self. The self that falls asleep on the Metro and jolts awake upon hearing “Georgia Ave.”, and the self that is slowly learning to forgive herself and keep moving.

But so far, each day has been worth it. Thank you for trusting the process, for taking risks, and never losing sight of the bright side. There is so much that is yet to come.

Sincerely, Faizah