On 3rd January, 34 Upper Sixth Formers travelled from the stormy Heathrow airport to a dim and surprisingly quiet JFK airport in New York. Travelling by bus and passing by some of the most famous landmarks in the world, we arrived at the heart of American tourism and cultural vibrance, Times Square, where we would be staying for our three days in the city. After an amusing evening at a ‘seafood’ restaurant near the incredible Times Square billboards, we rested up for a busy day ahead.

Our first visit was to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the origins of immigration in America, which still evoke feelings of prosperity and freedom today. The great halls of Ellis Island, where thousands of immigrants would be processed every day, held an unparalleled sense of gravitas. The few belongings that immigrants brought to America from all over the world displayed how much individuals were willing to sacrifice in the hope of the new life that America could provide.

Our next visit was a trip to the New York Stock Exchange, a place of great significance not only because it is invite-only to visitors but also very different from many of the other landmarks we visited. Hearing firsthand from traders about their daily operations was insightful for many and inspired discussions later in the day about future careers. Apparently, meeting the traders was reminiscent of a certain movie in which Leonardo DiCaprio plays the lead role, but I could never comment.

Next, we had an emotional visit to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, which had unforgettable scenes of wreckage and havoc. It was both heartbreaking and inspiring to hear the stories of the brave service people who lost their lives trying to help those escaping the Twin Towers, as well as the passengers onboard United Airlines Flight 93 who tried to regain control of the aircraft. Personally, the photography exhibitions on the aftermath of the September 11 attacks are some of the most evocative I have ever seen.

On a lighter note, that evening we headed to Madison Square Garden to watch the San Antonio Spurs fight it out against the home team, the New York Knicks. While there were some questionable music choices from the DJ, we had plenty of fun watching a game that most of us had never seen before. De-fense.

The highlight of the next day was a trip to the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Passing through the grand committee chambers, in which hundreds of delegates have sat to decide on the most important issues in the world, ranging from climate change to economic development, was inspiring for many, and accompanied by a very experienced tour guide, we were bound to have an educational experience. Shout out to Rose for sitting in the Secretary-General’s chair in the General Assembly.

Taking the short journey to the capital of the United States, Washington, D.C., we were surprised by the completely different atmosphere it provided. Refined and commanding, the sense of importance was omnipresent. Starting off in the middle of the Washington Mall, we were between the Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial, with plenty more surrounding us.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture was fascinating. Not only did it remind us of the history of slavery globally and the importance of civil-rights movements and their courageous leaders, it led with pride and optimism in representing the great achievements of many African Americans in science, mathematics, music, politics, and much more.

Our further visits to Capitol Hill, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives, where the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights are held, were insightful and educational experiences on the history of modern Western democracy and the fundamental principles that have led us to prosperity.

The visit to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum further caught the hearts of many Cranleighans, reminding us of the dangers of violent extremism and, in turn, the benefits of greater empathy and fraternity within society.

Overall, the New York and Washington, D.C., trip was an unforgettable experience, with countless memories of fun and laughter, as well as inspiration and curiosity. There was a great balance between structure and free time, which allowed us to explore the immense variety of cuisine available and do some shopping. It has certainly convinced me to visit the cities again, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one from our group.