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By zelenkal

In the last week I've had my first visitor here, which gave me a chance to play a tour guide in Washington for the first time. There were still a couple of things I myself got to try for the first time. After seeing the monuments in DC at night, during which I was amazed once again, we went to the The Kennedy Center. It has both a national and an international side to it – when entering you will either step into the Hall of States, the ceiling of which is bordered with the flags of all the American States, or the Hall of Nations, parallel to the first Hall, bordered with flags of other countries.

Hall of Nations
Hall of Nations

Apart from the wonderful view from the terrace, The Kennedy Center offers a truly remarkable interior, including the bronze JFK Bust, according to the website designed and created by Robert Berks. This sculpture is a worthy memorial to the 35th president accompanied by an exhibit devoted to this important figure as well.

The following events are very likely to be far less profound – I am going to talk about food. I had the opportunity to have the very first cupcake in my life (I know, it is shocking, how could I live before!) in one of the lovely Georgetown bakeries.Cupcakes My choice was Chocolate Cupcake of Doom, which is actually quite a fitting description. However, that was not the end of all the treats. After cupcakes we decided to taste a frozen yogurt. Again, this was the first time I have ever had a legendary froyo in my life and it was worth it.

The following day our tour changed its sweet character – we went for half-smokes to Ben's Chili Bowl. Having known the history behind it certainly made me appreciate the place more, however, it would have been quite an experience even without it. I enjoyed the mural painting outside as well as the witty saying that Bill Cosby and President Obama (including his family) exclusively eat for free. 2002-12-08 12.00.00-5-7The place certainly lives up to its fame and everybody seems to respect and enjoy its tradition. I guess people even enjoy the famous half-smokes, which is sort of impossible for a person, who barely eats meat (even finishing it was an accomplishment and I did my best to pay honor to Ben's Chili Bowl).

Another thing I have come to appreciate about US – donuts. It was no surprise, having watched every single Simpsons' episode I was looking forward to this. America sure runs on Dunkin'. And if not on Dunkin', then on Krispy Kreme. Personally, I prefer Dunkin' to Krispy Kreme, probably because Dunkin' is located just around the corner in the Ivory Tower food court, and because they offer a pumpkin latte, a really exotic coffee for me. Well, I am certainly enjoying the unhealthy food here.Krispy Kreme

Overall, having walked around Washington sights again, feeling more familiar with the place, I have to say, there is a lot more it has to offer then the renowned places. Moreover, there is a lot more even to the legendary places. And most importantly, there is something special in the fact that one is able to walk around these places whenever one wants. We are more than tourists now, we are coming back to places we have already gotten used to and it sure feels great.

By zelenkal

I recently experienced a true New England snow storm. You may have heard in the news that it was one of the biggest on record. Witnessing it from start to finish I truly believe it was. The snow was falling for hours and digging out took almost as long. The day before the stores were sold out of all sorts of items from food to survival gear. The evening before one could really feel the calm before the storm. Roadways were more or less empty as people braced for Nemo to arrive.snow

Much of the snow fall happened over night so we woke up to a winter wonderland. Two plus feet of snow had fallen and was continuing to cover the scene. When the snow finally finished in the mid-morning, it was time to clean up. Hours of back breaking and tedious shoveling was in store for the residents. As people were shoveling their driveways the state was doing their best to keep the roads clean, but given the amount of snow that had fallen this proved to be a monumental task. While the main roads were soon passable it was not until days later that the secondary roads were fully cleared.

Despite of all this trouble I was able to see a few historical and cultural aspects of Connecticut. When the roads became safe we ventured forth into the state capital, Hartford, the home of Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and insurance companies. Unfortunately because of the snow, we were not able to get into the houses of Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe and the attached museum. However, we were able to see the grounds and the surrounding neighborhood. The houses provided an interesting contrast between old and new architecture, living conditions, and style.

Outside Mark Twain's house!
Outside Mark Twain's house!
Harriet Beecher Stowe House
Harriet Beecher Stowe House
George
Reverse painting of George Washington at the Museum of American Art

Our travels then took us to the Museum of American Art in New Britain, a quaint city just outside the capital. Here we were forced to take a detour as the National Guard, called to Connecticut by President Obama in this state of emergency, cleared snow from bridges and major roadways. Here, we saw a number of old Victorian style houses, that have been converted into small businesses like doctors and law offices. We finally arrived at the Museum and saw a comprehensive sampling of both contemporary and older art, mainly paintings, but also some sculptures and installation pieces. There were two highlighted exhibits: Chasing Moby Dick, a series of works in various mediums portraying Melville's epic, and works by Toulouse-Lautrec, mainly sketches and lithographs by the famous French artist.

All in all, my trip north showed me that even “boring” states can rise above their reputation and offer something to the nation and, in fact, the world. It also gave me a glimpse into life outside of a major metropolitan city, and what life is like in a typical suburban setting. My next trip will, however, take me to another great American city, the former capital of the United States: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

By zelenkal

 This week was marked by the Super Bowl event. Most of us exchange students had difficulties grasping the importance and background. Not only did we have no idea who was playing, some of us (including me) even had to be assured that this has to do with American Football. The whole Super Bowl is an immensely popular show/sporting event. People gather and watch the biggest game of the season. I have a couple of observations from a non-US point of view.

  1. Commercials – I have never seen such a huge concentration of commercials in my life. I guess most of them featured cars, which is another topic connected to contemporary image of masculinity – let's play or watch the roughest sport ever and drive big cars! All of America is watching this event, and advertising during the game is at its most expensive point in the whole year, so companies seem to be doing their best in order to catch everybody's attention. And they are successful so as it is a habit of Americans to discuss the commercials afterwards.

  2. Half-time show – Beyonce is a huge icon here. Me and one of my Czech colleagues here were not familiar with this particular personality cult before I came to United States, however, one just cannot overlook it here. People mention her during classes, she sings the national anthem during Obama's Inauguration (and for instance The Huffington Post claims that her singing “was a capstone to the official proceedings of the inauguration”) and at last she performs during Super Bowl Half-time. Of course, these were two fundamentally different events and the performances reflect on that. I was truly surprised with the sexualized manner, and afterwards with the keen reactions of most of the people I talked to about it. In sum, it doesn't matter what Beyonce does, the majority will love it for sure.

  3. Baltimore Ravens wins the highest football title in the country  – Seems like DC is a good place to be in again, this time in thanks to being so close to the home of Ravens, therefore gaining praise from all over US.

  4. Popularity - GW organized a friendly gathering, which I appreciated because I had no idea about where else to be. Only a few people I know of did not go and watch the Super Bowl with others; nobody was indifferent to this event. I guess that is the reason why there were more performers than the actual audience at the GW Orchestra performance on Sunday; everybody was too busy preparing for Super Bowl.

It was a big event. And a noisy one, too. Being here for a month now, I have finally found the calmest place, which I might be visiting regularly after similar events. A small coffee shop at Alexandria is all an exchange student needs now. Or, even better, having a live performer there to calm you down more efficiently than silence. Despite the distance, St. Elmo's I cannot wait to be back! Even though I would hope that the next time I am going there, the weather will be more predictable than it turned out to have been last week (even the forecasts seem to have been joking)! As much as I enjoy miscellany, this week blew my mind both figuratively and literally!

Mountain of Dispair
Mountain of Dispair

My task last week was to start exploring Washington. The more I am getting to know the city, the nicer it seems to me. My goal this week was to see the monuments I have not seen yet, especially the Martin Luther King, Jr.

Memorial. The Inauguration was very important here, yet it all reminds us of Martin Luther King as well. After seeing this sight I dare say the Memorial complies with his legacy. I have read some controversial opinions towards the style of the whole monument, specifically considering its resemblance to Social Realism.

This picture shows how big the monument actually is
This picture shows how big the monument actually is

However, being from Prague and having traveled through other post-communist countries as well, I have to say, it is interesting to compare the distinct points of view.

Detailed picture of the portrayed army and people - Sofia, Bulgaria
Detailed picture of the portrayed army and people - Sofia, Bulgaria
The main pedestal of the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia
The main pedestal of the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia

The statue, in contrast to the above mentioned styled sights, consists of significant artistic inventions, yet it preserves a certain simplicity. It does not communicate in clear emblematic symbols of Socialism, as it is in some genuinely Socio-Realist monuments. In order to express myself clearly, I would encourage everybody to compare the pictures of the monuments in Sofia, Bulgaria and the particular sight in DC.

Out of all the sights I have seen in DC, the Lincoln Memorial is still my favorite. Even though when you are tired of crowds, it is the best to go and calm down by the DC War Memorial. Doesn't it remind you of a tranquil sanctuary among all of those crowded places?

DC War Memorial
DC War Memorial

After seeing this, I strongly encourage everybody to go and pay a tribute at the World War II Memorial.

The desserts were even better than it seems here
The desserts were even better than it seems here

Having done this night tour, you are cold and in need of a nice and warm place to go to, especially in this time of the year. We chose a renown place in Washington – Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe. This wonderful bookshop offers a lot more – it is a bar, a cafe, and a restaurant, and at the same time, they have a live performance every night. I had been longing to go there since I first looked this place up, that is prior to my arrival, therefore I am glad I finally managed.

Saturday was quite a special day for me. I met my Global Colonial buddy, Livia, and we went to one of the Smithsonian's, National Museum of the American Indian. The museum gave us the opportunity to learn about tribes from various locations, their traditions, rituals, everyday habits, languages, and most importantly their history and first interactions with people coming from the Old World. It also focused on the nowadays situation, the struggle for identity and for preserving the culture, reflected in arts as well.

Australian Michael is enjoying the Australian hot dog
Australian Michael is enjoying the Australian hot dog
The infamous spread called Vegemite
The infamous spread called Vegemite

Afterwards I went to a party celebrating the Australia Day with typical Australian food. I don't think I will ever forget about the pronounced taste of Vegemite. I am sorry, my dear Australian friends, but I don't think I will ever have this yeasty spread again.

In the evening we had our Exchange Orientation Group 6 reunion and had the pleasure of tasting the delicious food cooked by our Singaporean friends. Now we are planning to have more sessions of this type so I wish good luck to the Italians when preparing the pasta for us next week!

Group 6 is about to enjoy the Asian food!
Group 6 is about to enjoy the Asian food!

Hopefully, I will see some other parts of Washington to admire as well!

By zelenkal

I have truly been impressed with the courses here at GW during the first week of classes. There is a lot to say about the professors and the material they have planned for the courses. I find myself looking forward to delving into the subject matter and anticipate a rewarding semester that will challenge my thinking and teach me more about American culture, both on and off campus. I think that the university environment is set up in such a way that it allows the students to rationally discuss, assess and decide whether to value or doubt a variety of issues and ideals.

In the last week I have observed so many differences between the classes here and at Charles University, and have always tried to understand their origins and impacts. Firstly, I was appalled when seeing how interactive the classes are expected to be. The next shocking moment came while having a first discussion in class. I must say, I have never seen such a vivid, lively environment for a debate. Students are eager to express their opinion rather than just muttering incomprehensibly to themselves. I had to assert myself in order to be heard. Students here are much more self-confident than in the Czech Republic, which helps to stimulate and move the discussions further.

The next thing I have found interesting and highly inspirational was the concern for up-to-date matters, including recent developments in pop-culture. Both lecturers and students tend to refer to pop-culture quite often. I was so surprised when we were supposed to debate the movie Lincoln, or Beyoncé, and I thought for a minute that the professor was joking. However, it seems that assessing mainstream culture is an efficient way to assess you surroundings. Additionally, it reveals how deeply connected recent theories are with the academic culture here – for instance the works of Žižek or Butler show a very similar attitude. In Charles University, the whole academic culture tends to neglect this. Both the courses and the discussions are very classical, only a few times before coming here I had encountered more recent texts to study, as if only time can prove whether the text is worth reading or not. Lecturers here are thus more progressive and not afraid of possibly dashing debates.

The most positive observation was, however, seeing America in doubts. From the very beginning I have been here, I could see (regardless of the Inauguration) many sign of patriotism. Such signs would have been extremely ridiculed in the Czech Republic. Of course, it is very pathetic when a citizen feels like being a part of the state only when sport events take place. However, this stance also protects us from mindless acting. The star-spangled banners and posters everywhere tells me that something is different here. It is nice to be proud of your country, unless it is at the expense of truth. I was afraid I would not be able to talk to anybody about this, because everybody seemed to have no objections towards America. Nonetheless, once the classes started, I was sure I am in the right place. I could see people objecting and trying to rethink this sort of approach towards your country. And that made me happy again about being here. I can say, I am in the right place, where America can be proud and still able to be critical at the same time.

Even though I was too impressed with the classes to get to the Inauguration, the exchange students couldn't miss this event
Even though I was too impressed with the classes to get to the Inauguration, the exchange students couldn't miss this event

inauguration gw exchange

By zelenkal

At one point last week we were supposed to write down goals for our stay here at GW. One of my goals for a semester was learning from the diversity at GW and US generally. I guess I am not talking for myself exclusively when I say that this week was quite a lesson in diversity for all of us in the group. The last week was really intense. Through various activities we were able to talk to people from so many different countries and see the differences that would have never occurred to us. For me the most striking was seeing that there were people who had never seen or touched snow in their life before, so we could all witness how a completely new experience and amazement look like when having a trip to a mountain resort. Seeing so many different stories gives me a feeling of achievement since being a part of this wide-ranging group makes my first goal accomplished.

The important part of last week was getting to know other people in our group. However, we also learned a lot about the life at GW. Even though the campus seemed to be almost deserted, we got to try a couple of different things that gave us the feeling of being a part of the life here. Back in the Czech Republic, we do not have college athletic programs. Therefore, watching GW basketball game was a real excitement for us. It seems like the whole university becomes part of the team. The other most important activity was the tour around the Gelman library. Browsing the piles of books certainly motivates one, and I believe it made us look forward to classes much more. I had to immediately explore the syllabus for the courses and got so excited that I cannot wait for the classes to start. This is also thanks to our leaders (GW volunteers) that had always been there for us should we have any questions. In the past week they had shared their valuable experiences concerning the studying and living at GW and I dare say they made it much easier for us to get over the hard first couple of days.

Orientation group 6 with its lovely leaders Cailey and Chelsea
Orientation group 6 with its lovely leaders Cailey and Chelsea

So, what is my next goal then? I would like to explore Washington outside of campus more. We've only been off-campus few times and every time it was worth it. The best experience off-campus for me was the Library of Congress, even though I only managed to go through the Jefferson Building. It was a very inspiring place, connecting the ideals and basic principles the United States was built upon with the traditional knowledge. This, of course, felt very European seeing the references to Ancient Greece and mostly Italian Renaissance, so I could feel the bond between my permanent and contemporary home.

When I look back and see that I have arrived less than a week ago, I am impressed with everything we did as well as with everything that we have ahead of us. Thus, I would like to wish every student, exchange or not, successful start of the semester. Let's see what I will be doing and thinking of next week.

By gwblogabroad

AlenaI have been learning English for almost my entire life. One of the most important parts of learning a foreign language is exposure to the culture. My mother is an English teacher and in her process of learning spent a considerable time abroad in the U.K. I have dreamed of having a similar experience. In the past few years, while I’ve been attending Charles University in Prague studying English language and literature, I too have been exposed more and more to the English speaking world through new academics, new friendships and vacations to the closest English-speaking country, the U.K. I have felt a strong draw to American culture and when presented with the chance to study for a semester in the nation's capital, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Now that I have been accepted and going through the application process, there has been so much going on on my mind that I feel it almost impossible to sum up my expectations. At this point it is a mixture of positive and negative anxiety. For a while I had been merely mirroring the excitement of the people around me. However, as I was handed the flight tickets, the reality of this trip struck me. I am still fond of repeating what I believe deep down, that the opportunity awaiting me is going to be an excellent and formative one, but with the date of the departure getting closer with each day, my feeling towards the study abroad experience has been fluctuating between phrases like “I cannot wait!” and “What am I going to do?” My time in Washington will be the first time that I am away from home for an extended period of time. My first time away from my tightly knit circle of friends, family, familiar environment and native language will be an excellent learning experience however, in the time leading up to the actual event, it it causing a bit of stress and anxiety. I guess I really fear a bitter experience similar to Mr. Smith, that begins with “I don't think I've ever been so thrilled in my whole life, and that Lincoln Memorial! Gee Whiz!” However, I don't think that when the story of how Alena goes to Washington will end in the same way that Mr. Smith's does. I am extremely hopeful and fondly looking forward to the moment when I step off the airplane and begin my semester abroad. Judging from the help and guidance I’ve already received from the George Washington study abroad office, I expect that the transition into the new culture, of both the country and the school, to be a smooth one, allowing me to fully take in the experience.

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