Monthly Archives: March 2017

Spring Break – continued

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Fresh off our Yosemite hike, we immediately drove back to LA where we took a well-needed rest for our next adventure – traversing through the canyons. We planned on visiting Bryce Canyon, Antelope Canyon and the Grand Canyon over the next 3 to 4 days and combined, it was one heck of a drive.

Situated in Utah, Bryce Canyon is known for its crimson-colored hoodoos, or spire-shaped rock formations. We drove to sunset point, which as the name suggests, is famed for its aerial views during sunset of the canyon. As we had time to spare, we actually chanced upon another lookout point called Cedar Breaks National Monument and I reckoned this was my favorite spot in Utah not simply because of its picturesque views, but also because of its coincidental nature on our trip. Of a high altitude and bordering a ski resort, we were not dressed for this – half of us were wearing shorts because of the 90 degree AZ weather while we were driving in. Nonetheless, as we clawed knee deep into powdery snow and as the winds blew our ears numb, the view and the ensuing pictures were worth the effort.

Next up was Antelope Canyon. Do note that you’ll need to engage a tour when visiting Antelope Canyon as private campers or visitors will be barred. This formation was surreal – it actually looked like something out of Lord of The Rings or Game of Thrones; I half imagined Orcs to be marching behind us as we descended into the Lower Antelope Canyon. The tour guides were really helpful, constantly pointing out the different shapes and creatures morphed by the rock formations (although I didn’t understood like half of them, it was still fun to hear).

 

The final one is perhaps the most famous of all – Grand Canyon. The rock formation in Grand Canyon is unique due to the many layers of red rock, revealing the conditions it has weathered through millions of years. While we did not have much time at our last stop, the scenery was indeed breathtaking; I also managed to mail out several postcards from the gift shop right outside one of the lookout points.

Oh and since Horseshoe Bend was a 20 min drive away – it didn’t hurt! I mean, what is 20 min more of driving when we’ve been driving for weeks, am I right?

 

Many of my friends back in Singapore chose Europe as an exchange destination because they felt it had more to offer in terms of nature. After traversing 4 national parks in a week, I don’t think I’ve been more humbled by what Mother Nature has to offer – I’ve definitely made the right decision in coming to the United States and using Spring Break to get away from city life and into the arms (literally, in Bryce Canyon) of Gaia.

I’m thinking of doing part of the Appalachian trial in West Virginia before the semester ends. Anybody interested? (Hint: I need a driver though)

Back to the daily grind for now.

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Springtime in DC

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This week we officially said goodbye to winter and welcomed in the spring season with warmer weather and cherry blossoms.

An old friend of mine was in town for the weekend and we decided to make the most of the springtime and explore the local areas that surround DC. Old Town Alexandria is just a short fifteen-minute car journey that takes you outside DC into the state of Virginia. It still blows my mind that within such a short period of time I am able to hop between states. That is one of the great benefits of living in DC, you have access to so many different places.

Our first stop in Old Town was lunch. We headed over to Caphe Banh Mi for some Vietnamese food before stopping at Dolci Gelati for dessert. I ordered the grilled lemongrass chicken and had the cookies and cream and bacio gelato, both of which were absolutely delicious.

We spent the afternoon just wandering the streets, popping in and out of all the little boutiques and antique shops. Founded in 1749, Old Town resembles a miniature model railway town. As George Washington’s hometown the area is full of history, old red brick buildings line cobblestone paths.

 

We headed down to the waterfront and stumbled into the Torpedo Factory Art Center. In a small colonial town, I wasn’t expecting a showcase of modern art. On each floor in the factory artists were creating, exhibiting and selling paintings, sculptures and photographs. My personal favourite was Alvena McCormick, an American artist who had been painting since the age of three.

 

After a day of shopping, food and art we made our way back to DC for dinner. We hit up Jaco Taco in Georgetown and finished it off with a cupcake from Baked and Wired. As it was the first warm day of Spring everyone was out in the city and the lines for both Georgetown Cupcake and Baked and Wired were wrapped around the street. Although it is definitely worth waiting 20 minutes for a cupcake I’d recommend not queuing up hungry!

Despite having a very mild winter I am looking forward to making the most of the warmer weather before I have to return to the cold.

Food Glorious Food!!!

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America – land of the grilled cheese and home of the hamburger. One of the first things that pops into my head when I think of America is food … and with good reason! All you can eat buffets, bottomless brunch, unlimited refills and massive portions sizes – Americans take their food seriously!

One of the areas in which cultural differences are most apparent is food. The confusion over chips, fries, potato chips and crisps still continues. It is also the one thing that I miss the most (besides family etc.). This may come as a surprise as Britain is not exactly known for its food. But you just can’t beat a Sunday roast, Full English or Cadburys chocolate. My best friend realised the extent of my pain and ordered me Heinz baked beans off of Amazon straight to my door. One of my biggest recommendations for any future study abroad student is to bring the one thing you can’t live without. In my case, it was English breakfast tea (PG Tips to be specific). Other Brits brought Ambrosia Custard, Hob Nobs and HP Sauce. For the Koreans, it was banana milk and ramen. And I will never understand the Aussies obsession with Milo or Vegemite.

Do not despair! DC has some great restaurants, food trucks, fast food and delivery systems that you will have enough things to try and fall in love with. However, food in DC can be expensive and eating out is not always a viable option. What is great about living on campus is that you are able to pop home in between classes. I often cook lunch or grab a snack rather than eating out during the day. This is a great way to save money. However, when you need a quick bite, don’t want to cook or have run out of food there is so much at your fingertips! Here are some of my favourite options around campus;

Lazy Options: Located in the basement of Shenkman Halls you will find Potbelly, Dunkin Donuts (although not quite as good as Krispy Kreme) and the Gallery. If you are lucky enough to live in Shenkman you don’t even need to leave the building to get food!

Late Night Options: If it is past ten, you want a midnight snack, or need food to end the night off then the Gallery and Carvings are open until the early hours of the morning.

Healthy Options: Roti and Sweetgreen are right next door to each other and both provide healthy options at reasonable prices. Roti is my personal favourite as you can get a healthy, fulfilling meal for as little as $7

Study Break: Located right outside Gelman library the food trucks provide you with a wide range of foods. The prices vary but they all tend to be on the pricier side and you’re looking of upwards of $10. The food is great and the portions sizes do make it worth it. My personal favourite is Rolling Cow!

DC truly is a city you can eat your way through so I am sure there will be many more posts with my favourite places and new discoveries!

SPBK 2017

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Waking up to warm sunlight on my face and stepping onto the tarmac at SFO feeling the first hint of perspiration — Spring Break has begun.

Five of us set off on Friday morning for the West Coast, and a gruelling 5-hour flight later (the lack of entertainment really roughens it up), we landed at SFO. Day one saw us arriving late, way too late to do what we had planned: visiting the Golden Gate Bridge and taking a trip to Palo Alto. In the end, we hit SF downtown and ended up eating our way through it. I’d recommend the Cheesecake Factory in Union Square — go early though the line gets really long.

Day 2 was jam-packed from morning to night; we raced for the bridge and had time left over to shop in union square before having our dinner from Safeway right on the steps of the Caltrain station on 4th Street.  A 6 hour night bus ride later,  we found ourselves in Downtown Los Angeles. DTLA at dawn was creepy, partly because we lived in a really sketchy stretch – and mostly because anywhere that’s half decent was booked weeks ago and we only did it after midterms. As we were only there to take a short break before getting on the move again, it was still not that bad.

Ah, the highlight of California — Yosemite National Park. It was surreal, visiting after nearly 10 years, this time with friends. As it is spring, some parts of the park was closed, so we did not get to see Glacier Point. Nonetheless, we hiked 3 miles on John Muir and was rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Vernal Fall.

Growing up in an island state that is Singapore where the highest hill stands at 450m or so and with absolutely close to zero natural landscapes, Yosemite is a breath of fresh air (figuratively and literally). Daily morning jogs didn’t feel like a chore or an obligation – it was something I looked forward to once I opened my eyes at the crack of dawn. In the company of friends and companions, I was empowered to hike and see more of what Yosemite has to offer.

Three days in Yosemite were simply not enough – I’d have to come back again and do more hikes.

Part 2 of SPBK 2017 TBD.

From the Snow to the Sun – Spring Break 2017

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Nothing screams Spring Break more than Miami. Sunshine, the beach and delicious food all rolled into one week of festivities. What was meant to be a week of relaxation turned into a week of adventure. We had managed to get ridiculously cheap flights from New York and so on Monday morning we hopped on the Megabus and headed up to the city ready for our flight on Tuesday. This wouldn’t have been an issue if it wasn’t for storm Stella. On Monday night New York was hit by a blizzard and we woke up to the city being covered in snow. Everywhere in the city was closed and all the flights for that day were cancelled.

The night before the storm we met up with my friend from New York and headed to Cantina in Harlem for the best tacos and burritos! Luckily another group from the exchange program was staying in the city for the week and so we stocked up on supplies and crashed at their Airbnb for a couple nights. Stranded in New York we decided to make the most of the snow and go exploring. For the city that never sleeps, it was a rare opportunity to experience New York without the hustle and bustle. As we were headed to Miami we weren’t exactly dressed for the weather. We bundled up in as many layers that we had brought with us and headed down to Central Park. Although it was not what I had in mind when I pictured Spring Break, the city in the snow was beautiful and was worth missing our flight.

We headed to the Newark Airport early the next morning hoping that there were some spare seats on the upcoming flights. Luckily, 15 minutes before takeoff we managed to get two free tickets and were on our way to Miami! A couple of hours later, we had said goodbye to the snow and were basking in the sun on South Beach.

There was a large group of us staying at an Airbnb in South Beach. The week was spent chilling at the beach, having BBQs out back and gorging on the best Cuban food I’ve ever had. We headed over to Wynwood Walls to explore the amazing street art and decided to stay in the area to enjoy the St Patrick’s Day celebrations. If there is one thing I’ve learnt is that Americans don’t know how to do anything low-key. They had everything from green coloured drinks, food trucks, vintage clothing stalls and live music.

After a week relaxing and having fun in the sun it was time to return to reality. As our flight was at 6 am the following day we decided to not book accommodation for our final night and go the full 24 hours. We checked out at 10 am and spent the rest of the day at the beach, before returning to one of our favourite places of the trip for dinner Ball and Chain and finishing the trip off at Story. At 3 am we grabbed an uber to the airport and made the long journey back to DC.

Spring Break was exactly the adventure I expected it to be. Miami was the perfect combination of fun and culture and completely lived up to the hype of Spring Break.

 

The Study in Studying Abroad

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Studying abroad can be very fast paced and intense. For a lot of people, it is their first time in America, leaving home or moving countries. Although we are only here for a semester, six months is a long enough period of time that DC is very much home. Once you are finally settled and all of the practicalities of sim cards, bank accounts and medical insurance are out of the way you are able to go about your daily life as a GW student. Being an exchange student gives you the best of both worlds. You are able to experience a country whilst learning new things and meeting new people. Whether it is travelling, chilling in Shenkman or late night study sessions in Gelman the memories you make are shaped by the people you share them with.

Along with all the exciting experiences of being abroad, this week was time to fulfill the other element of studying abroad – study! It was the first time I have stopped and lived life as a normal student. This is largely due to the fact that it is currently midterms and so people have been spending their time in the library on one too many cups of coffee rather than out exploring DC! The nature of assessments is drastically different from back home as the American education system is so much more flexible. Professors set the exams which typically range from essay based questions to multiple choice, fill in the blank and short answer questions. The majority of the exchange students are pass-fail and so studying becomes more enjoyable than stressful as you can focus on the content rather than the grade.

One of the benefits of studying in DC is the access to all the museums that frame the National Mall. For my African American history module, we had the opportunity to visit the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture. Being able to interact with the content of the course really enhances the experience of the module. The museum provides a chronological account from slavery to present day. You begin the narrative seventy feet below ground with the origins of slavery and gradually make your way through centuries of struggle and progress. They have original artefacts such as slave shackles, the coffin of Emmett Till and the couch from the Oprah Winfrey Show. It is one of the best Smithsonian museums and tickets are currently very hard to come by so if you have the chance, definitely go!

MIDTERMS

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The comfort zone has always been a place I’m really comfortable in – school-wise. I’ve never felt the need to pick up a new sport, join a new club or go out of my way to meet new people. Being one to ‘take whatever is thrown at me’, I became laid-back and some sort of a hermit after school hours. Networking and meeting people was a chore in the past but rushing totally changed my perception of that.

Entering GW, I decided to try something that would be impossible to do in Singapore – join a Greek organization. But before you get all worked up about the partying, it’s not the case. I joined a professional business co-ed fraternity, where meetings usually involve lots of work on resume writing, planning of social and professional events.

Just this past week, we had our first fundraiser: selling Krispy Kreme donuts. DC weather took a turn for the worse and plunged to the low thirties. Despite this, we walked in a group to Dupont Circle and then back to all the dorms to sell and distribute the donuts. It was my very first time going door to door trying to sell something and I gotta say it was a great learning experience! (We finished selling ALL our donuts within an hour so it was a huge success and thank you to everyone who bought them!)

Midterm week is here and having three papers in a week with two on the same day just meant that time during the weekends have to be put to wiser use. Hence, I visited the Hirshhorn for a short while on Saturday.

Situated halfway between the Capitol and Washington Monument, it was a breeze to get to. It’s definitely a feast for those passionate about art – with artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Kline, you basically get the best altogether under one roof. I think my favorite were probably the Burghers of Calais in the Sculpture Garden. Commissioned by Yoko Ono, the Garden features sculpture pieces by Rodin.

As this and next weeks are midterm weeks, I did not get to do much travelling or sightseeing. However, I’ll definitely try and squeeze in more once midterms end next week and before I leave for Spring Break!

Cheers,

Audrey