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Grad School (from my memoir)

Being back in D.C. felt good. I have always enjoyed academia so going back to school was a natural move for me. I moved into a place near DuPont Circle in downtown D.C. - an apartment with several other students living there. We each rented a room.

We were actually located above a dry cleaner - Lustrous Cleaners. I might have used a dry cleaner a handful of times in my life, if that. But, there I was living right above one!

The first semester started up and I found myself amongst a diverse and very interesting, international collection of students. John’s Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) was, and still is, considered a preeminent school for global scholarship. It naturally feeds into top government jobs, think tanks, NGOs, etc. It is highly considered. (Wolf Blitzer, of CNN fame, graduated from there, for instance.)

Academic life has always been a familiar place for me-a good fit. But, for some reason, I did not take the academic portion of grad school all that seriously. Don’t get me wrong. I did well enough. But, I didn’t excel the way I did undergraduate. (Graduated from UC Berkeley Magna Cum Laude)

Nonetheless, I got into the swing of things and it all felt very natural.

As my first year was drawing to a close, I got it into my head that I wanted to take advantage of the Bologna, Italy year long program that SAIS offered. I found myself talking to one of the deans -I believe the Dean of Admissions if memory serves - about this prospect. He was very nice about this but did naturally wonder why this particular move as my emphasis heretofore had been Latin American Studies! I somehow explained that I was particularly drawn to this area of the world. Actually, I had not been to Europe yet, with all the travelling that had already taken place in my life, so this was not really surprising.

That request did come to fruition and, before I knew it, I was on my way to Bologna for my year abroad; a most excellent decision on my part! The SAIS Program had already provided a marvelous two week visit to Cuba, an exchange with the University of Havana. This had been around 1980 so very few Americans were allowed entry back then. The island was still very much in the grips of communism.

A quick and humorous story that took place during this visit…We, the students, were invited to the residence of the acting American representative at that time for some refreshments, a cocktail party - if you will. Now, there wasn’t actually an ambassador during that period, as there were no diplomatic relations between the two countries. But he somehow informally represented a connection in this way.

It was a lovely evening and I was off to the side watching what was happening, very much in a sort of witnessing stance for some reason. The students were enjoying their libations - probably laced nicely with Cuban rum - and our host was holding forth as students peppered him with questions, probably all very erudite, academic questions; which of course fit the occasion. We were there to learn about this island nation, a truly wonderful opportunity.

Just wanted to mention…My mother had, by now, introduced me to astrology. She was not really into it herself but she, interestingly enough, had set up an appointment with Stvetlana - the Washington Post Astrologer - as a gift for a recent birthday. That’s is a whole other story unto itself!

So, back to the festivities…I was watching our host hold forth with the students enthusiastically and with great expressiveness. And, eventually, as the evening wore on, he took his leave. As he walked by me, I suddenly was inspired to ask him a question. I stepped toward him and politely said, “Mr. Jones (I’ll call him.), Are you by any chance, a Leo?!”…a purely intuitive guess…

Well, this just amazed and delighted him! He turned and looked at me with a big smile and responded with a yes, and how did I know. I answered that it takes one to know one. (Yes, I am an August 14 baby.)

And then the conversation took an even more interesting turn as he said to me, “You know, the last person to ask me that was Fidel Castro, who is also a Leo!”

A fun and delightful interaction, indeed!

If need be said that this is not to take lightly the very difficult struggles that have been part of this beautiful island’s history. The Cuban people were so welcoming and warm, despite their situation. And, this is not to paint Fidel Castro as genial, innocuous fellow. But, I was granted this interesting exchange, a bit of sparkle during a great visit.

So, back to further travelling adventures. Italy awaited.

Annie Kiyonaga

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