Monthly Archives: February 2014

Getting stuck in Foggy Bottom

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By hannahbethdray

It has been another interesting week at GW thanks to the winter storm that hit most of the East Coast. By Wednesday evening, the campus was abuzz with discussions on whether we would have another snow day, and how much snow would fall. Thanks to the GW Program Board, myself and a few of my friends went down to the cinema that evening to see an early screening of Endless love. Much to our surprise, when we came out at 10pm, the ground was covered in half an inch of snow already. My friend Vanessa who is Australian decided to make her first snow angel: Picture 1 (3)Picture 2 (4). Not long after we received an email informing us that school was cancelled – SNOW DAY! Not wanting to miss out on the incredible snow coming down, I went out with a few friends to capture some pictures of the monuments in all their snow glory. Picture 3 (4)Picture 4 (4)
Picture 5 (4) It was a beautiful sight, even better than seeing them during the day a few weeks before. We started a mini snow ball fight between the four of us and then got asked by a CNN reporter if he could film us for the morning news – here is a print screen from the video the following morning! Our claim to fame!! CNN video Even though the snow was very fun, by the next morning nearly a foot had fallen outside, shutting down the metros and buses – I stood in a pile of snow that went up to my knee! Picture 6 (3) Unfortunately this meant that we were unable to celebrate my friend Christina’s 20th birthday properly, due to being stuck in the apartments Picture 7 (3)
Picture 8 (3). By Saturday though, most of the streets had been cleared, so we were able to go cheer on the men’s basketball team in their game against the University of Massachusetts. It was a great game, with the teams keeping a single figure difference between them for most of it. Picture 9 (4) Unfortunately the team lost narrowly by 6 points. It is a pretty good streak though, this being the first loss at home of the season. So although this week has been a little different to usual one’s, there was still time to have some fun, see friends, and once again enjoy DC for all its glory.

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“America the Beautiful”

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By aaront162

It could be said that there is hardly anything more quintessentially American than the Super Bowl – the great annual tradition of great pomp and circumstance that is the championship game of American Football and de-facto national holiday. This was my first Super Bowl in the United States and the game this year, was to the say the least, anti-climatic as the Denver Broncos took a beating that had most declaring the game in effect over by the time Bruno Mars finished doing the splits or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers finished the last riff and line on their strangely cordless guitar and bass (the reason for which was subsequently explained by bassist Flea). Perhaps given the not-so riveting game, the focus naturally turned towards the other great attraction of the Super Bowl which is of course, the commercial advertisements. An alleged ten million dollars for a thirty second spot is a serious matter, more so in an age when the attention of at least one hundred and ten million people can be so undivided (or at least as undivided as it can come in this day and age). There was the usual assortment of zany, at times barely coherent humor and “what-the-hell was that?” kind of moments but nothing jumped out as particularly remarkable or memorable including a certain Coca-Cola ad consisting of a simple enough montage of different people from different cultures singing “America the Beautiful” intercut with lines of the song in different languages – including Spanish, Arabic, Tagalog, Mandarin and Hebrew. I would like to think that the ad was pretty standard sappy stuff  for the United States but the strange controversy which followed it was enough to merit some thought.

I am still getting orientated with the strange spectrum and poles which seems to direct and guide the American political compass and the controversy which followed in the aftermath of that Coca Cola ad provided some interesting points. The reaction from the right-wing conservatives – the “Fox News” crowd as they would be known and lambasted as by Australian satirists – was in some senses surprising and in other senses predictable. Former politicians who now out of the spotlight yet always craving attention could perhaps be expected to lambaste whatever they can as to the degeneration of society – Allen West’s comments that the ad was “truly disturbing” neatly fits into this category. Random everyday Joe’s and Jane’s now armed with the gigantic megaphone of Twitter and Facebook can be expected to make their semi-drunken spiel of bigotry.

The Coca-Cola ad revealed that many still hold onto a particular vision of what they believe to be theirs within America – a vision of the stability and surety of homogeneity of which the diversity captured in the Coca-Cola ad seems to disturb. Yet as many have pointed out, this vision of America never really existed given that large sections of the US spoke Spanish or that many of the ancestors of those lambasting their multi-lingual take would not have been able to sing “America the Beautiful” in English either. One of the most striking things about arriving in the US is seeing the English signs at the Airport side by side with the Spanish translation – something which continues into everything from brochures to television. Such linguistic diversity is not found in Australia but it was a pertinent reminder of the cultural and historical diversity of the US. There is little doubt that multiculturalism and diversity remains a major issue for many and this is something which perhaps hits home with Australia, itself on the one hand priding itself on its diversity and on the other hand, providing the same glimpses of bigotry. I suppose it strange that a simple Super Bowl ad would bring such a simmering issue to light.

1 Month, 4 weeks, 28 Days and 672 Hours

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By nimames

I knew that time is a hot commodity nowadays and everyone is running around the clock to get things done. What I hadn’t realized is how quickly it passes by. It’s already been four weeks that we are in the U.S. It seems to me that just yesterday, I landed in Dulles International airport setting foot in U.S soil for the first time, having trouble with my suitcase and having to use U.S dollars for the first time to pay the exorbitant taxi fair from the airport to campus. At the same time, and as weird as it might sound, I feel like I have been here for longer than a mere 4 weeks. Maybe because I had to adjust to so many different things so fast; adjust to an entirely new city thousands of kilometers away from home, trying and failing at converting temperature from Fahrenheit to Celsius. However, the aspect of my exchange I dreaded more was making new friends. I am not a particularly shy person but I am the type of person who likes the comfort and the predictability of my routine. When I received my acceptance letter to GWU I was thrilled of course but I couldn’t help the weird feeling that was grappling my gut. I was scared, weary of the process of starting all over again, introducing myself, making new friends etc… The reality was nowhere near what I had expected, or feared for that matter. In fact, befriending other people in the U.S. be it my fellow exchange students or anyone else, was really easy. I felt really at ease with my new group of friends as we were slowly but in the same time rapidly, exploring DC and the U.S.

So it’s no surprise when everything I experience while on my exchange, I share with this group of people. And with Valentine’s Day around the corner, I am dedicating this blogpost to the wonderful people that I had the pleasure of meeting during this past month. People with whom I shared wonderful moments, mostly in restaurants gushing over how great the food is, but also in museums, parties, in the street between class, the multiple basketball we’ve been to, celebrating George Washington’s birthday and more to come !

Exploring DC events

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By hannahbethdray

DC is a wonderful city, with so many different events happening every day, however when you’re at college you find yourself in a bubble of going to classes, eating at the same restaurants and visiting the same bars. I decided this weekend to find one of these great events, and see what Washington had to offer. This event came in the form of the Mercedes Benz fashion show, which was being hosted at the W Hotel. Picture 1 (2). A free event that only required an RSVP, my friend Maleeha and I decided to celebrate her birthday by being classy ladies, dressing fancy and being sophisticated women for a night and not just college students. Picture 2 (3) When we arrived, everything appeared to be coated in pink, including the live DJ performing Picture 3 (3)We grabbed a cocktail and went to explore the area. It was incredibly busy with many people watching the live models show off Diane Von Furtstenberg’s latest designs (which were incredible!).Picture 4 (3)Picture 5 (3)We felt like superstars at such a cool event , but it got even better when we found out we could get our make-up done for free. Picture 6 (2)Picture 7 (2) After we were glammed up to the max and had our photograph taken Picture 8 (2), we felt incredibly grown up. It is a lot of fun to get out of your comfort zone and experience something new, and I recommend to anyone here on exchange to just do a little Googling or checking local events for the area. With the cherry blossoms festival coming up in the next month, there will be a lot of events going on including the Blossom Kite Festival on the 29th March.

At GW It was also Homecoming weekend which is the tradition of welcoming back alumni of the school. It opened on Friday night with a Bonfire in University Yard, Picture 9 (2)Picture 10 (2) including performances from the Acapella groups on campus. The basketball game against Fordham was great as GW are still on their winning streak and beat Fordham 93-67.  I missed the first half of the game unfortunately but for a good cause as I have just started volunteering at an organization called Life Pieces to Masterpieces. Only 33% of students in Wards 7 and 8 (areas in DC) will graduate from high school and only 5% will earn a post-secondary degree. These numbers are very low, compared to both district and national averages. The organisation works with African American boys on an after school basis with homework, leadership and development. They create art such as thesePicture 14 (2)Picture 13 (2) to express feelings on projects they are working on. I thought it would be good to do something different while I was living in DC and give something back to the community. For anyone interested in this, speak to EngageDC, a great organization working through GWU.

Sunday for us is always breakfast day, courtesy of my wonderful chef Vanessa, who this morning was making Waffles with Johnny sorting the Bacon. Picture 11 (2)We also headed out for a late Brunch at Founding Farmers – I have learnt that Brunch is a very important thing for any big city in the US and I am a big fan of it! James had already decided he was going to pig out, and he definitely had more than enough food there Picture 15Picture 16Vanessa and I decided to avoid the burgers but still had way too much food ourselves!Picture 17  Keep tuned for next week as I’ll be starting my new internship at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Fund – exciting stuff!!

Running around DC

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By inepalacios

While the past week I was talking about the places I knew in the US, my class, the journeys and the people that I know, I ran out of space to talk about one the most lovely aspect of my exchange experience: running around DC.

At the beginning I felt that this habit would not be interesting enough to write about. Week after week, the people I met, the places, and the enjoyable moments made it impossible to avoid talking about this activity. I actually discovered for the first time most of the most important place of DC while running.

White HouseMemorials

The first time, I went to the Washington Memorial and the White House with one of the exchange friend, Johanna. Since that time, I have not spent any week without going for a run. The following week was the turn to see the Lincoln, the Jefferson and the Martin Luther King Junior Memorial, it was awesome: the smooth wind, the landscape, the Potomac, the serenity, the beauty of the city by night made enjoyable every instant. The last time, on Friday afternoon, while running to the Capitol, I saw the best sunset I have ever seen in the Northern Hemisphere.

Running To The CapitolXC

The best aspect of my running experience in DC was that I could find a running team “to temporarily replace” my running team in Buenos Aires. No doubt that both groups are particularly different, but wonderful in their own way. I miss my Argentinean team, but meanwhile I have been spending enjoyable trainings with the GW Cross Country Club, the guys of the team are really friendly people. Thanks to this team I could know new places, new roads and news neighborhoods. Most importantly: being part of the group allows me to experiment another aspect of the GW students’ world.

Many people told me that running is boring, for me is a way to relax, to keep active, to enjoy the nature, to clear my mind.  In the past years, running was the chance to spent time with my friends. Now, it allows me to get to know more people, the city and to get involve in another great GW experience.

Time to enjoy DC: the perfect excuse for hanging out

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By inepalacios

If two weeks ago the solution to see all the new friends and to save time to study was organizing a party in my dorm, this last week there was no solution. I had no other choice but to join all of the proposed plans made by my new friends, adding more incredible moments to my exchange.

The great plans started since the Sunday the 26th, when the exchange students from Australia decided to organize a party to celebrate the Australian independence. Games, music, jokes, and typical Australian food, which were delicious, set the precedent for all the rest of the exchange students to share our culture. Timo, the other Argentinean student, and I were thinking that we definitely should prepare some of our typical food: empanadas, as soon as possible.

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To not miss each other, the exchanges students planned to go to another excited Colonials’ basketball game. As it was expected, the Colonial’s victory required celebration, so  we had a dinner in Timo’s room, and played songs on Timo’s ukulele.

 

On Thursday night the plan was impossible to refuse: Nima and Nadine, both exchange students celebrated their birthday, although I had a class on Friday morning I ended up going to Nadine and Nima’s party for a while.

On Friday despite the fun moments my thought was “I spent 4 weeks in DC, with the exception of the orientation week, I didn’t go out of GW’s campus”. But with the weekend, the solution to my concern appeared.

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Agustín, a  Spanish friend organized to have a dinner with Ernestine, Inma, Gonzalo, Gisella, and Javiera (all of them are exchange students who have been studying in Washington since last semester), they were definitely a great company to get to know Georgetown, one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in DC. Among talks of history, politics, personal experiences, they shared with me their exciting journey of studying in GW.

chinatown

On Saturday, as a great international city, Washington, DC was prepared to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The best way to get involved in the occasion: celebrate it in the interesting neighborhood of Chinatown. Andrew, one of our EXO leaders, invited all of the exchange students to his home. It was a really nice way to get to know and enjoy Chinatown.

On Sunday my buddy Steven planed to bring me to Dupont Circle, and have a delicious brunch. I was there, when a memory of the first Washingtonians that I knew came to mind. It was in Santa Maria, in the province of Catamarca, in Argentina last year, when I met a couple of Washingtonians who gave me my first demonstration of DC. Among their descriptions they told me “DC is well known for its nice habit to have brunches, the combination between breakfast and lunch, we do it every Sunday”. It was exactly a year ago. By that time I could not imagine that a year later, I would be enjoying that brunch that they had described to me so well in DC.

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At the end, Mary (a friend of Steven who accompanied us), Steven, and I finished walking around the pleasant area of Dupont Circle.

If I was worried because I had not left GW, a weekend was enough to give me the pleasure of knowing Georgetown, Chinatown, and Dupont circle.

But the weekend had not finished yet. Megan, Christine, Sam, Arielle, some American friends that I had met a couple of weeks ago invited me to see the Super Bowl, the most important game in American Football. Although I did not know a lot about American Football, it was an opportunity to get involved in a typical American activity.

At the end of the day, I realized that beside that the parties could be fun, the place nice, and food delicious, spending time with new people is my favorite pastime.

Although I did not talk much about my class, the difficult challenge of studying in a new language is still present. But the friendly people who are accompanying me are the perfect balance, definitely.

Unassuming Philadelphia

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By aaront162

One of the great pleasures of being on exchange is the ability to act on the spur of the moment as was the case when a small group of us decided to head on a short road trip to Philadelphia. After a two and half hour drive transformed into a four hour drive by poor navigation and rest stops, we eventually found ourselves in an unassuming room in an otherwise unassuming building near the centr of Philadelphia – old wooden chairs around around tables draped with dusty green cloth, books, pens and papers and frozen at a specific moment in time. That particular moment was the debate and signing of the Declaration of Independence and US constitution, and that building was Independence Hall. We had arrived late in the afternoon, barely able to catch what was the last guided tour of the day through what is arguably the holiest of holy grounds of that great narrative of American democracy.

Stories of nationhood are of course powerful things, embodying at their core a sort of orientation of identity which can keep the collective whole coherent and Independence Hall serves as the backdrop to the great “American Aeneid”. Yet as much as these stories of nationhood weave the notion of a united identity – a sense of distinct and shared values and principles which can bridge divides – the reality is of course always far more complex and more often than not, bleaker and far less romantic. The tour guide ended on an empowering note, something along the lines of modern day American inheriting that great spirit of freedom and equality – two principles which it seems I frequently encounter and seem compelled to draw my focus upon during my time here in the US. The poverty which is so evident in Washington DC is still evident in Pennsylvania and the backdrop loses none of its biting irony – simply replace the National Monuments with the great historical sites of Colonial revolutionary America.

All of the above was drawn into focus by a simple and unassuming display not far away from Independence Hall in an old, decaying prison – a half gothic revival half brutal and pragmatic concrete and steel bar mishmash that is the Eastern Penitentiary Prison. What was once a pioneer of early prison design had been transformed into a well oiled tourist attraction  with an exceptionally good self-guided tour narrated by Steve Buscemi. The most memorable point amongst the displays of Al Capone’s prison cell and gift shop was simple diagram of US incarceration rates on a column graph, dwarfing those essentially ever other state in the world – a rate which hovers just below 750 prisoners per 100,000 population. This blog entry is of course no place to tackle the behemoth of the criminal justice and prison system, however, I do have to say that once again, another great city of the US brought about a much greater deal of reflection and thinking than I ever expected it could and more so than anything else, it is the striking and complex contrasts which are evoked which are the most poignant – an unassuming room where the principles of rule of law, fairness and equality are said to have been captured and embedded into a nation and an unassuming diagram which displays the modern issues of justice.