Monthly Archives: February 2013

GW students, brace yourselves… Mid-terms are coming

Standard

Everybody must have noticed that Gelman has become the busiest place on campus. The reason is simple – midterm exams are close and students are submitting a lot of papers these days. For most of us, classes involve more than just the lively discussions we have been having during the first weeks of the semester. It has become quite a stressful period of time. However, even in light of this information, I can still praise the classes and the learning environment generally.

I cannot possibly express how grateful I am to all the professors at George Washington University. All of the them are willing to help anytime and are never annoyed or bothered by our questions. In contrast to my home university, they all want to make sure we are doing our best, are curious about our work, and interested in its progress. Taking courses from two different departments – English and Woman Studies – showed me that it is the University code, not the departmental one.

Quite a new experience for me is having teaching assistants in our classes. Again, I think it is a great idea. They are mostly PhD students, therefore one is less intimidated to approach them. Moreover, it makes professors more relaxed since the assistants are very helpful to them as well. Mostly it means that the professors do not have to worry about some technical issues, and thus can fully concentrate on the class and discussions.

Outside of class it is crucial to find a good spot for studying. The above mentioned Gelman library, located just two blocks from my residence hall, is certainly very helpful, mostly because it is open 24 hours a day all week long. Starbucks (“Gelbucks” in the campus slang) situated right next door is open all day long as well; one can certainly use a cup of joe, when finishing a paper the night before it is due (unfortunately, I know what I am talking about). Other than the hours, Gelman’s main advantage is the possibility to reserve a small study room for yourself and your friends in advance. This is what I have found very useful. You are not disturbed by others and at the same time you don’t have to be afraid of disturbing them, when talking to your friends. When encountering any troubles, you can always talk to a person in charge, most of them are very nice and willing to help despite the late hours. After spending a night in Gelman writing a paper, I recommend printing it right there in the library, so that a tangible proof of your accomplishment is in your hands and makes stepping out to the empty street awaiting the sunrise more pleasant.

I believe I am not the only one who is counting the days to Spring Break. This has been a couple of stressful days and some more are to come. However, when finishing the work and having it marked, you can tell the effort pays. But I guess that this is quite a universal aspect of studying.

Advertisements

Happy 281th Birthday!

Standard

February 22nd marks a very important day in my history book, it is not only the birthday of the 1st president of the United States, but it is the first time that I laid eye on what the Americans call “s’mores”.bonfire

Gathering around a bonfire, in honor of Mr. President, I was handed a s’mores pack that come with no instructions. However with a stick, one marshmallow, two graham crackers and a piece of chocolate there really was no instruction needed. Observing the people around me, I began toasting my marshmallows and then unwrapping a piece of Hershey chocolate and putting it all in between the two graham crackers. However, my first attempt at making s’mores was not so successful, a little birdie forgot to tell me that I was supposed to use the two graham cracker to pull the marshmallows out, instead of trying to do that with my own hands. So yeah, quite messy, but it was honestly delicious! Definitely going to load up on graham cracker as I’m leaving so I can make some in Egypt. After the excitement over the s’mores dozed off, we were now ready for the apple cider.

S'mores

S'more

S’mores!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again a totally new drink for me, apple cider is what the Americans and Canadians call a warm unsweetened, non-alcoholic beverage made from apples. I was not a big fan of that drink myself; it was a bit too sour for my liking. After the drinks and s’mores it was time for Mr. President’s birthday cake! A scrumptious vanilla cake with vanilla flavored icing and the words “Happy Birthday George Washington” written on the top, was devoured within minutes. After the food was done, the “Freemason” group at GW performed a small chant. I was a little confused. What happened to singing to big G? What happened to blowing out the candles? So I was left singing the words to Happy Birthday to our 281-year-old president in my head. I guess because it was beginning to rain outside they had to cut the celebrations short, and unfortunately we missed out on the pie eating contest.

Well whether rain or shine, we were still able to celebrate George Washington’s birthday! S’mores you sure did earn a spot on my favorite desserts list here in the US!

Celebrating George Washington’s Birthday

Standard

One aspect of America that has always been clear to me, but emphasized since I’ve been in DC, is the pride it has in it’s past. No more so than the pride it has in it’s Founding Fathers and the documents they wrote that set the course for the country the United States has become.

On Friday it was George Washington’s 281st Birthday, and to celebrate the day GWU had organized a free trip to his Mt. Vernon estate and gardens on the Potomac River, around 40 minutes from campus. 40 or so years after General Washington passed away, the Washington family went to Congress, asking them to buy the property, as the family could not maintain it. Congress refused, but the Mt. Vernon Ladies’ Association was formed by a group of women who saw the need to preserve General Washington’s home and to this day they own and manage the Estate. Over 80 million people have visited the Estate since 1860, when it was first opened to the public.

Washington's homestead

Mt. Vernon sits on a beautiful part of the Potomac, with the Mansion itself looking across the river to a National Park in Maryland. The Estate, including formal and informal gardens, Mansion, outbuildings, woods and farmland is kept as it would have been during Washington’s lifetime.  There was even a man in character as a gardener in the Conservatory when we were wandering the gardens! I gather in the summer there are may more people in character  around the property. Their attention to historical accuracy is so detailed that currently they are restoring the formal dining room in the mansion because they have discovered there was a slight error with the wallpaper borders they had previously. Gardens at Mount Vernon

Though the weather was a little gloomy and grey, it was lovely to wander the grounds and see a place where history was made. A guide in the Mansion told us they planned the Battle of Yorktown in the dining room currently being restored, and the banister we held as we walked up the stairs has been touched not just by Washington himself, but by other founding fathers like Jefferson and Adams.

The central activity of the afternoon at Mt. Vernon was at his Tomb, adjacent to the unmarked graves of the slaves who worked there, and the more recent plaque acknowledging those graves, in the middle of some of the woodland. GW students were able to participate in a special “wreath laying ceremony,” in commemoration of General Washington’s birth, life, and death. As well as an introduction by an Assistant Curator there (a GW alumni too), we had students read the pledge of allegiance, and General Washington’s prayer and a member of the GW faculty lay the wreath within the Tomb.

It was a peaceful moment, along the banks of the Potomac River, remembering a man who died so long ago, whose legacy lives on not just in the story of GWU, or of DC, but in the story of America more generally.

After the bus trip home, I made a quick visit to the Bonfire at U-Yard in commemoration of George Washington and had my first S’more, which was a delicious end to a lovely day.

Bonfire

“Nemo” we found you.

Standard

What was supposed to be a college road trip to Boston, soon ended up in an under-snow mission against “ finding nemo”. With the new blizzard called “Nemo” cornering in on New England, we had to put on hold our various plans of duck tours, boat cruises and walks down the freedom trail.group-Boston

Having booked our trip over a month ago, we were determined to make the most of it. With an eight-hour train ride and a diverse group of exchange students we were ready for whatever “Nemo” had in store for us. Of course I was a little too excited and didn’t understand why everyone was worried about the snow. But little did I know. Nemo you are lost, I don’t even see you. With the sun shining bright, and whole day of sightseeing ahead of us, we were very excited to see this college town. Chowder

The first stop out of the train, was to head to the Quincy Market; the first open market in America. It was absolutely lovely; with different food options and deserts, the nine of us were running around each point at a different food stations. Well can you blame us? After an 8 hour train ride, I bet you would be hungry too? After observing the locals all enjoying seafood soup and shrimp flavored bread, I decided to settle for nothing less than “Boston Chowda”; voted Bostons’ best clam chowder for 2 years in a row. And after enjoying the Calm chowder, I would definitely give it my vote! Absolutely amazing, and this coming from a Middle Eastern girl who her family is obsessed with seafood, you bet it was tasty!

After spending a little too much time there we then decided to take a trip down little Italy. Wicannolith the three Italians traveling with us, they kept reminiscing at the various Italian deserts and coffee offered down this street. “OMG! Cannolini, that’s the national desert of Naples, Italy” yelled Dilletta, an exchange student from Italy. This waffle crusted chocolate chip roll was something I had never had before. Very crispy and really hard to eat! After little Italy we decided to rest a bit and then go have a nice early dinner at Mother Anne’s, so that we were ready for our long day tomorrow.

harvard

Okay Nemo I think we are close.  A little bit colder, and more layers to add on, Harvard make room for us we are coming in! With loud noises and excitement we stepped into what is known as one of the best universities in the world.  “4.5 GPA, 2200 SAT score and president of the Chess club, that’s how I got In” explained Jordan, a freshman at Harvard. So I guess that’s what it takes to get in Harvard! Anyone make the list? Honestly it was a beautiful campus but it was just missing something, to me it seemed pretty haunted.  If there is one thing you have to do at Harvard apart from talking to the genius students, it’s to rub the left foot of John Harvard; the founder of the university. It has been said that with a little rub, good luck would be coming your way.  Harvard2

With a trip down Harvard square, and mingling with the students in hopes of getting a little smarter, we were now off to do some shopping! Newbury street, our new favorite shopping destinations. With endless amounts of stores and restaurants it literally took us the rest of the day before we were ready for dinner. While waiting two hours to get seated at Joe’s American Grill (one of the best restaurants in town), a 35 percent off definitely put a smile on our faces as we left this delicious restaurant!

Nemo. We found you.  Snow, snow and snow. I know now why Americans dread the snow. I understand, I really do. With heavy winds and snow smacking our face, it truly was not a pleasant feeling in the morning. The wind was so strong that we kept losing our balance.  “I am Mediterranean! I am not made for this kind of weather” yelled Dina, an exchange student from Egypt. Our third day pretty much consisted of us trying to ease our way across the dense snow and winds and trying to keep warm. Adding the rest of the layers didn’t help, with -9 degrees Celsius, nothing was going to help. Thank you Nemo for not letting us go on the duck tour or go to the freedom trail. Payback will be soon.snowsnow2

At last we were back to DC, now when 1 degrees Celsius seems “warm”, then you can imagine what Nemo was all about. Despite Nemo and the coldness it was great seeing Boston and be able to see the difference between a college city and densely political state.

I Am Not a Tourist Anymore

Standard

In the last week I’ve had my first visitor here, which gave me a chance to play a tour guide in Washington for the first time. There were still a couple of things I myself got to try for the first time. After seeing the monuments in DC at night, during which I was amazed once again, we went to the The Kennedy Center. It has both a national and an international side to it – when entering you will either step into the Hall of States, the ceiling of which is bordered with the flags of all the American States, or the Hall of Nations, parallel to the first Hall, bordered with flags of other countries.

Hall of Nations

Hall of Nations

Apart from the wonderful view from the terrace, The Kennedy Center offers a truly remarkable interior, including the bronze JFK Bust, according to the website designed and created by Robert Berks. This sculpture is a worthy memorial to the 35th president accompanied by an exhibit devoted to this important figure as well.

The following events are very likely to be far less profound – I am going to talk about food. I had the opportunity to have the very first cupcake in my life (I know, it is shocking, how could I live before!) in one of the lovely Georgetown bakeries.Cupcakes My choice was Chocolate Cupcake of Doom, which is actually quite a fitting description. However, that was not the end of all the treats. After cupcakes we decided to taste a frozen yogurt. Again, this was the first time I have ever had a legendary froyo in my life and it was worth it.

The following day our tour changed its sweet character – we went for half-smokes to Ben’s Chili Bowl. Having known the history behind it certainly made me appreciate the place more, however, it would have been quite an experience even without it. I enjoyed the mural painting outside as well as the witty saying that Bill Cosby and President Obama (including his family) exclusively eat for free. 2002-12-08 12.00.00-5-7The place certainly lives up to its fame and everybody seems to respect and enjoy its tradition. I guess people even enjoy the famous half-smokes, which is sort of impossible for a person, who barely eats meat (even finishing it was an accomplishment and I did my best to pay honor to Ben’s Chili Bowl).

Another thing I have come to appreciate about US – donuts. It was no surprise, having watched every single Simpsons’ episode I was looking forward to this. America sure runs on Dunkin’. And if not on Dunkin’, then on Krispy Kreme. Personally, I prefer Dunkin’ to Krispy Kreme, probably because Dunkin’ is located just around the corner in the Ivory Tower food court, and because they offer a pumpkin latte, a really exotic coffee for me. Well, I am certainly enjoying the unhealthy food here.Krispy Kreme

Overall, having walked around Washington sights again, feeling more familiar with the place, I have to say, there is a lot more it has to offer then the renowned places. Moreover, there is a lot more even to the legendary places. And most importantly, there is something special in the fact that one is able to walk around these places whenever one wants. We are more than tourists now, we are coming back to places we have already gotten used to and it sure feels great.

You say, I say …

Standard

One of the big differences I’ve noticed since being in America is the language barrier. Not the same barrier the other exchange students’ experience – I’m hopeless with languages and so impressed with their bilingual abilities! The language barrier I’m experiencing is the different words and terminology. To illustrate, here’s a list of Australian words (and abbreviations) I say, and the American words I’m learning to say. I’ve also put the words in a conversation, just to hopefully illustrate the confusion.

Corridor/Hallway or Hall – “My friend Rhiannon lives down the Corridor.” “You mean down the hallway?”

Lift/Elevator – “Why are you catching the elevator, you live on the second floor.” “I’m not catching the elevator, I’m catching the lift…”

Ground Floor/First Floor – “The mailboxes are on the Ground Floor right?” “Uhh, they’re on the first floor?”

Bin/Trash – “Throw the leftovers in the Bin” “The bin? I was thinking of just putting them in the trash?”

Runners/Sneakers – “Let me just pull my runners on and then I’m ready for the gym.” “Okay…oh, you mean your sneakers!”

Jumper/Sweater – “I need to buy a new jumper, it’s freezing here.” “Why would a dress help” “I mean a sweater!”

Keen/Interested or excited – “I’m keen to go for Sweet Green for lunch, are you?” “Keen? Oh, you mean excited! Sure, that sounds good”

Sunnies/Sunglasses – “My sunnies have broken!”

Arvo/Afternoon – “Want to go to Bourbon for a coffee in the Arvo?” “The arvo? When’s that?”

Kilometers/Miles – “The airport is about 20 miles away.” “…how many kilometers is that?”

Grams/Ounces – “The recipe says I need 125 grams of butter…but this is in ounces…I’m going to need to Google this!”

Centimeters and Meters/Inches and Feet – “The mail box is around 15 meters away” “…and in feet that is?”

Celsius/Fahrenheit – “It’s 2 degrees outside!” “Oh my gosh that’s freezing…wait, you’re speaking in Celsius right?” ”It’s still freezing in Celsius!”

Arvo isn’t the only word I shorten. It’s become highly amusing to my roommates when they hear a new word in my laziness I’ve decided to shorten. My roommate Jesse is now Jess, and the Library is the Libs. Luckily DC and GW are full of acronyms, so my abbreviations aren’t too out of place amongst the FoBoGro and HelWel nicknames thrown around.

The other language nuance that I find amusing is the spelling. Aluminium is spelt Aluminum here, whereas I would write standardise, here it’s standardize. Not to mention the colour/color spelling discrepancy thanks to Noah Webster (of the dictionary fame). He was a proponent spelling reform, and some of his advocated changes caught on, like removing the u from –our spellings, and the aforementioned Aluminium/Aluminum difference.

Luckily, so far the different terminology and nuances of language have caused amusement rather than confusion, but it’s only a matter of time before there’s a real cultural clash!

Finding Nemo

Standard

I recently experienced a true New England snow storm. You may have heard in the news that it was one of the biggest on record. Witnessing it from start to finish I truly believe it was. The snow was falling for hours and digging out took almost as long. The day before the stores were sold out of all sorts of items from food to survival gear. The evening before one could really feel the calm before the storm. Roadways were more or less empty as people braced for Nemo to arrive.snow

Much of the snow fall happened over night so we woke up to a winter wonderland. Two plus feet of snow had fallen and was continuing to cover the scene. When the snow finally finished in the mid-morning, it was time to clean up. Hours of back breaking and tedious shoveling was in store for the residents. As people were shoveling their driveways the state was doing their best to keep the roads clean, but given the amount of snow that had fallen this proved to be a monumental task. While the main roads were soon passable it was not until days later that the secondary roads were fully cleared.

Despite of all this trouble I was able to see a few historical and cultural aspects of Connecticut. When the roads became safe we ventured forth into the state capital, Hartford, the home of Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and insurance companies. Unfortunately because of the snow, we were not able to get into the houses of Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe and the attached museum. However, we were able to see the grounds and the surrounding neighborhood. The houses provided an interesting contrast between old and new architecture, living conditions, and style.

Outside Mark Twain's house!

Outside Mark Twain’s house!

Harriet Beecher Stowe House

Harriet Beecher Stowe House

George

Reverse painting of George Washington at the Museum of American Art

Our travels then took us to the Museum of American Art in New Britain, a quaint city just outside the capital. Here we were forced to take a detour as the National Guard, called to Connecticut by President Obama in this state of emergency, cleared snow from bridges and major roadways. Here, we saw a number of old Victorian style houses, that have been converted into small businesses like doctors and law offices. We finally arrived at the Museum and saw a comprehensive sampling of both contemporary and older art, mainly paintings, but also some sculptures and installation pieces. There were two highlighted exhibits: Chasing Moby Dick, a series of works in various mediums portraying Melville’s epic, and works by Toulouse-Lautrec, mainly sketches and lithographs by the famous French artist.

All in all, my trip north showed me that even “boring” states can rise above their reputation and offer something to the nation and, in fact, the world. It also gave me a glimpse into life outside of a major metropolitan city, and what life is like in a typical suburban setting. My next trip will, however, take me to another great American city, the former capital of the United States: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.