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By pw916

Insert words like “male,” “Californian,” “student,” “brother,” and “friend” to describe my identity and you’d be off to a pretty good start. And although I’ll be the first to say that my identity isn’t defined by my sexuality, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that being gay has very much affected my world view and been a quality of mine that I often contemplate. ...continue reading "Identity & Perception"

By anishag22

Hopping "across the pond" to England was thrilling, nerve-wracking and surreal, but this past week has been even crazier. I flew into London Heathrow where my program held a four-day orientation during which we were put up in a nice hotel and given plenty of free time to explore the city. Although I was concerned I would be the only student going to Bristol, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered I would be one of seven girls headed there. The girls and I had a fabulous time galavanting through London and being typical American tourists before finally boarding our coach to Bristol on Wednesday. When we arrived in Bristol, I was incredibly nervous because it felt like freshman year all over again - new school, new dorm, new people and a new city I was completely unfamiliar with. The nervousness subsided, but what didn't was the culture shock.

Every student who decides to study abroad has been warned of culture shock - the various stages, the normalcy of it all. But I have to say that for some reason it just never quite clicked in my brain that I could experience it as deeply as I did my first few days in Bristol. As soon as we left London, the reality set in. Here at the University of Bristol I am living with 10 other girls on a floor, and they are all British. Granted, that's what I wanted from this abroad experience, but the cultural differences basically slapped me in the face upon arrival. Yes, they speak English, but I'm telling you it's not the same. I sometimes have trouble understanding their accents, and what's more there are probably thousands of British slang terms that I am completely unfamiliar with. Then there's the fact that I sometimes feel like Bristol is existing in a previous era. There are no trash chutes in my dorm, no garbage disposal in the kitchen, and no elevator to get me to the fifth floor (I know this sounds whiny but I'm honestly panting by the time I get to my floor). British fashion is also quite strange, like what's with all the Converse and hair scrunchies? The fact that I felt culture shock surprised me, and looking back now I'm not quite sure why I thought it simply wouldn't happen to me.

Despite the initial shock, the past few days have been a lot better - I like to believe that this is just an "adjustment period," and my American friends on my program and I are all experiencing the same thing together. Don't get me wrong, I'm loving Bristol, but being the minority within a majority culture is just harder than I thought it would be. It's also made me think differently about what the international students at GW must feel like, and now I know why many of them tend to stick by friends from their home country.

This is only week one for me, so I am optimistic about my assimilation process here in Bristol. The city is absolutely stunning and so quaint and charming - I definitely like it better than London, so I know I made the right decision. Becoming one with the Brits was a goal I set for myself for this study abroad experience because I have found that when I push myself out of my comfort zone, the best things happen. I could have chosen a bigger city with more Americans, but that's just too familiar for my taste. Here's to becoming a true Bristolian in the coming months!

Until next time -

Xx, Anisha

By Dominique Bonessi

With less than a month until my program in Jordan begins, my anxiety has reached its’ peak. So much to do prepare and plan for; I find myself avoiding my first post for fear that I will sound too formal or too anxious or too idealist or digressing in getting to my point—which I have already done.

I have been studying Arabic for three years now and the Middlebury Program at the University of Jordan will advance my Arabic.  If you haven’t heard of the Middlebury Program let me give you an idea of how intense this language program can be.  A friend of mine went to the Middlebury campus in Vermont over the summer after one semester of French and never really being able to learn a language and came out speaking fluent French.  My program is a little different.  I will be living with a host family in Amman, taking four classes entirely in Arabic, and signing a language pledge that says I will only speak, think, read, and write in Arabic.  For the next five months I will be eating, sleeping, living, and breathing completely, 100% in Arabic.

In order to brace myself for what is to come in two weeks and three days I have made the following preparations. First, I have been reviewing my Arabic vocab and grammar so I can place into the proper level for my placement test.  Second, I have downloaded an Arabic language pack on my computer so I can type in Arabic.  This was preceded by making my own stickers to put on my keys in order to learn the Arabic keyboard.  Finally, I have taken the initiative to read news about Jordan in both English and in Arabic in order to keep up with current events.

In addition to the language classes, I am also anxious and excited to live for five months in an Arabic speaking country.  I realize Jordan is probably not the most westernized country there is to study abroad in; therefore, there will be challenges to overcome.  As a side note, I am currently writing to you from the comfort of my friend’s family’s house in Madrid, Spain.  I’ve know them since I was 12 when I came to visit in the summer and this is my fifth trip back to Spain to visit.  Like most of Europe, Spain is modernized there is always some form of transportation to get around, walking around is very easy and safe, and there is little in the way—for me—of a language barrier.  Going from Spain to Jordan maybe like jumping into a pool of ice cold water, where transportation isn’t as simple, walking around my neighborhood may not be safe to do alone, and I have yet to learn conversational Arabic.  These challenges differ from the challenges of my classes as they are more difficult to prepare for because until I arrive in Jordan I don’t like to have expectations.  I only have one, which is to expect the unexpected.

By juliaraewagner

As I sit here, I am one day away from departing on a tri-part adventure to India, Senegal, and Argentina to study urban planning with the SIT-International Honors Program, and to be honest, I have yet to start packing. Its not that I'm a disorganized person or not excited to set off; I've been working on getting my visas in order for the past six months. My unpreparedness stems from the fact that I simply do not know what to expect! 

I spent last summer and fall semesters abroad in Costa Rica and Argentina with GW Latin America, I know better than to set expectations. Its not that my experiences fell short of my expectations (quite the opposite in fact), but rather the experiences were far from what I could have imagined. Sure, I expected to go hiking in Costa Rica; I had not anticipated gliding above its forests on a zipline. I expected to go to some tango performances in Argentina; I did not know that I would participate in the country's interactive entertainment. 

In fact, one of the first tidbits of advice our Argentine program director imparted on us was to immediately drop all expectations. The Argentines do not hold expectations, he explained, not the way Americans do. In a country that as only escaped from the grasp of authoritarian rule in the past 30 years, where the currency's value is constantly in question, and where industry depends upon foreign investment, the Argentine people do not dump all of their hopes into expectations. Instead, they focus on the joys of the present and remain unflummoxed when all does not go as planned.  Essentially, the Argentines have a penchant for making the most of the unexpected.

I like to think that I have adopted a bit of this open Argentine ability to roll with the punches. Some of my most beautiful experiences abroad thus far have been the result of a wrong turn or a missed bus, and I would not trade them for any of the expectations I had at the beginning.

Argentina and Costa Rica were not the countries I had imagined before arriving. In fact, they were so much more complex than I could have ever conceived, full of cultural subtlties and unspoken norms. Thus, I learned studying abroad what I could have never picked up in a classroom. I cannot wait to learn from more experiences. Maybe this notion is the only expectation that I'll carry with me this semester.

And so I'm off! I've got my backpack and open mind in tow, but I've left the expectations back at home.

By billienkatz

The word 'orientation' is defined as "the determination of the relative position of something or someone, especially oneself." This is essentially what the first week of my Barcelona experience has been. My program through IES Abroad began with a planned orientation period for all of the students in the program, which consisted of different discoverIES programs such as trips to the open food market, bicycle tours, hikes, and more to help us integrate ourselves into the Barcelona lifestyle. However, in my opinion, the free time outside of the program, the time my roommate and I ended up walking in a giant circle wandering home from class, and the time I found my new favorite place (for now) in a strange city, is what aided the most in my adjustment to life here in Spain.

While my program (and most study abroad programs) designate certain days or weeks as part of "orientation" to the experience, I view orientation as a semester long commitment. Yes, I've seen some of the typical Barcelona sights - I've been to Park Guell and Sagrada Familia, I've found Passeig de Gracia (the equivalent of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan), and I know how to navigate the Metro system; however, I know that my time here is just beginning.

This experience is about integrating myself into a different culture, country and language, and I view this task as both the most rewarding aspect and most challenging aspect of this semester all in one. I want to make Barcelona feel like home, but I also want to use it's easy access to Europe as a way to travel and to explore the world and various cultures and countries.

I hope to provide you with an insight not only into my personal experience, but the lifestyle of Barcelona, the city and it's people. This past week has been one of the most exhausting, incredible, and confusing weeks of my life, but I am so excited to continue this journey, which I know is just beginning.

Adios, for now!


By christinatometchko

Hola amigos! My name is Christina Tometchko and I'm a Junior majoring in Political Science with a Public Policy Focus and minoring in Communications. Originally from Mountain Top, Pennsylvania, I will be spending the Spring 2014 semester studying with IES Abroad on their Liberal Arts and Business Program in gorgeous Barcelona, Spain. My semester abroad will be my first trip out of the U.S. so I'm looking forward to immersing myself in the local culture of Barcelona, exploring all the other amazing cities that Spain has to offer, and doing as much traveling as possible! Along the way I hope to continue my commitment to serving my community through volunteering in local elementary and high schools throughout the city. I can't wait to get started and invite you to join me on my journey as I discover all of the amazing hidden gems that Barcelona has to offer!

By msotomayor12

There’s nothing like reading a good book on a plane. Whenever I am completely immersed within its pages, I manage to forget about reality. The problem is that when reality hits, sometimes it shakes.

A few weeks before I left for Spain, I was on an airplane that left me traumatized. The plane was cutting through the clear December skies, when out of nowhere it dipped on its right side. As it did so, the cabin shook like a seesaw, causing the woman next to me to squish me against my mom. A loud boom sounded as if part of the airplane had tore off. Now, I have travelled on airplanes before that did crazy things, like drop numerous feet, but it never scared me. However, the spontaneity of this particular turbulence made me fear the unexpected.

I kept this in mind during my turbulent flight to Madrid. For about an hour, it was obvious that strong winds were rubbing against the underbelly of the plane, causing it to shake mildly. I still clenched onto the armrest with dear life, even though I knew nothing tragic could happen at 30,000 feet. I was anticipating the worst since it was out of my control.

This was not the way I had envisioned starting my study abroad experience. I have absolutely no idea what to expect from the weeks ahead and it is nerve wrecking. For the past three years I have learned to master the GW grind. I feel in control because I know what to expect both socially and academically. It is only normal for me to feel insecure of what is to come.

Although I have only been here for four days, there have already been ups and downs. So far, I have indulged myself in Spanish food and seen the main points of the city, ranging from the most historic to the most modern. I credit my ability to speak Spanish fluently with making me feel comfortable in my new surroundings. However, difficultly adjusting to the time change gave me a miserable migraine one afternoon. Let’s just say it was not the last time I saw the food I ate that day.

While moments will be out of my control, I have learned to not fear the unexpected. It seems that my trip has started off with some turbulence, meaning that there must be some clear skies ahead.

By zamorse

Israel seems so familiar, yet so different at the same time. This is my fourth time in the Land of Milk and Honey, and every time I come it feels like a weird mixture of being home while also being in foreign country at the same time. Since this is my fourth time in Israel, I think the biggest shock for me was how uncomfortable I felt getting off the plane and making my way to the University of Haifa.

Last semester I studied abroad in Korea, a place so foreign to me—I don’t speak Korean, or know any Koreans there, and I certainly didn’t know anything about the culture—that I often thought to myself, “what on earth am I doing here?” That question does not apply to my study abroad experience in Israel this semester. I speak Hebrew, I know the culture, I know people here---and I know I’m here to study Hebrew and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But yet, getting off that plane this afternoon and traveling halfway across the country to get to Haifa---I found myself asking “what on earth am I doing here?” I already had a fantastic study abroad experience; did I really need another one? And just thinking that question to myself was a shock in of itself. That is the last question I thought I would be asking myself as I traveled to my new home for the next four months.

My biggest shock arriving in Israel had nothing to do with Israeli culture, it was just a simple little question that I asked myself, “what on earth am I doing here?”

And you know what? I can’t wait to find the answer.

By dpmitchel

I completed my weeks of observation at St. Mary’s Hospital and I definitely learned so much! As my aim was to gain a holistic understanding of the implementation of prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV policy into practice, I spent time in many wards and departments of the hospital. I shadowed doctors, nurses, and counselors in the antenatal clinic, a visiting OB/GYN from one of St. Mary’s referral hospitals, doctors and nurse midwives in the maternity ward, nurse midwives in the Midwifery and Obstetric Unit (MOU), a doctor from the pediatrics and nursery wards, and an HIV counselor in the MOU. I really got a unique chance to learn about the health system in South Africa, health professionals’ views on their system and PMTCT, and a plethora of information about obstetrics.

There certainly were challenges throughout my time at the hospital; for one, most of the communication between healthcare professional and patient was in Zulu. I was glad for my 7-week intensive Zulu class from SIT, as even a preliminary understanding was helpful to build connections with professionals and patients alike. I was grateful for the people I shadowed who clued me in on patient issues and provided me with in-depth explanations of medical conditions for my learning purposes.

As far as PMTCT goes, it was very interesting to see the most recent South African PMTCT guidelines (from the beginning of 2013) actually implemented in practice. I won’t bore with a long explanation of the program, but it involves testing all mothers for HIV status, providing them with counseling and antiretroviral therapy (ART), supplying HIV-exposed newborns with ART prophylaxis, and following up on those newborns to ensure that the virus is not transmitted to them. Getting a chance to observe all of those policies firsthand was invaluable.

The last step in the ISP process is now to compose a paper about my Learnership at St. Mary’s that will be somewhere between 30-70 pages. By the end of my write-up I can definitely say that I have a good grasp on PMTCT policy in South Africa. Hopefully I can take the information I’ve learned here and take it back to the DC to do some sort of comparative research to our PMTCT programs in the States; that way I’ll be able to give back some of the knowledge that I’ve gained by shadowing at St. Mary’s.

By dpmitchel

Sanibona from Sarasota, Florida! I’ve been home from South Africa for almost a week now, and I can definitely say that I miss that country and my program.  As we finished up our Independent Study Projects (ISPs), all of the students on my trip were proud of our productions and we presented our papers to one another as a final part of the program.  My paper ended up being around 40 pages, yet all of us felt we could have written much more on our topics!

Reflecting on my time in South Africa as a whole is difficult as there were so many eye-opening experiences throughout the semester. The completion of the ISP was definitely an accomplishment that everyone on my program was proud of; we’d spent the entire semester building up skills to accomplish a small bit of research, and then had the ability to execute our plans.  As my project was centered on PMTCT of HIV, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of all there is to know about the topic, and hope to craft a senior thesis (when the time comes!) about HIV.

There was a question that came up when we conducted our projects: “will we actually be making an impact on these communities we are studying?” The short answer, to the shock of my fellow students and I, was no.  The three-week research period left much to be desired in the reality of helping the communities we studied as a whole. However, through our projects, we were able to affirm the individuals we worked with and were able to tell their stories in our papers. We can use our ISP experiences as a kick-start to investigating topics in the future that can really make an impact on communities. For me, my ISP really opened up the world of research on HIV and PMTCT, and has given me a paradigm through which to view HIV problems not only in the South Africa, but worldwide.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read about my studies in South Africa. Sala kahle (stay well)!

Twitter: A #GWU student wraps-up her studies in South Africa #GWAbroad