Tag Archives: travel

Time to Say Goodbye!

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   It has been such an eventful fours months that it seems crazy that it’s all over! It has been a week of last celebrations, reminiscing and goodbyes. As some people head home and others move on to their next
adventures, it’s hard to accept that you’re not going to be spending every day with the same bunch of people that you have come to know and love.

Luckily, it’s not a final goodbye! People may live on opposite sides of the planet but its definitely not the last time you get to see each other. The experiences you share don’t disappear and the bonds you make last a lifetime. That’s the thing about studying abroad – yes you study and yes you are abroad. But it is the people that you share it all with that really make the difference.

Looking back on the semester, it has been packed with protests, parties, food, travel, learning, sport and friends! I got the opportunity to cross so many things off my bucket list! From witnessing the inauguration to participating in the Women’s March and Muslim Ban Protest. Spring Break in Miami to road tripping down South! Watching the Wizards, Tar Heels and Colonials win! Being in central park during a blizzard with no one else around. Pedal boating on the Potomac surrounded by the cherry blossoms. The countless nights spent down at the Lincoln Memorial. And not to forget the more mundane nights (which are also some of the best) of cooking all together in Shenkman Hall.

Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn new things (both in and especially out of the classroom), try new things, learn what you like and don’t like, travel, meet people from all over the world! It is six months that you get to attempt anything and everything – fail at some and succeed at others.

It truly has been a great time at GWU, in DC and in the US. Foggy Bottom very quickly became our home that it feels genuinely weird to be leaving. To all those that made the past semester possible – a massive thank-you! And to all those who are about to arrive – enjoy!!!!

Goodbye America – it’s been fun!

 

DistriCt farewell

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 It sounds cliche, but it seriously seemed like last week when we were walking around with our group leaders around DC, taking in the sights and making multiple trips to Target for groceries. Three days ago, I sat for my last final and yesterday, I bade farewell to my home of five months – DC.

The final week was a whirl of meeting up with different groups of friends, trying out new restaurants and revisiting ones we’ve been before. Parties were held, apartments were cleaned and emptied. Sleepless nights weren’t because of cramming for finals, but rather the rush to pack to hit the move-out deadline.

In retrospect, choosing to do my exchange in DC was probably one of the best choices I’ve ever made. From the election rush and the slew of protests in January and February to the proximity of popular spots like Florida that came in really handy during spring break and finally to the host of lawn festivals and restaurant week when warmer weather rolled around in April and May – I constantly found ways to entertain myself regardless of the seasons. GWU presented me with an endless string of opportunities – from joining hikes with student group GW TRAILS to being accepted as a member of a co-ed fraternity to experience Greek Life to attending career fairs and related events, I had reaped immense knowledge and managed to immerse myself in a whole new experience this semester.

Perhaps one of my best memories from DC is visiting the
monuments at practically any time of day. From having picnics on the national mall and reading a book on the steps behind the Lincoln Memorial – these are experiences unique to DC/GWU students (to the envy of many). Bored at night? No problem, round up a few friends and go for a walk of the national monuments basking in moonlight. Feel like you’ve been eating too much recently? The scenic views of your running route along the national mall provide the definitive motivation.

I am grateful for the friendships forged, the memories created and the help I’ve received in navigating these 5 months of independent living. Thank you to everyone who’s made a difference!

Audrey out. (Mic drop)

Into History and Nature

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I think one of the best parts of exchange in DC is the access to national parks that are within driving distance whether in Virginia, West Virginia or Maryland. Being located in such a prime location on the east coast meant that hiking the Appalachian Trail is possible for a day trip and without the added cost of camping and plane tickets.

So on Saturday, the 5 of us rented a car and took a day trip to Harper’s Ferry and Shenandoah National Park. Aiming to cover 2 destinations in a day was really ambitious, and to top it off, it rained while we were at out first destination so we could not do much. That being said, we decided to head off to Shenandoah National Park ahead of schedule and it was probably the best decision made that day.

Harper’s Ferry is situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers where  Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia meet. It is the easternmost town in West Virginia. Driving in, you will be greeted with the sight of a quaint historical town that very much resembles colonial days and this is probably because it was an important site of the American Civil War. We took a break there from an hour’s drive and treated ourselves to some food and ice cream.

While I recommend hiking up the Maryland Heights trail, we were simply not blessed with good weather.

Next stop, we drove for another hour to Shenandoah National Park via the Thornton Gap Entrance (There are four entrances but this is the nearest from DC and also intercepts the Skyline Drive halfway). With national parks, cellphone reception is always a problem so I do recommend downloading the park’s map before you enter for ease of navigation (unless you’re an expert at reading analog maps, which we found out that we were inept at a little too late).

Shenandoah Park is filled with many wonderful viewpoints and waterfalls but due to time constraints, we chose to do the Hawksbill Trail, which led us to the highest point in the park. Man, the view was all sorts of spectacular despite the cold and unrelenting weather – I managed to get some pictures but the cloudy backdrop didn’t do it justice.

Kudos to the drivers who survived the nearly 6-hour drive, it was really not easy for them while us non-drivers simply snacked and napped at the back!

Coming to an End

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As finals are finally coming to an end, it is time to think about packing up and saying goodbye! This past week I tried to make the most of the time we had left whilst finishing up the last few assignments. That’s the only problem with studying abroad. Just when you want to finish exploring you spend more time in the library than you have done all semester. Nevertheless, this week I still managed to tick a few more things off my bucket list.                               

One of which was to finally experience a baseball game. The Washington Nationals were facing off against the New York Mets and although I know next to nothing about baseball, it was still worth the experience. The game typically lasts about three hours, which considering I had no idea what was going on seemed like an awfully long time. However, like so many other American sports the game was more of an event. It was a great opportunity to sit back, eat, drink and watch the sunset over the stadium.

  

For one of our final dinners together we decided to treat ourselves and headed to Rose’s Luxury over on 8th Street. For $60 per person, you get to experience the tasting menu which included too many dishes for me to remember. I definitely recommend it as you get to sit back and enjoy as they bring you dish after dish. From the Foie Gras Tart with Hazelnut, White Chocolate & Asian Pear to the Pork Sausage, Habanero, Peanuts & Lychee Salad – all the food was absolutely to die for! You are not able to make reservations unless you are a party of six or more so if you’re going to go make sure you get there in advance to guarantee yourself a table.

  

 

Bonjour, Canada

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This past week, I took a solo trip to Montreal and Quebec City in Canada. It was about a 2 hour flight from DC, and studentuniverse had some great discounts so it was approximately 220 USD for a round trip. 

Having been to cities like Toronto and Vancouver, I initially thought Montreal and Quebec City would be similar – but boy, was I wrong. Unlike the cities I’ve been to previously, Montreal and Quebec City are the most bilingual cities in Canada – more than 70 per cent of its citizens speak English and French. In Montreal, casual conversations are often heard in French, but even more so in Quebec City. Both cities lie along the Saint Lawrence River, so I was treated to many panoramic views of the seaway and the river right in the heart of both cities.

For my first stop in Montreal, the highlight has got to be the biodome. Think of an indoor zoo with controlled conditions – that’s the gist of the biodome. Wildlife roamed right before my eyes and I got to see animals like capybaras, sloths, penguins and salamanders. It was right next to the Olympic stadium, so I managed to kill 2 birds with 1 stone in a single day.

Montreal has the highest food per square metre of any city, second only to New York City. Poutine, arguably the national food of Canada, on the surface may just seem like fries with gravy and bacon bits sprinkled on top. Here, poutine is an industry, a franchise – flavours and toppings are unlimited; even the choice of fries can be chosen. Smoked meat, is another one of Canada’s famous dish –  it is a type of kosher-style deli meat product made by salting and curing beef brisket with spices. The brisket is allowed to absorb the flavours over a week, and is then hot smoked to cook through, and finally steamed to completion.Old Cities

Both Montreal and Quebec City have old towns, namely Old Montreal and Old Quebec City. Respectively, these are the oldest living areas in both cities and are preserved till today. Stepping in felt like entering old-style Europe – colourful buildings and town squares with a centralised water fountain.  Old Quebec City also houses several UNESCO heritage sites, such as Place Royale.

In both cities, the subway is very convenient – as someone who doesn’t own a license, I was able to get around both cities really quickly. The bus is also a good substitute for the subway as it penetrates areas of the city that the subway does not serve – bus transfers are almost always complimentary within 2 hours so remember to retain your bus ticket!

Philadelphia Bound

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As we near the end of the program everyone is trying to tick as many boxes as possible off their study abroad bucket list. I had been planning to visit my friend at Swarthmore College and so this weekend I headed up to Philadelphia to explore the city and have a catch-up.

The majority of my weekend was spent on Swarthmore campus. It’s interesting to visit friends at different universities as they are always so different to what I am used to. From the acapella groups, battle of the bands, frat parties and dining halls the college culture in America is so different from back home.

As this was my second visit to Philly, I was able to skip some of the tourist sights. Heads up! If you’re planning a trip to Philly I recommend skipping some of the historical stuff (unless you’re a massive US history nerd!). Even as a history student, I still found the Liberty Bell to be underwhelming. There are also so many other interesting cultural activities to explore! Here are a few that are worth checking out:

 

Reading Terminal Market
One of my favourite food markets I’ve ever been to! Has a great selection of foods. Make sure you get a Philadelphia Soft Pretzel as they are absolutely delicious and you get served by authentic Mennonites.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
Indoor and outdoor art exhibition consisting of mosaic murals and alleyways. $8 for students. Great for photo opportunities.

City Hall
Located in Center City it is definitely worth checking out! Stunning architecture and an iconic building in Philly.

Philadelphia Museum of Art (and Rocky steps)
The PMA has a great selection of art; from a replica Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, one of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Claude Monet’s Japanese Bridge and Water Lilies. Even if you’re not into art it is worth a visit just to see the iconic Rocky steps (I do not recommend trying to run them!)

Food

  1. The Dandelion – for all the Brits studying abroad in desperate need of a Sunday roast!
  2. Tippling Place – doesn’t look like much from the outside but the interior and the beverages are delicious
  3. Tattooed Mom – great vibe, stunning interior and a relatively cheap selection of food and drinks!

 

As Philly is a short bus ride away from DC I definitely recommend visiting during your time here!

Preparing to Leave and Preparing to Arrive

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As the exchange program begins to enter its final phase and people start to make plans for the summer, it hits you that you are just not ready to leave. You have made a home for yourself in the dorms of Foggy Bottom – between your routine, your friends, and late night trips to the Lincoln. However, as one exchange group gets ready to leave another is getting ready to arrive. Here are just a few pieces of information I wish someone had told me before arriving!

Transport
As most people in the exchange program are from cities with extremely efficient subway systems, the DC metro does not exactly fair well in comparison. It’s great for getting yourself from A to B but it is not something you will use on daily basis.

Do not fear! Uber in DC is ridiculously cheap that it works out better catching a ride than waiting for a subway. If travelling in groups make sure you fair split it!

Money
American bank accounts are very straightforward to set up and if you head up to Bank of America they will give you your own personalised George Washington debit card. Although a lot of students didn’t set up accounts it makes like so much easier. Exchange rates can fluctuate so it’s easier to be using American dollars. Also, with an American card you can use the app Venmo and save yourself the hassle of keeping tabs.

Food
Food in DC can be expensive. However, there are cheaper ways to go about it. It is worth doing a trip early on to either Safeway or Walmart to stock up on supplies that will last you a long time. Group cooking also makes like 100 times easier. Once we had settled into our group we decided that it would be one person’s turn each day of the week to bulk cook dinner. That way you only have to buy and cook once and yet get a homecooked meal every night of the week (results may vary depending on whether or not you or your friends can cook!)

Packing
Depending on the time of year you are coming to DC do not buy a whole new wardrobe for weather that may never arrive. Luckily, winter never really arrived this year and I was spared having to spend hundreds of dollars making sure I didn’t die of hypothermia. I’m just glad I didn’t buy snow boots before I arrived!

Bring two suitcases! It may be a hassle to lug from airport to airport but trust me five months is long enough that you are better off bringing more than you need. I only brought one and there are so many things I wish I had with me.

Bring toiletries! I expected toiletries to be the same price as the UK. However, they are about three times the price here. Stock up on face wipes, dry shampoo and any kind of medication you may need over the course of your time here.

Tax and Tipping
Have fun with this one! I still haven’t fully grasped how it works and it normally just ends up with a bunch of confused foreigners around a dinner table trying to do math. It’s just something you have to accept. Tax is not included in the price of anything and is typically 10% for restaurants, bars etc. Tipping varies but around 15% and 20% is fine.

Travelling
Travel within the US is more expensive than Europe. However, check out skyscanner for cheap flights (search everywhere at any time for really good deals) and you can find some good flights.

Megabus will get you up to Baltimore, Philly and New York cheap enough. Don’t bother flying or taking the train as it is so much more expensive.

Phone
Phone contracts are notoriously expensive in the US. Make sure your phone is unlocked before you arrive. Check your home providers deals for overseas use as it might be cheaper. I currently pay $27.50 for 2GB with T-Mobile (although there are some better deals).

Most importantly – just go have fun!