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Dispatches from Abroad

View of Sydney Opera House. Photo courtesy of Ann Marie MacVey

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Ann Marie MacVey, who is currently studying abroad in Australia.

I’ll begin by noting that domestic airport protocol in Australia is definitely different.

Want to bring liquids in your carry-on? Go ahead!

Do I need my I.D. or passport? Nah, love, you’re alright.

Traveling within Australia was about as stress-free as possible (though as  an American, I began to worry that the no-I.D. thing was actually a bad thing.)

Sitting on my Qantas Airways flight, I noticed instantly the “city slicker” vibe from my fellow passengers.

Corporate men and women clad in black leather wristwatches clutched newspapers and organized into aisle seats. And there I was, a kid fresh out of the Queensland tropics, listening to “Stir It Up” in a romper and wearing my hemp flip-flops (they’re known as “thongs” in Oz).

Initially, I was keen to visit Sydney and fall back in the rhythm of a city. But after observing the gray commuters, I remembered why I wanted to leave D.C. and head for the beach. It’s easy to get caught in the fast, expensive life of an international metropolis. Pricey cab rides, foreign food, and boundless shopping are glamorous, but they can also be draining.

Sydney is no exception. It’s a mix of San Francisco’s warmer weather and steep hills combined with New York’s “melting pot” reputation.

I admired the iconic Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge, got lost in the sprawling Paddy’s Markets and soaked in the nightlife. But I found I was happiest to unwind on the sand of Coogee Beach.

My excursion to Sydney served as a firm reminder of why I opted out of a big city in the first place – to shake that hyper-competitive mindset that is linked to metropolitan life and American culture.

I found it’s better to simply enjoy Australia for the place it is, rather than the things it offers. That includes learning to love the trusting, laid-back rules at the airport, and after dealing with LAX too many times, I don’t think that will be too hard to appreciate.

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A view of a beach in Australia. Photo courtesy of Ann Marie MacVey.

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Ann Marie MacVey, who is currently studying abroad in Australia.

After vegetating on a plane for 16 hours, I emerged from a dark, metal cylinder of hibernation to a world called Australia.

A herd of us, all American students, staggered through customs, retrieved our baggage, and found our program leader at the entrance to Melbourne International Airport.

We were then tossed onto a bus and transported to the beach town of St. Kilda. We hiked rolling, green hills where I almost expected to see Gandalf’s gray hat skimming the tops of the bush. Instead we saw about 20 kangaroos watching us before bouncing away toward the sunset.

From there, we headed to a bed and breakfast in Sorrento Beach that conjured memories of “The Shining” with a white interior, lone fireplace, long corridors and unreliable Wi-Fi.

We were also enlightened with a mini-orientation explaining that while Australians have the reputation for being loud, sarcastic, and drunk, Americans have the reputation for being loud, defensive, and obnoxious.

After Sorrento we headed back to Melbourne for a night before finally heading to James Cook University (or “uni”, as Aussies call it) in Queensland. The campus is a stark contrast from GW: There are no restaurants open past 5 p.m, I have a dining hall with set meal times and a dorm where a maid cleans a couple times every week. Also,I have two Australian suitemates – one of whom is a boy.

As an art history major, I’m an anomaly here. The majority of students are marine biology. Because there are limited course options, I only have class Mondays and Tuesdays. And, man, these five-day weekends are brutal.

Despite jetlag, accepting my country’s stereotype, sleeping in a hotel where I expected to open a door and see Jack Nicholson prepared to slay me with an axe, I have fallen in love with Australia – and the thought of leaving in three months is giving me heart palpitations.

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Monday, Aug. 5, 2013 7:38 p.m.

Watching upheaval, rebirth of an Indian state

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Supporters of the Telegana separationist movement plowed down a statute of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi during protests. Courtesy of Twitter user Kapil Sibal

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Anuhya Bobba.

When I turned on the TV in my home state in India one morning last week, every news channel showed the same visual: a timer ticking down to 4 p.m.

At that hour, leaders of India’s Congress Party would decide whether to keep the state united or allow the Telangana region to split off. And in that moment, my trip back home lost any sense of normalcy.

For years, the Telangana separationist movement, which sought to split Andhra Pradesh into a two-state area, had gained little traction. But when 4 p.m. struck, the Congress Party announced it would allow Telangana to become its own state.

The public reaction was severe: Supporters of a united Andhra called for a 72-hour bandh, or protest, which closed all shops, schools and even the bus system in areas of the state. Protesters took to the streets yelling “jai samaikya Andhra” or “victory to a united Andhra.”

Within days, a dozen top officials tendered their resignation.

Telangana shares cultural and linguistic traditions with neighboring regions Andhra Pradesh and Rayalaseema, but diverges politically — it was once part of the independent Hyderabad state during British colonial rule over India.

The unrest with Telangana is not confined simply to Andhra’s borders. The movement’s success has galvanized separationist movements across India, with protests mounting in Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

The state official formation process in the coming months will likely stir upheaval and protest all around Andhra.

As the battle plays out, I will keep watching for progress or tumult from the region I call home.

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Wednesday, July 31, 2013 8:58 a.m.

The politics of Ramadan in Turkey

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This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Margaret Kahn, who will chronicle her summer experiences in Istanbul in a series of posts.

“This is why I hate religion!” I said after I realized my favorite lunch spot, Ekin Cafe, was closed for the month of Ramadan, depriving me of the Turkish egg and vegetable dish, menemen, for weeks.

“Me too,” my Armenian-Christian friend Faruk replied. But he wasn’t joking.

In Istanbul– a melting pot of ideas, faiths and ethnicities – the restaurant’s closed doors reflected not only tensions between the religious and the secular, but also the protests that rocked the city last month.

The Islamic month of fasting, Ramazan as it‘s known in Turkey, began July 7. The summertime fasting is notoriously unpleasant; in a humid and cloudless city that averages 90 degrees, fasting can be physically taxing.

This year, the Istanbul municipality is hosting a giant nightly iftar dinner, when Muslims break their fast,  in Taksim Square – the same site of the recent Gezi Park protests.

Even this iftar event was met with protest. An anti-government group known as the Anti-Capitalist Muslims hosted their own iftar 300 meters away from Taksim Square.

Yet even with a backdrop of political turmoil, the mood in Istanbul warms up as evening falls over the city. Restaurants are filled with hungry families awaiting their meals, and even those who do not practice Islam join in. My staunchly secular host mom revels over the steaming hot “Ramazan pidesi” bread delivered every evening.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend multiple celebrations. Last Thursday, I joined the Anti-Capitalist Muslims in an iftars in front of the historic Haydarpasa Terminal.

While protests would later ensue at the scene, for the time being, I was at peace. The newspaper tablecloths and potluck-style meal reminded me that a community can still be united.

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Visiting Büyükada, one of the Prince Islands near the city. Cars are not allowed so you can get around by rental bike or horse and carriage. Photo courtesy of Margaret Kahn

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Margaret Kahn, who will chronicle her summer experiences in Istanbul in a series of posts.

New York City has Times Square, Los Angeles has the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Istanbul has hamams.

The hamam, or Turkish bath, has been a centuries-old tradition shared by sultans and villagers alike – as well as a must-do tourist activity.

The catch? Don’t expect to bathe in private.

When I ventured to a hamam last week with my flatmate Marlies, I had been warned in advance about stripping down to my skivvies. When I came out of the changing room wrapped in a woven bath towel, I was met by the biggest, most naked Turkish “teyze,” or old woman, I had ever laid eyes on. (That count was previously at zero.)

Marlies and I instinctively recoiled, but the laughing teyze grabbed our arms and led us into a large marble room with a huge round slab as its centerpiece and water-filled basins on the walls. We were told to lie on our towels, then she splashed us with warm water.

The teyze then left us for 20 minutes of sweaty, pore-opening relaxation and a considerable amount of giggling between me and Marlies. I had known her for just a week, but had now seen her far more intimately than I anticipated.

When the teyze returned, she took what looked like an oven mitt and began scrubbing off the top layer of my skin.  “Look!” the teyze said as she showed off her handiwork. As 19 years worth of dirt came off my body, I wondered, what I had even been doing in the shower all this time?

She then lathered up a huge loofah and transformed me into a soapy car wash. After splashing me again, she pulled me to sit next to a basin spilling over with running water, and shampooed my hair and face.

Now that I have had a few days to recover from my up close and personal experience with the teyze – who had an uncanny resemblance to Buddha – I can confidently recommend the hamam to any other Istanbul visitor.

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This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Margaret Kahn, who will chronicle her summer experiences in Istanbul in a series of posts.

Rising Kenyon College junior Andrew Pochter left his home in Alexandria, Egypt on June 28 and began his day of teaching English to 8-year-old children. But Pochter didn’t go home that night, or to work the next morning.

Instead, he was fatally stabbed that night in a protest.

I didn’t know Pochter personally, but he was a friend of two of my close friends, and someone I had conversed with briefly on Facebook. When my friend at Kenyon College messaged me that night with the news that Pochter had been murdered, the risk we take in dangerous situations abroad suddenly hit close to home.

The dangers have also become more clear as the University canceled study abroad in Egypt for the fall on Monday and called home a half-dozen GW students from the country this summer.

I’ve spent the last month in Istanbul, another Middle Eastern metropolis currently gripped by anti-government protests and unrest. I have had many chances to protest in Gezi Park, but I haven’t gone. At the risk of sounding like a timid American tourist, making a decision that guarantees my safety is more important to me than being able to hang a tear gas-soaked bandana in my dorm room.

One GW student abroad in Egypt, Anum Malik, instead went about her abroad experience with carefree flippancy when she described the protests she attended as “haflas [Egyptian for ‘party’]” — the same kind of protests that took Pochter’s life.

Students like me, Pochter, Malik and others who choose to study in the Middle East are curious, trusting and want to break stereotypes at home and abroad. But sometimes, our naivety can do us in if we don’t balance it with a healthy sense of fear.

Of course, witnessing an historic world event makes for an amazing story.  But we must also have a somber reminder about the risks.

This post was updated July 16 to reflect the following:
Correction appended
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Andrew Pochter was stabbed in Tahrir Square. In fact, he was killed in Alexandria. We regret this error.
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Friday, May 4, 2012 2:32 p.m.

Updates from Scott, studying in Madrid

Scott Figatner at the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas bullring in Madrid. Photo courtesy of Scott Figatner

This post was written by Scott Figatner who is studying abroad in Madrid.

I was taken aback when my program director sent out an email urging students to take a free course.

“If you are interested in getting to know what will happen upon your return to the States and how to affront it, we are invited to participate in this course,” she wrote.

Unsure if she knew something I did not, I expected to be greeted upon my return home with warm hugs from my parents, a cozy room just how I left it and a dog who might have gained some extra pounds.

Now I was being told I would have to “affront” something. Will my car not start? Will I sleep badly while getting reacquainted with my old bed?

Growing curious, I clicked the link to find out more about the course. Its description read: “Psychological aspects to take into account when going back to one’s country.”

Something might happen to me after I land at JFK Airport, and it could jeopardize my psychological stability. When I thought my summer was going to be “ill,” I certainly wasn’t referring to my state of mental health.

I did not take the course.

I am still the same person I was when I left home nearly four months ago and hardly think preparations are necessary. Sure, I have some Spanish clothes and can hold a conversation with a Spaniard. I can dance a bit of flamenco, navigate the Madrid Metro system and make a proper tortilla. I can conduct a tour of the Museo Nacional del Prado, share travel directions to Seville and Córdoba and spew out the history of Spanish literature.

But at the end of the day, I am as American as ever. I still eat eggs in the morning, watch Jon Stewart and drink Coke straight out of the bottle.

If anything, studying abroad has reaffirmed who I am and strengthened my ability to deal with change. I will return home after learning some valuable lessons.

I have learned the value of a dollar is .76 euros.

I have learned that sometimes it is okay to enter a stranger’s house, which might become a home away from home.

I have learned that there is no such thing as a free lunch, but there are definitely free shots.

I have learned that there is nothing wrong with living in your parents’ home until you are 30 or 40 years old. Mom, is it okay if we put the crib in your room?

I have learned to never ever read a book about Spanish culture if it was by someone who is not Spanish.

And I have learned to never limit myself because you can never stop learning.

So even if some dubious homecoming awaits me in the States, I am sure it will be a growing experience. Though I still have my doubts about these so-called psychological aspects, I am confident that I can affront whatever happens.

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Friday, Feb. 10, 2012 2:23 p.m.

Updates from Lauren, studying in Sevilla

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This post was written by Lauren Katz, who is studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain.

Lauren Katz outside of El Catedral in La Plaza del Triunfo. Photo courtesy of Lauren Katz

Six years ago, I said “adios” to my brother Jordan as he left the U.S. to study abroad in Madrid. Ever since he returned, I have been itching to follow in his footsteps.

Now, I find myself writing this blog post from Sevilla after spending three weeks adjusting to the language, culture and lifestyle of a new country.

I chose to study in Sevilla because I wanted a smaller city that wasn’t as popular for tourists. One where I knew I’d be forced to speak Spanish. So far, Sevilla has exceeded my expectations. I have yet to speak to a single adult in English – even at the hospital for a minor foot injury – and I have fully adapted to the traditional meal schedule of a 2 p.m. lunch and a 9:30 p.m. dinner.

In just two weeks, I have already managed to see some of Sevilla’s main attractions, including the Sevilla Cathedral, the world’s third largest church; El Alcázar, an ancient Moorish palace that still hosts the royal family when they visit; and Las Setas, an architecturally amazing and innovative free-standing structure that resembles a group of mushrooms. If the rest of my semester in Spain pans out to be anything like my first few weeks, I will leave here feeling as close to a cultured Sevillan as possible.

That is, if I stay in Sevilla long enough to experience it all. Having already booked weekend trips to Morocco, Portugal and Barcelona, I doubt whether I’ll be able to truly become familiar with my “home city.” The one thing I have been told by friends of mine who have studied abroad is, “I wish I would have stayed home on more weekends.” But with my light course load, I think I will have ample time during the week to do all the exploring I might miss while I’m traveling.

My abroad experience will be different than the majority’s, though, because I have chosen to live in “La Residencia,” dorm-style housing, as opposed to living with a host family. I chose this option because I wanted the freedom I’ve become so used to back at GW. While I’m missing out on home-cooked meals and living in a real house or apartment, I have the social schedule of my choosing, can be as loud as I please and can shower at any time of the day for however long I want – many Spanish families limit their showers to five minutes.

My tiny apartment is equipped with a bathroom, mini fridge and microwave. Bunk beds and one armoire occupy most of the wall space, and I am expected to do my own laundry and hang-dry my clothes. The upside? All I have to do is open my door and walk onto a beautiful rooftop patio that sits directly beneath the warm afternoon sun. I am already counting down the days until the weather is nice enough for me to sit outside and relax on the lounge chair.

So have I fully adjusted to Spanish life, you ask? Probably not. I have, however, been pleasantly surprised at how easily I’ve been able to transition. I am looking forward to the next three months, and I already know coming back to the States will be a little bit more challenging than I had planned.

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Monday, Dec. 26, 2011 3:11 p.m.

Updates from Jennifer, back from Sevilla

This post was written by Jennifer Krems, who studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain.

Jennifer Krems in Jerez, Spain. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Krems.

A week ago, I arrived at the Sevilla airport with my suitcases overflowing with a semester’s worth of clothes, souvenirs and memories. I had booked my flight six months earlier with no understanding of how hard it would be to leave when this day finally came. With only two hours of sleep, I was a bit uncertain why the ticket agent told me in Spanish that my bags were too heavy and I might have to leave some items behind. She was very unfriendly until she learned I had spent the last several months as a resident of Sevilla. She then complimented me on my Spanish and asked if I’d be coming back. I replied in Spanish, “At least to visit, but who knows what the future holds.” Wishing I were just going home for the holidays and returning in January, I ended up reorganizing my bags and paying 100 Euros for the added weight.

Back home in Boston, I am constantly reminded of my life in Spain. It’s been hard being away from Sevilla and the close friends I made while living in Europe. One friend from Italy, who was also studying in Sevilla, reached out to a group of us through Facebook. She wrote “Merry Christmas” in Spanish, Italian, English, French and Dutch, for each of the friends tagged in the post and said, “I hope you have a great celebration in whichever part of the world you find yourself.”

I went into the study abroad experience expecting to form a strong connection with Spanish culture, but I came out from the semester with close friends across the world. It turns out Sevilla is a major study abroad destination for the European Erasmus program, which attracts students from more than 4,000 higher education institutions and over 30 different countries. I was lucky enough to form close ties with many of these students, both through classes and my internship at an international student travel and entertainment company. I was also introduced to a diverse group of Spanish and international students when I became involved in the University of Sevilla chorus.

Although oftentimes I was the only American in the room, blending in was never an issue. I never felt like an outsider, apart from one occasion when an Italian student told me I have a “typical American face” – whatever that means. But on another occasion, in Jerez, Spain, I met my friend’s grandmother who said to him, “She’s not from Spain? She looks just like us.” I suppose my face received some mixed reviews. But as I grew accustomed to European life and the culture of Sevilla, I began to feel as if I had lived there for years.

To say I was lucky to be able to study abroad in Spain, meet people from around the world and travel around Europe and Northern Africa is just scratching the surface.  What I learned from this experience and my new friends is that despite our differences in background, they are insignificant compared to the similarities we were able to discover. The next time I travel to Europe, I know I’ll have a friend nearby no matter which country I’m in. That’s a future I am happy to look forward to. And I’ll remember to pack lighter next time.

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Friday, Dec. 23, 2011 2:57 p.m.

Updates from Nicolas, studying in Paris

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This post was written by Nicolas Diaz, who is studying abroad in Paris, France.

Nicolas Diaz in front of the Hôtel des Invalides. Photo courtesy of Nicolas Diaz.

With the semester coming to a close, I can’t help but dread leaving this city and ending one of the most enriching experiences of my life. As I reflect on my semester in Paris, I have come to realize the most important part of any study abroad experience is precisely what I am facing right now – the last handful of days.

I am forced to conceptualize all the friendships, traditions and daily routines that will be physically left behind but forever attached to who I have become. My last few days here have actually come to resemble my first hours in Paris back in August. In the short time I have left, I want to take in all this city has to offer, from eating traditional French pastries even when I’m not hungry to walking through Champs de Mars at sunset just to see the Eiffel Tower for the thousandth time. I suddenly feel the need to retrace my steps of this semester and do everything I loved one last time before boarding a plane home.

But having been away for so long, I realize what awaits me back at GW will be even more meaningful. After spending this year’s spring semester in Milan followed by Paris in the fall, I am ready to bring all those lessons learned, memories created and obstacles surpassed back to D.C. I look forward to applying all that I gained from this year abroad in my one true home – GW.

Though the final stage of my Parisian semester has mainly involved studying for finals and running last-minute errands, I still struggle with the fact that Paris will no longer be another home. Learning the ways of the locals for the past 120 days and adopting them to my daily routines has been an experience to say the least, but learning about myself in a city teeming with culture, art, music, diversity and overall enlightening people has made me as satisfied as I can possibly be.

I lived through everything I had once planned for this city and so much more. Now it’s time for me to bring all those experiences back to D.C.

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