Author Archives: train1110

Art: Out of the Museum, Into Our Daily Lives

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By train1110

One of the great things about US, especially in the big cities in the east coast is the museums. Whether they be art, science, history or other areas, the museums in US seem to be very well organized and managed. A well-managed museum can play an important role in the people’s cultural lives, a great means for education and also, an efficient way to provide the place where people can easily spend leisure time in, not to mention being able to meet their cultural necessities.

Among all other types of museums, I like art museums the most. Looking at the different pieces of work done by famous, various artists, it leaves a vast room for interpretation and impression. There is no set answer for how you appreciate the art work; what matters is how you feel and how you interact with the art work that you liked or which inspired you in any way.

During my stay in US, I’ve been to several famous art museums in the US: The Metropolitan Museum in New York, The Museum of Modern Arts in New York, Philadelphia Museum of Art and the American Art Museum Portrait Gallery in DC. I am intending to visit the rest of the Smithsonian museums, especially those of art; National Gallery of Art, National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, African Art Museum, Freer & Sackler Gallery of Art and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. During the times I spent in DC, I had the excuse of the weather being too cold, but now that the weather is clearly beginning to resemble those of the typical spring weather, I know I would be walking around the various museums of the Smithsonian pretty soon enough.

One of the things I felt while visiting the many museums in different cities in US is that art is never distant from our daily lives. This thought came to my mind quite clearly when I was walking around the Museum of Modern Arts in New York just one or two weeks ago. Whereas ‘art’ stayed in the picture frame of the 2 dimension paintings (usually of oil painting) hanging on the wall, they popped out from the 2 dimension into the 3 dimension real life, into the daily objects that we use. It was as if they were crying out “Even the most mundane repetitious life of yours are not separated from art; Life is art!” One of the interesting, memorable artworks I found in the Museum of Modern Arts was the Kikkoman bottle for soy sauce, made in Japan. Acknowledged for its design which suits the convenience for usage and artistic beauty itself, it was the very bottle of soy sauce that I still am keeping in my dorm room kitchen drawer.

Inspired by all these artworks that are so easy to go and appreciate in US, including DC, and in our daily lives, as suggested by the modern art works, one of my friend and I began to start drawing for our pastime. Whether you have a talent in drawing or not does not seem to matter that much; a well-drawn painting does not necessarily mean you have to actually ‘draw’ well – an impressive delivery of your thoughts and feelings into the paper or canvas seems to be what really matters. It has only been 2 weeks since I started drawing, yet it seems a very good hobby to have. I am especially looking forward to the cherry blossoms to bloom in the DC, and when that time comes I would dash out from my dorm to the streets and all sorts of fine places in DC with my paper, pencil and a set of my oil pastels.

 

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Spring, Finally!

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By train1110

After a long winter, finally the spring has come. The first day of class after spring break, the weather is without doubt, the best I’ve been through in DC. They say that GW’s spring break is usually a week ahead of that of other schools nearby, yet still it is very pleasant to have come back from the spring break (which I’ve spent on a cruise in the Bahamas) and find out that spring has already visited DC.

A week on the cruise to the Bahamas was much better than I had expected prior to our leaving, and was totally worth the cost. The itinerary of the cruise started from New York, spending 2 days in the sea before reaching Orlando, then 2 days in the Bahamas, and another 2 days in the sea before coming back to New York. My first impression of the cruise was: too many old people (not that I haven’t expected this). I erased my hopes of meeting and getting to know other new, young people on the cruise (which turned out to be quite the opposite; we did get to meet and be friends with other people within our age group later on during our trip). Everything, every activities were planned for us, and we only had to make choices. The cruise seemed a perfect holiday plan for those who just wished to relax, to break away from the rest of the world (no free wifi on the ship available), without thinking nor any sort of activeness. It was like an all-inclusive hotel floating around the Caribbean. There were also quite a lot of things to do on the ship. On the top floor of the ship, there were some pools, hot tubs and water slides. You could also play ping-pong, rock climbing, mini golf or other sports activities. There were also shows, movies, clubs and parties going on every day. There were 4 or 5 restaurants where one could have meals without paying extra fees, and overall, the food was satisfactory. People could play board games in the game room, and listen to music (piano, bands, songs etc.) while having a drink or do some shopping. On the side deck or front deck, one could see the ocean, or at clear nights, the starry night sky.

Yet I always preferred the days when we could step out of the ship and spend time on the beach, playing water sports or look around the nearby villages. The beach in Orlando was also beautiful, but the islands of Bahamas and the Caribbean were exquisite. Snorkeling is definitely recommended in this part of the sea, and other activities such as kayaking or jet skiing must have been fun too (some of the activities we planned got canceled due to the windy weather). The small village we visited in Orlando also made quite an impression, with pretty houses and shops, streets, perfectly suiting my favorite style of trip: walking through a tiny village looking around the small houses and shops built in their own unique style. The only aspect that I did not like much about in the Bahamas was that the island seemed too commercialized to suit the needs and conveniences of American tourists. I felt the same way about the islands that I felt when I visited Cancun, Mexico last year with my family and thought that it seemed literally impossible to discern whether I was in Mexico or in the US. The whole island seemed to exist solely for the Norwegian Breakaway (the cruise we took).

It was an unforgettable experience though. It was great to be away from the freezing cold weather of DC and to spend a week in a completely different environment, feel the sun and breathe the sea breeze. And now, back in DC, the one thing that I am desperately waiting to see is the scenery of fully bloomed cherry blossoms filling DC.

 

One Way to Enjoy the Snow Day

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By train1110

I can proudly say that the second snow day in GW was one of my best days in DC. To begin with, the snow day notice saved my life. I was to have a test that day that I did not prepare enough – for I had started studying for that course from after midnight on that test day – just to find out that the materials that needed studying was way too much to study overnight. I was literally going to stay up the whole night for that test when I heard of the possibility of another snow day in GW. I was quite worried though, that the snow day rumor may not be true, with my American roommate saying things like how GW is tries to avoid announcing snow day because once in the past there had been too many snow days announced in GW that a law school student sued GW for canceling classes too frequently. Anyways, the moment I got my email from GW security at 5 am, I nearly jumped with joy, closed my books and went to bed right away, and woke up past 12pm.

After cooking something for lunch, my friends and I went to the Pentagon City Mall to do some shopping for the upcoming spring break (we were going on a cruise to the Bahamas), only to find out that it was an unwise decision. It did snow a lot – even Uber charged extra $15 due to the weather – yet still we thought the shops in the Pentagon City Mall would be open because the Pentagon City Mall is an indoor shopping place. Yet our guesses proved to be wrong, and when we got there most of the shops were all closed, with only a few food stores selling food. We had no choice but to come back without any gains.

Yup, so my snow day started off not so great. Yet there’s a saying: “Though thy beginning was small, yet thy latter end should greatly increase”. I guess my snow day was a day that exactly fit to those words. My friend invited me to join dinner with her friends in the dorm, where we cooked food together. I made some fried chilly shrimp and lemon cake for dessert. Most of her friends were American, GW students who already had their experiences of Study Abroad in some other countries. There even was a guy who did his studying abroad in Korea, my home country. We talked mostly about our experiences of studying abroad, and those American friends there seemed very interested in the reason I chose to do an exchange program at GW and about my current life in DC.

After dinner, at around 10pm, some fellow exchange student friends and I went out to take a walk to the monuments and have fun in the snow. It wasn’t as cold as expected, yet the roads were very slippery. We first headed to the Lincoln Memorial, where we lied down and made snow angels on the untainted, pristine white snow field. We also tried making a snowman, but the snow was too soft. We found an already made snowman and took a photo with it instead 🙂 (thanks to whoever built that snowman). It was a nice night-walk, to leave our footprints on untrodden clean snow, getting a sense of being purified mind and body by looking and touching the white snow, in the cool night air. With hot chocolate in our dormitory afterwards our stroll in the snow, there was practically nothing else that we would long for!

 

American People, Culture, Music and All That JAZZ

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By train1110

Music preference reveals quite a lot about a person’s character. How people create music, how others like and enjoy that music, how people think about and develop that music reflect how people like to enjoy, as amusement-seeking and emotional beings, their leisure time or express their feelings. The type of music a certain group of people commonly make and enjoy reveals the cultural characteristics and identity of that group. To extend this logic a little further, a real American music can reflect the true cultural essence and identity of America. And one of this ‘real American music’, according to my GW jazz piano professor at least, is jazz.

Here in GW they offer quite decent music classes or programs even to non-music major students or exchange students too (For GW students some music courses require extra fee to take that course, but since exchange students pay tuition fees to their home university we exchange students are free to take any music course we like 🙂 ) I take a jazz piano course, once every week, a 1:1 tutoring from the professor (as mostly are instrument-learning courses) Anyway, the professor who teaches me jazz piano is just great, very friendly to students, with a clear philosophy and love for jazz music. Following is what he told me once during the class, although it may not be that accurate as it is based on my memory;

“Jazz reflects the true cultural identity of America. Other things that Americans say they are may not accurately be American. Values, ideals, even the US Constitution – What Americans say they are and what they actually are are two different things. The reality is always far away from American ideals. But Jazz is different. Jazz is a mixture of African, Latin American, and European music, but jazz itself is uniquely American. If you came to America and wish to experience and learn something that is truly American, listen to jazz. Jazz is the truly ‘American’ music.”

While learning jazz piano, what really came to my mind was that jazz is the type of music that gives the most freedom to the player. Since playing piano as a hobby, for nearly 14 years I’ve been playing classical music, playing exactly as written, and in the aspect of freedom, only able to practice some variations or learning a few techniques. Jazz seems to make the ground totally open to the interpretation, imagination and style of the player, with no set way to play, not many strict rules. For this reason one can more easily establish his/her own style in jazz, and communicate, express and exchange feelings with others with people responding to his/her style of playing. That was what attracted me to jazz; the liberty of breaking rules and creating something completely new and unique.

There are obviously a lot of places in DC where you can listen to jazz music, but among the very few places I’ve visited during my past 2 months stay in DC, ‘Georgetown Piano Bar’ was the place that I personally liked. Also in GW, you can visit a jazz jam session in Phillips Hall B120 every Friday, from 12-2pm. Apart from this, there’s a lot of big or small events or concerts held, and you can easily find out about them through the posters or notices on the walls especially in the Phillips Hall Music Department.

 

Another New Year’s Day!!

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By train1110

I’m writing this blog posting with deep gratitude to Wilson Koh, who organized the event, prepared and hosted the lunar New Year’s Day party in his dorm last week, on the 16th of February. (You’re awesome Wilson!! 🙂 )

In Asia the use of lunar calendar had been dominant in the history, before modernization and adopting the Western solar calendar. For this reason, a lot of major national holidays are based on lunar calendar dates. New Year’s Day is one of those holidays, so nowadays Asians tend to celebrate New Year’s Day twice during the year, one on January 1st on solar calendar, the other on lunar calendar – of which the date is not on a set time in solar calendar. This year, the actual date for Lunar New Year’s Day was February 19th, but because it was the President’s day on 16th of February and everyone got a break from school that day, we decided to celebrate the Lunar New Year’s Day a little earlier than its actual date.

On Lunar New Year’s Day, families including relatives all gather around, enjoy the time together, say New Year’s greetings to each other, eat and do customary, traditional things for the New Year’s Day. Such customs and traditions differ from country to country in Asia, though the idea of families coming together and spend time with each other seems to be basically the same. In Korea, on the New Year’s Day, we say greetings to each other, bow (in a traditional style) to our parents, wear traditional clothings called ‘hanbok’, eat New Year’s Day food (which is represented by ‘Ddeok-guk’, a rice cake soup carrying the meaning of getting a year older) and play some traditional games together. Love of family is the most important virtue on the Lunar New Year’s Day.

Here in DC, close friends are like our families, for as exchange students most of us came here alone, with families or relatives staying in our home country. Having a Lunar New Year’s Day party together meant a lot to us, not only in terms of sharing different cultures but most importantly, being thankful for each other’s presence as family-like friends, to whom we could rely upon and share feelings together in a foreign country.

Wilson (who is from Singapore) was the host of this Lunar New Year’s Day dinner event, and asked me and my friends to join the cooking. He himself cooked a lot of dishes and the rest of us usually cooked and brought one or two dishes. All put on one table, the dinner was the congregation of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Singaporian dishes. After the dinner, Wilson introduced a Singaporian custom of the New Year’s Day which is called yusheng (or lohei). Yusheng is the food Singaporians eat on the New Year’s Day with their family, and the ingredients they put in the food each has different meanings, such as luck, wealth, success, youth, happiness and so on. Every participant for this yusheng says out loud the words that signifies all such good remarks and blessings and together, mixes all the ingredients like salad using chopsticks. We shared the food afterwards. It was a fun and memorable event, and above all another new and energetic, friendly start of 2015!

The Scent of an Old City

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By train1110

Trip to Philadelphia, during probably the coldest weekend I’ve ever experienced in US east coast. Having forgotten to bring my hair dryer, I had to start my days in Philadelphia with wet hair, which were to freeze within less than 5 minutes. Walking straight was even hard due to the strong, icy, cutting cold wind that blew from the opposite direction. The winds occasionally blew with heavy (nearly blinding) snow. To summarize how my trip was, I would say it was cold, windy, snowy and yet again, cold. But even the worst weather did not prevent me from becoming immersed into the attractions of Philadelphia. The impression I got from Philadelphia, especially in comparison to DC, was the scent of an old city.

Full of historical buildings, places with incredible importance in American history, along with many museums that preserve paintings and sculptures, Philadelphia was a city that showed the traces of time without any alterations. The Old City district in Philadelphia was where all the historical places and artifact were congregated: Independence Hall, The Liberty Bell, Franklin Court, Carpenters Hall, the first and second bank of United States, Penn’s Landing and also, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. After 4 hours in bus, the first place my friends and I visited was the Penn’s Landing. It was where William Penn set his first foot in 1682, where the history of Pennsylvania began, and where we started our 3 days trip in Philadelphia. The Benjamin Franklin Bridge was also visible from the Penn’s landing.

Liberty Bell, the highlight of the trip to Philadelphia, was actually quite smaller than I had thought. Before seeing the bell through my own eyes, I somehow imagined that the bell would be grand, relating to its importance and great significance as an emblem of freedom and liberty, the most upheld values in the United States. It was there, a cracked small bell, yet it had still influenced so many people who fought for liberty and their right as human beings that changed and shaped the world we live today and continues to do so. With the solemn aura of the Liberty Bell, The Liberty Bell Center evidently showed the American pride for their shared values of liberty and equality, history and national pride. The similar atmosphere could be felt in the Independence Hall and the Franklin Court. Philadelphia was the initial capital of United States for 10 years, before Washington DC was established and became the national capital city. Such significant political decisions were made at that very hall and court of Philadelphia that shaped the national identity of the United States. The old capital was then substituted by a new one, and this significance was what reinforced my feelings of this trip, travelling from DC to Philadelphia, as travelling from a shiny bright city to an old, historical, archaic one. There were also horse carriages offering a city tour, standing on one side of the road, making the area all the more historic. For a while, I felt as if I have been travelling not in 2015 Philadelphia, but in 18th century Philadelphia.

The Center City, Museum Districts were also places that were memorable and attractive. The Center City reflected the vitality and vigor of bustling city and people, which could be felt especially in the Reading Terminal Market. On the Valentine’s Day, all 6 of us took our first group photo in front of the LOVE sign in the LOVE Square (everyone else who took photos there apart from us were all couples… ). The day we visited the Museum District was the coldest day throughout our entire trip, so we tended to huddle inside the museum, avoiding going outdoors as much as we could.

The 3 day trip in Philadelphia was not short, yet there were places that made us want to visit again when the weather gets warmer. Though sometimes cold weather can do us some good (Snow Day!), these days I cannot stop wishing for spring to come. And when the spring finally comes, the first thing I’ll do would be to go visit as many places in DC as I can.

Benefits of dormitory housing

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By train1110

One of the greatest things in GW is its dormitories. Having a kitchen inside, (in case of 1959 E Street we have washing machine inside the room too) dormitories are a perfect spot for friends gathering around, cooking dinner together and spend time chilling in the living room.

There are certain dormitories in which exchange students are usually assigned to. A few examples of such dormitories are 1959 E Street, City Hall, Amesterdam Hall. I live in 1959 E Street, next to the Elliott School Building, one of the most popular dormitories for exchange students or international students. Usually, 4 people share a room, although there are a few rooms in which 5 people share the room. In my case, I have two American roommates who are both study abroad students, and another roommate who is also an exchange student. I personally believe that I was very fortunate to have been assigned the same room with my current roommates, for they are all very awesome, friendly, nice, and caring people. Though not much often, we do hang around from time to time, for dinner or an event. Due to the fact that the four of us all share a commonality of having studied abroad, it seems that we got closer soon enough. Always having someone at home, whom we could talk to at the end of each day can be a nice consolation for people like exchange students, studying in a different country, like a family.

Utilizing kitchen in the dormitory is also a great benefit. Not only do we not have to spend money eating out each meal, you can always invite people over, cook something together and have fun! Cooking food together with people from different countries can also be a chance to experience culture of each other. Food is a great way to experience another culture, and going to another country as an exchange student, I believe a vast majority of people made that decision to actually experience and feel the culture different from their own. Utilizing dormitories to make such opportunities can be an interesting, effective, and low-costly way to fulfil one of the goals that you might have had when coming to DC as an exchange student

So far, I had so many international dinners during my 5 week stay in DC that I almost feel as if I came to GWU to cook, rather than to study. My cooking skills are improving day by day, along with my baking skills, of which I used to bake a chocolate cake when I was invited to a birthday party of a Chinese friend a few weeks ago.

Of course, when inviting friends over or throwing a party, you should always ask for your roommates’ consent in advance. As long as they do not dissent, I believe utilizing dormitories provide you with more possible chances to make your stay in DC more intriguing!