I sit in the D.C. airport as I write this. My backpack full of mementos and memories from my time here lies next to me on the oversized terminal chair as I await the winged vessel that symbolizes both the end of this adventure and the beginning of the next one. I still haven’t quite processed the fact that nine weeks have passed. I feel like the night when I arrived full of fears and misgivings to an unfamiliar city was only a day or two ago, and yet the newfound body of knowledge gained over the summer serves as the undeniable proof of the passage of time.

The reigning question is now, “what did I learn this summer?” Everyone who knows me is curious about the sorts of invisible transformations living and working like an adult could have had on me. Yet, while I could now talk endlessly about universal health care and its vital importance, or the inequities that exist in America’s health care system, I find it much harder to neatly package the breadth of experience and personal growth I now carry. I am not the same I was nine weeks ago—that’s for sure. I now realize the world is a bigger place ideologically than I thought it to be, and I realize it’s neither simple nor straightforward to bring about change.

Working this summer at Families USA, I learned that to walk a step in the right direction, you often need to take four steps forward and then three steps backward. And that’s ok. For change does not need to be drastic nor immediate to be significant. What I mean by this is that the world of policy change is really a constant tug-o-war, where one has to carefully pick one’s battles, and where the motto “you win some, you lose some” is a mantra. However, at the same time, I learned to be constantly hopeful because when something this summer did not turn out in our favor, or when the administration announced some new harmful policy, the amazing team at Families USA never despaired, but rather took up their battle with newfound determination. As put by Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Hope in the face of hopelessness might sound like an oxymoron, but in the world of public interest communications, it’s a way of life, and the only path to eventually reign victorious.

I’m grazing the tip of the iceberg here. There’s too much I could say about the wonderful people I worked with, the blogs I wrote, the conversations I had. Yet, while each one of these experiences was meaningful, it was also part of a greater whole whose essence I am struggling to capture in these lines. My summer as a Karel Fellow was unforgettable, formative, and eye-opening. I  feel like a layer of grime has been cleaned away from the lens through which I see the world.  Now colors are clearer—darker in some places and lighter in others.