Editor’s note: DCSC Volunteer Anne-Marie Elsinger, describes her experience becoming familiar with DC from an African perspective.

I have always considered DC a big city with a small city feel. It has a population of almost 700,000 people, yet people still greet you on the street. I came to DC because I deeply desired immersion in diverse communities and cultures; we have nearly every Embassy, we have almost every kind of cuisine, bar, and store, and most headquarters for large industries are here. I knew I would love DC, but I was not sure if DC would love me.

Prior to starting my year of service with DC Service Corps, I arrived 2 months early to the Casa so I could earn some money and become familiar with the area. I began working at a restaurant called Bread and Chocolate, where I became good friends with several servers who came from Africa. One day, I mentioned that my brother was coming into town but that I was not sure where to take him. One of the servers, Mighan, invited us both to join him and his friends for the evening. When my brother and I arrived, we were the only white people; however, it never felt that way. My brother and I are very outgoing and talkative people. We are the kind of people who jump into a situation with passion and energy. We both love new experiences and friendships. Mighan and his friends introduced us to unfamiliar food, drinks, and music, and we had a ball.

After he realized how comfortable I was in diverse environments, Mighan started inviting me to other places, too. There was one time when I wanted to go dancing with Stephanie and Rose (fellow community members), so I suggested we go to the African Dance Club that I previously went to. Mighan said, “I don’t know if they will like it. Not everyone is as open as you.” I quickly reminded him of their love for other cultures; after all, they both had previously done mission work in the Dominican Republic. Mighan, Triumphe, Stephanie, Rose, Abou, and I still talk about how much fun we had that night, and how incredible it was to see everyone smiling, laughing, and swinging his or her arms. As soon as we entered the building, we all began dancing freely with everyone in the small bar. People were dancing with us, complementing us, and joining us in conversations—we didn’t feel like newcomers.

The longer I stay in DC, the more at home I feel. Through experiences like this in DC, I realize I have never felt so comfortable or welcomed. Being exposed to African foods, music, and people has been a highlight of my entire DC experience. I have found a place where I fit.

Reflection question: What are some cultures outside your own that you’re familiar with? What cultures are present in your area with which you may not be as familiar?