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By Taylor Garland

Today marks one week since I’ve been home from Singapore and honestly, it’s incredibly bittersweet to watch the city I’ve grown to love from afar. For fun, I finally sat down to watch Crazy Rich Asians, the box office hit that was monumental in its representation of Asian characters, and its efforts to plunge Singapore on the world stage. Though there can (and has been!) lengthy debate on its depictions of Singaporean culture, of the country’s diversity despite the ethnically Chinese majority, my heart felt so light watching the characters move through the streets I did, and I felt a kind of pride in knowing that I had my own memories in the same places the characters did.

I’m not sure how to advise or best report the feeling of longing for somewhere you barely had time to get accustomed to. Four or five months pales in comparison to the rest of my life, and the times I’ve spent living in any other place. Maybe it’s because I’d invested so much emotional energy into “making it” while I was studying abroad – I sought local friends, a true cultural and social immersion, and wanted authentic experiences outside of what a “visitor” might – but it was so hard to say goodbye. It was hard to part with my routines, my friends, my room, and the city. It was hard to say goodbye to the food, the hawker centers, the aunties and uncles, the SINGLISH, the architecture, the intersection of Chinese, Malay, Indian and the West.

For anyone considering going abroad, I’d say do it. Even if it seems impossible, make it a reality. There are things I’ve done while abroad, in countries I’ve never even considered going to, that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

By Savita Potarazu

The Independent Study Project (ISP) is a characteristic element of SIT study abroad programs. During the last third of the semester here, students had the opportunity to conduct primary qualitative research on a topic of their choice. To me, this research period was the most rewarding aspect of my time abroad for a few reasons. Primarily, choosing my own topic, selecting and interviewing renowned experts, and having a flexible schedule to conduct this research were the most enabling elements. Given that this project serves as my senior capstone project, I also devoted a great deal of energy to having my topic be comprehensive and specific to my interdisciplinary interests. Because the specific program I pursued is based in the highly international arena of Geneva, I had the opportunity of interviewing experts who work at the United Nations, World Health Organization, the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, and many other highly esteemed institutions based in Switzerland. Making professional connections and building my network were two wonderful outcomes of this research. My favorite interview opportunity came up through a reference from my research advisor. For this one, I was able to travel to a beautiful town called Crans Montana in the middle of a Swiss valley. This was my first time conducting formal interviews for research purposes and I’m pretty sure I set high expectations for future research because of these amazing opportunities to explore. And while there are opportunities to conduct independent research back in the States, there was great balance of structure, guidance, and freedom during the ISP period, not to mention the centrality of expertise in Switzerland. All in all, the opportunities that have emerged this semester for both personal and career development were, at minimum, incredible. There were many challenges along the way including but not limited to non-response and balancing recreational time. Now that I’m on the other side and have presented my research to my peers and advisors, I have important lessons that I will be taking forward into my career as an aspiring physician.

By Julia McNally

Our final trip of the semester was up to Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of New Zealand. On Friday night we traveled about six hours north of Auckland by car, arriving at our charming Karikari Peninsula Airbnb to play games and get some rest before Saturday’s full schedule. The first stop on the day’s route was Ninety Mile Beach, an extensive strip of beach stretching the length of New Zealand’s northwest coast. We first explored the sandy shore by car, as it is one of the beaches in the country on which you can drive. After a brief cruise, we hopped out of the car to take on the beach by foot, taking in the view and getting as close to the water as we could, only to run away when the waves surged in.

Our next stop were the Te Paki sand dunes, where we braved the sharp winds to sandboard. Sharing three boards among the ten of us, we took turns braving the gusts to plunge down the steep dunes. Beginning on our stomach and graduating to standing up, sand boarding was much like snowboarding and came naturally to the more athletically inclined among us. The wind created a beautiful pattern in the sand but eventually wore on us, as our exposed faces, necks and ankles were pelted with grains of sand that felt like tiny shards of glass.

The day’s final destination was the northernmost point of New Zealand itself, the lighthouse at Cape Reinga. A long and winding path from the mainland out to the lighthouse is lined with greenery, evoking the feeling of an epic Disney-style journey. The trail’s end boast beautiful views of the meeting point of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, with nothing but ocean as far as you can see in any given direction. Cape Reinga is the most spiritually significant place for the Maori people of New Zealand. It is thought that after death, spirits travel up the coast and out over the northernmost land point of the island. We sat in silence for a while, respectfully enjoying the feeling and the view.

That evening we watched the sunset on the beach near our house and made a big taco dinner. The following day we split up into two cars: those who needed to get back to Auckland to do schoolwork, and those who could take a bit more time. Where our paths differed were the hikes we took. I opted for the longer hike, having nothing due for school on Monday I figured I would extend this final trip as long as I could. My car went to hike Whangarei Heads, the longest and most grueling hike I did during my time in New Zealand. Beginning with two hours of straight and steep uphill climb, we then entered another three hours of up, down, up, down until descending for the final hour. By the time we reached hour three my legs were in pain, and I was unable to control where my foot landed when I stepped. The slippery mud that welcomed us from Friday’s rain was no help. All five of us struggled, but were determined to reach the views we knew awaited us. Once again, the route was worth it.

Our final descent brought us to Urquharts Bay, where we ripped off our boots and layed in the sun for an hour before taking the road back to the carpark in favor of doing the six hour hike again in the opposite direction. Nothing was special about the road route, other than the man who gave us water. Having been hiking for over seven hours, we had all run out of water and were desperate for more. We came across a house that displayed a sign offering fresh eggs for sale. We sent our most charismatic friend, Edo, into the yard where he met a sweet older couple who gladly filled our water bottles and asked us about our studies and hometowns. Being two Italians, a Norwegian and an American we gave then quite a variety of answers. That request for water remains the most characteristically New Zealand thing I’ve done -- asking a perfect stranger for a favor, and for them to automatically say yes without asking a single question -- and then becoming friends after a brief chat.

By Megan Gardner

Our homes shape who we are today. Going abroad is not about renouncing all aspects of home and fully immersing yourself in a completely different culture with no consideration for your own. Going abroad is about learning more about the world and where your home stands in it. It’s also about learning that the world is not that big. Once you start looking, you find thousands of small similarities between your home and wherever you’re visiting. It’s important to find those parallels and use them as support to build the bridges between cultures.

Thanksgiving was celebrated two weeks ago in the US. Every year, family and friends gather together to enjoy a big meal. Everyone wakes up early and spends hours cooking the big feast. Families teach their children how to cook traditional dishes like turkey, mashed potatoes, mac n’ cheese, and of course, pumpkin pie. The day ends with a big dinner where everyone talks about current events, life updates, and what they’re thankful for.

Obviously, but Tunisia does not celebrate Thanksgiving (although SIT did host a great Tunisian Friendsgiving). However, they did celebrate Mawlid (المولد) a few days before Thanksgiving. Mawlid is the celebration of the birth of Mohamed. Every year, family and friends gather together to enjoy a big meal. Everyone wakes up early and spends hours cooking the big feast. Families teach their children how to cook traditional dishes like a3siida (عصيدة). A3siida is similar to a pudding made from pine nuts and it takes hours to prepare. Everyone helps out and decorates their own bowl of a3siida with almonds, walnuts, and candy pearls. The day ends with a big dinner where everyone talks about current events, life updates, and what they’re thankful for.

Clearly, Mawlid and Thanksgiving have very different roots. Nonetheless, the ways that they’re celebrated are not too different from one another. Loved ones come together to cook and to share a meal. Families and friends spend time together and have great conversation. There are many things that connect all people regardless of origin. Love of family, friends, and great meals are just a few.

By Rachel Blair

First and foremost, I want to say thank you to Paris. This has been an adventure that I couldn’t have even dreamed of. Paris is beautiful and my study abroad experience has been something I’m truly thankful for.

I am currently writing this at Charles De Gaulle Airport, at my gate. I can’t believe that it’s all over. This semester flew by. I’m excited to see my family when I get off this plane, but I know that what I have experienced these last three months is something that I will NEVER get again.

I have met some amazing people that I know I will continue to hang out with at GW, as well as some French students that I know I will keep in touch with. The memories I have shared with them will stay with me forever and they will forever be a part of one of the biggest experiences of my life.

I refuse to say goodbye to Paris, this is only see you later. It hasn’t really hit me that I’m leaving until now. Sitting down and typing about the amazing experience I have had makes this leaving thing a whole lot harder.

Sometimes I like to think back to when I first got to Paris and how new everything seemed and how scared I really was to face this big city without any family. But as my time in Paris progressed, I got a whole lot more comfortable there. Now I can’t see myself in my own home in New York. Paris still feels like my home to me, and I don’t know if I’m really ready to let go.

Whoever is reading this, take the opportunity to study abroad, it will be one of the best experiences of your life. You may regret it when you’re leaving, scared, and nervous, but as time goes on, you’ll grow to love where you are and the decision you have made. But most importantly, don’t do this for anyone else but yourself.

I was ready to commit to Paris because I wanted it so badly, more than I think I realized when I was applying. This is the time to grow, learn who you are, and experience the world in a totally different light.

There are so many memories from this program that I will hold onto forever. There are so many people that have made such a huge impact on me while here, and to the ones I will never get to see again, my heart weeps.

There is so much I want to say, but it’s impossible for me to do that without crying so I’m going to keep this last post short and sweet.

Study abroad! It will change your life for the better and I promise that you won’t regret it.

By Beatrice Mount

Finals week is here, and I think I’ve mastered the intersections of procrastinating and study abroad. While my peers are in Maastricht (like responsible adults), I’m back in Italy, avoiding my final papers and snacking on Panettone! Call it irresponsibility or just plain crazy, but if I’ve learned anything in the past few months it’s that you CAN travel around and still pass your classes!

That being said, it’s difficult knowing that in a month I’ll be leaving all of this — the spontaneous travel, the amazing food, and Maastricht— behind. I miss GWU, and I miss D.C., but I’m not really ready for the impending judgmental looks when I ask for mayo on my fries.

Study abroad is a lot of things. It’s putting yourself in a whole new, unfamiliar environment, oftentimes where people don’t speak the language or don’t know your culture. It’s experiencing new flavors, meeting new faces, and trying things you never thought you’d try before. It’s oftentimes lonely, oftentimes sad, and oftentimes exciting and happy. There are moments where you sit in your room, wondering why you came here and wishing you were back at Crepeaway. But there are also moments where you look out across the river and think, “By God, I’m actually here.”

The most amazing part of this experience, though, has been my own personal growth. With so much time by myself, I had to become more comfortable and assured in my own body. Over these past four months, I had a lot of time to think about my past, my future, and how that affects my present. I’m much more confident, much more able, and much less willing to deal with things I don’t find of value. Maybe the Dutch bluntness rubbed off on me, or maybe traveling alone just caused this. But I doubt I’ll have trouble speaking up in class, or voicing my opinions to my friends come second semester.

I’m lucky because I have another month left in my apartment. I still have time to visit Eindhoven, Groningen, the Hague, Rotterdam, Berlin, and all the places I wanted to go but didn’t have the time in the beginning. But I can’t say that I’m not ready to go back. It’s been a fun experiment, but I miss the ole U.S. of A. Of course, I’m sure I’ll feel that way about Maastricht in four months.

By Savita Potarazu

Last week, we submitted our big independent study projects and I can safely say everyone in our program looks incredibly relieved. The whole month of November was dedicated to research and it has finally come to an end. While the whole process was very rewarding, it was a new kind of challenge I hadn’t had to navigate before. While abroad, the academics have not been as rigorous as they are on campus. I found that balancing independent research and this flexible time period was a challenge that resembled student life for me back at GW. This time frame pushed me even harder to establish a temporary balance between research and leisure because there was still so much I wanted to see and didn’t get to earlier in the semester. Now, we’re in our presentation period and learning about each other’s presentations. It’s truly incredible to hear from my peers researching and pursuing their passions. I’m very pleased with the way the directors of this program organized presentation period because it allows students to showcase their wealth of knowledge on incredibly interesting topics that I would have not otherwise discovered. This does, however, mean that the program is coming to an end.

Saying goodbye to Switzerland is definitely going to be bittersweet. I’ve had an amazing semester abroad here and feel like I’ve made the most of all this country has to offer. Sure, the cost of living here is astronomically high, but there are ways to make it work while still having fun. I have met incredible people abroad and I look forward to keeping in touch and planning visits with them. The bonds we have been able to establish on such a short timeline are at a level I did not anticipate coming into the program. Traveling and studying abroad with my friends has only brought us closer and I can only wish everyone has the privilege of experiencing the wonders of friendship abroad. That’s not to say I don’t miss my friends back home. I think of them every day and we have kept in touch as much as our schedules have allowed. We count down the days and brainstorm all the things we’re going to do when I return.

It feels like it was just yesterday that I was meeting other students at the Nyon hostel for our orientation. Yet here we are… traveling, singing, dancing, laughing with and supporting each other. Soon, we will go our separate ways and back to the lives we temporarily left. I am both excited and nervous for the transitions of readjusting to DC life. One thing’s for sure though and that is I am forever grateful for the love, mentorship, support, and friendship during my time abroad and seek to carry these warm memories wherever my next adventures take me.

By Taylor Williams

In all honesty, the food has not exactly been the highlight of my trip. I don’t want to say it's been all bad, London is an amazingly diverse city with a wide array of options. All of the Indian food I’ve tried has been unmatched to anything I’ve ever had at home, similar to the Caribbean and Chinese food. Before I came to London all I would ever hear once I told people I was going to London was that the weather was bad and the food was even worse. Well, thus far the weather has held steady and it hasn’t been until recently that a dreary and dark sky has been the constant state of the city. Well, unfortunately, I finally understand what everyone means when they talk about London food. Now, I don’t at all want to say the food is bad. I think its horribly ignorant and rude to say that all of the authentically British food is bad and to be avoided at all cost. That being said, it’s definitely been much different than the food I’m accustomed to eating at home. 

When one thinks of London, you don’t normally think of it being a place that's drastically different than the US, and in many ways that's true. There are times when I can completely forget I’m in another country at all and feel completely come home, and then I’ll walk past Buckingham Palace or I’ll ride atop on the many red double-decker buses and I’ll remember how far from home I really am. I only have one week left to try and soak up as much of London as I can, so I’m going to vow to every day see something I haven’t before. 

By Julia McNally

This past weekend I finally got to cross off one of the top items on my New Zealand to-do list: the Bay of Islands. Located about 3 hours north of Auckland, the Bay of Islands is a collection of 144 islands and features towns of Paihia, Russell and Waitangi, where the famous Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

Along our drive up we stopped at Abbey Caves, a set of three caves that are home to the glow worms found all over the North Island. Moss-covered geometric rocks framed and formed the caves, making the trip down into them a slippery one. The first two caves were difficult to get inside of but the third we decided to attempt. Forming a single-file line we descended, careful not to step into the water or cut up our legs. We moved on all fours into the depths of the cave, holding each other’s bags and hands when needed. Crawling into a small side section of the cave, we turned off our flashlights and waited for them to appear. Looking up, we saw the white-blue glow of the worms, like stars in the sky. Having only my phone with me and not my camera, I wasn’t able to get a picture of the worms we saw but I’ve pulled one from

After consuming the lunches we’d packed we got back in the car and headed for AH Reed Memorial Park. We arrived at the park and read the map, which showed a 45 minute each direction walk to our next destination, Whangarei Falls. At this point in the semester waterfalls were nothing new, but this one was three times the size of any we’d seen before. Perhaps not the tallest, but the widest and most vivacious. The path lead across the top of the fall, providing a steep but breathtaking view down towards the the lagoon where the waterfall gathered. Following the path down to the base, we took in the scenery from all angles and heights. At the base a family was having a picnic, the little girl exploring the edge of the water, watched closely by her father so that she wouldn’t fall in. I took a moment, thinking, “this is someone’s everyday life. My paradise, my other-worldly beauty, someone lives here always.” That thought permeated many of my experiences throughout the semester.


Our next stop was the Mermaid Pools near Matapouri. At this point we had lost the other car we were meeting at the Bay of Islands, and the urge to see and swim in these pools was far stronger than our desire to track them down. We pulled up to an absolutely surreal beach. The sand was pure, soft in texture and light in color. The waves weren’t crashing, but discreetly rolling in. The water and sky displaying idyllic shades of blue. Slowly, we walked across the beach, following a map we found online to the pools. The way to the pools was first up a steep hill - steep in the way that it was almost 90 degrees vertical. There was a rope secured into the ground to grab and use to pull ourselves up. Equipped with flip flops and massive cameras, we were ill prepared for this type of climb but persevered nonetheless. A short walk awaited us at the top, taking us down an equally steep rocky journey to the pools. They looked exactly like what I pictures something called the “Mermaid Pools” would look like. Rough edges framing emerald water that overlooked a view of the ocean and islands in the distance. Without hesitation we dove in. The water, as per usual, was freezing. That didn’t stop three of the four of us from spending over an hour splashing and swimming around, living out our childhood mermaid fantasies.


From Matapouri we finally made our way up to Piha, the town we were staying in. The next morning we took a ferry from Piha to Russell, a small town well-known in the Bay of Islands. We hiked up and over the town, reaching the summit and taking in the views before descending to a small, hidden beach to relax for a few hours. Just around the bend from where we sat we found a tire swing that stretched across the rocky shoreline just out over the edge of the water. We soaked up as much warmth from the sun as we could, as it was difficult to catch a warm day in the winter. Piling back on to the ferry to Piha and heading back to Auckland we were all satiated with the number of adventures we’d found on our way to and around the Bay of Islands, one of the must-do locations for New Zealand visitors.

By Beatrice Mount

Around this time of year, my parents normally send me one simple text message for the holiday season: “email me what you want for christmas so I can order it on time.” It’s rather straightforward, and indeed a little bit abnormal, but provides the best representation for how my family views the holiday season. Specifically: we’ve never really been big fans. It’s not that we don’t celebrate chirstmas, but the only holiday tradition that avoided falling to the wayside was our visit to a family friend’s christmas party. OF course, that fell apart this year, when my parents traded out California’s great, smokey sunsets for the slightly less smokey sunsets of Oregon. We just don’t “do” christmas well.

In contrast, the minute mid-November hits, the Dutch enter a holiday frenzy. The streets are decorated with intricate, twinkling lights that illuminate the cobblestone and symbolise the welcoming of the new season. Beginning in mid-November and lasting through the first week of January, Dutch city centers and squares are transformed into Christmas markets. Each town has their own unique array of edible goods and non-edible gifts, ranging from scarves to rubber ducks to kettlekorn to loempia. Maastricht even has it’s own ice rink and Ferris wheel!

While the Christmas markets bring together the dutch, in recent years, the holiday season has been marked by a debate regarding one controversial holiday figure: Zwarte Piet. For those of you who don’t know, Zwarte Piet, or “Black Pete," is, explained in simplified terms, the dutch’s racist answer to Santa’s little helper. In more detailed terms, the Dutch Christmas holiday focuses not on Santa, but on Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas. Instead of having multiple “elves" who help him deliver presents, he has multiple helpers, who undeniably look a lot like racist caricatures of black people. Piet has an afro, a black (literally black) face, and large, red lips. Beyond that, Piet also wears “moorish” dress, based off of 16th-century noble attire, and a single earring. Zwarte Piet originally was portrayed as an unintelligent helper, however, since the 19th-century origins, he’s now grown into just a lovable, absent-minded character.

And oh boy, do the Dutch love him. Zwarte Piet is inescapable. He’s there, staring at you while you walk from class to class, peering out of the windows of hairdressers, children’s toy stores, and coffee shops. Furthermore, people love to dress up as Zwarte Piet for part of the holiday—donning wigs and drawing on big, red lips on top of blackened faces.

As an American, this holiday tradition scares me. It’s made me feel lucky to live in a country where the work of black civil rights leaders have changed the norm so blackface is, for the most part, unacceptable. You, for the most part, won’t get egged for calling some frat boys interpretation of Kanye West racist—rather, it’s more likely that that frat boy will be fired from his job.

The Netherlands is something else, completely. As of 2018, 88% of the Dutch public did not perceive Zwarte Piet as racist or associate him with slavery. While interpretations of Zwarte Piet now include just rubbing coal on your face, the fact that the character is so widely accepted represents a larger issue with Dutch society. It’s something I’ve noticed while living here, especially when visiting museums or talking to other university students about problems within American society.

While racism and sexism are something that people in America openly talk about, Dutch people just don’t really do that. The reason for this boils down to how we view multiculturalism in our construction of nationalism. In America, multiculturalism is relatively good. We’re the melting pot; our differences boil together to make the cheesy, artificial goo that is America. In a way, this recognition of multiculturalism allows us to talk about our differences. We’re not perfect, and we have a lot of problems, but we do have a large, multi-varied, and constant discourse regarding these problems.

Europe in general views multiculturalism as "niet zo goed." The concept of sameness is intrinsically linked to the concept of equality — you become equal by being the same. But that emphasis on sameness doesn’t create equality—it just tries to pave over the impavable, and by doing so ultimately reinforces problematic power structures and denies social progress. SO, although some of the Dutch I’ve met have claimed they “don’t have racism, unlike America,” my response has always been “you do, but you don’t talk about it.”

One of the easiest ways to see this, outside of but connected to Zwarte Piet, is through how various museums address colonization. While the Dutch may not have dealt with the civil war, the Dutch have had a long history of colonization and enslavement. They were heavily involved in the slave trade, shipping kidnapped African people to Spanish colonies in Brazil. They colonized South Africa and the East Indies, murdering indigenous persons and forcing enslaved Africans and Pacific Islanders to the same horrific treatments that Black Slaves in America had to deal with. And Zwarte Piet is undeniably connected to this history—he is, no matter how the culture tries to gloss over it—Santa's slave, not helper.

My interaction with the Dutch education system is limited. But based off of what I know from visiting museums,  the history of colonization is portrayed as a “G” rated joke. Stolen objects and dioramas of apartheid settlements and Indonesian sugar farms are encased in glass, next to descriptions that avoid addressing the kind of orientalization and dehumanization that accompanied the actions. Importantly, Black and indigenous perspectives are missing from these narratives—rather the narrative acknowledges some bad stuff happened, but it’s ok because that was a while ago. Tackling this history means avoiding the white-washed, G-rating. And effectively tackling gives everyone the basis to have an easier discussion on Zwarte Piet.

There are a plethora of other issues Zwarte Piet symbolizes, importantly including the removal of voices of color from Dutch discourse. And, indeed, it’s by centering these voices of color and acknowledging difference that the Dutch can actually begin this process. That might start with museums, or it might start with the education system—as some Dutch teachers are already doing. But either way, white Dutch people need to listen to the people of color who’ve been angry with Piet for decades. The racism needs to be addressed, and Zwarte Piet needs to go, soon.