Monthly Archives: October 2014

Rock Creek Park

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I count myself very much as a city boy. My childhood was spent in what could be described as a stereotypical suburban setting – not to dissimilar to the average American student I would imagine, except more haggis and tartan.

I can’t ever see myself living out with; or far from a city, I need some sort of hustle-n-bustle going on and almost constant entertainment. However, my favorite spot in my home city of Edinburgh, Scotland isn’t a restaurant, an historic monument or a famous watering hole – there’s a lot of all of these! It is instead, Arthur’s Seat; an extinct volcano which rises majestically from the city’s Old Town and tower’s over the Scottish capital like a watchful guardian.

It acts somewhat as an escape from urban life, much in the same Central Park in New York is meant as a sanctuary from the city that never sleeps. This week I discovered DC’s answer to Arthur Seat, and it’s spectacular.

Rock Creek Park, which I knew literally zero about until a few weeks ago is quickly becoming one of my favorite spots in the District.

It’s one of the oldest national parks in the United States and covering over 2000 acres, it is one of the largest urban parks in the whole country. I’ve not much of a chance to properly explore it in all its glory, I’m reliable informed that it includes “a golf course; equestrian trails; sport venues, including a tennis stadium which hosts major professional events; a nature center and planetarium; an outdoor concert venue; and picnic and playground facilities. Rock Creek Park also maintains cultural exhibits, including the Peirce Mill and Civil War fortifications, such as Fort Stevens and Fort DeRussy.”

I’m definitely planning on spending some more time there in the near future, so far I’ve just went for a few a walks and hikes. I very much doubt I’ll get time to see the whole thing before I leave but its a great escape in a city which is constantly moving.

Tornado’in  Mid-terms!

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Monday last week started off great! It was a glorious sunny and warm day. I thought I had put away shorts for the year but today looked like a good day to pull them out again. Wearing shorts in Scotland in any month is usually something of a risk, so getting to do so in October felt like a novelty.

Off I skipped to campus listening to some mellow summer-like music. Everything seemed great. However, even before I emerged from the Foggy Bottom metro a blast of wind hit me at the bottom of the escalator – unusual considering how nice it had been 15/20 minutes previous. Upon emerging from the escalator like a curious meerkat, I could see my glorious, everything-is-right-with-the-world day had got a bit windier and colder.

I had taken about two steps outside the metro when my blissful summer beats were interrupted by an alarm noise I wasn’t sure my iPhone was capable of making.

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“Tornado Warning in this area… Take shelter now.”

… ‘I wonder if that’s why Obama’s cancelled his trip?’… if I had an iPhone 6 I’d probably be able to read the whole notification from Politico. …

I was heading for a class at the Vern but needed to print a paper off in the Library first. I thought that could suffice as my shelter, plus it didn’t seem that windy. I made it to the Library with relative ease, printed off my paper and looked longingly at iPhone 6 deals online. It was getting close to 1pm and the start of my class, so I thought I better make a move for the Vern Express. Nobody was really bothering about the Tornado warning, so I thought to hell to with it and made a run to the bus.

Anyone out, around campus between 1230 and 1pm can testify to the ridiculousness of the rain and wind at that moment. I could only have been outside for 30seconds but I was soaked through and hating the decision I took to wear shorts. Nonetheless, everything turned out A-OK and when I finally got home it made the day appear all the more adventurous.

My mum was somewhat concerned when she seen my Facebook post advertising my excitement of a tornado warning, questioning if I was in a basement or whatever keeping safe. I reassured I was never in harms way… not on a rickety school bus firing along the Potomac in a rain storm which made seeing 5 ft in front of you difficult.

Nonetheless, it as something I really didn’t expect to experience this year. I thought any weather difficulties would come in the form of snow days…

This week has been full of midterms and they are tiring! It’s kinda funny, we don’t really do midterms in Scotland – we normally have one paper due for class followed by an exam at the very end – but with American television we are too aware of what they are and the fear they can instill into every student’s life. Our assessments back home are also generally spaced out, which made cramming them pretty much all into one week, something of a surprise.

I had perhaps the very worst start to them. I turned up for my first class on Tuesday a little earlier than normal. It was a helpful review session ahead of our midterm, so I was eager to catch as much of it as possible – I’ve done enough college courses in my life to know that if Professors care enough to host a review session, they normally give you some useful hints and a clue for the actual tests.

So there I was, one of the first to arrive for class that day. But something was definitely odd, it took me a couple seconds and then as the realization of what was going fell over me like a blanket of fear.

I began panicking and quickly grabbed by bag, looking for the syllabus I was pretty sure was in there somewhere. I eventually found it and my worst fears – at that precise moment – were realized. The midterm was today! I had, for some unbeknownst reason switched the dates of my classes around in my head.

I had less than ten minutes before the class started, during those moments every thought went through my head. How much can I cram in those few minutes? Should I cut my losses, leave the class and plead for a do-over with the Professor? This was worth 50% of my grade, if I walk out with 0% will that screw up my entire year, perhaps my entire degree? Could I drop the course without breaking visa rules? Would I be able to make it up next year? I wonder how Hilary and Shawna can help me? Are they gonna be pissed? I wonder if a Tornado warning might save me?

Getting sidetracked thinking about Tornadoes basically made the decision for me. I had an answer book in front of me, the Professor had arrived and I was just going to have to give it a go.

The question sheets got handed round and felt like I was the last to get it. We had to answer 1 question out of a possible 3, I’m not particularly religious but I was definitely praying for some divine intervention at that point. And then, it fell in front of me…

Question 1. Scottish Independence….

I think I did ok.

Mid-terms, coffee and shopping

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It’s feels like we only just got here and made ourselves at home, but already reality has given us a slap in the face with the joy known as midterms.

In Scotland, we normally have only one exam and one paper due for each class, so having another exam thrown at you in the middle of a semester is a new experience. I’m not going to lie, I would much rather be having fun than reading the Federalists papers – which are apparently very important – but thus we are to here study amongst other things.

I actually think that the system here of almost continual testing is more rewarding, cramming last minute is somewhat less of an option.

Everyone has felt the need to buckle down and get some studying going before we can gallivant around the country in November. Our summer wardrobes have also all but come to the end with fall really coming alive in DC.

A lot of people I have spoken to had told me that fall in DC was best time to be here and I’m starting to see why. Festivals and Oktoberfests have been springing up across the city with a backdrop of golden foliage. It’s the sort of climate that makes you crave the warmth of a good cup of coffee whilst you study. 

I’ve two favourite spots in the city so far. The first is Saxby’s Coffee in Georgetown (b/t N 35th St & N 36th St). It’s a bit of a walk from Foggy Bottom but its a great place to nestle in for an afternoon of studying/buzzfeed reading. 

My other is The Coupe in Columbia Heights. Open until late and only a stones throw from my apartment, it’s a great place to spend the afternoon either inside or out; and in the evening part of the place turns into bar. A great reward for a day hard spent at ‘dem books.

With it being fall of course our summer wardrobes our almost useless, so I’ve some serious shopping has been in order. There’s no shortage in options with malls about across the city and the majority with excellent metro connections.

This past weekend I had the welcome bonus of the use of a car, meaning that we were able to pay a visit some malls in Silver Spring and Bethesda. Whilst it was only a short distance away it was great to get out the city and see somewhere else for a change.

Pumpkin Spicing DC

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Back home, the weather is always a topic of conversation. You can get all four seasons in a day in Edinburgh, so small talk often revolves around the daily weather. So it’s somewhat natural that the sudden drop in temperature and arrival of pumpkin spiced everything comes with a different view, and aspect on DC has emerged. We’ve all now been in the city for over a month and a half. We have our favourite coffee shops, we understand the metro and seeing Marine One fly-over or a motorcade going-by is not unfamiliar to us. We’re no longer tourists and more like residents.

It’s not all plain sailing though – little ever is – culture shock hasn’t been sudden but it does exist. I’ve been to the US even DC itself before, but being a tourist is much different to actually living in a place. Coming from a country where anything 65F+ is sunbathing weather, the immediate culture shock was the heat and humidity. I’m no stranger to heat and love nothing better than relaxing by a pool, but I was to humidity and I really wasn’t expecting it when I arrived. That first full day in DC was great but dealing with the subsequent and unexpected mosquito bites the following day, was not. So there’s little things that can still blindside you.

Nonetheless, the city is beginning to feel like home. I’ve purposely held off doing any travelling until I was well rooted in the city and now that’s happened, I’m busy tracking down cheap flights (Virgin America has deals to the West coast for as little as $179 at the moment). I’m looking at spend a little time all over the place, New England, the South, Pacific North West, Colorado and California or all on my bucket list for the year.

That sense of reality is helped by the impending mid-terms which are stacking up thick and fast. Much of the general stereotype of a year abroad, particularly if you’re studying on a program in Europe is that academics go out the window and its a year of partying and debauchery. Whilst partying and debaucher is still a running narrative here, academics are still a huge factor. Classes are demanding but ultimately interesting and rewarding. There’s a greater sense of freedom in choosing your subjects here and professors are much better at providing real life examples to their teachings which makes the whole experience ultimately more rewarding.

So, it’s been another week of class, socialising, watching sports and general fun times.

Friday was spent recovering from a surprise party for Ellie, one of our study abroad troop. Saturday was spent watching College football – I was kinda disappointed that GW didn’t have a team but at the same time allows me to follow any team that’s really playing and generally enjoy the game which is fantastically passionate. Sunday was another trip to H street and the Pug for brunch for a friends birthday, followed by very stereotypical drinking from red solo cup in a backyard playing beer pong, boom cap and various other games I generally didn’t understand but all in all a good weekend.