Monthly Archives: August 2015

‘Under Construction’

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United States Capitol – Thinking of DC, the Capitol is the main landmark, which I associate with the City. It’s a distinctive landmark of the US. It’s not only the political importance of the Capitol providing the meeting place for the US Congress, which makes it so important in my opinion, but also its pop-cultural significance. As a passionate ‘House of Cards’ viewer seeing the Capitol in real life is the same as wandering around New York City in the case of an excited ‘Gossip Girl’ fan. But there is one thing that slightly ruined my excitement (besides the fact that Frank Underwood wasn’t actually waiting at the stairs of the Capitol to give me a personal tour): The dome of the Capitol is under construction. It’s my first time in DC, I love ‘House of Cards’ and I was super excited to see the Capitol in all its beauty.

Big shout out to the person deciding to renovate the Capitol’s dome during my stay in DC. Perfect timing…

Blog Entry 2 - Picture Capitol

But not only the dome is under construction currently. Also the apartment, which I’m staying at, is literally under construction. Changing the window frames, taking out the carpet and replacing it with a new one as well as updating the furniture; all of this is done while I’m trying to live there. So again:

Big shout out to my landlord, who decided to do all of that now. Perfect timing …

The reoccurring ‘Under Construction’ theme does not just apply to my surrounding physical things. It also mirrors my inner state at the moment. Orientation was fun, but also exhausting. I love socializing with people, but during this week I was very much reminded of my first day at University back in Maastricht. The first semester I talked to basically everyone. I was ‘friends’ with everyone I met. However, throughout my second semester my current group of friends emerged. You cannot build long-lasting friendships with everyone. And you shouldn’t force it. I didn’t come to GW to find my new best friends. I just want to hang out with people that I enjoy and have fun with. 4 months are a very short time. And it’s always better to be relaxed and see what the future has to offer. My goal for the semester included finding inspiration here. People are a major source of inspiration and I already feel a little bit infected by some conservations, which I had throughout the week.

And now the serious bit: Do I feel homesick?

I’m not sure.

I wouldn’t say that I feel homesick. I have experienced living apart from my family and friends. Beside my exchange year in the US during my junior year, I have lived in the Netherlands the past two years. Okay, to be fair: Maastricht is only an hour away from Cologne. But still, I’m used to not seeing my friends and family for long periods of time. However, I do not feel totally comfortable at the moment. Maybe it is because I miss hanging around with my friends from Uni. I had a great time in Maastricht the last two years and met the most amazing people. Maybe it is because I miss my friends from back home in Germany. We had a great summer. Maybe it is because I love spending time with my parents. I had not seen them for more than 6 months before I got home to Cologne for my summer break. The conversations, trips and my Mom’s food – 2 months was not enough to take all of that in. Maybe it is because I rarely see my family members, so when I have the opportunity to be with them I just want to hold on to the moment. And, lastly, maybe it is because I met a certain person shortly before I took of to the States.

But all of these emotions do not mean that I’m homesick. I often feel like that when I’m on the go. And I’m literally always on the go. All these emotions just remind me of how lucky and happy I actually am. And I’m sure that when the time comes to leave DC, I will feel the same when I’m back in Europe. I always take something with me– be it part of the city or a person– and leave a part of my heart behind.

The best way to describe my current inner state is to label it as being ‘under construction’. I need to get used to my environment, get to know the City and find my people. I’m ready for that. I’m ready for DC.

An Englishman in DC

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This past week marks my introduction to Washington, D.C. through GW’s Exchange Orientation. The hot, flat grid of DC streets are little like the drizzly, winding roads of Edinburgh and I feel slightly like I’m on holiday. The obvious differences that hit me 7 years ago are still there – everything tastes so much sweeter, the cars and roads are bigger, my accent attracts interest and excitement – but that doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying being immersed in American culture again, particularly due to the packed programme of events organised for the exchange students.

One thing that immediately strikes you in DC is the food. I thought Edinburgh took this seriously – ‘why are are there so many places to eat?’ my friend once asked me while visiting – but DC takes dining to a whole other level. This week I have tried not only the stereotypical ‘American’ foods of burgers and fries such as at Bobby’s Burger Palace and at the Shake Shack stand at the Nationals Park baseball stadium, but Ethiopian food at Das Ethiopian in Georgetown and Indian from the vast range of food trucks at Farragut Square. My English notions of what constitutes are barbeque (a few hamburgers, slightly soggy from the rain) were also turned on their head by the welcome laid on for us by the Office for Study Abroad, where we enjoyed pulled pork and collard greens from a caterer who has served the White House.

Exchange Orientation went by in a whirlwind and was a flood of information but also a lot of fun. The week has been an amazing mix and interaction of different cultures, from being able to introduce French friends to the masala dosa, a dish from the south of India where my mother is from, to discussing the British Labour party leadership election with an Argentinian friend who was as knowledgeable, if not more so, than me. Thanks to the exchange coordinators and ExO student leaders for in a week introducing a 70-strong group of students to the city and university, as well as giving us the support system of each other for the months ahead.

Ellen's got nothing on us

Ellen’s got nothing on us

The week has also given me a lot to think about as I have been able to see ‘America’ up close and in more detail, and have seen some more unsettling images that are absent from its Hollywood depiction. Being part of the crowds streaming out of a highly commercial major league baseball game where bottled water costs almost $5 and then passing disabled beggars on the way to the metro station impressed on me the inequality present in the country, and race issues were also highlighted when my French friend pointed out that the stadium played reggae and Latin American music only when introducing players of colour. These problems are by no means unique to the US but they are there I hope that my exchange will make me more aware of them, as well as of any solutions.

On Monday classes start and I am looking forward to seeing how my American college experience will be different from my memories of middle school. I’m also excited about the student organisations fair and trying out some of the 400+ societies GW has to offer!

Until next time,

Grace

America 2.0

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Hi everyone! My name is Grace MacDougall and I’m from the small (but beautiful) city of Norwich in England, though for the last two years I’ve been studying English and Scottish Literature at the University of Edinburgh. I’m very excited and grateful to be spending the third year of my degree studying at GW and living in Washington, D.C.

As I prepare for my departure, I’m feeling the usual mixture of excitement slightly tempered by nerves, but also something a little different. Any expectations for my start at GW are altered by the fact that I’ve actually previously spent some time in the US – when I was thirteen I lived in New Jersey for a year, but it wasn’t a very positive experience. At an age where you’re beginning to mature and haven’t yet developed a sense of self, I struggled with the displacement and the cliquey atmosphere of my middle school, and left America with a vow never to return. However, in the seven years that have passed, this has been replaced with a great desire to do exactly the opposite: to live my ‘comeback’ sequel and do things ‘right’ this time. I’m aware that memories can fade and alter but I want to see if impressions match up and how much things have changed – how I’ve changed – between my two American experiences. I’d like to think that my time in New Jersey will help give me a degree of familiarity and realism that will reduce the culture shock I’ll no doubt experience, as well as pushing me to fully embrace every opportunity given to me this second time around.

And there are so many opportunities and possibilities. From participating in some of the societies from the vast lists I’ve scrolled through, to taking classes which feature the authors my American friends have raved about, yet who don’t feature on British reading lists, I have high expectations for all the new experiences that await me. The thing I’ve loved most at university is having my eyes opened to completely new viewpoints through listening and talking to others of different nationalities and backgrounds, and I can only see this occurring to the fullest extent at GW.

However, it is not only the university but also the location for which I am excited. Studying in D.C. in the run-up to an election will be an incredible experience – observing and participating in the Scottish independence referendum taught me so much about Scotland as a nation that I’d never have learnt from a history book and I can’t wait to experience the same with American politics, on a politically engaged campus.

Anyway, that’s a brief introduction to me and my thoughts regarding my year abroad at GW! I look forward to seeing how they change with the time I spend and the things I try there, and I hope you’ll enjoy and maybe learn something from them too.

Grace

Grace

Mixing the ‘Old’ and the ‘New’

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3932 miles – That’s the distance from Maastricht, which is located in the Western part of the Netherlands, to Washington D.C..

A more pictorial illustration of the distance between these two places in the Atlantic Ocean separating Europe from the Americas.

But this distance is not only a geographical feature, but also a portrayal of the differences. There is a reason why the United States of America are referred to as the ‘New World’ while Europe represents the ‘Old World’. There are shared experiences and many similarities, but the overall perception of the world differs. It is a ‘New’ view challenging an ‘Old’ perspective. Maastricht and D.C. are two cities, which perfectly embody this dynamic. But before coming back to this unique dynamic between the ‘Old’ and the ‘New’ , I should probably introduce myself:

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I am Bahar.

21-years old.

Born in Germany. Being blessed of growing up in the beautiful city of Cologne.

Rooted in Persian culture with both of my parents being from Iran.

Living and studying in the Netherlands currently – Focusing on International Relations and International Law.

Personal Maxim: The easiest way of falling in love with a country and its people is through the national cuisine – ergo: Food means Peace.

 

A historical city as Maastricht, which was already well-know due to its strategic location by the Romans as “Mosae Trajectum”, is a perfect representation of Europe as the ‘Old World’. Strolling through the narrow alleys and passing the historical monuments still preserved from the Roman Empire generates the atmosphere as if time has stood still. As a student of Maastricht University such atmosphere can also be found in the old university buildings with some of them dating back to the 15th century. One of these is the Niuewenhof monastery, which serves as a place of education and learning to all University College Maastricht (UCM) students – myself included.

The Liberal Arts and Sciences curriculum paired with the European ‘Old View’ has a tendency to look back. Learning from past experiences, ancient philosophy and historical events is core to the educational agenda of UCM. Kant, Nietzsche, Aristotle and Plato are always present in the tutorial rooms and lecture halls – only figuratively speaking of course. And sometimes this ‘Old View’ concerning education is carried through at the expense of reconnecting with practical reality. At that moment, innovation and fresh ideas are what one seeks after or simply said a ‘New View’. This basically sums up my expectations for my upcoming semester at GW: innovative ideas, new perspectives and inspiring insights. I have been looking for a paradigm, which does not directly stem from the European experience, for quite some time now. My semester abroad at GW could be the chance to dip into a new paradigm and see the world events from a different perspective. US politics, culture and lifestyle do differ from the European one. Although, Europeans initially founded the United States the way of how they saw the world and how they wanted to live differed. The value of liberty is a cornerstone of the US’ moral basis. Liberty in the American sense is interpreted in a very different way than in Europe. After having lived in the US (Concord, New Hampshire) for almost a year during my time as a high school student, I perceive the current American idea of liberty to be more absolute, more emphasized and very emotional.

Such difference is not only mirrored in major societal and political structures, but also in the education system and in what is learned. I want to experience that. Learning about the world from another perspective will not only broaden my horizon, but it will also allow me to understand others and defend my own point of view in a much more sophisticated way.

My expectations seem to be very abstract, but put into simpler terms it is all about experiencing something ‘New’. It is true that I have already experienced daily life in the US. However, my 16-year old me has very little to do with 21-year old Bahar. The high school experience cannot be compared to academic life at GW. And most importantly, I have clear goals and somewhat of a plan in my mind this time. 6 years ago I visited the US as a curious and naive world traveler and fell in love with the country and the people. I became a different person throughout my 1-year stay in little Concord, New Hampshire. Now I am going back to the States with a clear vision in mind of what to expect. I would still call myself a world traveler, but I’m not naive anymore and I have plans. This blog will provide me with a platform to remind me of these plans and allow me to share them.

Me, 21-year old Bahar, is in urgent need of inspiration and the best way to find it is by changing locations and diving into new cultures. GW is the first step towards fresh inspirational inputs. DC is the perfect place for me to elaborate on innovative ideas. The US will provide me with the ‘New’ that I so desperately need at the moment.