Skip to content

By itsmaggiegwu

"Hey, come check this out!"I wearily looked outside the window of the hostel as the other resident pulled up the blinds. White specks fell from the sky. It was falling more slowly and that's how I knew it was snow. The cold weather settled in and it was the perfect day to set up camp inside a small coffee shop a few blocks from the hostel. I have been in Boston since Friday afternoon and I decided to take a break from sight seeing. The last stretch of the exchange program and I was starting to get a little stressed out. Besides thinking about finals, there was also planning the post-exchange travels, making a video for the scholarship, and amongst all of that, trying to think about new start-up ideas. 


Boston was wonderful. And being here for the first time, I went on to tick off most of the "Top 10 Things to Do in Boston" list on Tripadvisor. Nearly everything was within walking distance with the exception of Cambridge (which was definitely possible but I wanted to save time). A visit to Harvard and MIT was a must, given how famous they were. Harvard even offered free tours at the start of every hour for tourists and prospective students alike. It was led by a senior student who gave a balanced tour on fun facts and need-to-know facts. For example, did you know that Harvard College was the first institution to successfully sue the U.S. government as a result of negligence use of one of their buildings during the Revolution by George Washington and his soldiers? The colonial architecture was spread throughout the campus. Memorial Hall, which supposedly looks the same as the dining hall in Harry Potter was unfortunately closed off to visitors.

maggie-12-12-3 maggie-12-12

What I loved about this trip was the amount of new knowledge I obtained about the American Revolution, specifically the people and events that transpired that sparked the American people to fight for their freedom and liberty. I followed the Freedom trail (a literal trail that runs through Boston in the form of blue and red bricks on the ground)  and visited the various museums which displayed information regarding The Boston Massacre and later the Boston Tea Party. The Old South Meeting House, Old State House and Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere House, Quincy Market, Old North Church, and finally Bunker Hill Monument were a series of destinations along this trail. As night fell, I entered the Paul Revere House to be greeted with hot apple cider drinks and other 18th Century sweets.

maggie-12-12-6 maggie-12-12-4

As I sit at the airport typing out this week's post, I am taken back to reality. Exchange has flown past faster than I ever imagined.

By itsmaggiegwu

Last week ended with a short weekend trip to Chicago. What I forgot to mention that at the time of booking Chicago, I also managed to book 2 consecutive weekend-aways to first Philly and then Boston. I'd like this attribute this behaviour to the autonomic response to the end of exchange semester. There's only a few weeks left of the exchange program so I should/need to cram all the travel I can. This makes up for all the other times I've been too lazy to organise anything. Gotta tick off all the boxes.

So this past weekend I hopped onto the Megabus to Philadelphia, the once capital of the U.S. I've heard a mixed response from people who have been to Philly before; some say "there's nothing to do there!" while others find it quite the opposite. I felt the latter. Philly was very different to Chicago or D.C.. I stayed at the Apple Hostel which was right in the Centre of Old City so everything was pretty much walkable distance if you wanted it to be. And it actually nice to walk around for a change. The row houses were beautiful. The old cobble stones that they laid down a few hundred years ago were still in tact in at Society Hill.


My favourite thing about Philly would be the historical aspect to it. The Independent Hall was a small but I learnt a lot about the American history, the signing of the declaration of independence and its important. The quote from the declaration echoes loud in the aftermath of the presidential election - "WE hold these Truths to be self evident that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness--"


The second favourite would be the Philly Cheesesteaks that I had every-single-day, without regret. Jim's Steaks on South and Joe's Steaks + Soda were my favourites. The line snaked around the block when I stood at Jim's. To order like a true local, I tried to say just "Wiz With" for a cheesesteak with wiz cheese with onion. I probably ate it too fast walking down South Street. I missed out going to UPenn and the famous Rocky Steps and the museum that holds world renowned pieces of art, but I'll definitely return to Philly.


The other interesting thing that I have been working on for my Entrepreneurship class is building an app that allows people to find cool people to go to awesome events with. It's called CitySocial and our team has been building a landing page website that allows users to look at what we are about and sign up for a demo. If anyone's interested to see where this app takes off, you can help us by signing up! We promise we won't spam you 🙂

CitySocial - Don't Explore Alone.

As the rush to the end of semester nears, I start to reflect on all the things that I wanted to accomplish on exchange.



By itsmaggiegwu

The beauty of studying at GW is that so much can happen in a short span of time. In the last 5 days, I've been to an NBA game for the first time, volunteered at the Washington DC Economic Partnership Annual Meeting, and spent 3 days in Chicago.

As a student, I took advantage of the $15 tickets to the Wizards vs. Knicks game held at the Verizon Centre. Given that I had very limited knowledge about NBA, I naturally went for the Wizards. My friend and I arrived at the stadium and ordered Chick-fil-A to go. It was a nail biting game. At one point the Wizards were up nearly 30 points against the Knicks. Empty seats scattered throughout the stadium. Fans in orange surprisingly outweighed those in red and navy. As the game entered the 4th quarter, my friend and I were on the edge of our seats cheering on the Wizards for a comfortable win.


The next day I put on my business attire to volunteer at the Convention Centre for the WDCEP Annual Meeting. This opportunity came from the Real Estate department at GW because it was related to development. Given my keen interest in real estate, I decided to check it out. The volunteering part wasn't difficult but I was surprised that I was the only one from GW that signed up. After a few hours of peeling off name tags and directing exhibitors to the exhibition room, we were given the chance to sit in on the Luncheon in the Ballroom. In the room sat 200 attendees, and was full of lawyers, architects, engineers, developers, government employees that came to network and listen to the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of D.C. talk about what they can do to continue the growth of economic development. I got a free 3 course lunch out of it too so it was pretty worth it.


Saturday I embarked on a solo 3-day journey to Chicago. The plane ride was only 2 hrs, but delayed by an hour at the airport. By the time I arrived at the Airbnb accommodation which was about an hour by metro and bus from O'Hare, it was too late to catch the show I had planned to watch at The Neo-Futurists (Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind). I had my doubts about Chicago's safety, especially the place I was staying at which was close to the Wilson Red Line - apparently a popular spot for gang hangouts. I had no problems during my stay because I stayed away from catching the metro there and stuck with the bus option.

Since it was my first time in Chicago, I set out to do all the touristy things one might do, such as going to Cloud Gate and taking a picture (or several) with The Bean, getting cultured at the Art Institute of Chicago (with artworks by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Claude Monet), a walk through the Millennium Park, and getting a deep dish pizza (it was an hour wait at Giordano's but it was worth it), and going up to the Sky deck of Willis Tower. The most memorable, however, was the improv show at the Second City e.t.c. It was 3 hours of non-stop laughter with different sketches, songs, and a lot of improvising. Some alumnus of Second City include: Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and other famous funny people. Even though my time in Chicago was short, I got a lot out of it. Travelling alone was also unexpectedly refreshing.

maggie-11-30-2 maggie-11-30-3 maggie-11-30-4

By itsmaggiegwu

Like many other exchange students, one of the main reasons we chose D.C. to study was due to the Presidential Election which took place last Tuesday. On the evening of Tuesday, silence echoed the streets of Washington as people gathered indoors to watch the election. I, like many other GW students, was naively optimistic about the outcome. After watching the 3 Presidential Debates leading up to the final day, there was no way that the American people would elect Trump as their President...right? The media certainly reflected this. But boy were we wrong. I later discovered that being in a liberal bubble that is D.C. and GW will do that to you.

The audience eagerly awaited the polls to close on the East Coast and drank one too many glasses of wine as the reporters on CNN changed the colours of the states on a touch-activated map of America. People were on the edge of their seats as many states such as Florida were too close to call. It wasn't looking good. Electoral votes for Trump edged its way up as the blue remained stagnant and the lever for predicting a Trump victory was 5%, then 25% then 95% on the WSJ. "It's going to be ok" was all that I could muster to say to my American friends.

Now I won't start a whole spiel against Trump and what he stands for. There's been enough of that this whole week. I believe that it is not the time to draw a demarcation line between the American people. It is not the time to further the us vs. them mentality. There is enough hate going around as it is and we don't need any more of it. Love trumps hate. The slogan of peaceful protests that are conjuring up in major cities around America. Protesting not because we want the results of the election to be reversed or trying to be sore losers but because we have a sense of urgency to show the people who are scared, the minorities, that we will stand with them.

To end, I continue to remain naively optimistic about the future, because I've seen first hand how many people do care. I am also willing to give Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt. We can only hope for the best.

By itsmaggiegwu

Last weekend started out as an adventure. My housemate,  Makiyah and I, decided to pay a visit to the Good Fortune Supermarket down in East Falls Church in Virginia. We've been missing a lot of Chinese/Asian foods in our diet because it's always been Trader Joe's or Safeway for us. We hopped onto the 4B a few blocks from our apartment and was on our merry way.

Good Fortune resides in Eden, a complex that has a variety of Asian (Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, you name it!) restaurants, bakeries, and shops. We window shopped for food at nearly every shop before sitting down to have a good bowl of pho. We needed the energy before going into Good Fortune. It was an Asian supermarket but nothing I've ever seen before. It was big, which fits well with the "everything-is-big-in-America" theme. They had a great range of fruits (Asian pears, durian, longans) and vegetables (bok choi, turnips) at very decent prices. I ended up buying 3 lbs of bok choi for about $3 which probably would have been double the price in Wholefoods. They also had a live seafood section with lobsters and fish. A BBQ section with BBQ pork, duck, chicken. A bakery with the egg tarts, pineapple buns, pork floss buns. And everything else in between. It was difficult to decide what to buy but I had to restrain myself because we had to bus back.


The next few days of the week were pure agony. It was probably from an accumulation of things but I had a severe case of tonsillitis that was met with 2 visits to the ER. I wanted to write about it briefly in case any exchange students are met with an unfortunate illness that requires them to go to the hospital. The experience wasn't all that horrible. I went to Virginia Hospital both times because I figured that it'll have less of a wait (and also I live in Virginia). You sign in at the ER and wait to be called in for them to do a triage. After that either a doctor or physician will have a look at you (depending on the severity of your case I guess). The second time I had to stay for a few hours because they had given me IV drips for my infection and inflammation and had a CT scan done in case there was any abscess (there wasn't, thank God). I felt a hell lot better when I walked out of that ER and I'm glad that I went even though initially I thought I could just sit and let it slide at home. The bills will probably come in the mail soon, but luckily I have insurance that'll cover me.


It's been a rollercoaster of a week, but I've learnt something new: living away from home is difficult and there's only you to take care of yourself. So make sure you do.

By itsmaggiegwu

What's not to love about a dinner at an amazing apartment in Adams Morgan with two friendly American hosts, Grace and Matt? Absolutely nothing. Halloween was edging closer and Kinsha (another Aussie exchange student) and I were headed to the host dinner organised by the exchange office. We didn't really know what to expect, I mean they were strangers after all. But as we walked inside the apartment, Kinsha holding a bottle of wine we bought as a gift, we both stopped and mouthed a little "wow" under our breath.

The apartment itself was really nice. The bare walls, the open kitchen and Halloween decorations to top it all off. We were greeted by our hosts Grace and Matt who were young professionals working in DC and were contacted by the GW exchange office to partake in the host dinner. We talked about Australian things and American things and had chilli and rice for dinner and pumpkin pie (fitting for Halloween once again) and coconut ice cream for dessert. So the dinner was way above and beyond of my expectations and I had lots of fun. But then again the exchange office never disappoints.

maggie-11-1-16-2 maggie-11-1-16-3

On the topic of Halloween, as it is a tradition that never really took off in Australia, it is very interesting to experience it first hand. As kids, we never really had a chance to get dressed up and go trick-or-treating and eat candies like there's no tomorrow. So first, in order to get into the spirit of Halloween, one must not go without pumpkin carving. I bought a 1 penny pumpkin off Amazon Fresh (I know!) and waited till it was weekend of Halloween to carve it out. The pumpkin was large enough to have three designs carved out. My roommate and friend and I all took a stab (pun intended) at it and although mine didn't look nearly as nice as the other two, it was great fun! The pumpkin seeds were then roasted and devoured in the spirit of Halloween.


Then it was time to think about dressing up. This was a hard one and I probably didn't put as much effort into it as I'd liked. Something Australian would have been good, maybe the magpie one I've seen on Facebook, but ultimately it came down to what was easiest. I bought some shirts from the Church sale for $3, some socks that matched, and went as a....watermelon! Given that people kept thinking I was either strawberry or Christmas, I think I'll just let them slide. For the ultimate Halloween experience, add in a little trick-or-treating at Embassy Row (I hear they give out candies from the embassy's home country too).


By itsmaggiegwu

From Rural King (Front Royal) to Thorton Gap. 4 days, 3 nights, 31 miles (~50km) and 0 showers later, we finally made it through (a portion of) Shenandoah!

Fall break was the perfect time to take a break from the hustle and bustle of D.C. and immerse in the great outdoors. With 6 GW Trails Guides and 11 students, we were ready to commence a 4-day hike that would push us mentally and physically to the extreme.


We arrived at Front Royal. About an hour drive from D.C. sits a town that was just outside of the start of the Shenandoah Trail. The guides shuttled hikers in Enterprise vans. The wind was cold, but the sun compensated by its warmth. There was a couple with their Blue Heeler that had just finished the hike and told us it was going to be a cold day. We stopped for lunch on the side of the trail. We had food spread amongst the packs we had on our back. Tortilla, summer sausage and cheese with a hint of Sriracha sauce never tasted so good. It was the first time I'd ever backpacked. I've done hiking and camping, but never the both combined. It's a different experience. First off, you have to carry a heavy pack that will have the minimum amount of equipment to keep you warm. A sleeping back, sleeping pad, change of clothes and toiletries were pushed and shoved inside the 55L pack borrowed from Trails Gear (a place that rents out gear for free if you're going on a Trails trip). With only 6 miles to be completed today, we arrived promptly at the first shelter. The shelter was a three sided wooden structure with a deck out front. There was a privy nearby, which made me appreciate the modern toilet a whole lot more. Dinner was quesadilla which served as a hand warmer and food. The wind was howling by this point and everyone was miserable. Starting a fire in this kind of wind was difficult but once it was started, the warmth lured us like moth to the light. Camp fire stories were told and eventually it was time for bed. Sleeping in a tent with 5 people that was meant for 3 was cozy but the roaring wind was the thing that kept everyone awake.

maggie-zhang-10-25-2 maggie-zhang-10-25-3

The next two days were faced with difficult hikes but albeit better weather conditions (sunny with very little wind). 10 miles on Sunday and another 13 miles on Monday. By that time we were somewhat comfortable with the routine. We woke up at 7:30am and aimed for a 9am start. Lunch was served at around 12:30pm somewhere along the trail. Apples, clementines kept us hydrated and the trail mix from Trader Joe's kept us motivated. By the end it was a matter of putting one foot in front of the other that pushed us through to the end. Great friendships were made as we bonded over the fires and the making of s'mores which made it all the more sad when Tuesday came. It was back to reality, to the homework and classes. But I'm sure that there will be more hikes to come - maybe GW Trails to Mary's Rock?

maggie-zhang-10-25-4 maggie-zhang-10-25-5

By itsmaggiegwu

I wanted to give you a snippet of what it's like being a student at GW. Week 7 of school came and went and I've finally set in my role as an American college student. It was a week packed with mid-terms, projects, home works and more. My new roommate also moved in which ends my week long of freedom.

One thing that stood out in terms of academic differences between the U.S. and Australia was that the exams here are much easier. This was partly due to the ability to bring in a sheet of notes which in other words mean cram-everything-you've-ever-learnt-in-the-course-on-the-paper. I liked the exams because they're not tricky like back home but instead focused on whether you understood the fundamentals of the course.

I also went to some student organisation panel this week which was really interesting. The Race and Racism in the U.S. and China panel hosted by the Global China Connection student organisation at GW. It was a discussion type of panel that looked at racism in the media (in particular, Fox News going into Chinatown in NYC to an idea of what American-Chinese thought about the presidential election). We also discussed the racism that exists in China, particularly towards Chinese minorities and other POC. Is ignorance a bliss when it comes to racism and racist behavior and attitudes? Should we put blame on the lack of exposure of POC to Chinese people to excuse racism? It was overall a very interesting discussion and one that many would hesitate to hold and I was glad that GCC had this.

I also managed to injure my knee over the last week's frisbee tournament at Delaware. I found out that as a club sports, we were given access to free injury evaluation which is done at the Smith Center. This saved me a lot of hassle of going to a physiotherapist and getting examined and then getting reimbursed through my home university's insurance policy.

maggie-zhange-10-18 maggie-zhang-2-10-18

Finally, to end this perfect week (the weather has been great as well), I decided to visit Gravelly Point Park. We took the blue metro to Ronald Reagan Airport and walked about a mile to the park. What makes this park special is that you can see the Washington Monument, The Capitol, and have airplanes fly over your head every few minutes or so. It was the perfect weather for a picnic and plane spotting. Then, we proceeded to walk from Virginia all the way back to DC along the water.



By itsmaggiegwu

I have always been a sporty kid. From primary school to high school, I've participated in school sports such as soccer, tennis, softball, basketball, table tennis. The list was endless because I loved sports! But ever since university hit, the number of sports activities decrease dramatically, or more precisely to zero. I decided to turn that around during my exchange semester, partly because our marks wouldn't get transferred over, and also because I discovered this thing called LSPA, which I mentioned a couple of posts back. I wanted to expand on this because I've had such a great time doing a variety of sports through LSPA and also sports clubs at university.


First up is rock climbing.This course is run off campus at Sport Rock in Alexandria (more precisely near Van Dorn metro). It takes about 30-40min on the metro to get to the rock climbing gym and it is taught by the owner of the gym, Jason. There are a few things that's great about this course. You get unlimited access to the gym and the areas within it: top roping, weight lifting, training, bouldering, and so on. All equipment is provided including harness and climbing shoes. And Jason is a wonderful teacher. At first I thought rock climbing is simply going to be comprised of us climbing every week, but that was far from the truth. There is so much more to learn in climbing, such as technique in using your feet and not your arms, that I never really thought about before. The whole point of it was to get us stronger and better at utilising what we have to conquer the rocks. Even for people who are a little bit scared of heights, rock climbing was still super fun and let's us push our own fears out the door.


Now getting back to tennis having played it in high school brought back a lot of memories. It's incredible that my muscles still remember how to hit the ball. The lessons held on the tennis courts of the Mount Vernon campus (beautiful campus by the way) is two hours long. As an exchange student who probably wouldn't want to buy a tennis racquet, I was able to borrow one at the start of each lesson from the coach. As students enrolled in this LSPA course, we are also able to book these courts for practice for free and rent the ball machine if we needed.

The thing about LSPA is that back home we don't offer sports courses and the only way to get involved is through sports clubs. That means that for the people starting out or just learning, it is very intimidating as some sports are very intense and competitive in nature. As an exchange student, you can also take advantage that any courses you take will be of no financial burden besides the fees you pay to your home university. These were great for someone who wanted to just play casually in a fun environment and learn a new skill or two. There are plenty of other LSPAs offered such as boxing, yoga and much more which means there's something for everyone!




By itsmaggiegwu


Four day weekend - the perfect amount of time for a weekend away from the peaceful D.C. to the hustle and bustle of New York City. We arrived in the Megabus as the lit up billboards welcomed us to NYC (side note: the bus was incredible - they allowed us to go on an earlier bus with no extra cost and everything was clean and comfy, would definitely go by Megabus next time). We rolled our luggage through the small puddles o water on the sidewalk that had formed from the rain earlier. It was still sprinkling a bit but it was nice. The heavy fog and clouds prevented us from going up the Empire State Building to view the City that Never Sleeps. Nonetheless, we had plenty of other things to explore. We pushed through the crowds in Times Square and stood there for a while to take it all in. Then the  Empire State of Mind started playing over and over in our heads:

In New York,
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
There is nothing you can’t do,
Now you’re in New York,
These streets will make you feel brand new,
The lights will inspire you,
Lets here it for New York, New York, New York


The highlight of the night was definitely the walk over Brooklyn Bridge. Light rain touched our faces as we paced. We stopped a few time to turn and take in the magnificent lit up skyline of Manhattan on the other side. The bridge was almost deserted with a few joggers and people riding home on their bikes. We walked towards Dumbo in the middle of the darkness to get photos of the Manhattan Bridge.

We stayed at an Airbnb place on Chauncey St in East Bushwick of Brooklyn. It was a small 2 bedroom apartment right next to the Metro (convenient but also slightly noisy at night) with 5 beds crammed into one of the rooms. The hostess was really nice and provided us with everything we needed (cream cheese bagels included). This accommodation costed about $32 per person per night which was incredibly cheap. Slightly far from Manhattan but getting the metro to the city was easy and only costed a standard $2.75 per fare.

The next few days were spent by exploring the Financial District (Wall St, the Charging Bull, New York Stock Exchange), Battery Park,Statute of Liberty, 9/11 Memorial, Central Park (which was quite amazing seeing the massive city surrounding this green piece of land), the MET, getting 99cent pizzas before watching Fiddler on the Roof in Broadway!


The next two days were mostly spent in Brooklyn which was probably my favorite place in New York. In particular, Williamsburg and Bushwick both had a lot of local culture with amazing street art, markets selling creations in the form of canvases, paintings, jewelry, restaurants (which also drowned in street art) and so much more. It reminded me of Newtown, a suburb in Sydney which gives off the same hip, young, artsy vibe.


Foods that I recommend: Roberta's Pizza in Bushwick, best in Brooklyn with long lines on a Monday morning. Criff's Dogs, for the authentic American hotdogs experience for cheap. Dunwell Donuts, for the vegans with a sweets craving (all the donuts are vegan here and they taste amazing). The Little Owl, which is right under the Friend's Apartment with people packed to the rim (get the meatball sliders and cheeseburger). 99cent Fresh Pizza near Broadway, it's cheap, it's tasty, it's pizza. Cold Stone Creamery, for some great ice cream in Time Square.


I loved the experience in NYC but I probably couldn't live there long term. The subway was convenient but incredibly dirty, as were the roads. It was also a harsh reminder of the reality of the rate of homelessness and people suffering from mental illness who could not afford shelter or healthcare. It was a sore sight to see this happening in supposedly the greatest city in the world. Maybe this will change in the future - let's just hope America elects the right president to run the country.


Skip to toolbar