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By baharmahzari

With exam period having arrived and the finishing up of all assignments while being busy saying goodbye to all the lovely people I met during the last 4 months, my sadness is coupled with excitement for what will be next. After all, this is my last semester of my Bachelor studies meaning that I will have to deal with existential questions like my Bachelor thesis topic and Master applications soon. But firstly I will continue my little journey of spending time in different parts of the world by flying to Jordan in exactly 18 days and staying there until the end of January. I am already picturing myself being surrounded by my most favorite thing: Food. Falafel, Hummus, Baba Ganoush and lots of Kunafa. It could not be better. Although, it has to be said that DC was definitely the perfect ‘Foodie’ city with a great variety of ethnic food as well.

Next to the food, I fell in love with DC in its entirety. It is a great city in which I felt homey. The same goes for GW, which did not only allow me to learn and get inspired, but also introduced me to many lovely people, whom I will dearly miss. However, there is one thing that I surely won’t miss about the States: Donald Trump. While he was generally regarded as more of an entertainment factor during the nomination race of the Republicans, he is just not tolerable anymore. Not at all. When he announced during last week that Muslims should not be allowed to enter the US, he just committed ‘political’ suicide. I don’t even want to use the word ‘political’ since I never regarded him as a politician, but someone who is able to infiltrate politics in a system, where money allows for that. He was always a joke in my eyes. Now he has developed into a bad joke. A really bad one, which I don’t want to listen to ever again. All the publicity he received during the last months by the media just shoved him into the faces of the public. It’s not bearable anymore. He had crossed the line with his racist anti-Mexican discourse already, but the context now has just shown how critical the situation is. Not only in the US. But also in Europe and other parts of the world, where right-wing, xenophobic parties are growing through their racist discourse. Trump is not an exclusive phenomenon. There are many Trumps. Take for example, Marine Le Pen – the President of the notorious French right-wing, populist party Front National. She won the first round of regional elections in France 2 weeks ago. Geert Wilders is another prime example of the Trump species, who regularly polarizes with his racist personality in the Netherlands. Or look at Germany – a country, which experienced its darkest times during an era of fascism– where not only two right-wing populist parties exist, but where a big movement called PEGIDA overran the country. People participating in the movement were called “anxious citizens”, whose fears must be understood. I agreed with that as someone, who firmly beliefs in communication and an inclusive dialogue. But after regular arsons targeting asylum seekers’ shelters, increasing attacks against ‘foreign-looking’ (meaning Middle Eastern looking) individuals and the current racist discourse, which starts in its most benign form by arguing in favor of a ‘Clash of Civilizations’, I do not tolerate this anymore. Not even the slightest concern people in Europe, the US, Australia or wherever else might have. Because all these concerns are so simple-minded and don’t grasp the complexity of the problems, which actually pose threats to us, that it is currently not necessary to give these people a platform. For these people terrorism apparently is simply connected to a Middle Eastern person or even just someone, who looks Middle Eastern. Establishing such a link is an indication for the simplicity of these people, which can’t be changed by giving them a voice, but by giving them the means to educate themselves about reality. All these Trumps present themselves as the voice of the ‘ordinary people’ as if we are talking about a majority. They polarize not by saying the truth, but by inciting hate through a simplification and distortion of events and developments, which can also be called lies. Trumps don’t look for harmony, but hatred. They don’t defend values such as human rights, liberty or democracy, but embody racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and fascism. Their discourse doesn’t improve anything, but worsens the situation.

The supporting basis of these Trumps has grown however. It is easy to buy into one-dimensional arguments, when the world and its dynamics are so complicated. So while all these Trumps see themselves as the winners of a long race against progressive parts of society, it is important to acknowledge their growing numbers. But this growing number of Trumps and their supporters comes from a different Region and group of people in particular: radical Salafist-Jihadist including ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Because what they have in common with the Trumps are all the things stated above. They all are awaiting eagerly the so-called ‘Clash of Civilizations’. Dogmatists no matter of which form fight for the same thing at the end. So my advice for ruining the fun for them is to simply: Dump the Trumps.

By baharmahzari

"Why would you go to North Carolina?"

I heard that question constantly throughout the last week as friends were asking me to join them for some study sessions while I immediate answered with "I can't."and explained my reason. Only as an exchange student, one just takes off two weeks before Finals. The reason I went is simple - my host family. I had not seen them since 2012 after having lived a full year with them from 2010-2011.

North Carolina is not the most exciting part of the US. Apex (NC), which is close to Raleigh, is even less exciting. However spending time with my host family and their current exchange student from Serbia was truly relaxing and just great. It was weird to not go an visit them back in New Hampshire in the house and place they used to live, but Apex did not disappoint. While my first night with them ended with me and my host parents sitting at the dinner table and telling each other non-stop stories of the last 4 years until 4 in the morning. It felt immediately like in 2010.

The next day was followed by some tour throughout Apex and its cute little downtown area. A christmas parade in the early evening brought me already into a christmas mood  with "Jingle Bells" stuck in my head. And lastly this great day was ended by the greatest thing ever - my host mother's self-made Lasagne. As an Italo-American, she exactly knows how to make the perfect Lasagne. Another plus was to have all of her family down in Apex from Brooklyn. They are so much fun.

This visit showed me how lucky I am in having found another family to turn to any time. Although, 4 years are a long time, which I realized  when I saw my host brother first, who just grew up in an immense pace. Also all the important news and funny stories, which my host dad and mom told me just made clear that I had missed a lot and that they had missed a lot of me.

But still despite that everything stayed the same. From having Cream Cheese Bagels with Grapes in the morning to playing some card game occassionally and talking to each other throughout the the night. In essence, many things just stay the same and it is only the outer layer changing.

Here a little sneak peek into my two days with the loveliest people I know. On the picture you see me, my host brother and Katniss - the cutest cat ever.

hjost

 

By baharmahzari

As most people that I know decided to head towards the South and sunny places as Mexico City, San Francisco or LA over Thanksgiving break, I decided to challenge myself and chose a destination further North – Montréal, Canada. Of course, the reason for my choice was not any masochist thought, but the fact that one of my best friends from my home university is currently spending her semester abroad in Montréal. It was the perfect opportunity to catch up upon everything that had happened the last months and get excited for the last semester of our Bachelors.

I can only speak highly of Montréal – my 5 days there were just wonderful. It does not matter if you are a foodie, enjoy nightlife or a hipster looking for some industrial city atmosphere, Montréal has it all. Going out for Brunch every day introduced me to the great ‘Foodie’ infrastructure of this city: L’Avenue, Bagel Etc., and Cocoa are only the highlights, which should definitely be paid a visit. Fun Fact: Montréal has the most restaurants per inhabitant than any other North American city. That’s at least what my friend told me. Also experiencing traditional Poutine (Fries, Gravy, Fried Onions and Sour Cream) in the early morning after having gotten a taste of Montréal’s nightlife is a must!

The sightseeing bit of my journey will be displayed in the following ensemble of pictures:

 

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

bahar4

SONY DSC

 

I had many great MTL moments during my visit. Most of them filled with a wide variety of emotions. Although my time in DC has been very limited, the past few months gave me a lot of time to think about certain issues, which I had successfully avoided. My time in Montréal with a person very close to me allowed me to openly discuss all my recent thoughts and make sense of my feelings. It was a great ending to my third month and an amazing start for the last one coming. Time passes like crazy and I am looking forward to many more unforgettable moments – for this last month exclusively DC & GW moments.

By baharmahzari

After almost three months at GW, it is time to dedicate one blog post to the University and the Campus itself. One of the reasons I tended towards GW as my first choice for my semester abroad was exactly its great campus location. Right in the heart of down town DC surrounded by Washington’s major monuments, the campus is unique as it is located right in the city. Since I consider myself to be a ‘city person’ more than anything else, one can say that I am truly happy with GW’s infrastructure. There’s much to explore. You wonder what a typical GW student is up to between classes or generally during the weekday on campus? Here are my Top 5 recommendations for a fully lived GW experience:

  1. GW Delicatessen                                                                             N 21st St & N 22nd St, Foggy Bottom (Right on Campus!)

This small Deli has saved my life too many times with its amazing bagels. My favorite is simple – egg, avocado and bacon. Don’t forget to bring cash since this will be the only payment method enabling you to purchase a bit of paradise. I don’t care how many calories this bagel has and, honestly, I don’t even want to know. This will make you happy; especially, if you have morning classes on Mount Vernon and can just quickly stop by before you catch the Vern Express.

GW Delicatessen

  1. Filter Coffeehouse                                                                        N 19th St & N 20th St, Foggy Bottom

Yes, I don’t really like Starbucks and try to avoid it as much as I can. Plus, GelBucks (The Starbucks right at Gelman Library) is always so crammed that it basically takes up my entire break between classes. Filter has tasty coffee and is close to campus. I have the feeling they tried very hard to make it look ‘hipster’ so that it now looks like the most mainstream coffeehouse you’ve ever seen. Doesn’t bother me though. Getting a simple black coffee (Yes, I am one of ‘those’ people) while reading one of many course books makes this place one of my personal hangout locations.

P.S.: It only uses organic & fair-trade products.

Filter

  1. GW Talks & Events                                                                  Mostly at the Elliott School

I can’t exactly remember how many debates, talks, book presentations and lectures I have visited, but it has been a lot. And this is probably one of my most favorite things about GW: The vastness of all these events organized. Often the speakers are famous professor, experts or politicians as well as authors or directors. I was able to meet one of my most favorite documentary directors during an event at GW, where she presented her new documentary called “The Aryans”. It was truly amazing. Most GW students make use of this great opportunity to engage in political, economic and cultural discussion outside of the classroom – especially, international affairs and political sciences students. Often food is served at the talks, which is of course a bonus.

Check out More Events! - Click here

  1. Milken Institute of Public Health                                        Right at Washington Circle

I’m always very picky about my study places. Very picky. Gelman library wasn’t really satisfying, so that I started to search for THE place, which will not only be aesthetically perfect, but also stimulate my thinking process. I found it. The Public Health building right at Washington Circle is amazing. The interior design is new and modern offering many tables as well as cozy armchairs. I recommend the study spaces right next to the huge glass windows, which offer a pretty view on Washington Circle.

  1. The National Mall

Before I found my perfect study place at the Milken Institute of Public Health, I spent most of my time reading journal articles and writing my notes on the lawn of the National Mall – right between the Monument and Lincoln Memorial. It was lovely during the warm days and was also very inspirational. It is not that common to have the opportunity to spend time studying while being surrounded by US history. But also just getting lunch and sitting down with friends somewhere around the various memorials is truly perfect and allows to make the most of DC and GW.

 

 

By baharmahzari

During a time span of less than 48 hours over 200 people lost their lives and more than 500 were injured by the cowardly and heinous attacks of Daesh (*ISIS) in three locations scattered around the globe – Beirut, Baghdad and Paris. Starting on Thursday, the news reached me about Beirut followed by Baghdad on the following day. My Friday night ended with friends at Whole Foods starring at the TV screen after having been notified about the attacks in Paris through our phones while sitting in Lisner auditorium and (how ironic!) listening to a talk by Peter Singer on “effective altruism”. The news report on CNN did not stop for a second to report about the attacks. Live images, interviews and expert opinions on the suspects continued. All our eyes were on Paris. On France. And I want to make clear that attention was paid quite rightly in light of such tragedy. It is important to keep paying attention as most of us do.

Facebook allowed my friends, who were sitting in State De France watching the friendly soccer game between Germany and France to mark themselves as ‘safe’. Facebook allowed my friends, who study in Paris to post a quick status that they are okay. And Facebook also allowed us to grieve collectively with all those, who have lost a loved one and mourn the victims. Profile pictures á la ‘Le Tricolore’ and #hashtags of support flooded Facebook immediately. Yes, the world is standing with France. Statements of leaders from nations all over the world condemning the attacks and expressing their condolences including the Arab States, Turkey and Iran have poured in. People around the world have gathered and commemorated the victims. The international solidarity has been strong.

In times like these I look at myself: An International Relations student focusing on the MENA, who is highly interested in non-mainstream theory and had quite often been called too idealistic for the Region. Then I think of fellow students, whose pessimistic attitude towards the Region often leaves me behind in a melancholic mood. And they are not pessimistic, because of the Region per se. Every Middle Eastern major I know does not buy into Huntington’s argument of a supposed ‘Clash of Civilizations’, because it just does not represent the facts on the ground. Those fellow students of mine are pessimistic, because they do not believe that they can contribute to any change. I am constantly reminded that no one genuinely cares about the Region. And with ‘no one’ they mean us all living a privileged life.

In times like these the words of my fellow students resound like an echo in my ear. On Thursday, no one in Beirut was able to mark himself or herself as ‘safe’ on Facebook. On Friday, there were no #hashtags or filtered profile pictures reminding us of the killed Lebanese and Iraqis. On Saturday, I made the huge mistake and exposed myself to the hateful comments spread on social media. Others countered some of them, but most of those ignorant and cowardly comments are now side by side with lovely posts of commemorations. Today on Sunday I am sitting here baffled. Both puzzled about such terrible killings carried out by Daesh not representing anything but hatred and feeling helpless in light of seething anger from people who are either fearful, ignorant or simply racist.

The echo does not stop in my head. No one cares about the Region, those people, its history and culture. The longstanding discourse has marginalized every piece of it. A group, which aims at creating fear and inciting us to hate each other, has carried out these three attacks. This is the simple aim of their terror. These attacks were not against the so-called ‘West’ or ‘a certain people’. These were attacks against humanity directly affecting hundreds of people in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad. Indirectly affecting millions throughout the world. But this time the discourse has again failed. On this Sunday, I have read various articles and blog entries of many Lebanese and all of them follow the same tone. They feel forgotten, maybe even neglected. The following words are part of a thoughtful statement by a Lebanese blogger:

“It’s a hard thing to realize that for all that was said, for all the rhetoric of progressive thought that we have managed to create as a seemingly united human voice, most of us, most of us members of this curious species, are still excluded from the dominant concerns of the ‘world’.

And I know that by ‘world’, I am myself excluding most of the world. Because that’s how power structures work.

I do not matter.

My ‘body’ does not matter to the ‘world’.

If I die, it won’t make a difference.

Again, I say this with no resentment.

That statement is merely a fact. It is a ‘political’ fact, true, but a fact nonetheless.

Maybe I should have some resentment, but I’m too tired. It’s a heavy thing to realize.”

-Joey Ayoub

Read his Entire Blog Entry

In times like these I ask myself: What point have we reached when a person accepts that he is apparently less worth, because of where he is from? In times like these I ask myself: What do these values such as equality, freedom and solidarity mean, if they are applied selectively? Is this done deliberately, because these values are viewed as exclusive to only ‘a certain people’?

In times like these I have some thoughts: We call ourselves democracies, but do not hold our governments accountable to those high standards that democracies require. We have stopped to question the system regarding its most critical parts, because each of us in this privileged world is profiting. We do not rigorously challenge among others violent structures as exploitation, institutional racism and militarization. We do not deal with our dark historical chapters as neo-imperialism and its implications for today’s world as part of the mainstream discourse. We simply ignore all of this.

In times like these a certain thing comes to surface: Our hypocritical discourse. They say that tragedies expose the darkest side of humanity. Currently, I see the dark side of people, who want to incite hate, and people, who fall for such strategy.

On this Sunday I truly question humanity and its duality. But my friends are right, I am too idealistic to loose optimism now.

By baharmahzari

This week’s blog entry is majorly inspired by the ‘Spoken Word’ performance, which I was gratefully enjoying Friday night. The main artists performing were Darkmatter – if you do not know them, look them up. Now! The South Asian transgender duo does an amazing job in challenging its audience by linking issues as racism, gender, feminism, patriarchy and colonialism  in form of poetry. They are sharp, witty, funny and quite controversial pushing the boundaries of our socially constructed world. Although I was very impressed by their performance, the artists (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten – shame on me!) performing prior to them said one of the most inspiring things I have heard recently. I will not be able to recite him word for word, but he said something along these lines:

 

Love.

I am looking for love.

And I have found it. You ask ‘Where is love?’

Love is a place. It’s a people.

Love is a place and a people, which you feel drawn to even in times of conflict and war.

 

During his performance, his poem revealed that he had grown up as an orphan in Southeast DC being exposed to drugs, violence and discrimination. But he loved that place and its people. His poem conveyed the message to find love in that place. And he jokingly ended his performance by saying that we should visit Northeast and Southeast, if we have not found love yet. But his mimic showed that he was not joking, but serious about his statement. Most of us have probably not been to those areas of DC due to all the negative things we hear about them. Not only about the place, but also the people. We hear these horrible stories most probably from people, who have not visited those areas even themselves. It is the typical whisper down the lane – you always end up with some exaggerated and obscured story.

The reason why I was able to connect with the poetic expression of his feelings was that I have made the same experience throughout my life. My Iranian heritage has had the same negative connotation. Despite those people, firstly, asking me where I am really from and then responding with: “Wow. You’re from Iraq? Omg, that’s a war zone. Crazy”, most people smart enough to know that Iran and Iraq are not the same country look at me with an astonished, pitiful or even wary expression. As if they exactly know the current situation going on in Iran or the country's history. As if they know the culture and mentality of the Iranian people. As if they have all the answers to why the Iranian Revolution in 1979 happened and see mainly a backward and isolated country. Iran is not a top tourist destination (although backpacking in Iran is apparently the ‘hipster’ thing to-do these days). Even if some are aware of the gradual cultural revolution in Iran and its very liberal people, most of them will never visit. And I think it is worth to ask ‘Why?’.

The artist on friday had the answer:

Do not let your privileges make you abandon those areas and people.

Do not let your privileges make you miss the chance to find love.

The privileges, which we are lucky to enjoy, have transformed into an invisible prison. It is hard to break out. Suspicion and fear stop us from seeing, tasting and hearing the world. We only hear some news or see some reports about parts of the this world as a whispering down the lane - as either censored, exaggerated or obscured information. Friday’s artist tried to challenge us by visiting parts of DC, which are maybe not part of the common narrative.

Personally, his poem reminded of all the love I found in places as Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Israel and the Palestinian Territories – especially in their food. The last one being one of those places especially abandoned by us. You never know something until you have experienced it yourself, everything else is just re-telling a narrative, which has been told to you. I like to believe in more than one narrative and I am convinced that various narratives can peacefully co-exist.

So see you in Iran soon?

 

By baharmahzari

It is half-time. Two months from my four months stay in DC have officially come to an end. And time just flew by. Besides my occasional panicking about course work, which still has to be done until mid-December, I am also realizing that there are so many things I still want to do and see here. Museums like the ‘Air and Space Museum’ still need to be paid a visit, my culinary list has to be extended (I have not had a proper Taco here yet!) and some places still need to be seen. All of this seems to be impossible in just two months full of assignments and academic events. I am also leaving for Canada and North Carolina soon, which even leads to less of my precious time. But regardless of the downsides, the two months anniversary of being here in DC was celebrated during Halloween. Since the US is the 5th-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, it seemed appropriate to dress up as they do during the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). It was the easiest costume ever: you only wear black clothes, apply the makeup and finalize your outfit with a flower crown.

Halloween 1

Trick or Treating on Embassy Row started off our day. Most of 1959 E Street gathered to have the Halloween experience of DC. So around. So 40 exchange students made their way to Embassy Row and successfully filled their bags with American candy including Twizzlers, M&Ms and Hershey chocolate. Only the South Korean embassy gave out national Korean candy. So a big shout-out to all security guards and housemaids, who opened the doors of the various embassies for us and made our lives sweeter with some delicious candy. The night was followed by proper Party hopping leading to me spending almost $30 dollars on several Ubers. Safe and sound Halloween ended in the shadiest Kebab House ever located in one of the back alleys of Dupont.

Halloween 2

I also had my first experience with the notorious American healthcare system after waking up with one of the worst eye infections ever. I do not want to make a rant out of this, so let me just say that it is no fun. The bureaucratic process concerning international healthcare providers and their requirements for treatments happening within the US is basically bureaucratic suicide. I am sorry mom, but you will have to deal with this one. Instead of dressing up for Dia de los Muertos, I could also just have gone out as Captain Hook. My eye patch was on point.

By baharmahzari

People use ‘Yelp’ for everything here. Before I arrived in DC, I had never opened that website on my laptop. Now it is part of my ‘favorites’ sidebar. ‘Yelp’ has spared me miserable meals while eating out as well as encourage me to try something new. But it can also be very exhausting to look through all the recommendations and read the comments. That is the case for me at least and, therefore, I always appreciate first-hand experiences from friends and people I meet. First-hand experiences are always the most valuable when it comes to Restaurant recommendations. So why shouldn’t I just dedicate this blog entry to this cause. Here are my five top recommendations, when it comes to food (We are again embracing the main theme of my writings) in DC:

  • Zenebech Restaurant

608 T Street NW, Washington, DC 20001

I am a huge fan of Ethiopian food and after my friend M told me that there are tons of Ethiopian restaurants in DC, I knew that I would find myself in company with Injera as soon as possible. Never heard of Injera? It is a sourdough-risen flatbread with a unique texture and it is the national dish of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Injera comes always with different kinds of stews and salad. It is served on a big round plate and made for sharing. Fun fact: You eat with your hands. If you’ are over 21, I recommend pairing this tasty cuisine with a St. George (Ethiopian beer brewed in Addis Abeba).

  • Moby Dick – House of Kebab

1070 31st St NW, Washington, DC 20007

Any person, who has some form of Persian heritage, is obsessed with the national cuisine. Any person with some form of Persian heritage will want to go to a Persian restaurant when meeting another Persian. This always ends in a food coma. So when S told me that there is a Persian restaurant in Georgetown, I did not even question a moment of not going. Shortly after, I found myself in a simple place (with some weird Persian pictures on the wall) serving Persian food a la fast food style. I have to say that I was shocked at first since I only know Persian restaurants in Europe, which are sometimes very fancy and do not rush with the food. Going to a Persian restaurant can be compared to a day trip. I am not kidding.   So here I am in this Persian restaurant, which has taken on an American stance on preparing food, and not sure what to think about it. But all my doubts were unnecessary. The quality of the kebab I had was amazing. I ordered my most favorite combo being Joojeh Kabab (Chicken) and Kubideh (Beef) served with Persian rice, Saffron, Salad, Bread and Persian yoghurt with cucumbers. I found my paradise.

  • Ben’s Chili Bowl

1213 U Street NW, Washington, DC 20009

I have mentioned Ben’s Chili Bowl too many times already in my previous blog entries. Hence, I will make this short. You want to experience DC? Do something local? Have the best Cheese Fries toppled with Chili? And simultaneously find yourself in a place typical American? Ben’s Chili Bowl will be your place. No matter at what time. I have been there for lunch, dinner and after 3am. It never has been disappointing.

  • Paolo’s Ristorante

1303 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20007

Two fellow exchange students recommended Paolo’s and it is a gem. Well, to be honest the happy hour is the gem. Food and drinks for $5. Last time I sat there with a friend for three hours. That is a good sign showing that a place is doing it right. I highly recommend the Peach Bellini and Spanish Sausage. I would not call it authentic Italian food, but we are also not in Italy. So everything was just right!

  •  Sushi Para

4221 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

The deal is: $25 and you get all-you-can-eat sushi. Five people, four hours and endless sushi rolls as well as other Japanese delicacies. It might not be the best sushi, but the cost-benefit analysis definitely is on point. Plus, the amounts of food will eventually lead to hysteria as it was the case for us. So if you want value for your money, try out different sushi rolls and have a night full of laughter, Sushi Para right next to Van Ness Metro station should be your next destination.

sushiboat

By baharmahzari

Dedicated readers of this blog will probably remember my first blog entry, which was very much a desperate call of mine for inspiration – academic inspiration allowing for my personal growth of understanding world relations as well as regional politics and the various societies of the Middle East. Such inspiration has been crucial for me since I am in my last year of studies and will have to start writing a Bachelor thesis, when I am back home in February. Master applications are the next step during my last semester. With a regional focus on the Middle East in my studies, I have chosen all my courses according to this path including the Arabic language. Having a Middle East migration background myself and speaking Farsi fluently, I never questioned that this is the right path for me.

However, the months before I came to GW were filled with a kind of intellectual stagnation, which had started after I came back from an internship in Israel/Palestine. The theories and cases I was learning about as well as the issues constituting the main topics of my papers were very interesting, however I did not feel fully fulfilled. I did not have the feeling that I was close to grasp the essence of various conflicts being core to my studies and interests. Uncertainty was one of the main emotions, which describes my inner state during those months. I felt uncertain about my knowledge on the Middle East, I felt uncertain about my ability to sophisticatedly give an opinion on certain regional issues. It made me highly self-conscious and for a short period of time I retreated back to Social Security Policies and Labor Movements – fields that I have always been confident about.

Why was it an issue?

I just realized by coming to GW in how far my drawback from my main field of interest just symbolizes my general fear of having to work in the region. And this fear has not been legitimate. External forces of my environment have created it. Neither the media nor the general discourse on the Middle East representing the region as a place of horror and bloodshed have been the main forces of influence, but certain people close to me – especially my mother. Her constant attempt to convince me to pursue a career in the social security sector or as a labor advocate had much influence on me. She knows how to frame the Middle East in order to create a fearful atmosphere. She simply has to use her first-hand experiences as a political refugee in order to make me think. Consequently, I have been in the constant struggle of deciding whether this path has been the right one for me. It is a struggle between an easy and comfortable life compared to a challenging and difficult professional career. But it is also a struggle between interest and passion. I am passionate about Middle East politics and society, while social security and labor are only interests of mine.

At GW, I was hoping to find inspiration and maybe a hint on which path I should take. The Middle Eastern Studies courses, which I selected prior to my arrival, seemed to support my intellectual growth. I did not expect though, that two of them would have such a strong impact on me. I did not just find inspiration here, but I found an answer: Yes, I want to pursue a Middle Eastern Studies Master. I want to work in the region. This is my future path. I can only recommend to anyone to pick "Comparative Politics of the Middle East" as well as "Modern Iran" as part of their schedule.

I also need to add another song to my ‘Sound of DC’ playlist after having a great night at Flash located on U-Street. The DJs are a duo from my hometown back in Germany, who came to DC 2 weeks ago. There seems to be a serious Cologne – DC connection.

Sounds of DC (Track 02): Domplatte - andhim

By baharmahzari

It finally happened after almost 1 1/2 months of being a student at GW. I pulled my first all-nighter yesterday. Right after my friends and I arrived at Union Station from NYC at midnight, I was so kind to let them both sleep in my bed while I was preparing for a long night of studying in the living room. Good news is that I survived and was able to spend a lazy Sunday with my friends, which consisted of us strolling down U-Street and ending up at Ben's Chili Bowl, before I took them to the airport and said Au Revoir.

Now Cologne is 3966 miles away again and I can fully concentrate on being back in my DC mode. It was great to have my friends here and experience DC and NYC extensively as a tourist, but it was also very exhausting. Plus, I am majorly behind with my reading schedule and exam studying sessions for my classes. Hence, the all-nighter was very much needed. They are probably many more to come this week, but it is worth it.

New York City is definitely on the list of 'perfect justifications' for pulling all-nighters. Arriving on Thursday, me and my friends did not only discover New York's #1 hipster place being our hostel (The Local NYC), but we also enjoyed each a slice of jumbo pizza sitting on the red stairs at Times Square.

Times Square Selfie

Little Italy

The next two days included daily visits at Starbucks followed by proper sightseeing including the Brooklyn Bridge, the 9/11 Memorial, Statute of Liberty, the Rockefeller Center, Central Park and the Upper East Side (since one of my friends is just obsessed with Gossip Girl). We also walked through most neighborhoods and I just fell in love with Little Italy and Soho again. It happens every time I am in NYC. Its repeating love at first sight.

New York Skyline

I also fall in love with cheese fries every time I have them. Especially, the chili cheese fries at Ben's Chili Bowl are superb. So I took the chance to interview my friends about their time in the States, while enjoying some of DC's Soul Food. I was very interested in their first impressions about the US or lets rather say about DC and NYC. It was their first time in the States, which allows me to refer to actual first impressions about this country in this blog entry since I do not consider my first impressions so significant after having lived in the US before.

They mentioned three major things, which they will always associate with the US. All three refer to the people - the Americans:

  1. Helpfulness

It does not matter where you are or what time it is, there is always someone who will approach you and offer help, if you need it. Even in the most shadiest corner of Queens in New York City. Should the person not know the directions, he or she will most likely take out his or her phone and search on Google maps. Detailed directions will be given and the person will make sure that you will find your way. This has been the case for my friends. It has also been always the case for me. Hence, all of us agreed that this might be typical American or we just always were lucky to meet the nicest people.

2. Good Mood

Okay, to be fair coming from Germany the standards for 'being in a good mood' are not that high. But I agree with my friends that Americans in general are very cheerful. There is always a smile involved. We laughed a lot here. Not just among us three, but often involving Americans joining us for a quick chat either in Central Park, Ben's Chili Bowl or the bus going to NYC.

3. Outgoing

"Americans seem to be very outgoing even if your English is not that well." I think this quote by one of my friends says it all. She felt very welcomed and did not feel uncomfortable speaking English even if it is not her first language. No one viewed her accent or basic choice of words as a problem.

It is interesting to see that all the things, which my friends found notable about the US are in association with its people. The first impressions my friends had about the US did not include unhealthy food, XXL sizes or consumerism. Their first impressions had to do with the American people and their characteristics. Of course you can like a city, because of its buildings, neighborhoods and atmosphere. But if you fall in love with a city (or even country), it is not primarily because of how the city itself looks like, but what it is composed of - its people.

Six years ago I feel in love with the people in Concord (NH) and after having spent a little time in DC I am pretty sure that I will find love again.

 

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