Monthly Archives: February 2015

A one time event

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Since I got back from New York the weather started changing and getting colder. Those days snowed a lot and the roads and access to the city started being more complicated so Tuesday was declared as a snow day what means that people does not have to go to work. After this, GW also cancelled classes. I had arrived DC at 2am in the morning so I got really happy knowing that I could sleep longer. On the afternoon I went to my weekly course of the “Maimonides Leaders Fellowship program” where speakers come to talk about certain topics and in that particular class we prepared Jala (Is like a special bread). That night I went to the cinema and my brother came to my house to have dinner so I baked the Jala and he prepared a delicious meal for both of us. Ureiel

On Friday Night I had an “Emoji party” what meant that each person had to dress up like one of the emoji icons that you use when texting. In my case, I had a lot of different ideas but I finally decided to go as the cat emoji, which was the easiest one. Animals, ballet dancers, smiley faces and even the Japanese twins where some of the customs that people had chosen. One of my friends borrowed my hat so he could be the Russian guy and one of my favorites was my friend Wilson who decided to go like the 3 monkeys: blind, deaf and mute. The party was really good, I caught up with people I haven’t seen in weeks and the best thing was that the party was in my building so I didn’t have to get cold on my way back home.emoji

The last weekend was an interesting weekend. My friend Dion invited me to the Opera on the opening night of Dialogues of the Carmelites and because of the horrible weather we got the chance to sit in the middle of the theatre in 300 dollars seats for free! This powerful Opera about an order of Carmelite nuns who refuse to renounce their beliefs during the French Revolution, turned to be the most remarkable event of my week. Not only because of the interesting topic but also because I ended up feeling the most naïve and lucky girl of the room. The Opera was 3 hours long and there was an intermission of 20 minutes so my friend and I drank something and went to the bathroom. When I tried to go back inside, the play had already started so I sat in a different seat until the change of scenes. The women there didn’t seem pleased when she moved her purse but 5 minutes later I returned to my original place next to my friend after I made stand up all the people there. The end of the play was kind of shocking but it received a standing ovation from the crowd. When the Director took the stage, I realized she was the woman that moved her purse to let me sit next to her! (Yes, now we understand her angry face). Apart from that, and before going to the Opera house backstage, I realized that one of the people that I gently asked to stand up 50 minutes before was with the secret service. When I asked, we found out that the important person seating next to me was the famous Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg!! Of course at that time I didn’t know but I felt really happy and ashamed at the same time (In my favor I’ll say that everyone there looked important and famous) So we can say that I touched the most important two people in the audience that night even though I was not conscious about it and the funny part is that was my unawareness what made it happen. I believe ignorance sometimes let you do things you would never do if you knew. Ignorance sometimes frees you from judgment, your judgment. No fear, no shame, no thoughts of other people opinion. In this case, ignorance gave me the opportunity to look into the eyes of one of the most important persons of the country. As we say in Spanish: “Si lo hacia a propositio, no me salia tan bien” opera

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Another New Year’s Day!!

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I’m writing this blog posting with deep gratitude to Wilson Koh, who organized the event, prepared and hosted the lunar New Year’s Day party in his dorm last week, on the 16th of February. (You’re awesome Wilson!! 🙂 )

In Asia the use of lunar calendar had been dominant in the history, before modernization and adopting the Western solar calendar. For this reason, a lot of major national holidays are based on lunar calendar dates. New Year’s Day is one of those holidays, so nowadays Asians tend to celebrate New Year’s Day twice during the year, one on January 1st on solar calendar, the other on lunar calendar – of which the date is not on a set time in solar calendar. This year, the actual date for Lunar New Year’s Day was February 19th, but because it was the President’s day on 16th of February and everyone got a break from school that day, we decided to celebrate the Lunar New Year’s Day a little earlier than its actual date.

On Lunar New Year’s Day, families including relatives all gather around, enjoy the time together, say New Year’s greetings to each other, eat and do customary, traditional things for the New Year’s Day. Such customs and traditions differ from country to country in Asia, though the idea of families coming together and spend time with each other seems to be basically the same. In Korea, on the New Year’s Day, we say greetings to each other, bow (in a traditional style) to our parents, wear traditional clothings called ‘hanbok’, eat New Year’s Day food (which is represented by ‘Ddeok-guk’, a rice cake soup carrying the meaning of getting a year older) and play some traditional games together. Love of family is the most important virtue on the Lunar New Year’s Day.

Here in DC, close friends are like our families, for as exchange students most of us came here alone, with families or relatives staying in our home country. Having a Lunar New Year’s Day party together meant a lot to us, not only in terms of sharing different cultures but most importantly, being thankful for each other’s presence as family-like friends, to whom we could rely upon and share feelings together in a foreign country.

Wilson (who is from Singapore) was the host of this Lunar New Year’s Day dinner event, and asked me and my friends to join the cooking. He himself cooked a lot of dishes and the rest of us usually cooked and brought one or two dishes. All put on one table, the dinner was the congregation of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Singaporian dishes. After the dinner, Wilson introduced a Singaporian custom of the New Year’s Day which is called yusheng (or lohei). Yusheng is the food Singaporians eat on the New Year’s Day with their family, and the ingredients they put in the food each has different meanings, such as luck, wealth, success, youth, happiness and so on. Every participant for this yusheng says out loud the words that signifies all such good remarks and blessings and together, mixes all the ingredients like salad using chopsticks. We shared the food afterwards. It was a fun and memorable event, and above all another new and energetic, friendly start of 2015!

The Kennedy Centre and the Carolinas

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When I left off from my last blog, we had just had a fantastic weekend in New York, and after we got back to DC on the bus (after some horrible traffic), we pulled out from Union Station and looked to our left to find the glistening Capitol Building seemingly welcoming us back. Although the Capitol is under construction/repair at the moment and is therefore covered in scaffolding, there is something that is still so beautiful about it at night – it looks to me like a croquembouche decorated in spun sugar. Actually, that’s what I have been calling it since we first went on the tour inside it – the croquembouche building.

After a theatre-filled weekend in New York it seems that I was just not ready to have it stop as I headed back to the Kennedy Centre for another Tuesday night at the theatre. This time I went to see ‘Gigi’ with Nicola, another Australian exchange student, and Elif, an exchange student from Turkey. As this was the show’s preview before hitting Broadway, I was curious to see how it was – as much as I have seen at the theatre, this was my first time seeing an out-of-town preview, so that was pretty exciting, at least to me. I was also really eager to see ‘Gigi’ having seen the movie before and knowing that it is one of my grandma’s all time favorites.

The production was filled with seasoned Broadway veterans, some who I had seen before in other shows, as well as having Vanessa Hudgens as their celebrity name. On a whole the show was really well cast and, on a separate note, the set-design was great. I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed the show and how well it translated from screen to stage. I hope it is as well-received by Broadway audiences as it seemed to be in DC!

After only a few short days (in which I crammed in four assessments!), Mads (Australian exchange student/my best friend from home) and I were off again for the weekend, keen to take advantage of it being a long weekend. We went down to South Carolina where one of my really close friends lives to visit and explore two states of the US I had never been to before. After flying into Charlotte, North Carolina we met up with our friend, Marissa, and drove down to Columbia, South Carolina.

Whilst Columbia isn’t known for being the tourist hub of America, we definitely enjoyed seeing the sights it had to offer on the Friday that we were there. The state capitol building was definitely an impressive structure surrounded by a variety of sculptures each symbolizing an important event or individual. We also saw the Supreme Court building as well as a couple really pretty churches. Next we went in search of a little district known for its boutique shops and once finished there we made our way to Finlay Park. Although too chilly to enjoy the park in its entirety, we saw some really lovely water features and enjoyed ourselves on the three person swing that sits above the park’s main water fountain.

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The next day we continued our exploration of the historically significant Carolinas but heading down to Charleston, South Carolina. We began our morning there by taking a carriage tour (with our driver Baba, and our two horses, Butter and Grits) from which we were able to get a lay of the land as well as a great introduction to the history and myths of Charlotte from our very knowledgeable driver. From the carriage we saw some lovely churches, gorgeous cobblestone streets, amazing mansions, the harbor, other historical structures and the much-anticipated Rainbow-Row.

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Having only ridden through the historic district, at the conclusion of our carriage ride we embarked on foot to see the rest of the town, as well as to revisit some spots that we wanted to investigate further.

We started with the slavery museum, which is housed in an old slave auction house, adding to the significance and horror of the information presented in the displays. Comprehending the information within that environment really enhances its reality as a horrific mistreatment of innocent people and a total violation of human rights. As we learnt, more than 40% of the African Americans brought to America as part of the slave trade went through Charleston’s port – that’s approximately 200,000 enslaved people going through the one, relatively tiny, town. The statistics meant a lot more to me standing within Charleston and especially within the museum than they have ever meant to me before.

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From the slave museum we walked up in pursuit of the Dock Street Theatre – the first theatre ever built in America. As a total theatre nerd, this excited me greatly and I was desperate to see the birthplace of American theatre! It is a beautiful theatre from the outside and if I find myself in Charleston again, I definitely want to go on a night that they are performing a show!

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We had a look around the beautiful mansions, as well as the harbor and the houses along rainbow row. We explored a nice market and had some lunch there and then later, at dinner, I tried she-crab soup and grits and therefore now consider myself a true Southerner- if only I’d had something monogrammed whilst there! All-in-all, Charleston is a really cute little town and a great day-trip if you are somewhere nearby – I would definitely suggest seeing it, although I don’t think that your stay there needs to be too long.

We spent the next morning in Columbia before driving back to Charlotte (perhaps with a slight detour to a couple malls on the way) to spend our last night and day there. Charlotte definitely came across as more of a business hub than anything else. Unfortunately, as we were there on the public holiday, the city seemed rather empty and the cold disrupted our plans of seeing the parks that Charlotte has to offer.

churhc and friendsfriendsz

And so ends another wonderful week in DC! I can definitely feel that the cold is about to kick in even stronger which I can’t say I’m looking forward to! I just hope it passes soon – so ready for spring and sunshine – I am Australian after all!

Until next time…

Newyorkila

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A rough week of exams and papers had come to the perfect end when I traveled to New York for the long weekend. Not being the perfect weather, minus 15 degrees is a bit cold even if you love wintertime, my first weekend trip turn to be the most peaceful and warmest of them all.

It was said this particular weekend was the coldest of the season and even if NY is colder than DC, my 4 days there weren’t as bad as it sounds. I arrived on Friday morning with the bus and I went directly to Google to meet my friend Lucas who works there. We hadn’t seen each other for 7 months so I was really looking forward to see him again. At Google we had lunch together and he showed me his office and the cool things in the building. Yes, everything you’ve ever heard about the different and original stuffs that Google provides is less attractive than what they really have. Is not only the floor that is design according to the 4 seasons of the year, or the playroom with Pool and massage chairs, or the Lego area where anyone can play while having a snack or the acoustic room full of instruments, or that every employee can go from one side of the building to the other side with a scooter what makes you understand that any lucky person that worked hard enough to get there, receives amazing things in return. It’s the comfortable environment at Google, where they take care of every detail, what would definitely make a person work with energy and passion and the desire of doing his best for the spectacular company he is working in.

After really cold walks, my friend and I visited every store in Times Square, we did some shopping, ate some traditional Argentine Empanadas, visited some neighborhoods, almost got Broadway tickets for 25 dollars and we ate at Katz’s Delicatessen, the best Pastrami place in the world. Most people know it because of the famous movie scene in “When Harry met Sally” but most of us know it as the famous Jewish pastrami place that is top one in your Must Do list and is even more important than going to Central Park. So if you are trying to be a vegetarian, well, I strongly suggest you never go to this place!fame

This weekend I also spent time with my family that lives in Manhattan. My cousins and their kids gave me the hugs and kisses that my body needed to warm up. On Friday night we had Shabbat Dinner together and it made me feel at home. We took pictures; we played games and watched a movie while we ate homemade cupcakes with the shape of a heart (my five years old cousin was the fantastic cook). On Sunday I had brunch with one of my cousins and I finally met his beautiful baby. We spent a few hours together catching up and after that I walked around until I met my other cousins for teatime. My weekend was surrounded of babies and kids full of energy to play, run and be amazed of small things. That’s what young children remain us; even moving shiny color lights reflected on the floor are good enough to make us smile and have fun in a freezing weather.

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It was Valentine’s Day and everyone was really happy, cold and in love. There were flowers, chocolates, balloons and red things everywhere you looked. That night Lucas, his roommate,his French friend and I had dinner together in an Asian place. I had an exquisite Ramen soup and after that we travelled to Brooklyn for the pregame at one of his Argentine friend’s place where I met grad students. The food, the decoration of the house and even the napkins were red. I must say that is a really strange thing for an Argentinian because we don’t really care about this particular day. Some couples do receive and buy gifts for their partners but is not something as relevant as it is for the Americans or the New Yorkers in particular. The nightclub was also a special place because one of my friends took the balloon with the shape of a heart with her and every time she moved we could find her just looking up. It was a bit funny and as I called it, Love was in the Air!

 

On Sunday night we watched the NBA All-star game at a bar. Of course it was not the same to watch the game in the TV than being there but we had a great time together with the rest of the fans there, my Chinese friend Andy included, who is also an exchange student and we met in NY. It was really nice to find new friends, to get to know them and spend time with people that I really liked.valentines

But it was not all about family and friends; I also got the chance to do a few touristic things. I lived two blocks from Times Square so I definitely went to every gigantic store there, I took the classic picture on the stairs and finally I did the “15 seconds of fame” on the big screen. Believe it or not, this was my third time in the big city but I never tried to take those pictures before. One thing I can definitely thank about that freezing weather is that not too many people wanted to be outside so all the touristic places were not as crowded as those use to be.

 

Also, I went to the Natural History Museum with my little cousins that run all the time but still enjoyed the petrified animals. After the Museum we got back to their house uptown so we walk by the frozen Central Park, which is marvelous.

When I started thinking about my long weekend and the places I wanted to go, I only knew that the World Trade Center, the memorial of 9/11, was the only place I was definitely going. The last time I’ve been in NY, the monument was still being constructed so I only had an idea of how it was going to be. Next to the new building that replaced the twin towers there are two gigantic square fonts with all the names of the victims written to the side and once you get there you can feel the majesty of the place; you can feel the cold. The memories about that day, some people crying and the breeze in your face reminds you that is not only a touristic place in the city, is not another monument or funny attraction where you can loose money and most important, is not a place you could easily forget. I didn’t have the chance to visit the twin towers when I was younger but if only one building made me feel small, I can’t imagine the symbolism and power that represented the original ones. Now there is only one. Now we are here. We are alive and is our obligation to never forget, to stand against terrorism. Not only for us but also for them.nyc

Family, old friends, new friends, touristic places, Google, nightclubs, reflections, warm homes, delicious food and the freezing weather in only 4 days. Definitely, New York is the City that never sleeps.

The Scent of an Old City

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Trip to Philadelphia, during probably the coldest weekend I’ve ever experienced in US east coast. Having forgotten to bring my hair dryer, I had to start my days in Philadelphia with wet hair, which were to freeze within less than 5 minutes. Walking straight was even hard due to the strong, icy, cutting cold wind that blew from the opposite direction. The winds occasionally blew with heavy (nearly blinding) snow. To summarize how my trip was, I would say it was cold, windy, snowy and yet again, cold. But even the worst weather did not prevent me from becoming immersed into the attractions of Philadelphia. The impression I got from Philadelphia, especially in comparison to DC, was the scent of an old city.

Full of historical buildings, places with incredible importance in American history, along with many museums that preserve paintings and sculptures, Philadelphia was a city that showed the traces of time without any alterations. The Old City district in Philadelphia was where all the historical places and artifact were congregated: Independence Hall, The Liberty Bell, Franklin Court, Carpenters Hall, the first and second bank of United States, Penn’s Landing and also, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. After 4 hours in bus, the first place my friends and I visited was the Penn’s Landing. It was where William Penn set his first foot in 1682, where the history of Pennsylvania began, and where we started our 3 days trip in Philadelphia. The Benjamin Franklin Bridge was also visible from the Penn’s landing.

Liberty Bell, the highlight of the trip to Philadelphia, was actually quite smaller than I had thought. Before seeing the bell through my own eyes, I somehow imagined that the bell would be grand, relating to its importance and great significance as an emblem of freedom and liberty, the most upheld values in the United States. It was there, a cracked small bell, yet it had still influenced so many people who fought for liberty and their right as human beings that changed and shaped the world we live today and continues to do so. With the solemn aura of the Liberty Bell, The Liberty Bell Center evidently showed the American pride for their shared values of liberty and equality, history and national pride. The similar atmosphere could be felt in the Independence Hall and the Franklin Court. Philadelphia was the initial capital of United States for 10 years, before Washington DC was established and became the national capital city. Such significant political decisions were made at that very hall and court of Philadelphia that shaped the national identity of the United States. The old capital was then substituted by a new one, and this significance was what reinforced my feelings of this trip, travelling from DC to Philadelphia, as travelling from a shiny bright city to an old, historical, archaic one. There were also horse carriages offering a city tour, standing on one side of the road, making the area all the more historic. For a while, I felt as if I have been travelling not in 2015 Philadelphia, but in 18th century Philadelphia.

The Center City, Museum Districts were also places that were memorable and attractive. The Center City reflected the vitality and vigor of bustling city and people, which could be felt especially in the Reading Terminal Market. On the Valentine’s Day, all 6 of us took our first group photo in front of the LOVE sign in the LOVE Square (everyone else who took photos there apart from us were all couples… ). The day we visited the Museum District was the coldest day throughout our entire trip, so we tended to huddle inside the museum, avoiding going outdoors as much as we could.

The 3 day trip in Philadelphia was not short, yet there were places that made us want to visit again when the weather gets warmer. Though sometimes cold weather can do us some good (Snow Day!), these days I cannot stop wishing for spring to come. And when the spring finally comes, the first thing I’ll do would be to go visit as many places in DC as I can.

Benefits of dormitory housing

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One of the greatest things in GW is its dormitories. Having a kitchen inside, (in case of 1959 E Street we have washing machine inside the room too) dormitories are a perfect spot for friends gathering around, cooking dinner together and spend time chilling in the living room.

There are certain dormitories in which exchange students are usually assigned to. A few examples of such dormitories are 1959 E Street, City Hall, Amesterdam Hall. I live in 1959 E Street, next to the Elliott School Building, one of the most popular dormitories for exchange students or international students. Usually, 4 people share a room, although there are a few rooms in which 5 people share the room. In my case, I have two American roommates who are both study abroad students, and another roommate who is also an exchange student. I personally believe that I was very fortunate to have been assigned the same room with my current roommates, for they are all very awesome, friendly, nice, and caring people. Though not much often, we do hang around from time to time, for dinner or an event. Due to the fact that the four of us all share a commonality of having studied abroad, it seems that we got closer soon enough. Always having someone at home, whom we could talk to at the end of each day can be a nice consolation for people like exchange students, studying in a different country, like a family.

Utilizing kitchen in the dormitory is also a great benefit. Not only do we not have to spend money eating out each meal, you can always invite people over, cook something together and have fun! Cooking food together with people from different countries can also be a chance to experience culture of each other. Food is a great way to experience another culture, and going to another country as an exchange student, I believe a vast majority of people made that decision to actually experience and feel the culture different from their own. Utilizing dormitories to make such opportunities can be an interesting, effective, and low-costly way to fulfil one of the goals that you might have had when coming to DC as an exchange student

So far, I had so many international dinners during my 5 week stay in DC that I almost feel as if I came to GWU to cook, rather than to study. My cooking skills are improving day by day, along with my baking skills, of which I used to bake a chocolate cake when I was invited to a birthday party of a Chinese friend a few weeks ago.

Of course, when inviting friends over or throwing a party, you should always ask for your roommates’ consent in advance. As long as they do not dissent, I believe utilizing dormitories provide you with more possible chances to make your stay in DC more intriguing!

 

Change a life changed my life

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What is life without love? What is life without people that care and take care of you? What is life without fighting for what you want? What is life without hope? What is life without planning and looking for your future?

How would your life be if every morning you had to fight to survive?

The last weekend I got the chance to see love with my own eyes. I got the chance to learn about real fights. I got the chance to learn about hope. Last Sunday I participated in The GW Dance Marathon where I had to stay on my feet for twelve hours with the goal of raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. At this big event, more than 300 people decided to dance for twelve hours to support kids that can’t do it. More than 300 people decided to accept the challenge. More than 300 people decided that the cause was worth the pain. WE decided that there was no better thing to do on a Saturday that stand for those who can’t. DO IT FOR THE KIDS. That is what we did.

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Even if the marathon was intended to help the children at the hospital, I believe it also helped me. I had no idea of what I was doing when I raised my money for the Dance Marathon. I was said that I was changing a life but I didn’t realize it was changing MY life. During that day, not only I danced, ate and had fun with my friends but also I met some of the kids and families that I was indirectly helping. Each family had their moment to share with us the hell they have been living in since they found out their kids had Cancer, leukemia, or even mental disorders. They still wake up every morning wondering if that day is going to be the day that the nightmare ends. But they also wake up with hope and gratitude because their kids are alive. Have you ever been glad just for waking up? Have you ever realized how lucky you are? When I was younger, my mother used to say that she was grateful for the things she had but also for the things she didn’t have. At that time I didn’t realize what she meant. I do now. I do understand that we don’t choose the life we receive and that just the way we could be richer or prettier, we could also be less healthy. We don’t choose the life we receive but we do decide HOW to live. This is something I learned from the kids I met last Saturday. One of the girls has bone cancer and because of that one of her legs had been amputated. That didn’t stop her. That didn’t make her stay in bed. On the contrary, she told us that by the time she was on the hospital, she used to sing to feel better so she decided to perform for us and sang two amazing songs about being stronger. When I finally met her, I discovered she practiced football and was also a great basketball player who won every game we played!! I really didn’t let her win!

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Tess and Alexander, two fantastic tweens, also taught me about kindness and hope. This little brothers were diagnostic cerebral palsy by the age of two. After several treatments they increased their mobility and now a days they swim, they have Karate lessons and they also love music. He stayed with the DJ for a few hours and she spoke with everyone just to tell us how grateful she was for what we were doing because we were helping her and her friends. When you do a special thing for others but you don’t expect to receive anything in return and then a ten years old girl approaches, introduces herself and just says “Thank you” when your body is screaming to stop moving, it simply leaves you speechless, happier and stronger.

Everyone deserves a healthy and happy childhood, yes. But those kids made me understand that life is not what you get but what you do with your life. Is not only what life gives you, is what you give to the world. All of them have different diseases but the only thing that took my attention was that they never stopped SMILING. And what could be better than a child’s smile?

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At the end of the night we raised $77,402.38!!! It was more than what we expected, more than the goal for that night. Of course, this was my first marathon at GW and I thought that most people had years participating on it so it came to my surprise when one of the leaders of this project told me that its only the second year that this fantastic event is held at GW. I wondered why it took so long for the university to incorporate this type of events but at the same time I’m glad this project would take place every year from now on. Second year, double the dancers, double the money, and double the miracles? Let us hope and believe so.