This past week marks my introduction to Washington, D.C. through GW's Exchange Orientation. The hot, flat grid of DC streets are little like the drizzly, winding roads of Edinburgh and I feel slightly like I'm on holiday. The obvious differences that hit me 7 years ago are still there - everything tastes so much sweeter, the cars and roads are bigger, my accent attracts interest and excitement - but that doesn't mean I'm not enjoying being immersed in American culture again, particularly due to the packed programme of events organised for the exchange students.
One thing that immediately strikes you in DC is the food. I thought Edinburgh took this seriously - 'why are are there so many places to eat?' my friend once asked me while visiting - but DC takes dining to a whole other level. This week I have tried not only the stereotypical 'American' foods of burgers and fries such as at Bobby's Burger Palace and at the Shake Shack stand at the Nationals Park baseball stadium, but Ethiopian food at Das Ethiopian in Georgetown and Indian from the vast range of food trucks at Farragut Square. My English notions of what constitutes are barbeque (a few hamburgers, slightly soggy from the rain) were also turned on their head by the welcome laid on for us by the Office for Study Abroad, where we enjoyed pulled pork and collard greens from a caterer who has served the White House.
Exchange Orientation went by in a whirlwind and was a flood of information but also a lot of fun. The week has been an amazing mix and interaction of different cultures, from being able to introduce French friends to the masala dosa, a dish from the south of India where my mother is from, to discussing the British Labour party leadership election with an Argentinian friend who was as knowledgeable, if not more so, than me. Thanks to the exchange coordinators and ExO student leaders for in a week introducing a 70-strong group of students to the city and university, as well as giving us the support system of each other for the months ahead.
The week has also given me a lot to think about as I have been able to see 'America' up close and in more detail, and have seen some more unsettling images that are absent from its Hollywood depiction. Being part of the crowds streaming out of a highly commercial major league baseball game where bottled water costs almost $5 and then passing disabled beggars on the way to the metro station impressed on me the inequality present in the country, and race issues were also highlighted when my French friend pointed out that the stadium played reggae and Latin American music only when introducing players of colour. These problems are by no means unique to the US but they are there I hope that my exchange will make me more aware of them, as well as of any solutions.
On Monday classes start and I am looking forward to seeing how my American college experience will be different from my memories of middle school. I'm also excited about the student organisations fair and trying out some of the 400+ societies GW has to offer!
Until next time,