Skip to content

By catrionaschwartz

Today I went to the Vatican for the Easter Mass. The mass is held in St. Peter’s Square, not in the actual basilica itself, which means that not only can up to 80,000 people squeeze into the square to watch the mass from there, countless others can watch from beyond the colonnade. My decision to attend the mass was very last minute so I was unfortunately one of the many people standing outside the colonnade but there were big screens and speakers set up so that we could see and here the Pope anyway.

It was completely packed, for a couple of reasons. First of all, this was the new Pope, Pope Francis’ first Easter mass. Second of all Pope Francis (Papa Francesco) has been a very popular pope thus far. And finally, and most importantly, Rome, the Vatican, is the Catholic Capital of the world. Of course people will flock there.
I mentioned in my first about Rome how there were so many nuns and priests and that impression has only be furthered the longer I’ve been here. The neighborhood I live in is full of papal buildings and many orders of nuns and monks. When I take the bus home from school there are always a few nuns that hope on, speaking different languages, wearing slightly different habits, but all there to be in Rome, near the Vatican.

It’s a very interesting contrast from New York and DC, neither of which have extremely strong religious presences, although of course there are many religious people there. It isn’t as likely though to walk down the street and pass two priests and several monks in robes down to their ankles.

It’s so interesting to see such a strong religious community. The fact that Italy has an almost 90% Catholic majority makes that presence even stronger. I loved being able to experience that fervor when I went to the mass today, and to be able to feel everyone’s excitement at seeing this new Pope. Hearing the colonnade echo with music and prayers reminded me that as much as St. Peter’s, and the Vatican as a whole, are major tourist destinations, filled with beautiful art and rich history, they still genuinely serve a religious purpose to millions of people around the world, and have for centuries. Seeing the new Pope there today, I felt like I was experiencing that history myself.


By pw916

Whenever I arrive to a foreign land, I automatically feel like an outsider, and with good reason. But, I have noticed that, in a way, being gay gives me an automatic “in” to the culture I visit: being gay is sort of this connector, or equalizer, that transcends race, culture, social class. Despite the fact that people who identity as gay can be very different from one another, there is a perceived shared identity, a shared history.

This phenomenon was reinforced upon arriving to Rio de Janeiro. Rio has a sizable LGBT community, and when I reached out, I was warmly welcomed and on my way to making friends. But, as time has progressed, I have seen myself stepping out of the confines of the community because I don’t want to be surrounded by people who are strictly similar to me. Part of going abroad is to step outside your comfort zone, so I found it counterproductive to limit myself to one sector of Brazilian society. ...continue reading "Outsider No More"

By billienkatz

This past Friday I set out on my longest trip of the semester - a week long spring break. This coming week marks the start of Semana Santa, also known as Holy Week in Spain, and thus, a great excuse for an end of the semester spring break. The majority of people in my program packed their bags and jetted off (read as: flew into small, middle of nowhere airports on RyanAir) to destinations such as the Almafi Coast, Ibiza, and Greece. I chose to take the flight path arguably less traveled and set off for a week in Budapest and Vienna!

I'm currently two nights into the Budapest leg of my trip, and while the baths are incredible, and the Danube River at night is one of the most beautiful sights I've ever laid my eyes on, the best part of this trip so far has been reuniting with my best friends from school who I haven't seen in roughly four months. This is what I find so limitless about traveling and living abroad. Using my current example, there are five American students - 2 from Barcelona (including myself), 2 from Haifa and 1 from London. Now, what sojourning students from Spain, Israel and the United Kingdom are all doing together in Budapest may seem like the set-up to an awful joke, but this truly shows how small the world actually is.

Through different time differences, customs and boarder controls, student visas and passports we all managed to get ourselves to Hungary. There's something about strolling across the chain bridge with your roommate who you haven't seen since moving out last semester and before this study abroad experience ever began. In addition, when you trade in the streets of DuPont Circle for a string of consonants and harsh accents written in Hungarian, you have the ability to witness how some of your closest friends have grown and evolved since this experience began.

Over the course of the past few days this has been extremely insightful for me because I know that I am a different person than when I left a few months ago, but until I found myself surrounded by the friends I've known since the first weekend of freshman year, I had yet to truly acknowledge the metamorphosis that had and is in the process of taking place.

As my semester slowly begins to come to a close I'm hoping to give myself time to truly reflect on the impact of my experiences while still living here and being surrounded by both items, customs, cultures and people that are both comforting and familiar, and intimidating and novel at the same time.

By Dominique Bonessi

After two months in Jordan, yesterday, I finally visited Petra, the historical landmark Jordan is best known for.  We took a day trip three hours driving down to see the ancient site and three hour drive back to Amman.  I didn’t feel like a tourist visiting Petra; I felt like a Jordanian visiting their countries pride and joy.

I also realized yesterday that my time in Jordan is more than half way over and looking back at my first week till now; I have grown in so many ways.

In the beginning of the program, I was shy to speak and talk to anyone for fear my Arabic would be severely judged.  But at Petra, I talked to the locals and on a daily basis now I am able to have regular conversations in Arabic with my University of Jordan friends, my host family, and my classmates.  This has become especially helpful when getting into taxis and the taxi driver asks where I am from.  I often lie to him and tell him I am from Spain that way he can’t speak to me in English and is forced to speak in Arabic to me.  No one really knows Spanish, although one driver decided he was going to tell me every word he knew in Spanish.

Another big challenge was to budget my money at the beginning of this program.  I have come to realize that since Amman is not a walking city taxis rides are a must, but they can add up and become very expensive. In addition, to this issue I also realized that in the first part of the semester I didn’t venture off during the weeknights to do homework with other people or go to cultural events. So instead of returning to home to my house after school, I have been going to the gym almost every day after classes, from there I have been trying to make an effort to get out with my fellow Jordanians and experience Amman.

Granted Amman definitely isn’t my favorite city to live in like DC or New York, but I was told my host mom’s sister that in order to like Amman—and maybe even love it—is by making friends and seeing Amman in all its splendor and not so splendor. During the weekends, I have also tried to get out of my house when we don’t have planned trips and go to a café to do homework.  I have also started a Spanish-Arabic conversational group with a few Jordanian friends and classmates.  The Language Center at the University of Jordan offers a wide variety of languages and most of the students concentrate on two to three languages at a time.  Many of my Jordanian friends who are learning Spanish for their first time have really good Spanish accents too.  At the same time I get to use both my Arabic and Spanish to talk with people, but most of the time I have just been mixing the two while I talk.

With only a month and a half before I leave Jordan, I still have so much I want to do.  First, I would love to take a day trip to Muqaba to see the ancient mosaics, I also want to swim in the Dead Sea, and find a new café every Saturday to do homework in.  I know my time here is short, and I know that I only get to do this one study aboard in my undergraduate year, so I want to do well in classes, but also have more fun befriending locals and experiencing the culture.

It's been a beautiful week here in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I have enjoyed getting settled back into the city that I came to love after spending a whole semester here last year with the GW Latin America exhange program.

It has been fascinating to see the city in a whole new light. Last semester, I studied at a local university, taking classes in their International Affairs department, and this semester, I've been taking courses on the politics, planning and culture of cities in a classroom with 32 other students from US universities. As such, the dynamics and the structures of these two classrooms have been distinct and each has had its pluses and minuses.

For instance, learning in an Argentine classroom gave me a very clear understanding of the nuances of the culture. The information that I heard was not tailored to me as the audience, but rather was the unbridled Argentine perspective. One of my most rewarding classes last semester was on the history of the Americas, in which one of the sections was a history of the US. It was fascinating to hear how a foreigner interpreted the notable moments of US history. My professor had a lot to say about racsim in the US; he also thought that Obama was pretty WASP-y.  Additionally, it was also the first time I was expected to memorize all of the US presidents.

This semester, my classroom has been much more experience-oriented. Our facilitators have given us incredible access to academics, professionals, and locals in all aspects of the city. Our most recent adventure included exploring the city's hidden wholesale district, Once, where the owners of all the city's posh boutiques purchase their base materials. Not only is it a great place to shop for some bargains, it has a lot to say about the immigrant culture of Argentina. Like the US, this country has been a landing point for immigrants from all over the city for centuries.   Some of the most recent waves have settled in Once, to sell their wares in the stores and on the streets. In under an hour and within a 5 block radius, our group was able to interview people from Peru, Bolivia, Ghana, Senegal, Ukrain, Israel, and more. I was very excited to use some of my Wolof greetings that I'd learned during my stay in Senegal. And here I thought I'd never be able to use Wolof again!

Needless to say, its been a year full of distinctive and unexpected learning experiences. Often times, the most telling lessons have appeared between the lines of my textbook lessons or even outside of the classroom. I look forward to brining these little lessons back and applying them during my last year at GW!

By msotomayor12

My proudest feat thus far is my ability to survive in another country. Whenever I stop and think about it, I can’t believe that I can communicate with locals and never even second-guessing myself. Not to mention that I am completely comfortable walking around the city because I can now visualize it in my head. These are the little things I am thankful for. I’ve proven to myself that I can have a life elsewhere.

Yet, time and time again I’ve realized that I miss the most random things from the US and I still cannot live without them. How long would you last without the following things?


5. Living near friends: the ability to walk down a flight of stairs or a couple blocks from your dorm building to hang out with friends

Ah college life, how I miss thee. Now that I am far removed from the GW bubble, I realize how fortunate I am to have all my best friends in one place. Yes, it is quite the distraction, but the ability to live near my friends makes life so much fun. It’s definitely something I will appreciate much more upon my return.


4. 24-hour news channels: the ability to tune in to a news channel at any point of the day to get informed

It was around midnight Central European Time when I got an NBC News text alert about the Fort Hood shooting. As an aspiring reporter, I immediately started checking CNN, NBC, New York Times, Washington Post, you name it, to find more information. When I couldn’t find anything I started looking for news channels to watch because that’s what any news enthusiast does. I absolutely miss the ability to watch the news when I’m eating, doing homework, or for my own pleasure. I’m constantly glued to it.

However, I do appreciate Spanish news channels. It goes beyond local and national stories of the day to focus on conflicts around the world that I was never aware of until I heard a 30 second recap of it. I appreciate news as a learning tool so much.


3. A healthy diet: eating an array of foods in moderation that benefit one’s health

To be fair, I prefer foods from other countries than the US because I forget how delicious fresh and unprocessed food tastes. While the Spanish do have an array of healthy food options and a balanced diet, the overall thinking towards some types of food is a little skewed. Different people have told me that eating lettuce is much healthier than spinach, eating cartilage and fat from meat regularly isn’t bad for you, and that mayonnaise is the key to happiness, which is just not true. It’s awkward vocalizing my opinion about these particularities, especially in front of my house mom, but what can I say; I’m stuck in my American ways.


2. Breakfast: a meal eaten to jumpstart your day and metabolism that consists of eggs, cereal, pancakes, waffles, bacon, yogurt, and/or fruit.

In Spain, as in many Latin American and Western European countries, people start their morning with coffee and toast. That’s it. Since I’m usually on the go, even in the US, I absolutely don’t mind a light breakfast during the week. However, I miss my traditional American breakfast during the weekends, especially brunch.


 1. CVS: a convenient store that houses a pharmacy and every other living supply that is crucial to survival, all in ONE place.

Of all the things the US has to offer, I never thought I would miss CVS the most. The word “convenient” takes on a whole new meaning when you’ve been separated from it for too long. In Western Europe there are pharmacies everywhere, but they only sell medicine and nothing else. If you want to buy shampoo, a nail file, or a new pair of headphones one needs to visit two different stores (that may be blocks away from each other) to find them. The other day it took me four metro stops to discover una botica, a tiny shop, that sold an array of living supplies. Even though I’m so grateful that it exists, the trek was quite inconvenient.

However, not having these things does not mean that I regret studying abroad. To be honest, I could live without these privileges. It just takes more than 5 months living abroad to adjust to these changes.

By anishag22

Friday marked the end of my trip to Paris, and it was also my last visit to the City of Lights for this semester. I feel so lucky to have been able to spend a weekend plus a whole other week in Paris thus far. Leaving Paris, I felt like I had gained a good grasp of what the city is about. I can find my way on the Paris metro, know the best and most picturesque times to visit the Eiffel, and I now know a bit about the French lifestyle. Paris has truly captured my heart, so I've decided to list a few reasons why.


1. Picnicking on the Seine. It's free, it's fabulous and during spring it is absolutely gorgeous. There is nothing better than taking your crepe or sandwich down to the river's edge and letting your feet dangle over the ledge as you take in the stunning views of Paris.

2. Paris's museums are to die for. The city is home to some of the best and most famous artwork in the world. On my most recent visit, I went to the Van Gogh special exhibit at the Orsay, and it was truly awe-inspiring to see so many of Van Gogh's pieces together in one room. My favorite thing to do is stand close to the painting from the side, because you can actually see how thick the paint has been applied. You would never know that just by seeing the painting in a textbook!

3. The history. From Saint Chapelle to Notre Dame, Paris is home to some of the oldest and most beautiful architecture in the world. The almost 1,000-year-old Saint Chapelle is a testament to ornate Gothic architecture, with stained glass windows that tell the story of the Bible from creation onwards. As I gazed up at these windows, I was struck by how much time and effort must have gone into preparing every single individual stained glass scene by hand.

4. The shopping! And I don't mean just Champs Elysse. The shopping that I enjoy the most in Paris is on little side streets and neighborhoods off the beaten path, like Montmarte (The stunning views from Sacre Coure don't hurt either!).

Up next for me is Venice, Florence, Rome, Prague and finally Vienna, so stay tuned for more from my travels!


Until next time -

Xx, Anisha

By maxikaplan

My first week of studying for finals has commenced, and I can safely say that it was not all that bad. Yes, studying is time consuming and nobody wants to do it, but it feels good to get those parts of my brain going again after no quizzes and tests for nearly 9 months. Did I spend most of my time inside this past week, doing nothing but working? Yes, but it was good practice for what's to come, and I rewarded myself by taking this weekend off, which was incredibly helpful.

On Sunday was the London marathon, which I did not participate in, but I did go to the Paul Smith museum that day, and that was equally as fun as running 26.2 miles. Paul Smith is a well known fashion designer from London whose work also spreads to car designs, snowboard designs, etc., and this museum was wonderful. Paul had taken everything that was lying around in his office and put it into this museum for display—a brave move, but I am happy he did it because it was one of my favorite museums I have ever been to. The weather outside was 65 and sunny with not a cloud in the sky, and you can’t ask for anything much better than that in London. Saturday was nearly the same, and both days I spent eating well and enjoying the weather. Thankfully it does not cost anything to breathe in London, although it might soon.

As my time abroad is slowly coming to an end (I just booked my flight home for May 31st), I am getting quite excited for things that I have been deprived of for some time now, like $1 pizza from New York, and cheap food in general. Of course I miss my family too, but it is the little things that you forget about while you’re gone that seem so sweet when you are reminded of them. And I am sure of the fact that a few months from now I will be writing in my journal of how much I miss the little things in London. The grass is always greener on the other side I suppose, so you have to enjoy these things while you have them. With that, I now have to go enjoy my homemade dinner that is waiting for me. Ciao!

By catrionaschwartz

I am now at the mid-way point of my semester here in Rome. These past two weekends I spent traveling in Italy—the first weekend in Palermo, and this last one in Tuscany—and it has been amazing, but I’m glad I will be in Rome these final few weeks. Palermo was fascinating though. It was very different from Rome. It had ruins of sorts, and while some were created by neglect and decay, many others were remnants of World War II—with whole facades of buildings gone, revealing hallways to bombed out rooms, abandoned chairs and tables—eerie but beautiful. It was also a very diverse city. Some of the street signs had Hebrew and Arabic translations, and there were lots of Indian restaurants and kebab shops which you don’t see as much of in Rome.

That weekend also tested my Italian skills. Most of the waiters and shopkeepers spoke to us solely in Italian which was refreshing as well as challenging. In Rome, people often respond in English once they hear your accent (or pick up on one of the many other innumerable clues that you are in fact American). I try to respond in Italian anyway. I like to think that it gives both myself and the person talking to me a chance to practice our language skills. In Palermo though, 90% of the conversations we had with locals were conducted in Italian. It made me appreciate how far my language skills have come, and how rewarding it was to be able to practice a language with locals while learning (something I hadn’t experienced when I took Spanish and French back in the States).

Still, the dialect in Sicily is quite different. There were a couple times the words they used were completely different from the Italian spoken in Rome. When we went to one of the main street markets for example, the vendors used a different word for ‘bag’ than what I had learned. Not to mention the market itself was so different from the placid farmers’ markets you see in Rome--people were shouting everywhere (“Fragole, belle fragole!”), and I tripped over a fallen fish head trying to avoid a group of boys fighting in the street and it was all a shambolic, wonderful mess.

Tuscany was a completely different experience. First of all it was a trip organized by the program so there was none of the stress of having to figure out the when/where/hows of the trip, we just got on the bus and got off the bus when it stopped. Then there was the fact that Tuscany is more about the sweeping landscapes, and quiet glasses of wine than frantic cityscapes. It was just as much fun though. We stopped in Sienna which was grand and medieval looking, and then Montalcino, which was practically empty which I loved. Montalcino is known for its Brunello wine and there are 210 vineyards in the area. We stayed the night in a 15th century farmhouse and vineyard with views of the rolling hills and it was relaxing and quite.

Rome will be somewhere in between. It’s not quite Palermo levels of chaotic but it is still a loud, frenetic city. The number of tourists is also increasing every day, making the narrow streets feel claustrophobic at certain times of the day. Still, the weather is beautiful and all of the flowers are blooming now. All this time I’ve been gone during the weekends but now I need to focus on Rome—the countless museums, the farther flung neighborhoods, the food and the wine—there’s still so much to see! I can’t believe I only have a few weeks left.

By numzzz123

IMG_3248Working with Syrian Refugee Children in Project Amal ou Salam has been eye opening in more ways than one. Through subtle signs and mannerisms throughout the week, I was able to read into their lives. I could see their poverty in the way they quietly saved the food we gave them, to bring it home to their brothers and sisters. I saw their vulnerability and hurt in the way they held on to each other, in a bond of understanding none of us could comprehend. Many without parents, I saw the lack of nurturing in the way they clung on to the volunteers throughout the day, longing to receive the attention they deserve.

We took them to sports class where they learned about unity, photography where they learned about viewing one event from different perspectives, to art where they “rebuilt Syria,” music where they participated in harmonizing, and trust/team building, where they utilized and embraced the power of standing by each other. I knew the camp’s efforts had left an impact, as the kids made us promise to come back again at the end of each day.

Project Amal ou Salam is in the stage of reflection now. We have been discussing what went well, what can be improved for future camps, and what kind of impact it left on us as well. The next camp will be held in August at the Syrian border in Lebanon. Now that I’ve finally worked with this group first hand, it is time for me to take the next step.

Earlier this week, I met with the owner of Hemmah Volunteering group, who is the brother of one of the volunteers I worked with at Project Amal ou Salam. Hemmah Volunteering Group is a social working trust group, which helps people in emergency and development. The Hemmah Group does a lot of aid relief for Syrian refugees all over Jordan, from providing logistical support, physical support emotional support, and more. The goal of Hemmah is to not just to bring about short-term relief, but with the trained psychologists as part of the team, they work towards a long-term sustainable recovery. One of the biggest problems dealing with refugees is the fact that many development organizations give them what they think the refugees want, rather then taking time to talk to the people and figure out what they actually need and want. After my experience working with 1,000 Syrian refugee children in one week, I will now have the chance to speak one on one with families and get a more in depth understanding about their situations over a longer period of time.


There is no immediate end of this conflict in sight, but the victims, especially the little ones, of the Syrian war are alive and every day they face struggle. They are the future of Syria and more efforts like this are needed to empower the youth. The future of the world lies within the youth, and for a peaceful tomorrow, we need to create more efforts to instill hope and education in them today.