Tag Archives: Washington

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.

  

 

Easter Weekend

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Despite Easter not being a national holiday in America we still made the most of the weekend and celebrated with food, friends and family! A friend of mine was visiting from New York so it was the perfect opportunity to explore DC whilst making the most of the holiday.

 

Although we have been in DC for the good part of four months there are still so many things I have yet to see and do. When friends come to visit it gives you the perfect excuse to be a tourist in your own city. So many iconic and historical sights are situated around the Mall and one of the best ways to see the sights is by bike. City bikes are available all over the city and for $8 you get a 24-hour pass (although, make sure you check in every 30 mins else you will be charged an extra $2 every hour). We rented our bikes at the National Mall, checked out the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Korean War Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Monument. We looped around the Tidal Basin, passed the FDR Memorial and ended up at the Jefferson Memorial.

Along with the bikes, we rented paddle boats and spent the afternoon chilling in the middle of the Tidal Basin, soaking up the sun. For only $20 you get an hour in one of the paddle boats (although, it is more if you want the electric swan!) It is definitely worth doing as it gives you stunning views of the Jefferson and the MLK Monument. Make sure you avoid weekends as you will be queuing for around an hour!

On Easter Sunday we were invited to a proper American Easter dinner. We headed up to Columbia, Maryland to a quiet suburban neighbourhood for a feast! It was our first time experiencing a true American home and it did not disappoint! After being away from home for awhile it was nice to spend some time in a familial setting. The food was delicious and dessert was absolutely to die for! It was my first time saying grace, playing catchphrase and having an American Easter

It was not a typical Easter, and yet it was nice to experience it from an American perspective. Although they do not recognise religious holidays on a national scale, they sure do know how to celebrate!

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!

April’s Here

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This week, I ticked an item off my bucket list – seeing John Mayer live. Growing up in Singapore, we were never really on any musicians’ road map and being able to be in DC while he’s on tour has made me really thankful for this exchange opportunity.

Having listened to his music since middle school, he’s formed a huge part of my life since. The setlist last night was more than what I could ask for – 21 songs, including tracks from past albums and his latest release combined with the stellar seats at Verizon Center. It was indeed money well spent.

 

DC’s weather has been increasingly fluctuating – from skipping outdoors in a T-shirt and jeans to running against winds that seem to keep me from standing my ground, it has been a weird couple of weeks. We officially welcomed Spring last week, but hints of winter remained.

When the weather doesn’t go my way, I turn to food for solace and comfort. This week, I got together with the friends whom I spent spring break with and we had dinner at Bistro Bohem.

Located in a cozy corner on U Street, the store front had ‘bistro’ painted in large blue letters on the wall. The menu included classic eastern European fare, with several fusion dishes and it was actually pretty affordable, coming in the under $20 range. I had the beef goulash, which was served together with Czech dumplings. Czech dumplings are a funny thing – they’re like this cross-breed between bread and rice. The schnitzel came highly recommended and came with 2 sides of choice. I also ordered a cup of mulled wine – I believe this is the first time I actually saw mulled wine in DC.

 

In an effort to save money, I started to cook again and fortunately, I found an Asian supermarket that carried the taste of home. I’m not sure if this is the nearest one to GW, but as I was in Virginia over the weekend, Arlington has one called Good Fortune Supermarket and it is huge – it had practically everything I could find back home. Since it was pretty far from Foggy Bottom, I found myself lugging home groceries enough to last me a week.

The semester is ending and the realization that I should start saving up to travel has now hit me real and hard so I foresee myself cooking for the whole of next month! Also having a sudden mindful moment that exchange is going to end soon, what with the invitations for farewell parties and transcript submissions.

That’s all for now.