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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 audrey

DC's weather has been quite the mystery - hitting the high 80s this week after a sharp dip to the 40s the week before. While I'm glad for warmer weather and the freedom to walk around without having to put on a thick coat, it has been a sweltering week. Taking advantage of this week's weather, I decided to hit a few ice cream shops that were recommended to me by full-time students and professors even.

 

The Orange Cow

This place serves premium, homemade ice cream from a food truck. I know the irony is strong in this one, but the ice cream was phenomenal - totally worth the walk in this heat. I couldn't find the exact location of the food truck online, but it's orange in colour and was along E Street. The most popular ice cream flavour was Coffee Oreo - just the perk me up needed to walk from the truck to my apartment.

 

 

Thomas Sweet

I basically chanced upon this one evening while walking home from Georgetown - there was a long line outside this shop with huge green umbrellas and that was when we knew we had to get in line (being the tourists that we were). This ice cream place had literally one of the largest flavour selections I've ever seen and they allow you to sample it (which probably explains the long line). It's located deeper in, beyond the main shopping street of Georgetown on P Street, between Wisconsin Ave and N 32nd. I got the milk cone dipped in rainbow chips while my companion got the rum and raisin (real raisins!!). They were both incredibly satisfying and I think I may go here instead of Baked and Wired for sweet treats the next time I'm in the neighbourhood.

Momofuku Milk Bar

Definitely be prepared to wait in line for this one. Located in CityCentre DC, Momofuku milk bar is the dessert branch of the ramen bar of the same name (they're right next to each other, which makes ice cream and milk shakes the perfect dessert after downing your piping hot bowl of ramen). Besides ice cream and shakes, the small storefront also sells an assortment of pastries and I highly recommend the birthday cake pops. Its most famous outpost has got to be its cereal soft serve, which is simply phenomenal because it is both soft and creamy, yet firm and crunchy. However, the prices can be steep at this location, with a soft serve coming in at seven bucks with a cereal topping, and nine dollars for a milkshake.

I know it's an indulgence, but the weather provides the perfect background to have ice cream for dessert. Side note, my exchange semester is quickly coming to an end - there are approximately 3 more weeks to finals and the end of the semester. I'd better find more places to eat/drink/explore in DC before then.

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 itsmaggiegwu

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

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

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

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

By emreceyhun

Being in a most politically live city in the world requires to be besieged by the current political thoughts. It is beautiful to be in DC when it has faced the most bizarre election in the US history. On the one hand, there is a candidate whom, while having chance to be the first female president in the US history, is representing the old political thought established and seen that it has to changed. On the other hand, there is a candidate who represents the change in the politics, but uses hate speech to get votes.

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There have been three debates that these two candidates faced with each other. However, it is clear that no candidate was perfect. No candidate has clear solutions for the problems such as foreign or social policies, but since Clinton defends the foundations of the country, most of the people around me defend her. Also, I have been hearing that people will move out the country if Trump gets elected because the US won’t be the same. At the first debate, Clinton was slightly better than Trump, which cannot create a big change in the election. However, there was a record of Trump in which he clearly humiliates women’s dignity. That could be a game-changer because he was defending himself by saying this talk was “locker-room” talk and in the debate when the topic is brought up he was claiming that he will defeat ISIS. This was a totally disaster for him, and it was really hard for me to listen that guy. I mean, I was ashamed. As opposed to that, Clinton didn’t, I think, well-strategize her policy for the Middle East. For example, she will defend a no-fly zone for the refugees. However, this was proposed by Turkey, but rejected by the USA because it is not economically possible for the USA to provide a no-fly zone in the region. Also, she seemed that she will continue doing the same mistakes that US has done in the region. Of course, most of the people can be against my statements, but I am just an outlier, and a guy who feels the US policies at home.

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If I were a US-citizen, I would vote for no-one. Many would argue that it would cause Trump to hold the office, which is I think really bad. However, I would not humiliate myself by voting to a corrupted president either.

By jarrodgrabham12

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Fast across the windswept plains of Nevada, traveling snake-like in its calm embrace, steams the Californian Zephyr. The stuff of legends, in 2016 she continues to defy her critics and captivate her admirers. She is no ordinary train. With a lifetrack spanning over 2, 438 miles (3,924km), the elegant locomotive drifts from open Oakland, California to Calamity Jane's Windy City, Chicago, on the banks of Lake Michigan.

It was onboard the Californian Zephyr I saw the New Year in. This experience reminded me of an interesting New Year's custom they have Sri Lanka. On the evening of last day of the year, apparently, every window and house in Sri Lanka is drawn open. This symbolizes the departure of the old year and the welcoming of the new. Riding the Zephyr during New Year's for me bore a resemblance to this custom: the inexorable choo-choo powering forwards scattered the bygone year across the Utah salt plains, whilst coasting into an exciting new era.rocky3

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For a three day train ride, my time aboard the Zephyr passed surprisingly quickly. Whilst sipping chilled apple juice in the comfy observation lounge, we watched the snow fall in the splendid Sierra Nevadas, eagles dare in John Denver's Colorado Rocky Mountain High whilst elk gathered in wildered bemusement at the galloping iron horse. Almost everyone I met was outgoing and willing to stop and chat. I cant say whether this was a microcosm of American hospitality in general or whether such amicable behavior was a survival mechanism that is seen when humans are forced to interact with each other in a particularly restricted environment.  Since I have been riding the rather stern and serious DC metro for two weeks, my bet is the latter. Either way, I really got my fix of human connectedness over the three day train saga.

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One group of sojourners I have fond memories of was a group of young 20-somethings that spoke with soft, genteel voices and, as we would say in Australia, smelled of hard yakka. They were old order Amish from up state Indiana. I learnt that each of them easily worked a 60 hour week, whether that be on the farm ploughing the old fashioned way with a  team of diligent arbeitspferden (work horses) or putting the final touches on an RV in a factory in Elkhart. Yet their countenance did not appear weary and worn,instead they smiled with contentment. Dissimilar from their contemporaries, they were not selfishly submerged in a psychedelic trance of ipod listening, ipad lunging and iphone lounging. On the contrary, they sat in neat rows on the upper level lounge playing Rook, a family card game, chuckling like innocent children when a break through in red or green cards was reached. Occasionally, one could sound out a smattering of Pennsylvanian Dutch here or there, when they felt it was appropriate to speak their 17th century tongue without drawing too much attention. My short visit with Ervin Schrock, who invited me to visit his farm sometime, with Norman, Raymah, Grace, Lavern and Kevin, was like I had joined the Dr. on a Tardis trip back to a simpler and more holistic era when technology took a back seat to human interaction and deep Rook-inspired belly laughs.

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If an author ever runs short of character ideas, they should book a seat aboard the Californian Zephyr. The number of fascinating people I met, each with their own quirky style, accent, humor and behavior could rival Debrett's guide to the peerage of Great Britain. There was my seat mate Robyn, who was on a 15 day train journey, circumnavigating the US in search for new ideas and inspiration; Colchee, a woman from Chicago whose ninety year old mother, she assured me, was well known in Illinois, and rubbed shoulders with Obama and Rev. Jackson; Tom the lower level lounge attendant whose PA system voice bore a striking resemblance to Rev. Lovejoy from the Simpsons and who could forget Tad, the self proclaimed 'bootlegging redneck' from Fredericksburg, Virginia, who was more robot than man, having been run over by an excavator last year. Tad dwells on a diet of noodling (catching fish with his bare hands), fixing moonshine like the "good 'ol days" and attending a restaurant chain associated with the onomatopoeia of owls, whose waitresses, Tad assured me, "th'all reel pruety".

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As the Zephyr chugged its way into Union Station, Chicago, vivid nostalgia came over me. This had been my home for the past few days and the meeting place of life long friends. I had laughed until I cried, cried until I laughed (at how expensive the dining cart bills) and overall had the time of my life.

Take my advice: take the train.

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By baharmahzari

3932 miles - That's the distance from Maastricht, which is located in the Western part of the Netherlands, to Washington D.C..

A more pictorial illustration of the distance between these two places in the Atlantic Ocean separating Europe from the Americas.

But this distance is not only a geographical feature, but also a portrayal of the differences. There is a reason why the United States of America are referred to as the 'New World' while Europe represents the 'Old World'. There are shared experiences and many similarities, but the overall perception of the world differs. It is a 'New' view challenging an 'Old' perspective. Maastricht and D.C. are two cities, which perfectly embody this dynamic. But before coming back to this unique dynamic between the ‘Old’ and the ‘New’ , I should probably introduce myself:

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I am Bahar.

21-years old.

Born in Germany. Being blessed of growing up in the beautiful city of Cologne.

Rooted in Persian culture with both of my parents being from Iran.

Living and studying in the Netherlands currently – Focusing on International Relations and International Law.

Personal Maxim: The easiest way of falling in love with a country and its people is through the national cuisine – ergo: Food means Peace.

 

A historical city as Maastricht, which was already well-know due to its strategic location by the Romans as "Mosae Trajectum", is a perfect representation of Europe as the 'Old World'. Strolling through the narrow alleys and passing the historical monuments still preserved from the Roman Empire generates the atmosphere as if time has stood still. As a student of Maastricht University such atmosphere can also be found in the old university buildings with some of them dating back to the 15th century. One of these is the Niuewenhof monastery, which serves as a place of education and learning to all University College Maastricht (UCM) students – myself included.

The Liberal Arts and Sciences curriculum paired with the European 'Old View' has a tendency to look back. Learning from past experiences, ancient philosophy and historical events is core to the educational agenda of UCM. Kant, Nietzsche, Aristotle and Plato are always present in the tutorial rooms and lecture halls - only figuratively speaking of course. And sometimes this 'Old View' concerning education is carried through at the expense of reconnecting with practical reality. At that moment, innovation and fresh ideas are what one seeks after or simply said a 'New View'. This basically sums up my expectations for my upcoming semester at GW: innovative ideas, new perspectives and inspiring insights. I have been looking for a paradigm, which does not directly stem from the European experience, for quite some time now. My semester abroad at GW could be the chance to dip into a new paradigm and see the world events from a different perspective. US politics, culture and lifestyle do differ from the European one. Although, Europeans initially founded the United States the way of how they saw the world and how they wanted to live differed. The value of liberty is a cornerstone of the US’ moral basis. Liberty in the American sense is interpreted in a very different way than in Europe. After having lived in the US (Concord, New Hampshire) for almost a year during my time as a high school student, I perceive the current American idea of liberty to be more absolute, more emphasized and very emotional.

Such difference is not only mirrored in major societal and political structures, but also in the education system and in what is learned. I want to experience that. Learning about the world from another perspective will not only broaden my horizon, but it will also allow me to understand others and defend my own point of view in a much more sophisticated way.

My expectations seem to be very abstract, but put into simpler terms it is all about experiencing something 'New'. It is true that I have already experienced daily life in the US. However, my 16-year old me has very little to do with 21-year old Bahar. The high school experience cannot be compared to academic life at GW. And most importantly, I have clear goals and somewhat of a plan in my mind this time. 6 years ago I visited the US as a curious and naive world traveler and fell in love with the country and the people. I became a different person throughout my 1-year stay in little Concord, New Hampshire. Now I am going back to the States with a clear vision in mind of what to expect. I would still call myself a world traveler, but I’m not naive anymore and I have plans. This blog will provide me with a platform to remind me of these plans and allow me to share them.

Me, 21-year old Bahar, is in urgent need of inspiration and the best way to find it is by changing locations and diving into new cultures. GW is the first step towards fresh inspirational inputs. DC is the perfect place for me to elaborate on innovative ideas. The US will provide me with the ‘New’ that I so desperately need at the moment.

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