Monthly Archives: February 2012

New York: Part I

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In New York,

Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,

 There’s nothing you can’t do,

Now you’re in New York,

These streets will make you feel brand new,

The lights will inspire you,

Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York

I know you are singing right now. I mean, how can you not! I’ve been singing this song over and over again in my head for five hours…The five hours that took me away from Washington, DC and closer and closer to New York. Five hours, sitting on a bus, trying to fall asleep when all I could think about was New York, New York, New York…

Oh shoot, Oh my God, OH MY GOD! These are the exact words that I used when I set foot outside of the bus and looked up to face a huge building that had at least 50 floors. Of course, most of my friends made fun of me as, apparently, in Asian countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, buildings that are that tall are not uncommon. Well, excuse the humble Moroccan girl who’s never faced a building that was taller than 10 floors (except for the Twin Center that is quite near to where I live in Casablanca but still, it’s “only” 28 floors)! It was 5 AM when we got out of the bus. Yet, any of us could have sworn it was 7 or 8PM. People were everywhere, cars where everywhere…New York really is the city that never sleeps.

We walked for about one hour, heading towards the famous Times Square. One hour of pure amazement and admiration. I didn’t believe people when they told me that walking around New York’s streets is an attraction itself. But when I saw those lights, those buildings, the sun slowly rising up behind the skyscrapers…I can assure you that I forgot all about the fact that I was tired or that I didn’t sleep. I wanted to keep wandering around for the rest of the trip. I wanted to stay in New York for the rest of my stay in the US. Just one hour was enough to make me realize that I didn’t want to set foot again in DC. This is the United States of America that I’ve seen in movies, in TV shows or even just in pictures. This is the reason why I decided to come to the US at the first place.

Then Times Square… just a bunch of billboards and huge buildings and lights everywhere, but it’s Times Square! The place where the famous New Year’s Eve ball falls down. The place where you can feel that you are freer that ever. I wanted to stay there until the sun would fully shine on the city but we had to go to the apartment that we rented in order to check in and put there all of the heavy stuff that we were carrying with us. One surprise after the other, we realized that in order to get to the apartment (which was in Harlem by the way), we had to cross Central Park. Oh my God Central Park! I was actually inside Central Park! I really don’t know how to describe what I was feeling at that precise moment but all I can say is that watching the sun rise in Central Park in definitely a better deal than doing it in Times Square. Simply breathtaking! However, since we were in a rush, we finally decided to take the subway. I think that this is the worst experience that I’ve had in New York. I carry some bitter memories with New York’s public transportation system but I really don’t mind considering all the fun that I had in that magical place. I might say that the only good thing about the subway there is that it is extremely cheap compared to DC. Actually everything is cheaper in New York compared to DC (another reason why I didn’t want to come back, besides how boring DC is). Anyway, right after we settled down and put our stuff in the apartment, we headed directly to the number one thing that each one of us came to New York to see: the Statue of Liberty…

How an epidemic will kill GW (not the real George but his students)

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There it is: we have found a way to make hundreds of loud and rude college students inoffensive. It is not the most elegant way but it is efficient. An epidemic.

It started at the beginning of the week. You ate somewhere, you touched something and before you knew, you had it. You felt nauseated and after a couple of hours you received an email from the university:

“The George Washington University Student Health Service is currently seeing an increased number of students with gastrointestinal symptoms, most likely of a viral origin.”

“No. No. NOOO” is your first reaction. Now that you are facing the truth, you have to tell your friends you won’t be able to brunch with them tomorrow.

You continue reading the email:

“While symptoms can be uncomfortable, gastrointestinal illness is usually not serious and most people get better in one to two days.  There is no drug treatment or vaccine for gastrointestinal illness.”

Well, this is the polite equivalent of: “Don’t bother coming to see us. There is no cure. And we don’t want to get sick too”. Never mind, you are brave, you will bare the consequences of touching door handles irresponsibly. You will just go to sleep and hope you will not die in painful circumstances.

Wait. The email is not over:

“The university is working with the DC Department of Health and is currently awaiting the outcome of testing to determine the cause of the infections.  The university is also working to identify any commonalities in the cases at GW.  No single commonality has been identified to date.”

Are we talking about the plague? I am not even sure we have health service at my home university so an investigation about the causes of the epidemic seems a little bit disproportionate. If we think about it for a second, they are basically hiring people to find the cause of a disease that is not serious and for which there is no cure anyway.

They finally found the origin of the epidemic: it is a norovirus. That doesn’t help us much, but it is way more elegant than saying that you have gastrointestinal symptoms. Yet, during the next few days, you still see one friend after another being trapped in his or her room, like soldiers dying on the battlefield.

There are two possible scenarios now:

1) People will get better, fewer and fewer will get sick and life will be happy and healthy again.

2) This is the beginning of the end of the world foreseen in 2012.

Right now, it’s 50-50 given that every office at GW has turned paranoiac and is cleaning every inch touched by a student. But let’s not be pessimistic, if we survived the bird flu, we will probably survive the norovirus.

One day in Philadelphia

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Philadelphia…Whoever created that city created a place where I had one of the most amazing days I’ve had since I came to the US.  The weather was awful, most of the places we wanted to visit were closed and finding the right place where to eat the legendary cheese steak was a long and painful journey. However, my mind is now full of unique memories and it is only because I had the chance to go there with the most amazing group of people someone can meet. But I’m getting ahead of myself! Let me give you a detailed description of my day in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

At 6:45 AM sharp, my friends and I all met at the Foggy Bottom metro station. It was freezing (actually, I thought it was freezing but it wasn’t until later during the day that I discovered the real meaning of the word “freezing”), everybody was both excited and incredibly sleepy and we were running late since our bus was leaving in less than 30 minutes. Therefore, we chose the safest solution and took a cab to Union Station. As soon as we were on that bus, comfortably seated (seriously, those seats are incredibly comfortable!) and in a warm environment, every single one of us fell asleep, forgetting for a couple of hours about the excitement the trip was causing us and surrendering to the sweet call of Morpheus’ arms. After we arrived and had a nice breakfast in some cozy diner (best waffles ever!), we all went to see the famous Liberty Bell. We all had heard about it from different TV Shows or American friends as it is a big part of the American history. So, we all were expecting some kind of huge bell with this crack that has such an exciting story behind it. However, we ended up seeing a fairly sized bell with a crack that has absolutely no “deep” meaning behind it. But still, we saw the Liberty Bell! We weren’t as ignorant to the American history as we were half an hour before. Anyway, we then went to discover the Independence Hall and learned more and more about the American history. However, it was ironic to see that 90% of the people visiting those same places were actually Americans. This made me realize that Philadelphia is more of a city where Americans can learn about their own history rather than a place that tourists can visit. However, I still was happy to learn more about my host country’s history.

Anyway, right after Independence Hall, we were all really excited to go see the US mint! At least, we were excited up until the moment we realized that it was closed for renovations and was not going to be open again until summer (in other words, after our departure from the country). However, we weren’t going to let this news ruin our day. We took the metro (which is by the way a lot more efficient than the one in DC) and headed towards 15th street where we were supposed to find the best cheese steak in the country. Turns out the cheese steak places were located on 9th Street. It was getting colder and colder but our motivation was stronger than anything else. We ate what turned out to be a delicious sandwich and headed to see the last and most important thing: the Rocky Stairs!

We couldn’t feel our legs anymore, we wanted to sleep and it was now snowing. But Rocky was waiting for us (or at least its statue)! We walked for an hour and finally saw the legendary stairs. I personally couldn’t believe we finally made it. So, we all ran those stairs, feeling stronger than ever. At the top, one of the most wonderful views that I’ve ever seen was facing us. We took some pictures and headed back to the metro station. However, the snowflakes started to fall faster and faster and the temperature was now 25 degrees (Fahrenheit of course!). So, after we had a hot coffee while we were waiting for the snow to stop, we did the most childish thing ever: snow fight! Turns out our dear Singaporean friends had never seen snow before (who knew it was always summer in Singapore!). For a few minutes, everyone forgot how cold it was, how far away from home we were or how hard each one of us missed his/her family. For a few minutes, we just let go. We received freezing snow balls right on the face, we fell, we smiled and we laughed. These few minutes were absolutely magical.

However, those few minutes almost cost us our ride back to DC. We were too busy playing and forgot that we had a bus to catch! Thank God though; we made it to the bus station exactly 3 minutes before its departure. Was the snow fight worth the risk of spending the night in the freezing train station of Philadelphia? Definitely!

Utopian World…

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Five courses, five different professors and five different vibes… this is how I am spending my exchange semester at George Washington University. This is how I spent all of the previous semesters at Al Akhawayn University. However, even though the system is the same in both my home and host universities, the learning style not only varies from AUI to GWU, it even varies from one professor to another. Both AUI and GWU offer courses in English with professors from all around the world with different teaching methods and various skills in specific fields. Therefore, if despite all of these similarities I can still feel that there is a big difference between the two universities, it must be because it is mainly due to the different cultures and not only the different learning environments.

Let’s start by one major difference between AUI and GW before specifically discussing the difference between the classes. Even though both universities have amazing campuses, they are completely and a hundred percent different. GW’s campus is impressively huge. It has so many buildings with a minimum of five floors each and these buildings are spread out around Foggy Bottom’s area. If I want to go to class and be there on time, I would need to leave my room at least fifteen minutes earlier if the classroom is in a building nearby. Sometimes, I need less time (because I run!) and other times I need more time (either because I wear heels, because the building is located in some distant street or because I need to take a bus to actually reach the location of the classroom). The campus is located right in the middle of the city, the streets are full of cars at any moment of the day and there are actually traffic lights inside the campus. In other words, anybody can walk in or out of the campus since there is no actual difference between GW’s buildings and any other building nearby (except for the dorms for which you we actually need a card to be authorized to come in). Campus is just a word used that infers to the university as a whole instead of a closed area where only GW students, faculty or staff can be found.

On the other hand, AUI’s campus is pretty small compared to GW’s one. Its buildings have between one and four floors and they are all pretty close to each other. You could easily walk through the whole campus in less than fifteen minutes. It usually takes me five minutes to get to the classroom (when wearing heels!) and the only way you can be inside the campus would be for you to be a student, a faculty member or a staff working within the university. The university campus is a closed area where students can be sure that no stranger can come in. Therefore, even if university is about becoming adults and responsible of ourselves, parents always make sure that their children are in a perfectly secured place where there isn’t the slightest chance of something bad happening. As for the courses, attendance is mandatory and each student who fails to meet a certain amount of classes fails the entire course. So, even if attendance represents only a small portion of the final grade and students are supposed to be able to make their own choices, being absent for more than seven classes means failing. Assignments are usually just a way for the professors to torture their students and midterms and finals have percentages as high as 30 and 35 percent.

In George Washington University, there is no such thing as failing a course because of attendance. Professors assign a certain percentage of the grade to attendance and the more absences the student has, the more that percentage comes closer to zero. Some sections contain so many people (up to 200 students) that attendance is not even part of the final grade. Each student is responsible for his own choices and decisions. Assignments and projects represent a big chunk of the final grade and have usually the same weight (if not a bigger one) as a midterm or final. In other words, the university offers to the student an endless amount of resources and it is up to the student to decide what he/she wants to do with them.

These differences may seem somehow superficial, but for a student who needs to adapt to a new system for five months and then go back again to the previous one, they can be tricky. However, as I said previously, those differences between AUI and GWU actually reflect the part of the differences between Morocco and the United States of America. While Morocco is a very collectivist country, the US is more of an individualistic one. The ideal would be to have a mix between those two characteristics and live in a world where Morocco, the US and any other country of the planet learn from the differences that make this world so unique. Unfortunately, that would be dreaming about a utopia that will never happen.

Icelandic Music – Part III

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Okay, fine! I’ll admit it, I completely lost track of these groups that I initially made up. This one is supposed to be “rock,” but honestly the bands I have left are way more diverse than that. Woe is me! My solution in this case will be to simply modify the group name a bit. Please don’t send me angry letters, such as the example provided below:

“Dear Thor. I was casually going through my regular schedule of rummaging through the depths of the interweb when I stumbled onto your blog. “Oh dear me,” I thought, “what a delight! Rock is indeed my favorite genre of rhythmic tonal contraptions.” My delight was short-lived. You can scarcely imagine my utter despair when I discovered the extents of your fallacies. For several dark minutes, I stared into the bleak, piercing eyes of the beast that is “Lack of proper categorization of musical genres.” For this crime against humanity, I thoroughly hope your day will be bad. Also I hope you bump into a low coffee table, and hit your shin really hard.

Sincerely,

Ned.

I made that up, but I feel like those guys are always named Ned. Just like all the bros, that fist bump and wear their caps backwards, are all named Jeff. Ned is the kind of guy who reads the news with the sole intention of finding grammatical errors, just so he can send the editors angry emails about it. This particular Ned, I imagine, also owns a cat. The cat is equally arrogant. Let’s commence.

Part III – Rock and other music with sounds

Agent Fresco

Agent Fresco is part prog-rock and part alt-rock, with heavy influences from jazz and funk, and a characteristic polyrhythmic style. That’s a mouthful, I know, but listen to their debut album through and it will all make perfect sense. If you end up going to the Iceland Airwaves music festival someday (which of course you all are), I cannot stress how important it is that you see these guys live. Their songs are so instantly catchy that without exception the crowd will start singing along with the chorus. Not just the few old guys that got too drunk at Burnt out Classic Rock Band concerts and annoyingly blurt out the lyrics, but literally the whole crowd. I’ve seen them many times, and as great as the big, loud concerts are, my favorites are the acoustic ones they do off-venue each year at Iceland Airwaves. They go all-out on the acoustic thing, even abandoning microphones.

If you end up giving any of the bands I’ve mentioned a try, I really hope you pick Agent Fresco. Find their album (gogoyoko.com is a great place to start), listen to it all the way through and then tell me what you think. Listen to the transition from hard, rhythmic prog-rock to slow, hauntingly beautiful piano ballads. If you don’t like this, you’re probably broken. I hope you kept the receipt.

As much as this will probably push some people away, I’ll also include a video of them playing a song at Iceland Airwaves 2011. Notice how the crowd responds and takes part in the song towards the end. That’s amazing.

Hjaltalín

Hjaltalín draws its influences from many genres, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just call them indie. The band is fronted by a strong male/female vocal duo, the male singer being the charismatic Högni (previously mentioned in relation to Gus Gus). This post is getting way to long, so I’ll just let the music speak for this one. This is Hjaltalín performing with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra in 2010.

Of Monsters and Men

You might actually have heard this band on the radio without noticing it. Their song, Little Talks from their debut album My Head is an Animal, has gained popularity fantastically fast. No wonder, really, it’s ridiculously catchy. They’ve been described as the Icelandic Mumford and Sons and even “the new Arcade Fire” in the Rolling Stone Magazine. Big words, certainly, but not far off. The songs are big, fun and the kind of catchy that just impregnates your mind with humming for days on end.

Notable mentions

Hjálmar

It’s an Icelandic reggae band. They’re fantastic. There’s really nothing more to say about this one. They have a big repertoire of fantastic songs, but the one I’ve included below is one of my all-time favorites. It’s one of those songs that make me want to sit in the dark with my headphones on, just swaying my head along with the rhythm.

Mammút

Mammút is a young, mostly female band. What definitely sets them apart is the eccentric, strong vocal style of the lead singer.

I am going crazy here!

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Note: this article is meant to be humoristic and not at all offensive. I do know that difference is what makes the beauty of the world and I am happy I was able to experience (and adapt to) what makes the US such a unique country.

Just like any other girl in the world, I like taking care of myself. I like knowing that the external image that I project to people reflects my inner personality. So, just like any other girl in the world, I regularly and closely monitor my weight.  Therefore, yesterday, as I was getting ready to take a shower, I noticed a new item in the bathroom, something that my roommate had bought without realizing that she was bringing me both my best friend and my worst enemy:  a bathroom scale. Both excited and worried, I stood on it hoping that the previous month that I spent in the US would have magically helped me lose some weight. Instead, horror! The scale was displaying a three numbers’ weight! I knew I couldn’t possibly be 150 kilograms. So, I decided to do my own little investigation on the web. This is how I discovered that everything about the United States is different.  This is when I realized that there is a secret clash between the US’ and the rest of the world’s standards.

The whole world uses the gram and the kilogram as a measure of weight. Well, the US decided that it was too common and would rather use the ounce and the pound.  And while the rest of the world considers the kilogram to be 1000 grams, the United States finds it easier to use the pound which is 16 ounces. The logic is different but I figured “Hey, who am I to judge”? I decided that it wasn’t such a bad thing after all. I would just have to adapt for the four months remaining in here. I was particularly happy though to realize that 150 pounds meant that I lost a couple kilograms. However, surprises kept coming at me from everywhere. I found out that US people don’t do meters and kilometers, they prefer to use inches, feet and miles. And while once again the number 1000 is the magical number to convert from meters to kilometers, the American calculations are a little bit more elaborate. 1 foot actually equals 12 inches, 1 yard equals 3 feet and 1 mile equals 1760 yards. Why? Can somebody please explain to me how people can come up with such complicated calculations instead of simply being like the rest of the world? Don’t you people like the number 1000?

Anyway, just when I thought that my nightmare was over, I realized I actually had to change my conception of temperature too if I wanted to survive in the United States. I am literally freezing here when it is 30 while I am almost burning in Morocco.  So, what is the difference now? Well, I found out (without any surprise anymore) that while the rest of the world uses Celsius degrees, the Americans thought that using Fahrenheit would be better. But the problem here is that I don’t simply need to adapt, I actually need to change every single concept that I’ve learned in physics. My whole childhood now is upside down. I’ve been taught throughout my whole life that water freezes at 0 degrees and evaporates at 100. Well now, I have to somehow put in my head that water freezes at 32 degrees and evaporates at 212. What is that?  Why? Where is the logic? Show me the logic. I need the logic! I want my zero and ones! Give me my zeros and ones!

In addition, as if this was not enough to turn a sane person into a completely crazy one, I had to adapt to another thing, something that makes absolutely no sense wherever you go in the world except in the United States. Why do you people write the date starting by the month? DD/MM/YYYY! That is how it works. This is how I do it, how the rest of the world does it, but Americans simply don’t do it! What is wrong with having the same norms and standards everywhere we go? It’s hard enough we have to adapt with a different culture wherever we go in the world let alone changing our whole mathematical, physical and logical concepts. I’m going crazy here!

Fortunately, today, I was supposed to watch a normal American football match. I knew it was a national event here because everybody would watch it regardless of the age or the gender. So, this would be my dose of “normal stuff”. I start watching the game and… wait what? They are wearing helmets? They are using their hands? What is that? This is NOT football! Football is by definition about using your FEET not your hands! Where on GOD’s earth is the logic here? The worst part is discovering that what the rest of the world calls football is called here “soccer”. It’s enough Americans don’t want to be like the rest of the world, but don’t you people dare change the name of my country’s national sport! You guys are a hopeless case…

College Sports (from a skeptical point of view)

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Two weeks ago I went to my first GW basketball game. I had missed the first ten or more games because of papers, cold weather and… lack of motivation. But I finally decided I needed to go, mainly because my roommate told me it was probably the last game “our” team would win.

Of course I was late as usual so I missed the very beginning of the game. Yet, I did stay until the end so I was able to draw a few conclusions:

1)    You’d better not play at another university: After 5 minutes of games, the cheering and booing gave me a sense of the unbalanced situation: 95% of the people who came to see the game were for GW, the last 5% were for the other team. You could easily do the math: the other team was going to have a hard time. In the last minutes of the game, I was even for the other team because I felt sympathy for them. When the “enemies” tried to make a shot, everybody was yelling and making noise so that they would fail. When GW was making a shot, everybody was silent except for the 5%. And if they tried to make some noise, the 95% would start yelling at them.

2)    GW loves t-shirt: Not much to say about that except I had never seen so many people wearing yellow and blue t-shirts in the same room.

3)   George Washington is a little bit scary: Even though I have a problem with the name of the team being “colonials” considering… what it means, I’ve always thought the George Washington mascot was rather cool. Yet, at the game, he became a little bit scary, raising his fist and doing some foot tapping or something of the sort.

4)    It is hard for a feminist to watch cheerleaders: I tried to be opened to my friend’s arguments that there were some male cheerleaders but I am still skeptic. First, why do they change clothes three times a game? Second, it is hard to see men play and girls dance, no matter how you try not to perceive this as sexist.

5)    College sport makes people really aggressive: I was not surprised by the aggressiveness because people can get really passionate at soccer games in France too. Still, some people take the game really seriously. Maybe my perception is biased by the fact that I had a very angry supporter right behind me who kept kicking my seat and yelling insults at the other team. Yet, I think I will probably never understand the stakes in college basketball and to be honest I didn’t really care about who was going to win.

6)    At a basketball game, you have to deserve food: $4 a slice of pizza, seriously? This may be a strategy to fight against overweight but at 8:30 I started to be really hungry and a dilemma came to me: do I pay $1 for a bite of pizza or do I starve myself to death (that is to say until 9:30)?

7)    You can here “Billie Jean” played by a band (which doesn’t happen often): Some might say you haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Michael Jackson song played by saxophones, trumpets and other wind-related instruments. I don’t want to oversell it so I am just going to say that Michael Jackson himself would not have done better.

8)    I still don’t understand the part when guys danced with bayonets