My name is Ursula Damtse and I am a student from Luther College graduating in 2022. In March, I attended the PLEN Women and Congress Seminar held in Washington DC. I found out about PLEN through some of my upperclassmen friends on campus who had attended a different seminar during the fall semester of 2018. After hearing how amazing their experiences were and doing a lot of research on PLEN’s website, I decided that this seminar would help me explore the possible careers I could build with my major, international studies. Upon further research, I learned that I could apply for a scholarship that would provide me with financial support in order to attend the seminar. This excited me because without this scholarship, I would not have been able to afford the cost of spending an entire week in D.C.
I was raised in Ghana which is located in West Africa. Because my father was a politician there, I was exposed to the political climate at an early stage of my life. That is where my curiosity to understand politics grew. I have a desire to understand the political scene in order to try and make a positive change in the political climate in my country, especially for women. I was elated to find out about PLEN’s seminar because I was interested in applying my skills and making an impact in my home country.
Before my arrival, I had cleared my mind of all preconceived notions I had about Washington D.C, in particular the people who work there and how the entire city operates. During our first day at the seminar, I learned so many things about D.C. and the work life there. One piece of advice that really stuck with me was from the keynote speaker, Neri Martinez, who said, “You don’t save souls preaching to the choir.” She was encouraging us to get out of our comfort zone, and I put this into practice throughout my time at the seminar as well as after.
I admired the fact that the speakers at the seminar included women of color. As a black woman, I am always looking for someone I can relate to. Having women of color in most of the panel discussions helped me to identify how life as a woman of color in D.C. actually is. It also reminded me that I can work in D.C. despite my identity or background. Neri Martinez said in her keynote, “Always be your most authentic self.” I understood this to mean that just because you may be one of the only people who looks differently, that does not mean you cannot make it in the career you want to pursue. The environment should allow you the opportunity to be the best version of yourself.
Another session that I absolutely loved was the session on networking where Grace Boat gave us tips on how to be experts in networking. Through her presentation, I learned that you must have confidence in yourself in order for people to have confidence in you. This also means that you must believe in your abilities and strengths in order for people to trust you enough to give you opportunities.
My absolute favorite part of the seminar was meeting with the women from Independent Women’s Forum. During this site visit with Ashley C. MacLeay and Patrice Lee Onwuka, I learned a lot about incorporating my talents and interests into my career. This made me very happy because now I know that I can put my skills to good use. I also learned how to keep certain acceptable behaviors that are sometimes looked down upon if you are a woman.
The seminar blew my expectations away. I was satisfied with how the days were structured; we had enough time to get ready in the morning, enough time to arrive at the venue for the day, and plenty of time after sessions to explore DC. I also enjoyed the fact that we had to travel to different locations for panel discussions and other sessions. That was an interesting way to learn how to get around D.C. and a very good way to see the city itself.
All in all, the PLEN Women and Congress Seminar was a life changing experience. I learned how to put all my credentials together in order to present myself to people. The skills that I learned have helped me in my interaction with more professors and alumni from Luther College as well. I encourage everyone I meet to attend at least one PLEN seminar before they graduate.