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By inepalacios

March 30, 10.52 pm It’s been two weeks since my spring break but I still need to talk about it. Not only because I had moments to reflect on, but also because it has been hard to be more “academically concentrated”, in other words, to accept the fact that the spring break is done. A team project due tomorrow, an individual research paper due Tuesday and an eight-page essay for Wednesday. It is Sunday night and nothing is not done yet. Why? “Procrastination” I can say, but at the same time those were moments that I do not regret to have lived.

The last time that I wrote a Puerto Rican friend was waiting for me at Union Station. She was coming from New York, to spend her spring break and the last part of my spring break here in Washington DC.

That weekend (two weekends ago) the weather and my friend´s company were the best excuse to enjoy more than DC and its spots. Riding a bike through Foggy Bottom, DuPont Circle, and Georgetown; tasting the best American milkshake that I have ever tasted, knowing and enjoying the most Washingtonian hipster place (Busboy and Poets), walking across all the memorials (again!), immersing in the genuine atmosphere of Chilli Bowl and tasting its really good food (finally!) those were some of the activities that we did only in two days, great days. I was needing a friend to talk, to reflect, to share my experience, and Jeru was the perfect friend to do that.

We met five months ago in Buenos Aires when she was studying abroad. I am remembering that we only needed an afternoon to become confident friends. We were looking a classmate to prepare an oral exam in two days. Helping each other, we perfectly resulted a complement to get both a good grade. Unfortunately, she was coming back to US when I met her but we maintained contact from that moment. She really resulted to be a great person to understand me in my experiences of studying abroad, in my contrast between our Latin American culture and the American culture, in the same Political Science major, in the decision to leave home and our families to take the opportunity to study in great universities, among other similarities. It was definitely the best way to finish my spring break. I am missing her! Thanks, Jeru, for everything!

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Regardless, it was the end of spring break, but only in the real terms, because in mine, I seem to be in spring break still. I don't know if it is because I realized that I only have five weeks left at GW, or just because a lot of plans came up. A barbecue, a homemade dinner with friends, a visit to new memorial in Virginia with the Cross Country Club, a discussion with the Brazilian ambassador, a seminar in the Inter-American Development Bank, a visit to the White House, indoor rock climbing, all events that I couldn't not attend, besides having a lot to be learning from my courses at GW. Otherwise, all those events were moments where I have been learning too, where I had to reflect on too. Without a doubt, my exchange is passing by quickly. I only have to realized that I have to continue to enjoy it.


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By nimames

Today, I probably have completed almost two months without wearing makeup. The reason ? A stye infection in my upper left eyelid. I don’t mean for this post to be a detailed medical record of my misfortune but a sort of reflection about mascara, random bumps on eyes, and society.

I woke up one day with a swollen left eye. I went to the doctor and she assured me it wasn’t serious and stye infections go away after a week. What she failed to mention is that my ‘little’ stye infection liked having a warm place to stay and decided to stay in my eye for almost 3 months now. Of course, since I now have a bump in my eyelid, I cannot wear makeup and it is killing me.

People often ask me does it hurt or does it bother me. It doesn’t bother me, well at least not physically. But what bothers me is the notion that there is a lump there and most importantly I cannot wear makeup. I am not a girl who necessarily needs to have a full makeup to leave the house but I do like to look the least bit pretty. What I realized is that I don’t really care about the stye camping out in one of my vital organs, no. What I really cared about is me not being able not to wear makeup ergo not look the way I want to look. This particular thought made me realize, and I recoil at the thought, that I now associate being pretty, or the least bit attractive, to having colored sticky chemicals on my face. Why ? Everyone knows the answer and it is something that is plastered in every blog on the internet and has become one of those ‘topics’: body image, the media’s effect on women’s image, the power of cosmetics blah blah blah. But what really frightened me is that sadly it is true. We, me included, are all under the same spell: we need to look a certain way to look pretty and ergo be accepted and spend a lot of money in the process.

When I’d complain to my friends about this issue they’d be kind enough to tell me “you don’t need makeup Nima” and I thank them for their kind words but I can’t help myself not to really believe them. There is still this voice inside my head that keeps saying that you’ll never look half as good as you want to if you do not wear makeup. As depressing as this thought might sound it is nonetheless true and is indeed a sad reflection on our society, because after all, beauty, like money, is a socially constructed phenomena.

My journey with my bumpy eye has opened up insecurities I never actually thought about before. Although it wasn’t a pleasant journey, I learned to love myself makeup less and try to make it work "au naturel".

As cliché as it might sound, to all the girls out there I say, love yourself just the way you are, or at least try, because you never know when your upper left eyelid will decide to grow a bump. Believe me, it happens and you better be prepared. With no mascara needed, at least I saved some money !

Shears !

By hannahbethdray

Spring Break was the most incredible week, full of amazing food, great friends and a lot of relaxation! Unfortunately though, I came back home to lots of snow and four papers to write!  For this reason, I was unable to celebrate St Patrick’s Day on Monday. Luckily we were able to celebrate this weekend at Shamrock Fest! Two of my friends Georgina and Tamara from school have come over from the UK to visit for two weeks so were able to join us in green and celebrate! We were packed out in green and luckily the weather was on our side and it was beautiful! Pic 2  The festival was being held at RFK Stadium in South East DC, so after joining other green wearing Americans, Pic3we had arrived! After exploring everything the festival had to offer, including carnival rides and various Irish paraphernalia, we watched a couple of Irish bands to play.Pic4
Georgina and Tamara were suffering a little from time difference jet lag so we went to experience some good American food: Pizza and Funnel Cake!!
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Pic10 I also managed to switch my tiara for a flashing one due to my English accent (the perks of being an exchange student). Pic7Pic8 It was a little crazy getting back from the festival as everyone was travelling back at the same time, but we had an amazing day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Today was Tamara and Georgina’s first day of being tourists in DC, so what better way to start than see all the monuments! Overall we walked 5 miles today and my feet are really feeling the effects of this. We saw the Washington Monument, Lincoln and Vietnam among others, and the girls had a really great time
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Pic18 although I was at one point being followed by a squirrel who would not leave me alone! Pic13  The day was ended with a trip to Chipotle – I felt I had really earned my food by that point!
What I learnt from today was that having lived in DC for 7 months now, I have really got the hang of the area; I don’t feel as much of a tourist anymore, although I do still sometimes have my moments of getting lost on the metro!

By aaront162

While I was preparing my breakfast meal, I came to the realization that these miniscule, delicious oats scattered with slices of bananas reminded me of the dichotomy between agency and structure which seems to define the debate between pos-structural and modern constructivist understandings of how the concept of “security” is constituted within the international system. I quickly came to a second realisation which was that I had spent far too much time reading and researching a swathe of obscure, abstract international relations theory literature such that my perception of a simple meal had been distorted in such a unfathomable (and to be frank, quite concerning) manner. I then realised I better start eating my oats before it got cold and mushy. Then I realised that all the stuff I had read and re-read finally made sense. Such is the nature of undertaking an independent study and research subject – a little known creature lurking in the midst of the GWU course offerings which I think merits a few words.

Research is a strange thing – and experience which combines “pull out your hair in frustration” moments with the ecstatic “eureka” moment that has motivated the thinkers and ponderers looking at apples falling from trees or sitting in bathtubs throughout history to devote their time and effort to uncovering the mysteries of the world around us. For the past few weeks, this is precisely what I have been doing – endless readings of journal articles, countless hours on Google scholar and requesting obscure books from all over the DC area. And the strange thing about it all? It is completely and utterly voluntary. Independent research is precisely that – no lecturers to set your readings, no prescribed textbooks, just an idea and a supervisor to guide you along the often rocky road to publishing a substantial paper at the end of the semester. Quite frankly, in amongst the I heart DC cups and sweaters that I will be bringing home to Sydney in a few months, I think a substantial piece of research on the subject of international relations theory would be a pretty nifty souvenir (but then again, keep in mind I did interpret a bowl of oats and bananas as a debate between two core theoretical concepts – make of that what you will). But beyond that there is quite simply the fact that for the first time in my academic life, I get to set the subject and research in somethign that I have a passion about. .

I write this on a table whose surface is barely visible because it is strewn with highlighters, printed out journal articles, ripped put pieces of notebook paper and sticky notes on top of which sits a stack of cans of red bull and a giant ball of colourful jolly rancher wrappers which supplied me with the necessary caffeine and sugar to sustain my efforts through the milieu of academia. All the research and readings haven’t driven me to “The Shining” “here’s Johnny!” crazy (yet) though really there couldn’t be a more perfect setting than the hallways of City Hall if I ever did. In other words, undertaking independent research is not for the faint of heart. However, for those who are driven by a particular passion and would jump at the ability to spend a whole semester devoted to a subject of their choice for a subject (as obscure and crazy as it sounds to everyone else), then it really is a rewarding experience.

By inepalacios

Saturday March 15 2014, Washington DC, GW Foggy Bottom Campus, my room, 10.15 AM. I just arrived from Miami. Although my spring break is not finished I can’t believe that my trip is over. The new places that I visited in Miami, the new people and the fun moments gave new stories to tell but also unexpected lessons.

Among the typical plans that we organized to do I could discover interesting and enrichments places. Beside the plans that we did as going to the beach, enjoying some restaurants and walking down the streets of Miami, I could meet the faculty staff of one of the best universities of Miami, I also could go to a meeting of the government of the city where I was staying, the city of Doral, and could have a dinner in membership place of the Triumph National Doral Club. How we could do all of this stuff?

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It was the fourth day, after to go to the beach, swimming in the pool, hanging out with Pepi´s friends, Pepi and I decided to go over Miami. We walked across Miami downtown, across the Vizcaya gardens: an amazing green space with an interesting architecture, and across Coconut Grove, a nice neighborhood with a lot of spots to visit. Until that moment, I had no idea that what would happen. Juan, one of Pepi´s friend and co-founder of Casimiro Global Foundation invited us to attend to a political debate at the City Hall of The City of Doral. Before the debate, Juan introduced us to members of the International Business Development Advisory Board, the city manager, the city attorney, the major of the City of Doral, among other authorities. There, I had the opportunity to think how much the Argentine debate needs to improve; at the same time, I could identify some generalities regarding the failures of political debates. As a student of Political Science this experienced was really enriching. After that, Juan invited us to have a dinner, that moment was the opportunity to know personally one of most inspiring person that I had know in my entirely life. We talked about his leadership experiences, about young and successful people’s stories, about programs which help young entrepreneurs, about possible scholarships for us. He also invited us to participate in a congress of business innovation for young people; he told us about the possibility to do an internship in his city, finally inviting us to spend the entire following day with him.

If I was grateful for having lived an exciting fourth day, the fifth day exceeded my expectations. We began knowing the faculty staff of one of the best university of Miami: University of Miami, Florida International University and Keiser University. I could learn about a lot of study program opportunities in Miami. At the last university, we could attend to a conference where Juan lectured. The conference was for young Latin American leaders. The leaders come from a variety of offices of a government administration of Chile, Paraguay, Panamá, Venezuela, Dominican Republican and Mexico. Then, Juan introduced me to them giving me the chance to discuss about issues that I am interested in. Among other topics, I heard about microcredit, companies´ help, and the means to improve the economic development in Latin America. While Juan presented the existent means to develop young business, another orator talked about the last efficient government measures to generate economic and inclusive development.

At the end of the day, Juan invited us to have a dinner in the memberships’ place of Triumph National Doral Club, an amazing place. It was a really nice end, not only because the infrastructure of the place was beautiful and the food was really good, also because we met another of Juan’s friend who talked about his success career life. Finally, Juan and his friend told us about different spots to go in Miami and also we arranged to meet in Argentina, where they are going in the following months.

If I was worried thinking that Miami would not have anything to enrich my experience, since the fourth day of my trip I realized that I was wrong.

The last day, although I had not enough time, I decided to go to the beach and enjoy there the last sunshine in Miami. From there, I said goodbye to Miami, with millions of new expectations and possible plans for my life.

I would like to think more about each detail of the trip, but a Puerto Rican friend just called me because she already arrived to DC from New York; she came to spend with me the last spring days.  The spring break is not finished yet, but definitely, it gave me worth experiences I’ll never forget.

By nimames

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My spring break in the tropical and exotic island of Puerto Rico wasn’t about getting crazy ‘spring break style’ only. It was much more than that.

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It has allowed me, to visit a new world entirely and experience and new culture. A culture that is colorful and festive. It has also enabled me to be in a rainforest and climb down slippery rock in inadequate shoes to touch the fresh stream of water descending down rocks. As we climbed an old tower one step at a time, the landscape and view was truly something to behold. Kilometers and kilometers of emerald green stretched out around us, the witness of the sand and the turquoise infinity of the Caribbean sea. We then walked 3 miles in the humidity of the forest eagerly looking around to see if we could see a monkey stopping once in while for a photo-shoot !

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We finally arrived to the waterfall and although it was beautiful I was mildly disappointed to see it packed with people. I wish it could be a sort of secluded waterfall that you’d accidentally stumble upon. It was nevertheless really impressive and trying to swim towards the water falling was nearly impossible. But I managed to do it and it cost me … a huge bruise on my knee.

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On our way back, the driver stopped at a ‘pueblosito’ a small village where we had lobster empanada (heaven !) and pina coladas and were treated to an amazing beach. We were akin to aliens landing in a foreign land never having seen a beach before but this was not a regular beach. This was utterly breathtaking and as we were taking pictures, the drivers friend, a middle age man came up to one friend of mine and told her in the little English he knew: Puerto Rico is much mine as it is yours.

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In some way, it restored my faith in human kindness as we have witnessed firsthand the sheer kindness of random people our path happened to cross. Little did I know that I would be on the receiving end of much more kindness that.

Our last day in San Juan came to an end and we took the ferry to the island of Vieques. The owner of the house we had rented came to pick us up. She was an American woman who now lives in a farm with partner and friends and when I asked her why did she choose to move to Vieques, she told me that she hadn’t been there for a long time. In fact, she had come on vacation 2 years ago, went back to the US, packed her things and moved to the Island of Vieques. Coming from a country where all people want is to leave to Europe of better the United States, I must admit I was a bit confused. When I asked why? She answered me: what’s not to love here. Her statement proved to be anything but wrong.

 

I fell in love with the little island and it’s little town Isabel 2 with its one street packed with restaurants, little bars, convenient stores and the few horses that roam freely around the island. Yes, we ran into a lot of horse grazing here and there. I even woke up one time with a beautiful horse outside my bedroom window. Well the always excited roosters did all the waking because chicken and roosters too were here and there and sometimes there are wars, yes wars between the chickens and well … cats.

 

Our days in Vieques were a mixture of pure laziness and relaxation with a dash of adventure. We got lost a couple of times, tried in vain to show the directions to taxi drivers, been to beaches one more beautiful that the other and just laying there for hours listening to my skin sizzle under the sun. We also tried new foods and really weird fruit, tried dancing salsa but failing at that. We also went snorkeling and saw beautiful coral reef, colorful fish, a barracuda and even sea turtles. I managed to get stung by something and although my forearm did get numb for a few hours, I tried to ignore the pain away and it did work ! The next morning my arm was all up and going. None of what we did, the people we met, the beaches we went to would have happened without the solid help of Betty Boop our big, reliable … red Jeep. It was perhaps the best investment we had made in Vieques because although the scenery was really nice, it was an island after all and it was rather difficult to move around. So to you my dearest Betty Boop I say thank you and I will greatly miss you.

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Our last day in Vieques was rather sad because we had to leave this great place but thank god we had one last night in Vieques before returning to the cold of DC. We decided to treat ourselves to a last day at the beach so we grabbed our gear: flip flops, tower, sunscreen, bottle of water, camera and a book and we headed to the little beach in front of our house. We were surprised to meet a pirate-looking man with a disheveled appearance, but a kind face there. My initial weariness turned into curiosity as the man was drawing weird shapes the sand with two sticks and chanting to the sear. He turned out to be Charlie the shaman. Born in New York, Charlie moved to Vieques 20 something years ago and is a proud Hawaiian shaman. When we asked what he was doing, he told us he was trying to balance the elements to help body borders catch the waves in particularly furious waters. We then sat down with him and he talked to us about his practices. Charlie the shaman turned out to be an educated and eloquent speaker and his out of the box ideas weirdly made sense to me.

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By hannahbethdray

The week of midterms is never fun – you have the panic of trying to remember where your notes are, the last minute to phone calls to friends trying to remember one ID on your list, and the mountains of coffee you inhale to keep yourself awake! However what is fun about midterms in March is that the week following is SPRING BREAK!
After having our exams at the beginning of the week and experiencing some bizarre weather at the start of the week with another snow day Picture 2 (7)(Picture 2), we all made it through our exams. To top off the week we had a lazy Friday with Vanessa cooking some amazing Korean food Picture 7 (5) and then having a good cuddle while watching movies in my room Picture 8 (5)Picture 9 (6) On our way out to get some Fro-Yo we saw another incredible sunset right in the center of the city which was beautiful.Picture 3 (7)
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However I am hoping that this week I will be getting even better pictures as I will be on my way to the Bahamas! As seen in the top picture we will be taking a cruise from Baltimore and stopping along the way in Florida, and then stopping in Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas! Trip to BahamasI am incredibly excited as I have never been on a cruise, and it looks like a mini city! Over 2000 people with 5 bars, multiple restaurants and even a mini golf! Not forgetting the pool too! It is going to be a perfect girls weekend with the fabulous Chrisanthe and Michelle:Photo2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the beautiful Hannah:

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A real girls week! Pray for good weather for me and I’ll blog while I’m away!

 

By nimames

Summarizing my Spring Break experience in a mere 400 words is borderline impossible but I’m going to try and do my best to capture the best moments of this unforgettable trip.

Beach, enchiladas and pina colada

When we first arrived to San Juan, Puerto Rico we were welcomed by warm weather, light breeze, and countless of tropical palm trees. We headed straight up to the beach. From our hotel, it was a 20 minutes walk and for someone as lazy as me it was a long time. However, the beautiful scenery, the colorful colonial buildings and the incredibly nice people we asked direction to and not to mention the great company I was with, compensated the long walk. We hit a nice little beach where people sat down for a day with their families and had barbecues. The beach was rather full but we found a spot under the shade of a large palm tree and we set up to begin our tanning.

After spending nearly 5 hours in the beach playing games and realizing our different cultures had similar games but different names. For example, I realized that a game we play in morocco called psycho or assassin was similar to games my friends played in Italy and Korea. Upon returning to our hotel in Old San Juan, we called the boys and went out for dinner. We found a nice little restaurant with a Puerto Rican band playing and we ordered enchiladas, mafongos (Puerto Rican dish made of savory plantain) and other delicious dishes while enjoying the great music that made me want to dance. After finishing dinner we strolled around the dimly lit streets of San Juan, I bough a pina colada from a street stand and it turned out one of the many delicious pina coladas I was going to have during my week stay in Puerto Rico.

When walking around the old city, we heard the sound of salsa music and we soon found a group of elderly people gathered around tables playing cards and dancing to the sound of the great music. They seemed so relaxed and carefree. They seemed like they wouldn't want to be anywhere else except here. Sitting under a dim old light post at night in the warmth of the tropical island, sipping cider and dancing with their loved ones.

By inepalacios

Miami, Sunday March 9, 9:32 am, Fort Lauderdale Airport. I just arrived from Baltimore. From missing the train, to getting charged for excess of weight in my suitcase, to taking a last moment flight, to almost missing the plane too, with a couple hours of sleep, after taking four exams that same week, two that same day, finally: I am starting my spring break.

I felt tired, but at the same time, excited. Right at this moment I was really excited to see what Miami had to offer, but at the same time I felt the need to reflect about the last two months. I felt this way, because the spring break not only means taking a break, but it also means the end of the first part of our semester. Two months, I can’t believe they passed by so quickly. What was I doing? What things were unexpected?  Which aspects of the exchange shouldn’t I repeat? How am I spending my time? What should I keep doing during the rest of the semester? What have I learned? Is there something that I can improve?

A bunch of moments come to my mind, the first weeks in Boston, the first week with the exchange students, the first week with my class, my first friends, my DC routine: running, community service, now also GW class council, events in the university, New York, DC, parties, classes again. I can talk again about each moment, but I think that the two last days are a good representation about what was going in my exchange.

Last Friday, 6 am, I had to wake up, two exams were waiting to be taken, one in three hours and the other one, in ten hours. I feel like I did not studying enough, now this feeling doesn’t matter, it is not the moment to regret, I just had to be focus, I was telling myself. Definitely, the three first hours of this Friday were really efficient: the pressure to do well on the exams was the perfect reason to stay focus. It’s 11, I already took one exam, and I just have three more hours to prepare for the other one. It’s 12, a classmate asked to study prior the exam together, 12.30 another friend offered to explain some terms to me, good classmates are always present. 5 pm and this exam was done, I just started my spring break, I can’t believe it, time to update my Argentinean friend. A couple of Skype calls to Argentina, messages on WhatsApp, inbox on facebook, calls on Google hang out, all these are being essential for me to feel the affection that we share. 7 pm I received an invitation to hang out with a new friend, but I couldn’t accept the invitation because my Argentinian friend, Pepi, who is on exchange in Richmond was coming to DC. 8 pm we are doing one of the things that we love the most: running. 10 PM we are cooking, great homemade dinner then pregame with Pepi’s friends, 12 am another exchange students’ party. 3 am after-party in City Hall with a couple of friends, we just talked. 4 AM Pepi and I got hungry so we ate again. Shortly after I felt asleep. Saturday morning, 10 am, I started to prepare the thing for Miami. I am also finishing some pending assignments. 12pm I am going to the homeless shelter: another afternoon is waiting for me to share with the homeless members. 2 PM, in the middle of a sunny afternoon on the shelter I am sharing one of the best talks of my exchange with Ahmad an Iranian. 5 pm I went to finish some last minute shopping for the trip. Around 10 PM I hanged out with an American friend that I met in Argentina. It’s being a long time since I last saw him. Good time, a warm hug and good wishes for his spring break. Around 12 AM just a few minutes to prepare my bag, I promised a Mexican friend to hang out before my trip, long talk: I am hearing one of the chapters of a novel he is writing, amazing. I felt like I knew him since forever. 3.30 AM I just realized that I lost the train to go to Baltimore. 5 am my friend is bringing me to Union Station: I almost missed the train again, but I took another train. 6 AM, Baltimore Airport, I am trying to meet with another friend in the Airport who is going to Costa Rica; finally we talked on the phone. A few minutes before the flight, I talked to Pepi who was in Miami already.

9.30 am: here I am, thinking about what I did these last two days, thinking that I have to choose the best moments of only these two days, it was definitely the people. I feel so grateful to be accompanied with really nice people. Having a friend waiting for me in Miami, getting a call from another friend wishing me a good trip, having another friend bringing me to the station are gestures that I never thought I was going to get in such a little amount of time. I remember the situation was the opposite my last days in Tucumán, Argentina before coming to US. It was really difficult for me to get my friends to want to hang out with me, or do something. I think that the difference lays not only in the fact that the people here are more friendly, but I also think it is a consequence of my willingness to be more friendly and more attentive with my new friends, something that I was not doing in Tucumán. I know that I cannot fix my relationships with my Argentinean friends now, but I learned that I have to come back and focus all of my energies on them in order to strengthen our friendship. I definitely miss them. If something is hard now, is not being able to share all of these amazing experiences with them. Each of them taught me a lot, and is hard not being able to share what is going on, because we are growing apart. One of the most important things that I have learned is the importance of being careful about our friends, and to value our personal relationships.

Another thing that I realized during the trip is how fortunate I am. I compared something that we learn in Latin American, it was about how the majority of the Latin American people living in the US are illegal immigrants and how they have the courage to leave their house and face hardships, because they are seeking to improve their lives. Understanding that makes me realize how fortunate I am to be a Latin American studying in the US at a very good university and receiving such amazing opportunities. Also, comparing between my experience and a homeless man Ahmad, I am able to realize how values were my opportunity. He told me “slow, slow you will hate the Americans, they discriminate the foreign people, and they are racists, as an Iranian I had to face a lot of troubles”. Definitely my perception of my experience living in the United States is totally different, maybe because of how different my experience is, or maybe because of how lucky I am of attending a university and getting a scholarship to be here. Situations where I am able to compare myself with another foreign person encourage me to reinforce my willingness to take advantage of every opportunity here. This situation gave me the criteria to decide how to spent my time, have to go party more, hangout, spent time with my friends, or having to reject plans so I can study more, be more focus in my activities? I think that I have to grow up academically, this is my priority, and if sometimes I have to reject fun times, that is the way to be responsible about the opportunities I receive. At the same time I know that both things, studying and having fun, can complement each other. The challenge now is know what I can do to be more focus in my studies, but at the same time save time to hangout with my friends. How can I get this equilibrium? I don’t know but I have a week to think about that, these days will be enough time to relax. I have to leave now. Pepi is calling me; he and his friends are waiting in the car we rented for our trip. Hope that next time I am able to have a better story to learn, to tell, and to remember. I am half way through my exchange, although this is sad, this reality came with the gift of enjoying an amazing break in Miami.

By aaront162

Spring Break is holds a particularly well known if not infamous reputation for partying on crowded beaches, drowning in a sea of people and loud “doof-doof” music and otherwise trying to avoiding drowning in the actual sea itself. It’s a pretty amazing thing when you consider that in Australia, we too have a weeklong break in the middle of semester but cocktails and drinks on poolside bars are replaced by days recovering sleep or stockpiling on red bull for assignments. In any case, while many would have no doubt enjoyed their time in the sunny and sandy shores of the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Florida or otherwise, a group of some forty or so people decided to undertake a strange and baffling trip to the middle of Alabama to help build houses for the poor and disadvantaged who lost theirs in the tornado that tore through Tuscaloosa.

I will admit that I did not expect much and heck, I joined the Alternateive Spring Break program as a spur of the moment kind of thing. Sipping cocktails with mini-umbrellas on the beach were replaced by many bottles of Gatorade to combat working in the Southern heat, being warned of falling coconuts on the beach was replaced by being warned of falling sheets of roof metal on the work site and exotic dinners were replaced by a daily lunch of peanut butter and jelly. But the funny thing is that as much as it sounds counter-intuitive to a degree that someone would choose to spend their Spring Break in such a way, looking back I really have no doubt that it has been one of the great experiences of my exchange so far – and the defining feature of what made that week so great was meeting a great group of people be they from GWU itself or indeed the great characters and people of Alabama and the South in general. It is quite easy and indeed, perhaps intrinsically natural to simply get to know and travel with other exchange students but to a certain extent, this means that other GWU students and indeed the community of people that surround us as a whole become somewhat of an exotic species. Jumping head first into the alternativee spring break, living, working and talking alongside a group of forty new people that you never knew before but by week’s end you have developed a great bond with was just a great way to really engage with a whole new group of people and you would indeed be amazed at the sort of laughs and friendships which develop over many hours of caulking and nailing sideboard.

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