Time really flies! I could not believe that my semester here is about to end and I did not notice that I have already uploaded so many blog posts during my time in GWU. Although I felt terribly anxious and indecisive before coming here, I felt glad that I made the right choice to apply for the exchange student program and brave myself by getting out of my comfort zone. During this journey, I learned a lot of things, met new friends, and went traveling to different places in the United States. Comparing to all those great experience and memories I got here, the efforts and hard works that I have made to come here were nothing at all.
In the first few weeks, I could not get used to many things like people’s accents, academic environment, cultural differences, and so on. However, with time passing, I have made a great progress. As an English major, I feel satisfied that I have the opportunity to come here because my English does improve a lot while I am immersed in the whole English environment. Also, D.C is a great place for me to acquire more knowledge about American culture and history because there are a wide array of museums and galleries which allow me to visit in my free time. The convenient public transportation including the metro and bus is one of the things that I appreciate the most, for they allow me to get to any place in a short time easily.
There are still so many things that I can share, but I guess I could only put them in my heart and do my best to share my stories with others in my home university and recommend GWU to those who want to apply for the exchange student program in the future. I am grateful that GWU provides me such a precious chance to study for a semester here and I really love D.C. I believe this short journey has already become one of the most unique experience in my life that I will never forget. I hope I can come back soon!
These few weeks might be the busiest weeks for all the university students because everyone starts to burn the midnight oil to prepare for the final exams and papers. Although it is an extremely exhausted period, I encourage myself to keep working hard until the end of the semester. While preparing for those finals, I discover that some teaching approaches professors take here are so different from those in Taiwan.
For example, according to my own experience, what I really appreciate the professors in GWU is that they often provide study guides for students before quizzes and exams. By doing so, I can follow the guide and get prepared for all the materials that the professors want us to understand and memorize. Due to the study guide, I will not feel too nervous because I know I am on the right track. Providing a study guide is not so common in my home university. At least for my own experience, instead of a detailed study guide, in most cases, I was only informed of a rough range of page numbers that the professors might choose to make some questions.
In addition, what I also appreciate is that professors here provide a clear description and rubric for the assigned papers. As a result, I have a clear understanding of what the professors expect me to write in my papers, and I know the grading standards in advance, so I can rearrange my paper as many times before I submit them in order to get a good grade. In my home university, it is also rare to get so detailed information about our assignments. Most of the time, professors just told us the title and the rough idea of what we should write. Therefore, I often feel anxious about whether I am doing right.
I hope more professors in my home university can adopt the teaching methods that I just mentioned, for it is a win-win to both professors and students. By doing so, students can be more well prepared and submit rather high-quality papers; on the other hand, professors can grade the papers smoothly because the final papers have already been proofread by the students.
In addition to Old Town Alexandria and the Botanical Garden, there are two more places in my pocket list where I recommend you to go if you want to get away from the city life for a while.
- Arlington National Cemetery:
Arlington National Cemetery is a place to honor American soldiers who sacrificed their lives to save their nation. Instead of horror, I felt a sense of tranquility and also a bit of sadness when thinking of so many families that were torn apart during wars. If you go there, you are recommended either to climb up the mountain on foot to visit the famous spots like Tomb of the Unknowns or John F. Kennedy Grave Site, or hopping on a trolley and listen to the tour guide’s introduction of the cemetery’s history. Remember to be quite and pay respect to others because it is a place for people to honor the dead and memorize the past.
- Washington National Cathedral:
Washington National Cathedral is the sixth largest in the world and it is a Gothic style Cathedral built of Indiana limestone. The gorgeous architecture, beautiful stained glasses, chapels, and many others are worth visiting. I was really amazed by how huge and beautiful it is when I stepped in the building. No matter you have a religious background or not, it is a great option to sign up in the tour and listen carefully to the history and stories of the Cathedral. Although I paid the admission fee to enter the Cathedral, I feel no regret because it is really a must visit. The breath-taking decorations and architecture along with the religious atmosphere gave me a sense of peacefulness. I felt it was a pity that I could not share more pictures with you because it is not allowed to take photos in the Cathedral.
Washington DC is really a great place where I can enjoy myself exploring around. During most of my free time, I will visit museums or galleries to admire the works in exhibitions and learn American history. I feel excited doing so, but sometimes just want to get away from all those urbanized areas and “artificial things.” Therefore, I gradually collect some places in my pocket lists where I can get away from the city’s hustle and bustle for a second.
1.Old Town Alexandria:
Old Town Alexandria is a lovely and beautiful place. Hopping on a free tourist trolley is a great way to explore the place because you can admire the streets and scenery there while listening to the radio on the trolley which explains the history of the place and introduces every tourist spot at the same time. After the tour, you can walk along the street and do some shopping in some exquisite stores until dusk. Just remember not to miss the extraordinary sunset at the waterfront! I believe you will feel refreshed after a day in Old Town Alexandria.
If you are a nature lover, I believe you will like the botanical garden near the capitol. There is a wide array of plants and flowers in the garden where you can get immersed in the nature and learn about some fun facts about the plants at the same time. It is a well-organized garden because every area has its own topic such as endangered species, tropical species, and so on. When you feel tired and want to grab something to eat, you can bring your meal to a huge area near the entrance with tables and seats. It might be a memorable experience to have your meal in the garden surrounded by a variety of plants!
In addition to what I mentioned last week, there are still some interesting cultural differences that I would like to share.
Based on my own observation, western people are relatively comfortable showing their bodies comparing with eastern people. After swimming at the school gym, I felt confused why there was not any shelf in the shower room that I could put my clothes. When I was still pondering over this question, I saw people walking by naked and then they just walked to their lockers to get their clothes. It was really surprising to me, because most eastern people like me are educated by parents and teachers in a way that our bodies are “private.” Therefore, we feel embarrassed when exposing our bodies in front of strangers even though in a private dressing room or going to places like hot springs. Obviously, it is a cultural difference where western people are educated that naked bodies are natural while eastern people are educated in a more conservative way. Again, it is nothing right or wrong.
In addition, the seam between the door and its frame in public restrooms in the United States are so huge comparing with that in Asia. I felt awkward and embarrassed sometimes because people standing outside could peep through the seam. For me, it was almost like an invasion of my privacy. According to some articles that I have read online, some say the seam is created on purpose to prevent people from doing illegal things in the restrooms, and others say that it is made of safety concerns, for if it is fully sealed, people is not able to discover whether people inside need any help when emergencies happen.
When I first arrived at the United States, there were a few things that I could not get used to. These things, in fact, reveal cultural differences between the West and the East which might interest you.
First of all, Americans rarely drink hot water no matter how freezing the weather is. It was extremely cold in January and it snowed a lot then, so I always wanted to get some hot water to warm up myself. However, I felt really confused when I could not find any water dispenser with hot water during my first few days here because there is a water dispenser with hot, warm, and cold water almost every corner at schools in Taiwan. Therefore, I do not need to boil the water by myself. It was not until I saw my roommates drinking ice water that I realized it was a cultural difference in essence. Thankfully, there is a microwave oven at my dorm that I could use to heat the water.
Second, most restrooms in shops or restaurants are locked. In order to use them, customers have to buy things in the stores to get the password from the staff. Some stores print the password on the receipt, but others do not. For the latter ones, customers have to ask the password from the staff in person. I could not get used to this custom at first especially I was in a hurry to use the restroom. In contrast, most stores in Taiwan offer free use of their restrooms. It was really convenient on one hand, but on the other hand, it sometimes places pressure on the staff when they need to clean up the dirty restrooms. Therefore, I understand why American people adopt this custom, for it ensures the customers a high-quality environment and it also promotes consumption.
Since I heard that there is a cherry blossom festival at D.C every spring, I have been looking forward to attending it. As a result, I have paid really close attention to the weather and any information about the time when cherry trees would probably blossom since March. It was still chilly these few weeks, so I was worried about whether I could successfully view the blossoms. Fortunately, this Sunday, I was able to spend a great afternoon with my friends walking to Thomas Jefferson Memorial to view the cherry blossom during peak bloom.
It was my first time in life to view cherry blossoms, so I was astonished at the amazingly beautiful scenery. The pathways were covered by the pinkish and whitish cherry blossoms. I felt so relaxed strolling under those trees, taking photos of the cherry blossoms, and capturing all those precious moments. Although it was a little bit too crowded there, for the place was overwhelmed by hundreds of people, including American citizens and tourists around the world, I still believed that the cherry blossom festival was worth visiting.
In addition to viewing the cherry blossoms, one can also buy some souvenirs at the shops there and perhaps get some food at the vendors nearby. That is, for those who are planning to go to the festival, you definitely will not feel bored at all. It is better to attend the festival before next week, or the blossoms might start to wither and fall. I guarantee that you will not regret attending this natural banquet, for the beauty is indeed beyond descriptions.
A few days ago, there was a piece of news in Taiwan that shocked all the Taiwanese and Americans, for a Taiwanese exchange student was accused of threatening a shooting at his high school. Although he later said he was only joking, he was arrested on a charge of making terroristic threats.
When the incident broke out, tons of news overwhelmed social media and platforms instantly partially because it was such a serious issue and partially because of the teenager’s special identity. Therefore, the case provoked a lot of discussions on social media. For example, many people re-emphasized the importance of home education and they criticized the teenager’s parents of spoiling the kid. Others warned people that terrifying to shoot at a school was nothing merely a “joke” especially when people in the United States were furious about gun violence and calling for action against it due to the recent massacre at a South Florida high school.
When I read the news, I felt extremely ashamed of the teenager’s behavior because as a Taiwanese, what he did represented “Taiwan.” As a result, though it was an individual case, he created a negative image of Taiwan internationally without a doubt. Also, I felt quite disappointed about news personnel, for they did not comply with journalistic ethics and justice when they were making the coverage. As a responsible journalist, they were supposed to be a bridge that conveyed objective and authentic information to their readers, but some journalists were too eager to draw readers’ attention that they began to make terrifying headlines or reveal information about the individual’s identity that had nothing to do with the issue itself.
To sum up, it was an opportunity for all the Taiwanese to reflect on the responsibility of news personnel and the importance of home education. Most importantly, people need to bear in mind that it is not funny at all to make this kind of joke. For those people who lost their beloved family members at such massacres, the disrespectful words may tear their hearts.
One thing I was really impressed by the United States when I came here was its strong protection and preservation of its historical heritage and history. Also, the guide tours in most national museums, cemeteries, and historical sites which are made to teach or introduce their stories are well-organized. Therefore, it is not rare to see teachers bringing their students to these places to learn. As an English major, I appreciate it so much because I can learn American history vividly on the spot rather than reading all those tedious materials only based on textbooks. In addition, I believe preserving history is the only way for people to remember what efforts their ancestors made and try not to make the same mistakes that will bring disasters such as WWⅠ and WWⅡ.
Among those places where historical sites are preserved and organized in a great condition, Philadelphia is my favorite one until now, and I strongly recommend those who want to dig into the 18th and 19th American history to go there. Philadelphia used to be the temporary capital of United States where declaration of independence and the constitution were signed. Hence, Philadelphia can be viewed as the starting point of America’s democracy. There are a lot of historical sites worth visiting like Penn’s Landing, Independence Hall, Old City Hall, Congress Hall, Betsy Ross House, Benjamin Franklin Museum, Liberty Bell, and so on. In brief, Philadelphia is a place best for a few day trip to get immersed in its historical atmosphere and admire the beautiful architectures.
If you crave for some delicious food, do not forget to try the famous cheesesteaks there! (Franklin Fountain should also be in your list if you also want to try some ice cream for your dessert.)
On March 8th, there was a Deaf rally in front of the Capitol Building where Deaf people and special guests who have long been concerned about the Deaf community gathered to speak out and fight for their rights, including better education, communication, and jobs. Although I took American Sign Language this semester, I am still not so familiar with the Deaf culture. Hence, it was a precious opportunity for me to get to know more about Deaf people, and how they struggle in their daily lives.
When I arrived at the Capitol, many Deaf people had already been seated, and the speeches from several special guests had already started. Even though most guests used sign languages during their speeches, I could still fully understand them through their facial expressions, body language, interpretation, and the written lines on the screen. Through their speeches, I realized that Deaf people have been deprived of their basic rights, which hearing people have long taken for granted. Among several speeches, one of them impressed me the most. The special guest said, “We are not here to be angry. When people go low, we have to go high. It’s about education. It’s about moving. It’s about fighting.” I could barely stay calm when facing inequality, so I was so moved by the speech. Also, I was moved by how Deaf people got united in the cold and windy weather just to fight for themselves and their generations.
Through the Deaf rally, I learned to pay more attention to other people’s needs and rights. Sometimes, we tend to forget to do so because we do not face those difficulties and inconveniences as others do. In addition, I would like to know more about Deaf community, and their situations in my home country, after I finish my exchange student program in GWU. Though it still seems to be a long way to go, I believe Deaf people will have the same rights as every citizen does, and all their efforts will pay off in the near future.