Monthly Archives: November 2015

Make the Most of GW & DC

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After almost three months at GW, it is time to dedicate one blog post to the University and the Campus itself. One of the reasons I tended towards GW as my first choice for my semester abroad was exactly its great campus location. Right in the heart of down town DC surrounded by Washington’s major monuments, the campus is unique as it is located right in the city. Since I consider myself to be a ‘city person’ more than anything else, one can say that I am truly happy with GW’s infrastructure. There’s much to explore. You wonder what a typical GW student is up to between classes or generally during the weekday on campus? Here are my Top 5 recommendations for a fully lived GW experience:

  1. GW Delicatessen                                                                             N 21st St & N 22nd St, Foggy Bottom (Right on Campus!)

This small Deli has saved my life too many times with its amazing bagels. My favorite is simple – egg, avocado and bacon. Don’t forget to bring cash since this will be the only payment method enabling you to purchase a bit of paradise. I don’t care how many calories this bagel has and, honestly, I don’t even want to know. This will make you happy; especially, if you have morning classes on Mount Vernon and can just quickly stop by before you catch the Vern Express.

GW Delicatessen

  1. Filter Coffeehouse                                                                        N 19th St & N 20th St, Foggy Bottom

Yes, I don’t really like Starbucks and try to avoid it as much as I can. Plus, GelBucks (The Starbucks right at Gelman Library) is always so crammed that it basically takes up my entire break between classes. Filter has tasty coffee and is close to campus. I have the feeling they tried very hard to make it look ‘hipster’ so that it now looks like the most mainstream coffeehouse you’ve ever seen. Doesn’t bother me though. Getting a simple black coffee (Yes, I am one of ‘those’ people) while reading one of many course books makes this place one of my personal hangout locations.

P.S.: It only uses organic & fair-trade products.

Filter

  1. GW Talks & Events                                                                  Mostly at the Elliott School

I can’t exactly remember how many debates, talks, book presentations and lectures I have visited, but it has been a lot. And this is probably one of my most favorite things about GW: The vastness of all these events organized. Often the speakers are famous professor, experts or politicians as well as authors or directors. I was able to meet one of my most favorite documentary directors during an event at GW, where she presented her new documentary called “The Aryans”. It was truly amazing. Most GW students make use of this great opportunity to engage in political, economic and cultural discussion outside of the classroom – especially, international affairs and political sciences students. Often food is served at the talks, which is of course a bonus.

Check out More Events! – Click here

  1. Milken Institute of Public Health                                        Right at Washington Circle

I’m always very picky about my study places. Very picky. Gelman library wasn’t really satisfying, so that I started to search for THE place, which will not only be aesthetically perfect, but also stimulate my thinking process. I found it. The Public Health building right at Washington Circle is amazing. The interior design is new and modern offering many tables as well as cozy armchairs. I recommend the study spaces right next to the huge glass windows, which offer a pretty view on Washington Circle.

  1. The National Mall

Before I found my perfect study place at the Milken Institute of Public Health, I spent most of my time reading journal articles and writing my notes on the lawn of the National Mall – right between the Monument and Lincoln Memorial. It was lovely during the warm days and was also very inspirational. It is not that common to have the opportunity to spend time studying while being surrounded by US history. But also just getting lunch and sitting down with friends somewhere around the various memorials is truly perfect and allows to make the most of DC and GW.

 

 

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Pre-Thanksgiving

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This week I experienced DC from the inside of my flat – sorry, apartment – through a combination of illness and pre-Thanksgiving essay deadlines: turns out feeling sorry for yourself can take up a lot of time. I’ll admit, there was a low point which did see me sadly scrolling through the mince pie section of the Tesco website as I mourned this apparently very British food stuff’s absence in America, as well as the fact that Christmas preparations seem to be on hold until Thanksgiving whereas in Britain I get the impression they are well underway.

However, in the spirit of that impending holiday, this week also reminded me I have a lot to be thankful for. I have money for insurance and medicines, I found the GW Colonial Health Center to be helpful and accessible, professors have been understanding, the wonders of technology mean I can Skype countries around the world, the weather is still strangely warm for this time of year – but perhaps most importantly, I have amazing flatmates and friends who will check up on me and who will brighten my day with tea and a catch up.

Anyway, next week I have a lot to look forward to as I have very generously been adopted by my friend’s family and invited to spend the Thanksgiving break with them: to say I am excited would be something of an understatement.

Till after Turkey Day,

Grace

“People haven’t been kind with other people”

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These were the words of the six year old daughter of one of the teachers at the Lyon school where one of my best friends works for her year abroad, when talking about the events in Paris on Friday. The simplicity in this innocent summary, that can be applied to events around the world this week, is heart-breaking, along with the child’s hope for the good in people that is missing from politicians’ speeches of retribution.

Hearing the news about Paris in the States felt different than if I had been in the UK – being across the water it initially sounded like it was coming through water. But being an exchange student at GW also gave a greater immediacy to the outcome of the events: here there are a number of students from Paris.

Watching Obama’s statement on Paris was a strange experience, delivered from the White House that just last week we were happily strolling through. A reminder of the power of that place and the power of America on the international world stage, in case it had ever been briefly forgotten.

The pain and the politics will continue in the weeks and months ahead, and it looks like it already has.

Paris, Beirut, Baghdad and all such other events make everything else seem meaningless. These are the times that try men’s souls. But there is the hope of a child.

Grace

They are Us!

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During a time span of less than 48 hours over 200 people lost their lives and more than 500 were injured by the cowardly and heinous attacks of Daesh (*ISIS) in three locations scattered around the globe – Beirut, Baghdad and Paris. Starting on Thursday, the news reached me about Beirut followed by Baghdad on the following day. My Friday night ended with friends at Whole Foods starring at the TV screen after having been notified about the attacks in Paris through our phones while sitting in Lisner auditorium and (how ironic!) listening to a talk by Peter Singer on “effective altruism”. The news report on CNN did not stop for a second to report about the attacks. Live images, interviews and expert opinions on the suspects continued. All our eyes were on Paris. On France. And I want to make clear that attention was paid quite rightly in light of such tragedy. It is important to keep paying attention as most of us do.

Facebook allowed my friends, who were sitting in State De France watching the friendly soccer game between Germany and France to mark themselves as ‘safe’. Facebook allowed my friends, who study in Paris to post a quick status that they are okay. And Facebook also allowed us to grieve collectively with all those, who have lost a loved one and mourn the victims. Profile pictures á la ‘Le Tricolore’ and #hashtags of support flooded Facebook immediately. Yes, the world is standing with France. Statements of leaders from nations all over the world condemning the attacks and expressing their condolences including the Arab States, Turkey and Iran have poured in. People around the world have gathered and commemorated the victims. The international solidarity has been strong.

In times like these I look at myself: An International Relations student focusing on the MENA, who is highly interested in non-mainstream theory and had quite often been called too idealistic for the Region. Then I think of fellow students, whose pessimistic attitude towards the Region often leaves me behind in a melancholic mood. And they are not pessimistic, because of the Region per se. Every Middle Eastern major I know does not buy into Huntington’s argument of a supposed ‘Clash of Civilizations’, because it just does not represent the facts on the ground. Those fellow students of mine are pessimistic, because they do not believe that they can contribute to any change. I am constantly reminded that no one genuinely cares about the Region. And with ‘no one’ they mean us all living a privileged life.

In times like these the words of my fellow students resound like an echo in my ear. On Thursday, no one in Beirut was able to mark himself or herself as ‘safe’ on Facebook. On Friday, there were no #hashtags or filtered profile pictures reminding us of the killed Lebanese and Iraqis. On Saturday, I made the huge mistake and exposed myself to the hateful comments spread on social media. Others countered some of them, but most of those ignorant and cowardly comments are now side by side with lovely posts of commemorations. Today on Sunday I am sitting here baffled. Both puzzled about such terrible killings carried out by Daesh not representing anything but hatred and feeling helpless in light of seething anger from people who are either fearful, ignorant or simply racist.

The echo does not stop in my head. No one cares about the Region, those people, its history and culture. The longstanding discourse has marginalized every piece of it. A group, which aims at creating fear and inciting us to hate each other, has carried out these three attacks. This is the simple aim of their terror. These attacks were not against the so-called ‘West’ or ‘a certain people’. These were attacks against humanity directly affecting hundreds of people in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad. Indirectly affecting millions throughout the world. But this time the discourse has again failed. On this Sunday, I have read various articles and blog entries of many Lebanese and all of them follow the same tone. They feel forgotten, maybe even neglected. The following words are part of a thoughtful statement by a Lebanese blogger:

“It’s a hard thing to realize that for all that was said, for all the rhetoric of progressive thought that we have managed to create as a seemingly united human voice, most of us, most of us members of this curious species, are still excluded from the dominant concerns of the ‘world’.

And I know that by ‘world’, I am myself excluding most of the world. Because that’s how power structures work.

I do not matter.

My ‘body’ does not matter to the ‘world’.

If I die, it won’t make a difference.

Again, I say this with no resentment.

That statement is merely a fact. It is a ‘political’ fact, true, but a fact nonetheless.

Maybe I should have some resentment, but I’m too tired. It’s a heavy thing to realize.”

-Joey Ayoub

Read his Entire Blog Entry

In times like these I ask myself: What point have we reached when a person accepts that he is apparently less worth, because of where he is from? In times like these I ask myself: What do these values such as equality, freedom and solidarity mean, if they are applied selectively? Is this done deliberately, because these values are viewed as exclusive to only ‘a certain people’?

In times like these I have some thoughts: We call ourselves democracies, but do not hold our governments accountable to those high standards that democracies require. We have stopped to question the system regarding its most critical parts, because each of us in this privileged world is profiting. We do not rigorously challenge among others violent structures as exploitation, institutional racism and militarization. We do not deal with our dark historical chapters as neo-imperialism and its implications for today’s world as part of the mainstream discourse. We simply ignore all of this.

In times like these a certain thing comes to surface: Our hypocritical discourse. They say that tragedies expose the darkest side of humanity. Currently, I see the dark side of people, who want to incite hate, and people, who fall for such strategy.

On this Sunday I truly question humanity and its duality. But my friends are right, I am too idealistic to loose optimism now.

On where to finde Love …

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This week’s blog entry is majorly inspired by the ‘Spoken Word’ performance, which I was gratefully enjoying Friday night. The main artists performing were Darkmatter – if you do not know them, look them up. Now! The South Asian transgender duo does an amazing job in challenging its audience by linking issues as racism, gender, feminism, patriarchy and colonialism  in form of poetry. They are sharp, witty, funny and quite controversial pushing the boundaries of our socially constructed world. Although I was very impressed by their performance, the artists (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten – shame on me!) performing prior to them said one of the most inspiring things I have heard recently. I will not be able to recite him word for word, but he said something along these lines:

 

Love.

I am looking for love.

And I have found it. You ask ‘Where is love?’

Love is a place. It’s a people.

Love is a place and a people, which you feel drawn to even in times of conflict and war.

 

During his performance, his poem revealed that he had grown up as an orphan in Southeast DC being exposed to drugs, violence and discrimination. But he loved that place and its people. His poem conveyed the message to find love in that place. And he jokingly ended his performance by saying that we should visit Northeast and Southeast, if we have not found love yet. But his mimic showed that he was not joking, but serious about his statement. Most of us have probably not been to those areas of DC due to all the negative things we hear about them. Not only about the place, but also the people. We hear these horrible stories most probably from people, who have not visited those areas even themselves. It is the typical whisper down the lane – you always end up with some exaggerated and obscured story.

The reason why I was able to connect with the poetic expression of his feelings was that I have made the same experience throughout my life. My Iranian heritage has had the same negative connotation. Despite those people, firstly, asking me where I am really from and then responding with: “Wow. You’re from Iraq? Omg, that’s a war zone. Crazy”, most people smart enough to know that Iran and Iraq are not the same country look at me with an astonished, pitiful or even wary expression. As if they exactly know the current situation going on in Iran or the country’s history. As if they know the culture and mentality of the Iranian people. As if they have all the answers to why the Iranian Revolution in 1979 happened and see mainly a backward and isolated country. Iran is not a top tourist destination (although backpacking in Iran is apparently the ‘hipster’ thing to-do these days). Even if some are aware of the gradual cultural revolution in Iran and its very liberal people, most of them will never visit. And I think it is worth to ask ‘Why?’.

The artist on friday had the answer:

Do not let your privileges make you abandon those areas and people.

Do not let your privileges make you miss the chance to find love.

The privileges, which we are lucky to enjoy, have transformed into an invisible prison. It is hard to break out. Suspicion and fear stop us from seeing, tasting and hearing the world. We only hear some news or see some reports about parts of the this world as a whispering down the lane – as either censored, exaggerated or obscured information. Friday’s artist tried to challenge us by visiting parts of DC, which are maybe not part of the common narrative.

Personally, his poem reminded of all the love I found in places as Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Israel and the Palestinian Territories – especially in their food. The last one being one of those places especially abandoned by us. You never know something until you have experienced it yourself, everything else is just re-telling a narrative, which has been told to you. I like to believe in more than one narrative and I am convinced that various narratives can peacefully co-exist.

So see you in Iran soon?

 

A tale of many countries

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This weekend the ‘fresher’s flu’ I’d been running from since the beginning of term finally caught up with me and made me miss the creature comforts of home, but before then, this week was about experiencing a mix of different cultures.

It started with a delicious, American home-cooked meal by the mum of one of my friends, the US theme continuing later in the week with the GW Alternative Breaks Fall Ball (a fundraiser for volunteering trips during university holidays that my roommate is a part of) as well as in my weekly struggle with american coffee chain ordering systems for my caffeine/catch-up fix with a friend.

However, the highlight of the week and perhaps the ultimate ‘American’ experience was our visit on a balmy November (try saying global warming isn’t real) afternoon to the East Wing of the White House. Organised for the exchange students by our exchange coordinators we were able to wander a selection of the corridors, admire the rooms and their history (the extent of which the European students felt a little superior over), and even – with the photography ban lifted – take photographs, because did it even happen if it wasn’t captured on film?

 A Room with a (slightly wonky) View

A Room with a (slightly wonky) View

Seeing the inside of the White House had an air of surrealness similar to that which I felt during the Garden Tour. Aside from the stringent security, designed, one felt, as much to instil fear as to protect against threat, it felt hard to reconcile what seemed to be just a beautiful English country house with one of the most powerful places and symbols in the world.

We concluded the tour with another cultural experience by going to District Taco to sample some (albeit Americanised) Mexican food. I have been told countless times by my American friends in Edinburgh that ‘Yeah, British people can’t do Mexican food’ so I was eager to try some in the States. District Taco has a number of locations across the Washington and Virginia area and you are able to customise your order, Subway-style, whether it be tacos, burrito or quesadilla. It had been highly recommended to me by a friend here and I have to say, after my first time trying soft tacos, I will definitely be making a return visit.

However, the day of cultural experiences was not done as later that night Bahar had invited me to an evening of spoken word by DarkMatter, a trans south asian performance art duo who were performing at GW. Spoken word is an art form I had never encountered before going to university and some of my friends in Edinburgh are heavily involved in it, so I was very keen to be in the audience. Their fresh, radical intelligence was amazing to hear – hearing a mention of the name of my mother’s state in India was also nice for me – as they articulated how bringing cultures together can, and have been, highly destructive.

For culture with an uncomplicated moral message and most likely complicit in the processes DarkMatter were calling out, I went to see the latest James Bond film, Spectre at the AMC Loews Theatre in Georgetown (the same cinema where I had previously attended a church service) with a group of other exchange students. A Bond fan already, being overseas made me even more appreciative of the positive portrayal of my country, despite any flaws the film might have, seeing Britain as it wished to be seen in the eyes of the world.

To another week of experiencing different cultures and their interaction,

Grace

Cheque then treat

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This Halloween was scary for me, but not in the way you might expect.

It was because this week was the first time I saw the inside of an American hospital when helping a friend who had to go to ER. It was the same as a hospital in the UK with the long waiting times and hard working and over-worked staff – until a nurse came to ask for my friend’s insurance card. It was only after she had also handed over her credit card for the $100 copay that they would touch her.

American health insurance is a topic that is much discussed and disparaged in the media, even put to comic effect – as in the episode of The Office (US version) where Dwight is put in charge of choosing a health care plan – and a visa stipulation meant I had to take out a policy, but seeing how the process fully works in person is still quite shocking and upsetting. It all seemed so deeply unfair that life and death are so explicitly linked to economics. One is forced to become a doctor to themselves and decide if their condition is life-threatening enough to make that visit to the doctors or emergency room worth it. I feel so privileged with the health care under the NHS (despite any flaws people feel it may have) that I take for granted in the UK. I don’t understand how this system still exists in America. And on a practical note, the experience was a definite wake up call to carry my insurance id on me at all times.

The nightmare of that awful incident and my first exam-style midterm over, it was time to fully embrace Halloween in America.

This involved trying and failing to get into the immensely popular Rocky Horror Picture Show produced by GW theatre society Forbidden Planet Productions, going to the uni-organised Boo Bash in Kogan Plaza (a stereotypically American affair with free burgers, candy floss and candy apples), and the uniquely DC event of Trick or Treating on Embassy Row – my first ever time trick or treating. The British embassy slightly let down the side on that front by refusing to participate which is a shame when their ‘candy’ is among the most prized!

A Short Cut to Candy

A Short Cut to Candy

I must admit I was a little sceptical when my American flatmate back in Edinburgh told me Halloween was her favourite ‘holiday’, as in England people will just use the night as an excuse to have a party, but here there is a whole culture around Halloween and it is a key part of the celebration of all things ‘fall’. There are many activities leading up to Halloween – remember, we exchange students picked our pumpkins for it two weeks ago – and the night itself almost seemed anticlimactic because so much had happened before. Halloween carries the importance of a holiday and there is a general festival atmosphere in the air, it being common not only to see a pirate shopping in the days leading up to it, but acceptable to guess and compliment their outfit choice – when someone appreciated the carved pumpkin I was carrying, it did make my night.

For the over-21s, October 31st meant heading to Nightmare on M Street along with a staggering amount of others in costume. An observation of Stateside attitudes to Halloween costumes is that really any kind of ‘fancy dress’ (as the British would say) is on show, whereas in the UK people tend to dress up more readily for other events, so feel the need to make their Halloween outfit suitably ‘scary’ to fit the occasion. And again in America, there is some truth in cliché, as I saw a number of costumes of the kind mocked in Mean Girls.

Though Sunday meant an end to Halloween activities it also was the day of something I had been looking forward to all week since passing the place whilst walking back from the gallery and museum: having dinner with a friend at The Hamilton. The food was delicious, the ambience classy and the company fantastic, so was the perfect way to celebrate the transition into another month of exchange life, the second truly scary part of the week being the feeling that the end of the semester is coming too close.

The week ahead is a little less crazy but equally exciting, with events such as the GW Alternative Breaks Fall Ball and a tour inside the White House itself!

Anyway, to sign off with an American phrase that I heard for the first time this week –

Catch you on the flip side,

Grace