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By zamorse

We get about a week to study for finals at GW. Once regular classes end, make-up classes from that snow day back in the beginning of the semester occupy a couple of days, then there are a few readings days, and before you know it, finals week starts. And then it's all over, about a week later. If your lucky, you'll only have a couple of finals, maybe a take home essay, a final project due well before finals week starts, something like that. If you're unlucky, you'll have four maybe five finals that week, sleep little, and live in Gelman.

In Israel, things are a bit different. Instead of finals week, Israelis have a peculiar way of ending the semester. I arrived in Haifa well over a month ago, and my roommates were studying for finals then. Fine, I thought, I'll see them when they come out of their rooms in a week or so. It's over 4 weeks later, and they're still studying for finals.

Finals here are spread out over a much longer period of time, and usually you end up studying for one final per week. You take that final and the next week you start studying for your next final. But, say you didn't do so well on your first attempt. In the U.S., you would have to live with the grade you got. In Israel, you can take the test again. So instead of maybe a three week finals period, if you opt to take two of your tests again, that quickly becomes a five week finals period. And there goes your winter break.

But it's not just the finals period. Because Israel is the Jewish state, the academic calendar is based off of the Jewish calendar, not the Gregorian calendar that we're used to. Sometimes school in the U.S. will start on August 23, sometimes on August 21st, but it doesn't vary more than a few days each year. In Israel, because the Jewish calendar is based off of the moon, not the sun, things go a bit differently. The school year in Israel starts after the Jewish high holidays. Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana take up so much time in September, that there's no point in starting school before them. And thus school here starts after the high holidays and much later than in the U.S.

Is that the sort of education system you would rather go to school in, or do you like the way we do it in the United States of America?

By billienkatz

American students are fed through an educational system, which stresses that taking classes and earning a degree are no longer enough to succeed in the workplace, much less, be able to provide for oneself and one’s family. The two semesters of classes we take each year are important, but there’s always a race to see who has the more impressive resume and who holds the internship with the most work hours during the academic semester. How then, do we define students? The standard dictionary definition of a student is: a personal who is studying at a school or college. Based on this, how would the dictionary define a GW student? Surely they would have to include interning on Capitol Hill, working at the next big start-up or non-profit headquarters in the heart of DC, or even just taking classes and attending seminars led by some of the biggest names in our country.

Using this above context as what I consider most college students to be, I was stunned to learn more about the educational system here in Barcelona. The entire conversation began in my Human Development in the Spanish Socio-Cultural Context class when we were discussing the stages of school children go through and how this may be similar and different to what we experience in the United States. Using our own personal student frameworks the conversation easily drifted to the rigor of internships and previous work experience, and my Spanish born and raised professor, had no idea why we thought students should be working.

As it turns out, a Spanish college student (say someone studying at the University of Barcelona) wakes up in the morning, sits through a few hours of class, goes home and does some homework, and then repeats the entire cycle again the next day, and the day after, until they have a degree in their hands a few years later. There is no consideration of working within the field you eventually want to forge a career in, and there is certainly no fear of competition when it comes to applying for jobs.

For all the flack Americans get for being lazy and not wanting to work hard, I find it interesting that our students are putting increasingly more pressure on themselves to be prepared for a future of jobs and success, as compared to other countries such as Spain that really has no “need” for resume building. If the United States adopted this, maybe high-powered professionals would be filling their own mugs of coffee! And, for all GW students scrambling around looking for summer plans, can I suggest a quick relocation to España?

By Dominique Bonessi

With my first week of classes finished, I can now start my weekly routine.  The Middlebury Language Program at the University of Jordan is quite intense.  Sunday to Wednesday—because the work week starts on Sunday—I have three classes a day.  The best part about this program—if you are a real Arabic nerd—is the language pledge which helps you and your classmates maintain speaking Arabic to each other the entire semester.  Therefore, classes are taught entirely in Arabic with several pages of glossaries to be of assistance.  This program is not for the faint-of-heart and I suggest if you are serious about learning Arabic or any language that you strongly consider Middlebury Colleges in Vermont or any of their programs around the globe.  Their approach is that you will learn more speaking and interacting on a daily basis with the language if you only work in one language instead of switching back and forth.

**As a caveat, I want to say that Middlebury abroad does permit some leeway for emergencies, talking with loved ones (once a week) from home, and writing blogs (like mine!)**

Without further ado I give you my daily routine:

7am: Wake-up and go for a run around my neighborhood

8:30am: Leave for the University of Jordan [UJ] in a taxi a block from my house

9:00am: Fos-ha or Modern Standard Arabic Class

10:40am: Em-iyya or Jordanian Dialect Class

12pm-1pm: Break for Lunch or meeting other UJ students

1:15pm: Sundays and Tuesdays: Gender Issues in the Arab World, taught by the Director of Women’s Studies at UJ

2:00pm: Mondays and Wednesdays: Media Arabic, taught by the director of the Middlebury Jordan Program

3pm: Homework either in Middlebury Office, Library, On-campus, or at home

3:30-5pm: Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays: Volunteering at Reclaiming Childhood, a basketball clinic for Syrian, Palestinian, Iraqi, and Special Needs girls.

5-11….sometimes 1 am: Homework, studying, eating, spending time talking to my host family.

The best part about the weekends is that there is plenty of time to either relax at home, commit to doing homework, cooking with my host family, and weekend trips with the Middlebury Program to various parts of the city and outskirts.

By juliaraewagner

This week, we started working on our country case studies. As the sustainability nerd on board, I immediately signed up to examine the urban environment of Ahmedabad.

While Ahmedabad has a long legacy of industry, in 1992, the city opened up to capitalism in a big way, inviting in foreign industries to settle down by doling out incentives. Soon enough, indsutrial estates sprouted up all over the city, most of which continue to grow today. My group and I decided that we couldn't examine the urban environment without understanding the disposal of waste and pollution.

Our faculty advisors partnered us with some local environmental institutions, and they connected us to some industries around the city. One thing that surprised me about our visits was that all of these factory owners and public officials were open to meeting with us, even on short notice. It may have been the Gujarati tradition of hospitality or simply the fact that the industry barons simply did not feel threatened by a bunch of college students. Whatever the reason, we couldn't help but notice that we were given access to the behind-the-scenes that we would never have experienced in the United States.

First we toured the chemical waste treatment center of the city where all of the industries send their effluent. The city has built a massive pipeline to transport it. Next we traveled to a dye factory where we saw the water going through its primary treatment; the end product, a frothy liquid with an orange hue, certainly didn't seem to be too clean. Finally, we visited the discharge point where all of the water is released into the river. This site as definitely the most striking as the thick, black water exiting the pipes did not serve to convince us that the water was at all fit to drink. Most striking were the agricultural fields sitting on the other side of the river.

It's easy to point fingers and make claims that India simply does not do enough to keep its natural resources safe. What is harder to recognize is that these problems occur all over the world, even in the US. We quickly forget about all of the Superfund sites and chemical spills like the one that happened in West Virginia recently. American industries might be more stealthy about how they handle waste, but our country too has a long legacy of pollution.

By msotomayor12

For some reason, I’ve found myself in the middle of political discussions this week. As a Political Communications major, I don’t hate it. My political science class has become a continuous discussion of “What would the US be like if it was a parliamentary system” and vice versa. I’ve found myself comparing laws, ways of life, and political movements with many professors. And as an aspiring reporter, I’ve keeping myself busy following the news.

Learning about political movements in Spain has been a refreshing experience. Since I am just learning about Spanish politics, I don’t have any preconceived notions that could spur an immediate opinion or cloud my judgment when I hear about an issue. In this sense, I feel like a kid whose totally absorbed by their favorite book: I want to keep learning more, I feel excited doing it, and I can build my own understanding of what it all means. There are so many differences in Spanish politics and media that I hope to explain many of my insights in a sequence of future blog posts.

To understand Spanish politics, it is important to know the role that regional culture plays in it. Spain is split up into Andalusia, Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, the Canary Islands, Asturias, and the mainland. Citizens of these regions are so prideful, that they are likely to identify themselves based on their cultural region before identifying themselves as Spaniards. The division between the country’s identity is astounding, especially in the eye’s of an American.

Some regional interests are so strong that it threatens the unity of Spain. Basque Country and Catalonia have both been trying to gain autonomy. Most recently, Catalonia, which has its own parliamentary system, proposed another referendum seeking its independence. These areas are interested in providing for themselves economically and politically. However, they will be unable to thrive since the U.N. has already announced it would not recognize any region that separates itself from Spain.

These clashes between interests are what many believe is making Spanish parliament inefficient, among other issues of course. While American politicians do try and represent their own districts, it would be more difficult for Congress to function if politicians bonded together by region. It would affect political party structure and ultimately, the public opinion. So as messy as American politics could get, there’s at least something to be thankful for.

By anishag22

"What most excites you about going abroad?"

That was one of the most frequent questions I received from friends and family back home before I began this adventure. Every time, my response was the same: "I'm really looking forward to having a slower pace of life in Bristol. A less stressful semester is exactly what I need right now."

I was pretty sure then that Bristol would afford me a slower pace, but now I know for certain that it's true.

One example of this that I've recently noticed is the difference between my peers at GW and Bristol when lecture concludes. At GW, we don't wait for the professor to finish speaking before we start packing up our things. At the exact minute on the dot that lecture is supposed to end (and often one to two minutes prior), we will loudly zip and close our belongings, giving the professor the not-so-subtle hint that they need to wrap it up. Don't they know that we have places to be and things to do? We can't afford that extra two minutes of lecture.

In Bristol, that never happens. No one packs away their laptops and notebooks before getting the classic green light: "Thanks for today everyone, see you next week." In fact, even once we do start to pack up, we are courteous enough to wait for the people in front of us in our lecture row to finish packing before leaving the room. It's an orderly queue that is rooted in respect and patience, and it's something that I was initially thrown off by.

But it makes sense. GW students are constantly on the go, as is D.C. in general. We have countless commitments and responsibilities because we are always pushing ourselves to be more productive. GW students wear many caps: the student, the club member, the athlete, the intern, the future Congressman or Congresswoman or President of the United States.

Bristol is a lively city, but the energy here is much different. It's okay to take a few days off, and it's okay to relax. Administrative tasks for university staff that would be completed in less than an hour at GW have proven to take multiple days if not weeks at the University of Bristol.  But I'm okay with that, because for the first time in a long time I have been able to take it easy and enjoy more of a balance between my personal and professional/educational career. Don't get me wrong -  I'm still focused on my schoolwork, but I'm learning to value the little things and the relationships I forge here, and for that I know I will be forever grateful.

Until next time-

Xx, Anisha

By catrionaschwartz

One of the things Italy is most famous for is its food. Obviously as a student you can’t indulge too much in eating out but in the two weeks I’ve been here I’ve found a couple of relatively cheap favorites.

  1. Pizzeria da Simone on Via Giacinto Carini in Monteverde (my local pizzeria).

Pizza in Rome is fairly different from pizza in New York. It is generally less oily and mozzarella and ricotta are the main cheeses used. Pizza also comes served two ways, pizza al taglio (which is in rectangular slices that are sometimes folded in two to make a sort of sandwich) and in the traditional round shape. Pizzeria da Simone serves pizza al taglio, which people generally buy as takeaway. Despite the numerous and inventive toppings (prosciutto, artichoke, anchovy, etc., etc.) my favorite is the pepperoni which has ground up pepperoni and mozzarella. Depending on the size of the slice you get it can cost between 1.30-2.50 euros.


An example of pizza al tagli0.

2. Dar Poeta, in Trastevere

At Dar Poeta, one of the most famous pizzerias in the neighborhood of Trastevere, I’m a bit braver when it comes to pizza toppings. Their eponymous Dar Poeta pizza has has zucchini, sausage, mozzarella and pepperoncino and is absolutely delicious. It costs around 7 euro but it’s served in the traditional round style so you are getting a lot more. They also have amazing bruschetta for only 3 euro!

3. Dolci Desideri on Via Barrili Anton Giulio in Monteverde

During my first trek around my neighborhood of Monteverde I saw a film crew outside Dolci Desideri. One of my roommates said that it was apparently a famous desert restaurant despite its somewhat less than central location in Monteverde. Next chance we got we went in and it immediately became apparent why this place was getting so much hype. Never have I seen such a variety of miniature cakes, cookies, chocolates, pastries, and other sweets. The price is by weight so it depends on what you choose but three small pastries is about 2.50 euro.


Pastries at Dolci Desideri, photo from here.

4. Circus on Via della Vetrina in the Centro Storico di Roma

This place was found while some friends and I were trying to find one of our go to gelato places. It is a café/bar/club/art gallery fusion which is wonderful but the reason I love this place is a little sad. Basically they had a giant sign that said bagels out front and I made my friends go in with me. To my utter surprise (and delight!) they had chai tea lattes as well. I know that I could probably survive four months without bagels or chai tea lattes but I’m embarrassingly happy that I don’t have to. Besides which they played a lot of old Broadway numbers and jazz so all in all it’s a nice place to relax!

5. Gelateria al Teatro on Via dei Coronari, in the Centro Storico di Roma

This gelateria is very close to both the IES center and the Piazza Navona and has some of the best gelato I’ve had in Rome along with the gelato at Grom and Gelateria della Palma (which has 150 flavors!) which are also in the Centro Storico of Rome. The Gelateria al Teatro has very unique flavors though. Thus far I’ve had ginger, pumpkin and white chocolate with basil there, but my friends have also had their raspberry and ricotta as well as their lavender and fig. Aside from the amazing gelato, the owner of the gelateria is very friendly and often serving at the counter and always smiling. A small (piccolo) only costs 2 euro!


The gelateria and associated pizzeria. Image from here.

Although these places are all amazing I'm sure there will be many more discoveries to come! Arrivederci!

By maxikaplan

It probably will not come as a surprise to most, but there is no culture shock in London. If there is and I have overlooked it, it cannot compare to what some of my other friends are going through in countries like Africa and Asia. So as I made my way this past week from Budapest to Prague through Hungarian cities which I cannot pronounce, I had my first, “I’m seeing the world” moment. History has not been so kind to some parts of Eastern Europe, but during my 7-hour bus ride to Prague I appreciated looking at the influence of the former Soviet rule on the dimly lit cities we rode through. Since my bus ride was overnight, I looked at the people getting on at 3 am from Bratislava and other far away cities and wondered why on earth they were getting on here and now. But they probably thought the same of me, and so it goes.

When we first arrived in Budapest and somehow negotiated where we were going to a taxi driver, I was practically in tears to see how cheap everything was. Two dollars for a beer? In London, I can barely find one for six, and I was almost sure that this was a little piece of heaven on earth. But then we came to Prague and beers were fifty cents and I nearly kissed the ground of the grocery store. Although Prague and Budapest are not too far from one another, the differences between the two are like night and day—in Budapest you can find a smile only so often, whereas Prague had far more of an uplifting spirit to it. This was a great pace of change for my friends and I, especially considering a bomb scare at the hostel in Budapest that had us shivering in the cold, wearing next to nothing, from three to six in the morning. Fortunately, when you don’t plan your days you have the luxury of waking up at noon, and this surely helped.

Without going into too much detail of either city, it will suffice to say that I had a fantastic six-day vacation that, to me at least, was much needed. It is a strange feeling coming back to London after a week away, because in a sense it felt like I was coming back home, but nothing can replace that feeling of actually coming home, and I missed my real home then. For better or for worse, I have only three and a half months left in London, and I am surely making the most of it before I head to New York for a much busier summer than the life I live here. My next two countries to visit are Croatia and Switzerland, and I will provide a more in detail blog when I return in about a month from them.

By msotomayor12

I have officially been abroad for one month and life is starting to fly by. This week in particular went by inconceivably fast. However, there were several times when my world came to a halt, which made me appreciate just how lucky I am.

For example, my Dad decided to completely surprise me on my birthday this past Wednesday. When I came back from class, I walked into my homestay and my Dad popped right out behind a wall. I am still unsure whether my first reaction was pure shock or disappointment that I did not think my Dad would manage to do something like this again (He surprised me last year in D.C. with my family in tow.)

You know the corny saying “Time flies when you’re having fun?” Well it was my 21st birthday. Even though I was not in the U.S. to fully embrace legality, I did feel a new sense of adulthood. It was as if every part of me realized I was no longer sitting at the “kids table;” I could finally share a quality glass of wine with my Dad in a public place. It’s an awesome feeling.

Unfortunately, I could not spend the weekend with my Dad because the GW Madrid program had already planned a getaway to Barcelona. We boarded the AVE, Spain’s high-speed train, which got us there in two hours. (I mention this because I really hope America invests in these soon. They are incredibly convenient and amazing!)

What I did not expect from Barcelona is its charm. To put it simply, I was in love. I forgot how wonderful everything becomes when I’m in the sun, by the beach, and in the presence of palm trees. Even though I was dressed in winter clothes, it was only natural for me to rip off my shoes and sink my feet in the sand when I got there.

Without the weather making it already obvious, Barcelona is completely different from Madrid. It is a city rich with history that prides itself in their Catalan heritage. It is also the center of modernism. If it was not obvious enough, Antoni Gaudí’s architecture is sprinkled throughout the city. We visited his Sagrada Familia Cathedral, Parque Grülle, and La Pedrera, an eclectic apartment building. His artwork is so unique and “out there,” it is just waiting to be Instagramed.

While I have visited Barcelona before, I saw it differently this time around. For some reason, it just did not meet my expectations three years ago. This time, I realized how unique the city truly is. There are buildings that transport you from one century to the next with only five blocks separating them. There’s a clear difference from the old world and the modern one so the range of activities is unbelievable. Plus, there are so many places to visit that it is impossible to see it all in one weekend. I was surprised to rediscover another Barcelona than when I last left it.

As I always say, sometimes having big eyes (like I do) does not guarantee I’ll see more right away. I’m actually the worst when it comes to finding things. Most of the time, what I’m looking for is right in front of me, but I’m oblivious to it. I guess that makes for more authentic and appreciated surprises.

By juliaraewagner

One of the best reasons to study abroad is that you learn how to roll with the punches. In the past few months,  I've experienced more than my fair share of situations that would typically drive me (and my type A personality) bonkers. Living in countries where the unexpected is always the expected, however, has forced me to lighten up a little and enjoy the ride.

I was reminded of this lesson last night when my girlfriends and I decided to catch a classical Indian music show. My roommate Allie and I had planned to meet up with a friend before heading to the show. We had never been to her house before, but we figured the pick-up would be seamless as we'd discovered that she lived in the same neighborhood.  We hopped into a rickshaw,  the infamous 3-wheeled Indian taxi, and gave him our friend's address: the house behind the store in the alley next to the gas station behind the gold coin building. These instructions may as well have been jibberish to us, but seeing as most of Ahmedabad runs like this, we had faith that our "ricky" driver would have no problem locating the house.

Unfortunately,  he was just as clueless as we were.

So, we started the standard process of asking random people on the street if they had any idea of where we were going. Usually, we get a solid answer on the first try, but last night, we were having a lot of trouble. We asked 5 different people where to go,  and they all had different ideas about how to get there. We finally reached our friend's house 45 minutes later after a neighbor escorted our rickshaw to the house on his motorcycle. We realized then, that our friend lived only two blocks away.

With our friend finally in tow, we set off to our show with high spirits, hoping that we would not get lost again. We had her host mom give the driver explicit instructions to the music hall just to be safe. Unfortunately,  they weren't quite right, and we had to start the question process all over again. Five people and one trip to the gas station later, we made it to the music hall. We all clapped and cheered before we realized that the show had already ended! We rushed back outside to find our driver stretching after this two hour slog through the city. There was definitely a look of dread when we asked him to take us back home.

Luckily,  we made it home without any other issues. Normally, I would consider missing the show a huge inconvenience,  but I realized as we laughed our way home that the crazy rickshaw ride was the highlight of my night. Living here is not so much about patience as it is about keeping a sense of humor and a sense of adventure,  no matter where you're headed.