Monthly Archives: March 2014

Beach, Enchiladas, and Pina Colada in Old San Juan

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By nimames

Summarizing my Spring Break experience in a mere 400 words is borderline impossible but I’m going to try and do my best to capture the best moments of this unforgettable trip.

Beach, enchiladas and pina colada

When we first arrived to San Juan, Puerto Rico we were welcomed by warm weather, light breeze, and countless of tropical palm trees. We headed straight up to the beach. From our hotel, it was a 20 minutes walk and for someone as lazy as me it was a long time. However, the beautiful scenery, the colorful colonial buildings and the incredibly nice people we asked direction to and not to mention the great company I was with, compensated the long walk. We hit a nice little beach where people sat down for a day with their families and had barbecues. The beach was rather full but we found a spot under the shade of a large palm tree and we set up to begin our tanning.

After spending nearly 5 hours in the beach playing games and realizing our different cultures had similar games but different names. For example, I realized that a game we play in morocco called psycho or assassin was similar to games my friends played in Italy and Korea. Upon returning to our hotel in Old San Juan, we called the boys and went out for dinner. We found a nice little restaurant with a Puerto Rican band playing and we ordered enchiladas, mafongos (Puerto Rican dish made of savory plantain) and other delicious dishes while enjoying the great music that made me want to dance. After finishing dinner we strolled around the dimly lit streets of San Juan, I bough a pina colada from a street stand and it turned out one of the many delicious pina coladas I was going to have during my week stay in Puerto Rico.

When walking around the old city, we heard the sound of salsa music and we soon found a group of elderly people gathered around tables playing cards and dancing to the sound of the great music. They seemed so relaxed and carefree. They seemed like they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else except here. Sitting under a dim old light post at night in the warmth of the tropical island, sipping cider and dancing with their loved ones.

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Spring Break: the beginning

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By inepalacios

Miami, Sunday March 9, 9:32 am, Fort Lauderdale Airport. I just arrived from Baltimore. From missing the train, to getting charged for excess of weight in my suitcase, to taking a last moment flight, to almost missing the plane too, with a couple hours of sleep, after taking four exams that same week, two that same day, finally: I am starting my spring break.

I felt tired, but at the same time, excited. Right at this moment I was really excited to see what Miami had to offer, but at the same time I felt the need to reflect about the last two months. I felt this way, because the spring break not only means taking a break, but it also means the end of the first part of our semester. Two months, I can’t believe they passed by so quickly. What was I doing? What things were unexpected?  Which aspects of the exchange shouldn’t I repeat? How am I spending my time? What should I keep doing during the rest of the semester? What have I learned? Is there something that I can improve?

A bunch of moments come to my mind, the first weeks in Boston, the first week with the exchange students, the first week with my class, my first friends, my DC routine: running, community service, now also GW class council, events in the university, New York, DC, parties, classes again. I can talk again about each moment, but I think that the two last days are a good representation about what was going in my exchange.

Last Friday, 6 am, I had to wake up, two exams were waiting to be taken, one in three hours and the other one, in ten hours. I feel like I did not studying enough, now this feeling doesn’t matter, it is not the moment to regret, I just had to be focus, I was telling myself. Definitely, the three first hours of this Friday were really efficient: the pressure to do well on the exams was the perfect reason to stay focus. It’s 11, I already took one exam, and I just have three more hours to prepare for the other one. It’s 12, a classmate asked to study prior the exam together, 12.30 another friend offered to explain some terms to me, good classmates are always present. 5 pm and this exam was done, I just started my spring break, I can’t believe it, time to update my Argentinean friend. A couple of Skype calls to Argentina, messages on WhatsApp, inbox on facebook, calls on Google hang out, all these are being essential for me to feel the affection that we share. 7 pm I received an invitation to hang out with a new friend, but I couldn’t accept the invitation because my Argentinian friend, Pepi, who is on exchange in Richmond was coming to DC. 8 pm we are doing one of the things that we love the most: running. 10 PM we are cooking, great homemade dinner then pregame with Pepi’s friends, 12 am another exchange students’ party. 3 am after-party in City Hall with a couple of friends, we just talked. 4 AM Pepi and I got hungry so we ate again. Shortly after I felt asleep. Saturday morning, 10 am, I started to prepare the thing for Miami. I am also finishing some pending assignments. 12pm I am going to the homeless shelter: another afternoon is waiting for me to share with the homeless members. 2 PM, in the middle of a sunny afternoon on the shelter I am sharing one of the best talks of my exchange with Ahmad an Iranian. 5 pm I went to finish some last minute shopping for the trip. Around 10 PM I hanged out with an American friend that I met in Argentina. It’s being a long time since I last saw him. Good time, a warm hug and good wishes for his spring break. Around 12 AM just a few minutes to prepare my bag, I promised a Mexican friend to hang out before my trip, long talk: I am hearing one of the chapters of a novel he is writing, amazing. I felt like I knew him since forever. 3.30 AM I just realized that I lost the train to go to Baltimore. 5 am my friend is bringing me to Union Station: I almost missed the train again, but I took another train. 6 AM, Baltimore Airport, I am trying to meet with another friend in the Airport who is going to Costa Rica; finally we talked on the phone. A few minutes before the flight, I talked to Pepi who was in Miami already.

9.30 am: here I am, thinking about what I did these last two days, thinking that I have to choose the best moments of only these two days, it was definitely the people. I feel so grateful to be accompanied with really nice people. Having a friend waiting for me in Miami, getting a call from another friend wishing me a good trip, having another friend bringing me to the station are gestures that I never thought I was going to get in such a little amount of time. I remember the situation was the opposite my last days in Tucumán, Argentina before coming to US. It was really difficult for me to get my friends to want to hang out with me, or do something. I think that the difference lays not only in the fact that the people here are more friendly, but I also think it is a consequence of my willingness to be more friendly and more attentive with my new friends, something that I was not doing in Tucumán. I know that I cannot fix my relationships with my Argentinean friends now, but I learned that I have to come back and focus all of my energies on them in order to strengthen our friendship. I definitely miss them. If something is hard now, is not being able to share all of these amazing experiences with them. Each of them taught me a lot, and is hard not being able to share what is going on, because we are growing apart. One of the most important things that I have learned is the importance of being careful about our friends, and to value our personal relationships.

Another thing that I realized during the trip is how fortunate I am. I compared something that we learn in Latin American, it was about how the majority of the Latin American people living in the US are illegal immigrants and how they have the courage to leave their house and face hardships, because they are seeking to improve their lives. Understanding that makes me realize how fortunate I am to be a Latin American studying in the US at a very good university and receiving such amazing opportunities. Also, comparing between my experience and a homeless man Ahmad, I am able to realize how values were my opportunity. He told me “slow, slow you will hate the Americans, they discriminate the foreign people, and they are racists, as an Iranian I had to face a lot of troubles”. Definitely my perception of my experience living in the United States is totally different, maybe because of how different my experience is, or maybe because of how lucky I am of attending a university and getting a scholarship to be here. Situations where I am able to compare myself with another foreign person encourage me to reinforce my willingness to take advantage of every opportunity here. This situation gave me the criteria to decide how to spent my time, have to go party more, hangout, spent time with my friends, or having to reject plans so I can study more, be more focus in my activities? I think that I have to grow up academically, this is my priority, and if sometimes I have to reject fun times, that is the way to be responsible about the opportunities I receive. At the same time I know that both things, studying and having fun, can complement each other. The challenge now is know what I can do to be more focus in my studies, but at the same time save time to hangout with my friends. How can I get this equilibrium? I don’t know but I have a week to think about that, these days will be enough time to relax. I have to leave now. Pepi is calling me; he and his friends are waiting in the car we rented for our trip. Hope that next time I am able to have a better story to learn, to tell, and to remember. I am half way through my exchange, although this is sad, this reality came with the gift of enjoying an amazing break in Miami.

Spring break! in…Tuscaloosa?

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By aaront162

Spring Break is holds a particularly well known if not infamous reputation for partying on crowded beaches, drowning in a sea of people and loud “doof-doof” music and otherwise trying to avoiding drowning in the actual sea itself. It’s a pretty amazing thing when you consider that in Australia, we too have a weeklong break in the middle of semester but cocktails and drinks on poolside bars are replaced by days recovering sleep or stockpiling on red bull for assignments. In any case, while many would have no doubt enjoyed their time in the sunny and sandy shores of the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Florida or otherwise, a group of some forty or so people decided to undertake a strange and baffling trip to the middle of Alabama to help build houses for the poor and disadvantaged who lost theirs in the tornado that tore through Tuscaloosa.

I will admit that I did not expect much and heck, I joined the Alternateive Spring Break program as a spur of the moment kind of thing. Sipping cocktails with mini-umbrellas on the beach were replaced by many bottles of Gatorade to combat working in the Southern heat, being warned of falling coconuts on the beach was replaced by being warned of falling sheets of roof metal on the work site and exotic dinners were replaced by a daily lunch of peanut butter and jelly. But the funny thing is that as much as it sounds counter-intuitive to a degree that someone would choose to spend their Spring Break in such a way, looking back I really have no doubt that it has been one of the great experiences of my exchange so far – and the defining feature of what made that week so great was meeting a great group of people be they from GWU itself or indeed the great characters and people of Alabama and the South in general. It is quite easy and indeed, perhaps intrinsically natural to simply get to know and travel with other exchange students but to a certain extent, this means that other GWU students and indeed the community of people that surround us as a whole become somewhat of an exotic species. Jumping head first into the alternativee spring break, living, working and talking alongside a group of forty new people that you never knew before but by week’s end you have developed a great bond with was just a great way to really engage with a whole new group of people and you would indeed be amazed at the sort of laughs and friendships which develop over many hours of caulking and nailing sideboard.

Hola Puerto Rico

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By nimames

The past two week have been as hectic and as expected from a midterms week but finally the most awaited week of the term came: Spring Break everyone. With a group of exchange friends have decided to go to the Puerto Rico. Believe me, the planning part is definitely not something I looked forward to since we had to manage take into consideration the opinion and preference of 10 people but it worded out just well in the end. We decided to split into groups so Johanna, Emma and I flew on Saturday at 5pm. We missed the bus that had to take us to the airport and ended up having to take a cab to the airport. Fortunately, we shared it with another man who was heading to the airport as well. Our flight had a layover at JFK and the weirdest thing happened in the middle of us eating fries when we were waiting for our plane. They had changed the gate at the last minute and did not bother telling us. We were rushing to get to gate C61 that would take us to our Terminal 2, which we had come from and hour ago, and catch our plane.

The plane that was taking us to San Juan was full of spring breakers especially one group that was particularly vocal of their excitement. I briefly wondered how the other much more mature passenger were feeling on a plane full of obnoxiously excited college students but the fatigue of the busy day I´d had coupled with the pent-up exhaustion from a particularly unforgiving midterm week, lulled me immediately to a 3 hours nap.

After a rather quick 4 hours we finally arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico at at 1am, we checked in the Hotel and immediately passed out from exhaustion. The next morning we had a big breakfast and immediately headed to Old San Juan where our hotel was. After checking in, we decided to go the beach and that we did. We walked for about 20 minutes in the sun happy not to be warning a coat, boots or gloves. When we arrived to the beach, we just had bought plenty of snacks and just layer there and enjoyed the sun, reeling in the light breeze of the Puerto Rican weather.

Showing off your City

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By hannahbethdray

One of the best parts about being on exchange is going away and exploring new cities. I managed to see quite a few different places last semester so this weekend I returned the favor when my friend Louis came to visit this weekend. It is always nice to be able to show someone the city you are living in, and your favorite places to go to. Louis arrived on Thursday night and got the shock of his life when getting off the plane coming from LA – the average weather over there has been in the mid-70s, whereas in DC it has been below freezing with icy winds!
In true DC tradition we started our Friday morning with Brunch – for Louis this was great as he had gotten too used to healthy food in LA. Picture 1 (5) This was not the case at Founding Farmers! After this we set off on our adventure around DC checking out the national mall and Dupont. We found a great little café called Kramerbooks & Afterwords Picture 2 (6) it was a book store with a cute little café out back with amazing cakes and tea. After this we headed over to the Capitol and were surprised to find that the water in front of it had been iced over. Picture 3 (6) Unfortunately it was not enough for me to stand on it! He headed over to the other end of the national mall to check out the Lincoln Memorial Picture 4 (6)and also watch the sun set on the steps. Picture 6 (5)After seeing the White House, we went for dinner at a great restaurant across from it – Old Ebitt Grill. For anyone who is visiting DC or is looking for a fancier meal, this is the place for you! Picture 7 (4) That evening we headed out to U Street to explore the other parts of DC – as an exchange student you can sometimes get caught up in staying in Foggy Bottom and not exploring further out in other areas. On Saturday we headed over to Hains Point to watch GW Rugby play against Ivy league school Columbia. It was a tough game with a muddy pitch and unfortunately the boys lost by 3, but it was still a great game. Picture 8 (4)The slight upside though was the great sunset we managed to seePicture 9 (5)Picture 10 (3)
Louis was meant to stay till Monday afternoon however due to the Winter Storm coming; he had to fly back on Sunday unfortunately. And luckily that he did as we got over 6 inches of snow on Monday! Picture 11 (3)This meant another snow day! I was hauled up in the apartment due to upcoming Midterms this week. However come Thursday it will be Spring Break!! I can’t wait!!

Part 3 Finale

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By aaront162

Sunny and warm, incredibly pleasant weather and released from all commitments to assignments and exams, you are suddenly overcome with a the sheer sensation of being truly alive and free – all of this…really doesn’t apply to Washington DC at the moment in the midst of yet another snow storm with plenty of freezing rain to turn the sidewalks into makeshift ice rinks. In any case, time to conclude this long drawn out series of ramblings on travelling about with a simple, short and final point.

On Making Mistakes

It is inevitable that at some point in your journey you will encounter obstacles and challenges, and most importantly, you will make plenty of mistakes. It might be figuring out that Apple Maps (you know, that app which suggest you drive off bridges and stuff) really isn’t the best navigation tool in the world and that the human mind can only sustain a few road redirections and endless roundabout before being driven close to insanity. It might be accidentally ramming something with your rental car in the middle of the night and hastily concluding that no-one will really notice anything in the morning anyway. It might be learning the difference between the center of the city as opposed to say, a random stadium across town called City Centre. It might be realizing that the place you booked to sleep is in the middle of nowhere, at the edge of town, with lots of creepy cats and looks like it could be the set of some Stephen King novel involving lots of axes and decomposing bodies in that strange attic above your room. But the Liberty Bell, Rockefeller Centre, Times Square, the Statute of Liberty – all those meticulously planned checkpoints of television and movie lore on your itinerary of things to see – are really at the end of the day, always going to be there in some shape or form. Truth be told, sometimes they just really aren’t that amazing as perhaps you would think. At the end of the day (and perhaps several months on when you are back home), the moments you might find yourself coming back to will probably not be that dull tour of Constitution Hall or that $30 ride up a glorified New York elevator, but rather, those mistakes – those small indirections and mishaps – through which you shared a good laugh with good company, learned something about travelling about and something about each other as well. Murphy’s Law states that what might go wrong will go wrong but heck, sometimes stuff going wrong is half the fun.

Time to share exchange experiences, Pepi!

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By inepalacios

Capitol

 

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESBeginnings of April, 2013. “I want to study abroad”, I said. “I want to do it too,” he said to me. We were just finishing a weekly running training when I received this wonderful piece of news from my friend Pepi, who was planning to do an exchange semester too. I remember that in this moment the process of application was tedious and long, and also a little lonely. If I had friends from Political Science that were applying to do an exchange, it was an uncomfortable competition, because there were few vacancies and we know that the university that one get would be the same university that the other would lose. But in the case of Pepi the situation was different. Pepi is my friend but he is studying Bussiness Economics (I am studying Political Science), so we were not competing between each other.

Since this moment it was a long process of preparation, of talks, worries but also good expectations. There were too many things to plan: plane tickets, insurance, budgets, applications, travel plans. Pepi applied as his first option to the University of Richmond and I applied as a first option to The George Washington University, fortunately our home university gave us the opportunity to go to the universities that we wanted. He was one of few friends who I could talk all the time about the exchange, who understood me with each step, who lost a lot of hours helping me with the English exam, with applications and other things.

Pepi came here to visit GW this past weekend. Among my routinely activities, my assignments, midterms preparations I found time to organize tours around DC, neither the cold neither the work stopped us to have a terrific time in this amazing city.

Among other things, we shared mates the first night with Timo (my Argentinian colleague here in GW), a few delicious empanadas (typical argentinian food) that we found in Adams Morgan, the Argentinian Embassy visit, sharing with him one of my classes, walking to the White House, going out to dance in the city, having popular food of Washington, etc. The whole weekend and all what we did were enough activities to realize that all of our plans from a year ago (a trip we both envisioned and dream about for a long time) got real.

Although, it was not so much time, it was enough to think about what is happening these current days of my exchange. About all of the experiences that we have to take advantage.  It made me turning back in the time, remember how we wished this trip and realize that this experience seems to be better that I could ever think. It made me realize that I have to continuously put my joy and willingness to enjoy every instant.

As a way of not losing our habit of running (and also to keep in shape, of course) we went running through the favorite DC destinations: the memorials and all the monuments. At the end, the summary was a great and enriching afternoon after going through all the historical monuments of the foundation of the country. Among pictures, a wonderful rain, walk, run, memorials we had a good time to catch up.

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Tomorrow he has to go back to Richmond, I am still feeling that I could have shared more time with my friend, but I know that It is a good excuse to meet up again in the coming weeks here in Washington or in Richmond where he’s studying. But most importantly, in exactly a week and after the midterms, we will be enjoying together of our recently planed Spring Break in Miami.