Tag Archives: Living @ GW

The Differences between GWU and My Home University (2)


   Last week, I talked a lot about the professors’ teaching styles and how students interact with them in class. This week, I would like to introduce the environment in both GWU and NCCU.


    The most obvious difference between the two campuses is that GWU is an open campus, but NCCU is a relatively closed one. To be more specific, in GWU, you do not have to go through a gate that indicates the entrance of the campus. The campus is in between other stores, residence halls, and so on. Therefore, it is a huge area where two campus buildings could be as far as a few blocks away. However, in NCCU (or I can say almost all of the universities in Taiwan), we have a specific closed area designed only for the campus. Thus, you will have to pass a gateway to enter the area and all the buildings inside the area belong to the university. In other words, people (if not students or professors) living off campus could not drive their cars or walk into the campus at their will.


    Here in GWU, we live in the dorm that is similar to an apartment. That is, we four people live in two separate double rooms and we share the living room and the kitchen. I really like this dorm because it makes me feel that my housemates, roommates, and I were just like a family living together. Besides, I love the kitchen because the appliances are so complete that I could cook or make almost everything I want by using them. In my home university, however, it is not the same case. In all of the dorms on campus, we have to share the restrooms and kitchens with other people who also live there. As a result, we seldom cook for ourselves because it is too inconvenient. Instead, we buy food from student cafeterias on campus or restaurants outside. Hence, those who do not feel satisfied with the environment will choose to rent a house off campus. But obviously, they have to pay a lot more if they do so because the price of the dorms on campus might be the cheapest (especially in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan).

  In addition to the courses and environment, I would also talk about the students. For the personalities or behaviors of students in GWU and NCCU, I did not find a significant difference. We all work hard, play hard, and find interns during winter or summer vacation to have some working experience. I think one of the most different part is that students here really enjoy parties. They will dress beautifully before they go to parties and they enjoy drinking alcohol. On the contrary, we do not really have the concept of “party” in Taiwan (perhaps partially because the space in the dorm is limited, so it is inconvenient to find a place to throw a party) and we do not drink so often (perhaps because of the warm and humid weather). Take myself for an example, when I want to relaxed or have fun with my friends, we will either go shopping, watch movies, or go to KTVs to sing overnight, but not throwing a party. Anyway, it is just the cultural difference as I mentioned in my previous post.

    It is really interesting to observe how people live differently in different countries, so I am glad that I have the opportunity to study abroad and share what I have observed with you. I hope you like the series of posts in this two weeks!


Dad’s surprise visit


Surprise visit with my dad.

My dad’s here, again. He’s stopped by D.C before leaving to go back to Italy. He’s scheduled to leave next Wednesday.

This time he came with his girlfriend, Erica, that I met for the first time. They met back in August in New York, when my dad came to help me move in. They met in a Starbucks. My Dad was in line to the cashier and could not understand a word of what the employee was saying. Not being able to speak English, he was just standing there trying to figure out what the cashier was asking.

Erica was the next in line. She was in a hurry, and paid for his coffee. And here they are, coming to visit in D.C.

They are funny together, they have their own way to communicate as they have no shared language to speak in.

So once again, despite my fast approaching midterms, I spent the weekend doing touristy activities. We went to see the Smithsonian American Art museums, where the portraits of President Obama and Michelle are exposed.

I have finally been fed good food for the entire weekend: we tried Ethiopian, Thai, Japanese and Indian cuisine.

We concluded the weekend watching the Italian elections that took place on Sunday, march 4th. I’d say this is the lowest note of the weekend. As I write, the votes have been counted, and the situation looks particularly dire. A center right, populist coalition has won a clear majority. The anti E.U 5 Star Movement comes second.

I find solace in the fact that I don’t live in Italy. My dad is leaving tomorrow, and flying back home on March 7th. I’m not envious.

The Differences between GWU and My Home University (1)


  Time really flies! It has already been two months since I arrived at GW for the exchange student program. Since I have stayed here for quite a while, according to my own observation, there are some interesting differences between students, courses, environment, etc., in my home university, National Chengchi University (NCCU), and George Washington University. Some of the differences are caused by the essential difference between Western and Eastern culture, and others are not. Just bear in mind that it is nothing right or wrong, but only distinctive ways of living.


    Before I go into details like teaching styles or approaches, I would like to tell you the difference between the length of a semester in GWU and NCCU first. In NCCU and most of the universities as well in Taiwan, a semester consists of 18 weeks. Within a semester, students have break time only on a few national holidays. That is, there is not a one-week spring break like GWU and most universities in the United States. Because of the relatively long semester, students in Taiwan often feel exhausted and discouraged during the final few weeks of a semester because they have already been stuffed with excessive knowledge and materials.

    In addition to the length of a semester, the teaching approaches professors take in GW are also slightly different from those in NCCU. From my own experience here, no matter in a big or small class, professors encourage students to raise their hands, convey their thoughts, and interact with them. Apparently, they lay much emphasis on the two-way learning. In other words, although professors are obviously more knowledgeable than students, they are also open-minded to learn things from their students and they believe the courses are designed for both the professors and students. Therefore, they have to work together throughout the whole semester to make full use of the class. On the contrary, in NCCU and most universities in Taiwan, even though there are still courses in which professors take the similar teaching strategies that I just mentioned, in most courses, professors adopt the traditional Eastern way of teaching. That is, they play the role of the authoritative lecture givers who are distant from their students. Especially in big classes with over 80 students, there is seldom interaction between the professor and students. Besides teaching approaches, students’ personalities might also have something to do with this phenomenon because Eastern people are raised up in the environment where “showing-off” is not encouraged. Gradually, they become more afraid of conveying their own ideas or feelings in public for fear of criticism or making mistakes.

  In brief, what I stated above are just my personal point of view according to my observation these days. Both of the teaching approaches have their merits and weaknesses, so they are not superior to one another. There are still some interesting differences between GWU and NCCU that I want to show you, so I will update them next week.


The National Museum of Women in the Arts


    One of the reasons why I chose GWU as my exchange university is that its location makes it a perfect place for students to have access to rich resources. Among them, the great number of museums allow me to get immersed in the world of arts and acquire knowledge related to those artistic products. The National Museum of Women in the Arts is one of the famous museums on my wish list that I would like to visit once.

    NMWA, according to the introductory information on the website, is the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to championing women through the arts. Inside the museum, there are abundant masterpieces from female artists on display. The museum itself is just like a huge palace, creating a tranquil space for the visitors to admire those works of art.

    Among the art works, “Sleeping Mask, 2014” by Gillian Wearing impressed me the most. The caption beside says, “Recognizing that self-presentation-in public, on the internet, or in written communication-is a form of masking.” Indeed, including men and women, most people in the world wear a mask in front of others for fear of social norms and regulations.

    Another work that impressed me a lot is “4 Seated Figures, 2002” by Magdalena Abakanowicz. I was not able to understand what the artist wanted to convey until I read the illustration beside. “These handless figures relate to the artist’s personal experiences: she witnessed her mother being shot in the hands as soldiers stormed their home in Poland during WWⅡ.” The story behind these figures made me feel sad about how cruel wars were and how people suffered during that period.

    I have also been to other museums in D.C until now, so I still have a lot to share with you. I might update them in the near future anyway. For those who are interested in women’s arts and how they fight for gender equality, NWMA must be the right place.


Celebrating Chinese Lunar New Year


    Chinese New Year is the most important event to Chinese people in a year. It is not merely a holiday, but the precious moment to have a reunion with all the family members and relatives that live far away. During this period, we have different traditions and events to celebrate every day. For example, on New Year’s Eve, especially at night, we sit in a round table and eat together. Later, we watch TV or play games and then all the family members will start to distribute red envelopes to each other. This is the most exciting day for kids because they do not need to distribute their red envelopes, but keep receiving them from the elderly family members. On the first day of the Chinese New Year, according to traditions, we will go to temples in the early morning to pray for good health and luck in the following year. On the second day of the Chinese New Year, those women who got married must return their hometowns to visit their parents. In short, this is both an interesting and busy period for us. This year, for the first time in my life, I cannot celebrate Chinese New Year with my dear family. It is a pity on one hand, but on the other hand, I have the opportunity to participate in different activities in D.C to experience how Chinese people here celebrate their Chinese New Year.

     There are a series of special events to celebrate Chinese New Year this week. After searching for information online, my friends and I planned to go to Kennedy center to enjoy traditional Chinese music performance, cook and have a nice dinner together, and watch the New Year Parade at Chinatown.

    The Kennedy Center is a nice place for all kinds of performances. Some of the performances require tickets, but some do not. The one we participated in on Friday, which was one of the special events for Lunar New Year Celebration, was free. We got immersed in the music banquet with the beautiful melodies played by traditional instruments like guzheng, flute, pipa, and so on. For those who are interested in the free performance held every day at six o’clock p.m., I recommend you to go earlier in case you cannot find a seat.

    On Saturday morning, I went to supermarket with my friends to buy all the ingredients we would need to cook for our dinner. At night, we had hot pot, salmon fried rice, curry chicken, tofu, salad, and we drank beer to celebrate Chinese New Year. Although I cannot eat with my family, the friends I meet here are just like my family and I had an adorable night with them.

    On Sunday, we went to Chinatown to watch the annual Chinese New Year parade. We got there a little bit late, so the street had already been crowded with people when we arrived. Thankfully, we could still find some space in between. During the parade, we saw a lot of national flags of Taiwan, so we were extremely excited. It felt like D.C was our second hometown! The parade was gorgeous, for all the people in the parade dressed so beautifully and the performances were all unique. It was my pleasure to participate in this celebration and I was really glad to see that so many native speakers came to know more about Chinese culture. This parade put a perfect ending to my celebration trip for Chinese New Year. I believe that every single event that I have enjoyed this week would become one of the most memorable memories in my life. Anyway, Happy New Year and may everyone keep healthy and happy in the year of dog!!!




Away from D.C


It was a random, rainy and cold Thursday night when we decided that we had had enough of D.C.

Not actually, of course. But sometimes, when your routine gets overwhelming and the weather doesn’t help you power through it, it is normal to feel the urge to escape for a few days.

Me and my roommate felt that urge last Thursday night, as soon as we found out that there were no classes on President’s day and that we had not planned anything. We bought round trip tickets from DC to Philly, by bus. This type of short term, last minute planning is definitely my favorite. And the US East Coast serves that purpose pretty well. I mean, where else in the US can you get away for 2 days at a price of 80$ to visit a major city?
This isn’t something you can do if you’re in California, or Texas or even Chicago.  I like this European dimension of closeness that the east coast has.

We planned it out, recruited 2 friends and then we were ready to go. The details of our trip were as follows:

Departure on Sunday morning, and return on Monday night. 2 full days, 1 full night, 4 people and a full hostel. Full hostel meaning that other than us 4, our room was filled with additional people which, I know, is the very principle of a hostel. But as I had never sojourned in one, I was slightly weary of the concept. I did shared airbnb’s or even co-ops several times in the past, but never hostel. The bunk beds remind me of a military setting and the fact that you share them with strangers is a 50-50 situation. Either strangers are normal, or they are not. However, there is no room for such perplexities and considerations when the price for one night is so low: 26$. Unheard of in D.C.

We arrived at around 11 am on Sunday. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get rid of the D.C cold, as in Philadelphia it was about the same temperature. It was sunny, though, unlike in D.C. So the absorption of vitamin D compensated for the lack of heat.

We spent the day doing touristy stuff: the liberty bell, the independence hall, the museum of Art. We went to a pub at night, and the rest is history. No, we didn’t do anything malicious by American standards, of course. We chilled at the pub and then went to bed. There was no weirdo, and we made friends with the other people in our room.

On the second day, we visited a super cool garden (see pictures) made with re-purposed waste.


Philly is a cool city. Middle ground between a European city and New York. It is high rise, but also historical. Pretty hipster-ish, and more lively than D.C on a Sunday night. Food is good (shout out to Philly cheese steak!) and cheaper than D.C

My verdict is: great get away destination for a weekend. Hostels are mostly safe.



Dad’s visit


When I announced to my family that I would see them in the summer after the end of my exchange year, and not over Christmas break, I knew that I had triggered something.

Like the United States, Italian society is very much family centered. Families are the first places of socialization for little humans. The process of growing up is overseen and supported emotionally and financially until little humans get bigger and ready to leave home. At which point, their independence causes their ties with the family to get thinner.

Kids in the US start taking up jobs to sustain themselves financially as soon as they enter college, and  once done with college they’re gone for good and ready to be independent. In Italy, this is not the case. Families try as hard as they can to preserve co-dependency with grown up kids. Hence the stereotype of the over-protective and extremely caring Italian Mamma. Italian parents have a tendency to cling to their children especially when they are getting independent. No wonder why the average age of adults leaving the family home for the first time in strikingly higher than the US. Even the average age for young adults to get their first job. Well, that’s also because the state of Italian economy is not very kind to young people at the moment. But I don’t want to get political now. I will, in due time: we have election on March the 4th, and I just requested my absentee ballot from the General Consulate of Italy in DC.

Lecture time is over. In light of these considerations, the point I was trying to make is that  I did not go see my family for Christmas, therefore my family is sending envoys to come see me.

On a short notice, my dad notified me of his arrival a week before. The funny bit is that he told me he would be staying for a month. As a matter of fact, as I write, he is still in the US. Not in D.C, but in New York. He came last weekend and remained until last Tuesday.

We didn’t do much, because of the bad weather. But we got to catch up on some stuff that I had put off. We went to Walmart and bought a table for the living room, a bunch of kitchen utensils, bathroom products and so on. Walmart is always an experience for us Europeans, and it was the first time for my dad as well.

Most importantly, from as empty as black hole, my fridge was replenished in a matter of hours thanks to my dad. And so was my stomach. I had forgotten how he is at cooking.

We also watched the Superbowl, but since we didn’t really know the rule of the game we got bored easily. On Monday, he came to visit me at work at the EU delegation.  Anyway, it was a very good weekend.

I love to see how Italian family bonds adjust to globalization.