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By sophieheard

   It has been such an eventful fours months that it seems crazy that it’s all over! It has been a week of last celebrations, reminiscing and goodbyes. As some people head home and others move on to their next
adventures, it’s hard to accept that you’re not going to be spending every day with the same bunch of people that you have come to know and love.

Luckily, it's not a final goodbye! People may live on opposite sides of the planet but its definitely not the last time you get to see each other. The experiences you share don't disappear and the bonds you make last a lifetime. That’s the thing about studying abroad - yes you study and yes you are abroad. But it is the people that you share it all with that really make the difference.

Looking back on the semester, it has been packed with protests, parties, food, travel, learning, sport and friends! I got the opportunity to cross so many things off my bucket list! From witnessing the inauguration to participating in the Women's March and Muslim Ban Protest. Spring Break in Miami to road tripping down South! Watching the Wizards, Tar Heels and Colonials win! Being in central park during a blizzard with no one else around. Pedal boating on the Potomac surrounded by the cherry blossoms. The countless nights spent down at the Lincoln Memorial. And not to forget the more mundane nights (which are also some of the best) of cooking all together in Shenkman Hall.

Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn new things (both in and especially out of the classroom), try new things, learn what you like and don't like, travel, meet people from all over the world! It is six months that you get to attempt anything and everything - fail at some and succeed at others.

It truly has been a great time at GWU, in DC and in the US. Foggy Bottom very quickly became our home that it feels genuinely weird to be leaving. To all those that made the past semester possible - a massive thank-you! And to all those who are about to arrive - enjoy!!!!

Goodbye America - it's been fun!

 

By audrey

I think one of the best parts of exchange in DC is the access to national parks that are within driving distance whether in Virginia, West Virginia or Maryland. Being located in such a prime location on the east coast meant that hiking the Appalachian Trail is possible for a day trip and without the added cost of camping and plane tickets.

So on Saturday, the 5 of us rented a car and took a day trip to Harper's Ferry and Shenandoah National Park. Aiming to cover 2 destinations in a day was really ambitious, and to top it off, it rained while we were at out first destination so we could not do much. That being said, we decided to head off to Shenandoah National Park ahead of schedule and it was probably the best decision made that day.

Harper's Ferry is situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers where  Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia meet. It is the easternmost town in West Virginia. Driving in, you will be greeted with the sight of a quaint historical town that very much resembles colonial days and this is probably because it was an important site of the American Civil War. We took a break there from an hour's drive and treated ourselves to some food and ice cream.

While I recommend hiking up the Maryland Heights trail, we were simply not blessed with good weather.

Next stop, we drove for another hour to Shenandoah National Park via the Thornton Gap Entrance (There are four entrances but this is the nearest from DC and also intercepts the Skyline Drive halfway). With national parks, cellphone reception is always a problem so I do recommend downloading the park's map before you enter for ease of navigation (unless you're an expert at reading analog maps, which we found out that we were inept at a little too late).

Shenandoah Park is filled with many wonderful viewpoints and waterfalls but due to time constraints, we chose to do the Hawksbill Trail, which led us to the highest point in the park. Man, the view was all sorts of spectacular despite the cold and unrelenting weather - I managed to get some pictures but the cloudy backdrop didn't do it justice.

Kudos to the drivers who survived the nearly 6-hour drive, it was really not easy for them while us non-drivers simply snacked and napped at the back!

By sophieheard

As finals are finally coming to an end, it is time to think about packing up and saying goodbye! This past week I tried to make the most of the time we had left whilst finishing up the last few assignments. That’s the only problem with studying abroad. Just when you want to finish exploring you spend more time in the library than you have done all semester. Nevertheless, this week I still managed to tick a few more things off my bucket list.                               

One of which was to finally experience a baseball game. The Washington Nationals were facing off against the New York Mets and although I know next to nothing about baseball, it was still worth the experience. The game typically lasts about three hours, which considering I had no idea what was going on seemed like an awfully long time. However, like so many other American sports the game was more of an event. It was a great opportunity to sit back, eat, drink and watch the sunset over the stadium.

  

For one of our final dinners together we decided to treat ourselves and headed to Rose’s Luxury over on 8th Street. For $60 per person, you get to experience the tasting menu which included too many dishes for me to remember. I definitely recommend it as you get to sit back and enjoy as they bring you dish after dish. From the Foie Gras Tart with Hazelnut, White Chocolate & Asian Pear to the Pork Sausage, Habanero, Peanuts & Lychee Salad - all the food was absolutely to die for! You are not able to make reservations unless you are a party of six or more so if you’re going to go make sure you get there in advance to guarantee yourself a table.

  

 

By sophieheard

As we near the end of the program everyone is trying to tick as many boxes as possible off their study abroad bucket list. I had been planning to visit my friend at Swarthmore College and so this weekend I headed up to Philadelphia to explore the city and have a catch-up.

The majority of my weekend was spent on Swarthmore campus. It’s interesting to visit friends at different universities as they are always so different to what I am used to. From the acapella groups, battle of the bands, frat parties and dining halls the college culture in America is so different from back home.

As this was my second visit to Philly, I was able to skip some of the tourist sights. Heads up! If you’re planning a trip to Philly I recommend skipping some of the historical stuff (unless you’re a massive US history nerd!). Even as a history student, I still found the Liberty Bell to be underwhelming. There are also so many other interesting cultural activities to explore! Here are a few that are worth checking out:

 

Reading Terminal Market
One of my favourite food markets I’ve ever been to! Has a great selection of foods. Make sure you get a Philadelphia Soft Pretzel as they are absolutely delicious and you get served by authentic Mennonites.

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens
Indoor and outdoor art exhibition consisting of mosaic murals and alleyways. $8 for students. Great for photo opportunities.

City Hall
Located in Center City it is definitely worth checking out! Stunning architecture and an iconic building in Philly.

Philadelphia Museum of Art (and Rocky steps)
The PMA has a great selection of art; from a replica Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, one of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Claude Monet’s Japanese Bridge and Water Lilies. Even if you’re not into art it is worth a visit just to see the iconic Rocky steps (I do not recommend trying to run them!)

Food

  1. The Dandelion - for all the Brits studying abroad in desperate need of a Sunday roast!
  2. Tippling Place - doesn't look like much from the outside but the interior and the beverages are delicious
  3. Tattooed Mom - great vibe, stunning interior and a relatively cheap selection of food and drinks!

 

As Philly is a short bus ride away from DC I definitely recommend visiting during your time here!

By sophieheard

Despite Easter not being a national holiday in America we still made the most of the weekend and celebrated with food, friends and family! A friend of mine was visiting from New York so it was the perfect opportunity to explore DC whilst making the most of the holiday.

 

Although we have been in DC for the good part of four months there are still so many things I have yet to see and do. When friends come to visit it gives you the perfect excuse to be a tourist in your own city. So many iconic and historical sights are situated around the Mall and one of the best ways to see the sights is by bike. City bikes are available all over the city and for $8 you get a 24-hour pass (although, make sure you check in every 30 mins else you will be charged an extra $2 every hour). We rented our bikes at the National Mall, checked out the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Korean War Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Monument. We looped around the Tidal Basin, passed the FDR Memorial and ended up at the Jefferson Memorial.

Along with the bikes, we rented paddle boats and spent the afternoon chilling in the middle of the Tidal Basin, soaking up the sun. For only $20 you get an hour in one of the paddle boats (although, it is more if you want the electric swan!) It is definitely worth doing as it gives you stunning views of the Jefferson and the MLK Monument. Make sure you avoid weekends as you will be queuing for around an hour!

On Easter Sunday we were invited to a proper American Easter dinner. We headed up to Columbia, Maryland to a quiet suburban neighbourhood for a feast! It was our first time experiencing a true American home and it did not disappoint! After being away from home for awhile it was nice to spend some time in a familial setting. The food was delicious and dessert was absolutely to die for! It was my first time saying grace, playing catchphrase and having an American Easter

It was not a typical Easter, and yet it was nice to experience it from an American perspective. Although they do not recognise religious holidays on a national scale, they sure do know how to celebrate!

By sophieheard

As the exchange program begins to enter its final phase and people start to make plans for the summer, it hits you that you are just not ready to leave. You have made a home for yourself in the dorms of Foggy Bottom - between your routine, your friends, and late night trips to the Lincoln. However, as one exchange group gets ready to leave another is getting ready to arrive. Here are just a few pieces of information I wish someone had told me before arriving!

Transport
As most people in the exchange program are from cities with extremely efficient subway systems, the DC metro does not exactly fair well in comparison. It’s great for getting yourself from A to B but it is not something you will use on daily basis.

Do not fear! Uber in DC is ridiculously cheap that it works out better catching a ride than waiting for a subway. If travelling in groups make sure you fair split it!

Money
American bank accounts are very straightforward to set up and if you head up to Bank of America they will give you your own personalised George Washington debit card. Although a lot of students didn’t set up accounts it makes like so much easier. Exchange rates can fluctuate so it's easier to be using American dollars. Also, with an American card you can use the app Venmo and save yourself the hassle of keeping tabs.

Food
Food in DC can be expensive. However, there are cheaper ways to go about it. It is worth doing a trip early on to either Safeway or Walmart to stock up on supplies that will last you a long time. Group cooking also makes like 100 times easier. Once we had settled into our group we decided that it would be one person's turn each day of the week to bulk cook dinner. That way you only have to buy and cook once and yet get a homecooked meal every night of the week (results may vary depending on whether or not you or your friends can cook!)

Packing
Depending on the time of year you are coming to DC do not buy a whole new wardrobe for weather that may never arrive. Luckily, winter never really arrived this year and I was spared having to spend hundreds of dollars making sure I didn’t die of hypothermia. I’m just glad I didn’t buy snow boots before I arrived!

Bring two suitcases! It may be a hassle to lug from airport to airport but trust me five months is long enough that you are better off bringing more than you need. I only brought one and there are so many things I wish I had with me.

Bring toiletries! I expected toiletries to be the same price as the UK. However, they are about three times the price here. Stock up on face wipes, dry shampoo and any kind of medication you may need over the course of your time here.

Tax and Tipping
Have fun with this one! I still haven’t fully grasped how it works and it normally just ends up with a bunch of confused foreigners around a dinner table trying to do math. It’s just something you have to accept. Tax is not included in the price of anything and is typically 10% for restaurants, bars etc. Tipping varies but around 15% and 20% is fine.

Travelling
Travel within the US is more expensive than Europe. However, check out skyscanner for cheap flights (search everywhere at any time for really good deals) and you can find some good flights.

Megabus will get you up to Baltimore, Philly and New York cheap enough. Don’t bother flying or taking the train as it is so much more expensive.

Phone
Phone contracts are notoriously expensive in the US. Make sure your phone is unlocked before you arrive. Check your home providers deals for overseas use as it might be cheaper. I currently pay $27.50 for 2GB with T-Mobile (although there are some better deals).

Most importantly - just go have fun!

By sophieheard

This weekend we rented a car, hit the open road and headed down south for the great American road trip. We stocked up on snacks, blasted some Johnny Cash and began the eight-hour drive to Bristol, Tennessee. We decided on our way to stop at every random roadside attraction - from the tacky to the spectacular. First stop was the Luray Caverns, followed by lunch at the Pink Cadillac Diner, we checked out the coffee pot house and got lost looking for foamhenge.

A small town of 30,000 Bristol isn’t your typical tourist destination. Known as the birthplace of country music we were in town visiting some friends of a friend. The South fulfilled every expectation and stereotype I had hoped for. Southern hospitality, fried chicken, more churches than I could keep track of - it was a world away from DC! On Sunday we did the one thing you have to do whilst in the South - go to a shooting range. Politics aside it was something on my bucket list whilst I’m in the US. For $50 we shot everything from a 22, revolver and a rifle.

We left Tennessee and headed to Asheville, North Carolina. We only had a night in the city and as Sunday isn’t the liveliest of times in the South we decided the best way to make the most of our time was to eat our way through the city. We had the best Spanish tapas at Cúrate and Jamaican food at Nine Mile. Everyone we had encountered in our travels had been exceptionally friendly (even by American standards) and North Carolina was no different. All the staff and strangers we met told us the best places to go and wanted to know what brought us to America.

Monday afternoon it was time to say ‘goodbye’ to the South and begin the 450-mile journey back to DC. Monday night also happened to be the final of NCAA March Madness where the Gonzaga Bulldogs faced off against the North Carolina Tar Heels. As we made our way up the I-40 we passed the exit for Chapel Hill and made the split decision that this was something we didn’t want to miss. Twenty minutes until game time, we pulled in and scoured the town for somewhere to park and watch the game. The whole town was out and people were spilling out of every bar and restaurant in town. We managed to find a spot in Imbibe and took a seat amongst hundreds of other Tar Heels fans.

It was a close game from start to finish and the emotion of the crowd alternated between elation and disappointment. Within the final 30 seconds, the Tar Heels gained a 5 point lead and secured their 6th NCAA championship. The whole crowd erupted into celebration and exploded into the streets. Tens of thousands of people began pouring into the main street in Chapel Hill. People climbed up into trees, traffic lights and lamp posts. Fireworks and flares lit up the sky as frat boys carried a couch into the center of the crowd and proceed to light it on fire. It was like something out of a revolution that just by coincidence we were fortunate enough to experience.

After joining in in the celebrations it was time to head back to DC. We were only halfway to DC and still had 270 miles to go. We pushed through and finally arrived back home at 6 am. If you get the chance I highly recommend visiting the South. It was so different from DC but it helped me understand just how diverse America (and its politics) is.

By sophieheard

This week we officially said goodbye to winter and welcomed in the spring season with warmer weather and cherry blossoms.

An old friend of mine was in town for the weekend and we decided to make the most of the springtime and explore the local areas that surround DC. Old Town Alexandria is just a short fifteen-minute car journey that takes you outside DC into the state of Virginia. It still blows my mind that within such a short period of time I am able to hop between states. That is one of the great benefits of living in DC, you have access to so many different places.

Our first stop in Old Town was lunch. We headed over to Caphe Banh Mi for some Vietnamese food before stopping at Dolci Gelati for dessert. I ordered the grilled lemongrass chicken and had the cookies and cream and bacio gelato, both of which were absolutely delicious.

We spent the afternoon just wandering the streets, popping in and out of all the little boutiques and antique shops. Founded in 1749, Old Town resembles a miniature model railway town. As George Washington’s hometown the area is full of history, old red brick buildings line cobblestone paths.

 

We headed down to the waterfront and stumbled into the Torpedo Factory Art Center. In a small colonial town, I wasn’t expecting a showcase of modern art. On each floor in the factory artists were creating, exhibiting and selling paintings, sculptures and photographs. My personal favourite was Alvena McCormick, an American artist who had been painting since the age of three.

 

After a day of shopping, food and art we made our way back to DC for dinner. We hit up Jaco Taco in Georgetown and finished it off with a cupcake from Baked and Wired. As it was the first warm day of Spring everyone was out in the city and the lines for both Georgetown Cupcake and Baked and Wired were wrapped around the street. Although it is definitely worth waiting 20 minutes for a cupcake I’d recommend not queuing up hungry!

Despite having a very mild winter I am looking forward to making the most of the warmer weather before I have to return to the cold.

By sophieheard

America - land of the grilled cheese and home of the hamburger. One of the first things that pops into my head when I think of America is food … and with good reason! All you can eat buffets, bottomless brunch, unlimited refills and massive portions sizes - Americans take their food seriously!

One of the areas in which cultural differences are most apparent is food. The confusion over chips, fries, potato chips and crisps still continues. It is also the one thing that I miss the most (besides family etc.). This may come as a surprise as Britain is not exactly known for its food. But you just can’t beat a Sunday roast, Full English or Cadburys chocolate. My best friend realised the extent of my pain and ordered me Heinz baked beans off of Amazon straight to my door. One of my biggest recommendations for any future study abroad student is to bring the one thing you can’t live without. In my case, it was English breakfast tea (PG Tips to be specific). Other Brits brought Ambrosia Custard, Hob Nobs and HP Sauce. For the Koreans, it was banana milk and ramen. And I will never understand the Aussies obsession with Milo or Vegemite.

Do not despair! DC has some great restaurants, food trucks, fast food and delivery systems that you will have enough things to try and fall in love with. However, food in DC can be expensive and eating out is not always a viable option. What is great about living on campus is that you are able to pop home in between classes. I often cook lunch or grab a snack rather than eating out during the day. This is a great way to save money. However, when you need a quick bite, don’t want to cook or have run out of food there is so much at your fingertips! Here are some of my favourite options around campus;

Lazy Options: Located in the basement of Shenkman Halls you will find Potbelly, Dunkin Donuts (although not quite as good as Krispy Kreme) and the Gallery. If you are lucky enough to live in Shenkman you don't even need to leave the building to get food!

Late Night Options: If it is past ten, you want a midnight snack, or need food to end the night off then the Gallery and Carvings are open until the early hours of the morning.

Healthy Options: Roti and Sweetgreen are right next door to each other and both provide healthy options at reasonable prices. Roti is my personal favourite as you can get a healthy, fulfilling meal for as little as $7

Study Break: Located right outside Gelman library the food trucks provide you with a wide range of foods. The prices vary but they all tend to be on the pricier side and you’re looking of upwards of $10. The food is great and the portions sizes do make it worth it. My personal favourite is Rolling Cow!

DC truly is a city you can eat your way through so I am sure there will be many more posts with my favourite places and new discoveries!

By sophieheard

Nothing screams Spring Break more than Miami. Sunshine, the beach and delicious food all rolled into one week of festivities. What was meant to be a week of relaxation turned into a week of adventure. We had managed to get ridiculously cheap flights from New York and so on Monday morning we hopped on the Megabus and headed up to the city ready for our flight on Tuesday. This wouldn’t have been an issue if it wasn’t for storm Stella. On Monday night New York was hit by a blizzard and we woke up to the city being covered in snow. Everywhere in the city was closed and all the flights for that day were cancelled.

The night before the storm we met up with my friend from New York and headed to Cantina in Harlem for the best tacos and burritos! Luckily another group from the exchange program was staying in the city for the week and so we stocked up on supplies and crashed at their Airbnb for a couple nights. Stranded in New York we decided to make the most of the snow and go exploring. For the city that never sleeps, it was a rare opportunity to experience New York without the hustle and bustle. As we were headed to Miami we weren’t exactly dressed for the weather. We bundled up in as many layers that we had brought with us and headed down to Central Park. Although it was not what I had in mind when I pictured Spring Break, the city in the snow was beautiful and was worth missing our flight.

We headed to the Newark Airport early the next morning hoping that there were some spare seats on the upcoming flights. Luckily, 15 minutes before takeoff we managed to get two free tickets and were on our way to Miami! A couple of hours later, we had said goodbye to the snow and were basking in the sun on South Beach.

There was a large group of us staying at an Airbnb in South Beach. The week was spent chilling at the beach, having BBQs out back and gorging on the best Cuban food I’ve ever had. We headed over to Wynwood Walls to explore the amazing street art and decided to stay in the area to enjoy the St Patrick’s Day celebrations. If there is one thing I’ve learnt is that Americans don’t know how to do anything low-key. They had everything from green coloured drinks, food trucks, vintage clothing stalls and live music.

After a week relaxing and having fun in the sun it was time to return to reality. As our flight was at 6 am the following day we decided to not book accommodation for our final night and go the full 24 hours. We checked out at 10 am and spent the rest of the day at the beach, before returning to one of our favourite places of the trip for dinner Ball and Chain and finishing the trip off at Story. At 3 am we grabbed an uber to the airport and made the long journey back to DC.

Spring Break was exactly the adventure I expected it to be. Miami was the perfect combination of fun and culture and completely lived up to the hype of Spring Break.

 

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