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By zamorse

I took a trip last weekend to Jerusalem, the City of Gold. I had been before, but this trip was different, I had more independence, more freedom to go wherever.

My friend Becca and I took the bus down from Haifa on Thursday afternoon to Jerusalem. It took us essentially two hours to traverse half of the country, that's how small Israel is. Once we got to Jerusalem, we checked into our hostels in the Old City and walked straight through the Jewish Quarter to the Kotel (The Western Wall in English). This spot in particular, the Kotel Plaza, is a microcosm of Israeli society. The Western Wall is the last remnant of the 2nd Temple when it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE and is the holiest place in Judaism. Jews from around the world come to pray here, and it is an emotional experience for a lot of people.

Jews from the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel, and the rest of the world come to pray here, and this place in particular truly shows the diversity that is Israel. First of all, it's important to note that in the especially religious communities, men and women pray separately, so there are separate sections for men and women to pray at at the wall. Once I got to the men's section, I was surrounded by religious men praying, swaying back and forth in deep concentration. They represent one section of Israeli society.

Then there are the soldiers. Israel has universal conscription for both men and women at the age of 18, so essentially right after high school men and women join the army for 2 or 3 years. There are police and soldiers guarding the Kotel for sure, but the majority of them are there with their units visiting the holiest place in Judaism. Many of them are combat soldiers, and combat soldiers carry M-16 riffles. So picture this, combat soldiers with M-16 riffles standing next to Haredi (religious) men praying at a wall.  

The Kotel is also a tourist attraction. So next to the Haredi man praying next to the soldier with his M-16 riffle is somebody like me, a tourist. And in my sub-group of tourists at the Kotel, there are even more sub-groups, Jews and non-Jews. The Jewish tourists are mostly from America, but many of them are from all around the world. And especially during vacation months like December and the summer, the Kotel is full of Jewish groups on Birthright programs, a free 10 day trip to the Holy Land. And the non-Jewish tourists are from everywhere, but fit right into the craziness that is the Kotel. 

I could go on and on about the diversity of the Old City, how it's split into four quarters, the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter, and how I spent Shabbat with a Jewish family from New York in Jerusalem, but I wanted to focus on the Kotel as a microcosm of the State of Israel, it's diversity, and it's holiness for so many people.

By juliaraewagner

Today concludes the end of my first full week with the IHP Cities program. We have been prepping for our 3 month journey through India, Senegal, and Argentina with an orientation in New York City. We have already hit the ground running, examining the biggest questions in urban planning happening in our country's most vibrant city.

This week, most of our work was based out of the Chelsea neighborhood, which is home to one of the most diverse communities in New York City. An old manufacturing neighborhood, Chelsea has transformed into a mecca of art galleries and new urban design. Starting in the 1990's, it became the home of NYC's gay community. Today, it is one of the most trendy spots for the wealthy to settle into their multi-million dollar town homes. Meanwhile, Chelsea serves as a home to the older manufacturing communities and residents of the long-standing public housing facilities on 26th Street. Thus, the nieghborhood is a bustling mish mash of  personalities and privalege.

Meanwhile, our group has been living at a hostel in Long Island City, Queens, a world away from our classroom in Chelsea. The site is also an old manufacturing center, but has not yet been touched by development or gentrification. Many believe, however, that the neighborhood is set to change in the coming years. MoMa has already established a satellite museum here, and a developer has recently kicked out longstanding graffiti cultural center, Five Pointz, as he prepares to develop and sell the space. Change is most definitely on the horizon for LIC.

We have also used New York to help us prepare for our travels in the coming months. Earlier this week, we tested out Indian, Senegalese, and Argentine restaurants so that we could have an idea of the foods we would be experiencing later on. I ordered the baked fish at the Senegalese restaurant and recieved a plate piled high with a huge fish, head and tail and all. Its going to be an interesting semester! It is truly amazing that this diverse city has been able  supply us with such a rich backdrop in urban planning in the world today. As we continue to study how cities work across the world, I look forward to comparing these cities with New York and DC back at home.

By sdemetry

Hello again!

To those of you who are reading my blog for the first time, please allow me to reintroduce the program I am taking part in and the internship that I am chipping away at.

I arrived in Berlin in August to study for the academic year with the IES Abroad Berlin Program. We take classes at a German University, live with host-families throughout the city, and are lucky enough to call what we're doing a "full immersion" type of experience.

It has been absolutely amazing thus far, and I would recommend it to anyone. Not only to study abroad, but to make sure that you do it for an entire year. No matter how corny it sounds, it is absolutely true that the majority of students will never have an opportunity like it again- and it is DEFINITELY one worth having! It seemed like as soon as the semester students were gaining their footing, they were back home for Christmas. Though it was difficult to spend the holidays alone, it was also an exercise in reflection and appreciation, and if confronted with the decision again, I would always make the choice to trade one family-free holiday season for a year of growth and cultural adaptation.

Even though the German culture is totally Western, there are stark differences in personalities and customs that take a while to identify, and an even longer while to adapt to. But that learning curve is one of the greatest things about studying abroad- you're forced to question yourself along with every value you were raised with, and really hold a mirror up to your own culture, which can lead to more appreciation as well as more revulsion.

But, I digress.

The main reason I am appointed to blog for GW is to share my experiences interning in Berlin. I was lucky enough to carry on an internship acquired in DC last year to the Berlin branch of the same organization, and that has been what I have devoted a large chunk of my time too whilst abroad.

The organization is called The Nation Conservancy, and they are the largest environmental nonprofit organization in the United States. My tasks in DC vary greatly from what I'm expected to do here- whether that is a sign of cultural difference or just more responsibility coming with more hours worked, I'm not sure. But, I've been tasked with some pretty major projects since I started my time here, and it has been an unbelievably worthwhile experience thus far.

In general, I help out where needed, receiving assignments on the fly rather than weeks in advance. However, I am also tasked with one large project after another, which I do in the background of whatever pressing tasks arise. So far I have completed three major projects, and they have been utilized in professional settings around the world.

The fact that anything I have done has left the desk of my boss has boggled my mind. In DC, I was never trusted with a task larger than scanning old legal files and shredding them. Nothing I did was given much credit, and I felt pretty disposable. But the work environment is much different in the Europe office, and not only am I fully appreciated for my work, but I am also given advanced tasks that require diligence, creativity and brainpower.

So, now you know what I'm doing in Berlin. I think I've cleared up everything possible for the time being.

Please check back for some more in-depth posts in the coming months!

Until Next Time,


By anishag22

Let's face it: Practically every college student is, in some way/shape/form, a procrastinator. We just vary in intensity (Putting off that paper until 2 days before the deadline, or 2 hours?). I'd classify myself as a medium to severe procrastinator - I often need that "jolt" of energy and an anxiety rush that only deadline pressure can give me. At GW, I feel that "rush" quite often - I'm in a semi-constant state of pressure and stress due to schoolwork along with all my other extracurricular commitments.

This semester, however, I will have a very different course structure. Goodbye to the weekly quizzes, biweekly tests, and even midterms. Hello to one final paper/exam that counts for 100% of your grade.

For a light or moderate procrastinator, this might not be an issue. But I'm starting to think that it could be a challenge for someone like me.

In the UK, there is a strong emphasis on independent study. You aren't given a syllabus that assigns specific reading per night, but rather a long list of books to consider which you are to individually choose from based on perceived relevance. You don't have 10 or 20 assignments that comprise your final grade, but instead usually one. UK students are expected to keep up with the coursework independently and do background research on the course topic.

With only one assessment that actually counts towards my grade, I'm not quite sure how I will get myself to be productive. Deadline pressure has just become normalized for us back home. I've thought about putting together my own syllabus that gives me self-imposed deadlines as a way to keep up.

Whatever the remedy, I'm sure it will all be fine in the end. Part of adapting to a new culture and country during study abroad is adapting to the academic system as well. Here's to self-imposed deadline pressure in the name of academic success!

Until next time -

Xx, Anisha

By msotomayor12

One of my favorite—and under-appreciated ways of entertainment is people watching. Maybe it’s my journalistic tendency to observe minute details, but I often find myself studying mannerisms and expressions. However, since I've been in Madrid, the tables have turned. Madrileños are just as keen in their observance of others. While Americans may interpret these stares as “being checked out,” Madrileños are just curious people who lack the understanding of personal space. They do not mind pushing you aside if you are in their way or sitting right next to you on a park bench. They are also unafraid of teaching foreigners a lesson.

The most obvious is with their food. Good manners are learned at the table. The first rule is to always keep hands visible. This should not be too difficult since Spanish people cut almost all their food with silverware, including sandwiches, pizza, and fruit. Wine and beer is not a means of loosing up at the table, rather it is a precisely chosen accompaniment to the meal. Yet the golden rule in Spanish cuisine is to always eat jamon with your hands. It is a delicacy that is shared in social settings, so being casual is appropriately accepted.

The Spanish culture thrives on its social environment. From teenagers to the elderly, Madrileños look forward to meeting up with their friends on a regular basis. Cervecerias are the perfect place to do this. Unlike a restaurant, customers stand around a table to share tapas, drinks, and stories. Similar to a bar setting, it gives people the opportunity to meet and mix with others easily. Since they value social enjoyment, Madrileños do not mind moving to another table if it will accommodate another party. As one of my friends said, if a waiter at an American restaurant asked a family to move to another table after being seated, the restaurant would “probably get a bad Yelp review."

They are also very entertaining people. One of my favorite memories thus far is eating lunch with my house mother and her friends. Whether it’s the Spanish language or just their personality, Madrileños express joy and content when they speak to each other. Serious conversations are not for the table or large gatherings. Rather, it’s a time to celebrate and enjoy the beauty of having valuable friendships. When I witnessed their expressions, I saw my own family members interacting. I felt at home.

By numzzz123

Ahlan wa sahlan! My name is Anum Malik and I am a junior at The George Washington University, double majoring in economics and international affairs. This past summer, I ventured into Egypt to do research, but ended up finding myself in the middle of the 2013 Egyptian Counterrevolution. It challenged my way of thinking and I emerged as a person with a newfound understanding and curious passion for the Middle East. I will continue my learning adventure by heading to Jordan this semester to not only study, but also conduct a volunteer/research project so that I can find the most efficient way to leave an impact on the region. Thanks to this past summer, I am expecting the unexpected as I head back into the Middle East, and I am extremely excited to once again step out of my comfort zone and embrace what is yet to come.

By maxikaplan

I must admit that I did not think there would be anywhere close to enough variability in my life here in London that would keep my blog interesting for 9 months. Fortunately, it turns out that there’s a lot to do and a lot left to be done after my first 5, but studying at LSE makes it all a bit more challenging. With exams around the corner—by which I mean in four months—most students begin studying at the end of March for their exams in June considering the amount of material we absorb during the year. I think the intensity of the schoolwork here is fairly different from the typical study abroad experience, and I’m conflicted in how I feel about this. I do know that the more I dwell on it, the worse I’ll actually perceive it to be, so for now I am trying to maximize work time with everything else there is to be doing, and it’s turning out to be quite an experiment.

In this past week alone I went to see Henry V with Jude Law (Thanks, GW), help move in my friends to London who are just beginning their semester here, attempt to bungee jump, all while trying to finish my pile of readings for my classes as well. The best part? Seeing Henry V, not only for the incredible performance by Jude Law, but also because it was great to see the 30 or so GW students who came in addition to my friends from GW at LSE. It is an unusual feeling to see people’s faces in a theater in London who you are used to seeing only around campus in DC, but it’s oddly comforting too to know that you aren’t really alone wherever you are. It was like an unexpected mini-reunion. The worst part of the week? Bungee jumping. Unfortunately, the rain and wind in London doesn’t exactly make for ideal bungee jumping conditions, so what I paid 50 pounds for was promptly cancelled and rescheduled. On the bright side, we went an hour and a half outside of London and into the countryside, and ended up exploring the city of Maidenhead. If you ever get the chance to come to London, don’t go to Maidenhead. People are always saying places that you must go to when you travel, but luckily Maidenhead is just not one of those places, and likely never will be. But if you do find yourself stuck in Maidenhead, there are plenty of dilapidated pubs that my friends and I went to where you can ease the pain a bit.

If I can remember as far back as a week ago, I mentioned that the structure of my blogs would change a bit from last term. I hope I’m achieving something similar to that idea here by chronicling my experiences a bit more. I will check in next week to see what this beautiful week 3 of Lent Term at LSE has to bring me.

By catrionaschwartz

Tonight is my last night in New York for four months! To celebrate this momentous occasion my parents and I ordered Chinese food from my favorite place in the city and watched a documentary about Rome. I also had my last Starbucks (okay 2nd to last—let’s be real I’m going to get some in the airport tomorrow) for maybe four months because, as I recently found out, there is literally no Starbucks in Italy!

On a more serious note though, this will be the longest I’ll have ever been away from home in my life. At school there’s the Thanksgiving break and spring break and while there is a spring break in the IES Rome program I’m not going to be going home for it. I’m nervous about this but I’m also looking forward to the challenge. Besides which being away from home can make you appreciate certain things about your town/state/country that you had taken for granted before.

I’ve been trying to prepare by watching films and shows about Rome, and even trying an Italian language program online but all of that has now fallen to the wayside in favor of packing. As mentioned in my first post, packing can a bit of an art. Still, I’ve managed to squeeze some time in to watch some of “I, Claudius,” (a somewhat melodramatic television series produced by the BBC in the 1970s), “Meet the Romans with Mary Beard,” another BBC series, this time a documentary series made in 2012 about life in ancient Rome, and “Francesco’s Italy,” a really fun, again—BBC (this wasn’t intentional I swear) documentary program about contemporary Italy.

Despite this (really pretty meager) preparation I’m not really sure what to expect when I arrive in Rome. In London, where I studied last term, I felt like I could blend in with the other Londoners as long as I wasn’t walking around the city in a North Face, wearing Lululemon yoga pants. In Rome I feel like somehow it will be much more apparent that I’m American, even before I open my mouth to no doubt stutter really horrifically butchered, clunky Italian. I don’t think this will necessarily be a bad thing—maybe it will encourage people to overlook any faux pas I make?

I will let you know how it goes in my next post which will be after a week (my first week!) in Rome! Hopefully there will also be a few pretty pictures. Until then, ciao!

P.S. For anyone else planning on visiting/studying abroad in Rome I found a really great blog by an American who has been living there for several years. Here’s the link: