The thing I understood after one day spent in D.C. was that living in the capital would not be cheap. I arrived on a Saturday at 4PM and when I got into my room, I realized I had two things to do: forget about the fact that it was 10PM in France and buy bed sheets and everything that could clean the sticky furniture and the disgusting toilets. I had $200 and I soon had to open a bank account with no money in it. After eating only turkey for five days, my bank account was refilled and I thought naively that those trouble were over.
After a month spent in D.C. it was worse. Yet, I am leaving in about a month and I have now drawn several conclusions that may be useful to future GW students.
1) Tell yourself cupcakes are disgusting: Believe it or not, you will have friends suggesting to go get cupcakes at least once a week, especially if you are a girl. You will have to be strong. And since cupcakes are so tempting, you will have to be even stronger. Tell yourself cupcakes are disgusting and will get you sick. It will help your diet too (yes, another problem with coming to the US: you will not get thinner). I found a very useful trick though: eat an awful cupcake, one you never ever wanted to eat. Then, convince yourself that all cupcakes taste the same. It works ! For about a month.
2) Do not listen to GW student saying “Let’s take a taxi”: Back in France, I lived one hour away from Paris and I had never taken a taxi in 20 years. At GW it seems that everybody is ready to waste $40 dollar to go somewhere that is either close or accessible by the metro. They always find an excuse: we would have to walk 10 minutes, it is not a safe place (which generally means it is not Foggy Bottom) or I have a bag to carry. Well, once again, be strong and convincing. I admit it is hard when you have a French accent but introduce yourself as a communist and briefly mention the Gulag and they’ll be much easier to convince.
3) Walk fast: Streets are tempting in Washington D.C. And if, like me, you are very vulnerable when you see a nice skirt or lovely boots, you will have no choice other than walking fast while looking at the ground. It may be difficult in Georgetown and this may cause you to bump into people but it is still the most efficient option I have found so far.
4) Don’t buy books in advance: No matter what people tell you, don’t buy your books too soon. There are several reasons why and I can list several scenarios that happened to me:
– There may be an error on the list (Let me tell you will not be glad when you learn that the second week of classes).
– The professor may decide that he won’t use the book (and he may decide that two weeks before the end of the semester. The bookstore may refuse to buy that book back from you. And you may have to throw it away because your suitcase is full in May when you have to come back home).
– You may find the book cheaper on Amazon (it’s always good to check).
– The book may be unnecessary (like a math textbook for journalist explaining how to add and divide numbers). I know I should not say that but if you have a small budget it is better not to waste money.
5) Do not plan trips at the last minute: I am unable to plan any trip in advance (which means more than a week before I actually leave). It may be possible in France but, really, don’t do this in the US. First, all your friends will have other plans by that time. It will be really hard to find a cheap hotel and your Megabus options will be significantly reduced. Yet, I am not saying that you should make an effort and force yourself to plan your trips in advance. On the contrary, invite one of your friends to join you in this trip, preferably someone very organized, and let this person organize everything. Of course, the necessary requirement is that you are both lazy and mean, which is not given to everybody.
7) Do not listen to professors, editors or anybody saying: “it is absolutely necessary”: One of the sentences I have heard the most since I arrived at GW is: “You will really need it”. Generally this is a lie. You will not need it and when you realize it, you will be absolutely furious. For instance, my photo teacher told us: “It is necessary to buy a tripod”. I used it once. In my head this equals: “I could have borrowed it from somebody else”. He also told us: “You need to sign up for an account on this website, it is about $20 a month.” We never used it. My personal experience leads me to give you one piece of advice: wait a couple of weeks before you decide whether it is actually necessary.
If you follow all these advice, life will still be expensive but at least you will not tell yourself that it is your fault, which is always good.