At the end of the first week in DC I finally feel settled into my life at GWU. Orientation week has been non-stop logistics, legalities and most importantly fun! Between the GW staff and the orientation leaders we were truly looked after. It was a very different experience than my previous introduction to King’s. Back home the emphasis is on independence and you quickly learn to fend for yourself. At GW all the exchange students were embraced as fellow colonials and we had our own sense of community as we figured out DC together.
It is always within the first week in a new country where you experience the biggest culture shocks. Although the US and the UK share a common history and culture, there are certain subtle differences which take some adjusting to. As a Londoner, eye contact is not something that I am familiar with. When walking the streets of DC people often look you directly in the eye and smile. Strangers on the metro, in coffee shops or restaurants, converse with you beyond the minimum level of service required. Initially, it threw me as in London people generally abide by the rule of if you don’t bother someone they won’t bother you. Americans, in general, are that friendly. They actively engage in conversation which typically begins with ‘how are you?’ and finish with ‘have a nice day’. The action may remain the same but the experience is overall a more positive one.
One of my biggest curiosities in coming to DC which I share with so many others is that of the upcoming presidency. The response to election in DC is not what I initially expected. In a district so overwhelmingly democratic I was under the impression that there would be a sense of mourning over the outcome. There are objections to the personal and political policies of Trump; however, the general energy feels optimistic. The American people have faith in their political system and accept the outcome of the vote despite the multitude of reasons not to. My understanding of the election may change over the next six months as I explore DC and America may react differently over the next four years.
DC has so much to offer beyond politics. Over the course of this week, I have explored the city through the medium of food. Every American classic you can dream of from burgers, fries, tater tots, pretzels and milkshakes in gigantic portions big enough for two. DC is a diverse city and if you are craving something different there are plenty of amazing Indian, Japanese and Italian restaurants. On my first night here we headed to Barcelona Wine Bar, a Spanish tapas restaurant on 14th street which had the best Patatas Bravas. I highly recommend going and make sure you try the Spicy Eggplant Caponata and Jamón & Manchego Croquetas.
Alongside eating my way through the city we had the opportunity to burn off the calories with some ice skating at Washington Harbor. I hadn’t ice skated since I was a little kid and was desperately hoping it was just like riding a bike. Luckily enough it was and I left unscathed with no bruises or broken bones. The finale of orientation was a Washington Wizards game against the Philadelphia 76ers. I know next to nothing about basketball but it was one of the best experiences. Three hours of whooping and booing as the Wizards won 109 to 93. Big sporting events are the epitome of American culture and between the remote control blimps, cheerleaders and junk food it did not disappoint.
My first week in DC has been a whirlwind but I have had the most amazing time meeting students from all over the globe and can’t wait to see what the next six months has in store.