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By gwblogabroad

There it is, I am leaving. After 9 months in Washington I am going back to France, and more precisely to a socialist France, which makes it all the more fun. It's important because even if I haven't completely understood Americans, living in the United States for one year made me a little bit more France (it is the moment when you grab a tissue). For anyone who considers going abroad at some point I would say: do it. When you grow up in a country you take a lot of things for granted and you will never be able to actually take time to think about the logic of such traditions or ways of life if you don't go live abroad for a while.

Everybody has been asking me for a couple of days : "are you happy to go back?" or "are you sad to go back?". I am neither of those because I knew up front I would be leaving in May. I am just happy to have finished my finals (I don't want to upset those who haven't but it feels great).

Yet, I have one thing left to do: packing, which turned out to be more difficult than what I expected. There are six stages in this process:

1) Optimism: First, you start by thinking you'll bring everything back because your brother who came for spring break took with him a couple of books and a coat.

2) Coming back to reality : You realize it is not going to happen so you start thinking about what you are going to leave. You start by throwing away every useless piece of paper (you did not intend to bring that back anyway but it makes the drawers look emptier which is reassuring).

3) Skepticism: You decide to leave your old clothes: white T-shirts that turned blue, embarrassing underwear, the cap your running instructor gave you (yes, he is back!).

4) Panic: You have everything you did not care about and your suitcases are still almost full (you have not put your books and dirty clothes in there yet). You start panicking, you check how much it would cost to ship them (a lot). You understand that is not going to happen.

5) Frustration: Your criteria to throw away clothes become stricter: shoes that hurt your feet, T-shirt you can only pair with one skirt, green sweaters (yes, at some point you need to be arbitrary).

6) Resignation: You decide to leave your ukulele behind.

Good luck everybody - GW students, exchange students - with finals, packings, going back home.

Peace from France.

By gwblogabroad

I was talking with another girl from France studying at GW this year and I realized one thing about GW, everybody is very positive about ... well, pretty much everything.

Let me give you an example. I made the terrible mistake of taking a marathon class (and I am really not an athlete). Every week, since I run much slower than the rest of the class, I lose my group (literally, I lose them). Usually when I am finally back at the gym after running 45 minutes everybody has left for about ten minutes. During the fourth class I tried to run faster and most people from my group were waiting in front of the gym when I arrived. Strangely when I joined them, one boy high-fived me saying "Good job!".

Two things about that:

1) First, he was not the instructor so I did not understand why I felt he had to encourage me.

2) I arrived 10 minutes after everybody else and I did not run as far as them (I had turned around after 20 minutes not to be too late). Not really what I would call a good job.

I realized that everybody is always very encouraging in all of my classes. Professors always say "good question" or "this is a very interesting comment". Even when I bake, the few people that are courageous enough to eat the mixture I cook seem to feel forced to say "this is absolutely delicious" when, really,  "this is edible" would be enough considering how bad a cook I am.

In France, and particularly at my school, things are very different. Even when you are attending a lecture of several hundred people and the professor encourages people to ask questions, if you dare doing so to ask a question not very original, the professor might humiliate you in front of everybody answering that your question is stupid (which often leads to nobody ever daring asking a question).

Since I am used to having very tough teachers, I did not know people at GW expect as many positive remarks as negative remarks when they ask for a critique. For instance, I had to write a one-page critique for every short-story the students from my "Fiction Writing" class had written. I started writing very negative critiques until I received the critiques from the other students in my class about my own story. All were very positive with only a few criticisms. Besides, my teacher mentioned "critiques should not be all negative or mean." Oops.

Is one technique better than the other? We have a saying in France, "qui aime bien chattie bien", which basically means that you are tough with people you appreciate. I tend to be in favor of harsh criticisms because I think they made me progress more. Yet, my friend was arguing that being that negative about everything encourages self-censorship and goes against creativity. I'll let you take sides while I start packing to go back to the country with the highest percentage of people thinking the future will be worse than the present. Negativity, you said?

By gwblogabroad

The thing I understood after one day spent in D.C. was that living in the capital would not be cheap. I arrived on a Saturday at 4PM and when I got into my room, I realized I had two things to do: forget about the fact that it was 10PM in France and buy bed sheets and everything that could clean the sticky furniture and the disgusting toilets. I had $200 and I soon had to open a bank account with no money in it. After eating only turkey for five days, my bank account was refilled and I thought naively that those trouble were over.

After a month spent in D.C. it was worse. Yet, I am leaving in about a month and I have now drawn several conclusions that may be useful to future GW students.

1) Tell yourself cupcakes are disgusting: Believe it or not, you will have friends suggesting to go get cupcakes at least once a week, especially if you are a girl. You will have to be strong. And since cupcakes are so tempting, you will have to be even stronger. Tell yourself cupcakes are disgusting and will get you sick. It will help your diet too (yes, another problem with coming to the US: you will not get thinner). I found a very useful trick though: eat an awful cupcake, one you never ever wanted to eat. Then, convince yourself that all cupcakes taste the same. It works ! For about a month.

2) Do not listen to GW student saying "Let's take a taxi": Back in France, I lived one hour away from Paris and I had never taken a taxi in 20 years. At GW it seems that everybody is ready to waste $40 dollar to go somewhere that is either close or accessible by the metro. They always find an excuse: we would have to walk 10 minutes, it is not a safe place (which generally means it is not Foggy Bottom) or I have a bag to carry. Well, once again, be strong and convincing. I admit it is hard when you have a French accent but introduce yourself as a communist and briefly mention the Gulag and they'll be much easier to convince.

3) Walk fast: Streets are tempting in Washington D.C. And if, like me, you are very vulnerable when you see a nice skirt or lovely boots, you will have no choice other than walking fast while looking at the ground. It may be difficult in Georgetown and this may cause you to bump into people but it is still the most efficient option I have found so far.

4) Don't buy books in advance: No matter what people tell you, don't buy your books too soon. There are several reasons why and I can list several scenarios that happened to me:

- There may be an error on the list (Let me tell you will not be glad when you learn that the second week of classes).

- The professor may decide that he won't use the book (and he may decide that two weeks before the end of the semester. The bookstore may refuse to buy that book back from you. And you may have to throw it away because your suitcase is full in May when you have to come back home).

- You may find the book cheaper on Amazon (it's always good to check).

- The book may be unnecessary (like a math textbook for journalist explaining how to add and divide numbers). I know I should not say that but if you have a small budget it is better not to waste money.

5) Do not plan trips at the last minute: I am unable to plan any trip in advance (which means more than a week before I actually leave). It may be possible in France but, really, don't do this in the US. First, all your friends will have other plans by that time. It will be really hard to find a cheap hotel and your Megabus options will be significantly reduced. Yet, I am not saying that you should make an effort and force yourself to plan your trips in advance. On the contrary, invite one of your friends to join you in this trip, preferably someone very organized, and let this person organize everything. Of course, the necessary requirement is that you are both lazy and mean, which is not given to everybody.

7) Do not listen to professors, editors or anybody saying: "it is absolutely necessary": One of the sentences I have heard the most since I arrived at GW is: "You will really need it". Generally this is a lie. You will not need it and when you realize it, you will be absolutely furious. For instance, my photo teacher told us: "It is necessary to buy a tripod". I used it once. In my head this equals: "I could have borrowed it from somebody else". He also told us: "You need to sign up for an account on this website, it is about $20 a month." We never used it. My personal experience leads me to give you one piece of advice: wait a couple of weeks before you decide whether it is actually necessary.

If you follow all these advice, life will still be expensive but at least you will not tell yourself that it is your fault, which is always good.

By gwblogabroad

I had to wait for my brother to come visit me to finally take some time to travel outside DC. In seven days I spent 19 hours in a bus and I now have an overall opinion about the major cities of the East Coast: New York, Philadelphia and Boston.

1) Skiing in New York

Everybody loves New York. It's "the greatest city of the world" a wise man once said (when I think about it, it may just have been Ted Mosby in How I Met Your Mother). Since I am not a very adventurous tourist, I went to see the Statue of Liberty, the Public Library, Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge and all those things you can see on postcards.

Everything was great I admit. Yet, it's in New York that I found the one place I never want to go back to ever again: Time Square. You never find the appropriate pace to walk at there. Either you try to go fast and someone brutally stops in front of you or you walk slowly and everybody runs around you. The last time I felt this way was when I went skying in France. You have people coming in every direction, going faster or slower than you and when you stop you have strange expensive shops all around you.

I also got the chance to see a musical: Memphis. A good experience to realize that musicals can actually be an impressive show when they have enough money. I should bring that lesson back to France.

Delicious chocolate: "Chocolate Café" (near the Flatiron)

Shopping: Brooklyn industries in Williamsburg

2) Living in the shoes of a leprechaun in Boston 

My brother reserved rooms for us via "airbnb". That's how I discovered it was better to be 2-inch tall to live in Boston. I had seen on the pictures that in our apartment everything was close to each other. What I did not know was that all the furniture were also small and that the apartment was under the level of the ground... Strange city.

Yet, Boston was great, not gigantic like New York. People were extremely nice, which is strange for a Parisian. We had only arrived in Boston for ten minutes when a middle-aged man asked us what we were looking for and walked us there.

Like everybody we went to Harvard. I touched the left foot of John Harvard and sunbathed on the grass. I personally found the place a little bit oppressive but it may because it was Spring Break and not a lot of people were there. Still, it's worth going there, at least to take a picture of yourself in front of the library (or, truly, any building) and send it to your parents.

Shopping: Gooring Bros (to buy hats) in Cambridge

Must-see: The Shoah memorial

3) Looking for one-dollar bills in Philly

Philadelphia, its history ... and its metro. I personally think that not only the constitution was signed in Philadelphia but the first metro was also created there. This was the beta version of the metro systems. They saw that it did not work and they decided never to do that ever again. Let me explain. It works with coins called "tokens". You have to buy tokens - $3.10 dollars for two tokens - but only machines sell tokens and there aren't machines at every station. When there is no machine you have to give 2 dollars to the person who works at this station. Yet, and this is where it becomes tricky, the person doesn't give change back (even though she/he must have thousands of 1-dollar bills). So you must have one-dollar bills with you all the time. Sometimes, there is a machine but it doesn't take coins. It will ask you 4 dollars and give you 90 cents back... so the machine gives you coins but doesn't take them. And if you managed to survive all this and stay calm you can enjoy a very complicated metro map and express lines that don't indicate where they don't stop.

In spite of the metro, Philly was nice. You can download Rocky's soundtrack and run in front of the Museum of Arts and, the next hour, learn about the founding fathers and American history: two activities you rarely compile in one day.

Everybody told me you could see Philadelphia in one day. I think a couple of days might be better if you want to do everything and not just go to the main tourist places. In one day we saw the Independence Hall, Liberty Bell, Korean War Memorial and we walked around the city. Yet, it's true that we spent half of the day eating French Toast stuffed with maple at Sam's Glory Dinner.

Delicious cheesecake: Darling's Coffeehouse (South Street and 20th)

Must-do: take a picture with Rocky at the Museum of Arts

By gwblogabroad

In case some of you did not notice, the last couple of weeks were full of anniversaries: GW's 100 years in Foggy Bottom and George Washington's 223rd birthday. Even before that, I had noticed how dear George Washington was to the university. You run into his bust almost every block. Yet those events were a good opportunity to learn a little bit more about American traditions.

1) S'mores:

This is probably the best thing the US have ever invented (after the Internet of course). I was familiar with marshmallows like anybody who went to summer camps. Yet I had never eaten s'mores. The idea is simple: biscuit- chocolate-marshmallow-chocolate. The result is simply delicious. Too bad we discovered that only in February and I don't have a fireplace to make them at home. My only complaint: there should really be a seminar on how to make them at the beginning of the semester because chances are you won't be able to make them properly the first time you try.

2) Bonfire: 

An orchestra, a giant fire and a George Washington mascot... I keep wondering what it would look like if this happened in Paris next to my home university, Sciences Po. This is for me the main difference a campus make. We would never have such social events in France. Firstly, this would mean blocking a whole street and probably starting a fire considering how  narrow the streets are. Secondly, inhabitants of the seventh district of Paris would fear that young people from the "banlieues" are coming to attack their neighborhood. Finally, the sound of an orchestra playing would probably make people think it's July 14th or the Gay Pride demonstrating early this year (which would be stupid because it's 30°F in France right now so half-naked dancers would be freezing).

3) The Legendary George:

I did not know about Presidents Day before it actually happened, although I wondered why someone had put a hat on George's head near Foggy Bottom metro. After I realized this meant I wouldn't have a test in my investigative reporting class on Monday - which made me pretty happy - I looked up on Wikipedia what was the meaning of this holiday. As it turns out, Americans celebrate their presidents' birthdays, especially Washington's and Lincoln's. It is not a shock that great figures of history are important in the US. In France, less so. First, we don't usually celebrate dead people's birthday but dead people's ... death day. Above all, I don't think everybody would feel comfortable celebrating Napoleon's birthday for example. Among other things, he is the author of a text that said: "Husbands must protect their wives, wives must be obedient to their husband". Let's just say that feminists would not be thrilled to celebrate Napoleon's birthday. On the contrary, in the US, especially at GW that was named after George, history is still very sacred. Busts of Presidents are everywhere and politicians still refer to the Founding Fathers to defend certain ideas or object to reforms.

All of this to say that there is more than an ocean that separates France and the United States.

By gwblogabroad

There it is: we have found a way to make hundreds of loud and rude college students inoffensive. It is not the most elegant way but it is efficient. An epidemic.

It started at the beginning of the week. You ate somewhere, you touched something and before you knew, you had it. You felt nauseated and after a couple of hours you received an email from the university:

"The George Washington University Student Health Service is currently seeing an increased number of students with gastrointestinal symptoms, most likely of a viral origin.”

“No. No. NOOO” is your first reaction. Now that you are facing the truth, you have to tell your friends you won’t be able to brunch with them tomorrow.

You continue reading the email:

“While symptoms can be uncomfortable, gastrointestinal illness is usually not serious and most people get better in one to two days.  There is no drug treatment or vaccine for gastrointestinal illness.”

Well, this is the polite equivalent of: “Don’t bother coming to see us. There is no cure. And we don’t want to get sick too”. Never mind, you are brave, you will bare the consequences of touching door handles irresponsibly. You will just go to sleep and hope you will not die in painful circumstances.

Wait. The email is not over:

"The university is working with the DC Department of Health and is currently awaiting the outcome of testing to determine the cause of the infections.  The university is also working to identify any commonalities in the cases at GW.  No single commonality has been identified to date."

Are we talking about the plague? I am not even sure we have health service at my home university so an investigation about the causes of the epidemic seems a little bit disproportionate. If we think about it for a second, they are basically hiring people to find the cause of a disease that is not serious and for which there is no cure anyway.

They finally found the origin of the epidemic: it is a norovirus. That doesn’t help us much, but it is way more elegant than saying that you have gastrointestinal symptoms. Yet, during the next few days, you still see one friend after another being trapped in his or her room, like soldiers dying on the battlefield.

There are two possible scenarios now:

1) People will get better, fewer and fewer will get sick and life will be happy and healthy again.

2) This is the beginning of the end of the world foreseen in 2012.

Right now, it's 50-50 given that every office at GW has turned paranoiac and is cleaning every inch touched by a student. But let's not be pessimistic, if we survived the bird flu, we will probably survive the norovirus.

By gwblogabroad

There it is: we have found a way to make hundreds of loud and rude college students inoffensive. It is not the most elegant way but it is efficient. An epidemic.

It started at the beginning of the week. You ate somewhere, you touched something and before you knew, you had it. You felt nauseated and after a couple of hours you received an email from the university:

"The George Washington University Student Health Service is currently seeing an increased number of students with gastrointestinal symptoms, most likely of a viral origin.”

“No. No. NOOO” is your first reaction. Now that you are facing the truth, you have to tell your friends you won’t be able to brunch with them tomorrow.

You continue reading the email:

“While symptoms can be uncomfortable, gastrointestinal illness is usually not serious and most people get better in one to two days.  There is no drug treatment or vaccine for gastrointestinal illness.”

Well, this is the polite equivalent of: “Don’t bother coming to see us. There is no cure. And we don’t want to get sick too”. Never mind, you are brave, you will bare the consequences of touching door handles irresponsibly. You will just go to sleep and hope you will not die in painful circumstances.

Wait. The email is not over:

"The university is working with the DC Department of Health and is currently awaiting the outcome of testing to determine the cause of the infections.  The university is also working to identify any commonalities in the cases at GW.  No single commonality has been identified to date."

Are we talking about the plague? I am not even sure we have health service at my home university so an investigation about the causes of the epidemic seems a little bit disproportionate. If we think about it for a second, they are basically hiring people to find the cause of a disease that is not serious and for which there is no cure anyway.

They finally found the origin of the epidemic: it is a norovirus. That doesn’t help us much, but it is way more elegant than saying that you have gastrointestinal symptoms. Yet, during the next few days, you still see one friend after another being trapped in his or her room, like soldiers dying on the battlefield.

There are two possible scenarios now:

1) People will get better, fewer and fewer will get sick and life will be happy and healthy again.

2) This is the beginning of the end of the world foreseen in 2012.

Right now, it's 50-50 given that every office at GW has turned paranoiac and is cleaning every inch touched by a student. But let's not be pessimistic, if we survived the bird flu, we will probably survive the norovirus.

By gwblogabroad

Two weeks ago I went to my first GW basketball game. I had missed the first ten or more games because of papers, cold weather and… lack of motivation. But I finally decided I needed to go, mainly because my roommate told me it was probably the last game “our” team would win.

Of course I was late as usual so I missed the very beginning of the game. Yet, I did stay until the end so I was able to draw a few conclusions:

1)    You’d better not play at another university: After 5 minutes of games, the cheering and booing gave me a sense of the unbalanced situation: 95% of the people who came to see the game were for GW, the last 5% were for the other team. You could easily do the math: the other team was going to have a hard time. In the last minutes of the game, I was even for the other team because I felt sympathy for them. When the “enemies” tried to make a shot, everybody was yelling and making noise so that they would fail. When GW was making a shot, everybody was silent except for the 5%. And if they tried to make some noise, the 95% would start yelling at them.

2)    GW loves t-shirt: Not much to say about that except I had never seen so many people wearing yellow and blue t-shirts in the same room.

3)   George Washington is a little bit scary: Even though I have a problem with the name of the team being “colonials” considering… what it means, I’ve always thought the George Washington mascot was rather cool. Yet, at the game, he became a little bit scary, raising his fist and doing some foot tapping or something of the sort.

4)    It is hard for a feminist to watch cheerleaders: I tried to be opened to my friend’s arguments that there were some male cheerleaders but I am still skeptic. First, why do they change clothes three times a game? Second, it is hard to see men play and girls dance, no matter how you try not to perceive this as sexist.

5)    College sport makes people really aggressive: I was not surprised by the aggressiveness because people can get really passionate at soccer games in France too. Still, some people take the game really seriously. Maybe my perception is biased by the fact that I had a very angry supporter right behind me who kept kicking my seat and yelling insults at the other team. Yet, I think I will probably never understand the stakes in college basketball and to be honest I didn’t really care about who was going to win.

6)    At a basketball game, you have to deserve food: $4 a slice of pizza, seriously? This may be a strategy to fight against overweight but at 8:30 I started to be really hungry and a dilemma came to me: do I pay $1 for a bite of pizza or do I starve myself to death (that is to say until 9:30)?

7)    You can here “Billie Jean” played by a band (which doesn’t happen often): Some might say you haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Michael Jackson song played by saxophones, trumpets and other wind-related instruments. I don’t want to oversell it so I am just going to say that Michael Jackson himself would not have done better.

8)    I still don’t understand the part when guys danced with bayonets

By gwblogabroad

The time to register for classes began last month. The sacred “add/drop” weeks have followed. For the past few weeks all GW students have had to ask themselves:  "what classes do I choose?"

I don’t want to brag but it is not the first time I register for classes at GW. I already did it last semester and I can claim to be almost an expert on how students make those choices. Let me present you my – some would say very sophisticated – sociological analysis on that subject.

The main argument at the core of my homemade theory is that the student specimen chooses his/her classes negatively, that is to say, by elimination. Yet, there are several types of specimens and, as a result, different ways of choosing classes.

1) The “Easy A” choice  (AKA the “I am buying my degree” choice): The principle is very simple. Some students will try to get As (or Bs) the easiest way possible and will thus choose the easiest classes the University offers. Through this decision process, the student specimen (AKA the GW student) will be helped by other “Easy A classes” hunters or by websites such as ratemyprofessor.com. Someone fitting in that category might for example take the class rated 5/5 on easiness with the comment:” if you go to class Easy A”. Considering the price of education, some evil minds might say it is equivalent to buying a degree without working. But I am not this kind of person… (or maybe I am).

2) The “I-am-taking-your-class-because-nobody-can-be-good-at-it-except-for-me” choice: I have to say I hadn’t run into this specimen before last week. Concretely, when asked why he/she is taking this class, the student specimen will answer: “I think absolutely nobody does a good job at this (this includes the teacher) so I want to learn it myself”. When you get rid of the polite phrasing it means: everybody suck at this, including you; that is why I am trying to raise the level of the field. This approach rarely guarantees you to be liked in the class.

3) The “I need 12-credits and I don’t want to socialize” choice: Some students just don’t know what they are interested in but they know one thing: they already have friends and they are not here to speak to anybody. This specimen is particularly interesting if you are in a sociology class.

4) The “I need an internship” choice: Very pragmatical, this choice hinges on the following assumption: some teachers are brilliant professionals and they will probably help you find you an internship if you are very nice (or/and if you bring them cookies). This category is very specific to GW, or at least to the United States, and you have to be very strong not to be tempted to take advantage of it. Being very weak myself, I did.

5) The “I want to learn” choice: Very noble intellectually, this choice is motivated by a will to progress and to learn something out of a semester of study. Even though this choice seems to be the best from an academic point of view (once again, considering the price of education, you expect the student to at least want to learn something), it is often in contradiction with another variable: you actually don’t want to spend your nights working. As a result, the “Easy A” choice often wins this battle.

6) The “Everything was closed” choice (very popular among exchange students): Sometimes the choice is not a choice. If you register last and you don’t go often on GWeb to check if some classes opened, you will have to choose classes by default (instead of looking for the best classes, you’ll look for the least worse). That is how you can end up studying: “Famous harmonica players in the Nineteenth Century”, “Psychology analysis of princesses in the Middle East” or “Special topic in Engineering: Rubik’s cube”.

7) The “I need the class to graduate” choice: This case is particularly interesting to study from a psychological point of view, especially if the specimen is a senior (like my roommate, but this is completely fictional and absolutely not inspired by her registration for an economy class). To make it simple, the student specimen has to take a specific class to graduate and is consequently particularly eager to take this class. He or she (or it) will do everything to get into the class (even take a Japanese swordsmanship class – which has nothing to do with it but I wanted to mention at least once that we have those at GW). You would thus think that this motivation will last but human beings are human beings so … no.

There is of course a last kind of choice: the “I am interested in this class” choice. Yet, it is overall pretty rare since, let’s be honest, we are all students in a private very expensive university.

By gwblogabroad

In our first semester hosting this blog, we had so many great applicants that we couldn't choose only one! I am excited to hear what these three have to say about their time at GW.  Click on each of their names to find out more about them!

Salma: Spring student from Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco

Cecile: Academic Year student from Sciences Po in Paris, France

Arnthor: Academic Year student from University of Iceland in Reykjavik, Iceland

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