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Madeline Ellis Heads Northwest: An Enrichment Grant Blog

Madeline Ellis

Over spring break, Madeline took a trip with the University Scholars Program to the Pacific Northwest to visit Seattle, WA and Portland, OR. Read on to discover more about how she utilized an enrichment grant to help fund her travels and learning!


Over Spring Break I took a trip with the University Scholars Program to the Pacific Northwest to visit Seattle, WA and Portland, OR. I went into this trip with a little knowledge of Seattle, as I went when I was a kid, but knowing nothing about Portland. Now, I think I’m in love with the Pacific Northwest. I chose to go on this trip because I’d always wanted to see Portland, and I remembered so little about Seattle but I’d always been interested in both cities. I’m a big fan of the West Coast, and I wanted to take the opportunity to see a part of it that I hadn’t before. I think one of the most profound parts of the trip was being so close to bustling cities while also being right next to some beautiful nature, like the Puget sound and especially the Cascade Mountains. At one point we took an excursion to Discovery Park in Seattle, and despite the fact that the wind was whipping and it was starting to rain, the other scholars and I immensely enjoyed just getting to stand on the beach looking at a massive mountain just across the water, and we saw a sea lion! 

Another reason I chose to go on this trip was to explore and experience some of the Asian history and culture of the areas. In Seattle we stayed in a hostel in the heart of Chinatown and spent a good amount of time exploring the museums and restaurants there. I’ve never been to a Chinatown in any city, so it was a really culturally eye-opening experience. Speaking with locals was also very interesting and immersive, and I definitely feel like I have a better appreciation of Asian-American history and culture, and I also feel like I have a greater understanding of how that history still has impacts on modern society.One of our tour guides from the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience asked us, “Do you consider our history to be a part of yours? And if not, why do we have to consider your history ours?”. That question really made me think about the way I view my history and how that impacts my perception and understanding of other cultures and history that differ from my own. No one has ever posed the situation in that way, so it has definitely been something that has stuck with me.

Going into this experience I had two main personal goals for some self enrichment: I wanted to make more friends and I wanted to have a better understanding of Asian culture specifically in these areas. The former I absolutely accomplished! I met so many other amazing scholars on this trip from all sorts of backgrounds and all sorts of majors, so it was really cool to interact with and get to know them. I made some really good new friends, and I’m glad to have found them. Additionally, the cities were new to all of us, so getting to explore and experience them together was so much fun. We had so many conversations about our experiences and talked a lot about the history and culture we were learning about, and it was an amazing way to bond as well as to hear different perspectives on different issues. In regards to the second goal, as aforementioned I definitely have a deeper understanding of and appreciation for Asian cultures and history, and I feel much more educated on the issues this community faces today, and I have really come to understand that the discrimination and prejudices against the Asian community aren’t addressed nearly as much as they should be.

One thing that I wasn’t really prepared for was the homeless situation in both of these cities, mainly Seattle. I was aware that the rate of homelessness is extremely high in these areas, but I was very shocked seeing it firsthand. It wasn’t something we talked about much during or before the trip, and I wish we had. Homelessness is such an important issue, and it often gets pushed to the back of people’s minds. This could be for various reasons such as unawareness or general disregard, but it’s an issue that affects everyone. I did talk with some of the other scholars on the trip, and they also agreed that it would have been nice to address it or discuss it or maybe have even scheduled some community service during the trip just to make somewhat of an impact. Some of our conversations also opened my eyes to the complexity of the issue and how it affects different areas and people of different backgrounds. I think that’s one of the things that has stuck with me the most since this trip, and I’ve become much more aware of the issue itself and a proponent for affordable housing options as well as mental health and addiction treatment, particularly geared towards the homeless population. 

As aforementioned, interacting with fellow scholars on the trip allowed me to make friends and explore areas and topics with them in a new light. They also made the challenges of being in a big city a bit easier to bear. There were frequent times when we got to explore on our own in small groups, using the train and our feet to go wherever we wanted. That was kind of daunting, being allowed and able to explore such a big new area with so much freedom and so many options, it was overwhelming at times. After we got to know each other a little bit in the first day or two, we would go off in groups and everyone was so kind and accommodating when it came to choosing where to explore. It was also another good way to bond, as a good portion of the others shared similar sentiments. 

I think this experience allowed me to acquire and improve upon several skills which I can utilize in everyday life and my eventual career. I learned how to communicate and bond with people I don’t know very well, and being able to socialize like that will really help me make friends and interact with all sorts of people in Raleigh, and it’s something that will definitely help me in my future workplace when I’m surrounded by an entirely new and different community. On a similar note, exploring these areas has helped me think about where I want to physically be in the future, for graduate/medical school or for life in general. I absolutely fell in love with Portland, and although life fully on my own is still several years in the future, it’s definitely a place I’m considering living in. Lastly, as aforementioned a large part of the trip’s itinerary was created with cultural exploration and understanding in mind. I definitely returned home with a heightened appreciation and admiration for other cultures, and this sort of cultural sensitivity will serve me well when it comes to interacting with people from any sort of different background than my own. 


Beyond learning about and interacting with others, I learned a lot about myself. I honestly learned that I can be a very solitary and independent person. I enjoyed being around new people and doing things with them, but I also came to understand how content I can be with just myself. In the past, I have struggled with being alone and being happy doing things on my own. Going into this trip knowing no one, I was a bit scared, but it took a surprisingly short amount of time to realize just how much fun I still had doing things independently. I also feel a lot more prepared to face other challenges solo, because now I am confident that I can be content in that sort of situation.