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By makenadingwell

image (2)After five strenuous midterms I packed my backpack and met the group before dawn on Friday for our long bus ride to Galicia. I can’t sleep on buses, mostly because I don’t want to miss anything along the way. In Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux said he, “hated parachuting into a place. I needed to be able to link one place to another.” I believed in this principle wholeheartedly, and therefore saw the dry grass grow green and full in a dreamy daze.

We first stopped in Léon, a small, misty city founded in the 1st century BC, to see the Basilica of San Isidoro. Full of beautiful stained glass, a gothic design, and a crisp coldness, the Basilica was vast and impressive. The stop was concluded by a quick walk through the historic area of Léon and a hearty lunch, during which we discovered that a customary Spanish steak was barely cooked. image (3)

Finally we crossed into Galicia and arrived in Santiago de Compostela at sunset. Our excursion was filled with unique, yet refreshing plans for the rest of the weekend. On Saturday morning we arrived in O Grove, a quiet coastal town, for a small cruise around the fjord. We ate mussels along the way, occasionally feeding one or two to curious seagulls after our professor demonstrated how to do so. After a peaceful picnic by the water, we returned back to a walking tour of Santiago.

Before leaving for Spain, I hadn’t heard much about the Camino de Santiago besides a few musings from my friends. However we learned plenty during our tour of the famous Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, hearing all about the pilgrimage to the Cathedral and the religious significance behind it. We finally climbed the old steps to the roof to peer over the stretch of red rooftops in the historic part of the city and the ornately sculpted stone towers.

image (4)The most refreshing and unexpected stop was the visit to Las Médulas, the site of an old gold mine of the Roman Empire, on the way home on Sunday afternoon. After a quick stroll to the viewpoint we gasped at the remarkably colossal rich towers of red rock scattered along the landscape. We sloppily scuttled down the hillside trail through a blanket of fallen leaves and tall barren trees to draw closer to the towers and preserved caves.

While the previous excursion to Barcelona was glitzy and exciting, the visit to Galicia was unparalleled. Perhaps it was the relaxation after the stress of exams or the lack of expectations, but the break from Madrid and the escape to green hillsides and a sea breeze has been my favorite stop by far.image (1)image (5)

By Hannah Radner

Having finished two weeks of classes at LSE, I feel I am finally somewhat qualified to write on the subject of academics here. In these last few weeks I have seen elements that both distinguish LSE from GW and make it similar. Because I love lists, here's a new one of my observations:

1. I have only finished two weeks of classes! This is my first observation. The first week, starting on October 6, was all lectures, which are optional and open to the public. My classes (discussion sections) started last week, and many classes for quantitative courses do not start until this week. The 'shopping period' for courses officially ends on October 31, meaning if I was really indecisive I could potentially not know which courses I was taking until the term is nearly half over. Thankfully I am not in that position, and I probably wouldn't recommend LSE to anyone who ever anticipated doing this because...

2. ...We hit the ground running. Not unlike GWU, most of my lectures dove right into the course material, and I've already had my first in-class presentation. Professors tell us when our papers are due throughout the year. Our reading lists are online and we are expected to check them regularly, though never explicitly told what is due next week. This is probably because we have the ability to pick and choose what to read beyond the 3-4 core class readings we have each week, which brings me to my next observation...

3. ...Study is highly independent. We have so much choice in what we read so that everyone can bring something to the discussion; professors want us to read about specific subjects that interest us within the scope of the course so we are more likely to do our best work. As we all know, it's easier to do work when you like what you're doing. As study abroad students, we can take just about any class we want. Regular students must take courses within their specific programme and follow a core track, and have very little wiggle room or opportunity for electives, which they call options. The only proof we show that we've done the reading comes in the form of our participation in class discussions, essays, and come summer term, exams, which determine 100% of our final grade, which is why...

4. ...I will not cram for exams this year. I cannot lie, I do most of my studying in the week leading up to my exams at GWU, and not much sooner. While professors in the US say it doesn't work, our courses only last for the duration of one term, we are doing constant written work to keep us up-to-date, and we have several quizzes and/or tests and/or essays in the course of a term. When push comes to shove, it's often easy to cram and do well at home because we know more than we think come exam time. Here, it is all on us to revise and study throughout the year so we don't fall behind. In summer term, starting at the end of April, there is one final hurrah of holing up in the library and doing nothing else for a few weeks before exams begin. This time, when professors tell us not to cram, I will not only hear them but I will listen because I am secretly terrified.

5. Having a social life is not optional if you want to remain sane. Daylight is the time to read and study, while dusk till dawn is when people frequent pubs, clubs (LSE has one of each in its student center), films, theatre, sport, etc. The possibilities are endless. Study dates and rendez-vous are also acceptable, as one can often find groups of friends studying together in the library. Misery loves company! (Disclaimer: I don't mean school is miserable, just reading like 400 pages at a time can be a downer sometimes. You know what I mean.)

If anyone needs me, I'll be in the library studying for the exams I have in seven months.

By clairemac93

I am 9 months into my time here in South Africa. For the most part, that means I’ve gotten so used to the things that once shocked me that I don’t even see them anymore. This is just a consequence of living somewhere- and they aren’t all bad. I no longer notice the huge looming mountain tops around town that used to awe me every day. I no longer am taken aback at the beggars following me on my way home from the grocery store, and in fact have had some of my most successful conversations in Afrikaans with them. I no longer notice that the internet is slow, or that races don’t interact much, or how every single house here has a fence or wall around its entire exterior. Surprisingly, as someone who considers themselves relatively tough-skinned when faced with insults to my country, the one thing that to this day has not lost its shock-factor are the feelings of South Africans against America and Americans.

Now, I get it—“it’s all in good fun”. “It’s just a joke”. Trust me, I can take some puns at Americans. In fact, they annoy me a lot too when I’m traveling. They’re unnecessarily loud, especially when they know others are listening. They’re ignorant- a stereotype that is very accurate and which I’ve even noticed in my own lack of knowledge. They travel in huge groups and don’t interact with locals despite having come all the way to [fill in location here]. So yes. I’m not shooting stars and stripes out of my extremities.

However, I am also “proud to be an American” in my own way. I have traveled enough to see the many opportunities that having grown up in the United States has provided me, how many opportunities I was allowed purely because of my citizenship, how much our country has contributed to world history and innovation, and how many amazing cities and states we have. I was offered scholarships for study, to meet people of different upbringings. I never had to worry about receiving schooling, food, shelter, or worry that my politicians weren’t watching out for my general welfare. I ran around my neighborhood as a child, and knew all of my neighbors. And national holidays were, to me, a thing to look forward to and to celebrate having grown up in the States, and still are.

I truly believe that despite what the world way think- that America is culture-less, that that itself is an impossibility. When you meet an American abroad, the entire reason you bond is due to a shared culture—a point of commonality despite whatever differences you may have. I’m not saying it’s the most sophisticated culture—our commonalities might be cereal brands we can only get at home, peanut butter sandwiches, pancakes and our favorite 90’s cartoons, or a common university that you share friends and family at. We bond in going to football games and picking pumpkins at Halloween and sitting down for a meal at Thanksgiving. I think Americans share a lot more in common than they think. And I personally am tired of feeling that I need to be ashamed of my nationality. I am often hit with the phrase, “But Claire, you’re a cool American” or comments on me being the exception to the rule, as if the other 316 million people are innately bad, just by being born in my country.

What’s interesting is that in traveling you tend to run into one of two Americans—regardless of age. There are those who are bazooka-ing you with patriotism and will come to the defense of legitimately any claim against the United States. Then there are those who have picked up on ill feelings towards the US and hate on their country before anyone else does. These both seem like bad options and sort of ingenuine. I think it’s important to strike a balance, with any country, between your pros and cons and to be open to someone else’s respectful opinion. Most importantly, I think it is important to try to speak on behalf of the general population- always remembering that you may be the only American someone ever speaks with and whatever you say may be associated with your country. For example, I have an American friend who likes to rave about how many firearms he and his father own whenever someone approaches him about the issue of gun control in the US. What could have been a productive conversation on media and stereotypes and the diversity of people in the US turns into a game on how intensely someone can fit a stereotype. You can see him getting the shocked reactions he aimed for and you almost witness in their eyes that a stereotype has been solidified forever. Those are chances to act as the middle man- to say what your family does but to also say that plenty of people don’t own firearms and that the reason there aren’t any laws restricting them is due to the NRA’s political influence. This may shed some light on information that foreigners do not know. But many, instead, just tend to shoot to one or the other side of American representation.

Despite always wanting to be a representative of the general public of the States, I’ve run into more than a few snags here in South Africa. I never suspected that anti-american feelings would be worse here than in Germany, but they are. 9 months in and almost daily someone, a professor or fellow student, says something against my country—not to me but in my presence. Most of it is ignorant- assuming were all idiots, we eat fast food 24-7, are all obese, racist, greedy, etc. Rarely do I get approached with a mature argument on political or economic grounds- rather people take easy hits to America’s belly. But sometimes the issues are more serious, such as when I was yelled at for what was going on in Ferguson and told by a South African that “if American can’t even figure out their racial issues, how can they criticize South Africa for theirs?” And I’m not going to lie, it gets old. I can only softly smile and say, “Oh, we're not all like that” or the most common “That’s only in the movies” so many times. I start to wonder why if I insulted a majority Muslim country or an east Asian country I would be considered a bigot or insensitive, yet if I insult the US at every turn its considered socially acceptable. Especially in a country like South Africa, in which I could freely insult blatant inequality differences, racism, lack of education, or any number of other social issues- I don’t. So I find it entertaining at best but insulting at most that South Africans have been so apt to, despite obvious issues of their own, throw so much shade at the United States. Perhaps it is just easier to say, “Hey look over there! Look at how much they’re screwing up!” to distract people from domestic issues.

Essentially, the United States is the country I grew up in, and the one I will go back to. It is a country that, when all is said and done, I am proud to be a part of and proud to represent and which I wish people could experience for themselves to see how diverse it is. I don’t need to be a patriot to respect the amount my country has contributed to who I am and to my values. I suppose it is just difficult to identify with a country whose business is so publically broadcasted, whose movies and music is consumed by the world, and whose political decisions aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, nor mine.

I’m just realizing that solidifying how I feel to be an American abroad is one of my hardest challenges here.

By anuhyabobba

Social exclusion has been a prominent topic in my courses here in Buenos Aires. Each of my courses requires a presentation, and for two out of four, I have presented on this topic as it relates to basic slum geography, how the environment intersects with socioeconomics, and more.

Slums are horribly present in Latin America but also very excluded from the reality of many. Typically located on the periphery of major urban areas, slums are known for their “bad geology” as Mike Davis puts it in The Planet of Slums. The land on which they are situated tends to be land that is not meant for residence. For example, the Villa Inflamable in Buenos Aires is located by the highly polluted Matanza River. The homes in this slum are low lying, so often residents pay surrounding petrochemical companies to dump waste nearby that can then be used to prop their homes higher.

If you live in the central part of the city, you are most likely to not see a slum in your time. That to me was one of the scariest notions to come to terms with in my study abroad time: people living in the worst of conditions, but because they are located in a socially isolated area, their reality becomes separate and often ignored. The relationship  slums have with the government, which is meant to protect you, is one characterized by negativity. The government rarely channels help to the slums, and probably the largest interaction slum residents see with the government is when law enforcement is either evicting them from their land or for arrests. It is a cycle of systemic violence where people are not living in the worst of conditions as mentioned before but also are forced in a way to remain there. Socioeconomic mobility is near to impossible. The stigma associated with slums even renders it difficult for residents to obtain a job in the central city, with employers turning away potential applicants if they see their address as located within a slum. In Buenos Aires, slums are called “villas miserias” or misery towns. The name itself speaks volumes. They began to expand as a result of the Argentine economic crisis in the early 2000s -- the effect of which is present to this day.

Through coursework, I have come to further grasp the variety of factors that play into social exclusion, a topic that I touched upon barely in my undergraduate studies. While I was aware that slums existed, I did not delve into the structural conditions that allow for them to exist. In doing so, I am more aware than I have ever been, providing the background knowledge needed to question next how these conditions can be challenged.

By sreyavaidya

At home, we are often in our own bubbles that tend to shape our identity to a point where we are desensitized to it. At home, little did I realize the diversity of American identity. Whether it is Indian-American, Asian American, or Italian-American we come in a spectrum that often eventually blurs out in the chaos of daily life.

However, in Morocco I’ve been forced to step out of this comfort zone. Never have I been made more aware of my Indian identity than when I encounter a cab driver in Rabat. He looks at my friends and immediately acknowledges “Ah, Amreekia” and then turns to me, with a pending curiosity and asks “But…what are you really”. One gentleman did not even give me the liberty to respond; he immediately questioned “Indian or Pakistani?”

Initially when the frequency with my “true” identity was question, began to annoy me. Why is it that I had to explain myself as an American when my friends did not? Suddenly, there was a barrier between us, which I either nor they had put up. At one point, this bothered even my friends. I remember my roommate responding very loudly before I could even process his question,

“No, she is American”. ...continue reading "Amreekia?"

By marisalgado94

Universidade Federal de Bahia- UFBA

I have now completed three weeks of classes at the Federal University of Brazil in Bahia and in that short time, I have learned so much about Brazil's education system.  UFBA is just one of Brazil's many different public universities and in Salvador, there are multiple UFBA campuses located in various neighborhoods around the city.  Universities in Brazil are much different from the US because students don't live on campus and each campus is centered around a specific area of study.  For public health, we have been attending the Escola de Enfermagem en Canela (the Nursing school that is located in Canela), but there is also an architecture school, a polytechnic campus, and a music school.  The most interesting thing that I learned about universities in Brazil is that public universities are much better than private ones because of the amount of government support that they receive and because they are better educational institutions, spaces are limited and highly competitive.  How does a student get into the university?

It all starts with what sort of primary education you get.  In Brazil, most public schools are only half day and have two sessions- kids either go in the morning or in the afternoon.  Public schools across the board lack the proper resources, funding, and support from the government, and as a result, a lot of students just get pushed through the system.  Private school on the other hand, provide a top notch education for a price that only those in the highest socioeconomic levels can afford.  At the end of your time in high school, all students who wish to attend the government funded and supported public institutions must take an exam.  The results of the exam determine your acceptance to the public university and as a result, those who are better prepared through private primary and secondary schooling take up the spots in the public universities.

For those who do not gain a spot in the public universities, if they still want to attend college they must pay the extremely high fees and costs that private universities charge.  What's interesting is that the elite in Brazil who can afford to pay for private schooling for 12 years then get to attend universities for very low costs while someone who is from a lower socioeconomic level who wants to further their education has to find a way to pay costly school fees.

This educational system has, for many years, privileged the wealthy and marginalized the poor as private school students funnel into public universities, leaving little space for students who did not have the same type of access to education.  Because social class and race are so intricately woven together in Brazil, a large number of Afro Brazilians who wanted to attend universities were unable to because of their inability to shoulder the financial burden of a private institution.  Some universities saw this as an issue and have for many years instituted quota systems in order to diversify their student bodies while also providing opportunities for hard working students.  On a national level, however, affirmative action laws were only instituted by the Brazilian government in 2012.  Although it is still early to tell, the hope is that this will level the playing field and allow for a new and diverse group of students to be attending universities and create a new generation of leaders in Brazil whose backgrounds are more reflective of the population as a whole.

While education in Brazil has a ways to go, I believe that the tide is turning for the better.  I have enjoyed my time at UFBA.  In the next few weeks, I hope to find ways to get more involved on the campus, find ways to take advantage of academic resources as I begin my research, and make some more Brazilian friends!  Every single day here has been a new adventure and I continue to fall in love with the people, the culture, and slowly but surely improve my Portuguese. Fingers crossed for my first exam tomorrow... espero poder passar!

By claudiainpune

Staying true to yourself and withholding your identity while in India is something that I think everyone on my program has struggled to deal with. It's tricky to find that right balance between not being culturally inappropriate and also being yourself. I think most of this experience has been comprised more of me trying to assimilate into their cultural and their lifestyle versus the other way around. I am more focused on understanding my surroundings and integrating myself into my host community than letting my identity shine. However, I don't necessarily think this is making me mute. Nor am I in any way saying that my host community is shutting me down and not accommodating my personal needs. ...continue reading "Shaking hands on the third date"

By rbhargava

As of tomorrow, I'll only have one more month in South Africa. Although that is still quite a long time, everything already seems to be in terms of how little time is left. In fact, this week will be my last in class, as my last day is this Friday...after that I'm free! Of course, I have mixed feelings about that, and would not mind a few more weeks of classes since I've thoroughly enjoyed every week I've been here.

This past weekend, my program took us on a weekend camping retreat to Silvermine, an area just south of Table Mountain on the Cape Peninsula. Our campsite was situated right in the middle of the cape, with quite a high elevation. Just to the west was Hout Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, and to the east was the Cape Flats and False Bay. The area was beautiful and quite strange in that it was very isolated from the city but yet surrounded by Cape Town and the suburbs at the same time (if you google Silvermine on a map you would understand what I'm saying). We arrived on Friday afternoon and spent much of the afternoon relaxing, trying to climb across a rock wall there, and exploring the area. We had a braai (South African barbecue) for dinner and then enjoyed star gazing for quite a while. The sky was surprisingly clear considering all the light pollution nearby, and I was able to see 3 shooting stars in a short period. Growing up near NYC and now studying in DC, seeing 3 shooting stars was a mind boggling event for me. On Saturday morning, we left for a long hike around the area, hiking to the Elephant's Eye Cave high up on the peninsula from where one could see much of the Cape Flats, False Bay, and far out towards Stellenbosch. From there we hiked even further to one of the highest points on the peninsula - Constantiaberg and ate lunch overlooking the beautiful Hout Bay. We hiked back to our campsite afterwards, with a brief stop at the Silvermine Dam to cool off. Arriving back at our campsite, we rested a bit before the three students on our program (Hunter, Dave, and I) made 15 minute presentations on our themes for the semester - mine being sustainable transport systems. The rest of the evening was quite uneventful, besides some more great stargazing and a few more shooting stars! We left our campsite early the next morning to head back to Stellenbosch. The weekend retreat was an excellent way to escape Stellenbosch one last time and appreciate our time abroad thus far. I calculated that Friday and Saturday night were my 10th and 11th nights sleeping in the great outdoors here in South Africa, and I certainly will miss all my great camping nights here (although almost all of them were great struggles between me and my sleeping bag in an attempt to stay warm).

By mcbitter

During my time here in Paris, I’ve been able to check out academics at not only Sciences Po but also at my friend’s university in Lille, France (I visited the campus and sat through her constitutional law class). Experiencing both these schools has made me realize that there are some things people back at home might wonder about school in France!

Do Sciences Po students have an equivalent to dreaded all-nighters at Gelman?

  • Yes and no. The library on campus (which is full ALL the time) is only open until about 9:30 pm on weeknights, which we were all stunned to discover! The French students have told me that when they have a ton of work, they just go home at the end of the day to finish it (and yes, they do have those late nights too).

What are French classes like?

  • What I’ve heard is that the typical French style of teaching is a professor lecturing at you for two hours. This was exactly what happened during my friend’s constitutional law class in Lille. I’m not sure if I would be able to stand that - thankfully there’s a lot of interaction in all of my classes!
  • Another important part of classes at Sciences Po is the exposé. Here’s how I understand it. In about a half hour’s presentation, you’re working off a discussion question (the “problematique”) given to you by a professor. You have to give your opinion, frame your argument, and provide evidence to back it up. You can also engage the class in discussion after you’re finished. I have an exposé slotted for mid-November, so we’ll see how it goes!

What are professor-student relationships like in France?

  • The French students in my program are absolutely amazed at how personal American students are with their professors! French students don’t really know much about their professors aside from the material that their teaching. My GW marketing professor (hi Professor Maddox!) demonstrated the exact opposite of this, as she would give examples from her daily or personal life to add to whatever we were talking about in class. Professors still provide letters of recommendation and such for their students, but overall, the two groups are very distanced.

Overall, it’s been really cool to see the differences between colleges in the States and in France. I’ve still got a month and a half to go though, so I’m bound to discover more!

By Jess Yacovelle

London is one of the most expensive cities in the world. So how are you supposed to eat delicious food without busting the bank or settling for American fast food? Have no fear, here are 5 affordable places to eat that I've discovered in London.

1) Nando's. This South African cuisine is truly a London staple. You can order large amounts of chicken for a little bit of money, or simply bask in the glow of their delicious side dishes: sweet potato mash, garlic bread, spicy rice... Nando's has something for everyone, and the peri-peri sauce that they cook their chicken in is to die for.

2) Slug and Lettuce. If you want to take the time to dine without paying a fortune for food, Slug and Lettuce is a great place to try. The food is healthy, the portions are large, and the menu is well-varied. Be cautioned, though, drinks are expensive.

3) Camden Market. This isn't a restaurant, but rather a marketplace. Open every day, this market features affordable food from every culture imaginable: Polish, Mexican, French, Chinese... whatever suits your fancy, it's at Camden Market. Check out some of the sweeter booths (like cakes or crepes) for dessert. Be aware that it's mainly a cash-only market, though.

4) Belushi's. This is a bar/restaurant chain that has locations all over the UK. The food is quintessential sports bar food: nachos, burgers, hot dogs... But bars are notorious for being expensive places to eat, right? Wrong! Belushi's is partnered with local hostels, so they offer student discounts such as 25% off all food to their student customers. It's well worth the trip!

5) Pret a Manger. Pret isn't necessarily the cheapest sandwich shop in London, but there is literally one on nearly every corner, so it's pretty convenient. Pret has premade sandwiches, salads, and baked goods. Their coffee is also really delicious, so explore their liquid beverages.