Colm Tong

Becoming accustomed to Washington DC

Colm is a third year student of Environmental Science in Trinity College Dublin. He is passionately involved in environmentalism and broader student activism. He helped found and manage TCD Fossil Free, a group that successfully campaigned for fossil fuel divestment of Trinity’s Endowment Fund, and now strives to grow the divestment movement across Ireland. He also works with People & Planet, among other groups, to help build and foster a diverse and effective student activist network across the island of Ireland.


Colm Tong

Trinity College Dublin

Environmental Science

Work Placement
Fund for Peace

Host Family
Megan Donnelly

Date Published
June 18, 2017

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. In some ways, it has felt like it has gone by quickly, while at the same time I feel like I have been DC for what seems like a lifetime. Dark cloudy days of wet and windy Ireland are rapidly fading away into a distant memory, replaced by the ever-present humidity and oppressive sun of DC. I love it.

When I arrived, the smells, sights and sounds were startlingly foreign. The people too, came across distinctly un-Irish (I must admit I found this slightly humorous, especially considering how most people here claimed to be some part Irish). People here tend to be extroverted rather than the familiar Irish reservedness; well-enunciated accents replace the lyrically slurred half sentences I’m used to back home; and strange mannerisms and behaviours which would attract looks back in Ireland, go unnoticed by everyone around me. Now, I too, hardly bat an eye to it all.

After two weeks here, I am settling into something of a routine. I understand the metro system, I’m cycling on the right side of the road, I’m looking left and then right when crossing roads, and I have started eating Ben and Jerry’s ice cream when I get home from work. A true American. And still, maybe not. My accent is still often not understood, portion sizes still don’t make sense to me, or my belly, and I will never ever defer to the silly American English spell check that is currently operating on this Word Processor.

Regardless of how well I’m integrating and becoming accustomed to U.S. culture, there is no doubt in my mind: Washington is certainly changing me. The experiences and opportunities I am getting with the Washington Ireland Programme (notice not program) are too many to recount. And in some sense I don’t think any one of them is too important in the grand scheme of things. What is important, and for which I am extremely grateful, is the overall mindset altering, perspective broadening experience I am receiving. I find the more we can surround ourselves with novelty and difference, the more open and creative our mentality becomes. And with that comes a more supple mind to address the problems of our age. Whether these are problems of a personal nature or problems of the Anthropocene, a broadened mind can be no bad thing. The people I meet, the novel ideas I encounter and engage with, and the foreign environment of Washington DC, all benefit me in this regard.

I know with certainty that this programme will further empower me and drive me to become a more effective leader back home in my community. Whether that is on a local, national or global scale, I feel that being accepted onto WIP and being here in Washington has strengthened my resolve, and better equipped me to really make a difference.