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The first thing you notice when you touch down in Shanghai is the complete lack of personal space. I say this as someone who is usually comfortable cramming into a packed subway car in Manhattan. We were warned of this cultural difference before we left for the semester, but there is nothing quite like experiencing it for yourself. What I’ve come to realize, however, in the last few days that I have been in China, is that this cultural difference is actually one that forces you headfirst into the local community. The people in Shanghai live in a level of comfort with each other that I have never experienced in any of my travels. There is unique a sense of camaraderie and tradition that the entire community adheres to. The ancient cultures and practices that are the foundations of Chinese life are clearly ingrained in every individual I have come across in my short time in Shanghai.

On our scavenger hunt we came across an adorable woman leading a board game in People’s Park and we were all enamored by her charisma. Although we didn’t understand the game, we were positive she was winning.

An amazing example of this sense of community is the Shanghai marriage market in People’s Park. We experienced this practice firsthand on one of our initial activities as a cohort. The Shanghai marriage market is a tradition that has been going on for generations. Essentially, parents gather around in the “blind corner” of the central People’s Park, and hold a sort of showcasing for their unwed sons and daughters. On opened umbrellas, advertisements can be seen boasting good looks and successful careers, as the actual bachelors and bachelorettes are nowhere to be seen. This practice is a clear indicator of the tradition and culture surrounding marriage in China. Parents see it as their duty and right to make sure that their children find the perfect match. This is a very traditional practice that makes me thing of the way marriage is viewed in India as well. I find it so interesting that ancient cultures can bring their value systems into the 21st century unbothered by the global culture of the modern era and pass these traditions down to their children. This is very clear in Chinese culture and I look forward to discovering more of Shanghai’s hidden cultural gems in the months to come!

The Shanghai Marriage market was such an interesting event to walk through. Parents swarmed us to find out if we wanted to marry their children and even pulled out pictures to show us and convince us to say yes. It was definitely a memorable sight.

By Deah Dushyanth

I have always defined myself as a global citizen. Yes, I grew up in New York and sound distinctly American, but my passport will always display the trio of lions that make up the State Emblem of India. In fact, until very recently, I was a complete foreigner in the place I’d called my home my entire life. After twelve years of waiting, I received my Green Card a few days after my 17th birthday in 2016. Officially receiving that small piece of plastic meant that I was finally entitled to most of the same rights as any American citizen. In my mind, it meant that I had as much a reason to be here as any one of my friends. Still, did this finally make me American? But even more importantly, did I even want to be American?

If there’s one thing the immigration process taught me, it's that there are certain passports you want to have, and others that will result in waiting. A lot of waiting. Growing up, I likely spent just as much time at the USCIS building in Manhattan as I did on the playground with my friends. I’m not here to spin a sob story about my lost childhood in my family’s pursuit of the American dream, because that would be a lie. Yes, I missed out on a lot of the carefree aspects of being a child that my peers were able to enjoy, but growing up immigration office-hopping was actually an incredibly rewarding experience for a kid. I learned how to tell where a person was from based on the color of their passport, which helped when I trying to decipher people’s conversations in every language I would hear in the waiting room, consumed by boredom. Even then I was incessantly nosy and annoyingly friendly. I learned the importance of patience, protocol and attention to detail, watching my parents fill out every form in the known universe, and failing, on many occasions, to do so correctly. Most importantly, I learned resiliency and the art of getting through to people who only see you as another face in a sea of individuals who want the same thing. My particularly unique childhood was simultaneously foreign and inherently American, something that every immigrant child grapples with.

My identity has always been something that seemed to be working against me. I festered over it all: my cultural identity, my identity within my family, and my duty as a member of a global community. For a long time, I was ashamed of the fact that I didn’t have roots in the place I called home. I often found myself wishing I’d won the geographic lottery and stuck the landing in New York instead of Bangalore, India. Conversely, I wished that my parents had never left India, saving me the energy of understanding how to grow up in a completely new country. I came to understand, however, that my cultural bipolarity is an integral part of my identity. The Indian side of me helps me understand things on a global scale, and see beyond the idyllic cultural bubble of the northern hemisphere. I understand that people lead different lives in every part of the world because, for a time, my life wasn’t what it is now. But I would be lying if I said there isn’t a big part of me that is completely American. I credit my sense of agency and often bull-headed inability to accept failure to the country that I grew up in. The combination of these value systems is what makes me believe that everybody should be a global citizen. In an effort to not sound like a broken record, I urge people to take the advice of those PSA’s on getting little kids to eat vegetables: you won’t know what its like till you try it. It's exactly that approach that leads millions of people to immigrate to the United States and millions of others to set out around the world to explore how they can be members of a global community beyond geographic and cultural borders. Its why I cherish my annual summer visits to India, and why I am skeptical of forfeiting my Indian passport when I am up for American citizenship in a few years (don’t worry this hasn’t all just been a ploy to get India to offer dual citizenship). Finally, it is why I made a conscious decision to make studying abroad a key component of my college education. What better way to learn how to be a universal thinker than by exploring the way people think all around the world?

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 Emily Golden

In your original post, you defined yourself in your own words. Review this post and reflect on your own internal changes. Do you still identify in the same way? Has your time abroad given you new insights into your own identity? Has anything changed? If so, what? What do you think will be the hardest part of leaving your international community? How do you think you will stay connected to this community?

Noticing the changes I’ve gone through since my first post was surprising for me. While I did expect my outlook and perspective on my identity to change, I did not expect it to change in the way that it did. The lack of confidence in my language ability and my fear surrounding my conversational skills is quite evident in the tone of my first post. I remember feeling that anxiety in the beginning but I feel so detached from that now. I think that fear stemmed from me going about my abroad experience trying to trick everyone in China into thinking that I was not Chinese American. Not only did I have the language skills to explain how I’m Chinese, but not really, and how I moved to the US when I was 1 year old, but how I have a single white mother, but I also felt embarrassed and burdened to answer the inevitable question of “where are you from?”

But now, having taken an honest survey of my language abilities and having 3 months of being asked the same thing, I approach the question with a whole new attitude. Instead of dread, I take it as an opportunity to start a dialogue. For many Chinese people I am challenging what that think an American looks like to them and I look at it with this perspective now instead of thinking they’re going to judge me. I also understand that I’m not going to become fluent overnight and it’s ok to not understand when people engage you in conversation but its important to try. While this isn’t a change in identity, the pretty obvious realization has changed the way I carry myself here.

I also thought it was interesting how I identified strongly as an New Yorker in my first post. While I’m still impatient as the next person and dare to cross intersections while others wait, this identity has become less and less important. I’ve heard that identity is all about locality, so when I’m in America I feel the need to call myself a New Yorker but when I’m abroad, especially for a longer period of time, American is the only “marker” that I feel is super important. But I can tell, the moment I step back on American soil that part of my identity will probably change again.

For me, I think the hardest part of leaving my international community is acknowledging that it’s even happening. Just 4 months ago I didn’t know anyone coming into the program, didn’t have any of these amazing people in my life, and didn’t know how fast the semester would fly by. Now, just 4 months wiser it is going to be extremely difficult saying goodbye to the people I just met but who have become family so quickly. You build your community bonds so quickly when you’re abroad, and I can’t believe how many lifelong friends I now have when only 12 weeks ago I didn’t even know who they were.

Beyond the social media that everyone relies on here to stay in touch, I want to visit my classmates at their homes around the country. This journey would take me North, West, and South and I can’t wait to see how our relationships will grow from here on out. Regarding my teachers who I also consider my friends, they’ve shown how they still stay in touch with students from over a decade ago. I hope to be among that group too and stay in touch as the continue to change the lives of study abroad students likes me.

It is truly impossible to put into words the speed in which this semester has flown by and yet how many lessons, activities, and friendships have been fit in at the same time. Having my perspective on identity to guide me has been instrumental in my experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

By Fatima Zahra Kassidi

As my semester abroad comes to an end, I write this last blog post with a heavy heart and a great load of wonderful memories. Reminiscing on my first post, I realize my identity has not changed much but it definitely grew stronger and by that I mean that my pride in it has multiplied. Experiencing such a diverse and welcoming scene where people from all over Asia and many European natives, now expats, have built an environment of respect and discipline and have proven that this cohabitation is not as difficult to achieve as other areas of the world have portrayed. I have realized that my identity as a global citizen has deepened and affirmed further than ever before thanks to my several opportunities to travel, explore and familiarize with such different cultures. I have been around so many nationalities and languages such as regional Malay, Mandarin, Bahasa, Tagalog... Moreover, I have had the incredible honor of visiting some areas of Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Australia and Thailand. This thirst for discovery and wanderlust has grown insatiable as I constantly battled between classes and expanding my array of foreign visits and cultural knowledge to learn from. The hardest part about returning home would definitely be leaving this City-State hub called Singapore—connecting you to so many other amazing places, a literal door for travel lovers as myself. Another hard reality is putting an enormous distance between friends that you developed special bonds with but will become dispersed all over the world. The good side is that I now have a global network of friends and we can visit each other. Indeed, plans and dates have already been reserved for reunions in the coming future. I have also shared contact information with my professors to keep in touch with. Although I have had an incredible experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world, I’m happy to find the comfort of home in Morocco for a few weeks before heading back to GW and finding a certain stability for one last semester where my weekends will look like Gelman library dates and not Singapore Changi airport meetings en route for yet another adventure.

By Taylor Garland

I’m reporting live, dear readers, from the other side of the semester. My final submission was last week, and I have to say that I’ve never felt like I’ve worked harder on anything else – and all the grades are pass fail!!!

To refresh, I’m a Marketing Major, with a Fine Arts/Art History dual minor. I’ve completed the majority of my business degree, with the rest of the classes required to be completed in my next, final semester. For this fall semester, I planned on completing my minor, so four out of the five courses I’ve taken here in Singapore have been either studio courses or art history…and let me tell you…I suffered for my work.

In my weekly schedule, my first class was Applied Drawing. I found it to be like an elevated foundation drawing class – for people who were familiar with drawing techniques to hone in on their artistic voice and methods. This was a bit above my technical level, but I tried my best to keep up, and ended up producing a lot of artwork that I’m generally quite pleased with!

The next class was my one business course, Social Marketing. It was about creating marketing strategies for social issues, which differs to traditional product marketing. I enjoyed conversations about ethics, learning more about the Singaporean social fabric, and getting a look at how different expectations are for business school students here versus in the states.

Next class was History of Photography. A delightful (and manageable) dive into the mechanics of the evolution of photography, as well as the people and art movements that were important to this timeline.

After this, one of the most interesting and intellectually challenging classes I’ve ever taken – The Expanded Field of Art: Public Spaces. This class was intended to interrogate the construction of “space” in the Singaporean art scene, as well as identify actors and relationships relevant to Singapore’s struggle with its identity and the art its people produces. The readings were, in my opinion, unnecessarily dense and required academic context that I definitely didn’t have. However, after several passes through the readings, and hours of discussion with my group mates (who became two of my closest local friends) there was a ridiculous 3am intellectual breakthrough, and we were able to piece together a new, cohesive argument, drawing on the texts and our experiences within the class. Our final presentation (and accompanying essay) is one of my proudest achievements this semester!

My final class was called Wearable Technology: Fashion and Design. While the Public Spaces class was the most intellectually challenging, Wearable Tech was the most time consuming and labor intensive. This class was essentially a three-hour studio in preparation for a end-of-semester fashion show, where we would design and create an outfit that featured some kind of technology in its context and execution. I spent a cumulative of about 200 hours (I wish I was kidding) designing, creating, breaking and then remaking my garment. The technical aspect, the sewing (which took the most of the time due to the design which in hindsight, was WAY too ambitious), and the research and coordination for the class’ show consumed my time deep into the night. Definitely a challenging course as an exchange student, but I had a lot of fun creating and discussing and spending long hours with my professor, who was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

In all, this semester was full of challenges and setbacks, as well as break throughs, congratulations, and moments of genuine pride when reflecting on my work that I’ve never felt before in any other college class (save for my African-American Art History course with Bibiana Obler, which I would highly recommend to any GW student thinking of studying art history!). I’m super happy with my work and the memories I made with those who were working around me.

By Taylor Garland

Learning languages has always really interested me, particularly learning each language’s slang. Since I’m only really fluent in English, I’ve had a wealth of different countries with English slang, but never did I think I’d love Singlish so much.

Singlish, Singaporean English, is easily one of my favorite things about this little island. It’s a mixture of primarily English and Hokkien Chinese (with a few Malay and Indian terms, so I’ve been told).

Here are some of my favorite terms:

  • Bo Jio (v) – to not invite ex. (when you see an Instagram post from your friend’s party that you didn’t know was happening) -in comment section- “Bo jio :/”
  • Shiok (adj) – great (has many different meanings, can be used as an exclamation or as an adjective) ex. Ooh-la-la. Wowie. Shiok. Jazzy, man. Beaut.
  • Chio (n) – pretty girl ex. She chio lah.
  • Smoking (v) – making things up on the fly, bluffing ex. Rose had no idea what she was talking about during her business presentation, she was smoking the whole time lah
  • Shag bawls (adj) – tiring ex. Have to listen to my friend complain about breaking up with her boyfriend….. wah shag bawls
  • Sien (adj) – annoying (because x has become a burden) ex. I’ve been studying for this exam all month, this is so sien.
  • Tabao (v) – to take away, food to go ex. I don’t have time to eat in canteen, so I have to tabao my lunch.
  • Can (v) – to be able to (similar in English, but different in sentence placement) ex. Can pay by nets? “Can, can”
  • Jialat (adj) – nothing is going your way ex. Wah jialat liao, look like it’s going to rain!
  • Aiyo (adj) – quick response to something bad or unpleasant ex. (cup of kopi is spilled on table) Aiyo, spill!

By Taylor Garland

Being so far away from home for an extended amount of time brings on a multitude of challenges – how will you go through your daily life the same (hint: you won’t)? You start to cultivate what it means to live somewhere entirely new, you learn new languages, eat new foods, maybe wake up earlier (or later!) or joined an activity you would never have back home. All of this is done with so much excitement, but that doesn’t mean you forget about the people back home.

In my first semester in Shanghai, I was super bummed out that no one could visit me. Flights were expensive, the timing wasn’t ideal, and visas were kinda hard to work out on short notice. Of course, I understood that and didn’t hold it against anyone for not visiting – I was just sad I never got to share such an amazing city with anyone back home.

Then, when I was in Milan, I felt like every other weekend was filled with people I knew from school or home. My mom visited twice, once with my sister, I traveled Europe to visit friends from school who were also abroad, hosted a handful of Americans for an extended amount of time, and that almost felt like too much. Everyone around me had a common background – how was I supposed to learn how to live authentically here?

Now in Singapore, my mom has come to visit once at the end of my semesters. So, I’ve effectively been on my own for the full three and a half months of schooling. What I’ve learned about that, about missing the people back home, is that sometimes it’s best to miss them. They’ll be there when you return. But you must work hard to make and cherish the new relationships right in front of you, because those will be the ones you miss in the long run. And now I’ve spent enough time here to introduce my mom to spoonfuls of my Singaporean life in a way that feels real, and not repetitive.

Here are some of my recommendations for when people visit you abroad:

  • You don’t have to do tourist-y things just because that’s what tourists do. Bring people to where you spend time, introduce them to the people you spend time with. Let them see your new home through your lens.
  • It’s ok to indulge, if you can. Is there a bar you’ve been meaning to go to but the drinks are a bit more expensive than you like? If there a day trip, a ticketed experience, something almost too far by transit that you were really meaning to go to? Try now! Experience something new together with someone that knows you well.
  • Be real about your time. Don’t build up where you are and then feel like you’re lying about what you enjoyed and what you struggled with. If hanging laundry for three days because they’re never fully dry with the humidity and rain sucks, then say it sucks. If you really like food at a certain canteen, or if you really liked some dive bar you went to twice, just say it. This all contributes to letting who is with you see where you are through your lens.
  • Have fun. You aren’t responsible for covering the most ground, spending the most money or having the most “efficient” trip. You’re there as a host, to someone who probably missed you, and it’s ok to take time and move slow if that’s what you enjoy more than a jam-packed schedule. Do what you think is best for the both (or all!) of you, and I’m sure whoever has come to visit will have a good time.

Here are some pictures of me and my mom:


By Taylor Garland

It’s been roughly 4 months since I’ve gotten to Singapore, and I’ve just begun the end of my stay. Having experiencing this “ending” twice before, you’d think I’d have a handle on how to say goodbye BUT…this sucks.

This was the first place I’d gone completely alone, knowing absolutely no one and absolutely nothing about Singapore (to be honest, if you had asked me to point it out on a map it would have taken quite some time and quite some guesses). It was a challenge to understand, to feel like I was doing it “right” (ie. not sweating every time I went outside), and to feel like I was making the right friends for the right reasons. I wanted meaningful, genuine relationships, and it was about a month ago when I realized I’d made just that.

I threw myself into Singapore with few resources to keep afloat, only knowing that I wanted local friends to leave behind, with the promise of a return in the future.

I was on the rugby team, I went to local art events, I went to screenings of movies with my friends and traveled and went dancing and got ice cream after class and dim sum at midnight. I rode bikes under the moon along the beach, went to concerts where I was on a first name basis with the band members, discovered the superior messaging app Telegram, and made myself a little space in a way I hadn’t in Shanghai or Milan.

I hadn’t been to anywhere tourists were until this week, on my way to a show I saw the Merlion. Weird how I can exist on such a small island for so long and just never come into contact to the Singapore that it presents itself to be. I feel like a local.

I wasn’t sure which pictures to include in this post, so here’s just a couple of what my life has looked like in the past few months:

By Taylor Garland

Thinking of coming to this tropical belt for a semester, but not sure what to bring? Here’s a guide on what, after two previous semesters abroad, I packed, and my thoughts on it after being in Singapore for 3 months (one and a half left!).

So to start, my personal wardrobe is very minimal – most of my clothes are monochromatic, and therefore can fit in a variety of outfits. Even my workout clothes double as pajamas or subtle outfit pieces (black shorts, black leggings, etc).

When selecting my wardrobe for this semester, I took into consideration travel, my personal interest in activities (hiking, swimming, etc), and the weather in all of the places I plan to go. I knew Singapore is hot and humid all year long, but a lot of academic buildings have aircon.

To organize my clothes, I used a set of packing cubes I bought on Amazon. I put my jackets, dresses, and some pants in the largest cubes, shirts together, underwear together, etc. I ended up bringing:

  • 5 Dresses/Jumpsuits
  • 11 Bottoms (shorts + pants)
  • 11 Tops (long + short sleeve)
  • 1 raincoat
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 10 pairs of socks
  • 10 pairs of underwear (+6 bras)
  • 4 hats (go dragons!)

For shoes, I tried to pick one pair for each “function”. So in order from left to right starting with the top row: shower, casual slippers for the lazy days, casual, exercise, casual sandals for extra hot days, “going out” heels.

For toiletries and miscellaneous things, I organized them by function, then into bags.

Here I have: makeup + skincare, extra bag (for clothes I might make dirty during transit), earrings + hair accessories, pencils/pens/scissors/calculator, and toiletries + extra toothbrush.

I also brought a few loose bags (2 totes, one “shopping” bag, and a mesh bag for my laundry)

While most of the packing cubes and shoes + related things went into my check-in luggage, here’s a picture of my carry-on with a few extra things I wanted to bring including: my cameras, some books, my neck pillow, a rolling brush, a mirror, and an extra change of clothes (pulled from the packing cubes!)

I ended up having this small carry on, a backpack, and a large luggage to check in (which had room for more things in the event I buy clothes through my travels!)

In all, I know I could have packed even less if I wanted to, and I probably would have gone for a smaller check-in luggage.

Thanks for reading!