Author Archives: paultogneri

Pumpkin Spicing DC

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Back home, the weather is always a topic of conversation. You can get all four seasons in a day in Edinburgh, so small talk often revolves around the daily weather. So it’s somewhat natural that the sudden drop in temperature and arrival of pumpkin spiced everything comes with a different view, and aspect on DC has emerged. We’ve all now been in the city for over a month and a half. We have our favourite coffee shops, we understand the metro and seeing Marine One fly-over or a motorcade going-by is not unfamiliar to us. We’re no longer tourists and more like residents.

It’s not all plain sailing though – little ever is – culture shock hasn’t been sudden but it does exist. I’ve been to the US even DC itself before, but being a tourist is much different to actually living in a place. Coming from a country where anything 65F+ is sunbathing weather, the immediate culture shock was the heat and humidity. I’m no stranger to heat and love nothing better than relaxing by a pool, but I was to humidity and I really wasn’t expecting it when I arrived. That first full day in DC was great but dealing with the subsequent and unexpected mosquito bites the following day, was not. So there’s little things that can still blindside you.

Nonetheless, the city is beginning to feel like home. I’ve purposely held off doing any travelling until I was well rooted in the city and now that’s happened, I’m busy tracking down cheap flights (Virgin America has deals to the West coast for as little as $179 at the moment). I’m looking at spend a little time all over the place, New England, the South, Pacific North West, Colorado and California or all on my bucket list for the year.

That sense of reality is helped by the impending mid-terms which are stacking up thick and fast. Much of the general stereotype of a year abroad, particularly if you’re studying on a program in Europe is that academics go out the window and its a year of partying and debauchery. Whilst partying and debaucher is still a running narrative here, academics are still a huge factor. Classes are demanding but ultimately interesting and rewarding. There’s a greater sense of freedom in choosing your subjects here and professors are much better at providing real life examples to their teachings which makes the whole experience ultimately more rewarding.

So, it’s been another week of class, socialising, watching sports and general fun times.

Friday was spent recovering from a surprise party for Ellie, one of our study abroad troop. Saturday was spent watching College football – I was kinda disappointed that GW didn’t have a team but at the same time allows me to follow any team that’s really playing and generally enjoy the game which is fantastically passionate. Sunday was another trip to H street and the Pug for brunch for a friends birthday, followed by very stereotypical drinking from red solo cup in a backyard playing beer pong, boom cap and various other games I generally didn’t understand but all in all a good weekend.

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SPORTS! SPORTS! SPORTS!

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By paultogneri

One of the things that I was looking forward to most living in DC was American sports. Whilst the rest of the world has turned the beautiful game into a religion, soccer in the United States is growing but still a minority sport. Much is often made elsewhere in the world of the apparent rejection of the game by the majority of the American public, instead opting for Baseball, Hockey, Basketball and of course their own version of ‘football’.

Football/Soccer in other parts of the world dominates sporting life so much that is, in many countries the only sport that matters. Of course, there is hockey leagues, basketball leagues, rugby and golf are two big sports in Scotland but football dominates above everything.

It’s nice being somewhere where one sport doesn’t dominate. If the ‘skins (Washington Redskins) lose – as they did on Thursday night – then, don’t worry too much the Capitals season is just about to the start and the Nats just clinched their division with the best record in the league! It’s nice being able to support so many teams.

Something I also found different here is the real sense of unity that American sport franchises can give to a city/area/state. In Europe, there is normally at least two major clubs in the one city and fierce rivalries ensue. Here in DC, when the ‘skins are playing almost any bar showing it will have a host of loyal fans wearing their jerseys and cheering them onto… not much by the looks of it this season, but it’s nice the sense of unity it can bring.

We’re not immune from watching US sports elsewhere in the world. Growing up Mighty Ducks was on almost weekly in my household and street hockey was played almost daily during the summer months. The Sandlot, Angels in the Outfield and the Little Cowboys are all childhood favourites which introduced the majority of us to American sports and it’s great – and still somewhat unreal – to be able to go to games and it being as stereotypical as we seen on Television.

It does give us incentive to adopt teams and having travelled a bit in the US before, I already had somewhat questionable allegiances to many west coast teams. Having been in NorCal shortly after the Giants won the world series, they were my unofficial team. That was until I actually attended my first baseball game, where the Nats took on the Giants here at Nationals Park. Despite the game ultimately ending in a Giants victory, I quickly found myself rooting for my new hometown team.

And why not continue that across all the sports? I’m here in DC for one year, so might as well jump on for the emotional roller coaster that supporting a sports team is. I’ve even got a Nationals baseball cap, which I actually where – baseball caps went out of style along with VHS tapes in Scotland, so I would be mocked endlessly back home for ‘going native’.

I should warn fellow DC sports nuts however, I can be somewhat of a curse. I proudly proclaimed my support for the ‘skins the play before RG3 was horrendously crippled.

Nonetheless, I’m here for the ride!

[Disclaimer: I’m just going to totally ignore the whole ‘skins name issue because I can].

INDEPENDENCE & H ST NE

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By paultogneri

This past weekend has been one of a range of emotions for me. As I mentioned, being away from Scotland during the referendum was a big sacrifice in choosing to come to GW this year. It was compounded with the fact that I’d been suffering from a flu the week previous – I’m a total kid when I’m sick, all I want is to be brought tea and soup – so this past week had been tough.

When choosing to come to GW it was because it was such a good and unique opportunity, I’m not a superstitious person but I had hoped it would stand as a good omen for a yes vote on Thursday, alas it was not to be.

I did have very good company to watch the results come in as many former friends from back home, now based in DC made the trip out to The Queen Vic pub on H Street NE, a classic British boozer which ironically enough was full of Yes supporting bar staff – either Irish or American.

As the night progressed, it became quickly apparent that the result I and those who had gathered at the Queen Vic had hoped to come in, wasn’t going to. Nonetheless it was great to see many old friends again and some other Scots who are here in DC. The local news even showed up to get our views on the night:

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The following day was spent nursing a whisky hangover and binge watching Netflix. Saturday however seen us back to H Street NE with the H Street Festival – which was a blast!

H St NE was voted 6th most hipster place in America by Forbes Magazine in 2012 and you can still see why.

The festival spanned over 10 blocks along H Street NE with the street blocked off to traffic, as thousands of DC residents caroused the many stalls, which ranged from face-painting and t-shirt sales to art and political campaigns. I was told that there was over 200 businesses, restaurants, community organisations and merchants there that day.

I even got the chance to meet the mayor who was walking amongst other residents in jeans and a polo shirt, almost fitting in if it wasn’t for the two armed bodyguards watching his every move.

I spent most of my time enjoying liquid refreshments in one of the many bars with outdoor seating.

There was live music on a host of stages from local acts all afternoon, with some real talent on show.

Amongst the highlights was the Washington Nationals Presidents race down a block.

Next week sees “fall’ arrive and I’m eagerly anticipating a lower temperature. I’m also looking at forming plans for a trip to New York, another to South Carolina and back to the West Coast for some much needed relaxation in Southern California.

Classes and Mimosas

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As another week passes, I think I’m at a weird cross-over phase between feeling at home in DC and still feeling like this is a vacation. The humidity is one thing I didn’t really expect, I enjoy the sun – we don’t see it often enough in Scotland – but here the humidity can make the simplest walk feel like a trek across Death Valley. Although, with it now being September I’m looking forward to my first ‘Fall’ in the States. 

This week I sampled the delights of one of DC’s most illustrious institutions, Ben’s Chilli Bowl. Located on the infamous U street, Ben’s Chilli Bowl has remained unchanged in an area and a city that us underwent many over the last X years. Regular clientele ranges from your average blue-collar worker to Presidents and Prime Ministers. And that’s what makes it the place it is.

Throughout the decades and incidents, it’s been there. The 1950s seen jazz greats such as Nat King Cole and Miles Davis play along the street, the 1960s seen riots after the assignation of Martin Luther King Jr, the 1970s and 80s seen the decline of the area and increase in drug problems, the 1990s seen the arrival of the Metro and the 2000s further regeneration of the area. Throughout it all, Ben’s has stood there, forever unchanging – it’s a place where good service and good food is their prime concern.

It was also frickin’ delicious.

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Another secret to DC which I’ve quickly become accustomed is that of Brunch. We have brunch back home, however brunch is superior in DC for one primary reason; bottomless mimosas. For as little as $10 (The Pug, H Street), you can enjoy some refreshing champagne with a splash of OJ all afternoon long (provided you get some food – try the Breakfast burrito!). For a slightly more up market location, Southern Hospitality in Adam’s Morgan does the same deal for $15. If you go during college football season, expect the place to be packed with Clemson fans.

It’s not all about the cuisine culture though, although I really feel like I should pay some sort of compliment to the food trucks outside Gelman… another time.

The academic side of the exchange has also been an enthralling one. Being a political science student my subject are all general in that area, from ‘President’s at War’ to ‘Media, Politics and Government’ – they all offer unique insight into our modern world and moreover, they look at how they are applied in practise, instead of just theory – which is a welcome change to how my home institution general teaches.

The knowledge and calibre of professors here at GW is also impressive. You can’t really beat being taught about how media and press operate together, than by being taught by a former White House correspondent!

Next semester I’m eagerly looking forward to an internship, which could be at a number of the unbelievable places which GW has connections with, being so close to the political elite here in Washington.

So, it’s all go but I’ll be sure to keep you informed!

Only at GW

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As I mentioned in my last blog, the most prominent feeling before arriving 

was definitely excitement over a small amount of nervousness. From the moment we arrived on campus, we didn’t really have any time to let any of those emotions get the better of ourselves. 

The study abroad office were absolutely fantastic in ensuring we had a back-to-back agenda with a mixture of very informative sessions coupled with equally informative – but somewhat more fun – trips or games to introduce everyone to our new city. 

Not only did the induction week bond all the international students really well – it feels like I’ve known some of them for years, not days – it also bonded us to DC. From trips to the Smithsonian, races around campus, tour of congress and Mount Vernon – and even the group trip to Target, it forced everybody to jump head first into life here. The Nationals even gained some 80 new fans!

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The opportunities here at GW appear to be limitless. With world-renowned experts as Professors, illustrious alumni, fantastic internship opportunities and of course being at the geographic center of the political universe, it feels like GW is a great place to be with something extraordinary always around the corner.

It’s undoubtedly different to what we all know back at our home institutions. Where else would the President’s motorcade be a legitimate reason for being late for class? #OnlyatGW

So as we move forward, everyone is ready to go and wants to jump headfirst into life here. So, that’s what I’m off to today!

I’ll be checking again this week with my cultural faux pàs’ – there’s been several.

1. The quest to gain more knowledge is an addictive substance but a hugely rewarding one.

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I’m Paul, a Political Science student from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and I’ll be blogging over the course of the next semester as a student at GW on exchange.

I’ve been a little unconventional in my life after high school, I dropped out of university after six-months, instead choosing to work for a political party in the Scottish Parliament. That was over six-years ago and I have to say, it was certainly different but very interesting. I went from a part-time job in the Scottish Parliament to a senior Press Advisor, riding in a helicopter with the First Minister of the country, to taking an awful selfie with President Clinton (see left) … And somehow, I found my way here. In the heart of democracy and a world-leading institution.

The years I spent working for the SNP – a progressive, center-left party who are currently responsibly for the referendum about to take place on September 18  – extremely rewarding and I’m hugely grateful for them, which made leaving that job and moving a few thousand miles away just before a decision is made that I’ve worked my entire adult life for, a difficult one.

I say it was a difficult, however when it came it down to it, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I’ll be able to visit an independent Scotland any time…

My expectations of the upcoming semester at GW is a mixture of positive excitement, with the occasional doubts of how it will be, living in another country, another city being so far away from everything and everyone I’ve come to know so well.

One of my motivating factors for returning to university was the opportunity to study abroad, however. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to travel modestly around some of Europe and North America before, but there’s always been the safety-net of returning home in a maximum of a few weeks.

However, the excitement is far the more prominent emotion that I’m feeling just now. I really can’t wait to begin!

Being a Political Science major means that DC is perfect for me and somewhere I can’t wait to explore. If America is the world’s melting pot, then DC is the melting pot of political ideas and beliefs.

I’m looking forward to experiencing those who may have views or beliefs I’ve not really encountered before. It may ask me to question some of my owns views and I suppose, that can only be a good thing.

I suppose, what I’m expecting is the unexpected. The new places, the new friends, the new culture, will all be something that is unique and the memories will be sure to last a lifetime.

There will be unrivalled joy and some heartache, lessons learnt and lessons taught. I always believe that if life throws you a curveball, there’s no harm in having a huge swing at it.

I guess – in the somewhat stereotypical image of my new, adopted homeland – come at me, Bro!