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By Dominique Bonessi

Look Up!!!

I finally get what this guy is saying.

This weekend I had the wonderful opportunity of taking a trip to Wadi Feynan.  If you ever come to Jordan most of your trips will be to desert valleys [wadi] with beautiful multi-colored rocks, uncharted paths, and kind locals.  The tourism industry in Jordan has made a killing off of weekend expeditions from Amman to the valleys including transportation, meals, accommodations, and activities.

I have had several opportunities to stay in traditional Bedouin tents, biked across the desert, watch the sunset, and sleep in the Econo Logde, an eco-friendly hotel in the middle of Wadi Feynan.  And through it all I did it without a phone, a computer, or wi-fi—what a concept.

But really, on a daily basis I don’t have wi-fi or access to internet for at least two-thirds of my day.  I go to school I talk with people in Arabic, I meet with friends and have coffee, and I look up when I walk from place to place.  Disconnecting from my phone and technology has really made me realize how much I use my phone in DC and at school.  But what for?—It is such a distraction and doesn’t allow you to live in the moment.

I also realized that not being constantly connected to a phone also helps me with my Arabic.  Instead of being on my phone I take the time to engage in conversation and focus in on the target language.  I have heard that the iPhone is killing the art of conversation and I agree; we look for any excuse not talk to people who are in the same room as us, and for what?—Take time to turn your phone off and enjoy time with the people you love.

When I go back to GW I think I will try to turn off my data when I don’t absolutely need it and avoid receiving Facebook and Snapchat updates at all hours of the day. I also want to start only using my phone if I have a wi-fi signal and saving those important moments for myself instead of constantly having to share them with the world.

By msotomayor12

It’s hard to believe that I am writing this post during my packing break. With each article of clothing I am putting away, I become more and more aware that my study abroad experience is reaching its end. While I am more than excited to be going back to the U.S., I am leaving with a heavy heart filled with too many good memories.

When I first came to Madrid, I told everyone that I was on my way to “get my heart back” after leaving it there when I first visited in 2010. Of all the cities I ever visited before then, Madrid felt like home immediately. I felt as if I had lived there in a past life. Since I did not have enough time to uncover the city back then, I knew I had to come back. I’m so grateful I did.

Madrid is the liveliest city I have ever visited in Europe. There are constantly people laughing and talking on the streets, even at 6 am. It is a vibrant place where the people are kind hearted and willing to have a conversation with you regardless of where you’re from. Even though generational differences are obvious, at the end of the day, Spaniards, specifically Madrileños, are so diverse they try to understand your position in life and try to guide you if you let them.

Not to mention that Spain itself is fascinating. Every city I went to was completely different than the other because the Arab, Muslim, Spanish, Jewish, and Italian cultures all influenced each region differently throughout history. Yet the Spanish culture links them all, with their delicious jamon or the ceramic tiles lining old palaces. In other words, traveling within Spain is like visiting a new country, which is an amazing learning experience that I am so fortunate to have indulged in.

Studying abroad is one of the best decisions anyone can make because you develop a new perspective of the world. I believe that I can criticize and also praise the things some governments do right or wrong, which I hope will make me a more proactive citizen.

It also makes the world much smaller. It amazes me that in the time it takes me to travel from Tampa, FL to New York City, I am exposed to a completely distinct culture where people are speaking their own language. This was my favorite part about travelling because you realize that people are completely different based on their culture, but at the end of the day we’re all humans who interact in a similar manner.

Yet every time I travelled, I was so happy that Madrid was my home base. I was easily able to transition to their way of life, which made me more open to new opportunities. Since Madrid has no much to offer, I still feel as if I need to do to more to know it fully. I guess this means I must come back in the (hopefully near) future.

And now I must close my study abroad experience as I zip up my suitcases, each carrying trinkets, memoirs, and ticket stubs that simply represent the plethora of memories I’ve made.

¡Hasta pronto Madrid! Te tendré en mí corazón siempre.

By anishag22

As I prepare to finish the last assignments of my junior year this week, I keep thinking about how strange and simultaneously amusing the academic differences between England and America are. Sometimes it's just hard to believe that there is such a disparity in the workload. I touched on this in an earlier post upon my arrival in Bristol, but now having completed most of the semester I think I can speak to the costs and benefits of each academic system.

Essentially, my workload at GW is at least three times as intense as it is here in Bristol, and that's saying something because the University of Bristol is not a shabby institution: It's part of the Russell Group (the UK's equivalent to the Ivy League) and ranked in the top 30 universities worldwide. And yet, I find myself sitting here in Bristol writing one essay that counts for 100 percent of my grade in my upper division politics class. In America, I typically have at least five assignments/essays/exams that combine to constitute my final grade. In fact, I'm pretty sure "busy work" isn't even a phrase in England, because busy work doesn't exist. To be honest, "homework" doesn't either. I keep up with the readings which of course helps as you're writing the essay, but I am never quizzed on what I've read like I am at GW - it's just assumed that you know how to pace yourself and do the work required to succeed in the course.

As for which system I prefer, it's hard to say because I like elements of both. I strongly believe that both countries should actually alter the current system: American universities should relax a little and allow students more academic independence through less busy work, but UK universities could use a bit more continuous assessment. There needs to be a middle ground. At GW, I'm constantly feeling deadline pressure for something, but at Bristol that's a rare feeling. The downside about American universities is the constant stress and occasional inability to retain information because of the nonstop assessments, but the upside is that you are continuously engaged in the subject matter. The downside about UK universities is the lack of continuous engagement with the subject matter, but the upside is that with the reduced stress  I have actually found myself doing independent research just for the fun of it - I feel more engaged and excited about my courses here in Bristol. In sum, US and UK universities could learn a thing or two from each other, so here's to hoping that both countries can find that academic "sweet spot" in the near future.


Until next time -

Xx, Anisha

By juliaraewagner

As the fifth week in Buenos Aires rolled around and we began to wrap up our end-of-semester lessons, our country coordinator led us through an activity that I found really helpful in "reading" the city. She split us into groups and asked that we each identify four elements of the city, its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Many people have probably heard of this activity as the SWOT exercise and may have used in professional or team-building situations. In our context of urban planning, the exercise helped us to review what we'd studied this semester, but also revealed some interesting quandaries in relation to the city.

Buenos Aires' strengths were obvious. The city has a strong downtown, cheap transportation, a highly educated population, and strong political involvement. We soon noticed, however, that many of these benefits also lead to some issues of their own. For one, the strong downtown that has grown up around the Plaza de Mayo means insane traffic congestion. It is not uncommon to sit on a bus for more than an hour when coming in from downtown. Furthermore, the city lacks a strong road network that runs along the outskirts of the city; most roads leading from North to South run straight through downtown, only adding to the congestion. This has led to a severe division between North and South halves of the city, which is not only a physical, but cultural.

Though few would claim that the portenos' strong political involvement is a weakness, or even a threat, the framework upon which this involvement stands is deteriorating and is prone to collapse. Of the many parties that comprise the political representation in the country, most of these consider themselves "Peronists." Peronism is a political movement that takes its underlying values from the Peron's, perhaps the most popular political figures in all of Argentine history. Juan Peron served as the country's first populist president, and his wife, Eva Peron, won the hearts of the masses. Today, however, Peronism is a blanket statement, that nearly every politician claims in order to gain popular support, though it doesn't necessarily mean that he carries popular sentiment. Many Argentinians claim that this label allows politicians to say they represent one thing, while their policies say another.

Another point of contention in our discussion was the villas, the infamous informal settlements that run along the outskirts of the city. Many have labeled these settlements as a threat to the city. They are known as hotbeds for crime, the black market, and illegal immigrants. Still, further investigations into the villas have revealed that property values are worth the same as some of the most posh neighborhoods in the city. Many legal immigrants as well as people moving in from the outer provinces of Argentina populate these areas because a municipal law requires people lacking strong familial connections in the city from renting their own property. Furthermore, the villas each support their own micro-economies, which subsist despite their lack of formal recognition. Under this light, the villas seem less like a threat and more like an opportunity for Buenos Aires to expand and integrate these densly urbanized areas.

It is discussions like these that have propelled my classes these past four months. Deciphering the strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities in these cities has been incredibly informative and eye-opening. Nothing is ever as simple as it appears at face value, but that makes this field of study vibrant and interesting. I will carry this with me as I continue to "read" more cities.

By Dominique Bonessi

For my last week in Amman, Jordan with 5 more days here before I travel to my next destination—Palestine—for my pilgrimage with GW Catholics, I couldn’t think of a better way to end my four months here.

Tomorrow Pope Francis I is to arrive in Jordan for a three day pilgrimage in the Holy Land and I have the privilege and the honor to be assisting a non-profit organization called Taayosh with covering the week.  We have been working out of the National Cultural Center in Jordan where the media stations are located and today I received my very first press pass to get into the stadium tomorrow where the pope will be having mass.  This last week has been the icing on the cake to a successful study abroad.

I have taken the opportunity to understand interfaith relations in Jordan, meet with local religious leaders to discuss how the pope’s visit will assist in peace efforts, and learned more about the history and understanding of religious sites.  Jordan is a mixture of various religions, cultures and peoples.  One of the biggest take-aways from my trip here will be the efforts of Jordanians to include outsiders: from refugees, to foreigners, their hospitality and warmth is unmatched.

My last week here is also overshadowed by final exams and the idea that I will be leaving a place that I just feel like I got accustom to and comfortable in.  Exams and academics have been so hard to focus on with my last week in Jordan, but I have been trying as hard as I can to study with all the distractions.  I do keep in mind that my grades are important, but overall the experience here is much more beneficial than any evaluation of my knowledge of Arabic.  I feel that my Arabic has greatly improved and I feel confident going back to the US and continuing my studies—thinking about grad school for Arabic.

I am also sad to say that I am leaving friends behind that I have made here, from my host family, to people in the program, and the Jordanians.  I know it is only goodbye for now and hopefully sooner rather than later I will see them again.  I feel so comfortable with daily life here now, just as soon as I have to leave this place.  But I realize that if I choose a career path towards becoming a foreign correspondent I will face this challenge a lot in my life.  I think I have to realize that there is always more to see and do, and that moving only means I want to see everything and do everything.

By catrionaschwartz

When you have a limited amount of time to see a place it is easy to take in whatever site it is you are seeing with one glance and move on. Piazza Navona was one of those places for me until I had to do research on the fountain there for an art history class. While even in a cursory glance shows that the Piazza is beautiful it is also one of those sites that will almost always be filled with tourists, day or night. It is in the top 10 of all the Rome: Must See lists because of the massive fountain in the middle, known as the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. Like the nearby Trevi Fountain, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi draws in major traffic.

Because of this, the piazza bears a painful resemblance to all of the other main tourist sites of Rome, on a surface level anyway. There are a slew of over-priced restaurants around the piazza, men selling bootleg sunglasses and purses and artists selling cartoon drawings of celebrities (lots of Obamas and Angelina Jolies for example) and nameless paintings of Rome. The familiarity of it all can be off-putting. As I said, after I saw the fountain for the first time, I didn’t feel a strong pull to go back and see it again, until I had to do a project on the main fountain. What I found out about it was actually pretty fascinating.

The man who designed the fountain, Bernini, had won the commission for the fountain in a contest held by Pope Innocent X (who had a palazzo on one side of the piazza and a church which he sponsored on the other). The fountain is made up of four male figures, sat on top of realistic rocks and topped with an ancient Egyptian obelisk. The four figures represent the four major rivers of the world in the continents where papal authority had spread. There was the Nile River for Africa, the Ganges River for Asia, the Rio de la Plata for the Americas, and the Danube for Europe. Each of the figures also have smaller details to show an educated viewer which river they represent.

The figure of the Nile has a cloth over its head to represent the fact that no one knew where the source of the Nile was. The figure of the Ganges is holding an oar, to represent how easy it is to navigate the river. The Danube River figure is touching the Pamphili coat of arms since it was Pope Innocent X who had commissioned the fountain and the Danube was the closest to Rome. The last figure, that representing the Rio de la Plata (literally River of Silver), is sitting on a pile of coins to show the wealth that the Americas provided Rome.

The fountain shows what a real presence the pope and the papal state had not just in Europe but in the world. Today the Church is a spiritual authority but in that period it was an earthly, political authority as well. The figure for Rio de la Plata shows this the most clearly, as it obviously references earthly actions of the Church. The Rio de la Plata figure is also cowering—most likely because of the snake (representing loss of wealth) rearing towards it. There is a story however that Bernini placed the cowering Rio de la Plata figure facing the church of Sant’Agnese because Pope Innocent X had given the commission for that church to Bernini’s rival, Borromini. The figure is cowering because it is afraid the church will collapse due to Borromini’s poor design plan.

Finding all of these stories about the fountain made me want to go back and it made me realize that sight-seeing takes effort. Sometimes you have to research and prepare to really get the most out of what you are seeing!

By christinatometchko

Four months, five countries, eighteen cities, and countless flights later, my semester studying abroad in Barcelona has finally come to an end. Traveling around Europe and volunteering abroad have given me the opportunity to experience an abundance of culture and history and in the process have taught me so much about myself. As one chapter of my life closes and the next one opens, I'd like to end by sharing the three most important things I learned while volunteering and living abroad:

1. Nothing is as difficult as it seems

During my first day volunteering at the Pare Poveda Elementary School I was overwhelmed at the thought of teaching an entire class of 6th grade students by myself. While it was challenging at first, it got easier and easier each week and by the end of the semester I was more than comfortable handling an entire classroom on my own.

The same can be said about my study abroad experience as well. At the beginning of the semester the thought of being away from my family and friends, living in a foreign country, and speaking a different language seemed extremely daunting. Four months later and I can't even believe that these things once worried me. Over the course of the past few months I've fallen in love with Barcelona, the Spanish language, and all of the new friends that I've made while abroad.

2. Different doesn't equal wrong

Spanish students have longer school days, two-hour lunch breaks, and classes in three different languages. While a typical school day in America looks very different from this that doesn't necessarily mean that one education system is right and the other is wrong. Focusing on the positive aspects of each of these systems will allow us to create an even better education system that provides the best, most comprehensive education possible for students across the world.

Additionally, it's important to remember that while Spaniards may lead very different lives than their American counterparts, that doesn't mean that one country is right and the other is wrong. Us Americans can learn a thing or two from the Spanish by spending more time with family and loved ones and eating a healthier diet filled with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. On the contrary, Americans can teach Spaniards to give their bodies a break by not eating so late at night and going to bed earlier than usual.

3. The only way to truly understand and appreciate another culture is to fully immerse yourself in it

Speaking Spanish with my friends and host family, keeping up on national and regional politics, and volunteering in an elementary school were just some of the ways that I tried to immerse myself in the local Barcelona culture. Each of these things taught me so much about Spain, Cataluyna, and Barcelona and really helped me to appreciate all of the unique facets of Spanish culture.

Studying abroad is an amazing experience that not everybody is lucky enough to have. If you are one of the lucky ones it's important that you fully immerse yourself in the experience and learn as much as you can about the country and city that you'll be calling home for the next few months. Follow that advice, and you'll be sure to have the best semester of your life!

By iobrien1093

While it seems like most study abroad students are heading back to the U.S., I still have about a month and a half left to wrap up my research and volunteer work in Cape Town. This Tuesday, I’ll be teaching my fourth pre-primary workshop at the Phumlani Village DayCare. I’ve spent the last week painstakingly perfecting this weeks lesson plan after what I would call last Tuesday’s disappointing failure. Although I had gone to the Daycare center confident in the literacy activities I had planned for the children, the day quickly turned from productive to chaotic in a matter of seconds. Hyperactivity and lack of discipline have been major problems in implementing my project in Phumlani, even more so than the language barrier. The children who are focused and excited to participate in the activities are often overshadowed by students who are unable to sit still, who yell, and who fight one another on a constant basis. The group of children I’m working with has now grown in number to about thirteen five year olds, when initially my goal was to work with 6-8. The Mamas who work at the creche are able to calm the rowdy students down for a few minutes, but soon after their backs are turned the chaos ensues. The lack of discipline is not unexpected, though, since most of the children have never been in a classroom environment or any kind of formal and structured setting before. Moreover many of the children lack parental supervision and structure at home.
I’m working with my capstone supervisor Val, who has worked in primary education for the last thirty years, to develop some classroom management tools for my program. She recommended using incentives, most likely in the form of candy, to positively reinforce good behavior and motivate the less focused children. Initially she had suggested talking firmly with them and explaining that their behavior was unacceptable, but I explained that there is a complete lack of respect for authority among a few of the children that I am working with. To many of the children that I work with I’m just “Umlungu,” meaning white person. They don't see me as a teacher, I just seem like something foreign to them. Val, was extremely upset when she heard this because she immediately identified the children's actions as one of the many consequences of Apartheid and how the past is still negatively impacting the education system in South Africa.
Val suggested that rather than try to formally teach the kids literacy, I should take more of a Learn Through Play Approach to pre-primary education. She helped me pick ten workshop topics, ranging from Colors to the Environment, that I could center my lesson plans around and encouraged me to focus more on games and crafts. This week I’m creating a lesson plan on Colors which will include activities like making patterned, colored macaroni necklaces, making rainbows with coffee filters and food dye, and making puppets relating to the book Brown Bear, Brown Bear. Val also gave me a Grade R Curriculum guide, which has really helped me understand not only what pre-primary students should be learning at this stage, but how they should be learning.
I know that when I return to GW I’ll continue to work with DC Reads as I have for the past two years, but I think when I return I’ll have a greater respect and appreciation for the teachers that I work with. Especially, the kindergarten teachers who work with ESL students. I hadn’t realized how much time and energy goes into creating lesson plans. It’s not just fun and games even when the lesson plan literally includes games. I’m never going to forget the time that I’ve spent in the Phumlnai community. Even though there were times when I felt like I could cry in frustration at myself for not being able to communicate with the kids the way I wanted to and at the kids for not listening to me the way I wanted them to, there were so many more times when I felt inspired and motivated by being around them. I can’t predict how the rest of my time in South Africa will go, but now that I’m working with Val my spirits have lifted and I feel determined to make the best pre-primary program possible for the children of Phumlani.


By zamorse

Even though this is my blog, I want to use this post to talk about the dual society of people studying abroad in Haifa. Before I came to Israel I assumed that everybody studying here would be studying Hebrew and want to be in Israel because it's Israel. At Haifa, especially, that's not the case. A lot of people came to the university to study Arabic and Arab culture, and Israel is as close to that as they could get.

This weekend is Memorial Day and Independence Day and because we don't have class on Monday or Tuesday my friends and I decided to get out of Haifa and go explore Tel Aviv. Which is where I am, sitting in the common room of the hostel. We came with a big group, 9 people to celebrate my friend's birthday on Friday night. On Saturday, our group split up. Half stayed in Tel Aviv and half went on to Ramallah in the West Bank. Now, it's important to note that these friends of mine purposefully went to the West Bank on Israeli Independence Day because they wanted to go see Palestinian protests in the West Bank.

For me, this idea is crazy. I came to Israel to experience Israel and it's hard for me to comprehend wanting to leave Israel on Independence Day to go to the West Bank. But that was exactly their point. Much of the Middle East is unsafe for Study Abroad right now (Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, etc) and maybe their school didn't have a study abroad program in Jordan. And because they couldn't study abroad in the West Bank, Israel was the closest they could get.

My friend group is pretty split on the political spectrum of the conflict, but we're actually able to have civil conversations on the conflict all the time. We don't avoid talking about it, and we've mastered the idea of criticizing somebody's idea, not the person themselves.

This weekend is just a perfect microcosm of who comes to study abroad at the University of Haifa. Some people come to Haifa to experience Palestinian culture, and some people come to study Israeli culture. And we're able to talk about our differences and share experiences.

That's a way more valuable experience about conflict resolution than anything I could read in a textbook.

By sdemetry

I can't believe I am ending my internship in just two short weeks.

I have learned and accomplished much more than I expected, and certainly much more than I have in previous internships. The entire experience has been a relentless emotional roller coaster of challenge, thrill, frustration, fun and stress. As with any internship, things didn't go smoothly one-hundred percent of the time, but through all of the hiccups I also received priceless lessons in humanity as well as the workplace. The international aspect brought a new dimension to the experience in so many ways- from the people I was working with, the struggles and successes of international communications, and the many cultural boundaries and dissimilarities within the office that were tested and oftentimes expanded.

I was not the only international employee at The Nature Conservancy- the office consisted of myself, Australian, Chinese, European and South American employees, and the daily interactions between continents almost always ended in a new piece of information or a deeper understanding of a culture previously foreign to the other party. The Berlin office is still quite young, so most of the international employees were also new in Berlin when I arrived, and it has been amazing to watch the transformation and blending of cultures that has managed to take place in a year. There were wine tastings in the office, Wok-parties, Christmas Market visits, and bar crawls. I am convinced that everyone in the office, not just the new intern, came away from the year with just as many challenges overcome and cultural frontiers transcended.

I will miss this internship more than any other that I have left behind in the past- the last day is always sad, but there's never a feeling of finality as stark as this one. Not only am I ending a job, I am leaving behind an entire country and a culture so different from any I will have the chance of encountering in the United States.

I'm not sure how much of a difference I made in the community as a result of my internship. I know I gave a lot of my colleagues a more favorable impression of Americans, and I know I took a lot of work off of the hands of my very grateful boss. But I would say that Berlin's community is the one that made a difference within me, not the other way around. I have learned so much about myself and others, and I think it would be naive to say that I brought a lot to the table other than a set of helping hands and a foreign perspective.

Regardless, I am proud of my accomplishments, and I am completely satisfied with the experience. I hope to continue my commitment to community upon returning to GW by simply encouraging others to get out there and do what I did. It's tough sometimes to find the motivation to work when you're abroad for such a short amount of time, but the things you'll find out about yourself and others are more valuable than a few extra hours exploring your city.

I plan to return to Berlin, maybe indefinitely. I cannot believe I am finally leaving. This city could not have been a better fit for my time abroad, and I am so sad to see that time end. When I return to GW, I will most definitely bring on a storm of encouragement for any sophomores and juniors considering a time abroad. There is no better time to go for it- stick your neck out, take a chance, and you will discover something wonderful. Regardless of your love for the city, you will find out things about yourself that are truly impossible until you're put into a situation like studying abroad. There are valuable lessons in independence, self-motivation, and being able to examine your home culture critically from the outside.

I will stop my sermon before this gets too lengthy- I think it's the longest post I've written this semester, but with good reason. Endings always make me nostalgic, and this one is making me quite excited as well.

Thanks for listening.