Monthly Archives: December 2015

Say good night!

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Maybe it’s the amount of caffeine and sugar in my system to get me through deadlines and finals (for a time I was feeling my body was 60% coffee/coke and not water), but even though there is almost a week left after this one, I’m starting to get emotional about the end of term.

One example was at the end of my last Beginning Acting class, which I have loved this semester. In a class earlier in the term we had ‘thrown’ an imaginary big ball to the ceiling as part of an improv lesson, and in our final time together our professor said ‘the last thing I want you to do is to get into a circle’, before reminding us that the ball was still up there and that we needed to bring it back down. We did that and then he said ‘I want you to grab a piece, and bring it to your heart, and keep it there…forever’. I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a little teary-eyed.

The class has grown together so much over the term and the professor is just amazing – if anyone is looking for course options for next year, I can’t recommend it highly enough!

This week has been a collection of other ‘lasts’, such as the last time for tots and trivia at Tonic with the same group of people. It ended with a bang as we placed the highest I’ve ever experienced there, though I haven’t exactly improved on the level of my contributions from the beginning of the semester, my role still being little more than ornamental. However, my moment of glory came in knowing that a ‘brolly’ is British slang for ‘umbrella’ (though if I had failed there they would probably have made me relinquish my UK passport).

It was also the last pre-class Tuesday Dunkin’ Donuts date I had with my friend, which had seen the sweet sustenance of donuts and friendship power me through each week.

And the donut theme continued with my American poetry professor bringing in Duck Donuts for our final class together, to accompany our study of Dunbar (the American, not the Scot).

It seems free food is everywhere if you know where to look as the university tries to give its students some motivation and respite from work. From stumbling across an academic department party, to attending the Midnight Breakfast (breakfast food, activities and prize givings one night from 10pm – 12am) laid on by GW, as well as cookie hand-outs in Kogan Plaza from different societies, we were stressed, but well fed! Socialising over delicious food was also a feature of the GW Exchange Farewell Party though the occasion was bittersweet as it was great to catch up with fellow exchange students who we hadn’t properly seen for a while, but sad to know that we wouldn’t see some at all next semester.

A week of all-American college stress obviously called for an all-American college study break and so I went with a friend to burger chain Five Guys. It got a rare thumbs up from both of us and so will be returned to in the future. 

So the week has been a time of endings but also of future excitement, as I attended the GW Student Theatre Council’s ‘Star Wars Disco’ Prom – which revolves around the announcement of the different theatre societies’ upcoming Spring 2016 seasons – as a reward to myself for completing the week’s deadlines which had seen me pull all-nighters of an intensity I never had to in Edinburgh.

 Reunited: Smackdown (some of us may have thought the theme was more binding than it was)

Reunited: Smackdown (some of us may have thought the theme was more binding than it was)

I’m incredibly grateful I get to spend another semester here at GW and in DC as the end of term has completely snuck up on me. However, I will be really sorry to see the semester-only exchange students go, as well as American friends who are leaving for a term abroad.

To more emotions, finals and the final week!

Grace

The Trump Species – An International Phenomenon

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With exam period having arrived and the finishing up of all assignments while being busy saying goodbye to all the lovely people I met during the last 4 months, my sadness is coupled with excitement for what will be next. After all, this is my last semester of my Bachelor studies meaning that I will have to deal with existential questions like my Bachelor thesis topic and Master applications soon. But firstly I will continue my little journey of spending time in different parts of the world by flying to Jordan in exactly 18 days and staying there until the end of January. I am already picturing myself being surrounded by my most favorite thing: Food. Falafel, Hummus, Baba Ganoush and lots of Kunafa. It could not be better. Although, it has to be said that DC was definitely the perfect ‘Foodie’ city with a great variety of ethnic food as well.

Next to the food, I fell in love with DC in its entirety. It is a great city in which I felt homey. The same goes for GW, which did not only allow me to learn and get inspired, but also introduced me to many lovely people, whom I will dearly miss. However, there is one thing that I surely won’t miss about the States: Donald Trump. While he was generally regarded as more of an entertainment factor during the nomination race of the Republicans, he is just not tolerable anymore. Not at all. When he announced during last week that Muslims should not be allowed to enter the US, he just committed ‘political’ suicide. I don’t even want to use the word ‘political’ since I never regarded him as a politician, but someone who is able to infiltrate politics in a system, where money allows for that. He was always a joke in my eyes. Now he has developed into a bad joke. A really bad one, which I don’t want to listen to ever again. All the publicity he received during the last months by the media just shoved him into the faces of the public. It’s not bearable anymore. He had crossed the line with his racist anti-Mexican discourse already, but the context now has just shown how critical the situation is. Not only in the US. But also in Europe and other parts of the world, where right-wing, xenophobic parties are growing through their racist discourse. Trump is not an exclusive phenomenon. There are many Trumps. Take for example, Marine Le Pen – the President of the notorious French right-wing, populist party Front National. She won the first round of regional elections in France 2 weeks ago. Geert Wilders is another prime example of the Trump species, who regularly polarizes with his racist personality in the Netherlands. Or look at Germany – a country, which experienced its darkest times during an era of fascism– where not only two right-wing populist parties exist, but where a big movement called PEGIDA overran the country. People participating in the movement were called “anxious citizens”, whose fears must be understood. I agreed with that as someone, who firmly beliefs in communication and an inclusive dialogue. But after regular arsons targeting asylum seekers’ shelters, increasing attacks against ‘foreign-looking’ (meaning Middle Eastern looking) individuals and the current racist discourse, which starts in its most benign form by arguing in favor of a ‘Clash of Civilizations’, I do not tolerate this anymore. Not even the slightest concern people in Europe, the US, Australia or wherever else might have. Because all these concerns are so simple-minded and don’t grasp the complexity of the problems, which actually pose threats to us, that it is currently not necessary to give these people a platform. For these people terrorism apparently is simply connected to a Middle Eastern person or even just someone, who looks Middle Eastern. Establishing such a link is an indication for the simplicity of these people, which can’t be changed by giving them a voice, but by giving them the means to educate themselves about reality. All these Trumps present themselves as the voice of the ‘ordinary people’ as if we are talking about a majority. They polarize not by saying the truth, but by inciting hate through a simplification and distortion of events and developments, which can also be called lies. Trumps don’t look for harmony, but hatred. They don’t defend values such as human rights, liberty or democracy, but embody racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and fascism. Their discourse doesn’t improve anything, but worsens the situation.

The supporting basis of these Trumps has grown however. It is easy to buy into one-dimensional arguments, when the world and its dynamics are so complicated. So while all these Trumps see themselves as the winners of a long race against progressive parts of society, it is important to acknowledge their growing numbers. But this growing number of Trumps and their supporters comes from a different Region and group of people in particular: radical Salafist-Jihadist including ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Because what they have in common with the Trumps are all the things stated above. They all are awaiting eagerly the so-called ‘Clash of Civilizations’. Dogmatists no matter of which form fight for the same thing at the end. So my advice for ruining the fun for them is to simply: Dump the Trumps.

Happy Hours and less happy hours

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The week after Thanksgiving has a strange atmosphere as after five days of blissful relaxation college students are thrown straight into the intensity of finals and papers. With two weeks left of the semester everything seems to be moving so quickly and stress levels are high. However, maybe it was the amount of pumpkin pie I ate over the break but I feel I’m becoming more ‘American’ in my style of working. I’m getting into the swing of things and I seem to be more efficient with my assignments as I understand more how the American college system works – achieving the goal I had set at the beginning of the semester, after initially taking more than double the length of time to complete work and essays than it did for my US counterparts. However I still doubt I’m efficient enough for the seven deadlines I have looming next week…so a number of hours these past few days have had to be dedicated to the library.

In other ways, I do feel that I’m becoming more ‘American’ and not just on the superficial level of giving up the fight to hold onto my British words for greater ease and understanding (though I will cling to ‘flatmates’ until the bitter end), and in terms of food with my greater frequency of coffee drinking, the desire to add cinnamon to everything, and slight addiction to protein bars. One example is in being more assertive – not necessarily always a positive thing – but as someone whose form of stereotypical British ‘politeness’ can sometimes tend towards not properly defending my own interests, I feel being clearer in articulating what I want is a good thing.

Of course having many responsibilities means (for ‘real’ GW students and exchange students alike) finding ways to avoid them and I managed to succeed in this, the excuse being a number of friends’ 21st birthdays.

Combined with Christmas shopping, these gave me a reason to put down the books and run errands around Georgetown, also finally giving me the opportunity to see the admittedly beautiful Georgetown campus.

My friends’ new legal freedom meant ‘happy hours’ were high on the agenda and I experienced my first in DC at Tonic. Here, as with my fro-yo experience,  the nachos crown that had previously been held for me in Edinburgh (by the student union at Teviot) was taken by America, the restaurant’s happy hour deal also meaning they were less than half price.

What the doctor ordered

What the doctor ordered

The biggest event of my week though was the University Honors Program Yule Ball, attending as a guest of one of my friends. With snowflake decorations, delicious desserts and hot chocolate, and an induction into the ways of the ‘cupid shuffle’ it was a great night and made the stress momentarily melt away.

However, it was at another ‘happy hour’ for a friend’s birthday at Town Tavern in Adam’s Morgan that I was given a stark reminder of the darker hours in the US this week.’Do you feel like you could get shot at any time in the UK?’ – I was caught off guard by the question and of course the answer for me was ‘no’ but it startled me that some in the US might be living with this feeling. However, it almost seems no wonder when – as with events in San Bernardino – it feels like every day news reports roll in telling of another episode of gun violence. There is a sense of real frustration among the students I am with that this situation exists but also that it feels like there is a brick wall between them and change. San Bernardino has been further politicised in its portrayal as an act of terrorism.

And there have also been some less happy hours not here but in the UK, that also make essays and deadlines fade into insignificance. I must admit it was through the medium of Facebook and my friends’ reactions back home that made me fully aware of the British government’s decision to carry out airstrikes in Syria.

To the penultimate week of the semester (it seems so strange to write this),

Grace

DC – NC

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“Why would you go to North Carolina?”

I heard that question constantly throughout the last week as friends were asking me to join them for some study sessions while I immediate answered with “I can’t.”and explained my reason. Only as an exchange student, one just takes off two weeks before Finals. The reason I went is simple – my host family. I had not seen them since 2012 after having lived a full year with them from 2010-2011.

North Carolina is not the most exciting part of the US. Apex (NC), which is close to Raleigh, is even less exciting. However spending time with my host family and their current exchange student from Serbia was truly relaxing and just great. It was weird to not go an visit them back in New Hampshire in the house and place they used to live, but Apex did not disappoint. While my first night with them ended with me and my host parents sitting at the dinner table and telling each other non-stop stories of the last 4 years until 4 in the morning. It felt immediately like in 2010.

The next day was followed by some tour throughout Apex and its cute little downtown area. A christmas parade in the early evening brought me already into a christmas mood  with “Jingle Bells” stuck in my head. And lastly this great day was ended by the greatest thing ever – my host mother’s self-made Lasagne. As an Italo-American, she exactly knows how to make the perfect Lasagne. Another plus was to have all of her family down in Apex from Brooklyn. They are so much fun.

This visit showed me how lucky I am in having found another family to turn to any time. Although, 4 years are a long time, which I realized  when I saw my host brother first, who just grew up in an immense pace. Also all the important news and funny stories, which my host dad and mom told me just made clear that I had missed a lot and that they had missed a lot of me.

But still despite that everything stayed the same. From having Cream Cheese Bagels with Grapes in the morning to playing some card game occassionally and talking to each other throughout the the night. In essence, many things just stay the same and it is only the outer layer changing.

Here a little sneak peek into my two days with the loveliest people I know. On the picture you see me, my host brother and Katniss – the cutest cat ever.

hjost

 

Post-Thanksgiving

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These past five days have been the highlight of my semester. Thanksgiving was the perfect pick-me-up, coming at a low point for everyone in the semester and refreshing us all for the last push of finals and the end of term. Although five days is just enough time to make us all think the Christmas holidays have come already!

For the break I was was so generously invited by my friend to spent it with her and her family in Connecticut, and I also got the chance to visit Long Island and New York City.

The first day of the holidays was a trip down memory lane as I accompanied my friend on her visit to her old high school to see old teachers and friends, something it turns out a lot of returning students seem to do when they return home after starting college. It was a surreal experience for me to be in classrooms that reminded me of middle school in New Jersey eight years ago – right down to the pledge of allegiance at the beginning of each day – but also felt a fitting and symbolic part of my ‘come back’ to America and made me think about and feel thankful for the great differences between my two US experiences.

In the evening I also got to experience ‘Friendsgiving’ – a pre-Thanksgiving meal and get-together for a group of friends all returning to their hometown for the break. A lot of fun and also a training exercise for the main event in terms of food pacing…

The next day was the day of Thanksgiving and was as perfectly ‘American’ as I could wish, the preparations in the kitchen and gathering of relatives reminding me very much of Christmas celebrations. We visited my friend’s uncle and family in Long Island and the day was filled with a feast of delicious food, American football on the television, and relaxing around the dinner table. I was immediately made to feel part of the family, joining in the annual tradition of walking the two minutes to the shore of the Long Island Sound, to choose a pebble on which to write our name and what we were thankful for and to add it to the increasing collection.

Another American ‘tradition’ of Thanksgiving I indulged in was ‘Black Friday’ (and I must confess, on my return, ‘Cyber Monday’) – though thankfully in Connecticut I did not experience the full-on craziness I had been dreading and did not have to fight anyone for my bargains. And my friend kindly let me cross off another American bucket list item by taking me to a ’50s-style diner for burgers and milkshakes.

Time Warp

Time Warp

Over the weekend I also was given the opportunity to visit New York for the first time since I’ve been here. Taking in some culture at the Whitney Museum of American Art before finding lunch elsewhere in the Meatpacking District was followed by a wander around Soho, grabbing coffee in independent cafés along the way.

I've been thinking, I've been thinking...

I’ve been thinking, I’ve been thinking…

I also got to experience Chinatown and Little Italy and picked up tips for my return (a group of us have – foolishly? – decided to head back for New Year’s Eve…).

So good they named it twice!

So good they named it twice!

The break was also a whirlwind of new culinary experiences for me – from Polish dessert babka at ‘Friendsgiving’, to Vietnamese food in Chinatown and cannoli in Little Italy as well as churros over coffee in my friend’s old high school hangout in Connecticut. However it was not only my taste buds that were educated as over the course of many conversations I was also instructed in American slang, which I look forward to springing on my unsuspecting friends over the Christmas holidays.

My break was full of lovely touches, from the little chocolate turkeys awaiting each place setting at the dessert course on Thanksgiving, to watching the movie ‘Garden State’ whilst travelling through New Jersey on the bus back from New York. I also hadn’t realised how much I’d missed home-cooked meals and it felt wonderful to be fully immersed in a family atmosphere.

The next few weeks promise lots of deadlines and stress but the break has rejuvenated me as well as given me many memories that I will treasure.

To another week of much to be thankful for and catching up with other friends’ Thanksgiving adventures,

Grace

MTL Moments

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As most people that I know decided to head towards the South and sunny places as Mexico City, San Francisco or LA over Thanksgiving break, I decided to challenge myself and chose a destination further North – Montréal, Canada. Of course, the reason for my choice was not any masochist thought, but the fact that one of my best friends from my home university is currently spending her semester abroad in Montréal. It was the perfect opportunity to catch up upon everything that had happened the last months and get excited for the last semester of our Bachelors.

I can only speak highly of Montréal – my 5 days there were just wonderful. It does not matter if you are a foodie, enjoy nightlife or a hipster looking for some industrial city atmosphere, Montréal has it all. Going out for Brunch every day introduced me to the great ‘Foodie’ infrastructure of this city: L’Avenue, Bagel Etc., and Cocoa are only the highlights, which should definitely be paid a visit. Fun Fact: Montréal has the most restaurants per inhabitant than any other North American city. That’s at least what my friend told me. Also experiencing traditional Poutine (Fries, Gravy, Fried Onions and Sour Cream) in the early morning after having gotten a taste of Montréal’s nightlife is a must!

The sightseeing bit of my journey will be displayed in the following ensemble of pictures:

 

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

bahar4

SONY DSC

 

I had many great MTL moments during my visit. Most of them filled with a wide variety of emotions. Although my time in DC has been very limited, the past few months gave me a lot of time to think about certain issues, which I had successfully avoided. My time in Montréal with a person very close to me allowed me to openly discuss all my recent thoughts and make sense of my feelings. It was a great ending to my third month and an amazing start for the last one coming. Time passes like crazy and I am looking forward to many more unforgettable moments – for this last month exclusively DC & GW moments.