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By sbruell

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to the holidays, my bed becomes my best friend. Its comfy, warm, and I can sit and watch TV all day in it! I also find myself managing to stay in bed until the afternoon because I have nothing else to do. However, flash forward three weeks, and getting out of bed at 9 o'clock for lectures, or 7:30, as I was crazy enough to pick an 8 o'clock class, and suddenly it is hell! Not only do I need to learn to detach myself from the wonderful place that is my bed, but I also need to get myself back into a routine of studying! And homework! And papers!

On arrival for my first semester, the prospect of studying in a new country was daunting as everything was going to be a little different. My first challenge was finding out that lectures aren't 50 minutes like they are at home, but, on average, 75 minutes or more. Now, 25 minutes doesn't seem like much of a stretch, but it can really feel like it if it meant you could have stayed in your comfy bed longer. And then there are the assignments, which come a lot more often in the US than they do at home in the UK. I struggled a few times during my first semester when I had up to 4 assignments to do at once, but the key to surviving is planning. I know I sound incredibly boring saying that, but by planning, it gives you the opportunity to take weekends away or go to see a baseball game for example.

So here are my tips for starting off the semester well:

1) Try to establish a regular sleeping pattern – yes staying up till 1 am every night watching Youtube videos can be fun, but your body will not forgive you at 9 am!

2) Plan your day, and see if there are gaps where you can fit in an exercise class or a quick trip to the gym – my escape is always swimming; totally clears your head.

3) Plan your work schedule, whether this means reading through the semester’s course guides or the assigned reading list, filling in your diary with important events can really help.

4) MAKE TIME FOR FUN – even if that is just a quick dinner with friends, or ice skating at Washington harbor (the rink is open till march!).


Follow these tips and I promise your semester will be the best ever.

By sbruell


Hi! I'm Hannah, a student from Sussex University in England and I have been lucky enough to have been selected to attend GWU for my third year of study in American Studies and History. When I first found out that I was coming to America and Washington DC in particular, I realized that this could be one of the greatest years of my life. "My goal was to make as many new friends and new memories as I could whilst studying hard and playing hard." No sitting back and waiting for things to happen; I was going 'all in' to experience as much as I possibly could in the US. I knew there would be certain things that I'd miss at home, but after one semester here, never did I imagine that 'Percy Pig' sweets, 'Cadbury's dairy chocolate' and 'Angel's Delight' mousse would be top of the list!  However, I have already discovered that I love Hershey’s dark chocolate and blueberry pancakes!

At this point, dear reader, I feel I have to say that I am not usually so interested by such frivolous and shallow thoughts that seem to center around my stomach; however, food is always the first thing that one notices is different when abroad.  I think my family and relatives would be 'put out' some that I have ordered them second (or even fourth!) on my list of things that I miss! I think this is because I had always expected to miss them and was prepared for the occasional bouts of 'homesickness'; it is always the unexpected things that hit you harder.  Of course, I miss my family dearly, but that’s where new friends come in; they will effectively be your family for 4 months so make sure to pick some good ones! At some points during your first semester you will feel a little down, perhaps when you have a birthday, or when you have too many papers due in at once; but you just have to put your head down and keep going, and remember, you will never get an experience like this again. So, I learned fairly early on in my first semester to just say "yes" to new and exciting things! For me it was about joining the GW Swimming team, going to Baseball and Basketball games  and taking road trips with my new friends (even if it meant being cramped in the back seat of a car for 8 hours!) .  The best advice I can give is to travel as much as you can while you have the chance. I have just come back from a week in New Mexico and it was honestly one of the greatest weeks of my life; I tried Sushi for the first time, I snow-shoed and skied for the first time  and I experienced a real Thanksgiving meal with an American family.  I wasn't fully aware of what to expect from GWU, but by embracing all new things and people that I've met, I have had an incredible first semester, and I know that the second will be even better!

By aaront162

Similarities and differences - I think it is needless to say that this will perhaps be one of the defining themes of my experience in the US. At one level, the theme is simple enough – a sixteen hour time difference between Sydney and Washington DC, a long dry and hot summer to freezing winters and snowstorms and the pronunciation of miscellaneous fruits/vegetables (tomatoes mainly) and metals of the periodic table ("alooooominum"? is it similar to aluminium?). As a law student I feel my lecturer for Federal Constitutional Law obliging me to point out that when the founding fathers of Australia created and signed our constitution in 1901, they looked to their American counterparts who did so some 100 years early and from them, we have inherited our federalist system.

Yet all of that is small stuff and droll history. Having had a few days to ponder and as I draw deeper into the very essence of what shapes Australia, the US and indeed the relationship between our two nations I find a complex and multi-dimension landscape which surprisingly cuts into the very core of who I am today. I find myself in the heart of Washington DC where decisions taken forty years ago led to Australian involvement in the Vietnam War. I won’t debate Cold-War foreign policy but needless to say I cannot avoid the fact that the course of events that unfolded profoundly shaped the fact that I write this entry today as someone born, raised and educated in Australia. It is a feeling hard to describe to be in a place which in a way has shaped your very identity and indeed, the very circumstances upon which the words are being formed on this page as I write this entry. It does however serve as a pertinent reminder that amongst the columns and corridors of those grand marble buildings, the words and actions of a few reverberate around the world and have, and will continue to impact, shape and define the lives of the many people - and I am one such person.

Certainly a profound (too profound perhaps?) point to begin my blogging entries but hopefully one which will marks the start of a remarkable learning experience over the course of the next 6 months.  On a lighter note, I do have the say that all the snow is pretty cool.

By inepalacios

Hello readers! I'm Ines, from Argentina. During the second-to-last semester of my undergraduate career in Political Science, I will be attending George Washington University. I can’t believe I’m embarking on this incredible journey. I know that it is going to be amazing.

Mis syou

I can't wait to start touring DC, from running around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, to visiting all the museums. I am also excited to join the variety of activities that GW has to offer, like discussion groups, community service projects, sporting events and checking out the nightlife. I’m also looking forward to traveling across the US. Most importantly, I’m excited to meet new people, make new friends, share my culture, enjoy new cultures, and expand my horizons.

I have no doubt that this place will be a big change for me. To be more explicit, I am sharing below some pictures of the little town where my parents were born and where I spent all my summers, Santa Maria.


The contrast of lifestyle, of people and of environments will definitely break a lot of the social structures that I have known. I know that I have to put in my effort, my joy, and my willingness to make the most out of this great opportunity. I am looking forward to sharing all my new experiences with you.


By nimames

Our planet houses, feeds and keeps alive 7 billion people. It has 6 continents, almost 200 countries and a variety of peoples and ethnicities. There are over 27 million flight hours each year. Almost 3 million Moroccans live outside of their home country, 20 000 of which live in France only. An even greater number of people travelling aboard can be counted each year.  One of them is me, Nîma Mesbahi, a 20 year old Moroccan going to Washington DC for a semester.

I have been to a traditional Moroccan school, a French high school and I am now studying at an American style liberal arts university. I can speak Arabic, French, English and dabble in Spanish. Sometimes, I think about identity and what makes us who we really are. Is it our color, language, nationality, religion? Or is what music we listen to or what books we read ? Or maybe is it everything. But when I really think about it language, identity and nationally may diverge but cultures meet, overlap and converge. There is no such thing as a unique culture as every nation has been influenced by another one at some point; forever graving a mark, an imprint that would later become its official seal. Morocco for example, is most famous for its exquisite mint tea served in silver teapots with almond pastry. Little do people know that the tea used to make the renowned atay originally comes from Mainland China and the teapot was designed and manufactured in Manchester, England. There are endless examples of how habits and cultural specificities that we think of as being unique to one particular country are in reality the result of a boiling melting pot that dates way before the Internet.

One must admit however that the handy little invention called the Internet has enabled each and every one of us to become connected and wired to each other. Bound by the age of technology, we have become one; sharing a common quotidian, and a common life. Nevertheless, and as much as the various interactions we are part of seem important to us, a hardware computer stands between the real experience and us. Living in DC for a semester would most definitely be the real thing: an opportunity for me, a young Moroccan to experience a whole new life. It is something akin to taking a veil off, a veil separating us from experiencing true cultural interaction.

This process of taking the veil off and embracing, even for a semester’s time, a whole new life is quite frightening to say the least. I have never left home for more that a month and to be frank, going on exchange to the United States would most definitely be one of the scariest moments of my life. When I first go accepted to university and had to move out to another city leaving everything that I had carefully built around me over the years, was truly intimidating. But, I survived; I adapted to my environment and managed to get myself a bunch of crazy people I call my friends. To say that I'm going to miss them would be, well, kind of cheesy, but true nonetheless. I have grown accused to each and everyone of them, with their quirks, weird habits, incredibly loud laughs and what not.

The idea of having to do it all over again, in a new city, a new country is nerve wracking, but when I come to think of it, one cannot live a full life without taking risks, and I feel ready to leave the cocoon that my life currently is and delve into the depth of the unknown. I would expect this particular experience to be fruitful and enriching. Living in a country thousand of kilometers away from home, meeting new people, sharing cultures and ultimately growing up. Growth is what I expect and look forward to the most. Maturing and flourishing into a more confident, self-assure and determined young Moroccan student who has been fortunate enough to fully live this experience. Making new friends, tasting the famous American food (hot dogs !!), seeing news landscapes and making forever-lasting memories.

By falseconscious

Weekends are very useful to recharge and reinvigorate the body and soul; once the Monday morning sun pokes you in the eyes, you get up not regretting the two free days you had. Here’s what I did over the weekend that cost nothing at all.

Cupcake Mornings

If you might have noticed, I have made Saturday morning cupcakes a ritual. To be honest, I’m not that big a fan and have often ditched cupcake trips for the allure of sleep. However, it is good to start a day with friends who you miss during weekdays being busy with classes and assignments. The caffeine buzz and sugar rush from a cup of coffee and a caramel fudge cupcake gave me the energy to do more for the rest of the day.

As usual, myself, Reza, Shiying, and Boyeong went to Georgetown Cupcakes upon their reveal of the “super secret” free cupcake of the day on their Twitter account. Usually, there would be a queue outside. That morning, the universe aligned (yes, I watched Thor 2) and we strolled in and ordered cupcakes and coffee.

1 Georgetown Cupcakes
2 Georgetown Cupcakes
Our favorite place to consume the cupcakes is not in the store itself, but across the road and further downhill where there will be a red bridge over a drain waterway. Sometimes we will go further down by the Potomac and look at rowers, ducks and people struggling to steer their kayaks.

3 Waterway

We had to walk back to Foggy Bottom Metro to take the train up to the zoo, which was a mistake as we could’ve just walk to Dupont Circle and save the trouble of transferring lines which is a hassle during weekends thanks to scheduled maintenance.

The National Zoological Park

4 National Zoo

We did not choose the option to go to the zoo during the orientation week and it was about time we went there before any further changes to the weather. It was a pleasant day and I may have acclimatized to the “cold” because anything above 10 degrees (Celsius!) feels warm now.

5 Good Weather

6 Good Weather (1)

This zoo is part of the Smithsonian Institution and does not have admission fees. It charges $2.00 for a map – but you won’t need it because there are information boards with the map on it showing the different trails and the locations of the different animals.

7 Sleeping Leopard

Some of the animals aren’t from this side of the world. This leopard from Southeast Asia is resting in the cold. There are heated areas in each enclosure for the animals to get warm and they can choose to stay in indoor spaces as well. Rest assured, these animals are taken care of quite well. Here are some of them:

8 Playful Otters
9 Lonely Elephant
10 Philosophy Panda2

I discussed the feasibility of Socrates’ Kallipolis with a panda.
11 Panda in a bucket

He preferred Aristotle’s conception of a just city.

12 Meerkat2
13 Posing Lions2

I refuse to take pictures of the gorillas and the orangutans because they have human-like features and behavior  I stood and questioned the gaze I had looking at them behind glass windows as they were waiting for food. Someone outside said: “I don’t mind looking at cats, lions and zebras, but these monkeys look like humans and I don’t feel comfortable”. I agreed because I know, humans used to treat other humans in the same way – like how Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman was treated. In some other parts of the world, some females are forced into prostitution and put into “fish tanks”. Some people still look at others as inferior versions of humans as well.

At the end of the trail, we figured out a “walk” to Columbia Heights Metro station was shorter than the walk back to the station we came from. We were right about the distance and the trek there was awesome. Coming from a tropical island, the sight of falling orange and yellow leaves was breath-taking.  What also took my breath away was the hike up Columbia Heights. My lungs obviously haven’t been used for exercise in a long time.

14 Walk to Columbia Heights

I ended the day with a trip to the Lincoln Memorial. The Washington Monument is no longer illuminated at night, which I assume is because of a pause in construction. I already expounded the no-cost beauty of going to the memorials at night in my previous posts.
15 Night Memorialing

Georgetown Soccer

Apparently the artificial turf in Georgetown University is open for use for free as well. I did smirk at the Hoya Saxa on the way up – oh what has GW made of me.

16 Gtown Soccer

It is a beautiful pitch on a hill with airplanes flying over once every few minutes or so. I bet it looks pretty during the day. Being on a hill also meant we were exposed to whatever nature gave us – thankfully it was just ball-trajectory-altering winds that night. Reza and me played with a group of Kazakhs who were either graduate students at GW or working around the area.

17 Kazak Team

Soccer catharticaly relieved me of pent up frustrations, energy, passion and emotions. My team lost 10 to 8, but it was a close match and we had a lot of fun. A few of the Kazakhs studied in Malaysia and could speak some Malay. One of them said “Nasi Ayam Goreng satu” which meant “one plate of fried chicken rice” I was instantly overwhelmed with memories of food from home. I exclaimed in pleasure that I missed fried chicken rice.

The Secret Cinema

Immediately after washing up, I went to this secret cinema, which I will reveal only if you ask me personally. In this secret cinema, the secret seats helped me rest my severely aching muscles. (I got hit in the face with a ball, but the force was so hard it wasn’t my neck that hurt, but my arm, which I suspect dislocated slightly as my body, less the arm, jerked backwards from the impact). We watched Thor 2 that night. I would love to reveal why this cinema is so special to those interested. I wanted to post a picture showing why it’s so special but it will reveal why the cinema has to remain a secret.

By falseconscious

I feel I would be leaving out a large portion of my exchange experience if I do not share my reflections of it, even if it means I am not posting pictures and exciting videos of my "adventures".

What am I doing here? I don't mean this in a bad way.

What do I stand to gain from a SGD$12, 000 debt-incurring (exaggeration) bomb of a trip around the world? What does this proletariat hope to achieve? What do I bring home? How do I find a way to rationalize this?

Some of you have an idea. Some of you are here for a year, and can apply for an internship. Some of you are not here for a year and will be staying for a spring internship. You would gain work experience and a professional network.

What about someone like me who is only here for a semester?

At this moment, some of you will be asking why did I apply for exchange if I do not know what I am applying for. I do know what I applied for. I had to write an essay about why I applied and what I hoped to learn.

My application basically read, in summary, that I am a seeker of knowledge on a journey of learning. I begged for a chance to know why people were so crazy about exchange trips when they came back. I wondered why exchanges are "life-changing" and why people miss being away from their exchange universities.

This blog post during my midterms is the halfway point of my semester-long participant observation. Like an essay half-written, surely, by now, I must have gathered some tidbits of lessons. Surely, by now, I must have some idea of what an exchange is about.

There is this uncanny craze about "Buzzfeed" amongst students. I know because I see all of you on it when I'm trying to pay attention being the only one writing down notes on paper. Here are 3 lessons I have so far:

3. You only know you love something when you miss being away from it.

I have 101 things about Singapore I would like to change. However, I want to go back and change it myself (and this could be me feeding off the spirit of change-making in GWU).

Among the things I miss about Singapore include a world class medical and healthcare system that is affordable and accessible. I got stung by a bee a few weeks ago and I panicked and searched for coverage in my insurance network and opened a new tab on Google chrome to look at WebMD which seems to always tell me I have 2 weeks to live. Now I have a list of 101 things I love about Singapore.

This is probably an unintended effect of being on exchange. I seriously do not mean to say DC is less than any city in the world. I really love it here, government shutdown and all (sorry for those without jobs or pay at the moment).

This moment of separation is like a $12, 000 timeout. It's an investment I am making to be someone who would function better once I return to my society. The desire to return is not just a longing for familiarity. It is a desire to go back home and make concrete actions. For instance, I miss my family and therefore I want to go home and spend time with them.

I broke away from the monotony of island life to come up with an endless list of things to do back home for my personal development, for the betterment of my relationships with my loved ones, for my future career and so on. Missing home is emotional, but it is also a cognitive function that allows one to focus on what matters most and build up a determination to accomplish more.

Let D be determination/homesickness measured by the number of months and C be the number things to change and T be things you want to do when you get back. Let P be the measure of positive effect on an exchange student.

P = D x (C + T)

D and C are always positive integers. Therefore there will always be a positive effect on you. C and T might be zero. If it is, think of something.

2. Happiness

The second lesson I got was about searching for happiness.

Let's face it, you're away from the things you take for granted. You can't download movies on the snail paced wifi. You don't have your local favorite food or drink. You're away from the people you love. You're away from friends.

This isolation begs you to search for a new happiness. The happiness of an exchange student. And the methodology involved in your personal search for it tells a story.

Who do you first think of when you want to call home? That person will give you happiness. Provided you're not calling home for only for money. In that case, you seek happiness in greenbacks. If you're happy with money and you're rich, you'll be fine. If you're not rich, or do not have the potential to be, you'll have to search it somewhere else.

What do you need the most in the dorm? How about in the fridge? What do you like about your roommates? What kind of company do you find precious? What do you think of when you're alone? What do you reach out for, metaphorically?

The best drink is just plain water. The best food, honey, is the vomit of bees. The best perfume or smell, musk, is the secretion of a deer. And sex, is putting excretory parts of 2 bodies together. Even "nature" is telling you, sometimes, happiness can be found in simplicity or even in disgusting places.

Sometimes happiness is a frozen pizza while writing take home papers for midterms. Sometimes happiness is waking up on time for midterms. Sometimes happiness is not having midterms. It's about appreciating what you have. All that, just from midterms.

Personally, when I go home, I'm getting up earlier to do more things that I have made habits here that I don't do in Singapore, like taking a morning walk to get a free cupcake and eat it by the river. Having breakfast with my family or with friends in school would be an equivalent. Increasing my P quotient here (refer to lesson 3). Happiness also takes effort. A smile requires some muscles to move. That means you have to get off your bed and go to class you lazy bum. Carpe as much happiness that Diem offers.

1. Continue to go on "Journeys"

By journey, I mean exploring life.

In a class I had on Mount Vernon, we read Plato's Apology, an account of the trial of Socrates in which the latter proclaims "the life which is unexamined is not worth living". This statement read aloud in a room of fellow goofy wannabe philosophers struck a chord with me.

Look what reflecting in this blog has done so far. That's 2 lessons right there not including this one.

To learn, you have to seek. To live, you have to examine. Otherwise, you're just waiting to die.

My biggest lesson about exchange so far is that I observe and as life continues, I continue to observe and there's always something to learn.

It could be that you learn about the limits of your body. Like how I'll never be able to cycle up Columbia heights in my current shape.

It could be that you learn about your academic life: what kind of lessons are most conducive to learning, what are the qualities of a good student or professor, how different your home college is for better or worse, what are your strategies for success or your plans to just enjoy life as a student.

I guess it's my lesson for you too, and for any prospective exchange student.

This is an investment for you to open your eyes in a situation where very few things are familiar. Observing and examining life is like recalibrating your smart phone compass in a figure-8 movement. Just do it, otherwise you can't see what's on your life map thanks to the annoying notice.

You don't have to be on exchange to examine.  You don't have to be on exchange to be happy. You don't have to be on exchange to miss and love things or to make to do lists.

But while you're on exchange, you better start examining exchange life and finding things to do or learn.

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