The Washington Post

At the Capitol, seeing the world in American history

This story is one of four written by high school students who participated in The Washington Post’s 2011 Digital Workshop for Young Journalists, each with a corresponding video.

Every day is tourist season in Washington.

What may be humdrum to the local natives — the dull folds of flags, sweaty men in suits, shirtless joggers — all transform into something of majesty when seen through the eyes of a tourist.

What is not so majestic is a meal on the steps of Capitol Visitor Center after getting denied entrance because of the sandwiches and grapes in the bag.

“We’re having an early lunch,” Alice Hobin said as she handed her friend Don Sherk a sandwich. Her daughters, Aleii, 13, and Caroline, 12, stashed nail polish and water bottles – forbidden from the Capitol — behind the bushes and hope they would be there when they came back from the tour.

Sherk, a longtime D.C. resident, was acting as an unofficial tour guide for his visiting friends. He first met Hobin and her two daughters — “military brats,” as they call themselves — in Germany, where his wife and Hobin bonded over having both attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

When Alice decided to visit Sherk from her home near Raleigh, N.C., she had more in mind than a reunion.

“D.C. is full of history,” Alice said, listing out her planned stops for the day, including the Library of Congress and the National Museum of American History.

Alice said visiting D.C. would be “a great way for [her] girls to see the links of … how we got here, and the influence of Europe,” especially after spending a year in Europe and visiting more than 13 countries.

“The girls have been [in D.C.] three, four times already,” she said, “but every time we visit they pick up something new. Seeing it and coming and experiencing is a much more fascinating way to learn than just sitting and having someone tell you about it.”

Throughout their guided tour of the Capitol, Aleii and Caroline marvel at the new facts they learn: that the dome weighs 9 million pounds, that the Wright brothers are painted on the wall of the Rotunda and that North Carolina was one of the first 13 colonies. They also marvel at the cultural connections they found.

“It reminded me of the Vatican,” Aleii said of the Capitol’s rotunda, while Caroline noted that the Washington Monument reminded her of the many obelisks she had seen in Egypt.

“There are many, many cultures, and many, many opinions,” Alice said, “but what’s most important is that we come together as one, and that is important as a country and as a family.”

Although the frequent traveling and moving did take a toll on Aleii and Caroline, they recognized that their worldliness was fruit of their mother’s constant efforts to expose them to an array of cultures.

“We missed half a semester of school when we stayed in Germany,” Caroline said. “At first it was really bad for me. I was homesick and didn’t want to make friends, but it got better. It made me outgoing and self-sufficient.”

Alice Hobin, who said she spent her entire youth in the same small South Carolina town, said there was value in stability for kids, too.

“It gives children a great understanding of who they are and their roots,” Alice said.

Aleii, on the other hand, reflected that “lots of traveling has made [her] appreciate home and family.”


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