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By anishag22

Tomorrow marks my one month since arriving in England. As I'm finally starting to settle into more of a routine with my classes, I thought I would discuss one particular class that keeps me thinking about US/UK cultural differences every time I leave. My intro-level class called "Sacred Scripture and Popular Culture" examines the relationship and intersection between religion and pop culture, and it couldn't be more interesting. We've already watched clips from films like "The Passion of the Christ" and "Ben-Hur," but what I find most intriguing about this class is the fact that almost every single pop culture reference is American. And surprisingly, my British peers seem to be familiar with all of it.

It's hard to explain how it feels to be the only American in the classroom as the professor makes comments like, "In America, gun control is a big issue.." or "How many of you have American friends on Facebook?" The fact of the matter is that American pop culture is British pop culture, and I never realized that before coming to England. As I sit in that class, I feel like some sort of expert on American pop culture topics (and yes, the professor has consulted me about various topics mid-lecture).

In my time in Bristol, I've realized that American pop culture has not only "hopped across the pond," but has truly become another facet of British culture. Every movie that my British flatmates watch when we're hanging out is American. Their favorite singer? Likely Beyonce or Katy Perry. Several times, I have thought to myself: "British pop culture is non-existent." To be honest, these copious American pop culture references have made me feel more patriotic and American than I've ever felt in my life.

It will be interesting to trace my personal journey and American self-identification  through the course of this particular class. I wonder if, by June, I'll feel differently about British pop culture. In the meantime, I'm enjoying learning more about England through not only cultural differences, but similarities.

Until next time -

Xx, Anisha

By zamorse

Israelis love Americans, well, sort of.

Because of the large diaspora community of Jews living in America, there's a definite connection between American Jews and Israelis. At any given time, there are, I would wager, hundreds of thousands of Americans in Israel. And given that Israel is a country of only 8 million people, that's a sizable portion. All of the street signs are in English, restaurants often have menus in English, and the majority of Israelis, especially the younger generation, speak English. In fact, you don't really need to know Hebrew to be able to get around in this country, since everybody speaks English.

Israelis watch American t.v. shows, listen to American music on the radio, speak English, eat at American restaurants, and generally love Americans. American people, that is. How Israelis feel about the American government at any given time is another story, but generally, connections between the Israeli government and the American government are extremely strong.

Israelis assume that most Americans who come to Israel don't speak Hebrew. And in fact, that may be true. A large portion of the American population that does come to Israel comes on "Birthright programs", a free 10-day trip for Jews throughout Israel. And they, more often that not, don't speak Hebrew. Thus, when Israelis see an American, they often assume they don't know Hebrew. Or, Americans in Israel are seen as a way for Israelis to practice their English. Israelis are pretty impressed when an American can speak Hebrew then.

Tel Aviv, the second largest city in Israel, is seen as the "Miami of the Middle East", and there is so much American influence and culture here that I often feel like I'm still in America. For an American not wanting to study abroad in the most remote, un-American place, Israel is a comfortable study abroad destination.

Israelis definitely love Americans and I feel very welcome here.

By christinatometchko

No pasa nada! This phrase, loosely translated to mean "Don't worry about a thing", is the epitome of the laid-back Spanish lifestyle. Whether it's going for a stroll along the beach or taking a two hour lunch in the middle of the work day, Spaniards sure do know how to relax and enjoy life. This carefree, laid-back style of life was one of the main reasons that I decided to study in Barcelona this semester and I must say, it has yet to disappoint!

Don't get me wrong... I love living in our nation's bustling capital, but I'm always so busy with class, work, and interning that I rarely have the time to just relax and enjoy all of the amazing things that D.C. has to offer. Studying in Barcelona through the IES Abroad Liberal Arts and Business Program has allowed me to take a step back and appreciate the small things in life. Whether it's going for a stroll in between classes through Parque de la Ciudadela, running along the beach, or spending the morning wandering through La Boqueria market, there are so many fun ways to spend the day.

While I"m excited to explore Barcelona and all of its unique barrios, this semester isn't just about relaxing and taking a break from my hectic life at GW. At the end of my four months in Spain I want to be able to call Barcelona home and say that I truly immersed myself in this amazing city. In my opinion, the best way to do that is through volunteering.

Back in the states, I'm a summer camp counselor and DC Reads tutor and am looking forward to continuing my tradition of working with kids while in Barcelona. Throughout the course of the semester I'll be volunteering in a classroom at the Pare Poveda School where I'll be helping a teacher with both instruction and classroom management. I'm so excited to work in a Spanish elementary school and see what it's like in comparison to schools in America. My first day volunteering is this week so make sure to check back next month to hear more about my experience!

By sonyakalmin

  1. a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
  2. a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.
    "the sense of community that organized religion can provide"

Sonya 1 That is the three of us! Sabrina, Ariel and I: the three stooges from GW.

We all arrived here together and have become great friends during the last month.

      My community here first and foremost includes these lovely ladies; I would be a complete mess without them.

George Square

This is George Square aka Our Campus here at the University of Edinburgh.

This picture doesn't do the vast property any justice, but you can take my word for it that it's absolutely stunning.

My sense of community here arises from my classes, my professors and my fellow student body.

I spend most of my days here, so I figured it's only fair to feature it in this post. ...continue reading "My Community"

By Dominique Bonessi

For a city with few public areas for walking, transportation can also be difficult.

For me, getting to school everyday is a bit of a challenge.  The university is about a 15 minute drive from my home.  I leave my house and walk to the roundabout about a block away.  I then pay about 2 to 3 JD [dinar]--depending on traffic--to a taxi to get to school.  Hopping in a taxi here you give the taxi a well-known landmark and most likely he just knows where it is.  For example, going to the north gate of the University of Jordan, I have to say baba il-shimel fi il-jami3a il-urdunia [north gate of the University of Jordan].

Unfortunately, there are barely any reliable buses that can get me within walking distance to my home.  Buses vary, there are some that are more like big vans that carry many people and go to very specific destination. While others are like more traditional buses in the United States that go to general drop off locations.  However--unlike in the US--buses in Amman run on Arab time meaning ma fish mushkila [no worries], whatever time the driver feels like it.

Not only can getting to school be a bit pricey, but after school when we all want to go to a different part of Amman to a cafe or hang out spot, the taxi prices increase later at night on the way home.  But, there is a silverlining!

Some advice to those wishing to study abroad in Jordan and worried about transportation costs:

1. Splitting a cab with people going to around the same area as you is more affordable and typically I only have to pay 0.50 JD instead of 2 JD.

2. Don't be afraid to figure your way out by walking to your destination.  Although it is not much of a walking city, if you are in an area that isn't as traffic heavy it is fun to walk.

3. For those trying to practice their Arabic, the forced interaction of directing your taxi driver and possibly having a full conversation is always a benefit of taking a taxi. For example, on my way home the other night for an artsy area of Amman, the taxi driver I met was very nice.  He asked me where I was from and told me about his family from Palestine and why he likes Amman so much.

By msotomayor12

I think many American iPhone users take for granted the treasure that is the Maps app. Yes, Siri may direct you down an inconvenient route every once and a while, but at least she navigates you towards your destination and can joke about her mistakes.

In Spain, Siri is as lost as I am. While exploring in Toledo and Salamanca this past weekend, an old-fashioned map became my best friend. What is greatly underappreciated about maps, or planos, is how they manage to pinpoint all the historic buildings in a city. However, tiny European streets are either impossible to find or are not drawn on the map at all. As always, getting lost makes for some good memories.

On Friday morning, my friends and I visited Toledo. Only 30 minutes away from Madrid lies the ancient city, famously known for its fusion of religious cultures and military presence. The heart of the city is small. Realistically it should take a native 45 minutes to get around it, but as tourists it took us about 3 hours. The winding streets were filled with tiny trinket shops, which sold medieval swords and knives to Spanish tiles. Yet, the narrow streets made it difficult to find one’s way around. Especially when a car decides to drive through, in which case you find yourself up against a wall, mostly because you don’t have any other choice.

We spent most of our day visiting the city’s famous religious monuments. Toledo is nicknamed the “City of Three Cultures” for once housing Catholics, Jews, and Muslims before the reformation. Our trip would have gone to waste if we did not visit them. For only 8 euros, we were able to go into six churches, synagogues, and mosques, which is quite the deal for a college student’s budget.

While each building is architecturally unique, they are all linked by the Catholic faith. After the reformation, the mosques and synagogues became Catholic churches. Both buildings are now named after Jesus and Mary respectively and house Christian symbols. The juxtaposition was the ultimate game of “what doesn’t belong here.”

In a way, the whole city is like that. The modern world functions within the centuries old landscape. One could easily eat some churros and watch a fútbol game on TV in a café just across the street from an El Greco painting. While I was walking on the cobbled streets I kept wondering what life would have been like centuries ago.

From one time vortex we stepped into another in Salamanca. Although it is primarily known as a university town, trust me when I say it does not look anything like the University of Alabama or Florida. Salamanca gets its charm from being an impressively clean and organized inner city. Around the university, the area looks romantic. Tall birch trees line up against the streets and black gothic fences accent wells, balconies, and doors. As the most prestigious university and Spain, one can almost feel the stimulation of thought bouncing off the walls. Remember when you visited Harvard for the first time and suddenly felt smarter? That’s what its like walking around Salamanca.

Our first stop was to visit the Salamancan Cathedral. For about five seconds we were hesitant about going in, but thank goodness we ended up doing it! The Cathedral is separated into two parts—La Vieja and La Nueva. The Old Cathedral was built in the 12th century and is somehow still standing. It was insane to think that my footsteps were matching up with someone’s who lived an inconceivable amount of years ago. It was amusing to see how short the doors were and how tiny the keys were on the first musical organ. Not going to lie, I felt like a giant for the first time in my life standing next to most things (I am 5’2).

The New Cathedral looks like any other Gothic church in Europe. It is massive, overly ornate, and divided into three sections: the altar, the choir, and devotional rooms. By this point, I had already seen a ridiculous amount of Catholic churches in Spain, but this cathedral intrigued me. The way it was built reminded me a lot of the cathedral in Cuzco, Peru. They are almost identical. In protest against the new faith, Peruvian builders would carve what was common for them into Christian narratives. In between the chorus chairs, they carved Incan-looking characters instead of angels. It’s quite comical how symbols change.

For the rest of the day we managed to trudge through some extreme wind gusts to visit other popular monasteries and historic sites. However, what I noticed the most about Salamanca was their Spanish language. They do not have a strong Spanish accent, which was refreshing since in Peru our accent is so soft its considered not to have an one. They also speak without using “vos” and instead say “usted,” which is something else Peruvians do. Because of this, Salamanca was a comforting place to be in.

By catrionaschwartz

Sculpture 1

Aside from the millions of humans that live in Rome, there must be just as many statues. From a nameless angel perched above the high altar of a church to glowering gods of the sea, wrapped in octopi, hunched around fountains—Rome is chock-full of marble citizens.

Sculpture 2This guy could be from Brooklyn if it weren't for the collar.

sculpture 3

It is one of my favorite aspects of the architecture here but far from the last. The dilapidated streets of the old Jewish Ghetto, for example, are equally beautiful. In a sentimental way they almost conjure the sort of Romantic-era notions about ruin.

Jewish ghetto 1“The ideas ruins evoke in me are grand. Everything comes to nothing, everything perishes, everything passes, only the world remains, only time endures.”
(More on ruins and romanticism here)

Aside from any sort of existential appreciation these buildings inspire though, there is also the transformation they’ve undergone to consider. As part of orientation for my IES Rome program we had an aperitivo at a pottery painting studio in a 16th century building known as Palazzo Delfino, in the Ghetto. Palazzo Delfino was supposedly the one-time home of St. Ignatius and his companions in the mid-16th century. In the years following the building was rumored to be haunted.
Centuries later, Lori-Ann Touchette, an American academic, and her partner, artist Paolo Porelli founded their ceramics studio there and restored the space as much as they could to its original parameters. One day, not long after their opening, an old man came to the door. They let him in and he told them how he and his family had lived in one of the small backrooms for four months during the Second World War, with the walls bricked up and people passing them down food and water.

Ghetto 2

The repurposing of old buildings—from 16th century palazzo to modern day pottery studio—is a phenomenon that I’ve seen around the city a number of times now. The Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary is another amazing example of it. The sanctuary is situated in the ruins of four Roman temples and Pompey’s Theatre—allegedly where Julius Caesar was assassinated in the year 44 BC. The site was later built over and was not revealed again until the 1920s.

Cat sanctuary

From that point onward, stray cats began to inhabit the site, fed by a number of women in the neighborhood. An official sanctuary for them was not founded until 1994 however. Now over 90 cats call the ruins their home. There is something wonderful about seeing the cats among the ruins. These buildings, which hadn’t been continuously inhabited for century after century after century are now once again filled with life—albeit the feline kind.

(More info on the cat sanctuary here)

Just like the pottery studio, the extent of the ruin’s narrative is not clear from first glance. Of course it looks old—ancient in the case of the ruins—but not all of the history is apparent at first glance. The same can be said of some of the churches here. Despite somewhat simple facades, many seemingly modest churches hold masterworks.

ChurchThis church had a simple, stone facade but the inside was covered in marble and gold.

Finding out what is under the surface of these buildings is something I’ve loved doing in these first two weeks here in Rome—that and knowing that there is much that I’ve yet to discover. Arrivederci!

By maxikaplan

As it turns out, my blog from last week was slightly misleading—the opera that I was so excited for last Friday is taking place a month from Friday instead. Worse things have happened I suppose, but this week was an interesting one nonetheless. With my trip to Prague and Budapest next Tuesday, I was pressed to finish all my essays and classwork that I needed to hand in on time, but it was a compromise I was definitely willing to make. Part of my excitement in traveling to Eastern Europe is because of the money that I will ironically be saving by traveling and not staying in London. Everyone always says how London is so expensive, but until you get the chance to spend time in a country that uses the Euro, the true impact of the Pound doesn’t really hit you. This will be a nice get away for other reasons of course, but I must admit that this is one of the few downsides to studying in London. One of the upsides, however, is that missing a week of class really isn’t too bad considering the amount of time I have outside of class to do work.

As always, this mini-vacation I’ll be taking has not been planned out at all besides our living situation, and I expect this trip to be just as fun as the last. Although I end up writing a lot about how I don’t have too much work here at LSE, this is actually the last vacation I’ll be taking before hitchhiking to Croatia because of the work I need to catch up on. LSE is kind enough to give its students a six-week study period before finals (unlike GW’s unkind one week), which is a hint to the students that they need to be studying A LOT. This can definitely be a little daunting at first if you’re considering LSE, but it’s also reassuring that your grades do not carry over into your GPA at GW. I’ll be taking my exams in New York because of my internship, which will make for a pretty interesting exam experience combined with my work, but I can only work hard and hope for the best.

I will return from Prague and Budapest with what is hopefully an interesting blog post, and until then I hope that some prospective LSE students reading this blog are gathering some useful information. While I’m not burning through all of my cash in London, I hope Eastern Europe treats me well!

I'll admit that I went into the creation of this blog, the same way that I went into the start of my new semester studying abroad - I was going to figure it out as I went. The good news in relation to the blog is that my posts are getting posted, and I'm really enjoying being able to re-live my experiences through a wide focus in a matter that allows me to relay the information back to the readers (whoever they may be). As it pertains to my study abroad experience, I feel as though I'm moving into my self-defined phase 2. Somewhere between my weekend trip to Prague that I just returned home from, and falling into my routine of classes, homework, and truly living in Barcelona, I've realized that the novelty of the experience has worn off. This semester no longer feels like an extended vacation, it feels like the true experience that study abroad signifies. I've found myself no longer marveling at how long I've been here for (3 days, 1 week, a month) and instead focusing on how much time I have to live not only in the amazing city that is Barcelona, but in Europe. This past Friday marked the close of the first month of my program, and since I have found myself focusing on the fact that I have all of February, March and April left, versus being fixated on the time that's passed since I last stepped foot on GW's campus or when I boarded my plane at JFK.

I have so much more to visit and tour, a ton more spanish to learn, and even more that I can't even imagine, but that I know is right in front of me. As a result, I've chosen to embrace this change in my thinking patterns and attribute it as my real beginning of studying in Barcelona.

By zamorse

Normally on a Saturday night in the U.S., like most college students, I would not be in my room studying. But here I am, studying in my room on a Saturday night. In Israel, the week starts on Sunday (Friday and Saturday constitute the weekend because of Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath) hence Saturday night is a school night and the end of my first week in Israel.

It's been a busy week so far. I arrived on Sunday in Tel Aviv and took a sherut (shared taxi) to Haifa. Got settled into my dorm and unpacked. Monday was the Hebrew placement exam and orientation for the winter ulpan (Hebrew classes) session. Since then, i've been taking Hebrew class every day for four hours a day---definitely daunting, and exploring the town and the neighborhood.

The University of Haifa is situated on top of a hill overlooking the entire city, beach, and port, and the view is absolutely spectacular. There's also a national park across the street with spectacular views of the ocean and great hiking and biking trails. Even though it's a very densely populated country, there's still lots of national parks, and I happen to be right across the street from one!

Getting adjusted here was not too bad. I had been to Israel three time before, know the culture, language, geography pretty well, so it is not a completely foreign place for me. Getting adjusted to the time zone was tough though and I didn't have an appetite for the first three days I was here. Luckily, my appetite has come roaring back and I even invited a couple of friends over and made shakshouka (a Tunisian dish made with poached eggs in tomato sauce, with spices and vegetables). I have a kitchen in my dorm and a mini-supermarket in my dorm complex, complete with most Israeli foods (except fresh produce) that I need.

Cooking in my room is one of the things I'm most excited for this semester. And exploring the nature around campus and exploring the beautiful city that I now live in for this semester, and pretty much everything in this country. Until next time!