My first week of orientation at GW has came to an end and the semester officially commences next week. Last week saw my schedule packed to the brim with numerous orientation activities and the highlights for me were the visit to the US Capitol and the Monuments by Moonlight walk.
The Capitol is home to the United States Congress and sits atop the Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall. Once inside, we were greeted by wall murals and statues of presidents past. Having being born and bred in Singapore, I was unfamiliar with most of the individuals who were carved in stone (or rather, bronze and white marble). However, hearing names like Jefferson and Lincoln and standing in the same spot where they fought for rights and pushed groundbreaking policies was simply surreal. Our guide was really politically charged and always ready with a joke or a piece of political trivia to inject humour into the tour.
Besides a journey to the past, we were treated to a glimpse of the future. Preparation works were in place for the impending presidential inauguration in a week and we walked the floors soon to be graced by an incoming president. If you think structures look great in the day, you'll be stunned when you see them bathed in moonlight. During the Monuments by Moonlight walking tour, I’ve never felt more fortunate to be in GW because of its accessibility to landmarks like the White House, Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. We covered the entire journey on foot under 2 hours, including stops for monument trivia and breaks along the way. The convenience was simply amazing and I definitely foresee myself taking long walks (or even runs) along this route.
Back at home in Singapore, food is synonymous with culture. Upon arriving in DC, I was pleasantly surprised to find a huge offering of diverse foods. Having landed several days prior to orientation, my roommate took me to several cafes and showed me where to get groceries. We were extremely lucky to get reservations at Founding Farmers for Sunday brunch - the chicken and waffle was simply divine. Along downtown DC and in the Foggy Bottom district, there are many Korean and Mexican food stalls. Food trucks lined the streets in Farragut Square, creating affordable options for students. The GW Campus itself is a foodie’s dream come true and I see my previous resolve to cook regularly crumbling slowly as time passes.
We ended off orientation week with an NBA game - my very first. Washington Wizards beat the Philly 76-ers 109-93 amidst loud cries and sonorous cheers. While I had some trouble at first following the game and its scoring rules, Wikipedia took care of that in under a minute. Everyone in the stands were cheering and shouting for the Wizards — I followed suit and felt a surge of team pride even though I barely understood the game.
Well, that’s all for now. It’s time to recharge and get ready for school!
At the end of the first week in DC I finally feel settled into my life at GWU. Orientation week has been non-stop logistics, legalities and most importantly fun! Between the GW staff and the orientation leaders we were truly looked after. It was a very different experience than my previous introduction to King’s. Back home the emphasis is on independence and you quickly learn to fend for yourself. At GW all the exchange students were embraced as fellow colonials and we had our own sense of community as we figured out DC together.
It is always within the first week in a new country where you experience the biggest culture shocks. Although the US and the UK share a common history and culture, there are certain subtle differences which take some adjusting to. As a Londoner, eye contact is not something that I am familiar with. When walking the streets of DC people often look you directly in the eye and smile. Strangers on the metro, in coffee shops or restaurants, converse with you beyond the minimum level of service required. Initially, it threw me as in London people generally abide by the rule of if you don’t bother someone they won’t bother you. Americans, in general, are that friendly. They actively engage in conversation which typically begins with ‘how are you?’ and finish with ‘have a nice day’. The action may remain the same but the experience is overall a more positive one.
One of my biggest curiosities in coming to DC which I share with so many others is that of the upcoming presidency. The response to election in DC is not what I initially expected. In a district so overwhelmingly democratic I was under the impression that there would be a sense of mourning over the outcome. There are objections to the personal and political policies of Trump; however, the general energy feels optimistic. The American people have faith in their political system and accept the outcome of the vote despite the multitude of reasons not to. My understanding of the election may change over the next six months as I explore DC and America may react differently over the next four years.
DC has so much to offer beyond politics. Over the course of this week, I have explored the city through the medium of food. Every American classic you can dream of from burgers, fries, tater tots, pretzels and milkshakes in gigantic portions big enough for two. DC is a diverse city and if you are craving something different there are plenty of amazing Indian, Japanese and Italian restaurants. On my first night here we headed to Barcelona Wine Bar, a Spanish tapas restaurant on 14th street which had the best Patatas Bravas. I highly recommend going and make sure you try the Spicy Eggplant Caponata and Jamón & Manchego Croquetas.
Alongside eating my way through the city we had the opportunity to burn off the calories with some ice skating at Washington Harbor. I hadn’t ice skated since I was a little kid and was desperately hoping it was just like riding a bike. Luckily enough it was and I left unscathed with no bruises or broken bones. The finale of orientation was a Washington Wizards game against the Philadelphia 76ers. I know next to nothing about basketball but it was one of the best experiences. Three hours of whooping and booing as the Wizards won 109 to 93. Big sporting events are the epitome of American culture and between the remote control blimps, cheerleaders and junk food it did not disappoint.
My first week in DC has been a whirlwind but I have had the most amazing time meeting students from all over the globe and can’t wait to see what the next six months has in store.