When I was 14 years old, I went abroad for the first time in my life. I was touring Western Europe with an American youth orchestra. When I got off the plane in Brussels in my bright red blazer I knew I was not at home. I had been playing the cello for about five years and I was still not great at it, but there I was. I felt very alone, so far from home for the first time. Surrounded by strangers in strange lands with strange food and stranger customs, I would wander the streets practicing my ninth-grade French with un-amused Frenchmen. I felt so different and isolated. Yet this would change in a second at a particular concert in Paris. It so happened that we were in the capital of France on Bastille Day. Onstage, the lights were lit so that I could see the audience. In the middle of the concert, we began to play a medley from Les Misérables. Looking out into the audience I noticed that a few of the audience members were clapping along with the music. At that moment I realized how incredibly powerful my music was. Yes, it was a poor arrangement of a French musical. Yes, the quality of my performance was questionable at best. Yet I realized that I was communicating with people with whom I could not even speak for the first time. I could convey abstract emotions of love, mourning, and glee without saying a word and they would completely understand. From that moment on I became fascinated by international relations—how people interact and how we are all humans deep down who feel the same feelings. I am not a professional musician. I do not even play the cello anymore. But without that experience nearly 10 years ago, I would not be sitting in a graduate school in Washington, DC learning Arabic and studying international relations. I would not have worked so hard to finally become proficient in French. My public high school was lucky enough to have a music program while I was there—it is gone now. Without that program I would have never been exposed to different cultures at such a young age. My life as a scholar of international relations is a testament to how very important music education can be for a young person. That public school music programs lose their funding is heartbreaking to me. Every child should have the opportunity to feel as connected to the world as I did in those short moments at a concert in France.
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