“Can I fix you something to drink, Sir?”- like something out of a Hollywood script, these were the opening lines of my 7 month trip to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. The flight steward on the United flight from Sydney to Los Angeles spoke with a New York accent and his grin stretched across his face like a beaming Cheshire cat. I am from Australia and when a complete stranger smiles that broad, either a ten year drought has just broken and it’s raining cats and dogs or they’ve just won the lottery. But the steward wasn’t being facetious. He was being American.
My name is Jarrod Grabham I have just finished my first week of exchange at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Thus far my experience has been riveting. I feel like I’ve wondered into the pages of a fast paced novel; the experience is surreal. I have to pinch myself each time I casually saunter down Pennsylvania Avenue to number 1600, location of the White House. Washington D.C. features so prominently in the media as the home of Western Democracy that it has almost developed an ethereal quality. Then again, I am not used to big, fancy cities. I hail from a small 200 year old settlement built on the banks of the Macquarie River in New South Wales, called Bathurst.
I am doing a double degree in International Security Studies and History at the Australian National University in Canberra. Considering my majors, you can just imagine how thrilled I was to find out that I was to spend a semester abroad in D.C. The streets are paved with history and the city is a center for both security policy (the Pentagon is a metro stop!) and for the field of security studies academic criticism. The clock is ticking however, as I will only be here for 4.5 months. I will have to take the advice of my 9th grade science teacher and become a sponge, soaking up the facts and figures of the city’s rich and intricate history.
Canberra is not dissimilar from Washington D.C. It is the capital city of the nation, a center for world class museums, a melting pot of ideas and cultures and the home of Federal Parliament. On the other hand, Canberra is far less significant internationally compared to D.C. Several Americans I have spoke to have told me they have never heard of it… talk about being a “legend in your own lunch box!”
One of the biggest draw cards of Washington for me is its terrific history. Every nook and cranny has a plaque, a memorial to ponder. Some would goes as far as saying that Washington D.C. is the key to understanding the history of the United States. I posit if not the key then the keyhole. This is because D.C. has been the platform for many scenes of American socio-cultural transformation. I challenge you: try to build a mental image of the 1950s /60s American Civil Right’s Movement without conjuring Dr.King beckoning intimately to the multitudes at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. You can’t. The truth is that D.C. goes part and parcel with U.S. history. I just cant wait to start soaking up the facts.
Oh and Mr. Cheshire Steward I will take you up on your offer, can you “fix” me a chai late please? No? Oh well… grand cities aside, Sydney’s coffee may well be the thing that boomerangs me back to the land down under…