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By baharmahzari

After my quite serious and long blog entry last week, this week will be much lighter – I promise. In fact, this will probably be the first time, where I report from my time in DC and at GW from as a proper tourist. The reason? It is simple, I am actually spending all my time with two tourists right now – my friends from Germany. The day of the 25th anniversary of German reunification (10/03/2015) was chosen to have very own little reunion. Well, okay, them being here on such a symbolic day is only a coincidence, but still a very ironic one. Their timing was great or maybe not so much considering that they are here during my Midterm week. We will see how that plays out.

Since they will only stay in DC for a couple of days before we take off to the Big Apple aka New York City, I felt huge pressure on me to show them everything. Initially my goal was to be the best tour guide they ever had. However, my wish was crushed after I noticed that myself is still a bit of a tourist in this city after we jumped into the Red Line going into the opposite direction of our destination twice. I also forgot the way to Shake Shack so that we ended up walking the biggest detour ever shake shack
I like to be positive though, so to look for the silver lining at least they saw much of DC that way. Plus, we had a lot of time to talk.

It is a strange feeling; I’m not going to lie, to walk around with friends from my hometown back in Germany in DC. Walking around with people from Maastricht is different. I just share a different connection to them. My friends from Cologne are people I grew up with. They have witnessed all my good and bad days, have gone through crazy times with me and seen me change and grow. People from Maastricht only know the Bahar of the last two years. They do not know all of me. So having my friends from Cologne here is a strange feeling, because it creates an even stronger bond between us. Now they witness me being here. They can experience some of the things I encounter during my time in DC themselves now. It is not only me telling them about all my experiences as it was the case after my exchange year 6 years ago. They understand me better now and it makes us feel even closer to each other.

Hurricane Joaquin or lets rather say what one could feel from Hurricane Joaquin in DC was not the best sightseeing weather. We still did not let go of the chance to walk passed Obama’s little cabin and take a typical tourist selfie in front of it white house touris.

If shopping counts as some form of sightseeing, too, then we also did a lot of that in Georgetown– according to my friends even too much since they might be broke by now. The bucket list for places my friends have to see has still some important things on it:

 

The National Mall.

Eastern Market and H Street.

U Street with dinner at Ben’s Chili Bowl.

The Pentagon.

Georgetown Cupcakes & the Waterfront.

El Chuco.

 

We also walked around the GW campus, which apparently has inspired my friends a lot. They really want to buy a GW sweater now. They are showing full on college spirit.

It is great to have them here. Now I can share my enthusiasm about DC and GW with them directly instead of only awkwardly talking to them via Skype, which 90% of the time consists only of me asking: “Do you guys hear me?”

Being here they hear me clearly and they can see and experience for themselves. They like DC and are very happy. We all are. The major reason is probably that we are together with DC being the icing on the cake.

 

 

By baharmahzari

The first month of my semester is officially over. Four weeks of endless readings, weekly Museum visits, many nights on U-Street and amounts of various ethnic foods have come to an end. When I think about it, all of it seems to have happened in racing time, which did not allow me once to sit down and reflect upon all the moments. Hence, I took the opportunity of my 1-month anniversary to replicate all the unforgettable moments, unfamiliar situations and also absurd confrontations while enjoying self-made blueberry pancakes, loads of bacon and fruits on E Street’s rooftop.

breakfast

And while I was eating, – and being extremely surprised by the perfection of my pancakes’ circular shape – a strange wave of emotions hit me. Happiness, surprise, satisfaction, anger and melancholy are few worthy to be mentioned. In that moment, I just realized all the words and actions stemming from the personal interactions I had. In that specific moment, I fully became aware of the diversity of thought within US society including all its ambiguities.

Every time people ask me about the most significant thing that I learned during my high school year in the States, I tell them about the flawed European view on American society, which is perceived as uncritical, extremely patriotic and increasingly arrogant. The US I encountered during the time of 2010-2011 was not only open and welcoming, but it also surprised me with incredibly keen-witted and intelligent people. This view, which I had acquired during my exchange year was, however, constantly challenged by extremely conservative parts of American society tending to be the loudest in the political debate. My fellow Europeans, who never had the chance to spent more than a vacation in the US, only had heard the voices of unprogressive parts of American’s society and political elite. Hence, they never fully understood what I was talking about.

They will never understand, because they cannot see the dilemma of American society & the struggle of progressive sections to change the status quo discourse. What I learned during this last month and my second long-term stay in the States is that these progressive voices are already halted when challenging the mainstream discourse with their criticism. They are simply rejected on a basis of ‘wrong’ and ‘right’. They are perceived by a ‘black and white’ paradigm. And, lastly, they are marginalized without further discussion. I am not talking about the current presidential debate – this text does not aim at conveying my personal opinion about how the political Left and Right is treated in this country. This text is about my encounters at GW – the perfect example of this clash between two major movements within society.

When someone calls me a ‘socialist’, I usually do not get offended. People get emotional in informal settings and due to my socio-political work, this happens now and then. But it is very rare. I do not want to transform this into a history lesson about how socialist ideology has been treated by society and the polity in Europe, Latin America or Asia versus its status in the US. I think the whole Cold War, ‘Red Scare’ and McCarthyism paradigm does definitely offer one of the many explanations for less attraction within American society to feel drawn towards Leftist ideas, but it should not serve as the basis for defining a set framework of America’s political landscape as well as its subversive movements. America does have incredibly bright, deep-read and highly motivated progressive sections within its society that do not fear to criticize the status quo. However, the issue for their slow progress seems to be that they are not invited for a dialogue by the forces shaping the mainstream discourse. And the reason for a lack of debate is the apparent idea that there is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in politics. But politics is much more than that: It is a constant debate, where various groups and individuals disagree with each other and try to find a compromise. Politics is about good arguments, its about values and lastly it is inherently idealistic. So when I am called a socialist while having a political debate, I am not bothered since it only fortifies my belief in social democracy. When I am called a ‘socialist leftie’ in a country, where this term is despised by several in society, I do not feel personally attacked with regards to my political beliefs, but it  negates progressive societal movements within this country, who want to reform the current political discourse.

I am satisfied with most of my classes, one of them being probably the best class I have taken in my academic career so far. Our professor does not only challenge us with critical theory, but she encourages us to search for dialogue not only with her, but also among the students while discussing political, economic and social events and structures. Her and 95% of my class represent the progressive critical part of society in this country, which is determined to change the status quo for the better. In complete contrast to this stands one of my other classes. The status quo defines our discussions, criticism is taken personally by all involved and a dialogue is not sought. The current political discourse is protected against ‘socialist lefties’ and any other voice that disagrees. A descriptive mode of engaging with the issues dominates the events discussed. Analytical thinking is not requested.

When someone calls me a ‘socialist leftie’, I usually do not get offended. Even if it happens in an academic context. I am not trapped in any ideological mindset and far away from being a radical or revolutionary. I have learned to rather believe in reforms. But I do get offended when I see that the purpose of academia is being undermined. Academia should open up new horizons, it should attempt to represent as much diversity as possible, it should be critical and it should push students to think analytically. It should push students to think for themselves. It should encourage students to criticize without being criticized.

When I was called a ‘socialist leftie’ this past week, I did not get offended as usual. Although, it was used as an attack on a personal basis. Although, it undermined the purpose of academia. Although, ‘socialism’ was used as a dirty word. I was not offended, because I see the big and growing sections of US society, which are pursuing progress. They are critical, they are brave and they believe in the making of politics while upholding their moral values. I saw these people not only during my exchange year 6 years ago, but I see them now, too. Right at GW sitting in the classrooms. And I hope that, as the mainstream political discourse within the United States will slowly change, that also the cultural discourse about alleged American political dullness will finally be abandoned by my fellow Europeans and others around the world.

 

By baharmahzari

It probably has been quite clear that one of the major themes of my blog posts is and will be my love for any type of cuisine. This blog should not be that one-dimensional though. This week will introduce my second major love in life: Electronic music. Whether it is Deep House, Techno or Trance – I do not discriminate, but only show my love for it. After having been a DC local –I probably should not call myself a local, but I like to pretend, that’s alright, isn’t it? - for almost a month, it was time for some kind of pre-celebration. And the best way of welcoming the second month of my exchange was by showing my love for some house music with a good set. Julio Bashmore, a Bristol native, offered the perfect opportunity for that.

I never had the chance to actually go to one of Bashmore’s sets. Soundcloud had introduced him to me and remained to be the only bridge between his music and my craving for his sounds. The set he presented at U Street Music Hall on Saturday was great. The people I shared this good time with were amazing (You guys know, who you are!). Julio Bashmore ‘s sounds are now officially one of the things, which I will always associate with DC. There is this part of me, which easily connects music to places. There are certain songs that just immediately remind me of a certain country, city or location.

Bashmore was my first sound of DC. His single Kong (feat. Bixby) is my personal melody of DC.

I am imagining myself listening to it next year and I will just get lost in all my memories on this vibrant and colorful city. By colorful I specifically mean U Street. Bashmore’s sound is immediately linked to all the fun that I had and will have on U Street:

It will remind me of the casual order of Chili-Cheese Fries at Ben’s Chili Bowl at 3 am.

It will let my thoughts wander to crazy times at Dodge City.

It will cause flashbacks to the most amazing Uber rides with insane Portuguese and Electro Cumbia music filling the air.

It will make me yearn for the moments at Flash.

It will be the evidence for the fact that I love DC. That I love U Street with all of its shady figures.

 

However, there will be more sounds of DC. There are already plans of extending the soundtrack , which I want to prepare for this city. Andhim & Parov Stelar will contribute as soon as they have filled DC’s air with their music. But let me give you the debut for my soundtrack for this city:

Sounds of DC (Track 01): Julio Bashmore - Kong (feat. Bixby)

Enjoy!

 

Cheers,

Bahar

By baharmahzari

First and foremost, I would like to clarify that cupcakes are on the top of list of things, which make me happy no matter how bad of a day I had. Only avocados and watermelon beat my love for cupcakes. Hence, me dedicating an entire blog post to cupcakes is totally normal, when you get to know me. So while strolling through picturesque Georgetown for the first time, I could do nothing else but run into ‘Georgetown Cupcake’. Seeing all those delicious cupcakes stacked up on cute étagères, it was impossible to listen to reason and I just simply bought two. I bought two cupcakes and ate them both right after the other. No regrets. Well, maybe some regrets towards my blood sugar level. I will gladly share the perfection with you; only in form of a picture though.

georgetown cupcake

Experiencing a city spontaneously without a plan is the best way of exploring its greatest treasures. In the case of DC: 'Georgetown Cupcake'. But sometimes a little bit of local help and experience can make a stay in a foreign city unforgettable. So, thank you, to every local, who persistently told me that I should visit ‘Baked & Wired’ instead of ‘Georgetown Cupcakes’. You did not disappoint. I love carrot cake and I love cupcakes. To find the fusion of these two in the form of a way bigger cupcake than the one sold at the store mentioned previously made my day full of exhausting readings not only bearable, but also actually fantastic. As you noticed before, the top 3 things on the list of stuff making me happy are some kind of food. So a cupcake can definitely save my day. And, by the way, I had two again. This might become a thing: Me just always casually ordering double. But hey, I am just trying to integrate into American consumer society. Although, my blood sugar might rebel at one point. I am definitely challenging it at the moment.

baked and wired

Of course, I won’t make this whole article about me visiting two cupcake places. I am not that shallow. Maybe you have already noticed that I like to use metaphors, comparisons and analogies. It is somehow my thing and I like to believe that I am actually good at it. So let’s try this stretch: ‘Georgetown Cupcake’ represents my adventurous, independent and curious side. I love to just stroll around DC and explore new places by myself. Without any former opinion. Without any prejudices. I like to experience it myself without being bound to the borders of someone else’s mindset. On the other hand, locals do know the city’s best places sometimes. Places, which you normally maybe would never pass by. A perfect example of that is the Ethiopian food at 'Zenebech Injera' close to U Street. Although, I love Ethiopian food, I would have overlooked that place probably. But thanks to my American friend Meg, whom I will refer to as M from this point onwards, I had one of the best nights with lovely Injera. Another example is ‘Baked & Wired’. Hidden in a side road of M Street, I wouldn’t have seen it.

I will get to know DC in the combination of these two modes of exploration: Going out without any plan and just be lucky in finding the right spots  as well as enjoying the comfort of being guided by trusted locals, who know exactly what is worth to go to. Next stop: 'Maketto' on H Street.

By baharmahzari

“The moment we left Europe stuff went down!”

This is probably one of the sentences describing my feelings of this week in the best way. The statement came from one of my fellow European exchange students and refers to the events regarding the migrant crisis this week.

Aylan Kurdi. 3-years old. Drowned in the Mediterranean. The picture of his dead body being picked up by a policeman at one of the many beaches in Turkey has not only led to awareness around the globe, but also immediately changed the hard immigration and asylum policy of Europe’s strongest nations – one of them being Germany. As a response to the sudden march of thousands of refugees walking from Hungary to Austria, Germany has opened its borders for these asylum seekers most of them having escaped the Syrian Civil War. Now you might ask: But what has the refugee crisis in Europe to do with my semester in the States? It’s a legitimate question. There aren’t many important links. However, I have found one similarity between the US and my home country Germany – the existence of extremely bigoted and intolerant people. Alright, you will find ignorant people all around the world. But in the case of the US and Germany the similarity is very striking. In both countries, a very narrow minded attitude towards immigration has been voiced in form of a book.

The US’ “Adios, America” written by Ann Coulter is basically Germany’s “Deutschland schafft sich ab!” (“Germany abolishes itself!”). The latter was written by Thilo Sarrazin in 2010 and claims that Germany is taken over by Middle Eastern immigrants, who are destroying German culture. Coulter makes a similar claim with the only difference that her book addresses the Hispanic community. At the end, both authors convey the same hateful message: Immigration and foreign cultures are a threat.

Being in DC walking around the different neighborhoods, a certain degree of division within society is noticeable. The different communities do not only stick together, but it seems as if physical barriers also lead to division. Certain neighborhoods are just defined through their ethnic composition not allowing for the development of positive multi-culturalism combined with successful integration. The same can be observed in my home city Cologne. It has to be said though that the significant ethnic fragmentation of society in Germany is treated very critically due to the country’s history. Progressive parts of civil society as well as the polity have urged for the adoption of a “Welcome Culture” as the country’s new policy towards immigration and asylum. It is all over the news. And has, finally, been also accepted by the leading political figures of the country.

“Welcome Culture” – A term, which actually describes the US’ original purpose as a state. Welcoming immigrants to live freely in the new world. However, much has changed since then. Books like “Adios, America” discredit America’s great characteristic of being a country of immigrants. People like Ann Coulter devalue virtues as equality, which are codified in the Declaration of Independence. And if no one speaks up, intolerance and ignorance can flourish in their most efficient form.

“Welcome Culture” – It is the solution to overcome bigoted parts of society. It is the key for an open-minded community. It should be the future policy of every nation in this world.

By baharmahzari

United States Capitol – Thinking of DC, the Capitol is the main landmark, which I associate with the City. It's a distinctive landmark of the US. It’s not only the political importance of the Capitol providing the meeting place for the US Congress, which makes it so important in my opinion, but also its pop-cultural significance. As a passionate ‘House of Cards’ viewer seeing the Capitol in real life is the same as wandering around New York City in the case of an excited ‘Gossip Girl’ fan. But there is one thing that slightly ruined my excitement (besides the fact that Frank Underwood wasn’t actually waiting at the stairs of the Capitol to give me a personal tour): The dome of the Capitol is under construction. It’s my first time in DC, I love ‘House of Cards’ and I was super excited to see the Capitol in all its beauty.

Big shout out to the person deciding to renovate the Capitol’s dome during my stay in DC. Perfect timing…

Blog Entry 2 - Picture Capitol

But not only the dome is under construction currently. Also the apartment, which I’m staying at, is literally under construction. Changing the window frames, taking out the carpet and replacing it with a new one as well as updating the furniture; all of this is done while I’m trying to live there. So again:

Big shout out to my landlord, who decided to do all of that now. Perfect timing …

The reoccurring ‘Under Construction’ theme does not just apply to my surrounding physical things. It also mirrors my inner state at the moment. Orientation was fun, but also exhausting. I love socializing with people, but during this week I was very much reminded of my first day at University back in Maastricht. The first semester I talked to basically everyone. I was ‘friends’ with everyone I met. However, throughout my second semester my current group of friends emerged. You cannot build long-lasting friendships with everyone. And you shouldn’t force it. I didn’t come to GW to find my new best friends. I just want to hang out with people that I enjoy and have fun with. 4 months are a very short time. And it’s always better to be relaxed and see what the future has to offer. My goal for the semester included finding inspiration here. People are a major source of inspiration and I already feel a little bit infected by some conservations, which I had throughout the week.

And now the serious bit: Do I feel homesick?

I’m not sure.

I wouldn’t say that I feel homesick. I have experienced living apart from my family and friends. Beside my exchange year in the US during my junior year, I have lived in the Netherlands the past two years. Okay, to be fair: Maastricht is only an hour away from Cologne. But still, I’m used to not seeing my friends and family for long periods of time. However, I do not feel totally comfortable at the moment. Maybe it is because I miss hanging around with my friends from Uni. I had a great time in Maastricht the last two years and met the most amazing people. Maybe it is because I miss my friends from back home in Germany. We had a great summer. Maybe it is because I love spending time with my parents. I had not seen them for more than 6 months before I got home to Cologne for my summer break. The conversations, trips and my Mom’s food – 2 months was not enough to take all of that in. Maybe it is because I rarely see my family members, so when I have the opportunity to be with them I just want to hold on to the moment. And, lastly, maybe it is because I met a certain person shortly before I took of to the States.

But all of these emotions do not mean that I’m homesick. I often feel like that when I’m on the go. And I’m literally always on the go. All these emotions just remind me of how lucky and happy I actually am. And I’m sure that when the time comes to leave DC, I will feel the same when I’m back in Europe. I always take something with me– be it part of the city or a person– and leave a part of my heart behind.

The best way to describe my current inner state is to label it as being ‘under construction’. I need to get used to my environment, get to know the City and find my people. I’m ready for that. I’m ready for DC.

By baharmahzari

3932 miles - That's the distance from Maastricht, which is located in the Western part of the Netherlands, to Washington D.C..

A more pictorial illustration of the distance between these two places in the Atlantic Ocean separating Europe from the Americas.

But this distance is not only a geographical feature, but also a portrayal of the differences. There is a reason why the United States of America are referred to as the 'New World' while Europe represents the 'Old World'. There are shared experiences and many similarities, but the overall perception of the world differs. It is a 'New' view challenging an 'Old' perspective. Maastricht and D.C. are two cities, which perfectly embody this dynamic. But before coming back to this unique dynamic between the ‘Old’ and the ‘New’ , I should probably introduce myself:

SONY DSC

I am Bahar.

21-years old.

Born in Germany. Being blessed of growing up in the beautiful city of Cologne.

Rooted in Persian culture with both of my parents being from Iran.

Living and studying in the Netherlands currently – Focusing on International Relations and International Law.

Personal Maxim: The easiest way of falling in love with a country and its people is through the national cuisine – ergo: Food means Peace.

 

A historical city as Maastricht, which was already well-know due to its strategic location by the Romans as "Mosae Trajectum", is a perfect representation of Europe as the 'Old World'. Strolling through the narrow alleys and passing the historical monuments still preserved from the Roman Empire generates the atmosphere as if time has stood still. As a student of Maastricht University such atmosphere can also be found in the old university buildings with some of them dating back to the 15th century. One of these is the Niuewenhof monastery, which serves as a place of education and learning to all University College Maastricht (UCM) students – myself included.

The Liberal Arts and Sciences curriculum paired with the European 'Old View' has a tendency to look back. Learning from past experiences, ancient philosophy and historical events is core to the educational agenda of UCM. Kant, Nietzsche, Aristotle and Plato are always present in the tutorial rooms and lecture halls - only figuratively speaking of course. And sometimes this 'Old View' concerning education is carried through at the expense of reconnecting with practical reality. At that moment, innovation and fresh ideas are what one seeks after or simply said a 'New View'. This basically sums up my expectations for my upcoming semester at GW: innovative ideas, new perspectives and inspiring insights. I have been looking for a paradigm, which does not directly stem from the European experience, for quite some time now. My semester abroad at GW could be the chance to dip into a new paradigm and see the world events from a different perspective. US politics, culture and lifestyle do differ from the European one. Although, Europeans initially founded the United States the way of how they saw the world and how they wanted to live differed. The value of liberty is a cornerstone of the US’ moral basis. Liberty in the American sense is interpreted in a very different way than in Europe. After having lived in the US (Concord, New Hampshire) for almost a year during my time as a high school student, I perceive the current American idea of liberty to be more absolute, more emphasized and very emotional.

Such difference is not only mirrored in major societal and political structures, but also in the education system and in what is learned. I want to experience that. Learning about the world from another perspective will not only broaden my horizon, but it will also allow me to understand others and defend my own point of view in a much more sophisticated way.

My expectations seem to be very abstract, but put into simpler terms it is all about experiencing something 'New'. It is true that I have already experienced daily life in the US. However, my 16-year old me has very little to do with 21-year old Bahar. The high school experience cannot be compared to academic life at GW. And most importantly, I have clear goals and somewhat of a plan in my mind this time. 6 years ago I visited the US as a curious and naive world traveler and fell in love with the country and the people. I became a different person throughout my 1-year stay in little Concord, New Hampshire. Now I am going back to the States with a clear vision in mind of what to expect. I would still call myself a world traveler, but I’m not naive anymore and I have plans. This blog will provide me with a platform to remind me of these plans and allow me to share them.

Me, 21-year old Bahar, is in urgent need of inspiration and the best way to find it is by changing locations and diving into new cultures. GW is the first step towards fresh inspirational inputs. DC is the perfect place for me to elaborate on innovative ideas. The US will provide me with the ‘New’ that I so desperately need at the moment.

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