By Peyton Sammons

While many students spend the summer between their first and second years taking family vacations, or waiting tables at a local restaurant, I was running around my hometown of Atlanta, learning more about the area than I had in the 12 years I had lived there previously. After about 20 rejection emails from various summer options, I had decided to send one more resume- and doing so changed my college path significantly.

During my internship with Mayor Kasim Reed’s Office of International Affairs, I was given many diverse tasks including, preparing weekly briefings and speeches for the Mayor and his Chief of Staff and welcoming foreign diplomats. But, by far the most rewarding aspect of my summer was being a part of the coordinating committee the Peer Collaboration Program for President Obama’s Young African Leaders events for Clark Atlanta University. President Obama’s Administration created the program is an “effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders” and strengthen partnerships between the US and Africa. I was initially intimidated by the project tasked to me. But I knew from the first planning meeting that this project was going to be profoundly effecting.

The first challenge for me was to make connections with the Fellows, with whom I felt as though I had very little in common; I was immediately proved wrong on this account. The Fellows were seeking solutions to socioeconomic struggles that are strikingly similar to the ones in my own community in Atlanta. So, as my summer progressed, I became committed to bridging the gaps and establishing a cross-cultural dialogue, which I perceived to be the most crucial aspect of the YALI program. The more time I spent with the Fellows– on tours of the chronically poorest and most violent areas of Atlanta or at lectures with city officials– I grew to admire their immense dedication to strengthening self-determining state institutions for their home countries, and further challenging Western conceptions of what Africa needs.

While a cliché, it is true that I learned more in 11 weeks than I did in the entire preceding academic year. The Fellows’ stories of immense passion and toil were good reminders of the necessity of being a compassionate global citizen, and my desire for a career in public service has only grown stronger since that summer.