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By rbhargava

This past weekend, I had a homestay in Stellenbosch’s informal and illegal settlement – Enkanini. Enkanini, translated as “Taken By Force” is only a few years old, but is already home to about 8,000 people (all black) living in shacks. As an illegal settlement, the entire community is not connected to the electric grid, has very limited shared toilets, and is traditionally ignored by the town municipality. For most of Stellenbosch, Enkanini is an ugly parasite that one can see from almost anywhere in town. Located on a hill overlooking the city, Enkanini has some of the most beautiful views of the area, but ironically is home to some of the poorest too. The town wants to get rid of Enkanini, but has no idea how to. My time in Enkanini was an eye-opening experience on the inequalities that still exist in South Africa, and specifically just in the Stellenbosch commmunity.

From the front door of the shack I was staying in, one could see the entire town of Stellenbosch directly in front of me. I could clearly see the red-tile roofs of the university buildings, and even a faint outline of my dorm a few kilometers away. Shockingly, before leaving for Enkanini, many of my South African friends had never even heard of Enkanini, the first of many signs of the “apartheid” that still exists today. To get to Enkanini, one has to drive across the railroad tracks that split “white” Stellenbosch from Kayamandi (the black township of Stellenbosch), go through the industrial area of Stellenbosch, and drive all the way to the end of a cul-de-sac. On one side of the cul-de-sac is a steep dirt road that leads into Enkanini, and in what is land-allocated for a nature reserve, one will find several hundreds of shacks cramped into very small quarters on a steep hill.

During my time in Enkanini, I was able to walk around the community and meet many of the people who lived there, play with many of the kids growing up in Enkanini, play pool with some of the older guys, watch the biggest soccer game of the year (Kaiser Chiefs vs Orlando Pirates in a Cup final), attend a church service, and eat some amazing homemade food. What I learned from all of these experiences and more are too hard to recount in full, but I hope I can hit some of my most important impressions.

On weekends, Enkanini does not sleep. Both Friday and Saturday night, loud music, church singing, and drunkards could be heard well into the early hours of the morning; so much so that the noises of the previous night smoothly ended as the roosters started their morning wake-up calls. There is also a strong sense of community, and almost everyone is outside their homes talking to friends, walking around the community, tending to errands, etc. Just sitting outside our home we were able to meet countless people, and children flocked to us to teach us new games and hang out with some new faces. Hanging out with the children, it was evident to us that the entire community raises children rather than just the parents. We never saw the parents of the majority of children we were able to interact with, and any and every passerby would pick up the kids and play with them before continuing up the road. In such tight spaces, it is not surprising that such a culture exists within Enkanini.

Because of this tight knit community, safety and security in Enkanini also is an interesting subject to look at. Our host told us how Enkanini, although known for its crime, is actually quite safe compared to neighbouring Kayamandi (a formal settlement) because people know each other in Enkanini. When a mugging occurs, people come out of their homes and immediately make an issue if they recognize the victim. In places like Kayamandi where people are living in formal settlements and with greater space, muggers are left alone as it becomes less and less of the community’s responsibility to prevent crime. With that said, Enkanini finds itself in a difficult conundrum when it comes to crime as it is located just on the other side of a hill  home to some of the richest in Stellenbosch. Thus, robbers and criminals tend to run into Enkanini for refuge, importing crime that the community otherwise would not have. As an illegal settlement, the municipality fails to give the resources the community needs to prevent this, and now Enkanini is known as a crime hotspot.

Living in Enkanini is difficult considering all the homes are shacks, there are very few running water taps, no formal sources of electricity, limited toilets, and steep roads that are prone to flooding. The two nights we slept there were very cold, and gave us a taste of the complete lack of insulation and heating most people live through in the town. With no streetlights and only informal dirt roads, nighttime also means pitch-dark alleyways and great challenges in both safety and navigation through community. The informal settlements leaves little private space, which leads to numerous other issues.

As always though, people find a way to be happy, and we were constantly greeted with happy faces, friendly jokes, playful children, and a very accepting community. The overall beautify of Enkanini’s location make it almost easy to forget all the underlying problems of its existence. How could 8,000 people be living in an illegal settlement only a few minutes walk from some of the richest in Stellenbosch? Why is every single one of those people black? Looking out from our homestay porch, it is hard to imagine a more segregated and unequal city in the world. As evening approached one night, we saw as the rest of the city lit up, while most of Enkanini stayed dark. While many of my friends were going out for a fun night in downtown Stellenbosch, a forgotten community just a few minutes away continued living a life completely separate, and for the most part, completely forgotten.

By bevvy2212

It’s been a month since I’ve been in France and three weeks since classes have started. I can’t believe time has gone by so fast and I’ll only have about three months left before the semester ends.

Even though it’s already been three weeks, I still feel rusty in terms of grasping what I have learned so far. Because I was on a plane the day class registration opened, I did not get the chance to be enrolled in my preferred courses and I was a little bit bummed in the beginning. Currently I am enrolled in four normal classes taught in English and a French language class, which isn’t bad at all in comparison to the French students who actually go to Sciences Po.

I was a little bit concerned at first because I am not at all familiar with the topics of my classes: 1) Foundations of moral and political thought. 2) Social policies in Europe. 3)International Law. 4) What is social democracy. For someone who is an international affairs major with a security policy concentration, I have no idea what went on with the welfare states in Northern Europe nor about the foundations of western philosophy.

The first two weeks were hard, mainly because it was a little bit difficult to bring up my interests for these classes that I didn’t intend to sign up for. Back at GW, I always had the perfect schedule with the perfect professors all planned out, so these uncertain classes made me a bit nervous. But it turned out that I was being overly worrisome. The professors are Sciences Po are… awesome. It didn’t matter that I have no previous knowledge about the subject, they made the class so interesting that I now have this unknown energy and motivation to finish all my readings and take diligent notes in class. (I mean, I did all that back in GW of course, *cough cough*)The one thing that I don’t like about the professors here is that they don’t offer office hours, nor do they respond promptly to my emails. We were warned before we got to Sciences Po that professors here are usually adjunct professors and they all have busy lives outside of the academic life. I guess I’m just used to being able to discuss the topic more in depth during office hours instead of seeing the professors fled the scene as soon as class is over.

We also went on a GW-organized trip to Giverny this Saturday. It was my first GW trip and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the trip. Giverny is the place where French Impressionist Claude Monet lived. He created his famous Water Lilies there and it was very fun to see all the places where he painted.

Monet's house. It was very interesting because there weren't any corridors so in order to go from one end of the house to the other, we had to walk through every room. Talk about no privacy huh.
Monet's house. It was very interesting because there weren't any corridors so in order to go from one end of the house to the other, we had to walk through every room. Talk about no privacy huh.
The bridge in Giverny, Monet's water gardens. He was greatly influenced by Japanese culture so his garden consisted of various bridges and a lot of bamboos.
The bridge in Giverny, Monet's water gardens. He was greatly influenced by Japanese culture so his garden consisted of various bridges and a lot of bamboos.
he famous pond where he painted his water lilies.
The famous pond where he painted his water lilies.

It’s funny because I did not consider myself an “artsy” person before I came to Paris. I do like art but I usually just breezed past them due to lack of time. But because we are technically “French” students, we can get into all the museums and galleries for free, so I ‘ve enjoyed strolling inside the Louvre every Wednesday (because it opens till 9:30pm on Wednesdays and Fridays). I intend to make it a routine thing. It’s very nice to take my time instead of rushing through the gallery like other tourists.

Hotel de VilleOn a side note, the weekend of September 20 and 21 is the French National Heritage weekend. A lot of the offices that are usually closed to public are open on these two days. I was going to go visit the Palace Elysée (aka the White House of France) but the line was insane and I didn’t feel like waiting. So I waundered into Hotel de Ville (the City Hall) instead. Typical French to have golden chandeliers and oil paintings everywhere.Inside City Hall

By mcbitter

Over the past three weeks, I can honestly say that I've never been bored in Paris! There's an abundance of things to do here - in fact, I already know that this semester is going to be really short. (As I'm writing this, it's already September 21st!) I just hope that I'll have enough time to feel like I've made the city my own. That said, here are a few things I like to do with my free time in the City of Lights.

1. Grocery shopping. As mundane as it may sound, shopping for food is actually really fun here! It's interesting to see what kind of products they have in France that are different than the ones at home. (Admittedly, I did eat Oreos today... whoops.) I've shopped at a few different places, including Monoprix (kind of like Target - they have everything!), Franprix (smaller selection but tons of locations), and little produce-only stores. Monoprix is perfect for when you're doing a lot of shopping but you don't know exactly what you need. In particular, I found really good gnocchi and pizza there (I'm buying Italian food in Paris, go figure). Franprix is where I go when I realize I didn't buy something I needed, as it's only a block from my apartment. As for the produce stores, they're all tiny! And yes, the one on my block sells only fruit and veggies. I make sure to buy my bananas and salad ingredients from there because they seem to have a better selection than the larger stores.

2. Bus rides. Overall, Paris has a great public transportation system. Buses, trams, metro, trains, they've got it all. If I'm not in a hurry, I always try to take the bus because it lets you see and appreciate the city. For example, the other day, some friends and I went to the Champs-Elysées after class. The bus ride home showed us many Parisian landmarks as well as low-key places I'd like to check out. Unfortunately, it's impossible to take the bus to class in the mornings because traffic is usually too unpredictable to always make it on time.

3. Museums. There's too many to count! This weekend, my program offered an optional day trip to Giverny, France, where we visited Claude Monet's House and Gardens as well as an Impressionist Museum nearby. On Monday of last week, I stopped by the Louvre for a few hours, the highlight of which was seeing Napoleon's private apartments. (No, I did not brave the crowds to check out the Mona Lisa. Not this time, at least.) Other museums that are on my list are the Musée Rodin (dedicated to the works of sculptor Auguste Rodin) and the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie (the biggest science museum in Europe).

4. Talking with locals. Don't get me wrong, I love hanging out with all of the GW students on my program, but I'm happy to say that I've made French friends, too! Last week, I went to an event called "Franglish," and I can't wait to go to another one. Held Sunday through Wednesday nights at bars around the city, each night accepts 25 English speakers and 25 French speakers, and is aimed at improving your foreign language skills. It's set up like speed-dating (it's not for dating, but that's the best way to describe it!), and with each person, you spend seven minutes speaking in each language. Basically, it's an awesome way to meet locals and exchange a little bit about your lives.

By makenadingwell

I never thought the Scottish and the Spanish had much in common. Maybe blood sausages and a fondness for sports, but even that was a stretch. Nevertheless, the past week has been filled with conversations about Scottish independence and the potential influence on the issue of Cataluña in Spain.

To be fair, they warned us before we met our homestay mothers, “There are three things you shouldn't talk about: religion, politics, or football.” However, after only two weeks, religion had already come up a few times. The second topic of politics arose naturally over paella on Thursday afternoon, the day of the referendum. Reports about the upcoming vote in Scotland, or Escocia, were continuously broadcast on the television or radio every night that week, but I tried to tread lightly in conversation. The Scottish referendum was watched and reported on in great detail in Spain due to the notable influence on the possibility for Catalonian independence, and it seemed like everyone had an opinion in Madrid.

As Pilar, my host mom, took her time ornately preparing the salad and paella, since lunch is a multi-course meal here, the radio played various interviews of opinionated individuals in Cataluña and their view of “Escothia,” as they said in their Spanish accents. After we sat down and I complimented her on her renowned paella, she asked my about my morning classes. I delicately referenced my Political Science class and the debate we had about Scottish Independence. My professor was an expert on the Cataluña case, but I didn't know which side she supported so I spent some time in class trying to gauge her reactions.

She smiled and explained the complexity of the topic, particularly because it seems like everyone has a connection to Cataluña. She also avowed that everyone in Spain had an opinion because the Spanish are equally passionate and stubborn. She assured that we would all learn the next weekend especially on our program excursion to Barcelona. I nodded in response and referenced the lack of similar independence movements within the United States and she agreed. She looked up from her paella, smirked, and said in Spanish, “Seems like your country is better in both politics and football, hmm?”

By clairemac93

When I came to GW as a freshman, I had switched schools every year since I was 13. In fact, coming back to GW for my sophomore year was as much of a foreign concept to me as starting at a new school is for most people. In each new location- Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Germany, and elsewhere, I faced that first day of school and the acquisition of friends with a deep breath, a lot of humility, a sometimes forced sense of humor, as well as walking in the doors with the bar set low.

Doing this abroad takes that much more hutzpah, as in the chaos that is cultural differences and language changes, you sometimes find yourself going mute. I once was quoted that I felt like Ariel from the Little Mermaid abroad, where in exchange for this wonderful experience I lost my voice. But it’s no sob story, rather just a phase in the cultural adjustment pattern of living abroad. Due to my many start-overs in new places, I’d like to suggest some tips for becoming integrated into a new community and how to make friends abroad.

  1. Join organizations, but only ones you actually care about: There is an emphasis on the latter part of this statement, “only the ones you actually care about”. Though I agree that, especially abroad, its good to try new things and go wherever there are people to meet, I also know that I get along better with people who have common interests. I’m also not the best version of myself if I’m doing something I think is a waste of time or not my jam.
  2. Invite people, don’t expect to be invited: I know, it sucks when despite you hitting it off with classmates- you seem to never actually be invited to things. You only hear about them after-the-fact. I also know that inviting yourself to things is both uncomfortable and unsustainable. Rather, instead, invite people. Going to a class at the gym? Invite a friend from class to go with you. Friends on a budget? Host a dinner at your dorm. Want to see a tourist attraction? Invite a local instead of a fellow foreigner. The worst people can say is no, and by way of experience, that “no” rarely happens.
  3. Don’t travel in large groups of Americans: I love me some America, but I’ll be honest in saying that many drop the ball in meeting locals via the simple mistake of moving in large groups of Americans. You are completely unapproachable in a group, and much more approachable on your own. Additionally, recognizing staying among Americans as a crutch of sorts, or a safety blanket, might help you branch out on your own. Why travel if you create your own America abroad?
  4. Capitalize off of your foreignness: I’m not saying you should buy a megaphone and sing the national anthem in the streets (in fact, avoid that very thing) but do let people know you’re interested in learning the culture and ask them to show you what they like most about their own countries. Remind people that you’re only around for a short time. Additionally, find locals who are interested in travel, international relations, or who have gone abroad themselves. They will be the most likely to want to pay it forward and take you under their wing.
  5. Start early: What a shame it is to hit it off with someone only to find yourself with a few weeks to go of the program. Rather, reach out right away, join things immediately upon arriving, and don’t wait until you lose momentum later in the semester/year.
  6. Don’t get discouraged and reach out if necessary: An unfamiliar culture may mean that you just don’t hit it off as easily with people as back home, don’t quite understand their humor, or maybe have less in common. Don’t give up. It’s a hard process to find friends, and it’s the easier option to just settle on foreign friends. But making local friends is a huge part of why you’re abroad, and how you can both learn about the country and teach about your own. So keep trying! Keep putting yourself out there. However, if things start to feel lonely- reach out. Call someone for coffee, go to the movies, skype with a friend back home. Just because you’re struggling to make friends doesn’t entail forced social deprivation.

Hopefully some of these tips are helpful. It is no easy process making local friends, but I think its just as much a part of studying abroad and sightseeing and learning the language. I was lucky enough to make my two best friends during my first couple weeks here through our common interest in German language. See here:

New Friends: Helen, Liz, and I
New Friends: Helen, Liz, and I

By Hannah Radner

I am heading into my last few full days at home (thank gooodness). Those of us who are active members on the LSE General Course Facebook group continue to converse about how people at home think we have flunked out of university because we are still here. A common greeting is some variation of "Hello! When are you leaving?" With a sigh and a somewhat frustrated chuckle, thinking, "I was born ready, please get me out of here," I reply, "Wednesday. I leave on Wednesday night."
Having a great deal of free time between the end of my summer job and my departure has allowed me ample time to get my fill of things I may miss over the next nine months, including the best ice cream ever at the shop where I used to work, fresh bagels from the shop next to it, my dad's pancakes, Pizzeria Regina, and free public restrooms. Boston is my home, but it is not my only home, and in the future it will become one of many. I hope to make London one of the many, just as I have made DC a home. I will miss it, though, along with some other things, in no particular order:

1. My cat, Fuzz. She has been moody all her life, and she is not afraid to let us know when she does not like to be touched. I was always convinced that she didn't like me even though she lived in my bedroom (litter box and all) during the first few weeks we had her. It took me nearly 11 years to figure out how to get her to not run away from me, but I did it. Rub her ears and she dissolves into a puddle. I will miss her "I'm plotting to kill you/you're all idiots" face and her little kitty paws.

2. Eastern Standard Time. I will miss this mostly in relation to my new time zone, which is five hours ahead, and only when it involves communicating with people stuck five hours in the past, which is my entire family and 99% of my USA friends.

3. Any food I find out Britain does not have. I have asked Siri multiple times if they have x kind of food in England. So far, I have found that they do have donuts (they even have two Dunkin Donuts in London! I am saved!), bananas, peanut butter and cheddar cheese (according to Wikipedia it originated there). The jury is still out on bagels. I will keep you updated, as I am sure this is a burning question on everyone's mind.

4. My bed. I always find ways to make my dorm beds comfortable, whether it be with mattress toppers or soft blankets, I do what I need to do. My bed at home though will always be the most comfortable for some reason.

5. Baseball. I know somebody somewhere in London must care about baseball. I will find the pub that shows the World Series and I will be there. Being a Red Sox fan forever and always, my preferred postseason does not exist, but how about those Nationals, right?

There are also things I will not miss about home:

1. My hometown. There is barely anything to do during the summer when people are home from school, but when there is no one gone, you are in at 8 p.m. and you are in for the night. Cities breathe life into me and this is no city.

2. Massachusetts drivers. No one knows how to drive. The end.

3. My neighbors. They are very loud at all times of day. I don't mind noise (again, I am a city person), but I prefer not to know every detail of every argument you have.

4. Most American news networks. Bring on the BBC!

5. WINTER. Average winter temperatures in London are in the 40s, and it rarely snows due to the lack of freezing temperatures. I am okay with this as I started to get cabin fever with all the snow days we had a GW last year.

Finally, there are things I don't have to miss because the UK has them!

1. Chipotle. But do they have sofritas?

2. Starbucks. Not really for the coffee, but the free WiFi.

3. Shake Shack. Overpriced times 1.63 in London, but still worth it.

4. Wagamama. Noodles matter.

5. NANDO'S. I feel so blessed going to school in the only city outside the UK that has Nando's, so it will be like going home, really. I will never have to miss Nando's.

This has been a comprehensive list of things that matter most to me, not including my family and friends (obviously on the "Things I will miss" list), because that's pretty much a given. I look forward to sending you all myriad postcards. My next blog post will be finally be coming to you live from London, England.

By Jess Yacovelle

I've only been in London for two weeks, and already I've encountered a slew of rather interesting cultural food decisions. Admittedly, some of the food I've tried has tasted better than others. Here are the 5 most memorable dishes I've consumed!

1) Chips. I don't mean potato chips; no, I'm talking big, thick steak fries. Chips in England are generally very large and not as salty as most Americans are used to. They are absolutely delicious, however, and way better than most fries served in the US.

2) Yorkshire pudding. Which is, by the way, not real pudding. It's essentially a sugar-less donut in both look and taste... until you realize it's served with meat and covered in gravy. Perhaps my own personal distaste for gravy stunted my ability to enjoy this good, but I most confess that the Yorkshire pudding wasn't really to my taste. Give me English chips over Yorkshire pudding any day!

3) A cheese plate. Not so unusual, right? After all, we serve this in the states as an hors d'oeurve or an appetizer. In England, however, you're far more likely to see a cheese plate listed as a dessert, and not just in the posh restaurants. They serve you three or four really strong cheeses with crackers and biscuits - aka shortbread cookies. I've never eaten cheese on a cookie before, but I must admit that it was better than expected.

4) Scones. Again, we have these in the US, but we tend to stick with simple flavors: blueberry, chocolate chip, plain... I stumbled across a mint and green pea scone with basil and cream cheese on top. Let me tell you, you have not been adventurous until you've tried something that out of the box. It was interesting (certainly better than the salmon and walnut scone, but I dislike fish), however the flavors were almost too overwhelming.

5) Rabbit. Yeah, I ate little bunny foo-foo. I was given a rabbit's leg - on the bone - and a stew with kidney beans and vegetables. The rabbit itself wasn't bad; it was a little tough in texture, and it tasted like a chewy chicken. That being said, it was a weird experience, especially since we have such a perception about rabbits in the United States to be adorable little creatures. The entire time I was eating, I couldn't get over the fact that in the US, we might have made this bunny someone's pet. The meal was delicious, but I don't think I'll be ordering it again.

Sandboarding in Namibia

I’ll be honest in saying that in going abroad, I knew little about South Africa itself. I knew even less about other countries in Africa. The fact is, I learned most of what I know now through research directly before leaving, being an avid news-reader, and by being here and just listening to people talk. In light of this, by the end of my first couple months in South Africa I grew more and more aware of its neighboring countries- their quirks, stereotypes, politicians, former colonizers, and economic statuses. One of these countries is Namibia.

Namibia borders South Africa to the north-west and used to be named South-West Africa. It was originally colonized by the Germans who retained it until the end of WWI. After this, the League of Nations gave the territory of Namibia over to South Africa, who at the time were practicing apartheid policies. With the transition of land rights came sweeping reforms to life in Namibia.

Namibia is super small, population-wise, however large by land. It has a population of 2.1 million, yet is about the size of Venezuela. Though colonized by the Germans, the white population is only about 6.4% of the population. The black population is split by tribe between the Herero, Himba, Ovambo and Damara. The differences between the tribes was a unique part of apartheids influence specifically in Namibia. As opposed to in South Africa where black was just black, in Namibia ethnicity was split among the black population as well. When the Group Areas Act separated ethnic groups into designated locations, they split the blacks by their tribes as well. This was clever, for lack of a better word, of the leaders of apartheid, as they gave slightly different living standards to each tribe. This pitted tribes against one another, as some were given shacks with no water, while living across from another tribe given a stone one story building for a family home. In this way, tension was created between the black ethnic groups, which drew away attention from the whites living in standards incomparable to blacks and coloureds. White people lived in town, in houses resembling those once seen in West Germany.IMG_0860

Much like South Africa, the divisions of apartheid have remained mostly unchanged geographically and economically. Although laws do not prevent the movement of people “into town” as they say in Swakopmund, or rather just out of the township, it is silly to use that as proof that the system of apartheid is entirely over. The townships are literally entirely black/coloured, whereas in anything resembling a middle-class neighborhood it’s almost entirely white. There is little chance for mobility after generations of people growing up in extreme poverty as if even water and bread are hard to bring home, and if even building a shack on land costs you rent, you will never be able to move upwards. Namibia has a program going on that is similar to South Africa- building nicer and more stable homes in township areas- it does little to address the problem as rent is then that much more for that specific new home due to its higher quality. To avoid the rent, many move onto land and illegally live there in shacks until the government kicks them off.

This being stated, there are noticeably better race relations in Namibia vs. South Africa. Our first culture shock in traveling there was at a gas station- seeing a white man and black woman, middle aged, carrying their coloured child. I could not tell you the last time I saw a mixed race couple in South Africa, and it was rare enough that both my roommate and I stood in shock of what we were seeing after living in South Africa for 8 months. The shocks kept coming as in restaurants, coffee houses, clubs, and malls- we saw black and white hanging out like it aint’ no thang. Had I come straight to Namibia from the States I would have never given these scenarios a second glance, but I suppose after 8 months in a country still highly self-segregating, I forgot what it was like to live not side-by-side, but intermixed among races.

While in Namibia, I went to both Swakopmund and Windhoek. Swakopmund is a small coastal town that is “predominantly” German-speaking, at least in the town, but predominantly Bantu-speaking everywhere else. Though the town itself is chilly and cold, it is surrounded by hot desert. Windhoek, on the other hand, is the capital and more inland- meaning a good ten degrees hotter. The other major cities are Oshakati and Walvis Bay. Namibia is incredibly eco-friendly- as water is a precious commodity and much of their tourism comes from nature-related activities.

IMG_0856The most touchy issue in Namibia is the mines. Mining is Namibia’s largest business, whether it be uranium, diamonds, or copper- providing 25% of its GDP. But mining isn’t just a business in Africa. It’s politics, its health-care, it’s employment, its…everything. For example, all fresh water in the area of Swakopmund is first used by the mines- as they can only use fresh water, and then is recycled for drinking water for the population. This means a lot of chlorine in the water, which makes a noticeable difference. On the other hand, the mines also employ a lot of the population and pay for a lot of the infrastructure development going on in the country. Volumes could be written about the effects of mining in Africa but I’ll leave it at being a touchy issue.

Ultimately, Namibia has a lot in common with South Africa, and was an interesting place to visit and a nice break from my studies. Certainly worth the 54 hours in transit!

By mcbitter

Does the life of a typical college student look the same in the United States and in France? Or does 3,828 miles create a world of difference?

During my two weeks in Paris, I've had a lot of opportunities to interact with French students and figure out the answer to this question. As you might guess, SciencesPo students are very similar to those at GW in some ways (the resemblance can be almost scary), but in other ways, we could be from different planets. Here are a few of my observations!

In general, many of the French students seem to be involved in the myriad of opportunities that SciencesPo offers - intramural sports, political groups, you name it, they have it. I've seen this firsthand through the five SciencesPo students in my program. I asked one of them what groups he was involved with, and I was still listening to his answer five minutes later (not really, but you get the point). In my experience, many GW students are the same way, getting involved with things like Greek life, student leadership roles, and academic organizations. In fact, one GW organization - the Student Association - has a French twin at SciencesPo! The BDE, or Bureau des Elèves, is their version of student council and seems to be one of the most well-received groups on campus. This past week, they hosted a party at the Moulin Rouge called the Soirée d'Intégration, a kind of beginning of the school year event.BDE Logo

One thing that is very different between the lives of American and French college students is campus jobs. At GW, I have had a position on campus each semester (shoutout to GW Jumpstart and the Center for Career Services!). At SciencesPo, having a campus job is far less common (and I'm not even positive if many are offered). Internships during the year don't seem to be very common among French students, either. One of the students in my program was telling me that he always tries to get an internship in December when they're on winter break. Overall, this concept was pretty foreign to me, especially coming from a place like Washington, DC, where student jobs and internships are in abundance.

Speaking of DC, you would think that SciencesPo and GW had a lot of shared elements due to the city environment, but that's not exactly the case. SciencesPo doesn't have dormitories, so students either live in apartments around the city or with their families. Everyone uses public transportation to get to school, and commuting can take over an hour every morning. (Mine is about 35 minutes.) It's not uncommon for students to live together, though, just as upperclassmen at GW frequently choose to do. Because there are no students living on campus, SciencesPo is pretty much closed on the weekends - aside from the library, which is open on Saturdays.

All of that said, if you sit in SciencesPo's garden around noon, the scene could very easily be one at an American university. The garden, or le jardin, is where many students congregate to de-stress from classes and schoolwork. I'm fond of grabbing lunch at the nearby campus food places (you can't beat a baguette du jambon et beurre that costs two euros!) and sitting down on benches or the grass with friends. Additionally, people are fond of grabbing an espresso together after class, and there's even a Starbucks nearby for us Americans who crave it!

Overall, learning about the similarities and differences between French and American students has been an interesting process. Adjusting to a new school kind of felt like being a freshman again, as it adds a whole new layer of things to learn, but it's not too difficult once you get the hang of it!

By Jess Yacovelle

I've been in London for about a week now, and I've been surprised as to how similar the UK is to the United States. Sure, there are small cultural differences here and there (such as the UK's startling lack of peanut butter, for one), but for the most part, the two countries aren't quite so different. Or, at least, that's what I thought before I ventured into Argos.

If you've been to the UK, or you watch British panel and comedy shows, you've heard the store's name thrown about here or there. The concierges at the hotel I've been staying at have equated Argos to an American store like Target. Having been to Argos, I can say with full confidence that anyone who compares Argos to Target has never set foot in a Target.

Basically, Argos is a warehouse - a bit like Costco, really - only instead of being inside the warehouse, patrons don't get to look at the items they're about to buy until they've already paid for them. Instead, they flip through a catalogue searching for what they want, then enter the ID number into the computer and hope it's in stock.

It's very much like shopping online, but without the added benefit of knowing the store has whatever you want to order. I set foot in Argos with a list of 12 things (blankets, pillows, towels, etc). Of the 12 things, 4 were completely out of stock, and 3 were only available in limited sizes.

The amazing thing is that this is not only considered a normal shopping practice in the UK, but it's beloved by the people there. Whereas my mother and I got frustrated by the lack of stuff, everyone else in the shop looked pretty cheerful, or at least content. As Americans, we were annoyed and upset by the lack of availability of our items, but the locals accepted this as a fact of life with ease.

Unwittingly, I stumbled upon the greatest difference between the UK and the US. Americans are a little more uptight; we expect for things to be easy, and when they aren't we get upset. Even if it's only a minor inconvenience, such as the towels coming in the wrong sizes, we're still conditioned to be angry. The Brits have a different attitude. They accept that sometimes things don't go the way you want them to, and there's no use getting frustrated over the matter. They don't focus heavily on the minor unpleasantries; they know it's okay if Argos doesn't have any comforters in stock because it's not the end of the world.