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By claudiadev

One of the big differences I've noticed since being in America is the language barrier. Not the same barrier the other exchange students’ experience - I'm hopeless with languages and so impressed with their bilingual abilities! The language barrier I'm experiencing is the different words and terminology. To illustrate, here's a list of Australian words (and abbreviations) I say, and the American words I'm learning to say. I’ve also put the words in a conversation, just to hopefully illustrate the confusion.

Corridor/Hallway or Hall – “My friend Rhiannon lives down the Corridor.” “You mean down the hallway?”

Lift/Elevator – “Why are you catching the elevator, you live on the second floor.” “I’m not catching the elevator, I’m catching the lift…”

Ground Floor/First Floor – “The mailboxes are on the Ground Floor right?” “Uhh, they’re on the first floor?”

Bin/Trash – “Throw the leftovers in the Bin” “The bin? I was thinking of just putting them in the trash?”

Runners/Sneakers – “Let me just pull my runners on and then I’m ready for the gym.” “Okay…oh, you mean your sneakers!”

Jumper/Sweater – “I need to buy a new jumper, it’s freezing here.” “Why would a dress help” “I mean a sweater!”

Keen/Interested or excited – “I’m keen to go for Sweet Green for lunch, are you?” “Keen? Oh, you mean excited! Sure, that sounds good”

Sunnies/Sunglasses – “My sunnies have broken!”

Arvo/Afternoon – “Want to go to Bourbon for a coffee in the Arvo?” “The arvo? When’s that?”

Kilometers/Miles – “The airport is about 20 miles away.” “…how many kilometers is that?”

Grams/Ounces – “The recipe says I need 125 grams of butter…but this is in ounces…I’m going to need to Google this!”

Centimeters and Meters/Inches and Feet – “The mail box is around 15 meters away” “…and in feet that is?”

Celsius/Fahrenheit – “It’s 2 degrees outside!” “Oh my gosh that’s freezing…wait, you’re speaking in Celsius right?” ”It’s still freezing in Celsius!”

Arvo isn’t the only word I shorten. It’s become highly amusing to my roommates when they hear a new word in my laziness I’ve decided to shorten. My roommate Jesse is now Jess, and the Library is the Libs. Luckily DC and GW are full of acronyms, so my abbreviations aren’t too out of place amongst the FoBoGro and HelWel nicknames thrown around.

The other language nuance that I find amusing is the spelling. Aluminium is spelt Aluminum here, whereas I would write standardise, here it’s standardize. Not to mention the colour/color spelling discrepancy thanks to Noah Webster (of the dictionary fame). He was a proponent spelling reform, and some of his advocated changes caught on, like removing the u from –our spellings, and the aforementioned Aluminium/Aluminum difference.

Luckily, so far the different terminology and nuances of language have caused amusement rather than confusion, but it’s only a matter of time before there’s a real cultural clash!

By claudiadev

In many ways the differences between academics at Australian and American universities are few and far between. But there are also some stark differences that have taken some adjusting to.

For one thing, during lectures at home we’d rarely be asked questions and never would the class just be given free reign to discuss the topic at hand. Partly this is due to the size of the lectures, but even in a lecture of 16 students last semester at home we didn’t often have discussions in the lectures. I gather in some underclassmen classes here they have a similar set up to home, with large lectures and smaller discussion classes (what we call tutorials at home). But here, in upperclassmen classes, I’ve sat in a philosophy class where for a good 20 minutes we went off on a tangent discussing if aliens feel pain (there was no clear answer, as it turns out!). My Health Law class is 2 and a half hours of analyzing cases, raising issues and brainstorming as a class when the answer isn’t immediately clear. My Modern Architecture professor is a fan of randomly selecting a name off the class list, and quickly asking a question you have no hope of knowing unless you’ve properly read the readings. The benefit of class discussions, and being asked questions (and asking some of our own) is that there’s far less chance of getting bored, and it makes the longer classes take far less time.

Another big difference I’m finding a little challenging is the assessments here in the US. Generally, in classes at home we’ll have two big assessments a semester – one long mid-semester essay and one final essay or exam. Here, one of my subjects has 5 short essays as well as the final exam! The advantage of the approach at home is that you have fewer assignments to worry about overall, but you also have no way of knowing your progress until quite late in the semester. As much as I’m dreading all the assignments I have due over the next two weeks I can see the benefit in knowing my progress at this point in the semester, and being able to evaluate what my strengths and weaknesses are in each subject, and how I should best address these in future assignments.

One thing that hasn't changed, despite the hundreds of miles and 16 hour time difference, is the mountain of readings I need to get through each week. Mostly this is because I picked two reading intensive majors but I'm finding it a struggle to fit in readings in between the actual assignments, exploring DC and having fun! Hopefully I'm doing enough...

The truth will tell once this batch of assignments are marked and I get my results!

By claudiadev

One of the things I was apprehensive about before arriving in America was living with roommates. I had thoughts of being isolated or left out of jokes and of not settling into the routines everyone already had in place for the semester.  I was also just slightly concerned I’d be put with people who were my complete opposites: incredibly dirty/messy ones who loved the TV and music I hated and stayed up till 4am weeknights.

In reality, my roommates are lovely. First off, we have things in common – TV included. This ends up in Sunday evenings spent watching the latest episode of Girls and our slight addiction to watching Jeopardy every weeknight. There’s also a large likelihood that if someone is in our living room during the day there’s a really terrible reality show on Bravo playing (terrible in a you just cannot change the channel way).

All three are seniors here at GW, and have been helpful with both advice on subjects and protocol (and directions!) as I’ve settled in. Their stories about college life and about living in America generally have been both interesting and eye opening. They’ve all had different experiences that have led them to GW and DC  – one’s from Kentucky, another from just outside Boston and the third is from Connecticut – and all three have studied abroad and have tales to share. This means they completely understand what I’m going through – helpful when I get a bit homesick for Melbourne.

We’ve got a pretty efficient chore chart worked out too, so arguments about taking out the trash or doing the dishes are redundant. From what I gather from my roommates, these can be seriously contentious issues in college dorms! All of us seem to prefer sitting on the couches to study and do homework, and none of us are up all hours of the night blasting music either.

What’s been most wonderful about my roommates though is their friendliness. They’ve invited me along to brunches, to the inauguration and even spring break. I’m included in the ‘in’ jokes and I’m not just seen as the little lost Australian girl here for the semester. They bemoan my under-21 status right along with me, and purposely plan evenings out to places I can go.

Last week on Friday we went out with a few of their friends, and my friend Rhiannon, who’s also from the University of Melbourne, to a pottery place. You pay approximately $25 dollars, can bring in food and drink, and get to paint a piece of pottery that then gets fired in a kiln. It’s such a fun, easy night out and we had great fun making fun of each other’s pretty abysmal artistic skills (although when we will get around to collecting our pottery is unknown...)

This Saturday our House Staff/Proctor had organized an ice-skating trip, and so we went along with our neighbor. At the rink it was only me who had abysmal skills, as evidenced by the horrific bruise on my knee today! I momentarily forgot about the knee pain and bruising when we went out for dinner afterwards in Georgetown – perhaps it was a food coma. We were at this amazing pizza place called Pizzeria Paradiso that I’d highly recommend!

Three of us and our neighbor at the Ice Skating rink.

This afternoon we spent cooking nachos, ordering in pizza and eating far too much food (including carrot cake, because for some reason two of my roommates had bought one the other day). The amount of food was totally justified, because we ate it while watching the Super Bowl … until we got a fire alarm and had to evacuate the building. Luckily the alarm went off while there was a delay in the game thanks to a lighting fault at the stadium.

Two of my roommates and I doing a silly pose at the GW Inaugural Ball

All in all, having such instant friends and roommates here has really made the adjustment to life at GW easy.

By claudiadev

Now that I’m settled down into a routine here at GW I thought it’d be worth listing a few of the things I’m loving so far about GW.

1. Wholefoods & Trader Joe’s

At home we have two big supermarket chains that control the market. Both are decent, but neither does organic food very well (as well as having lots of gluten/lactose free options). It’s great having two stores so close by full of great food and produce (especially with the ready made food options at Wholefoods). Both stores are more expensive than the big Safeway supermarket in Georgetown but even so the prices are about the same I’d pay at home for food that isn’t organic or as good quality.

2. The location

I’m still reeling from the fact that all I had to do to watch President Obama get inaugurated was walk a few blocks to the Lincoln Memorial and then wander down the National Mall. Not to mention the ease of being near a metro stop, in a city with frequent and efficient trains. My friends and I visited the National Archives on Friday to go see the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. We caught the train to Federal Triangle and then walked a block or two and we were there! A 15-20 minute journey to see some of the most iconic symbols of modern democracy - so brilliant! (If it hadn’t been below freezing outside we could have walked the distance too)

3. Living on campus

In Australia most students commute to the campus. There is the option of living on campus, but only a small percentage do at my university. I do not miss sitting on the train in peak hour trying to get to a 9am class, only to discover the trams to the university campus aren’t running because of road work. No more half-awake tram trips clutching my coffee and trying not to spill it on the businessman in the suit next to me. The convenience of being able to go back to my dorm between classes to drop books off, have a cup of tea and relax is brilliant.

4. My GWorld card

At home my university ID is just a library card and proof I’m a student (for student tickets at the cinemas, etc). Here my GWorld is a key to the dorm building and gives me access to the gym and library. Plus I can charge my GWorld up with money. I can use it at food stores all over campus, not to mention at Wholefoods and CVS pharmacy. At first I thought I’d just charge it up so I could use it in the laundry room and for photocopying and printing. But more than once now I’ve gone to the food court in the basement of my dorm and forgotten my bank card. Thankfully, it’s no problem because I have my GWorld! I do love convenience.

By claudiadev

My roommates and I woke up at 6.30am this morning, gobbled down some breakfast and pulled on endless layers before heading a few blocks down to the National Mall to watch the 57th Inauguration of the President of the United States of America. In a wonderful coincidence, it has fallen on Martin Luther King Day. 2013 also celebrates 150 years since the Capitol dome was finished – so there was a whole lot to celebrate in DC today!

Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial

The early wake-up (for a College/University student!) was entirely worth it. It was cold when the cloud cover came over but the atmosphere, even as early as 8am, with the Inauguration scheduled to begin at 11.30am, was electric. My feet got numb with cold, and there was disagreement regarding the rules to a game we played to pass the time but we got free badges and we got free flags and we got to watch Barack Obama take the oath for his second term as President of the United States of America. We were near the first jumbo-tron of the free un-ticketed section, and could see the Capitol clearly, though watched the jumbo-tron so we actually knew what was going it. Every time the crowd heard something it liked, or saw a person they loved, the flags were raised and flapped around wildly, eliminating people’s views of the goings on, but filling your eye-line with flashes of red white and blue, as voices cheered for the next four years.

Inauguration 2 Inauguration 1

After the excitement of the morning, it was a reasonably quick return  (well, an hour…) back to our dorm building, hot food and sofa. Now I’m writing this watching the parade, and reflecting back on what was a brilliant experience. I had known months ago, as soon as I found out I was going to GW, that I’d be there for this inauguration, but it only really hit me when I was standing in front of the Capitol as the sun rose. The message of the Inauguration seemed to me to be one of hope, equality and of teamwork. It’s one that resonates not just in politics and society within the USA, but also at home, and all over the world. I’m just a little bit sentimental when it comes to celebrations of democracy and of the future to come.

I’m still taking so much in after my first fortnight at GW, and have many thoughts on dorm living and classes to come!

By claudiadev

This week at GW has been overwhelming. But not in a way that makes me want to ring home and fly back. It’s the kind of overwhelming that makes me incredibly excited for the months to come. Mostly because our cohort of exchange students were blessed with a great orientation program and a great group of exchange orientation leaders. They really made our first week on campus worthwhile and a whole lot of fun. They took us to a college basketball game, got us participating in a flash mob at the Lincoln Memorial, went with us on a tour of the Capitol building, had snow-tubing races with us, helped us get all our Target room supplies back to campus, answered our questions (however strange or off-topic) and became our friends.


One of the activities I found the most fun (and helpful) was the scavenger hunt. At home, our campus is near the city and reasonably enclosed – a full day at University and you’d never see anyone except other students and staff. Here, with the GW campus sitting on city blocks, and our neighbors being the Red Cross, IMF, State Department & World Bank, it really does feel like we’re in the center of things. Luckily GW used pennants to identify their buildings, or else there is a fair chance I will end up walking into some random office building expecting my American Art of the 20th Century class.

In our orientation small groups we were sent off with a double sided list of places to find. Some were worth more points, because they were harder to find, so we decided to aim for the higher point locations first. At each location we had to have a photograph with a group member in it. Because there was a 45 point bonus for the group with the funniest photos we tried to add a little humor into ours. This included feeding one of the George Washington busts chips, and a photo of all of us pretending to be passed out on the ground from jet lag. Lying on the freezing concrete was worth it, because we got that extra 45 points. Unfortunately, we came third overall. But given the amount of fun we had it was well worth it! It also improved my sense of direction, and the likelihood of me wandering off into Georgetown or the National Mall accidentally while trying to find a class is significantly lowered. The scavenger hunt was also good for practical reasons – now we know which CVS is open 24 hours!

My orientation group
My orientation group

The next week will be an overwhelming experience in its own right, because classes are beginning and I’ll need to manage sightseeing & exploring with classes & study, not to mention having fun. But what a lot of adventures lie ahead.

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