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By zelenkal

I have truly been impressed with the courses here at GW during the first week of classes. There is a lot to say about the professors and the material they have planned for the courses. I find myself looking forward to delving into the subject matter and anticipate a rewarding semester that will challenge my thinking and teach me more about American culture, both on and off campus. I think that the university environment is set up in such a way that it allows the students to rationally discuss, assess and decide whether to value or doubt a variety of issues and ideals.

In the last week I have observed so many differences between the classes here and at Charles University, and have always tried to understand their origins and impacts. Firstly, I was appalled when seeing how interactive the classes are expected to be. The next shocking moment came while having a first discussion in class. I must say, I have never seen such a vivid, lively environment for a debate. Students are eager to express their opinion rather than just muttering incomprehensibly to themselves. I had to assert myself in order to be heard. Students here are much more self-confident than in the Czech Republic, which helps to stimulate and move the discussions further.

The next thing I have found interesting and highly inspirational was the concern for up-to-date matters, including recent developments in pop-culture. Both lecturers and students tend to refer to pop-culture quite often. I was so surprised when we were supposed to debate the movie Lincoln, or Beyoncé, and I thought for a minute that the professor was joking. However, it seems that assessing mainstream culture is an efficient way to assess you surroundings. Additionally, it reveals how deeply connected recent theories are with the academic culture here – for instance the works of Žižek or Butler show a very similar attitude. In Charles University, the whole academic culture tends to neglect this. Both the courses and the discussions are very classical, only a few times before coming here I had encountered more recent texts to study, as if only time can prove whether the text is worth reading or not. Lecturers here are thus more progressive and not afraid of possibly dashing debates.

The most positive observation was, however, seeing America in doubts. From the very beginning I have been here, I could see (regardless of the Inauguration) many sign of patriotism. Such signs would have been extremely ridiculed in the Czech Republic. Of course, it is very pathetic when a citizen feels like being a part of the state only when sport events take place. However, this stance also protects us from mindless acting. The star-spangled banners and posters everywhere tells me that something is different here. It is nice to be proud of your country, unless it is at the expense of truth. I was afraid I would not be able to talk to anybody about this, because everybody seemed to have no objections towards America. Nonetheless, once the classes started, I was sure I am in the right place. I could see people objecting and trying to rethink this sort of approach towards your country. And that made me happy again about being here. I can say, I am in the right place, where America can be proud and still able to be critical at the same time.

Even though I was too impressed with the classes to get to the Inauguration, the exchange students couldn't miss this event
Even though I was too impressed with the classes to get to the Inauguration, the exchange students couldn't miss this event

inauguration gw exchange

By lizalunstroo

We are halfway through the semester which means.... Midterms! No reason to get too excited though, because although my semester here has been a rollercoaster of new impressions, this means it has been extremely easy to find excuses not to read everything I was supposed to. And even though I read at least 500 pages a week, I am lagging behind in three out of the five courses I am taking at the moment. The question here: how to survive and do well on your midterms?

The biggest obstacle here is procrastination – a phenomenon I trust every student is familiar with. I have found some excellent occupations that keep me away from my books. I ride my bike through DC to explore a little of the city; my roommates and I get cupcakes for each other and watch a movie; I campaign for Obama; we visit the zoo; I join the International Affairs Society for a visit to an embassy, etcetera etcetera. What makes these things enjoyable and guilt-ridden at the same time, is the realization that I have so much else to do too. The consequence of procrastination is that it makes things less exhilarating and relaxing than they normally would be.

I do not wish to give the reader the false impression that I am not doing enough for university – it is a fact that most of the time I spent here in DC, was spent studying and reading for my courses. Nevertheless, excuses to are easy to find and adopt. One of my roommates has developed a strategy of her own. Her approach is to cram in as much as she possibly can in two days of study for one course. The result: excellent grades and a slightly insane-looking and stress-ridden roommate, who genuinely frightened me a little. Fortunately, once the exam was over, she was her normal content self again. However, this is not something that works for me, although I might give it a try some day – just spend the night in the library and only take breaks to go to the toilet now and then.

All this talk of procrastination and I haven’t even mentioned the best bit yet. I assume most people have heard of and watched the Gangnam Style song and music video. GW’s very own students made a hilarious video of our mascot (George) dancing to this song. This video provided me and my fellow students with a very welcome break more than once and I highly recommend watching it, not just for the very nice cameos of DC’s monuments and campus locations, but mostly for our unofficial mascot, the Hippo. Isn’t he just adorable? I can guarantee that it will make you laugh out loud.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuPR5N0vhSk&w=560&h=315]

This week I have two midterms coming up, so one would expect me to be studying hard all weekend. Quite the contrary: on Friday I visited the Pakistani embassy with GW’s International Affairs Society, and it was fascinating to see how very politically-charged questions were answered in a very diplomatic way. In addition, my roommates and I visited DC’s national ZOO on Saturday (one of the Smithsonian institutions). Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the giant pandas, but we did get to see the beauty of DC during fall.

Fall colors in DC's national ZOO

The rest of this weekend is bound to be spent studying and writing essays – my bit of procrastination came with writing today’s entry. I am already looking forward to writing next week’s entry as part of my overall procrastination scheme.

By lizalunstroo

I have no idea whether the following entry can be viewed to represent all exchange students and freshmen here at GW, but I have some anecdotal evidence, not to say memorized roommate conversation transcripts, that tell me other students are dealing with the same issues. The first week of class has just concluded and I can say with full honesty that the first few days were very scary.

            The amounts of reading that are involved here are similar to my home university – about fifty pages as preparation for each meeting. The big difference being, however, that I have nine classes each week, instead of five, meaning that the amount of reading is almost double of what I am used to. Nevertheless, this is not the biggest issue, because I can handle the amount of reading. No, the thing that really hit me this week, and I guess the other students too, is the realization that the coming months are not a semester-long holiday with some occasional studying, but rather the other way around. My plans of traveling during the weekends and exploring the city in my spare time have had to make place for my academic ambitions and duties, even though I will try and squeeze a little trip into my schedule here and there.

            Yes, life at GW is certainly very busy. At the beginning of this week, a huge student organizations fair was organized, with all student orgs trying to recruit freshmen for their activities. The event in itself was very exciting, having some delicious food and simply strolling along all the stands admiring (and sometimes shying away from) all the promotional talks and shouting. In the end, I decided to become a member of the International Affairs Society, where I hopefully will be able to attend cool events, both academically and socially oriented. In addition, I enrolled in the George Washington College Democrats. My friends and myself already acquired quite some cool stickers, buttons and other promotional items for both candidates, simply because the campaigns are currently full-fledged. Of course, the main reason for me (and most of my fellow exchange students) to become a part of the College Democrats is to become involved and be able to follow the raging political campaigns, both of them trying to out-do the other. Sorry to say (although it was a good decision, budgetary-wise), my roommates and I, when shopping for the apartment, decided not to buy a television. As a consequence, we won’t be able to follow the live debates, conventions, or other political events that are broadcast by the main news channels. The only options that I’m left with is either to stalk my neighbors on our floor (who did buy a television), which is a little inappropriate; or to go the gym, which is not even one block’s walking distance away, and watch television while working on my fitness. Indeed, this is how I managed to watch parts of the GOP convention earlier this week!

            As for  the remedies to such a busy academic and social life here at GW: I haven’t figured out how to balance everything yet. Nevertheless, I think it is a matter of setting your priorities, which is hard when friends are going out or when there are cool welcome-events being organized. The coming few weeks will be a test for me, and hopefully I will learn how to deal with all the different aspects of college life here at GW very soon.

By gwblogabroad

Five courses, five different professors and five different vibes... this is how I am spending my exchange semester at George Washington University. This is how I spent all of the previous semesters at Al Akhawayn University. However, even though the system is the same in both my home and host universities, the learning style not only varies from AUI to GWU, it even varies from one professor to another. Both AUI and GWU offer courses in English with professors from all around the world with different teaching methods and various skills in specific fields. Therefore, if despite all of these similarities I can still feel that there is a big difference between the two universities, it must be because it is mainly due to the different cultures and not only the different learning environments.

Let’s start by one major difference between AUI and GW before specifically discussing the difference between the classes. Even though both universities have amazing campuses, they are completely and a hundred percent different. GW’s campus is impressively huge. It has so many buildings with a minimum of five floors each and these buildings are spread out around Foggy Bottom’s area. If I want to go to class and be there on time, I would need to leave my room at least fifteen minutes earlier if the classroom is in a building nearby. Sometimes, I need less time (because I run!) and other times I need more time (either because I wear heels, because the building is located in some distant street or because I need to take a bus to actually reach the location of the classroom). The campus is located right in the middle of the city, the streets are full of cars at any moment of the day and there are actually traffic lights inside the campus. In other words, anybody can walk in or out of the campus since there is no actual difference between GW’s buildings and any other building nearby (except for the dorms for which you we actually need a card to be authorized to come in). Campus is just a word used that infers to the university as a whole instead of a closed area where only GW students, faculty or staff can be found.

On the other hand, AUI’s campus is pretty small compared to GW’s one. Its buildings have between one and four floors and they are all pretty close to each other. You could easily walk through the whole campus in less than fifteen minutes. It usually takes me five minutes to get to the classroom (when wearing heels!) and the only way you can be inside the campus would be for you to be a student, a faculty member or a staff working within the university. The university campus is a closed area where students can be sure that no stranger can come in. Therefore, even if university is about becoming adults and responsible of ourselves, parents always make sure that their children are in a perfectly secured place where there isn’t the slightest chance of something bad happening. As for the courses, attendance is mandatory and each student who fails to meet a certain amount of classes fails the entire course. So, even if attendance represents only a small portion of the final grade and students are supposed to be able to make their own choices, being absent for more than seven classes means failing. Assignments are usually just a way for the professors to torture their students and midterms and finals have percentages as high as 30 and 35 percent.

In George Washington University, there is no such thing as failing a course because of attendance. Professors assign a certain percentage of the grade to attendance and the more absences the student has, the more that percentage comes closer to zero. Some sections contain so many people (up to 200 students) that attendance is not even part of the final grade. Each student is responsible for his own choices and decisions. Assignments and projects represent a big chunk of the final grade and have usually the same weight (if not a bigger one) as a midterm or final. In other words, the university offers to the student an endless amount of resources and it is up to the student to decide what he/she wants to do with them.

These differences may seem somehow superficial, but for a student who needs to adapt to a new system for five months and then go back again to the previous one, they can be tricky. However, as I said previously, those differences between AUI and GWU actually reflect the part of the differences between Morocco and the United States of America. While Morocco is a very collectivist country, the US is more of an individualistic one. The ideal would be to have a mix between those two characteristics and live in a world where Morocco, the US and any other country of the planet learn from the differences that make this world so unique. Unfortunately, that would be dreaming about a utopia that will never happen.

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

Welcome to our blog that we've created to share the experiences of some of our inbound exchange students. This blog has that fresh new blog smell. As we move forward with this new venture, we hope to share more from our bloggers about the trials and tribulations of being an exchange student at GW.

Though this blog is administered by the Office for Study Abroad, the submissions are entirely of the authors own work and opinions.

Stay tuned for more Postcards from DC!

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