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By nimames

For the past few weeks there has been this weird feeling building up deep in my guts. Slowly gathering each day waiting for a build up that is inevitably going to happen … the day I’m going to leave my cozy little apartment in Ivory Tower, leave the streets of Foggy Bottom, my classes at Elliot, taking the metro for the last time. Leaving the United States altogether.

When I first got my acceptance letter to GW, I was ecstatic. Not only because I got accepted to one of the greatest school in the United States but also because this university happened to be in Washington DC, a couple blocks away from the White house, the Lincoln Memorial and a walk from the Capitol and the Washington Monument. I was eager to set foot in the United States, a country that I only dreamt of visiting not only living in one of its greatest city, it capital no less, for a period of four months. However, the feelings of happiness  were being tinged with little apprehension and fear. I was going to delve into the unknown, a place where I didn't know anybody, thousands of kilometers away from the place a called home. As the days of my flight approached this mixture of sheer excitement and fear only grew stronger and when I set foot at the busy Dulles airport at 10 pm on a cold a rainy night, I knew everything would be alright.

Days, weeks and months have passed where I had the great opportunity to meet incredible from all over the world that I’m proud to call my friends. I settled into my room, figured out my classes and learned to use the washing machines for the first time trying not to shrink all my clothes. Planning trips and getaways was perhaps one of the most challenging things I had to do mainly because there was so much to see and so little time ! I am nonetheless happy and content with what I managed to visit in the US. Trying to race the clock and fit everything one should see in New York in a mere four days was rewarding, exciting and exhausting. I absolutely adored the rhythm and tempo of the City that Never sleep and loved how the very feel of the city would change when you’d turn around a corner or change boroughs. Baltimore proved to hold my personal record of best seafood I’d had and although it the weather wasn't very clement that day it had been an enjoyable day nonetheless. The much anticipated Spring Break in Puerto Rico was the culmination of everything I wanted it to be and exceeded my wildest expectations: deliciously fresh food, paradise-like beaches, warm humid weather that made my hair go cray cray, and the great company that I was blessed with.

My time here at GW wasn’t me trotting around the country although I really wanted it to be. Classes were interesting as they were intriguing especially one of my acting classes in which I got to push boundaries in myself that I didn’t even knew existed. The ride was also bumpy like everything in life but I learned to deal with it and ultimately overcome it a learn from the mishaps and the failures and hopefully it had made me a better, stronger person.

A handful of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from the Exchange office back at my hometown university Alakhawayn University, asking us all exchange students abroad to write a little paragraph describing our experience abroad. These messages were going to be shared with other students who wish to go on a semester or year abroad and it made me ponder about my time here. My exchange experience has been about being in new places, meeting new people and discovering new things. But it has been much more than that. In fact this experience is also about getting to know yourself. When you’re put in situations that you’ve never been before, whether you have to deal with difficult classes, figuring out your budget, planning trips, approaching people, dealing with an illness, feeling homesick or just feeling bad and vulnerable. You end up learning from everything and ultimately growing as person. It’s also about sharing the little things with the people you’ve met that have become your friends; being able to just hang out in comfortable silence or make jokes or tell your day or even rant about a bad day. That’s what’s exchange is all about, knowing yourself to know people and build ties with them that grow over time. The shyness and politless of the first week is slowly replaced by regular movie/pizza nights, inside jokes, new songs and even a group name and printed t-shirts !

None of this would have been possible without the support both financial and personal of my parents whom I have terribly missed especially in situations where I’m lost and I need advice. Also, the amazing Exo Leaders group and Shawna and Hilary who have tirelessly worked to make our stay here as confortable and enjoyable as possible and made sure we didn’t need anything. To my beloved exchange group, guys it’s been a great ride, you will be terribly missed and I hope to see you soon. To my peeps, the “running” club, oh you guys, a reunion is most definitely in order, I want to take you back with me because I’ve grown so used to your presence. To everyone my path happened to cross I say thank you. My life has been blessed with you presence and know that I will never forget you.

As corny as this last post must sound like and I know it is corny, I will allow myself a little bit of corniness because the words I’m writing now sitting in my desk, tears pickling the corner of my eyes, are true.

Thank you GWU, DC, for hosting me, it has been a blast and I hope to come back soon..ish.

 

By nimames

With every day that comes and go by the realization that I do not have much time left in DC and in America, grows bigger and bigger and the stress ball forming in the pit of my stomach only grows heavier and heavier. The phrase time flows by so quickly hadn't resonated as much in my life as it did during this exceptional exchange experience. Now would definitely be the time to use fancy superlatives because to be honest, this experience has been entirely superlative to me.

First, I got to realize one of my dreams: coming to the US. Second, I got to travel to a paradise-like island in the Caribbean for spring Break. Third, I met and got to know people that I’m happy to call my friends with whom I had great, unforgettable moments (most of which in restaurants).

My only regret, would be that I didn't have the opportunity nor the time , to visit more of the United States (It’s too big of a country with too many wonderful places to see).

As my time here nears to an end, a recount of one of the last weeks is necessary, more because this blog-writing process has become more of a way to write down my memories and introspection.

I got to go see an NBA basketball game between the Washington Wizards and the Miami Heats which was something at the top of my to do list, it was something that I always wanted to do and something that I knew would make some of my friends who were fans of American basketball die with jealousy. I was pretty excited to watch the game although I barely knew the players. From what I gathered, the Heat was supposed to be a very good team whereas the Wizards meh not so much. It turned out to be that the Wizards won the game by a very large margin. We then celebrated it by going to FrozenYo and treating ourselves t delicious frozen yogurt topped with all kinds of toppings.

The other exciting thing we did this past week was going to the zoo; and although I looked forwards to it, I caught a cold and unfortunately wasn't able to enjoy it to the fullest. What I did enjoy however was the delicious Lebanese restaurant we went right after the zoo and their delicious food including humus, falafel, tabouleh, shawaramah and others.

Sunday was met with delicious brunch at Circa where I had great smoked salmon benedict. After brunch we did a little egg hunt for Easter something that I had never done before. Right after the hunt and after I collected a fair amount of chocolate eggs, we went to celebrate yet another day: the Indian color festival Holi. Now, that was so much fun and getting color all over yourself, face, hair and armpits included was totally worth it !! Flinging colored chalk at each other was so much fun and the goal was to get as much color on another as possible which ended up being really enjoyable.

This weekend encompasses everything a kid would love to do: color flinging day, egg hunting, going to the zoo and even going to basket ball game, all of which I really enjoyed. At the end, I think we are all kids at hearts, loving the little things in live, the small things that bring us joy and laughter and I think that we all should be more like kids more often because .. hey it’s fun !

By nimames

This past week couldn’t have been more perfect seeing that the weather finally decided to change. I made my peace with DC’s weather being schizophrenic but what I did not anticipate is that it would be skip spring altogether. We have been graced by a very warm weather these past few days and it definitely meant that everyone is dusting off the dresses, shorts, tank tops, sandals and sunglasses ditching the coats, sweaters, boots and gloves, Finally !

What a great timing also, the great weather coincided with the cherry blossoms tree that fully blossomed this Friday giving the city wonderfully soft hues of pink and whites. This also meant that Facebook would be flooded by pictures of the beautiful cherry blossom trees which definitely marked the end of winter and the beginning of spring .. ahem .. summer.

So my friends and I, the “walking club” decided to go see the parade on Saturday. First things first, it seemed to me that everyone from DC and the surrounding areas have poured into the city to watch the much anticipated parade, clogging the streets and the metros on the way. The parade was sweet and entertaining, and I particularly loved the flying panda, the balloons, and was surprised by the tap dancers. Standing under the sun for hours definitely required a treat and I got myself a nice and popsicle.

After the parade, we walked down the national mall and no matter how many times came here, I would always do the same thing: take a pictures with the capitol, turn around and take a pictures with the Washington monument ! We then had “lunch” (it was more waiting than actually eating) in the multiple food trucks where the line were terribly long. After waiting (ahem eating), we walked down to the Tidal Basin and the walk there was one of the most difficult one. There were people EVERYWHERE we went. The streets were blocked with pedestrian traffic. We had to wait for long moments in line, on the pavements for the street to slowly clear up until we reached the tidal basin and even then, we had to wait and find a spot.

Although the day was pretty much waiting all along, it was still a good day. I walked around and discovered that I wouldn’t ever get tired of the city because everything about it was unique and different at the same time. Being in such a great company did help quite a lot !

On Sunday and seeing that the weather would still be in our favor, we decided to have a picnic down at the Potomac river front. Of course and as usual, we got so much food that we couldn’t finish in the end. We laid our blankets and yoga mats under a cherry blossom tree by the river and proceeded to enjoy what was more like a buffet.

This weekend has been the perfect combination of the things I like: shorts, warm weather, food and great company.

By nimames

A lot happened in the past few weeks. We had a great barbecue at friend’s house where everyone gathered around deliciously cooked burgers and sausages accompanied with what seemed a never-ending stream of foods. We ate, talked, ate, laughed and ate some more !

A friend of mine back from Morocco studying at West Virgina came to visit Washington DC this weekend and I realized something that I slowly started to take for granted: Washington is a an amazing place where diversity meets culture and historical heritage. Being the good friend that I am, I made it my duty to show her around town starting with Georgetown. We also went to old town Alexandria and it was as much as discovery for me as it might have been for her. The quaint little town with it’s narrow boutiques where the floor creaks with each steps you take, where you can find wonders in antique stores, where the flowers are blooming and the birds singing. The people there were strolling down the streets, families were enejoying the sunny day with their dogs.

We strolled around the main street of town until we reached the marina. There was an old guy was playing music using wine glasses. We then had great seafood in a lighthouse/restaurant right beside the water. Since I’ve been here, perhaps one of the most difficult tasks I had to do is order food. No seriously, choosing the right food is extremely stressful especially when seafood and fish is involved. I hesitated for very long minutes deciding between the fish and chips and the jumbo shrimp. I ended up going to the traditional fish and chips and let me tell you it wasn’t disappointing. There is a trick for all of you out there that can’t seem to choose anything in a really good menu: go for the first thing you see and think “oh this looks delicious I should order it”. Because more often than not, the first choice is the better, believe me !

By nimames

Today, I probably have completed almost two months without wearing makeup. The reason ? A stye infection in my upper left eyelid. I don’t mean for this post to be a detailed medical record of my misfortune but a sort of reflection about mascara, random bumps on eyes, and society.

I woke up one day with a swollen left eye. I went to the doctor and she assured me it wasn’t serious and stye infections go away after a week. What she failed to mention is that my ‘little’ stye infection liked having a warm place to stay and decided to stay in my eye for almost 3 months now. Of course, since I now have a bump in my eyelid, I cannot wear makeup and it is killing me.

People often ask me does it hurt or does it bother me. It doesn’t bother me, well at least not physically. But what bothers me is the notion that there is a lump there and most importantly I cannot wear makeup. I am not a girl who necessarily needs to have a full makeup to leave the house but I do like to look the least bit pretty. What I realized is that I don’t really care about the stye camping out in one of my vital organs, no. What I really cared about is me not being able not to wear makeup ergo not look the way I want to look. This particular thought made me realize, and I recoil at the thought, that I now associate being pretty, or the least bit attractive, to having colored sticky chemicals on my face. Why ? Everyone knows the answer and it is something that is plastered in every blog on the internet and has become one of those ‘topics’: body image, the media’s effect on women’s image, the power of cosmetics blah blah blah. But what really frightened me is that sadly it is true. We, me included, are all under the same spell: we need to look a certain way to look pretty and ergo be accepted and spend a lot of money in the process.

When I’d complain to my friends about this issue they’d be kind enough to tell me “you don’t need makeup Nima” and I thank them for their kind words but I can’t help myself not to really believe them. There is still this voice inside my head that keeps saying that you’ll never look half as good as you want to if you do not wear makeup. As depressing as this thought might sound it is nonetheless true and is indeed a sad reflection on our society, because after all, beauty, like money, is a socially constructed phenomena.

My journey with my bumpy eye has opened up insecurities I never actually thought about before. Although it wasn’t a pleasant journey, I learned to love myself makeup less and try to make it work "au naturel".

As cliché as it might sound, to all the girls out there I say, love yourself just the way you are, or at least try, because you never know when your upper left eyelid will decide to grow a bump. Believe me, it happens and you better be prepared. With no mascara needed, at least I saved some money !

Shears !

By nimames

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My spring break in the tropical and exotic island of Puerto Rico wasn’t about getting crazy ‘spring break style’ only. It was much more than that.

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It has allowed me, to visit a new world entirely and experience and new culture. A culture that is colorful and festive. It has also enabled me to be in a rainforest and climb down slippery rock in inadequate shoes to touch the fresh stream of water descending down rocks. As we climbed an old tower one step at a time, the landscape and view was truly something to behold. Kilometers and kilometers of emerald green stretched out around us, the witness of the sand and the turquoise infinity of the Caribbean sea. We then walked 3 miles in the humidity of the forest eagerly looking around to see if we could see a monkey stopping once in while for a photo-shoot !

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We finally arrived to the waterfall and although it was beautiful I was mildly disappointed to see it packed with people. I wish it could be a sort of secluded waterfall that you’d accidentally stumble upon. It was nevertheless really impressive and trying to swim towards the water falling was nearly impossible. But I managed to do it and it cost me … a huge bruise on my knee.

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On our way back, the driver stopped at a ‘pueblosito’ a small village where we had lobster empanada (heaven !) and pina coladas and were treated to an amazing beach. We were akin to aliens landing in a foreign land never having seen a beach before but this was not a regular beach. This was utterly breathtaking and as we were taking pictures, the drivers friend, a middle age man came up to one friend of mine and told her in the little English he knew: Puerto Rico is much mine as it is yours.

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In some way, it restored my faith in human kindness as we have witnessed firsthand the sheer kindness of random people our path happened to cross. Little did I know that I would be on the receiving end of much more kindness that.

Our last day in San Juan came to an end and we took the ferry to the island of Vieques. The owner of the house we had rented came to pick us up. She was an American woman who now lives in a farm with partner and friends and when I asked her why did she choose to move to Vieques, she told me that she hadn’t been there for a long time. In fact, she had come on vacation 2 years ago, went back to the US, packed her things and moved to the Island of Vieques. Coming from a country where all people want is to leave to Europe of better the United States, I must admit I was a bit confused. When I asked why? She answered me: what’s not to love here. Her statement proved to be anything but wrong.

 

I fell in love with the little island and it’s little town Isabel 2 with its one street packed with restaurants, little bars, convenient stores and the few horses that roam freely around the island. Yes, we ran into a lot of horse grazing here and there. I even woke up one time with a beautiful horse outside my bedroom window. Well the always excited roosters did all the waking because chicken and roosters too were here and there and sometimes there are wars, yes wars between the chickens and well … cats.

 

Our days in Vieques were a mixture of pure laziness and relaxation with a dash of adventure. We got lost a couple of times, tried in vain to show the directions to taxi drivers, been to beaches one more beautiful that the other and just laying there for hours listening to my skin sizzle under the sun. We also tried new foods and really weird fruit, tried dancing salsa but failing at that. We also went snorkeling and saw beautiful coral reef, colorful fish, a barracuda and even sea turtles. I managed to get stung by something and although my forearm did get numb for a few hours, I tried to ignore the pain away and it did work ! The next morning my arm was all up and going. None of what we did, the people we met, the beaches we went to would have happened without the solid help of Betty Boop our big, reliable … red Jeep. It was perhaps the best investment we had made in Vieques because although the scenery was really nice, it was an island after all and it was rather difficult to move around. So to you my dearest Betty Boop I say thank you and I will greatly miss you.

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Our last day in Vieques was rather sad because we had to leave this great place but thank god we had one last night in Vieques before returning to the cold of DC. We decided to treat ourselves to a last day at the beach so we grabbed our gear: flip flops, tower, sunscreen, bottle of water, camera and a book and we headed to the little beach in front of our house. We were surprised to meet a pirate-looking man with a disheveled appearance, but a kind face there. My initial weariness turned into curiosity as the man was drawing weird shapes the sand with two sticks and chanting to the sear. He turned out to be Charlie the shaman. Born in New York, Charlie moved to Vieques 20 something years ago and is a proud Hawaiian shaman. When we asked what he was doing, he told us he was trying to balance the elements to help body borders catch the waves in particularly furious waters. We then sat down with him and he talked to us about his practices. Charlie the shaman turned out to be an educated and eloquent speaker and his out of the box ideas weirdly made sense to me.

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By nimames

Summarizing my Spring Break experience in a mere 400 words is borderline impossible but I’m going to try and do my best to capture the best moments of this unforgettable trip.

Beach, enchiladas and pina colada

When we first arrived to San Juan, Puerto Rico we were welcomed by warm weather, light breeze, and countless of tropical palm trees. We headed straight up to the beach. From our hotel, it was a 20 minutes walk and for someone as lazy as me it was a long time. However, the beautiful scenery, the colorful colonial buildings and the incredibly nice people we asked direction to and not to mention the great company I was with, compensated the long walk. We hit a nice little beach where people sat down for a day with their families and had barbecues. The beach was rather full but we found a spot under the shade of a large palm tree and we set up to begin our tanning.

After spending nearly 5 hours in the beach playing games and realizing our different cultures had similar games but different names. For example, I realized that a game we play in morocco called psycho or assassin was similar to games my friends played in Italy and Korea. Upon returning to our hotel in Old San Juan, we called the boys and went out for dinner. We found a nice little restaurant with a Puerto Rican band playing and we ordered enchiladas, mafongos (Puerto Rican dish made of savory plantain) and other delicious dishes while enjoying the great music that made me want to dance. After finishing dinner we strolled around the dimly lit streets of San Juan, I bough a pina colada from a street stand and it turned out one of the many delicious pina coladas I was going to have during my week stay in Puerto Rico.

When walking around the old city, we heard the sound of salsa music and we soon found a group of elderly people gathered around tables playing cards and dancing to the sound of the great music. They seemed so relaxed and carefree. They seemed like they wouldn't want to be anywhere else except here. Sitting under a dim old light post at night in the warmth of the tropical island, sipping cider and dancing with their loved ones.

By nimames

The past two week have been as hectic and as expected from a midterms week but finally the most awaited week of the term came: Spring Break everyone. With a group of exchange friends have decided to go to the Puerto Rico. Believe me, the planning part is definitely not something I looked forward to since we had to manage take into consideration the opinion and preference of 10 people but it worded out just well in the end. We decided to split into groups so Johanna, Emma and I flew on Saturday at 5pm. We missed the bus that had to take us to the airport and ended up having to take a cab to the airport. Fortunately, we shared it with another man who was heading to the airport as well. Our flight had a layover at JFK and the weirdest thing happened in the middle of us eating fries when we were waiting for our plane. They had changed the gate at the last minute and did not bother telling us. We were rushing to get to gate C61 that would take us to our Terminal 2, which we had come from and hour ago, and catch our plane.

The plane that was taking us to San Juan was full of spring breakers especially one group that was particularly vocal of their excitement. I briefly wondered how the other much more mature passenger were feeling on a plane full of obnoxiously excited college students but the fatigue of the busy day I´d had coupled with the pent-up exhaustion from a particularly unforgiving midterm week, lulled me immediately to a 3 hours nap.

After a rather quick 4 hours we finally arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico at at 1am, we checked in the Hotel and immediately passed out from exhaustion. The next morning we had a big breakfast and immediately headed to Old San Juan where our hotel was. After checking in, we decided to go the beach and that we did. We walked for about 20 minutes in the sun happy not to be warning a coat, boots or gloves. When we arrived to the beach, we just had bought plenty of snacks and just layer there and enjoyed the sun, reeling in the light breeze of the Puerto Rican weather.

By nimames

Being thousands of kilometers away from the comfy and toasty cocoon of my home has made me realize something; life is a sneaky little thing ! What I mean by that is that life works in rather mysterious, often unexpected ways. One day you are perfectly content with the way your day is going. And the other, well it's not as great is you might have expected it to be. This weekend has been the combination of both. Great moments of joy and happiness shared with loved friends and moments of disappointment and helplessness. I don't mean to be a downer by any means but tonight, as I am sitting in my desk covered with books, articles, and notes, I feel pensive.

First things first ! I have spent tremendously great moments catching up with my friends. We went out to explore DC's nightlife for a much deserved night of fun. I had personally had a hard week what with discovering that the eye infection I had, hadn't resolved and has to be surgically drained. Therefore, we took matters in our hand and headed to the Sign of the Whale where we could enjoy good music with an amazing company. Saturday was a great day for a stroll in the city since the sun has finally decided to show itself gifting us a warm, sunny day. We decided to walk to Georgetown and I was pleasantly surprised to see the nice little neighborhood (it's kind of my favorite) filled with people. In fact, the streets were downright packed with lines of pedestrians that dusted off their flip flops, t-shirts and shorts so they can absorb as much vitamin D as a the day could allow.

The next day was yet another sunny day but I had the feeling that it wouldn't last. Having been here for more than month now I have learned a precious lesson: not to trust DC's weather. It can be 17 degrees Celsius and in a blink of an eye, the temperature would drop below  the dreaded 0. Granted, I wouldn't say no to (yet another) snow day but still, I have heard great things about spring time in DC when all the trees blossom and the streets are covered with pink and crimson. That is certainly something I look forward to ! I hope with all my heart that like the iPhone map, the weather forecast would be wrong about the next days to come. A snowy, chilly weather wouldn't encourage me to either tackle the dreaded amount of reading I have, nor would it allow me to see as much of the city (and the country) as I would like to. Fingers crossed !

By nimames

The past week was very eventful, to say the least. We had a snow day, the second one in the semester, followed by spending an afternoon playing the snow and rejoicing the simple pleasure of walking around the snow-covered city trying to forget about the cold.

Seeing that Monday was President’s day and for that matter a day off, we decided to took this opportunity and travel to … the city that never sleeps, the Big Apple, New York city. I begrudgingly woke up early in the morning and we headed to the bus station where we took the bus to NYC. Although I am not a morning person, I was excited for the upcoming long weekend because, well I had 5 days off and because in a mere 4 hours, I would be in the notorious, New York City. I had only dreamt of it and although it may seem that I am making a big deal out of vising a city but honestly it WAS a big deal. New York resounds in the minds of every single person in this planet as the city where everything can happen. The city with the beautiful skyline, the skyscrapers, the hot dogs and other food trucks, the Brooklyn Bridge, King Kong’s Empire State Building and so on.

The four days went amazingly well and we managed to visit the MOMA, the National Natural History Museum, Times Square, the Financial Department. We were at the Rockefeller Center in the Top of the Rock where we had a breathtaking panoramic view of the skyline of New York. We had lobster and seafood in the famous Red Lobster, we also spend quite some time strolling in an all-white Central Park. On Saturday we walked through the Brooklyn Bridge while it was heavily snowing. We walked to the Financial District where we got to see Wall Street but also Ground Zero. On Sunday morning, we decided to head downtown to West Village and we ended up walking from Soho to Little Italy and Chinatown. For our final day in New York, last but certainty not least, we decided to take the a ferry that went around the Statue of Liberty, perched in all its green splendor in the middle of the water with the background of Manhattan with its concrete and steel buildings !

Now, New York was certainly a dream come true to me and I would like to talk about some few things that I particularly loved about my stay there.First of all the people. I am constantly amazed at the diversity of ethnicities, languages, cultures there were in DC and in the US overall but NY was something different all together. In fact, it was a true melting pot where you could hear man different (and really I mean many) different languages and dialects. Some of the people were intriguing with their avant garde fashion sense and other were curious and eager to hear about a country as tiny as morocco.Second, the diversity was not constricted to the people only, it was all over. Not a part of  the city resembled another one as each had its own characteristics and traits, its own vibe and personality that you could feel when you suddenly and unexpectedly moved from one part to another. From the imposing heights of Manhattan to the frail-looking but beautiful Central Park squeezed between the thousands of tons of concrete that the city was made of.  West village and SoHo had a swaggy and Avant-garde feel to them from the colorful and worn-out buildings with the fungus covered staircases to the vintage boutiques and cozy coffee shops nestled between two blocs of brigs. Although SoHo was a tiny bit more chic what with the modern art galleries and the gourmet French and Italian bistros and Irish and English pubs. I particularly loved this part of town especially the vintage posters shops, the handmade jewelry and retailing shops that had a sort of hobo-chic feel to them where each piece was as unique as the other. We walked around for a few blocks and we surprisingly found ourselves in … China Town with all its buzzing life, weird smells and overcrowded streets.

In the end, my experience in NYC was one that I will always remember because it encompasses everything that I love about life: diversity. But it had also allowed me to spend more time with an awesome group of people with whom I had shared so much and looking forward to sharing more memories to come !

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