Skip to content

By kennatim

IMG_4358There is a phrase the Irish are very fond of: “It will all be grand.” It basically the Irish answer to “Keep calm and carry on” or “Don’t worry, be happy.” One of our program directors has repeated this mantra to our group of 34 students repeatedly because many Irish customs are difficult to get used to. For example, classes start tomorrow and I am still unsure of what exactly I am taking. This is completely normal for Irish students, whereas in the U.S. I would have already purchased my overpriced textbooks two months ago. Something as simple as the realization that the school library is closed on Sundays can leave a study abroad student’s head spinning.

Aside from these minor bumps in the road, the first week has been remarkably exciting. Dublin City University is about a 20-minute bus ride from Dublin City Centre. My friends and I have taken every opportunity to go explore the city and I have felt like I have spent an eternity on the bus. It has not deterred me from having fun, as those bus rides are spent with good friends and, thankfully, free Wi-fi.

The beginning has mostly consisted of trips to the supermarket and mall, get situated, orientation sessions, and making friends. With 34 people in the program, it is interesting to consider the dynamics of friend groups made and changed. The highlight of my week was when I got a tap on the shoulder late one night in the city centre. I turned to find a face it took me a second to recognize. The day before, I had met a group of French exchange students trying to find a basketball to play with at the DCU gym. I joined them. Although our basketball search came up short, it was so funny to find my new friend about 45 minutes from campus. We exchanged Facebook information, and obviously had to take a photo.

One of the biggest challenges for me is just getting accustomed to the cultural differences. The only time I have really gotten homesick was when I was unable to find pretzels in two grocery stores. Getting lost in the city, committing cultural faux-pas (which I will discuss next week) and the academic differences are just a few of the challenges I have faced. I am eager to continue to learn about the city and get used to Irish customs. I cannot wait to feel like a local and be (hopefully) able to be a good tour guide in the city for visiting friends and family.

By mluevano17

I identify myself as having a Mexican ethnicity and an American nationality. My background is mostly a source of pride for myself but it can be quite confusing. One of the main issues for me is the fact that I do not look or act according to many people’s expectations of a person with Mexican ethnicity. I find discomfort in the fact that for many people in the United States, especially in my home state of California; “Mexican” also brings up subjects such as “illegal immigration” or a certain kind of job such as “housekeeper” or “gardener”. ...continue reading "My Identity"

How do you identify yourself and why?

As a straight, white male, I have never had to identify before. It feels to weird for me to discuss my identify at all. I have never had to, because others see me and accurately assume my identity. I have never had a need to correct someone on my sexuality or race. My identity can be better understood from my counterbalancing rural upbringing and urban college experience, which have impacted my life far more than my race, sexuality, or gender. My rural upbringing has embedded me with a moral compass: treating everyone respectfully, valueing happiness over money, and appreciating the importance of self-expression through art. These three rural-Vermont values will lead me until my death. Then I moved to DC for college, and it taught me something I failed to learn from Vermont: how to be successful. While I value happiness over money, I still hope for a flourishing career. In DC, I learned how move my career forward the practicality rather than ideals. As a result, my Vermont-ideals are my road, and my DC-realism is my car. With both together, I am sure that I will get to where I hope to go.

Is your background a source of pride, confusion, discomfort or something else? ...continue reading "Identity"

By jdippel529

Spain is a culture rich in history, language, wine, and more importantly, food. Sitting down for a meal is one of Spain’s defining cultural experiences. People gather with friends, family, and co-workers everyday, hours on end, to enjoy each and every one of their meals. That is why it is pretty hard not to fall in love with all of the amazing food Spain has to offer. Although I have only been in Madrid for 3 weeks, there are dozens of dishes that I know I will go back to America sorely missing. But for now, here are my top 5 favorite Spanish foods:


  1.    Paella – My all-time favorite. Although Paella is traditionally a Valencian dish, you can still find it just about anywhere in Madrid. It is a rice dish typically served with seafood and peppers, but I’ve also had it with chicken. Once its served, you can’t forget your squeeze of lemon on top. All in all, paella is an explosion of flavors you simply won’t be able to resist.
  2. Croquetas – Croquetas are small, fried, bread-crumbed rolls usually containing mashed potatoes and/or basically any type of ground meat. Warm, fried, and cheesy—croquetas, in my opinion, are the best comfort snack Spain has to offer.
  3. Patatas Bravas – This is another one of my go-to tapas dishes. Patatas bravas are diced potatoes fried in oil and then served with a spicy tomato sauce. They are basically hash browns 2.0
  4. Pan – Bread! Any Spanish meal is simply incomplete without a heaping portion of bread on the side. I thought I was a bread lover back in the States, but I knew nothing about real bread until I arrived in Madrid. This is the kind of bread made for Kings (and Queens).
  5. Tortilla – Spanish tortilla is nothing like Mexican tortilla. Instead, it is really an omelette. It consists of egg, potatoes and fried vegetable oil, and usually takes on the shape of a cake. Although you may think of breakfast when you think of eggs, this dish can be served at any and every Spanish meal. It’s great that tortilla is one of the most common dishes in Spain, since it is a food you will definitely begin to develop a craving for.


For me, the hardest thing about adjusting to life in Spain has been overcoming the language barrier. But, food is universal. My strongest and most confident immersion into the Spanish culture has most definitely been through its amazing dishes. With my host mom, especially, I find that we don’t have to say a word to agree on how delicious our dinner is. That’s the beautiful thing about this country, it can teach you so much through something as simple as food.

By conniezhanger

As a kid, I thought that being an American meant that you went to the diner after school every day to pop open glass bottles of Coca-Cola, and licked your sticky fingers after eating cotton candy at a summer carnival.The thought never occurred to me how I looked as an Asian girl, because I was always taught that I could be whoever I wanted to be, and do whatever I dreamed of.
You could say that I noticed that I would only eat rice at dinner--never mashed potatoes or roast chicken like I saw in the pictures on the bright, glaring lights of my old 1990 television set. Or that, I guess I wasn't blonde like the Barbie dolls at Toyrs R Us, and in fact, I had extremely dark hair. Christmas time was different too. When I asked my parents if we were making a gingerbread house, they looked surprised and asked me what that even was.

...continue reading "My Background as an Asian American"

By Adaeze

I identify myself as Nigerian-Black-American, as I was born in Nigeria and raised in the USA with dual citizenship. My background is definitely a source of pride especially as I get older and become more aware of the high’s and low’s all sides. I love the customs and history of all three.

Being a woman of color (brown specifically), I am usually just seen as Black American. While I do claim both identities, ...continue reading "So a Nigerian-Black-American walks into a French room…"

By Shannon McKeown

It’s hard to believe that its already been over a week since my arrival in Belfast. This past week has been a whirlwind in the best way possible. I have moved into housing, attended two orientations, met a variety of new people, and now feel ready to take on my first week of classes that start tomorrow.

Upon arrival last weekend, I attended an orientation with other students in my provider program, Institute for Study Abroad-Butler (IFSA-Butler). Since there are only 9 people in this program, it was easy for our advisors to show us a bit of the city and help us begin to get acquainted with the area. On Friday, the night of our arrival, we visited the Crumlin Road Gaol. It is the only remaining Victorian prison in Northern Ireland and holds great historical significance regarding Belfast, as well as impressive Victorian style architecture. Although it was freezing cold throughout the tour and many of us were fighting off exhaustion from our overnight flights, it was a great experience. It was intriguing to learn of the prisoners’ conditions and the prison’s practices, especially in regards to the prison’s internal tension between Protestant and Catholic prisoners throughout the height of the Troubles.

The rest of the week included moving into our university housing, attending Queen’s University international orientation, and a chance to explore the city further. Belfast is an amazing and resilient city. While it is still less of a tourist destination than Dublin, this has been changing in the past decade with the decline of their internal conflict. Around every corner, there is something to do. There is an array of restaurants and shops, popular sites such as the Botanic Gardens and St. George’s Market, and historical sites such as the Ulster Museum and the Crumlin Gaol. I also look forward to exploring the beautiful rural areas outside the city.

While the sites are beautiful here, I have been most moved by the people that I’ve encountered. It is not an exaggeration to assert that every person I’ve encountered here has been the epitome of friendly and has been eager to help in any way possible. As they say here in Northern Ireland, the craic (fun banter) is great. That being said, conversations here are also proving to be one of the greater challenges. The Northern Irish speak fast and their accent can be truly difficult to understand. I spent last semester in Jordan, and it seems to me that an Arab accent is actually easier to understand than the Northern Irish. However, it’s a challenge I look forward to overcoming.

All in all, I’ve had an amazing first week in Belfast. I look forward to starting my classes tomorrow, adapting to and learning about the culture here, and exploring the city further.

Wat Arun Temple
Wat Arun Temple- From my first day in Bangkok

Hello (Sa wa dee ka) from Khon Kaen, Thailand! I have been in Thailand for nearly two weeks yet it has felt like I have been here for at least a month. Each day is jam-packed with activity and new experiences. I am studying with a small group of American students from Universities around the country, so we spend a fair amount of time together. We all live in the same dormitory building in the university district of Khon Kaen right on the edge of campus. This dorm building is my home for half the time I am here in Thailand, but the other half I spend in week long homestays every other week in rural communities. The first one starts this Monday (2/2)! I’m thrilled that I get both a homestay experience and a college student experience. This past Sunday after a three-day orientation at a site about an hour outside of the city we moved in with our Thai Roommates. I have yet to meet a Thai person that has been rude or unkind. My roommate included. Kim is a kind, thoughtful, energetic, and very sporty. She loves singing John Legend and playing basketball.

On my first night in Khon Kaen, Kim brought me to an Agriculture Fair on KKU’s (Khon Kaen University) campus. I rode to the fair on the back of Kim’s Motorcycle. Motorcycles, or what Thai’s call ‘Moterscies’ are the primary mode of transportation around Khon Kaen (Sorry, Mom. Be comforted-- I do wear a helmet!). This fair was a massive spread of tents and stalls sprawled out on what felt like a square mile of campus. If it wasn’t for Kim I would have gotten massively lost. The fair had everything from mango tree saplings, banana trees, flowers and small cacti plants, to cows, fighting roosters, bunnies, puppies, and goats. But that’s not nearly all. There were stalls and stalls of wild food and clothing vendors as well. I played it safe and only tried a few samples of food and then bought a fresh cold coconut. Buying fresh raw coconuts is going to become a weekly ritual for me at the fruit stand down the road from the apartments. They are so sweet and refreshing!

Food has been an adventure. I haven’t gotten sick yet (knock-on-wood), and everything that I have ordered has been delicious! I am able to order my food in Thai because my program has already led us through twenty hours of intensive Thai class. It’s incredible how much I am able to speak in such a short time! All the food is so cheap (on average, one American dollar can buy you a large meal)! My favorite dishes so far have been a traditional Issan pork dish, made with lots of lime and green onion- very spicy and eaten with sticky rice, as well as green curry and morning glory greens (kindof like stir-fried kale). Every dish I try has been pretty fabulous.

In Thailand coffee is generally of the hyper-sweet powdered instant variety. Not my favorite. This past week, motivated by my caffeine headaches, I have managed to find a few cafes around my apartment that have real coffee! Cafes open no earlier than 9am, and some open at three. Coffee is not a morning necessity for some reason. When ordering, I always have to be very intentional about saying ‘mai sai juan’ or ‘don’t add sweet.’ Otherwise they will pour a shot of condensed milk in with the coffee.

This next week I will be living with a family in a slum in Khon Kaen for four days. It is the first of our six home stays in different communities around Issan (the northeast of Thailand). I am excited to experience their way of life, gain a new perspective, and practice my Thai.

By jdippel529

Although I have been learning Spanish since 7th grade, I am still not fluent. This, more than anything, is why I decided to study abroad in Madrid through GW. I have always admired people who are able to speak another language and promised myself that, one day, I would be able to as well.

             This is a disclaimer to all prospective students: GW Madrid is not your average study abroad program. Most of my friends are studying abroad in places where English is common, and where they share their own apartment with friends—places where they don’t often experience the culture of their host country. GW Madrid, however, is completely immersive, challenging, scary, and most of all, rewarding.

            Although I’ve been having the time of my life, my first 11 days in Madrid have been physically and mentally exhausting. My professors, my host mom, and my advisors all speak to me only in Spanish. Absorbing, translating and communicating two different languages 24/7 is one of the hardest things I have ever had to learn how to do. But, it has also been the most rewarding. Just after a couple of days in this city, I was able to speak to a Madrileño on the street, and perfect my order at a Taperia. It’s pretty hard to describe to someone who has never experienced culture shock the inexplicable joy you get from little moments like these. Thanks to the intensity of the program, I feel more immersed into the culture with each passing day.

            Whenever I become frustrated over not being able to communicate properly, I remind myself what I am here for. I am studying abroad to be thrown into uncomfortable situations and come out better because of them. If I have realized anything about my Spanish in this short time, it is that I have learned more in these uncomfortable situations than I was able to my entire high school career. The GW Madrid program is a truly unique experience that I know for a fact most students do not receive. I can’t wait to spend the next 4 months here so that I can continue what I know will be a complete immersion into the Spanish language and culture. For any of you who may shy away from a program with a home-stay, or even a Spanish-speaking program in general—please, please, please don’t.

My groceries from my first grocery trip - buttermilk included!

The Danish word of the day is karnemelk.

The definition of the word is buttermilk.

One hundred and five people (or somewhere close to that number) told me, before I left the United States to study abroad, that I was going to experience some sort of culture shock when I got there. That I was going to be confused and, inevitably, would do a lot of things to embarrass myself. “Don’t worry if you make a lot of social faux-pas during your first few weeks!” they all said. “It’s normal! Don’t get upset about it!”

Foolishly I thought that I could escape this issue by just being as observant as possible. Just follow the Danes, I thought to myself as I scurried about my first week in Copenhagen. I mimicked their walk, their talk, the way they ordered their coffee. I wore dark colors and attempted to copy that stereotypical, stoic Danish resting face that many wear as they go about their business. I learned a few Danish words like tak (thank you) and undskyld (sorry). I attempted to blend in as much as possible.

All was going according to plan until my first trip to the grocery store. I sauntered in, feeling sure of myself – then realized, with a sinking feeling, that I was about to be in for a challenge. Everything, and I mean everything, was in Danish. I don’t know what I was expecting. Shaking in my boots, I looked from one product to the other, attempting to figure out what boxes and cartons contained just by looking at the little pictures on the label. A picture of bread – flour, maybe? Meat with a pig on it – must be pork, right? The mysterious items that had no images on their packaging were ignored altogether.

Eventually I managed to sneak up behind some unsuspecting shopper who looked like they knew what they were doing. I followed at their heels, glancing at their purchases and putting similar items in my basket. I felt pretty confident that their choices of eggs, milk, bread and cheese would be good enough for me, at least for the first week. Can’t go wrong with some good Danish dairy products.

I went to the checkout counter, smiling as I told the woman behind the register “Hej!” She was firm-lipped, not even looking up from her work as she furiously scanned items. Small talk, as I would come to learn, is not very popular in Denmark. The woman then shot her head up and said a quick string of Danish words that I didn’t understand. “Excuse me?” I stammered, already flustered.

“135 krone,” she repeated slowly, staring at me. I laughed way too loud and handed her my food stipend card to swipe. Then I rushed out the door with my head down, groceries swinging from my side.

Later, putting my purchases away in the kitchen, I decided to sample some of the things I had bought. I made a sandwich and poured myself a glass of milk. As soon as I took a sip from the glass, though, I knew that something was wrong. The taste was extremely sour, as though the product was far past its expiration date. But on the top of the carton, the date provided was still half a week away.

Then I noticed – the label said “karnemelk.” A quick Google search and I found out I had bought a big old carton of Danish buttermilk Sighing, I choked down the rest of the glass. I wasn’t about to let 15 krone go to waste. Plus, according to a few of my teachers, the Danes often drink their buttermilk straight.

When in København, I suppose!