Desynchronosis, also known as jet lag, is the well known result of changes to the body’s natural rhythms as a result of long distance travel and generally speaking, a few days of rest is enough to overcome the fatigue. Yet moving from the laid back and warm summer of Sydney to the middle of winter in Washington DC – the large and unfamiliar city and heartland of American power, politics and government – involves a certain change in pace and rhythm which takes a little more time (perhaps a well planned week?) to adjust to.
The whole process begin subtly enough - the small chit chat in the lobby of City Hall on the first day of orientation week, a mixture of foreign accents somewhat anxiously looking around and getting acquainted with other new faces. The basic introductions follow, nerves gradually calm, barriers slowly break down and unfamiliar faces soon develop into familiar personalities with the help of our orientation leaders. There is a lot of walking around unfamiliar streets – the wind is biting and cold but anticipation (and plenty of enthusiasm from group leaders) is enough to drive you from place to place. Then the sound of applause in the Lisner auditorium as Sonya Sutamayor gave sound advice from someone who moved from the Bronx to the Supreme Court. Long bus rides lead to the excitement of “snow tubing” on Wisp Mountain. Then the roar and cheer of the home crowd in the Smith Centre, the sharp tension which fills the arena during a free throw and the unmistakable energy which explodes at the end – GWU wins a well fought game. Then more walking and the grandeur of the monuments and national buildings, statuesque figures of carved marble and bronze within the dome of the Capitol building. In between, plenty of jokes, lots of laughter and good humour.
By the end of the week, the weather is warmer, the wind no longer as biting and cold, the streets and buildings no longer so unrecognisable. Just like the passing of the jet lag, the pace and rhythm of Washington DC and GWU settles into something familiar and everything just feels that little bit more comfortable. Not quite home - but for the semester ahead, definitely close enough.
My arriving to the United States, a country I’ve never been to before, was not smooth to say the least. I flew a total of 11 hours in one single day, waited almost 2 hours for my luggage only to find it open and broken. So the only way for me to move my suitcase was to tape it. The next bad surprise was the lovely DC weather. Although I did take my precautions and packed warm clothes, I certainly did not expect the chilly -14°C that welcomed me to the DC. Luckily, the orientation week made up for all the hassle of my flight and my deep dislike of the weather.
Orientation week was exhausting but ultimately fun. We got to meet students from literally the 4 corners of the world: Korea, Singapore, France, Australia, Brazil, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Germany and many. This reminded me why I participated to the exchange program in the first place: to explore the diversities the world had to offer and to be exposed and part of such diversity was a delight as it is always interesting to find out more about other countries.
This week will most definitely go down in my “history” as one of the best weeks of my life and it would have happened without the continuous help of Shawna and Hilary as well as the EXO Leaders who were always (I mean always) so cheerful and friendly and did an amazing job showing us around and giving us helpful tips. They did a marvelous job guiding us, giving us advice, making sure we make it to all our appointment and we don’t get lost but ultimately they brought us all together in an atmosphere of laughter and joy. At first, people, me included were hesitant but after each day, we all became more comfortable with each other.
The first two days were intense; we split up into small groups with two EXO leaders who helped us with our visa and bank appointments. I personally had to adjust to walking because boy did we walk a lot!
The third day, we took the metro to visit the Newseum and I have to admit that the DC metro is … weird. Not that I haven’t been to a metro station before. But being in the DC Metro stations is like being in a huge concrete alien spaceship. It was interesting to compare the DC metro stations with the ones I had previously been to but they were ultimately the same: busy.
The Newseum was really interesting for me especially for someone minoring in communication. We had the opportunity to explore 6 floors worth of media coverage of major events. The balcony on the 6th floor offered a magnificent view of DC. In the afternoon of the same day, we had a tour of campus and later the famous scavenger hunt. I absolutely loved the game. Basically, we had a list of locations we had to find and take funny pictures with. There is a Frensh saying roughly translated in English as “Ridicule does not kill” and as a ferm believer in that, the game was tremendously entertaining for me! Although the weather did not help us, the hunt proved to be rather fun and brought our group, the SanFransisco Smarties closer.
Saturday was the last day of orientation and what a better way to end an amazing week than a visit of the Capitol and then a nice dinner. The visit to the capitol was insightful and I could feel the weight of history and the power it stands for. Later the same day, we all met at this really nice hotel where we had a great dinner. The formal dinner was a chance for us to be gathered together around a meal and get to know each other in a more relaxed fashion. We then took pictures to commemorate the moments we have spent together this week.
Saturday came and although orientation was over, I found myself up by 9am ready to meet my group. Even in one week’s time and although it doesn’t seem like a lot, I got used to seeing the warm faces of everyone.
To everyone that I met this week, I say thank you because I spent great moments with you guys ! I really hope we keep in touch !
I can’t believe it. After nine months preparing for this trip, I am in Washington, DC. A week wasn’t enough time to realize that this adventure has started.
If I thought that it would be easy to take advantage of every situation, the past week taught me that I need to be more prepared physically and mentally to do that. The amount of activities that we (the exchange students) had to do, the new people, the new places, the new feelings challenged and exceeded my expectations.
The cold snap that hit the US didn’t stop the Exchange Orientation Leaders (EXO), Shawna, or Hilary who gave us the best beginning. Their main advice: take advantage of all the resources offered in this orientation week.
Food, trips, tours, parties, information, games, presentations, museums, discussions, and information sessions were some of the activities that we enjoyed. From the past Monday to the past Saturday we didn’t stop with scheduled activities.
The first day, I had time to get to know some of the students that are going to live with me. This opportunity began with a barbecue diner. It was the best American way to start the Exchange, definitely. Thanks to the chef for the delicious diner!
The second day, we learned more about DC and it was a good moment to mentally prepare me for all of the things that this semester has to offer. Shawna and Hilary shared video with us about DC, it was incredible. During the activities, my Argentinean exchange mate, Timothy arrived. When I saw him, I ran to give him a big hug. We were celebratory after realizing that we were in DC after many months of planning the trip. We are able to avoid any possible homesickness through talks in Spanish, jokes and mates (the typical Argentinean drink).
The third day, we had the opportunity to visit one of the best museums in DC: the Newseum, a museum that allowed us to learn more about contemporary American and international history through the media. Thanks to Shawna and Hilary!
The fourth day, we had the opportunity to learn about the campus of GW through a fun game: the Scavenger Hunt. We took funny pictures in different places around the campus in teams. Not only was it worth getting to know each other, but we also had so much fun touring our new university. Those who have the opportunity to attend GW are definitely lucky. It is a privilege to have so many resources to develop ourselves into whatever we want.
The fifth day was the trip: we traveled a couple of hours to go to Wisp Mountain. This moment was one of the most fun moments of the week. Not only could we enjoy the beautiful mountain, but we also enjoyed the mountain’s activities. Thank you again to Shawna and Hilary for the incredible excursion.
The last day, time to get to know the Smithsonian, to shop, and to prepare for the formal dinner. The dinner was absolutely incredible and a great opportunity to get to know the exchange students that I will spend time with this semester.
In conclusion, it is not only important to see different places, but to also meet more people while in Washington, DC. Egypt, Morocco, Singapore, Italy, France, South Korea, Brazil, Japan, China, Australia are some of the places were the other exchange students come from. What do you think about the new democracy in Egypt? What is your perspective on the events that occurred in 2011? Why do you think that Singapore is developing at a different rate than its counterparts? Discussions like these, daily interactions, sharing our expectations, and getting to know many interesting people were the best gifts of this week.
Thank you again to the new friends who gave me a great beginning to the program.
Thank you to the leaders for helping me with my English. Thank you for giving us funny moments and sharing your experiences as GW students and students who studied abroad.
Thank you to Shawna and Hilary for this great welcome, your work was excellent, and it is a pleasure to finally meet you in person!
I hope that I will still see everyone or at least the majority when classes start. Good luck with the start of your semester!
Checkout photos of Exchange Orientation Week on the Office for Study Abroad Facebook!
Baseball is not a popular sport in Singapore but we know what it is because of Hollywood movies that range from cheesy ones with dogs that can catch to the movie that I watched on my plane ride to DC: "42".
"42" tells the story of Jackie Robinson who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was the first African American to play in Major League Baseball. I may be biased because my life experience has made me a little tender towards any stories that tell a story of discrimination, but I would recommend it to those who haven't watched it or those, who like me, would have avoided watching baseball movies if not for the fact that I was terribly bored on my 20+ hour journey. Aside from the emotional story, that movie also got me interested in baseball and its rules particularly because the legendary player in the movie played quite interestingly.
So, when the opportunity came for me to watch a game with fellow exchange students, organized by the Office for Study Abroad, I was totally up for it. The Office also kindly arranged for an after-school session of learning how to play baseball so that "noobs" like us could actually understand what would be happening on game day.
Playing "Wiffle", with baseball rules.
Game day itself was an experience. It was different from watching baseball on the television or in the movies. From where I was, I couldn't really see the dust being kicked off the ground. The huge mega screen showing replays from various angles, the crowd's cheers and the music was what helped me guess what was going on. The Nationals led initially, but were very inefficient in that they had twice as many people on the base than they had number of runs. (My attempt at reporting what happened during the game may not be interesting).
I am very much used to the faster paced soccer games (that's football by the way) but I enjoyed sitting in the cold and guessing "balls" from "strikes". There was much less activity (it may be that it was not a particularly interesting baseball game) and I prefer playing it myself than just watching, but the slow pace meant that any good hit that propelled the ball up in the air guaranteed a little excitement, a small urge to witness a home run and I would edge a little bit off my seat. If it wasn't a magical hit, I would just sigh and sit back down, continue eating my fries, mutter how I could swing the bat better and make small talk about how cold it was sitting all the way up. If it was a good hit, especially a home run, even if it was an error by those on the field, I would, for a few seconds, become a baseball fan.
Let’s be realistic here. It would be weird if I woke up every morning totally in love with doing my readings. On second thought, I am weird and I do love my readings – some of it. I am different from the other exchange students and Americans in many ways. I don’t drink and, let’s just say, I would not score participation marks in any activity that involves it. So that pretty much forces me to find other ways of escaping the “stress” of keeping up with all the bright minds in GWU. Laundry and grocery shopping don’t count.
Does it count as taking a break if we wake up early and walk more than a mile? Yes it does, especially when we get free cupcakes. Every Friday or Saturday, while everyone else sleeps in bed my roommate and I would take long morning walks to D.C. Cupcakes in Georgetown for a free cupcake. They only have 100 each giveaway!
Walking to DC Cupcakes. “Bo” went with us that Saturday.
Here it is!
So many cupcakes!
Our free cupcakes of the day!
The best part about our walks back is sitting down by the Potomac and enjoying our free treats.
New York City
Over the weekend we figured we really needed to experience something else and New York is only a really affordable 5-hour bus ride away. My roommate and I out really early in the morning and arrived with much time to spare before lunch. Here, street food is halal and much cheaper and the tall buildings, fast cars and people provide a different atmosphere.
The city is far from calming, but just what we needed to freshen up for the weeks ahead. We took time to visit a few places to restock our supplies, find clothes to prepare for cooler weather expected in the weeks to come and buy souvenirs early so we won’t be distracted when there’s assignments to do and exams to study for.
We got a shock when we arrived because the city is much bigger than D.C. and everything was moving in a much faster pace. By dinner though, we kind of missed the calm tempo of Foggy Bottom.
When I knew I was supposed to blog about life as an exchange student here in D.C., I made a wrong assumption.
It was that I had to go out of my way to make my exchange life interesting enough so that the Office of Study Abroad would not regret making me represent Exchange Fall 2013 in this blog.
I came on the first day to check-in, expecting a routine, cookie-cutter, exchange orientation programme doled out every semester. Meaning to say, I was not expecting much since we were just going to be here for 4 months to a maximum sentence of a year and we were not going to be true “colonials” anyway. I naively thought of 2-3 fun activities off the top of my head to do by myself to fill up the first blog post since my arrival.
I was wrong, of course, because after getting our keys and going on a short but sufficient trip to Target for logistics, we began the week with a pool party at Mount Vernon. “Eyebrow-raising” is probably the closest adjective I can find to describe the past week.
Okay, the pool party was conservative because we were restrained by the awkwardness of barely having known each other’s names.
So, not to send any more wrong ideas to our parents who might be reading this (Hi Mom), here are some of the things that made my first week in D.C. worthy of a blog post:
We were given an informative tour of the memorials in the national mall at night, beginning with the Washington Monument and including the National World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.
In the near-silence of the night, the tour was deservedly respectful where necessary, reminding us “non-resident aliens” that even though locals may occasionally drunk-memorial (verb), we would be living so near a place that holds significant symbolic value to the people here. Besides that, the entire place is as beautiful during the night as it is during the day and I realized I may be coming here quite often – sober.
50th Anniversary of the March on Washington
When my friends and I heard that this was not part of the programme, we knew we had to somehow find a way to get ourselves involved. Even though I come from a place so distant from this very significant part of history, I find myself inspired by the narratives and even more by the people who, after 50 years, still have a strong emotional connection to this moment in time. It was just massive; people with all kinds of signs and posters, marching for old, unfinished causes and new ones.
We thought it would be pretentious if we borrowed a cause to march for, so we marched for our own personal causes and beliefs. I was just really glad to be part of this moment.
I even went to the Lincoln Memorial the night before to reflect in private.
Fall 2013 Exchange Orientation
Last but not least, the orientation programme itself was really fun; not merely because of the activities planned for us (I could go on and on about it), but because of the people who were part of it. You could sense the sincerity of the EXO leaders from the way they welcomed and got to know all of us.
They were volunteers and they did not really have to put in so much effort (in both senses – that is they could decide not to put in effort anytime, and that they were awesome people so their presence alone was premise for fun).
Yet, they still extended a hand of hospitality and some of them even hosted parties. In my case, my EXO leader, Ahana, was from Singapore. She and Charles really made me feel at home. As an exchange student, a traveler a wanderer in a foreign land, the guidance we received from the Office for Study Abroad, the facilitation we experienced with our EXO leaders and the nascent friendships we engendered were all precious blessings we really needed to kick-start life as a Colonial.
Special thanks to everyone who made my first week away from home bearable, including my Dad who was with me for a few days before I moved in.
Being “Colonial” means different things to different people. So I guess, it gives me the freedom to define for myself what being a non-resident, alien, temporary “Colonial” means. Hence, I would like to begin my exchange life with Al-Haddad's intention for seekers of knowledge which I shall re-purpose to fit this new context of life, in the world’s most powerful city where monuments and memorials stand to remind others of the price of freedom and the value of peace and justice, in a place that attracts the brightest of minds and the most intelligent of beings.
I intend to study and teach, take and give a reminder, take and give benefit, take and give advantage, to encourage the holding fast to exemplary virtues and noble values, and calling to guidance and directing towards good, hoping for the countenance of God and His pleasure, proximity and reward, transcendent is He.
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