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How to Win Friends and Understand People

By gjmacdougall

One of the best events of our exchange orientation week was the chance to ask anonymous, off-the-record questions to our ExO leaders to find out more about what life is really like in DC and at GW. One of the questions asked was 'what annoys you most about GW?' and the answer was a general attitude of negativity in some people, with the idea of things not being worth the effort.

As an exchange student there can be a tendency to take on an attitude of negativity towards the culture you are in, flagging up the many issues that seem 'wrong' or 'different' to you and it not seeming worth the effort to think about these differences further. Yes, I sometimes feel that my critical keenness is dulled and I am scared that I have been so absorbed by a different culture that I have lost some of the ability to interrogate it, but achieving an objective distance that can help in future understanding of cultural relations is different to being predisposed to be negative. What one person may find irritating in the behaviour of another may be simply the result of a different culture, and only a few minutes' conversation is enough to see genuine human warmth behind it. This is not to say that you can't be frustrated about things and passively accept 'the system' - the situation Bahar describes is completely different and not what I mean, I was inspired by another experience I had - but it does mean thinking a bit beyond your initial reactions.

This week has not only highlighted a 'melting pot' of different cultures but also of different religions, with Pope Francis' first visit to DC as well as the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. The last time I lived in an area with a relatively large Jewish community was in New Jersey, and it is fascinating to see how classmates practise their faith, with different attitudes towards the fast and celebration of the holiday.

Differences in religious practice was something I also experienced when I went to the National Community Church at Loews Theater, Georgetown this Sunday - the first time I've ever been to a church in a cinema and it worked! That you could potentially order popcorn to listen to the sermon was a strange thought but it was exciting to try something new and I liked the service.

The coming together of different cultures in joint celebration was seen in one of the highlights of my week, getting together with fellow exchange blogger Bahar and friends to create a stereotypical 'American' brunch that we felt we had been missing and which we enjoyed on the rooftop of my accommodation, overlooking the city.

The Brunch Club (photo credit: Alicia Gonzalez-Barros)
The Brunch Club (photo credit: Alicia Gonzalez-Barros)

However, the DC brunch culture is strong as the next day I got a second taste of that cliché at the 21st birthday brunch for a friend from my poetry class who was also in Smackdown with me.

Caption: Poor lighting, top people
Caption: Poor lighting, top people

Fellowship over food continued as my cousin treated me to an early birthday dinner a short walk from campus at Nooshi on 19th and L - as the name suggests, a restaurant serving noodles and sushi.


And I also enjoyed deep midnight chats catching up with an exchange friend over a carton of oreo ice cream.

My weekend was rounded off watching a friend play in the GW water polo team and though sadly they lost this time to Princeton I definitely enjoyed seeing my first game and plan to go again!

This coming week looks to be the most hectic yet, but also the most amazing (I'm finally turning the big 2-1)

See you on the other side,


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