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By zelenkal

 I've been asked to write a “semester in review” blog post to summarize and finalize the semester. What can I say that hasn't already been said? I have seen a great deal of what D.C. has to offer, travelled all over the Eastern part of the country, been exposed to literary and academic works that I wouldn't have been exposed to in Prague, and finally, made friends that I will remember long after leaving George Washington.

If you are an avid reader of my blog, you have already heard about my adventures around the Eastern and Central time zones. The semester was a lot of work and long nights. However, I did manage to find some time to see the biggest and most famous cities in the U.S. My first trip was to Philadelphia for a day and then to Hartford, CT. Philadelphia speaks for itself, and I was actually there twice, so I can speak a great deal about it too. You might question why Hartford. While it does not have the international fame that Philadelphia, New York or Boston does, Hartford has been home to a number of writers though the ages from Mark Twain to Jack Kerouac. I couldn't pass up a pilgrimage of sorts like that. Over spring break, I saw two much more famous cities: Chicago and Boston. I was instantly in love with Chicago, and while D.C. will always be my U.S. “home” Chicago is my favourite city. Full of interesting architecture and art, it was teeming with life. After Chicago, it was a short flight to Boston, which I found to have many similarities to European cities, and is one of the most historical place I visited in the U.S. Honourable mentions go to New York and Philadelphia. Philadelphia was also full of life, art and very interesting people that were really living by the city's reputation as the city of brotherly love. And New York completely speaks for itself. It is like no other place on earth.

As I’ve made mention to before, the semester was demanding in terms of the workload. I wrote approximately 230 pages (or about 70,000 words) in total for all my courses. The courses gave me insights into both what I had been studying as well as new areas that I can incorporate into my studies when I return to Prague. One of my goals in coming to study at George Washington was to increase my knowledge and broaden my sources for my work on my thesis for Charles University. My time at George Washington has more than fulfilled its expectations in this area.

While D.C. was a great place to live and all the travel in the U.S. was amazing, the thing I will be most sad about leaving is the friends I have made. I formed close bonds with my room mates, the other students in the exchange programme and also some four-year George Washington students. We shared experiences all over the city and country and they know whenever they want, there is a couch waiting for them in Prague.

By zelenkal

peru

For all my time living and studying in another country, the international experience I had this past weekend was by far the most insightful into cultures that are vastly different from both the Czech Republic and the United States. Last Saturday, over forty embassies opened their doors to the general public. The embassies showcased food, drink and culture including music and dance. The event was completely free and there was a lot of buzz surrounding the event. Being students of the world, we decided to partake and see what the world had to offer us. We decided to stick to the Western Hemisphere as it has been our home for the last four months and none of us have been south of the boarder, it also ties into my studies and I felt that it would be rewarding to get a little closer to the cultures I was learning about in my classes.

Marie, Pavla, and Myself at the embassy of Trinidad and Tobago
Marie, Pavla, and Myself at the embassy of Trinidad and Tobago

Our journey began in Peru. We were greeted to the unique musical sounds of a Peruvian pan flute band. This is not unlike the sound that one can find in the Renaissance era of the old world, but it had it's own South American feel to it. Everyone representing the embassy was dressed in very colorful traditional clothing. We saw llamas, an animal that has been extremely important to Peruvians for hundreds of years. Native to South America, these animals provide fiber for making clothes and blankets as well as their use as pack animals. After viewing the wildlife, there was a showcase of native Peruvian dancing, namely, the Marinera. Somewhat similar to the tango, this dance uses a handkerchief instead of a rose and represents courtship between the two dance partners. Finally, we indulged in the edible offerings of Peru. Most enjoyable was our sampling of quinoa, prepared with basil and Inca Kola, a sweet lemony soda that tastes a bit like bubble gum. We also tried Pisco, however we were not overly impressed with drinking this straight.

After Peru, it was a short trip to Trinidad and Tobago. Like Peru, we were welcomed with traditional music from the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, the steel drum. While it is a well known sound, we were quite impressed by hearing it in person and the musicians ability to make such wonderful sounds from a seemingly simple instrument. After the music, we looked into the native dress of the small island country and were surprised to find that we were able to wear them ourselves. While we found them to be a little tall for our tastes, they were intricately and beautifully made. Finally, we once again were treated to some food, although this time much sweeter. Traditional sweet bread and a not so traditional coconut cupcake made for a great tastes of the Caribbean.

Then it was back to South America to visit Chile. There was a large presentation and video screening about the folklore and the countryside of the country, which was quite interesting, but was a short stop to the best part of the visit to the Chilean embassy: the food. They are known for their wine and the red was excellent. It accompanied the smoked salmon excellently. While it is very possible to get fish in the Czech Republic, we are a land locked country far from the ocean and fish is not a major part of our diet. When we find it prepared by people who have been doing it for generations, it is really a treat. The small meal was topped off with a Pisco sour, yes the same Pisco that we did not enjoy in Peru, but when mixed with some lemon or strawberry juice and a hint of sugar, it was much more pleasant.

Nicaraguan Embassy with Pavla
Nicaraguan Embassy with Pavla

Finally, we saved the best for last. All day we had been hearing that Nicaragua was the best that everyone had been to, so we finished the day there. The lines were long but very well worth it, mostly from a gastronomical point of view. There were loads of samples of excellent Nicaraguan food and drink. Namely, the sweet bread, served with some jelly, accompanied with Nicaraguan rum. We make rum in the Czech Republic, but like the fish, sampling it from it's origin, prepared by time tested methods gave us a very different and authentic taste. Finally, we had some coffee. I don't mean to write a short sentence about the coffee, it might have been the best coffee I’ve ever had and my friends will agree with me. While not native to South America, they have been growing coffee for hundreds of years in a climate that is perfectly conducive to it's growth and cultivation. And it really shows. Like Peru, we were able to try on some head wear from the country.

Finally, our trip around the world came full circle with a little trip home. The embassy of the Czech Republic was not open (that's next week when the EU embassies will host a similar event) in our wanderings, we found memorial honoring the first president of Czechoslovakia Tomáš Masaryk. While Czechoslovakia has split, Masaryk is still a very important figure to the people of the two new countries and after a day of traveling around the world it was very nice to see a little piece of home at the end of our journey.

czech republic

By zelenkal

Exactly two weeks from now, I will be waiting outside Amsterdam Hall with all the pieces of luggage around me, hoping that I did not forget anything. I am a little bit homesick, so I am looking forward stepping out of Prague airport. At the same time, it makes one feels anxious. Will I ever the chance to see these places that have become so familiar in the past few months again? Am I even able to be familiar with Washington at all? I feel like it is certainly easy to become familiar with the campus. I remember Claudia talking in her blog about how easily it so happens that you spend your whole weekend without walking out of campus, where you have basically everything. This is even harder now, with the amount of work, either with writing the papers or preparing for the finals. You just cannot allow yourself to wander around DC for a couple of hours, because even a couple of hours is vital in order to finish the work you have. However, I am hoping I will be able to experience unique last two weeks in Washington, being able to get out of campus more often than in the past.

This was my goal I set on the weekend. On Sunday, I went with my friends to Georgetown in order to get a new Washingtonian experience – we were canoeing on the Potomac river. We were able to go sort of close to the Kennedy Center around the Waterfront. Then we found ourselves somewhere in between tall business building on the right side (Rosslyn) and wild-looking forest on the left (Theodore Roosevelt Island). It was interesting, I have never had such an experience inside the city. It feels strange to paddle in the US Capital with all the airplanes roaring above your head, and see a fisherman, whose surrounding is trees and nothing but trees. After that I found out I cannot just wander around Georgetown without getting a cupcake. This one was really special, though. As an honor to The Big Lebowski, Baked and Wired named a cupcake called “Dude,” which is filled with the ingredients that are included in the protagonist's favorite drink, The White Russian.

Well, I have list of things to do before I leave. I will have to explore more the East of Washington, then I am hoping to have a little trip to Virginia to three different locations. Fingers cross the finals are gentle to me and I will manage to have a picnic on the Mall once more, have a run around all the monuments at least three times before I leave, get a Krispy Kreme doughnut before I leave, and much more. I am also putting the list of movies and TV shows set in Washington together, so that I can still go through places that are now my temporary home even when I am at my permanent one. A new candidate for me has been The House of Cards, with beautiful scenes from Washington, witty dialogues, interesting concept, and Kevin Spacey as the main protagonist, congressman Frank Underwood.

By zelenkal

So last week I attended a Pre-Departure Orientation, originally aimed at helping future GW students to prepare for their semester abroad. Well, it turned out to be a pre-departure orientation for me as well. The end of this semester is drawing near and I am slowly making arrangements for my return; I can't believe I have already booked a cab to take me to the airport in 3 weeks. Last week it was the first time I have ever heard of a phenomena called “reverse culture shock.” Basically it means that getting over the problematic part during one's semester abroad is not the end of all troubles. I am to expect hard times after my arrival. This session made me ask myself, what are the things I got used to here that I will miss so much back home, and what are the things I will just find odd back home after a few months away.

Firstly, I am certainly afraid of the responsibilities that will be really overwhelming after I get back. This fear is even more pronounced when I compare the service provided by GW employees to a rather rude way of dealing with students back home. Similarly to this, I am also afraid I will miss the American shop assistants. As much as this is a duty and a habit at the same time, it always helps when people around welcome you warmly. Nice behavior and interest people take in you made me a little self-conscious in the beginning, it was an unfamiliar behavior to me after all. The minute I got used to it, I fully appreciated such situations.

Secondly, I will miss the comfort of a campus. As much as the dorms and other forms of housing are always within 10 minutes from school building, I will have to get used to the fact that I will not be able to stop by at home in between the lessons, and that commuting will also take me some time. I will also miss having a good cup of coffee, gym, and whatnot just around the corner.

Thirdly, I will miss this exploring. Not that the sense of being in a foreign environment is utterly appealing, but I think the fact that there is a limited time of your life in this place will be really missed. It made me value my time much more, since I've always regretted wasting it – this feeling is, of course, even more significant when the day count to my departure dropped under 30. I don't really think I have explored all Prague, or all Czech Republic, but I certainly am more motivated here just to go out and enjoy seeing something new.

Finally, I will miss the non-stop opened library. My schedule here is a little uncommon and I understand this might not be the study abroad experience one craves for, but I have enjoyed the solitary Friday and Saturday nights on the 6th floor in Gelman. I am usually busy during the day, so this was always an option to catch up on work.

There are other reasons for me to be afraid of coming to me as I am writing. However, the most frightening aspect of all is the fact that I only have three more weeks before I find myself there.

By zelenkal

I do want to be careful and prevent myself from making statements about the weather here in Washington. After my last post that concerned the weather, I claimed that spring has finally sprung in DC. However, I woke the day after submitting the post and the first thing I saw from the window was snow. Now, just a few short weeks later, it is summer. Temperatures last week have been in excess of 90 degrees and it has caused me to notice many differences between the Czech Republic and the United States. First of all: we are not used to this heat. In the last few weeks back home, it has been less than 45 degrees and rainy every day. Something that isn't very nice, but also isn't atypical of Central Europe. Secondly: air conditioning. Here, it seems to be everywhere. In Prague, one can find it advertised in the windows of restaurants like it is a luxury, and it is almost nonexistent in homes, student housing, or public buildings. I can deal with the heat, but quite frankly, I'm not accustomed to this luxury and  the dry air pumped out of the air conditioning units has been causing a bit of a sore throat. Of course I was not the only one, who encountered some difficulties – all the librarians must have been sweating buckets. As a result of the extreme and unexpectedly high temperature, all the students got a relieve from studying when Gelman Library closed down.

In other big news from Washington, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Taking advantage of a beautiful Friday afternoon without classes, my friend and I toured the familiar grounds around the tidal basin. Although, I had visited the monuments and gone on jogs through the area a number of times, it was like discovering something entirely new. We do not have trees like this, especially in this abundance, in Prague and the sight of hundreds all around the city was boarding on alien. The gorgeous weather and the addition of the sometimes pink and sometimes white flowers covering the trees amplified the beauty of the colossal monuments. The way the flowers had overtaken the trees that I had previously only seen bare and the way they flowed into the basin was incredible. Being able to see the Washington Monument framed by the pink, snowball-like clusters of flowers only made me long more than ever to be able to go to the top and see how pink the world was from a bird's eye view.

Thursday was a little bit windy so there were petals all over the ground, and this fairy-tale-like atmosphere with people on paddle boats on Tidal Basin changed the whole feeling in the city. The walks and the runs I have had since the trees blossomed have been amazing and it always helps you getting rid of the stress from all the papers and tests at school. It is just so easy to fall in love with Washington this time of the year.

By zelenkal

Having done a significant amount of traveling this semester, I was able to sum up 13 memorable meals I have tasted or places I have eaten. Before I start with my rating, I should mention that all the meals that contain meat  have a very disadvantageous position, I simply do not particularly enjoy meat ( I love seafood though!)

  1. Hot Dogs - They are everywhere! You should have one when trying to walk all around the Central Park . So far the worst local food in US, but a two-dollar must.
  1. Half-Smokes ( found at Ben's Chili Bowl) – Anybody who lives or is staying in Washington should go there. It is an amazing place, and a good way to relax in an otherwise busy and serious city. The ranking is rather unfair owing to my distaste for sausages.
  1. Philly Cheesesteak – I guess it  depends on the place, but I just could not have more than one sandwich. However, I ate the whole thing despite its appearance, and it certainly tastes better than it looks.10. Chicago “stuffed” Pizza (at Giordano's) – amazingly big and different, yet pretty good. You have enough food for two days.
  1. Wendy's – there are times you just want to grab some food quickly and a fast food chain seems to be the best solution. In that case, search for Wendy's.  Good drinks and semi- fresh and tasty food – what else do you expect from a fast food place?
  1. A " New York" Bagel – certainly my favorite bread product in US. There is nothing like a warm bagel with some butter for breakfast. This is even more intense when eating a bagel in a New York City bakery. No matter what flavor , it will be a highlight of a NYC trip.
  1. Boston Kreme Doughnuts (sold in doughnut shops all over the US *Dunkin Donuts*) - I do like these classic American treats. When I was in Boston, it was the first thing I had to do – having a traditional Boston Kreme doughnut in Boston makes one enjoy this delicious treat even more.
  1. Nuts 4 Nuts – If you decide to walk around Central Park, you will quickly find out that it can get very windy. Something like roasted nuts that smell so delicious can get you back to the spirit.
  1. Froyo  – I have only had Frozen yogurt in DC. It is a really good invention, especially with all the great flavors and toppings. This time of the year, when the weather is nicer, the best thing you can do is just to grab one and walk around..
  1.  Brick Oven Pizza – Easter Sunday closed the pizzeria I had longed to go to for so long. John's of Bleecker Street (in the SoHo neighborhood of NYC) is supposed to have a delicious brick oven pizza and it is also one of the places depicted in Woody Allen's Manhattan. Unfortunatley, because it was close I had to try a brick oven pizza at different pizzeria. I guess you can never go wrong with this food, you will always like it.
  1.  Cupcakes  – no matter if Baked and Wired or Georgetown Cupcakes (both in DC) is your choice, one just loves it. I cannot believe I had not have a cupcake before I came to US. Actually, I do not have a clue of what I am going to do back in the Czech Republic without them.
  1. Seafood (from New England) – I have been to two places where seafood is supposed to be just great, and none of it was a disappointment. A beautiful restaurant located in a typical New England setting of Mystic Seaport was a great experience followed by seafood in Boston a month later. Considering the fact that there is no sea in the Czech Republic, I should take advantage of being able to eat seafood so fresh.
  1. Junior's Cheesecake (in NYC)- I wish I was gifted enough to put this into words. The best cheesecake I have ever had, whether a raspberry one, or cherry one or a red velvet cheesecake. The location is quite convenient, you can be sure  to see the Times Square. The hours are also very welcoming since they are opened until 1 am.

By zelenkal

Spring Break sure did bid goodbye to winter. The Cherry Blossom Festival has already started and everybody got out of the places they would occupy during the winter. I myself have started with my “spring program.” Some of the trees have finally revealed their beauty so highly appealing to the eyes. I finally made my trip to the Arlington National Cemetery. Seeing all the attractive places DC has to offer at the background of seemingly endless rows of graves is an unforgettable experience.

Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery

After visiting the cemetery, my day go even better with the chance to see a remarkable performance, this time with a little bit of nostalgia. GW performance of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest was truly impressive, with its amazing actors, whom you would not recognize when they revealed their own gestures during the applause, great music added to the experience we had there. The dark atmosphere just got ahold of us even during the walk afterwards.

Last week I realized I've only got so much time here and I need to value my time more. As much as the classes are important, I do not want to regret seeing more of the library than of Washington. The weather actually helped me out in my attempt to stop the time and allowed for me to be able to study outside of the library for once. I had a wonderful weekend outside complete with a picnic at the National Mall. I could tell the spring has driven most of the DC residents out of their homes, we could see so many grown-ups running around with kites, forgetting about their kids. Spring has not shown itself in its full power yet, but it has already made excited fools out of a lot of people.

DC residents and tourists loving the spring weather on the National Mall.
DC residents and tourists loving the spring weather on the National Mall.

I also realized, that there only a couple of last weeks left for our every day readings. This semester I have come across such a huge variety of texts that I can already say that the semester has been successful. I have experienced American college at its finest. There were better times and worse times, luckily, the latter have not shown much. There is only a month of classes left and it is making me sad. I am sure it will be a huge relief since there is always a lot to do for each and every class, yet it makes me think of the time I will attend the lesson for the last time, of the time I will drag every single piece of luggage out of the Amsterdam Hall, and head over to the airport, leave Washington for good. Spring, we waited for you, we prayed for you, and we have been enjoying you, even though you remind us of the near future that will put an end to our American experience. In the meantime, I am hoping to enjoy the time when my travels reaches its peak in New York next week. Let's hope for a less sentimental Springtime there.

By zelenkal

The most frequent question before the most awaited time of the semester started was: What are you doing for spring break? Most of your classmates would respond to this by alluding to a warm place with the vision of themselves dressed in a summer dress and sunglasses. I chose Chicago and Boston. There were times I would envy my colleagues, who were enjoying the pleasures of the localities further south. Despite the wind and  low temperatures I do not think we made a mistake. I started my vacation on a sunny day with an extraordinary view of Chicago from the tallest building in United States, and the trip ended with a warm walk around Boston Common.

Atop the Sears Tower Sky Deck in Chicago!
On top of the Sears Tower Sky Deck in Chicago!
Boston Common
Boston Common

Even though we did not choose a very warm locations, the first and the last days were just perfect. Chicago is such an amazing city with so many things to see and to do. It truly must be an architecture student's paradise. Sports fanatics would also find so many places interesting in this city. We also never encountered so many welcoming people. Anytime one of us had a look to our Lonely Planet Guide, there was somebody asking whether we need any help or not. Of course we tried to taste some food typical for Chicago, and I must say the stuffed pizza is at least an interesting invention. I will never forget our walk around Navy Pier, even though it was really empty this time of the year. The jazz bars are also an unforgettable experience and I can only wish for such authentic places to be here in DC or back in Prague.

Navy Pier
Navy Pier!

After following Al Capone we decided to follow much more appreciated figures of American history. Boston offered a really different atmosphere. Even though everybody kept saying that as tourists coming from Europe we will probably not be very fond of what everybody there calls rich history, we actually found it amazing. Following the Freedom Trail was one of the most impressive walks I have ever had, especially the part where The Paul Revere House is located... I have never seen so many bricks in my life! Boston gave us the opportunity to hear quite a significant accent, to walk around sea shore, to see beautiful parks, to eat a burger at Wendy's one night just in order to fully appreciate the fancy seafood restaurant the following night, to see a different type of campus when visiting Harvard University, and much more.

The city of Boston
The city of Boston

The last week was so intense and so remarkable that I am finding it hard to come back and study hard for two more months. What I expect from this week is walking around campus, seeing faces I have not seen for more than a week, asking them about their Spring Break. I also expect that our thrilled talks will be followed by nostalgic sighs, demotivating memories, and words suggesting that the break is over and we need to get back to work. Fortunately, the National Cherry Blossom Festival is drawing closer and we will again have more to appreciate here in DC. Until then, let me ask you a question – Where were you last week?

By zelenkal

Even though most of us GW students are still occupied with the mid-term exams and paper submissions, it is essential to have a little bit of time for fun. Last Thursday after school a few of us decided to relax. We launched out to see our very first theater performance in Washington. However, it was not us, but our books and laptops, who had the mental rest. What we saw was a powerful and disturbing experience worth the discomposure one faces when reading Toni Morrison's novels. A three-hour long play called The Convert has left us awestruck. The story followed a young girl, whose life was marked by an acceptance of Christian faith to the detriment of her family and traditions linked to it. The play certainly employed all the criticism and metaphors we are familiar with from reading Heart of Darkness or A Passage to India, yet it offers a perspective of the oppressed, which makes it more intensive. I need to say that it certainly motivated me to find out about other performances here in DC.

This play was recommended to me two weeks before by one of my professors, but I could not go that particular day. However, I got lucky. As soon as I heard that exchange students are welcome to come for free, I RSVP'd. Before coming here, I was prepared to arrange and finance my own life in terms of concerts, performances, etc. Nevertheless, I have found myself deciding between events offered by the organizations and communities in GW a few times – something that would have never happened in my home university. Therefore, I am just hoping that I will have enough time to take advantage of the many opportunities and enjoy them fully. I am really enjoying the possibility of decision here at GW - you always have the option to be independent and self-contained as well as to attend events in group when you usually meet both friends and new people.

In spite of all these keen comments, I  admit that I need a rest. One is never ready for the mid-term exam period to come I guess. Having four days until Spring Break is causing my motivation to decrease. In my mind, I am already flying to the destination (Chicago) I have dreamed of so long. The excitement is probably equal to the sensation I had experienced prior to my departure here in January. Do you remember the times when all the famous scenes from movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Dr. Strangelove, or Homeland keep you up all night? Well, right now it has been John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd driving the Bluesmobile, real estate agents confused by Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, Courthouse Place and its famous press room – be it for the presence of Carl Sandburg or Billy Wilder's hilarious comedy The Front Page. This time, I see myself wandering around Chicago, having The Snatch soundtrack playing in my head. Hopefully the weather is with me.

By zelenkal

Everybody must have noticed that Gelman has become the busiest place on campus. The reason is simple – midterm exams are close and students are submitting a lot of papers these days. For most of us, classes involve more than just the lively discussions we have been having during the first weeks of the semester. It has become quite a stressful period of time. However, even in light of this information, I can still praise the classes and the learning environment generally.

I cannot possibly express how grateful I am to all the professors at George Washington University. All of the them are willing to help anytime and are never annoyed or bothered by our questions. In contrast to my home university, they all want to make sure we are doing our best, are curious about our work, and interested in its progress. Taking courses from two different departments – English and Woman Studies – showed me that it is the University code, not the departmental one.

Quite a new experience for me is having teaching assistants in our classes. Again, I think it is a great idea. They are mostly PhD students, therefore one is less intimidated to approach them. Moreover, it makes professors more relaxed since the assistants are very helpful to them as well. Mostly it means that the professors do not have to worry about some technical issues, and thus can fully concentrate on the class and discussions.

Outside of class it is crucial to find a good spot for studying. The above mentioned Gelman library, located just two blocks from my residence hall, is certainly very helpful, mostly because it is open 24 hours a day all week long. Starbucks (“Gelbucks” in the campus slang) situated right next door is open all day long as well; one can certainly use a cup of joe, when finishing a paper the night before it is due (unfortunately, I know what I am talking about). Other than the hours, Gelman's main advantage is the possibility to reserve a small study room for yourself and your friends in advance. This is what I have found very useful. You are not disturbed by others and at the same time you don't have to be afraid of disturbing them, when talking to your friends. When encountering any troubles, you can always talk to a person in charge, most of them are very nice and willing to help despite the late hours. After spending a night in Gelman writing a paper, I recommend printing it right there in the library, so that a tangible proof of your accomplishment is in your hands and makes stepping out to the empty street awaiting the sunrise more pleasant.

I believe I am not the only one who is counting the days to Spring Break. This has been a couple of stressful days and some more are to come. However, when finishing the work and having it marked, you can tell the effort pays. But I guess that this is quite a universal aspect of studying.

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