When we were first accepted to GW we were encouraged to consider the cultural differences we may expect to find when arriving in DC. Since arriving I have striven to ensure that I indulge in any and all cultural activities that would be considered ‘out of my Australian comfort zone’ so as to make the most of the experience of living here and attending school at GW.
However, this weekend the tables were somewhat turned as Sunday saw the Australian exchange students pulling out all the green and gold we could find as we prepared to both show off our holiday to our non-Aussie friends and enjoy a typical Australian celebration ourselves. Except, it was anything but a typical way to celebrate this occasion for us as our sandy beaches were replaced with snowy streets.
Australia Day, celebrated on January 26th in Australia, marks the landing of the English in Australia and is a national holiday at home. For us, it is perhaps most similar to the 4th of July celebrations that Americans are accustomed to with our Australia days usually consisting of soaking up some sun, enjoying a barbeque and hanging out with friends in the pool. But with such a high contingency of Australian exchange students, we certainly didn’t want to let the moment pass without an opportunity to enjoy it together, similar to the way we would have done at home.
We overcame the initial debate as to when to celebrate – Australia Day this year fell on a Monday and as its obviously not a public holiday here, celebrating when we had classes was not going to be an option. We deliberated over the moral dilemma of celebrating it a day early until we decided that it was probably best to have our Australia Day fiesta on the Sunday so as to best align with the time difference and partake in the festivities on the 26th. Next though we had to work out how to make it as Australian as possible. We had packages coming in from Australia (thanks mum for all the stuff!) filled with plates, napkins, temporary tattoos, flags, banners, beach balls, and most importantly…Tim Tams. The boys took care of the food ensuring that, despite the obvious lack of barbecue, sausages and other meats were still available for all.
Although it was colder than any Australia Day I have ever celebrated, this was certainly a very special Australia Day as, not only did we rally together to go to extra lengths to ensure that it was as authentic as possible despite being on the other end of the globe, we were able to share our customs with new friends that we have made from around the world as we filled the room with other exchange students, EXO leaders, roommates and GW friends. We had the Brits requesting Kylie Minogue songs, the Germans correcting our sausage cooking techniques (seriously, none of us were going to argue – they are pros!), the Americans putting on Australian adverts on Youtube to add to the authenticity and the students from all around Asia participating in the Australia day fun too. Everyone was tattooed with Australian flags and we even tried to introduce a few typically Aussie games into the afternoon.
So this year we may not have had our typical barbecue and pool party, but we surely did make the most of sharing our culture and bringing just a little bit of Australia onto the GW campus.
Whilst our Australia Day celebration was a lot of fun, I would have failed my own task had I not also explored something new, as per the challenge I set myself a couple blogs ago. Accordingly, this Friday a group of us set out to explore the Arlington cemetery, and in particular to visit the grave site of President John F. Kennedy. The internet had warned of swarms of crowds around the grave but it being both an absolutely freezing cold day and a Friday, obviously worked in our favor as we had much of the podium to ourselves to really take in the amazing view and the meaning of visiting the resting place of a president.
Our tour guide for the morning informed us as to why the position for JFK’s plot was decided upon – mere weeks prior to his assassination, JFK had been visiting the mansion at the top of the hill in Arlington when he said he could stay here forever looking at the beautiful view of the nation’s capitol. And so, when he passed, it was decided that they would honor this wish, following much protest from the Kennedys (against JBKO) as they wanted him buried closer to their family home, and so now the Kennedy family now lay to rest overlooking the gorgeous skyline of Washington, D.C.
Having studied JFK a fair amount in high school, I had for some time wanted to visit his resting place and pay my respects and I am incredibly glad that I now have. The eternal flame, combined with the amphitheater inscribed with one of the greatest speeches ever given, really set the tone and make this experience an incredibly powerful one.
But this cemetery acts as the final resting place for many, not just the Kennedy’s, as is evident by the rows and rows of headstones visible in all directions. Primarily a military cemetery, bar the few civilians whose contribution was so grand their deserving could not be overlooked, it is both saddening to think of all those lives lost, and amazing to think of how meaningful it must be to all these families to have at least received the bodies of their loved ones to bury.This point truly hits home when you arrive at the enormous tomb of the Unknown Soldier that stands as a stark reminder of all those men who sacrificed their lives and never made it back to American soil in any capacity.
This tomb is manned consistently, night and day, by guards who both protect and honor the memory of these soldiers. We waited until the hour hit so that we could watch the changing of the guard ceremony – an intricate and highly detail orientated series of movements that highlight the discipline and training of these guards. The ceremony was interesting to see and I am glad we were able to witness it before our time at Arlington was up.
All in all, Arlington Cemetery provided us with a powerful view of some of America’s history as we paid our respects to all those who have fallen in the line of duty whilst trying to protect the freedom of this country.
And so another wonderful week in Washington has passed, which only means that it is time for another inevitably fantastic week to begin.
Until next time…