Monthly Archives: October 2015

Intro to Applied American Arts

Standard

This week has been completely consumed, in the best way possible, by tech week and performances for the final show I am a part of this semester, GW Shakespeare’s ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’. As I have found with most of my experiences here in America, theatre at GW can get a little intense, with 5 shows being performed over three evenings. However, again I am incredibly grateful to have been given the chance to create something with the loveliest, most talented people, as well as to the friends who came to give their support. This experience has definitely been the biggest highlight of my time here so far.

The greatest people you will ever meet...

The greatest people you will ever meet…

Keeping up the energy for the performances of course meant lots of caffeine and sugar, the latter of which I found in the form of ‘froyo’, going with a friend to the FroZenYo store next to Farragut West Metro Station. I had thought Edinburgh did pretty well on the frozen yogurt front – at home me and my friends are fans of ‘Frisky’ – but it seems DC has the last word. Being priced by weight and not by size and topping means that you can try the whole range of flavors at FroZenYo (such as pistachio, birthday cake and dulce de leche) and all the toppings (think pecans and blueberries through to brownies and gummy bears)…before taking it to the till and realizing you have the size and price of a small dinner (which is in fact what it becomes – 21, who?!).

Inner peace at FroZenYo (photo credit: Kelli Jones)

Inner peace at FroZenYo (photo credit: Kelli Jones)

Another activity that I enjoy in Edinburgh is going to the galleries and museums – the National Museum of Scotland being my favourite place in all the city – so I was looking forward to continuing my week of theatre and culture by finally visiting more of the vast number here in DC. On Sunday I went to one of the free classical music concerts held in the West Garden Court at the National Gallery of Art on the National Mall, as part of the 74th Season of Concerts. There I listened to the National Gallery of Art Orchestra play music by Jean Sibelius and Carl Nielsen, the beautiful melodies mingling with and becoming part of the equally breathtaking setting.

I also briefly visited the Smithsonian American Art Museum which again had stunning architecture and again felt a little like a film set, modelled in the style of classical Europe yet oddly retaining its sense of newness. I was also slightly brought up short by a reminder of home, the collection turning out to contain a number of paintings by John Sargent which gave me a surprise pang of the heart.

However, this week I was sharply reminded that these great experiences I have been having are not shared by everyone. On shopping at Whole Foods (poor planning on my part meant I claimed I did not have enough time to go to favourite Trader Joe’s and instead went to the closer but more expensive Whole Foods to ‘grab a few things’, which inevitably always ends with financial regret) I was talking to the cashier about being an exchange student and he asked ‘do you like America?’, to which I replied ‘I’m finding it great!’. What slightly shocked me was his response of, ‘I hate it’, a stark contrast to the sometimes extreme patriotism and even nationalism that is a stereotype of America and that I have encountered here, saying he would rather go somewhere like Egypt instead.

This uncomfortable mixing of two worlds of experience was again to be noticed when at the American Art Museum, the grandeur of the building, combined with the triumphant classical music somewhat mysteriously blaring from speakers outside, having a dystopian feel when contrasted with the area of Downtown/Chinatown DC, a neighbourhood appearing much less affluent than the area of Foggy Bottom I have become used to.

Another off note was struck when passing the White House on the way there, a heated argument apparently regarding a DC tour being given what one felt was special attention by police officers, due to the ethnicity of those involved. However, it is not the first time that my friends and I have been wary of the police and security and their seemingly overly heavy-handed attitude.

Now that the play is over I feel both free and slightly lost. However, this week I am able to distract myself with the wonders of ‘Halloweek’, seeing the 31st of October celebrated in a way unlike anywhere else in the world.

To the end of a second full month here, and the opening of a third,

Grace

Better than ‘Yelp’

Standard

People use ‘Yelp’ for everything here. Before I arrived in DC, I had never opened that website on my laptop. Now it is part of my ‘favorites’ sidebar. ‘Yelp’ has spared me miserable meals while eating out as well as encourage me to try something new. But it can also be very exhausting to look through all the recommendations and read the comments. That is the case for me at least and, therefore, I always appreciate first-hand experiences from friends and people I meet. First-hand experiences are always the most valuable when it comes to Restaurant recommendations. So why shouldn’t I just dedicate this blog entry to this cause. Here are my five top recommendations, when it comes to food (We are again embracing the main theme of my writings) in DC:

  • Zenebech Restaurant

608 T Street NW, Washington, DC 20001

I am a huge fan of Ethiopian food and after my friend M told me that there are tons of Ethiopian restaurants in DC, I knew that I would find myself in company with Injera as soon as possible. Never heard of Injera? It is a sourdough-risen flatbread with a unique texture and it is the national dish of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Injera comes always with different kinds of stews and salad. It is served on a big round plate and made for sharing. Fun fact: You eat with your hands. If you’ are over 21, I recommend pairing this tasty cuisine with a St. George (Ethiopian beer brewed in Addis Abeba).

  • Moby Dick – House of Kebab

1070 31st St NW, Washington, DC 20007

Any person, who has some form of Persian heritage, is obsessed with the national cuisine. Any person with some form of Persian heritage will want to go to a Persian restaurant when meeting another Persian. This always ends in a food coma. So when S told me that there is a Persian restaurant in Georgetown, I did not even question a moment of not going. Shortly after, I found myself in a simple place (with some weird Persian pictures on the wall) serving Persian food a la fast food style. I have to say that I was shocked at first since I only know Persian restaurants in Europe, which are sometimes very fancy and do not rush with the food. Going to a Persian restaurant can be compared to a day trip. I am not kidding.   So here I am in this Persian restaurant, which has taken on an American stance on preparing food, and not sure what to think about it. But all my doubts were unnecessary. The quality of the kebab I had was amazing. I ordered my most favorite combo being Joojeh Kabab (Chicken) and Kubideh (Beef) served with Persian rice, Saffron, Salad, Bread and Persian yoghurt with cucumbers. I found my paradise.

  • Ben’s Chili Bowl

1213 U Street NW, Washington, DC 20009

I have mentioned Ben’s Chili Bowl too many times already in my previous blog entries. Hence, I will make this short. You want to experience DC? Do something local? Have the best Cheese Fries toppled with Chili? And simultaneously find yourself in a place typical American? Ben’s Chili Bowl will be your place. No matter at what time. I have been there for lunch, dinner and after 3am. It never has been disappointing.

  • Paolo’s Ristorante

1303 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20007

Two fellow exchange students recommended Paolo’s and it is a gem. Well, to be honest the happy hour is the gem. Food and drinks for $5. Last time I sat there with a friend for three hours. That is a good sign showing that a place is doing it right. I highly recommend the Peach Bellini and Spanish Sausage. I would not call it authentic Italian food, but we are also not in Italy. So everything was just right!

  •  Sushi Para

4221 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

The deal is: $25 and you get all-you-can-eat sushi. Five people, four hours and endless sushi rolls as well as other Japanese delicacies. It might not be the best sushi, but the cost-benefit analysis definitely is on point. Plus, the amounts of food will eventually lead to hysteria as it was the case for us. So if you want value for your money, try out different sushi rolls and have a night full of laughter, Sushi Para right next to Van Ness Metro station should be your next destination.

sushiboat

Goal Accomplished!

Standard

Dedicated readers of this blog will probably remember my first blog entry, which was very much a desperate call of mine for inspiration – academic inspiration allowing for my personal growth of understanding world relations as well as regional politics and the various societies of the Middle East. Such inspiration has been crucial for me since I am in my last year of studies and will have to start writing a Bachelor thesis, when I am back home in February. Master applications are the next step during my last semester. With a regional focus on the Middle East in my studies, I have chosen all my courses according to this path including the Arabic language. Having a Middle East migration background myself and speaking Farsi fluently, I never questioned that this is the right path for me.

However, the months before I came to GW were filled with a kind of intellectual stagnation, which had started after I came back from an internship in Israel/Palestine. The theories and cases I was learning about as well as the issues constituting the main topics of my papers were very interesting, however I did not feel fully fulfilled. I did not have the feeling that I was close to grasp the essence of various conflicts being core to my studies and interests. Uncertainty was one of the main emotions, which describes my inner state during those months. I felt uncertain about my knowledge on the Middle East, I felt uncertain about my ability to sophisticatedly give an opinion on certain regional issues. It made me highly self-conscious and for a short period of time I retreated back to Social Security Policies and Labor Movements – fields that I have always been confident about.

Why was it an issue?

I just realized by coming to GW in how far my drawback from my main field of interest just symbolizes my general fear of having to work in the region. And this fear has not been legitimate. External forces of my environment have created it. Neither the media nor the general discourse on the Middle East representing the region as a place of horror and bloodshed have been the main forces of influence, but certain people close to me – especially my mother. Her constant attempt to convince me to pursue a career in the social security sector or as a labor advocate had much influence on me. She knows how to frame the Middle East in order to create a fearful atmosphere. She simply has to use her first-hand experiences as a political refugee in order to make me think. Consequently, I have been in the constant struggle of deciding whether this path has been the right one for me. It is a struggle between an easy and comfortable life compared to a challenging and difficult professional career. But it is also a struggle between interest and passion. I am passionate about Middle East politics and society, while social security and labor are only interests of mine.

At GW, I was hoping to find inspiration and maybe a hint on which path I should take. The Middle Eastern Studies courses, which I selected prior to my arrival, seemed to support my intellectual growth. I did not expect though, that two of them would have such a strong impact on me. I did not just find inspiration here, but I found an answer: Yes, I want to pursue a Middle Eastern Studies Master. I want to work in the region. This is my future path. I can only recommend to anyone to pick “Comparative Politics of the Middle East” as well as “Modern Iran” as part of their schedule.

I also need to add another song to my ‘Sound of DC’ playlist after having a great night at Flash located on U-Street. The DJs are a duo from my hometown back in Germany, who came to DC 2 weeks ago. There seems to be a serious Cologne – DC connection.

Sounds of DC (Track 02): Domplatte – andhim

Health and Wellness

Standard

The Lerner Health and Wellness Center at GW is a place where a large number of students spend their time. Membership comes free with enrollment, so why would you not use it? Everyone else does.

A friend recently shared an article from The Guardian about orthorexia and this made me start thinking about image, health and wellness in the States. Yes, it’s a stereotype, but I do get the feeling there’s a greater emphasis on image in America. The food, I would say, could be deemed ‘unhealthier’ than in Europe, but the gym and fitness culture is also bigger, along with the portion sizes. And there seems to be an uneasy relationship between the two.

In terms of health, it feels sometimes like the ‘wellness’ has been a little lost.

Obsession with health and fitness is something that it is all too easy to get sucked into. Obviously exercise is medically a good thing, but you get the sense, and experience it also, that the motivation to work out comes from places of insecurity over image and the idea that ‘everyone else does’, rather than for the health benefits.

As mentioned before, in terms of food, everything is amplified: the portions, the decadence, the intensity of flavour – and also the guilt. There’s this idea that if you eat something deemed ‘unhealthy’ you have to justify it by explaining how you’ll go to the gym later so that it will all be ok. You skip that cupcake catch-up with a friend…or you do it anyway, and then beat yourself up about it. Everyone else does.

And of course the market also has its say.The cost difference between traditionally ‘unhealthy’ foods such as burgers and cookies and ‘healthy’ foods is quite staggering, and though in the UK the ‘unhealthy’ foods are also cheaper, I feel it is not quite to the same extent. If you have limited money, the choice has already been made for you.

***

The idea of image and presentation came up again during my week (though in a much more lighthearted way) with one of the scarier moments of my life: doing a Southern American accent in front of a drama class full of American students, for midterm rehearsals. One cliché that I was thankful is mostly a reality is the welcoming and encouraging nature of Americans, as they were very supportive about it and still wanted to talk to me afterwards, so they didn’t seem too offended with my attempt…

This contrast between Britain and the States was also found in my participation with friends in a ‘trivia night’ at Tonic, a restaurant I walk past longingly every day on the way to class. ‘Trivia night’ is the equivalent to the British ‘pub quiz’ (and my friend who had studied abroad in the UK did say the lounge at Tonic had one of the most pub-like atmospheres she had found in DC) but I did not find the questions to be equal. Left to my own devices I would have been lucky to score a handful of points – if I go again I definitely need to brush up on baseball, presidents, and Dragon Ball Z – but my smarting competitive pride was more than soothed by the restaurant’s basket of tater tots, a food stuff I had only ever heard described in films and on tv, let alone eaten.

Other unique State-side experiences were checked off this week, watching the CNN Democratic Debate whilst eating heavenly homemade brownies, pumpkin picking at Larriland Farm, Maryland (sampling the delicacies of funnel cake and apple ‘cider’ and driving past scenery that reminded me of New Jersey, bringing the memories rushing back), going to the Smithsonian National Zoo and also attending the Washington Prayer Gathering on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.The biggest was probably the White House Fall Garden Tour which was a very surreal experience, as a house and gardens which ultimately seem so ordinary, end up meaning so much, complete with the full force of US security.

Up close and personal

Up close and personal

However, it’s not only the big things but also the little ones that continue to strike you as different and serve as a reminder that you’re in the US. Groups of smartly dressed sororities and fraternities spilling onto the streets on their way to chapter meetings and initiations, the blank stares you’re met with when you call a piece of clothing a ‘jumper’ instead of a ‘sweater’, police officers with guns – these all add up to create the experience of a different culture.

This week has been the one where I’ve most been missing home, the sudden drop in temperature reminding me of England and Edinburgh, combined with the flood of GW students’ parents arriving for ‘Parents Weekend’. However my friend’s family who were down for the weekend very generously also took me out for sushi (like brunch, it’s becoming a problem) at Kaz Sushi Bistro, ending the night with my first ever crêpe from GW-staple Crepeaway, and so making me feel part of a family even though far away from it.

The past few days have been unexpectedly laid back but this week things pick back up again with tech week and performances for the GW Shakespeare Company show ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’, along with a few deadlines.

To another week of American experiences, cliché and otherwise,

Grace

When the working day is done

Standard

This week has seen the beginning of midterms, a phenomenon unfamiliar to many of us exchange students who are used to more heavily weighted exams coming at the end of the semester or even year. Though some of us are lucky in that only our credits and not our grades transfer, tests still need to be taken and papers submitted. As someone whose organisational skills have been tried in America and found wanting, and combined with rehearsals running till midnight, I have found myself in ‘Gel hell’ one too many times this week – holding it together with Red Bull, Reese’s pieces, pancakes, pumpkin-flavoured coffee (it is October in the US after all) and the mutual moral support of friends and flatmates in the same situation. I still feel I haven’t really got a handle on how to work the academic system over here, a paper taking my American friend approximately half the time it took me to complete, but as midterms seem to be scattered throughout the following weeks hopefully I’ll soon begin to learn it.

Trying to stay true to the mantra and play harder, I looked to fill my weekend with excitement. On Friday I once again embraced US sushi culture by going with a knowledgeable friend to Buredo, a restaurant/fast food joint near McPherson Square Metro Station, selling the very American concept of ‘burrito-size sushi rolls’. I had high expectations and it did not disappoint – as attested to by the long lunchtime queue at the door.

Buredo: Hanzo

Buredo: Hanzo

In the evening I had an event that I had been looking forward to for over a week: an NBA pre-season game at the Verizon Center with the New York Knicks playing the Washington Wizards. Getting caught in the sudden downpour on the way to the arena dampened our clothes but not our spirits and we had a great time, our all-American night finished up with my first trip to a US McDonald’s.

MVPs (photo credit: Grace Huang)

MVPs (photo credit: Grace Huang)

Though I really enjoyed seeing a basketball game – better than baseball in my opinion! – again I was struck by how commercial watching American sports is as an experience, everything seeming so artificial as to feel unreal. Part of this feeling of unreality I know comes from the fact that these are experiences so commonly presented in the media and stereotyped that when you do get to live the cliché it seems unnatural and that you are somehow part of a movie. However, despite knowing this, you still get waves of this idea that everything has been carefully constructed and that the individual just passively accepts it all. To put it this way, I feel like going to the game has made me understand the premise behind The Hunger Games a little bit more.

Another thing I’ve had to think about more deeply this week is memories. My friend and I have set up a weekly Dunkin’ Donuts breakfast date to discuss what’s happened in our lives and the days ahead – this is not the problem, but the coffee is. Dunkin’ Donuts was a key component of my American memories from seven years ago and I had idealised the flavour (there being only a few stores in the UK and none near where I have lived), so was not so pleasantly surprised to find that now to me it tastes weak and…average. It was a small lesson in how memories can change over time, are based less in realities and more in emotion, and that things change and don’t stay the same – nor should we want them to. A vaguely disappointing coffee experience is a sacrifice I’d more than happily make in order to keep the great positive differences between my first time in America and my time here now.

To next week and the memories it will create and alter,

Grace

First Impressions

Standard

It finally happened after almost 1 1/2 months of being a student at GW. I pulled my first all-nighter yesterday. Right after my friends and I arrived at Union Station from NYC at midnight, I was so kind to let them both sleep in my bed while I was preparing for a long night of studying in the living room. Good news is that I survived and was able to spend a lazy Sunday with my friends, which consisted of us strolling down U-Street and ending up at Ben’s Chili Bowl, before I took them to the airport and said Au Revoir.

Now Cologne is 3966 miles away again and I can fully concentrate on being back in my DC mode. It was great to have my friends here and experience DC and NYC extensively as a tourist, but it was also very exhausting. Plus, I am majorly behind with my reading schedule and exam studying sessions for my classes. Hence, the all-nighter was very much needed. They are probably many more to come this week, but it is worth it.

New York City is definitely on the list of ‘perfect justifications’ for pulling all-nighters. Arriving on Thursday, me and my friends did not only discover New York’s #1 hipster place being our hostel (The Local NYC), but we also enjoyed each a slice of jumbo pizza sitting on the red stairs at Times Square.

Times Square Selfie

Little Italy

The next two days included daily visits at Starbucks followed by proper sightseeing including the Brooklyn Bridge, the 9/11 Memorial, Statute of Liberty, the Rockefeller Center, Central Park and the Upper East Side (since one of my friends is just obsessed with Gossip Girl). We also walked through most neighborhoods and I just fell in love with Little Italy and Soho again. It happens every time I am in NYC. Its repeating love at first sight.

New York Skyline

I also fall in love with cheese fries every time I have them. Especially, the chili cheese fries at Ben’s Chili Bowl are superb. So I took the chance to interview my friends about their time in the States, while enjoying some of DC’s Soul Food. I was very interested in their first impressions about the US or lets rather say about DC and NYC. It was their first time in the States, which allows me to refer to actual first impressions about this country in this blog entry since I do not consider my first impressions so significant after having lived in the US before.

They mentioned three major things, which they will always associate with the US. All three refer to the people – the Americans:

  1. Helpfulness

It does not matter where you are or what time it is, there is always someone who will approach you and offer help, if you need it. Even in the most shadiest corner of Queens in New York City. Should the person not know the directions, he or she will most likely take out his or her phone and search on Google maps. Detailed directions will be given and the person will make sure that you will find your way. This has been the case for my friends. It has also been always the case for me. Hence, all of us agreed that this might be typical American or we just always were lucky to meet the nicest people.

2. Good Mood

Okay, to be fair coming from Germany the standards for ‘being in a good mood’ are not that high. But I agree with my friends that Americans in general are very cheerful. There is always a smile involved. We laughed a lot here. Not just among us three, but often involving Americans joining us for a quick chat either in Central Park, Ben’s Chili Bowl or the bus going to NYC.

3. Outgoing

“Americans seem to be very outgoing even if your English is not that well.” I think this quote by one of my friends says it all. She felt very welcomed and did not feel uncomfortable speaking English even if it is not her first language. No one viewed her accent or basic choice of words as a problem.

It is interesting to see that all the things, which my friends found notable about the US are in association with its people. The first impressions my friends had about the US did not include unhealthy food, XXL sizes or consumerism. Their first impressions had to do with the American people and their characteristics. Of course you can like a city, because of its buildings, neighborhoods and atmosphere. But if you fall in love with a city (or even country), it is not primarily because of how the city itself looks like, but what it is composed of – its people.

Six years ago I feel in love with the people in Concord (NH) and after having spent a little time in DC I am pretty sure that I will find love again.

 

DC – Cologne Fusion

Standard

After my quite serious and long blog entry last week, this week will be much lighter – I promise. In fact, this will probably be the first time, where I report from my time in DC and at GW from as a proper tourist. The reason? It is simple, I am actually spending all my time with two tourists right now – my friends from Germany. The day of the 25th anniversary of German reunification (10/03/2015) was chosen to have very own little reunion. Well, okay, them being here on such a symbolic day is only a coincidence, but still a very ironic one. Their timing was great or maybe not so much considering that they are here during my Midterm week. We will see how that plays out.

Since they will only stay in DC for a couple of days before we take off to the Big Apple aka New York City, I felt huge pressure on me to show them everything. Initially my goal was to be the best tour guide they ever had. However, my wish was crushed after I noticed that myself is still a bit of a tourist in this city after we jumped into the Red Line going into the opposite direction of our destination twice. I also forgot the way to Shake Shack so that we ended up walking the biggest detour ever shake shack
I like to be positive though, so to look for the silver lining at least they saw much of DC that way. Plus, we had a lot of time to talk.

It is a strange feeling; I’m not going to lie, to walk around with friends from my hometown back in Germany in DC. Walking around with people from Maastricht is different. I just share a different connection to them. My friends from Cologne are people I grew up with. They have witnessed all my good and bad days, have gone through crazy times with me and seen me change and grow. People from Maastricht only know the Bahar of the last two years. They do not know all of me. So having my friends from Cologne here is a strange feeling, because it creates an even stronger bond between us. Now they witness me being here. They can experience some of the things I encounter during my time in DC themselves now. It is not only me telling them about all my experiences as it was the case after my exchange year 6 years ago. They understand me better now and it makes us feel even closer to each other.

Hurricane Joaquin or lets rather say what one could feel from Hurricane Joaquin in DC was not the best sightseeing weather. We still did not let go of the chance to walk passed Obama’s little cabin and take a typical tourist selfie in front of it white house touris.

If shopping counts as some form of sightseeing, too, then we also did a lot of that in Georgetown– according to my friends even too much since they might be broke by now. The bucket list for places my friends have to see has still some important things on it:

 

The National Mall.

Eastern Market and H Street.

U Street with dinner at Ben’s Chili Bowl.

The Pentagon.

Georgetown Cupcakes & the Waterfront.

El Chuco.

 

We also walked around the GW campus, which apparently has inspired my friends a lot. They really want to buy a GW sweater now. They are showing full on college spirit.

It is great to have them here. Now I can share my enthusiasm about DC and GW with them directly instead of only awkwardly talking to them via Skype, which 90% of the time consists only of me asking: “Do you guys hear me?”

Being here they hear me clearly and they can see and experience for themselves. They like DC and are very happy. We all are. The major reason is probably that we are together with DC being the icing on the cake.