Monthly Archives: January 2014

Fish, seafood, and some more fish !

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With the cold weather that has decided to settle in Washington, three friends, Marlitt, Steph, Zenia and I decided to go away for a day and visit the city of Baltimore. I was really excited by the prospects of visiting another city close by because that’s why I applied for the exchange program in the first place: seeing as much of the U.S as possible and I certainly wasn’t disappointed by my first visit: Baltimore. Photo One

We woke up at 7 am and braved the cold weather and headed to Union Station. I haven’t been to union station before and I was glad I did. I never though a train station could have shopping centers what with Moroccan stations having a coffee shop or two and couple of restaurants here and there. I was surprised to see an H&M store and a food court !

We got in the train and the landscape was something akin to the Twilight set except that it was covered with snow. After a mere 40 min we arrived at Baltimore welcomed by a chilly weather and snow falling. Photo Two The adventurous, and prepared girls that we were, we had looked up nice places to visit in Baltimore: the Baltimore Harbor Photo Three, the National Aquarium, the Baltimore Observation Deck and the Cheesecake Factory (of course !). We quickly hopped in a bus that took to the National Aquarium in which we spend 2 hours looking at funny-looking fish, dangerous sharks and extremely rare and deadly poisonous albeit tiny frogs! Photo ThreePhoto FourPhoto Five

The visit ended with a tour of the loud and humid rainforest of Australia where we got to see birds, parrots, snakes, tarantulas and different kinds of trees and plant, our tummies screamed for some good seafood. We asked around for nice seafood restaurant nearby and we ended up in Mo’s Seafood Restaurant. After being welcomed by the nicest waiter I ever had the pleasure of meeting, we ordered quite a lot of food including the notorious Mo’s Crab Cake and a platter of fresh and oh-so-delicious oysters.

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Photo SevenAfter having a delicious meal, we headed to the observation deck of Baltimore. When we entered the building, we met a nice guy at the entrance with whom with played a little guessing game. Each of us being from a different continent (Staph was from Australia, Zenia from Singapore and Marlitt from Germany), I guess it would have been difficult though interesting to see if he’d get our nationalities right. We asked him to guess our nationalities and boy was it difficult. When he tried to guess where I’m from, he thought I was from South America which I get all the time! But then when I told him I was from Africa, he got the right answer from the first try and I must admit that I was surprised. I honestly would have never thought that people would know such a tiny country that Morocco is but it warmed my heart nevertheless.

Upon getting to the 27th floor, we had the most amazing panoramic view of Baltimore. The room was a 360 degrees glass window that allowed us to have a view of all the snow covered surrounding which was truly an amazing sight! Photo NineWe took tons of pictures and I even go a souvenir Photo Eight. I decided to collect fridge magnets from all the places I may visit in the U.S and hopefully my fridge would be full of magnets from all over the country !

After the observation deck, we had a little time to kill before our train back to DC, we decided to go to the famous cheesecake factory (no Penny there !). We got a lemon and raspberry cheesecake and it was heaven on earth. I can’t express how much food is important for me and although I did mention it in my last post, I think reiterate it would be appropriate. The culinary part of my experience in the U.S is both important and present in my new every daily life and I really hope it will not end anytime soon.Photo Ten

Thank you Baltimore for a wonderful day, to you I say ❤  Photo Eleven

“Are you Australian?” he said in an American accent. “Really?”

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Yesterday on the 26th of January, the Australian exchange students organized a small Australia Day party complete with all the trimmings – a sausage sizzle (slight burnt, onions optional of course), fair bread (buttered toast with sprinkles, atypical of any primary school birthday party), Tim Tams (which I think were the fastest to disappear) and of course vegemite (diluted with a bit of butter for those not used to its strong taste). Yet in the midst of creating our little sampling plate of Australiana, I realized it has been just over three or so weeks since I arrived in the US and more so than anything else, I find myself drawn back towards Sydney and Australia though not purely out of sorely missing the summer warmth in the midst of yet another polar vortex in Washington DC.

Australia Day does not mark the birth of Australia – it marks the birth of a colony of Britain which over the course of over two hundred years has wrestled with its own identity set against the identity of others. If the narrative is to be believed, Australia began unmistakably and loyally British in birth, recasting itself as a nation in 1901 with the formation of a federation of states coming of age on the fields of the Western Front and the beaches of Gallipoli, and then once again along the Kokoda Trail. Yet within this narrative is a story of insecurity – of the fear of outsiders which led it to implement the White Australia Policy and a desperate attempt to maintain itself as a loyal outpost of Europe set amongst South East Asia. Australia Day is a strange creature – it marks the date upon which the British flag was raised on Sydney Cove by Governor Phillip. A simple enough act but one which, beneath the sausage sizzles and Australian flags draped over sunburnt shoulders, reveals the sheer complexity of Australian culture, identity and indeed, that most politically loaded notion of what is “Australian”.

There is a certain degree of surprise when I speak to someone in the US – the Australian accent seems to be discordant with what they would expect. This is perhaps understandable enough when much of Australian culture and people continues to be represented by the likes of Crocodile Dundee or Steve Irwin but does a grave injustice to the true, and in my opinion, far more beautiful face of Australia today as a rich, diverse and multicultural nation. Looking back, the most striking image of Australia Day was not at the Cricket Grounds, the Footy Field or even in Canberra. It was a small suburban park in Sydney’s South-West, a area well known for its multiculturalism, in which an Afghani family was having a barbeque, flatbread and lamb next to the Tip-Top with the slightly burnt sausages. I could not help but be reminded of this image as I looked around the room at the multitude of cultures which were celebrating Australia day with us, bringing just a bit of Sydney in the midst of chilly Washington DC. There is little doubt that our Australia Day party helped remind me what being an Australian is all about.

Time to begin an interesting routine

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After a first week in US, spending time with my friend Emma in the nice region of New England; after another week knowing DC and the other exchange students; it was time to begin my classes at GW, to begin my exchange routine. But when I say routine, I am not necessarily referring to a boring routine.

These last two weeks of class were not an ordinary experience. It was two weeks to know my professors, to set my new academic goals, to realize how challenging study in English will be for me, to plan how I will reach all my exchange goals.

These two weeks were unexpectedly full of new senses. On one hand, I was afraid of not being able to understand each word of lectures, because all of my professors speak in a speed that is really difficult for me. But on the other hand, these weeks were to propose myself the challenging to learn and involve myself in issues that I really want to get to know. I realized that there are many academic skills to acquire, and at the same time a lot of people to get to know.

These two weeks were worth to stop some concerns I had before starting.

– I was afraid of not be able to understand mathematics topics in my class of Public Finance, but after a revision I realized that my home university provided me a strong base in mathematics. I noticed that I am ready to learn about the US public finance. It will help me distinguish which aspects, the Argentinean public finance – a typical system of developing country- could improve following the political and economical aspect of the US public finance.

– I wanted to take an Argentinean economic policy class that is offered only this semester in my home university, so I thought that I was loosing to learn about these issues but I noticed that the Latin America class that I am taking has an important approach in the Latin America’s economic policies and the professor is very dynamic.

– I was afraid to not take advantage of GW since I wasn’t taking a class about American or Political History, but I noticed that my Poverty, Welfare and Work class is a course that not only addresses the issue of poverty, but also address American poverty problems, so I am having the opportunity to learn deeply about the US and about one of the social issues that I am interested in.

– I was wishing to be engaged in some American community service and I found that my Ethical of Leadership class is a course that not only has an activity of community service as a requirement, also it offers a good guide to learn about the practices of human services.

First conclusion: I am really gratified with the GW courses that I am taking. So, I just have to be responsible with this great opportunity to be studying at GW.

In each first class of all of the courses I was remembering the EXO’s advice: to get contact information of someone in our class to ask help whenever we need. So, just waiting to get some contact information from my classmates I found more than a simple contact information. In each class I found really friendly people.

In Public Finance I knew Darby, Christina, and Sohyoun and we met to work in the first assignments.

In Ethical of Leadership I knew Nadia and Megan; they have been helping me to find some activity of community service.

In Poverty, Welfare and Work, I knew Emily, she let me borrow her class notes.

In Latin America I knew Steph, she is a really nice person, we have shared not only classes, but also dinners, hang outs, parties, potlucks, and long talks. We also are planning to travel together! Thank Steph for those fun moments!

But also, I could meet with the people who I knew before to arrive to DC.

One of them is Fernando. I met Fernando a month ago, thanks to one great friend in Argentina, Marcelo. Thanks, Marce, for introducing me to your friend. Thank you, Fernando, for the great welcome, the coffee, the DC references, I was missing a good Argentinean talk.

Also I knew Chelsea, a friend of some guys that I met on new years in Fairfield. Thank Chelsea for your willingness to help!

Moreover, I started to do Language Exchange with one of my EXO Leaders, Whitney. She is so nice, we had been talking long talks, hanging out, and going to basketball games. She also was helping with my writing, thank you so much Whitney!

Also I met two Chilean girls, Gisella and Javiera, they are so lovely, we share outings and they invited me to visit their OAE where they are working.

I can’t forget of my dear buddy, Steven. He was studying in my home university the last semester. I can say that he was one of the people who helped me pass the English exam to be here. These last weeks, he has been inviting me to hang out with his nice friends, Bert, Betsy, Anna. We also had a nice dinner with his dad. Thank you so much Steven for everything!

Anyway, it was the beginning of this last weekend and I felt overwhelmed with all of the reading that I had, and all my expectations to hang out with all my new friends.  How can I do to see all of them? What can I do to spent time with the Exchange students? How can I plan with them but save time to study?  I realized that the best thing would be to organize a meeting in my apartment. So, I invited all of them.

We were almost 45 students among my friends and friend of my friends in my apartment. Us music, Latin-American music, Argentinean music, games, dancing, jokes, time to talk with all my friends, opportunity to invite other friends, among them to invite Bibi, another Argentinean girl who is studying in American University, so all these made my weekend a good beginning of the exchange routine.

At the same time, I had time to study and see all the new friends.

Again this exchange is exceeding my expectations.

Thanks all for this great class beginning!

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Snow days and away games!

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This week has been a little bit odd, as I have only had 1 full day of classes out of 5. I am lucky enough every week to have Fridays off; but, this week I was also graced with a 5-day weekend!

Monday was Martin Luther King Day, a celebrated holiday in the US, similar to one of our bank holidays at home in the UK. So, me and my friend, Christina, decided to use the day wisely and go to the zoo! Picture 1 I had always planned to visit the zoo, but hadn’t got round to doing it yet and this was the perfect time, as there was a new baby panda which I was very excited about. The baby panda wasn’t out for long, but we did get to see the mother, who was beautiful and slightly scary – look at those teeth! panda
Picture 3 (1)We also got to see the lions and elephants and I learned that elephants can actually lie down and sleep; something I did not know.Picture 4 (1)It was a great day all round and a perfect way to enjoy DC. The great surprise of the week, however, came from Tuesday which turned out to be a Snow day!!Picture 5 (1) Washington DC isn’t known for getting much snow, but over 6 inches fell in one day; the worst snow in three years. Now, this maybe should have been the day for staying in and catching up on TV, but not for me! Me and my friend, Scott, decided to venture out to the monuments to check out how they looked in the snow; they did not disappoint. Picture 6

 

 

 

 

The snow was coming down so fast that you couldn’t even see the Washington monument from the Lincoln steps. I also got some cool shots of the squirrels Picture 9 that I was stalking, and a women with a red umbrella – because I thought it was cool! Picture 8 Although we were freezing by the end of the walk, it was totally worth it and something I probably won’t get to see again. Picture 10 The rest of the week was spent dealing with the reality and aftermath of the snow, it was -12c on Wednesday – not a temperature I am used to! Then, all too soon it was the weekend again (it was a strenuous week with 1 day of classes!). My friends and I have been religiously following the GW Basketball team this season so decided to travel up to George Mason University, in Virginia, to watch an away game. Even though it was a 45 minute trip down there (and I swear it was colder than DC!), seeing their stadium was incredible – it was twice the size of ours and seats 11,000 people. Picture 12 They also had a great half time performance from their cheerleaders, which was really cool. Picture 13. Continuing their winning streak, GW finished 75-69 making it 16 wins and 3 losses for the season, which is amazing! Picture 11. All round it has been a pretty perfect week full of a lot of great outings and even a snow angel or two! Picture 14

Dr King and painting playgrounds

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There is little doubt that Washington DC presents itself, to those looking inwards from the outside, almost purely in terms of the magnificent white marble and granite grandeur of the White House, the Capitol Building, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. On a warm August afternoon in 1963, on those very steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking out towards a crowd of over two hundred and fifty thousand people, Martin Luther King delivered a speech that has been etched into our collective memory of the struggle of that era – a movement which not only fought for the rights of African-Americans but was so powerful that its call for fairness and equality that it resonated far enough to the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa and inspire the Freedom Rides which symbolised the Indigenous Rights movement in Australia.

So some fifty or so years on from Dr King’s speech, the sun drew westward towwards the horizon on a rather quiet winter afternoon and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Day of Service slowly crept to a end. A day which should leave someone with a sense of accomplishment – a basic enough sense of having made a difference to lives of those not afforded the privileges which others are born into – ended in  a strangely dejected manner. There is little doubt that the intent was harmless enough and no doubt at all that the enthusiasm was there but by the time the one and a half hours of speeches and pep talk that began the day finally needed in the ballroom of the Marvin Centre, by the time the nicely printed shirts and packed lunches of the day were distributed, the mood had already taken a turn towards what seemed like more than anything else, a misdirected effort. We had painted a fence but barely so, patches of new paint barely covering the old, that is, if covering it all – we left it a half finished job with seemed to be a poignant symbol for the day in itself. By the time we came around to cleaning up the scraps of coloured paper or cleaning the pale green, blue, red and orange paint off the brushes and rollers, a misdirected effort became an opportunity lost.

When I first came to Washington DC, I took a routine bus service to New York City.  Moving outwards from Union Square station, there was an unmistakable movement from the exquisitely well kept parks that surrounds the national monuments and wide avenues to the crumbling shop fronts, graffiti strewn across their walls and their windows plastered with dusty and sun bleached “for lease” signs. It may be a certain cynicism which some characterise as quintessential to the Australian attitude but it was hard to connect how the several hours we had spent painting an otherwise well maintained wire fence made any sort of impact upon this almost second world within the boundaries of the city. Again I have no doubt that all all intentions were good but on my way to Georgetown, walking past a homeless woman camped alongside the banks of the Potomac, a plastic sheet draped across scrags of tree for a makeshift shelter, I realized that DC from the inside is truly a city of confronting contrasts – that barely beneath the pristine surface, as clichéd as it may be, the city embodies the very essence of a “have” and “have not” cross section of society.

Inside the very city where Dr King’s words continue to resonate in rhetoric, it seems as though these words inevitably fall silent upon the nameless faces of the poverty and disadvantage which nestles itself in amongst the city’s street, in between the cracks of its grand halls, columns and domes. As much as many celebrate what has been achieved by Dr King and his legacy, much more needs to be, and indeed, could have been done to genuinely hold fast to and honour Dr King’s vision of fairness and equality in America.

Exchange Rates, Kimchi, and Michelle’s Garden

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Orientation week. Check. Meeting everybody. Check. Trying to remember everybody’s name. Check. First week of classes. Check.

This first week of classes seemed surreal to me maybe because I’ve been so engrossed by all the activities that were planned. But the first week was almost as entertaining as the previous one. Granted, classes and professors and syllabi meant the end of an era and the beginning of endless readings, assignments and papers. However, the first week of classes was as interesting as it was entertaining.

On Tuesday, a friend and I had the immense pleasure of going to the concert of Jay-Z. For someone who has not been to many concerts, being to the Verizon center was really impressive. First, the stadium was huge; I’d never seen so many people squeeze in in one closed space before. Second, the sheer diversity of people that attended and the uniqueness of characters that I’ve seen was something new. Weird haircuts, huge high heels, colorful outfits and much more made the first concert I attended in the U.S. much more than just a musical event.JZ

The next day was the day I met the coolest professor to ever grace the face of the planet: my political economy professor. Although the class is rather challenging and was all about fixed exchange rates, debt ceiling, and congress bills, I can say that Pr. Kaplan is by far one of the best professor I ever had. He’s the type of professor who has Simpson characters up on his slides and who uses Hunger Games and Twilight analogies to explain theories of international relations and principles of economy.

The following day; Thursday, was the busiest day. We decided to treat ourselves and go to Korean BBQ in Annandale (Kogiya Korean BBQ). I already had Korean back home but Korean BBQ was new to me. The meat was cooked in front of us, on round small burners that were built in the table. Rice and spicy soup was served with it in addition to the most delicious and perfectly cooked egg I ever had the pleasure of tasting. KoreanBBQ2KoreanBBQ

Friday came and having only one morning class, a friend and I decided to walk down the White House. It was something I wanted to do for a long time but haven’t got around doing it what with all the activities we had. To be honest, the white house wasn’t as I had imagined it. It was just a house that happened to be white and it wasn’t that big even! However, when we turned around the block to the backside of the house, BAM, that was the White House I imagined, with the domes, the balcony and the ivory white, the big not so green lawn and Michelle’s garden of course. WhiteHouseWhiteHouse2

Saturday came and it was the yet another day of culinary discover. Since it was restaurant week in DC, fancy restaurants offered a 3 course meal with only 20 dollars. We went to a great Spanish restaurant called La Taberna del Albardero that served the most amazing food ever. My first doubts were confirmed: DC was definitely a culinary city where one could experience the most amazing dishes from all over the world and I couldn’t wait to taste new, exotic and foreign flavors.Food Although I’m most certainly going to put on a few pounds but if that’s the price to pay for culinary heaven then so be it !

Turning back time…

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In my excitement to talk about my first week in DC, I ran out of space to talk about my first week in the United States. The week before I arrived to DC, I had the opportunity to enjoy seven beautiful days with my friend Emma and her family and friends. I met Emma a little more than a year ago in Di Tella, my university in Buenos Aires. She was doing an exchange program for a year, and I shared one of the best and enriching experiences of community service with her. We visited Villa 31, one the biggest slums in Buenos Aires.

Tutoring at a high school in this slum, we started to realize that we share more interests than we knew. We started to spend times with the same group of people, mainly with Clari, another great friend in Buenos Aires. Also Emma was one of the friends who taught me how to speak in English the past year.

Journeys, classes, friends, discussions, English, clubs, projects, university life, ideas, and discussions with her caused me to grow and create great memories. That is how I received the invitation from Emma to spend the days before to start the exchange in her house in Georgetown, Massachusetts with her and her family and how I decided to spend my New Year with her.

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4 boston1It was December 29, 2013 when I entered American territory, more precisely Bostonian territory, at the Boston Logan International Airport. The hug that I gave Emma was the warmth that I needed after facing the shocking weather that I experienced. A day before, I was enjoying the summer with 99 °F (37°C), but at this moment the temperature was around of 5°F (-15°C).

 

2 new yearWhen I arrived, Emma told me about the New Year plan. We were going to Fairfield, Connecticut, a little town where she is studying and we would be celebrating the New Year with a dinner with friends in her house along the Atlantic Ocean and go to a party at the beach organized by her university. It was the plan, but definitely the celebration exceeded my expectations: games, good music, good food, and nice people.

 

 

That is how Emma´s friend told me about and introduced me to their friends who were studying in GW or living in DC. After the New Year, I had time to return to Georgetown, to enjoy the snow and the quiet town, and mainly to spent time with the Cannon’s (Emma´s family).6 all family

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5 snowWithout a doubt, it was the best transition that I could have had between my country and my university experience in the US. Not only because they were patient with my English, also because I had the opportunity to enjoy time with a really nice American family and learn about their customs, their habits, and spend a really nice time with them. I think few people have the willingness to receive exchange students during their short holidays. I was lucky to have the opportunity to share dinner, play games, talk, eat cookies, drink wine, and play in the snow.

Also I had the opportunity to tour Boston, “the capital of New England”, its garden, its avenues, its nice squares, its traditional market, as well as its food, like the pasta in the Italian neighborhood. Although I still want to return to tour more, the few places that I visited were interesting, entertaining, and nice. Definitely my first week in the US was not only was worthy for exploring the region of New England, it was a week to immerse myself in American life, to perceive and adapt to the contrast between my country and the US.

It was worth learning about the customs and to reflect on my customs. If I had to choose the best aspect of this week I would say that it was Emma and her family because they provided me with warmth and Emma gave me the best understanding of the experience that I was about to start. Who better than she that lived as an Exchange, to know about Argentina and US?

Among my experience and her wisdom, I would like to highlight her advice of living and taking advantage of each experience, activity, projects that GW and DC have to offer, especially the things that I won’t be able to do in my country. Also, it is important to do all of the things with willingness and effort, without forgetting to enjoy it.

I will see if I can follow your advice, Emma. If I can, then next week I will probably be talking about it. To Emma and her family that I am missing, thank you so much!