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By Lisa Maina

As I discussed in the last entry, this semester I will be volunteering with Bokoum Djibril and his organization called Equipe Aidons les Talibés (EAT) in order to improve conditions for orphaned students of the Quran. These children are known all over Dakar as everyone is approached by at least one each day. When I asked my host family about their opinion of the issue, they were equally as distraught as I was but at the same time disillusioned because they felt helpless in finding the right solution to save these children from their unfortunate situation.

One of Djibril’s main goals is to change the way in which people view Talibés. Obviously when you see children begging in the streets, you are likely to view them as sad, helpless, and powerless. This perspective is heightened by their soot-covered clothes filled with holes and their bare and dirty feet. However, Djibril firmly believes that people should not see them as depressed and helpless, but rather focus on their hopefulness and potential as children to get out of their situation. Additionally, we should recognize the strength these kids have that brought them all the way to Dakar without their families and spend each day on the street just to get an education. For these reasons, Djibril has focused his organization on providing opportunities for Talibés to experience their childhood like so many other more privileged children.

In order to do this, EAT reserves full days with children of some Daaras in order to allow them to spend time with other Talibés learning, playing and eating, rather than begging. My role in the organization thus far is to help program fun activities for the children along with another American volunteer. Two weeks ago, that meant choosing and organizing games that we would play all together during a day that we had reserved with them. Though this sounds simple enough, we had to account for the language barrier when considering how to give instructions for the games. We are both proficient in French, but the Talibés have only just begun their French lessons, so communication is either in Wolof (of which we are both novices) or gestures. This cut out a considerable number of games we could play, especially games that could help their learning.

Eventually we settled on a couple games that required little instruction or ones that could be easily translated. A crowd favorite was Duck, Duck, Goose, though the Wolof words for duck and goose were very long. In this case, we settled for “Muus, Muus, Xaj” which translates to cat, cat, dog. After a few demonstrations, the kids were running around, ducking their heads, and having a blast. For the rest of the day, we helped with general logistics, serving food, practicing French and having a good time with the kids.

Playing "Simon Says".
French lessons taught by a volunteer professor.
Talibés eating a dinner provided by EAT volunteers.
Us demonstrating Muus, Muus, Xaj.

Moving forward, I plan to be an ambassador of EAT, selling merchandise to people that want to support the cause and raising awareness of the organization. This way, we can fund more activities for the kids and implement more programs to help the children. One program I am particularly interested in is the mentorship program Djibril has just started drafting. This program would pair each Talibé with a volunteer who would vow to provide clothes and food. Each day that the Talibé would work the street, he would work in the direction of his mentor’s home, meet him or her there and they would provide a meal as well as anything else necessary before the Talibé returns home.

Right now, this program is being designed but it is facing a few difficulties because of logistics and lack of volunteers. In order to implement the program, we need to work out an adequate system to register volunteers willing to participate, ensure quality involvement, establish contractual agreements to confirm length of participation, as well as get enough funds to kickstart the program. As a team, we are working together to develop this initiative, brainstorming appropriate regulations, contracts, and potential blueprints for the plan of the program.

Additionally, the EAT team has been working on establishing more structured French lessons for the Talibés with teachers for each level. This has also been challenging to implement because of logistics and lack of resources. Such resources include certified French teachers for each level, space for lessons, practice material and so forth. It has also been difficult to ensure that the children would retain the information, as these lessons would only occur the few times a month EAT is allowed to work with each of the Daaras. Though there are many challenges to overcome before implementing these lessons, at EAT we know education is one of the most powerful tools these kids can be equipped with, so we are doing everything we can to make it possible.

All in all, there is a lot to do to change conditions for the Talibés of Dakar and I look forward to providing any help I can. If anyone is interested in this organization, visit their Facebook page for more information (!! Also check out their merchandise if you’d like to support the Talibés of Dakar!

By Megan Gardner

My family always taught me to respect the sea. We spent nearly every weekend by the water, whether it was fishing or boating or swimming together. They regularly reminded my brothers and I that, while it seems peaceful, it is unforgiving and we don’t truly understand the power that it holds. I’ve always kept the strength of the sea in mind, but it wasn’t until this semester that I ever considered the magnitude of its power, nor the power of the sand.

This semester, I’ve been studying the migration crisis in the Euro-Mediterranean space. Since I arrived, I’ve been studying the Tunisian democratic transition process and the factors behind outward migration. A week ago, I arrived in Italy to study the realities of the system from this side of the sea. I have been attending lectures, visiting migrant welcome centers, meeting local NGOs, and visiting legal clinics. In one of these lectures, a founder of a local NGO spoke about the common migration routes from Sub-Saharan Africa to Southern Europe. We followed the process from beginning to end and spoke about the threats at each step. We were all familiar with the perils of crossing the sea, but not many of us were familiar with the dangers of the sand. He mentioned that almost four times as many people die crossing the Sahara than crossing the sea. These numbers aren’t publicized, because they are unknown. There are no existing NGOs that monitor the Sahara for migrants because of the inherent dangers, both political and natural, in the area. We can only speculate the numbers based on migrant accounts. In a separate conversation I had with my professor, Mounir Khelifa, he warned me “not to underestimate the power of that sand,” while motioning to the Sahara.

In Sicily, the strength of the sea cannot be forgotten. The rocks that act as a barrier from the water are hidden by graffiti from artists reminding the public of the thousands of migrants who have lost their lives in pursuit of a better future. The desert and the sea have the power to take life and the power to provide opportunity. Their decisions are ruthless and dispassionate. My conception of the power behind the sea and the sand has shifted. Not only do they hold a such a raw, primitive power, but they also hold a deeper power. They represent an obstacle on the path to a better future. When I watch the sea or walk through the desert, it’s impossible not to think of both their beauty and their puissance.

By Rachel Blair

Time has really been flying by. I can’t believe it’s almost November! Last time you heard from me, I was in Normandy. It was really cold there, but it was an amazing experience. I’m really happy that I went because as I said before, I wouldn’t have gone there on my own. These past two weekends have been really busy for me as well. The weekend after Normandy, I went to Iceland with my friend Michael. I loved every second of it, and plan on going again. We stayed at an Airbnb in Reykjavik and rented a car from the airport for the entire weekend. If you go, I advise getting a car because everything is so spread out, and the only mode of public transportation is a bus. We got there on Friday night, and stayed until Sunday afternoon. Friday and Sunday were spent in the city of Reykjavik, but Saturday was my favorite day. That day, we drove around the Golden Circle and hit a lot of our top places. My favorite spot was the Black Sand Beach. We woke up at 6:30am and did not get back to the Airbnb until 11:30pm. I was exhausted after, but it was worth it. I highly advise everyone to go to Iceland. It was so peaceful in its own way. I don’t know how to describe it, but it was a place that brought me real joy.

This past weekend, I went to London to visit a friend that is studying abroad at Queen Mary’s. I left Friday night for that as well, but had a 6:20am flight back to Paris because I had a final exam on Monday that I had to study for. (That’s one of my major signs that time is flying. Since I take 3 GW classes here, each for 3 and a half weeks, every time I finish one of them, it’s a sign that the semester is getting closer and closer to being over. I have already finished 2 out of my 3 and there’s still so much I feel like I want to do here.) But I really enjoyed going to London because I’ve been there before, and have done all of the tourist activities, so this time my friend took me to his favorite spots and the cooler areas of London. It was also nice to be in a country that spoke English for a bit. It was very weird at first seeing everything in English since I’ve been here for so long now.

Being abroad here has made me realize that I would love to travel to a different country every year if my finances and time allow me. Visiting all of these countries has been such a different experience every time, I could only imagine what other countries have in store as well. I’m so happy I took advantage of this study abroad opportunity. It has been an amazing experience that I know I will remember forever. I look forward to the last haul of my program, and can’t wait to see what else Paris has in store for me.


Above: Dover, England


Above: Iceland

By Stefania Tutra

This weekend I ventured out of warm, sunny Spain for the first time during my study abroad semester and headed north to cold and cloudy Amsterdam. I completely fell in love with the city after this weekend and definitely plan to return at some point in the future.

Day 1 – Friday

We arrived into Amsterdam Schipol airport early Friday morning, and went straight to our hotel to check in. The e hotel was located on the outskirts of Amsterdam, only 15 minutes from the airport, as this was the cheapest option we had when booking our housing the trip. We took a 9 minute train from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal station. We headed out to explore, and walked around Dam Square, eventually leading us to a flower market and the infamous “I Amsterdam” sign in front of the stunning Rijkmuseum. We stumbled upon a charming café called “Gruter” and decided to have lunch there. I decided to try my first authentic Dutch food, and ordered a vegetarian “Flammkuchen.” It’s essentially a super thin-crust pizza topped with a French cream, onions, and whichever toppings (in my case, I got it with arugula and mushrooms).


After eating lunch, we decided to continue exploring and walked to Vondelpark. We went back to the hotel for a quick Spanish ‘siesta’, and then took the train back to the city to go to the Heineken Experience. The museum was interesting and highly interactive, and the free beer at the end was a huge added bonus. We were starving afterwards so we went to a nearby pub called “O’Donnell’s” and had an incredible burger with fries for dinner.


Day 2 – Saturday

We took the train into the city around 10:30 in the morning. The first stop was Ten Kate Markt, an outdoor market with plenty of fresh local produce, cheeses and breads, and street food. Parallel to it was a place called Foodhallen, which was exactly what it sounds like – an indoors food market. This was a more upscale, hip, modern food market with an overwhelming variety of food to choose from – tacos, middle eastern food, dumplings, fish, sushi, vegan, etc. I decided to go with a sushi burrito and it was delicious. We spent majority of the rest of the day in the Jordaan District, which is crowded with beautiful houses, original shops, and of course, canals and bikes. The infamous Anne Frank house is located here as well. Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to go inside as tickets had sold out over two weeks ago, but even seeing it from the outside was unbelievable. Afterwards, we went on an hour-long canal tour of the city, which is one of my favorite activities that I did the entire weekend and would definitely recommend if you are traveling to Amsterdam. We got to see almost the entirety of the city through the canals, with an accompanied audio guide explaining the rich history of each neighborhood we passed through. After the canal tour, we walked around the Red Light District and grabbed dinner at an Italian restaurant.


We ended our weekend in Amsterdam the best possible way – Amsterdam Music Festival. The lineup was stacked with big DJ names such as David Guetta, Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike, Axwell and Ingrosso, and more. Also, at the stroke of midnight, the world’s #1 DJ was announced, being followed by a performance by them, and this year it ended up being one of my all-time favorite DJs, Martin Garrix. The festival lasted from 10pm until 6am, and every moment of it was incredible. The high-energy crowd was filled with concert-goers from countries all around the world, music bringing us all together for one night in one incredible city. Thank you Amsterdam, for the unforgettable weekend -- I will definitely be back.

By Savita Potarazu

Geneva, Switzerland
21 Oct 2018

I know many GW students still have midterms going on right now… but this week we have our final exams! So soon, right? Yet here I am sitting in one of the few places open on Sunday in Switzerland, relaxing and doing a bit of work for this week. Something special about SIT is the way our directors design the academic schedule for this specific program. The framework of our semester includes 2 months of classroom time and excursions. The latter half of our time here includes a designated research period and a few french lessons.

Sipping tea and writing my Local Case Study paper in Geneva. Not much is open on Sundays here!

As a senior, I have become well-accustomed to studying and taking tests at GW and, to some extent, I find them to be predictable based on the types of questions I have been asked in the past (this is department-specific, of course). Because we only have midterms and finals here in Switzerland, adjusting to this style of testing has been a large portion of the acclimation to life abroad. However, we students quickly learned that these exams and the professors who created them do not intend to trick us or foster self-doubt.

I think I mentioned this briefly in an earlier post but our mentors here also encourage us to learn, process, and apply the concepts we’ve learned to real-world circumstances particularly as they pertain to extremely vulnerable communities in conflict zones or areas affected by natural disaster and/or political turmoil. Additionally, every time we have a guest lecturer or visit a pre-eminent organization there is, quite predictably, a discussion about career and personal development in the field of global health and how each expert has taken a different route to work in this highly integrated discipline. Thus, the way our exams are designed allows us to integrate our notes and assemble a narrative about such integration and why this approach allows humanitarian aid and development policy to be as complex as it is. I also believe that it would be unjustified for our professors to expect us to regurgitate this high-volume of information and still experience the Swiss lifestyle, void of anxious energy particularly in the classroom setting. I have thoroughly benefitted from this style of teaching/ learning and wish the American college education that we're exposed to resembled this. It took me some time to understand that these assessments (papers included) are not intended to deplete students of energy; they are meant to be informative, engaging, enjoyable and most of all enriching.

International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland. Our lecture here pertained to Child Labor and the role of global governance in addressing hazardous and inhumane working conditions for children.

United Nations event entitled “Where will we go?” about the implications of climate change on humanitarian aid. UN Office in Geneva, Switzerland.

Me at the Doctor’s Without Borders office in Geneva, Switzerland. As an aspiring physician, I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to have our lecture at MSF.

Taken outside of our lecture hall at the UN Environmental Program office in Geneva, Switzerland

By Julia McNally

We arrived in Rotorua at almost 11pm on Friday night, heading directly to our hostel. Upon finding ourselves in a 10-bedroom we chose our bunkmates and got a good night’s rest so we would have maximum energy for Saturday’s adventures.

The day began with chocolate chip pancakes, the perfect fuel for six young adults spending the day hiking. After picking up the car we chose to stop by a nearby park where we could get a sneak peak of the thermal pools. When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find a pop-up market selling various foods and goods. After walking around for about an hour we decided to see the real sight of Rotorua -- the thermal pools at Wai-O-Tapu.

Wai-O-Tapu is the most prominent geothermal tourist spot in New Zealand, covering 18 square km (6.95 square miles). It rests on the volcanic dome of Maungakaramea (Rainbow Mountain) which has activity dating back 160,000 years. It features 25 pools along a 75 minute walk. The pools start out small, some even underground, framed by concave rocks stained with the minerals released by the pools. Others are vast, releasing steam that is a result of the combination of heat and chemicals. Each mineral leaves a different color in the water, some dull and other brighter that we knew colors could be.

Although beautiful, the park smelled horrendous. The primary mineral giving the pools their heat and color is sulfur. If you’ve ever smelled sulfur, you’re very familiar with the rotten egg smell that never seems to leave your nose and pores. There were points at which, no matter how aggressively I plugged my nose, the scent was so strong I could taste it.

Once we’d finished marveling at the colors and could tolerate the smell no longer, we took a break for lunch and aimed to arrive at Whakarewarewa Forest at sunset. Covering 5,600 hectares (13,838 acres) of land, the redwood forest is home to trails for horses, mountain biking and walking. This includes a walk along bridges between trees, about halfway up their trunks. However, we opted out as payment is required to access the raised path. Coming from Northern California, Paige and I have high standards for redwood trees. We giggled as our friend marveled at the size of the redwoods, telling them at home they were at least three times wider. Nonetheless, we felt right at home, deeply inhaling the scent of damp redwoods -- I scent I would bottle and carry around with me if I could.

That evening we relaxed at the hostel. With a bar on the first floor and a hot tub in the backyard, we each grabbed a beer and jumped in.

Sunday morning we began with tea and donuts at a local bakery before deciding to go to Kerosene Creek, a nearby river heated by a natural hot spring that lays beneath it, making it a popular place to go for a swim. At first I walked down to the creek fully dressed, not intending to go in. I didn’t feel like swimming or having to put leggings and sneakers on over wet skin for the rest of the day. We tramped through the mud along the creek to arrive at the short waterfall beneath which a few others were swimming. After snapping a few photos and watching my friends jump in, I returned to the car to change, deciding I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

The creek was lukewarm and its smell truly lived up to its name. We were accompanied by a group of young men climbing up the waterfall only to jump back down it and a large group of students visiting from another university.

From Kerosene Creek we drove down the road to the Rainbow Mountain viewpoint. Along the way we saw Green Lake, which we had been trying to find all weekend. Everywhere we’d tried to access it had been blocked by gates that required permits. But like many areas in New Zealand, often the best views are simply on the side of the street. We pulled over in the middle of the road and ran across the street to have our look and snap some pictures.

Rainbow Mountain was equally as beautiful, with an ice blue pool settled at its base. Minerals in the rocks created a marble of different colors in the side of the mountain, which looked as if someone had slowly chipped away at it. After a brief look we continued our journey.

Our final destination before heading to the bus that would take us back to Auckland was Okere Falls. These falls are the most common location for white water rafting in Rotorua, and by extension, the north island. We accessed the rushing river from several points, marveling at its speed and the lush greenery that framed it. Although there were no rafters due to the day’s predictions of rain, it was easy to picture lifejacket-clad tourists frantically fighting the rapids with their plastic paddles.

As we piled back into the car to return it and head to the bus we fell silent. Content with our choices of what to see and exhausted from the ventures we took to get there. For a small tourist town, we found plenty to do inside and around Rotorua and returned to Auckland satisfied with our weekend getaway.

By Beatrice Mount

I finished my first quarter of classes! i’ll have to hand it to problem based learning— it’s definitely an effective method of teaching. If you put in the effort, you get results, and barely have to study for exams. But After all that hard work and many hours spent in the reading room, Ive never been more ready for a break! So I’m off to meet up with friends in Rome, Florence, and Budapest!

In Rome and Florence, I’ll be hitting up the major tourists sites, going vintage shopping, and stuffing my face with gelato! I’ll also meet up with Jade, a GW student currently studying in Florence with a provider program. But beyond the typical tourist stuff, Italy holds a special place in my family history. My father spent a majority of his 20s in Italy cycling for a professional team. I remember sitting in his office when I was younger, listening to him spin tails about how Italian grandmothers who taught him how to make pizza, how he’d exchange champagne won from races for a place to sleep, and how difficult it was to live in a country where no one spoke his language. I never thought that I would have the chance to visit, let alone stomp around on his old grounds!

So far, I’ve spent a night in Rome, and I can see why my father fell in love with Italy. After a day of walking around the borghese gardens and the Vatican, stuffing my face with four euro pasta, I’m tired, sore, and breathless. Breathless not because of the 40,000 steps I took, but because of the scenery and art. Literally— I audibly gasped when I entered the Raphael rooms in the Vatican! The Netherlands has great art, don’t get me wrong, but there’s really no comparison to seeing the Sistine chapel and saint peters basilica, or just walking past the bright buildings littered throughout Rome. And if the art is this good in Rome, Who knows what Florence— the true birthplace of the renaissance— will have in store!

In about six days I’ll be off to Budapest to see my GW friend, Matilda. I’m not sure I want to leave Italy, but I’m excited to see a familiar face from GW. She’s currently studying at Central European university, on GW exchange! A masters university located in the heart of Budapest, CEu is one of the oldest masters programs on the continent, and boasts impressive scientific and humanities qualifications. When I told my classmates about my plans, their jaws immediately dropped, asking me how Matilda got in, how she liked it, and how the classes were. Apparently it has quite the reputation in Europe, and GW students are lucky enough to have program options there! I have no idea what Budapest will be like, but I’m hoping that, since I’m visiting hallowweekend, there will be plenty of spooky things to do. Unfortunately, I don’t think pumpkin gnocchi will be enough to satisfy my cravings for jack o lanterns.

By Zachary Brumback

Day 7: After waking up at 5 a.m., our tour group took the ferry back to the mainland and boarded our tour bus. Following our two-hour drive, our group arrived at the Tully River. There, went white water rafting in groups of six and enjoyed a wonderful day in a tropical rainforest. Although forty-eight hours had passed since my injury, I was still super cautious and tried to keep my stitches dry. Luckily, I was only one of two individuals who did not fall out of the raft. After we reached the bottom of the river, our group boarded the tour bus for the last time. After another two-hour drive, we arrived in Cairns (our final destination), unloaded the bus, arrived at our rooms, and headed to dinner. Following dinner, we had an early night.

Day 8: Today, I made multiple leaps of faith. At 7 a.m., I boarded a bus with a number of individuals to go skydiving. Following an hour drive, we arrived at the airport and met our tandem instructors. The instructors suited each individual with a harness and together we later made our way to the plane. When boarding, I was the last individual on the plane. Therefore, I unknowingly volunteered to be the first group to jump. While we were ascending, a clock was counting down till it was “showtime.” Although I fully understood that I was about to jump out of a plane at 15,000 feet, I was surprised at how calm I was. When the clock hit zero, I quickly made my way to the door of the plane and before I knew it, I was freefalling towards the earth.

For most individuals, they probably would not push their luck a second time, especially in less than four hours. Following my skydive and trip back to the resort, our tour group headed to go bungee jumping in a tropical rainforest. Since I had just gone skydiving, I thought bungee jumping would be a breeze. However, I was greatly mistaken. After making my way up to the platform and looking down, I began to grow nervous. My anxiety kicked in when I waddled to the edge of the platform and received a countdown. Although I was nervous, I made another leap of faith and did not regret it.

Day 9: After jumping out of a plane and off of an elevated platform, it was time to jump into the Coral Sea and go scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef. Before it was my group’s turn to go scuba diving, we spent an hour snorkeling. Once we returned to the boat, my group and I received our gear and suited up. Before jumping in, I had always wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef up close. However, after I jumped in and began seeing the bubbles exiting my respirator, I panicked and returned to the surface. My instructor immediately came to the surface, and I told him that I did not think I could do it. He reassured me that I would be alright and informed me that one or more people in each group tend to panic, initially. Once I had calmed down, my instructor and I re-joined the group and began our descent to the seafloor. While I was at the bottom of the ocean, I saw a number of clownfish (Nemo), a turtle, a blue starfish, a shark, and various other breathtaking species. Once again, I stepped out of my comfort zone and I did not regret it.

Day 10: Following multiple action-packed days, it was time to catch up on our sleep and then explore Cairns on our own. At 1 p.m., our tour group boarded a double-decker party bus and headed to the Crystal Cascades. Once we had arrived at the rainforest, our group walked along a number of waterfalls in search of a location to go swimming in the fresh water. Once we had found our spot, we spent the afternoon swimming, sunbathing, and jumping off waterfalls. Following our time there, we boarded the party bus and headed to a group dinner followed by a farewell party.

Day 11: With our trip concluding, I packed my bags and checked out of my accommodation. Before heading to the airport, a few of my new friends and I enjoyed a lovely breakfast, together. After breakfast, we parted ways. Once I had arrived at the airport, with my two friends from USYD, we learned that our flight back to Sydney was delayed. Luckily, Qantas only delayed the flight by an hour.

Now that Mid-semester Break has concluded, I have less than two months left of my study abroad. As I begin to enter the second stretch of the semester, my remaining assessments range from 30-50% of my final grade. Spring Break is over, and it is time to hit the books.

By Emily Golden

My community and my journey of discovering my identity have been interlocked since the beginning. I was born in Shanghai, China and adopted as an infant by my beautiful mother. I grew up in a white family and attended predominantly white schools from kindergarten through college. The community meant to support my identity was simultaneously the very thing that made me so confused about it in the first place. Growing up and not looking like your mom, or your grandparents, or just about anyone you’re surrounded by is a tough obstacle in accepting and embracing your identity. My family and friends definitely supported me and didn’t box me into an “Chinese-American” identity and raised as just American. My mom also made the topic of adoption very open and easy so I’ve never been uncomfortable talking about my adoption.

I remember in first grade the first time a boy asked me why I didn’t look like my mom. I gave a sassy, first grade response to this poor boy but when I went home I remember wondering why other people didn’t get asked the same question and why they didn’t have to defend their identity like I did.

I love my family and I know my family loves me, but I knew from a very young age that at least physically, I will never full fit in. And on the other side, even though I may be physically Chinese, I can’t relate to many experiences and backgrounds of Chinese Americans with Chinese families. The limbo was and is an interesting place of self discovery where neither community can really help you along your journey. Coming to the realization that just being you is enough, regardless of where you come from or how the world perceives you, was a process that I needed to come to on my own.

Since being abroad, everyone expects that I speak fluent Chinese and are confused when I sit with my other classmates or have an accent when I speak the Chinese I do know. When still deciding whether to do an internship or language pledge, I re-evaluated my intentions for doing the language pledge. I started learning Chinese in 8th grade because I thought it made sense being Chinese, that I learn how to speak Chinese. That intention developed into genuine interest in the language and culture of China, but I also discovered that much of the world would expect me to already speak Chinese. I briefly chose the internship, because I didn’t want to commit to a language just because it is an expectation. But I finally chose to do the month long language pledge because I wasn’t doing it for expectation’s sake, but for my own. I don’t think my time abroad has largely effected the why I identify myself, but has definitely made me reflect on it in new, eye opening ways.

By Stefania Tutra

This past weekend, most of my study abroad friends were away (whether it be at Oktoberfest or a weekend getaway in Paris), but I stayed home in Barcelona. I knew I wanted to do and see as much as possible as this was my last weekend here for a little while (I am traveling for the next five weekends in a row). This became an easy task because one of my closest friends at GW, my sorority sister Elizabeth, flew into Barca for the weekend from Sevilla. Elizabeth arrived with her three other friends on Thursday evening. They were starving after their flight so we went to a tapas bar close to their AirBnB, which was located in one of my favorite neighborhoods, Gracia. We had the classic 10pm Spanish dinner filled with patatas bravas, croquettes, pan con tomato, and of course, sangria. We had an early night as we knew we were going to have an action-packed following day. On Friday, we went to the typical most popular Barcelona tourist destinations — Parc Guell and La Sagrada Familia. As a friendly tip for anyone planning to visit, book your tickets in advance for these two as they WILL sell out. Also, if you are visiting on a weekend, be prepared to wait a good 20 minutes at Parc Guell if you want to get your perfect Instagram photo at the iconic multi-colored mosaic benches. After Parc Guell and La Sagrada Familia, we walked along Passeig de Gracia to do some shopping, as well as walked by the iconic Gaudi-style houses Casa Batllo and Casa Mila.

On Elizabeth’s last full day here (Saturday), we got a bit of a late start in the day but spent most of it around the Gothic Quarter neighborhood. Elizabeth and her friends toured the inside of the Palace of Music (Palau de La Musica Catalana) which they said was incredible. I did not get the chance to go inside because I arrived late but it is beautiful on the outside and I definitely plan on touring it at some point in the next two months. Afterwards, we went inside of the ancient Barcelona Cathedral. This cathedral is one of my favorites as I think it is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Spain. I am always walking past this cathedral daily after class, so I was thrilled to finally get the chance to see it from inside. After the cathedral, I decided to take Elizabeth and her friends to explore the narrow streets of the Gothic quarter. We did some window shopping, and stopped at a hole-in-the-wall empanada restaurant called “La Fabrica.” Not going to lie, the four cheese empanada I ordered was probably the best empanada I’ve had in my lifetime. We then walked along Las Ramblas, purse in hand trying to not get pick-pocketed, and to the famous La Boqueria Market. It was my first time truly exploring La Boqueria and I was overwhelmed by the amount of amazing, endless food displayed. I wanted to try everything but I settled on some gelato and a fruit smoothie. After a long day of walking and exploring, it was siesta time. We ended our day with more tapas at a restaurant in the “El Born” neighborhood. Elizabeth and her friends loved Barcelona and said it was their favorite city they’ve visited in Spain thus far. It was an amazing weekend for all of us, and especially sweet to have a close friend visit and remind me of home.