Valeria Leal Serna | CIIP 2023 Blog Portfolio

Orientation Week

What challenged me about orientation was stepping out of my comfort zone in several different ways. I was challenged with finding a new routine, with orientation being outside of my usual summer schedule. I was challenged to think about my privilege all throughout the week by listening to the presentations about Baltimore and its history. But most importantly, for me, I was challenged with finding a balance between engaging in conversation and actively listening. This week, we were encouraged to step back and listen more than we talked. I consider myself a talker, and sometimes it can mean conversations turn one-sided. So allowing myself to listen more turned out to be a very rewarding experience, as I learned different perspectives on how my peers viewed Baltimore, their placements, and their undergraduate experience at Hopkins. Something I particularly enjoyed about orientation was the people. Our peer mentor group (Go Sippers/Natty Borioles!) was the smallest one and I think that helped us get to know each other better and build a strong relationship by the end of orientation. I also enjoyed learning about Baltimore’s history and loved the encouragement from the program to pop our Hopkins bubble and acknowledge the beauty and flaws of the city we call home. I look forward to keep practicing what we learned throughout the summer and continue finding ways of connecting with the city and its people.


Week 1

Going into my first week of working with my placement, the Black Church Food Security Network, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. My days are not a traditional 9-5, and my daily tasks vary from day to day and usually depend on upcoming events for the network. As someone that runs and swears by a daily routine with timestamps, this made me a little bit nervous looking at the week ahead. But now reflecting on the last couple of days, I realize that letting go of such a strict routine and being open to things happening was the best decision I could have made since it allowed me to participate in experiences that highlighted the issue of food apartheid in Baltimore City.
One of them was the “Bread for the World” summit in Washington D.C that BCFSN was invited to attend on Monday June 12 and Tuesday 13, 2023. And the other one was the tabling event at Brown’s Advisory on Thursday 14, 2023. At the summit, several political and faith leaders gathered to discuss the farm bill and bring their concerns to Capitol Hill, hoping to meet with people that could encourage a change. And at the tabling event, I had the opportunity to meet Black-owned organizations and startups that had taken an initiative towards expanding the demographic of small-owned businesses here in Baltimore. As inspirational as both events were, it also made me reflect on the impact that food apartheid has had in Baltimore for decades and even generations. It was truly moving to meet people that were so passionate about what they did, and inspiring to hear about what they hoped to accomplish in the future.
I’m looking forward to continuing having these experiences and immersing myself in the different perspectives of our community.

Week 2

A typical day at the Black Church Food Security Network does not exist. Some days I might be up at 6 am, rushing out the door to catch the train to DC, and other days I might be staying home, attending meetings, and working on sending emails to people. Initially, I was a little scared about not having a set routine or not knowing what I would be doing until the day of. Whenever I heard other people in the program talk about their 9-5s, their workspace, and how set their hours and jobs were, I felt like I was somehow missing out.
At the beginning of the internship, one of my supervisors told me, “Take advantage of the easy days, rest up, because when it’s easy, it’s easy. But not all weeks will be like that.” I did not know what she meant, until Thursday evening when we set out for Atlanta, GA. Until Thursday, I had had a pretty relaxed schedule – a couple of morning meetings, then just remote work for the rest of the day. But Atlanta was completely different. It was an early morning followed by a meeting with local farmers and the state Senator. Then, a quick visit to Ebenezer Baptist Church and MLK’s burial site. And finally, a walk around some HBCUs, a stop for food, and then rush back to the airport to barely make it on time for our flight back to Baltimore (I was the second to last person to board. I think I set a running PR trying to make it to my gate.)
Reflecting on this week, I realize how amazing it is for my internship to be different and to have the freedom to travel and meet incredible people. It also allows me to keep exploring my self-growth, which would so much more difficult if I was jailed by a strict routine. I’ve enjoyed what I do and the surprises each day bring, all due to the atypical nature of my work schedule. Next week, we will be traveling once again, but now to New Orleans to participate in the Essence festival. I write this nervous, yet excited and cannot wait to see what each day will bring.

Week 3

I think this week was amongst one of the most exhausting weeks of my life. Traveling, prepping materials, the weather, feeling like an outsider at times, the events – it was very easy to feel overwhelmed at times. I was nervous, yet excited and very eager to see what NOLA and Essence had in store for us.

The first half of the week wasn’t super difficult. We arrived late on Monday, so Tuesday was more of like settling-into-the-city kind of day, with a tabling event at Xavier University. Wednesday and Thursday were spent preparing for Essence and making sure that our booth and all the giveaways samples were ready to go. The fun began on Friday, when we arrived at the festival at around 9am and opened our booth. The festival itself took place in the New Orleans Convention Center, a massive space that hosted all of the vendors, sponsors, smaller-events and talents, etc. It was easily a mile-ish walk from the entrance to our booth, which was closer to the back of the convention center. And there was SO MUCH happening at any time: The first day, Kamala Harris gave a speech in the upstairs auditorium, Flo Milli performed almost right next to our booth, and we connected with lots of people that stopped by. The event ended at 5pm, we wrapped up, and I remember feeling so physically exhausted I thought that I was not gonna be able to get all the way back to the Airbnb without dropping somewhere in the middle. But there were still two days to go.The following two days went by a little bit quicker, but still felt as exhausting as the first one. I don’t struggle to talk to people, but I’m not necessarily a people’s person. Anyone that has worked a tabling event knows that it takes a lot to give the same peppy talk over and over again for 8 hours, sometimes without any actual breaks. It took a lot from me, and I feel very proud of my team and I to have done it quite successfully. The last day, my supervisors surprised me with tickets to the evening concert series which featured artists like Salt-n-Pepa, TEMS, Wiskid, Lil Wayne and Megan Thee Stallion. I was jumping up and down with excitement when I got the news. And on Monday, my family took an impromptu trip and surprised me in New Orleans, so I got to spend a wonderful morning with my family.

Needless to say, Essence and NOLA were an incredible experience. It was such a bittersweet feeling to leave the city behind, as I felt like it was witness to another chapter of personal growth in my book of living. Which leaves me to discuss my goals: At the beginning of the summer my main goal was that I wanted to feel like I was making an impact with this internship. And so far, the events and experiences have aligned perfectly with that. I think about the people that I have connected with because of BCFSN, the experiences I have had, and the growth I have done and it feels like something.


Week 4

Amongst the many things I have learned in the last couple of weeks in my placement, here are the key takeaways:
-People have different priorities that can greatly differ from mine
I value time and order a LOT. Maybe a little too much, according to those close to me. I’ll always try to have my day outlined or planned out as much as possible before it even starts. Spontaneity and I are frenemies, but more often than not I do not like to leave opportunity to chance. However, I have learned that this is not the case for everyone. My supervisor, for instance, is a very go-with-the-flow person and has taught me that not everything in life needs a strict routine and quiet times are okay. It has taken me a little bit of time to welcome that perspective and put it into practice, but it has allowed me to be more mindful of what other people value.
-Academic intelligence is not the only or the most significant form of intelligence.
At Hopkins, everyone is book-smart and this makes it easy to forget that other types of intelligence are equally as valuable as academics. At my placement, I have met people that have allowed experience and life to pave the way for their knowledge. Who cherish their day-to-day life as a lesson. I have found those conversations as the most enriching and soul-nourishing I have had in a long time. (One of the farmers I met in Atlanta has in their Instagram bio “Worms have wisdom & insight. JUST LISTEN”)
How will I use it as I navigate life in pursuit of my goals:
I hope this helps me become more aware that people grow and progress in different ways. Welcoming those perspectives will help me value how I navigate my day-to-day, future jobs, and life.