Author Archives: inepalacios

Time to share exchange experiences, Pepi!

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By inepalacios

Capitol

 

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESBeginnings of April, 2013. “I want to study abroad”, I said. “I want to do it too,” he said to me. We were just finishing a weekly running training when I received this wonderful piece of news from my friend Pepi, who was planning to do an exchange semester too. I remember that in this moment the process of application was tedious and long, and also a little lonely. If I had friends from Political Science that were applying to do an exchange, it was an uncomfortable competition, because there were few vacancies and we know that the university that one get would be the same university that the other would lose. But in the case of Pepi the situation was different. Pepi is my friend but he is studying Bussiness Economics (I am studying Political Science), so we were not competing between each other.

Since this moment it was a long process of preparation, of talks, worries but also good expectations. There were too many things to plan: plane tickets, insurance, budgets, applications, travel plans. Pepi applied as his first option to the University of Richmond and I applied as a first option to The George Washington University, fortunately our home university gave us the opportunity to go to the universities that we wanted. He was one of few friends who I could talk all the time about the exchange, who understood me with each step, who lost a lot of hours helping me with the English exam, with applications and other things.

Pepi came here to visit GW this past weekend. Among my routinely activities, my assignments, midterms preparations I found time to organize tours around DC, neither the cold neither the work stopped us to have a terrific time in this amazing city.

Among other things, we shared mates the first night with Timo (my Argentinian colleague here in GW), a few delicious empanadas (typical argentinian food) that we found in Adams Morgan, the Argentinian Embassy visit, sharing with him one of my classes, walking to the White House, going out to dance in the city, having popular food of Washington, etc. The whole weekend and all what we did were enough activities to realize that all of our plans from a year ago (a trip we both envisioned and dream about for a long time) got real.

Although, it was not so much time, it was enough to think about what is happening these current days of my exchange. About all of the experiences that we have to take advantage.  It made me turning back in the time, remember how we wished this trip and realize that this experience seems to be better that I could ever think. It made me realize that I have to continuously put my joy and willingness to enjoy every instant.

As a way of not losing our habit of running (and also to keep in shape, of course) we went running through the favorite DC destinations: the memorials and all the monuments. At the end, the summary was a great and enriching afternoon after going through all the historical monuments of the foundation of the country. Among pictures, a wonderful rain, walk, run, memorials we had a good time to catch up.

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Tomorrow he has to go back to Richmond, I am still feeling that I could have shared more time with my friend, but I know that It is a good excuse to meet up again in the coming weeks here in Washington or in Richmond where he’s studying. But most importantly, in exactly a week and after the midterms, we will be enjoying together of our recently planed Spring Break in Miami.

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Breaking (almost) my bubble

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By inepalacios

GMC

It was the first days of March, when I started to plan my future routine in DC: classes, some free time to tour around DC, outings with the exchanges students, time to work on English, running, and weekends to travel. It seemed to be enough plans, even too many activities for each week, but when looking at my schedules I felt that I needed to add some sort of community service activity.

Unexpectedly one of my classes has a community service activity as a requirement. That is how I started my online search for some place for me to help, to be useful. That is how I found Georgetown Ministry Center, an organization of the diverse communities in the neighborhood of Georgetown, dedicated to guiding homeless individuals towards stability and housing.

My volunteer work: collaborating on Saturday afternoons, greeting the homeless, talking, and helping them with the computers or with their laundry. Definitely, my experience these past Saturdays was doing more than simple tasks.

Sharing a coffee, playing some game, listening about some experience or about some country where they are from, knowing about some astonishing life’s story, or simply receiving a smile were gifts for me. It was worth it to realize that my needs seems to be simple whims in comparison with their needs. I realized that my worries, my exams, my problems in general do not matter when I have someone in front of me who needs to talk, or a shelter, or a meal, or a smile, something totally more important. I just need these couples of Saturdays to remember that I am privileged, having all the opportunities that I have.

It was like breaking a bubble, my new and awesome GW bubble. Or it was almost that, because the shelter is located in the nice neighborhood of Georgetown.

It is an interesting contrast, walking around its main street, seeing its fancy stores and restaurant compared to the shelter. I had a moment to realize how the unequal opportunities in the life are not only a problem of Latino America.

At the same time it was a chance to change the environment, a chance to give more value to my life. No doubt, the shelter surprised me; it was not what I was expecting.  I had believed that I would help others, but I was the one who was helped: the guys taught me to play chess, they told me about place to go to in DC, and in the US.  They even recommended to go to a politic think tank. I am definitely learning a lot, for instance, the last weekend we discussed drug cartels.

Even though I know that I don’t have more time in my day, sometimes I feel that the time that I spend with them is not a real commitment.  However, I am sure that that is better than nothing.

I should only say thank you to my new friends at Georgetown Minister Center; thank you for showing me another interesting and enriching aspect of DC.

Going on our first group trip to New York City!

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By inepalacios

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After seeing photos of exchange student trips, I was excited to do something like this as soon as possible and the past long weekend was the perfect opportunity to go on our first group trip. The destination: New York City.

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If I believed that the Americans are a little boring given that they go to sleep really earlier in comparison to Argentineans, NYC showed me that I was wrong. It definitely is the city that never sleeps. It was still 1 AM on Sunday and the street was crowded with people.

It was three incredible days, which seemed like a month given the many activities that we did, and at the same time, it seemed to be only an afternoon because the time passed so quickly given the fun times I had with the exchange friends.

The neighborhoods of Little Italy, Times Square, Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brokling Bridge, Ground Zero Memorial, Wall Street, China Town, Rocker Feller Center, nice restaurants -but good street food too- the Statue of the Liberty were some of the places that we went. I can’t believe that aside from the low temperatures, we enjoyed doing more than 15 activities in three days.

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Stopping in the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue in Times Square, – known as “The Crossroads of the World”- was one of the most astonishing places of the trip.

The quantity of people, flyers, videos, photos, noises, music, made me feel an overwhelmed sensation. I was talking with my family when my sister’s boyfriend asked me: if you have to think of the mountains and valleys of our little town in Argentina, and the same time think of that corner in NY, what do you feel? I said I can feel the most amazing contrast that I could find, so different places equally overwhelming.

Among the best moments, the snow fight in Central Park and the songs with Timo’s ukulele in the subway were my favorites. Timo and I enjoyed singing a couple of song in the subway and there was a good response: people cheered, ask for more songs, and took videos of us. If a can do a generalization: the Argentineans have fun drawing attention or at least Timo and I. Furthermore, I felt that Timo and I were one of the few Argentineans in US, in New York I felt that we were a million, I saw around 45 Argentineans: families, group of friends, couples,  in each excursion we heard our distinctive Spanish accent.

Although we went to a lot of places, a long weekend was not enough to know all of  the key places. My wish at the end: coming back to NYC if is possible, but when the weather is warmer, definitely. Coming back and continuing to tour this amazing city.

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If I have to give details of each moment, I would use thousands of words. However, each excursion left me at least a good memory: a joke, a phrase, a talk, a noise, a song or simply some nice landscape.

It has been a long time since I did a group trip, although it reminded me how nice it is, this opportunity was especially different.  So the trip not only offered me the possibility to enjoy the city, but also the opportunity to get to know more of my exchange peers. I shared accommodations in a nice apartment with Oceane, Candince, Mariam and Nadine, thanks girls for everything, especially for the funny talks at night! We also shared the activities with Alessandro, Nico, Marco, Ashraf, Timo, CK, Aaron, Nima, Patrick, Thais, Imane, Marlitt and Ariel.  We were more than 15 exchange GW students enjoying NYC. It was funny how we were changing the language constantly: people around us could hear phrases in French, Italy, Arabic, Spanish, Korean, and our international English in all types of accents lacking the American accent.

Roommates!

Roommates!

 

8Traveling in group was also a good way to learn:  trying to haggle, splitting when it was necessary, meeting again, being on time, tiring, laughing, joking, and having fun time.

While I was returning to DC, I read a friend’s post on Facebook, who talked about her exchange. She numerated his classmate’s different nationalities, and said something which expressed perfectly what I could realize in this trip but I couldn’t explain before read the post. She give the perfect word to express it: spending the trip with two French, two Italian, two Egyptians, one Libyan, threes Australian, one Moroccan, one German, one Brazilian, another Argentinean, experimenting such contrast of culture but in the same time laughing and enjoying with the same things means coexistence.

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Running around DC

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By inepalacios

While the past week I was talking about the places I knew in the US, my class, the journeys and the people that I know, I ran out of space to talk about one the most lovely aspect of my exchange experience: running around DC.

At the beginning I felt that this habit would not be interesting enough to write about. Week after week, the people I met, the places, and the enjoyable moments made it impossible to avoid talking about this activity. I actually discovered for the first time most of the most important place of DC while running.

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The first time, I went to the Washington Memorial and the White House with one of the exchange friend, Johanna. Since that time, I have not spent any week without going for a run. The following week was the turn to see the Lincoln, the Jefferson and the Martin Luther King Junior Memorial, it was awesome: the smooth wind, the landscape, the Potomac, the serenity, the beauty of the city by night made enjoyable every instant. The last time, on Friday afternoon, while running to the Capitol, I saw the best sunset I have ever seen in the Northern Hemisphere.

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The best aspect of my running experience in DC was that I could find a running team “to temporarily replace” my running team in Buenos Aires. No doubt that both groups are particularly different, but wonderful in their own way. I miss my Argentinean team, but meanwhile I have been spending enjoyable trainings with the GW Cross Country Club, the guys of the team are really friendly people. Thanks to this team I could know new places, new roads and news neighborhoods. Most importantly: being part of the group allows me to experiment another aspect of the GW students’ world.

Many people told me that running is boring, for me is a way to relax, to keep active, to enjoy the nature, to clear my mind.  In the past years, running was the chance to spent time with my friends. Now, it allows me to get to know more people, the city and to get involve in another great GW experience.

Time to enjoy DC: the perfect excuse for hanging out

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By inepalacios

If two weeks ago the solution to see all the new friends and to save time to study was organizing a party in my dorm, this last week there was no solution. I had no other choice but to join all of the proposed plans made by my new friends, adding more incredible moments to my exchange.

The great plans started since the Sunday the 26th, when the exchange students from Australia decided to organize a party to celebrate the Australian independence. Games, music, jokes, and typical Australian food, which were delicious, set the precedent for all the rest of the exchange students to share our culture. Timo, the other Argentinean student, and I were thinking that we definitely should prepare some of our typical food: empanadas, as soon as possible.

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To not miss each other, the exchanges students planned to go to another excited Colonials’ basketball game. As it was expected, the Colonial’s victory required celebration, so  we had a dinner in Timo’s room, and played songs on Timo’s ukulele.

 

On Thursday night the plan was impossible to refuse: Nima and Nadine, both exchange students celebrated their birthday, although I had a class on Friday morning I ended up going to Nadine and Nima’s party for a while.

On Friday despite the fun moments my thought was “I spent 4 weeks in DC, with the exception of the orientation week, I didn’t go out of GW’s campus”. But with the weekend, the solution to my concern appeared.

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Agustín, a  Spanish friend organized to have a dinner with Ernestine, Inma, Gonzalo, Gisella, and Javiera (all of them are exchange students who have been studying in Washington since last semester), they were definitely a great company to get to know Georgetown, one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in DC. Among talks of history, politics, personal experiences, they shared with me their exciting journey of studying in GW.

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On Saturday, as a great international city, Washington, DC was prepared to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The best way to get involved in the occasion: celebrate it in the interesting neighborhood of Chinatown. Andrew, one of our EXO leaders, invited all of the exchange students to his home. It was a really nice way to get to know and enjoy Chinatown.

On Sunday my buddy Steven planed to bring me to Dupont Circle, and have a delicious brunch. I was there, when a memory of the first Washingtonians that I knew came to mind. It was in Santa Maria, in the province of Catamarca, in Argentina last year, when I met a couple of Washingtonians who gave me my first demonstration of DC. Among their descriptions they told me “DC is well known for its nice habit to have brunches, the combination between breakfast and lunch, we do it every Sunday”. It was exactly a year ago. By that time I could not imagine that a year later, I would be enjoying that brunch that they had described to me so well in DC.

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At the end, Mary (a friend of Steven who accompanied us), Steven, and I finished walking around the pleasant area of Dupont Circle.

If I was worried because I had not left GW, a weekend was enough to give me the pleasure of knowing Georgetown, Chinatown, and Dupont circle.

But the weekend had not finished yet. Megan, Christine, Sam, Arielle, some American friends that I had met a couple of weeks ago invited me to see the Super Bowl, the most important game in American Football. Although I did not know a lot about American Football, it was an opportunity to get involved in a typical American activity.

At the end of the day, I realized that beside that the parties could be fun, the place nice, and food delicious, spending time with new people is my favorite pastime.

Although I did not talk much about my class, the difficult challenge of studying in a new language is still present. But the friendly people who are accompanying me are the perfect balance, definitely.

Time to begin an interesting routine

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By inepalacios

After a first week in US, spending time with my friend Emma in the nice region of New England; after another week knowing DC and the other exchange students; it was time to begin my classes at GW, to begin my exchange routine. But when I say routine, I am not necessarily referring to a boring routine.

These last two weeks of class were not an ordinary experience. It was two weeks to know my professors, to set my new academic goals, to realize how challenging study in English will be for me, to plan how I will reach all my exchange goals.

These two weeks were unexpectedly full of new senses. On one hand, I was afraid of not being able to understand each word of lectures, because all of my professors speak in a speed that is really difficult for me. But on the other hand, these weeks were to propose myself the challenging to learn and involve myself in issues that I really want to get to know. I realized that there are many academic skills to acquire, and at the same time a lot of people to get to know.

These two weeks were worth to stop some concerns I had before starting.

– I was afraid of not be able to understand mathematics topics in my class of Public Finance, but after a revision I realized that my home university provided me a strong base in mathematics. I noticed that I am ready to learn about the US public finance. It will help me distinguish which aspects, the Argentinean public finance – a typical system of developing country- could improve following the political and economical aspect of the US public finance.

– I wanted to take an Argentinean economic policy class that is offered only this semester in my home university, so I thought that I was loosing to learn about these issues but I noticed that the Latin America class that I am taking has an important approach in the Latin America’s economic policies and the professor is very dynamic.

– I was afraid to not take advantage of GW since I wasn’t taking a class about American or Political History, but I noticed that my Poverty, Welfare and Work class is a course that not only addresses the issue of poverty, but also address American poverty problems, so I am having the opportunity to learn deeply about the US and about one of the social issues that I am interested in.

– I was wishing to be engaged in some American community service and I found that my Ethical of Leadership class is a course that not only has an activity of community service as a requirement, also it offers a good guide to learn about the practices of human services.

First conclusion: I am really gratified with the GW courses that I am taking. So, I just have to be responsible with this great opportunity to be studying at GW.

In each first class of all of the courses I was remembering the EXO’s advice: to get contact information of someone in our class to ask help whenever we need. So, just waiting to get some contact information from my classmates I found more than a simple contact information. In each class I found really friendly people.

In Public Finance I knew Darby, Christina, and Sohyoun and we met to work in the first assignments.

In Ethical of Leadership I knew Nadia and Megan; they have been helping me to find some activity of community service.

In Poverty, Welfare and Work, I knew Emily, she let me borrow her class notes.

In Latin America I knew Steph, she is a really nice person, we have shared not only classes, but also dinners, hang outs, parties, potlucks, and long talks. We also are planning to travel together! Thank Steph for those fun moments!

But also, I could meet with the people who I knew before to arrive to DC.

One of them is Fernando. I met Fernando a month ago, thanks to one great friend in Argentina, Marcelo. Thanks, Marce, for introducing me to your friend. Thank you, Fernando, for the great welcome, the coffee, the DC references, I was missing a good Argentinean talk.

Also I knew Chelsea, a friend of some guys that I met on new years in Fairfield. Thank Chelsea for your willingness to help!

Moreover, I started to do Language Exchange with one of my EXO Leaders, Whitney. She is so nice, we had been talking long talks, hanging out, and going to basketball games. She also was helping with my writing, thank you so much Whitney!

Also I met two Chilean girls, Gisella and Javiera, they are so lovely, we share outings and they invited me to visit their OAE where they are working.

I can’t forget of my dear buddy, Steven. He was studying in my home university the last semester. I can say that he was one of the people who helped me pass the English exam to be here. These last weeks, he has been inviting me to hang out with his nice friends, Bert, Betsy, Anna. We also had a nice dinner with his dad. Thank you so much Steven for everything!

Anyway, it was the beginning of this last weekend and I felt overwhelmed with all of the reading that I had, and all my expectations to hang out with all my new friends.  How can I do to see all of them? What can I do to spent time with the Exchange students? How can I plan with them but save time to study?  I realized that the best thing would be to organize a meeting in my apartment. So, I invited all of them.

We were almost 45 students among my friends and friend of my friends in my apartment. Us music, Latin-American music, Argentinean music, games, dancing, jokes, time to talk with all my friends, opportunity to invite other friends, among them to invite Bibi, another Argentinean girl who is studying in American University, so all these made my weekend a good beginning of the exchange routine.

At the same time, I had time to study and see all the new friends.

Again this exchange is exceeding my expectations.

Thanks all for this great class beginning!

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Turning back time…

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By inepalacios

In my excitement to talk about my first week in DC, I ran out of space to talk about my first week in the United States. The week before I arrived to DC, I had the opportunity to enjoy seven beautiful days with my friend Emma and her family and friends. I met Emma a little more than a year ago in Di Tella, my university in Buenos Aires. She was doing an exchange program for a year, and I shared one of the best and enriching experiences of community service with her. We visited Villa 31, one the biggest slums in Buenos Aires.

Tutoring at a high school in this slum, we started to realize that we share more interests than we knew. We started to spend times with the same group of people, mainly with Clari, another great friend in Buenos Aires. Also Emma was one of the friends who taught me how to speak in English the past year.

Journeys, classes, friends, discussions, English, clubs, projects, university life, ideas, and discussions with her caused me to grow and create great memories. That is how I received the invitation from Emma to spend the days before to start the exchange in her house in Georgetown, Massachusetts with her and her family and how I decided to spend my New Year with her.

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4 boston1It was December 29, 2013 when I entered American territory, more precisely Bostonian territory, at the Boston Logan International Airport. The hug that I gave Emma was the warmth that I needed after facing the shocking weather that I experienced. A day before, I was enjoying the summer with 99 °F (37°C), but at this moment the temperature was around of 5°F (-15°C).

 

2 new yearWhen I arrived, Emma told me about the New Year plan. We were going to Fairfield, Connecticut, a little town where she is studying and we would be celebrating the New Year with a dinner with friends in her house along the Atlantic Ocean and go to a party at the beach organized by her university. It was the plan, but definitely the celebration exceeded my expectations: games, good music, good food, and nice people.

 

 

That is how Emma´s friend told me about and introduced me to their friends who were studying in GW or living in DC. After the New Year, I had time to return to Georgetown, to enjoy the snow and the quiet town, and mainly to spent time with the Cannon’s (Emma´s family).6 all family

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5 snowWithout a doubt, it was the best transition that I could have had between my country and my university experience in the US. Not only because they were patient with my English, also because I had the opportunity to enjoy time with a really nice American family and learn about their customs, their habits, and spend a really nice time with them. I think few people have the willingness to receive exchange students during their short holidays. I was lucky to have the opportunity to share dinner, play games, talk, eat cookies, drink wine, and play in the snow.

Also I had the opportunity to tour Boston, “the capital of New England”, its garden, its avenues, its nice squares, its traditional market, as well as its food, like the pasta in the Italian neighborhood. Although I still want to return to tour more, the few places that I visited were interesting, entertaining, and nice. Definitely my first week in the US was not only was worthy for exploring the region of New England, it was a week to immerse myself in American life, to perceive and adapt to the contrast between my country and the US.

It was worth learning about the customs and to reflect on my customs. If I had to choose the best aspect of this week I would say that it was Emma and her family because they provided me with warmth and Emma gave me the best understanding of the experience that I was about to start. Who better than she that lived as an Exchange, to know about Argentina and US?

Among my experience and her wisdom, I would like to highlight her advice of living and taking advantage of each experience, activity, projects that GW and DC have to offer, especially the things that I won’t be able to do in my country. Also, it is important to do all of the things with willingness and effort, without forgetting to enjoy it.

I will see if I can follow your advice, Emma. If I can, then next week I will probably be talking about it. To Emma and her family that I am missing, thank you so much!