Every experience is rewarding in a different way. Some are purely learning experiences, where the knowledge of a new technical skill or the understanding of a process is made. Others are focused on the experience itself, about being in the moment and having a good time. Both are valuable, and both help to further develop you in many different ways. My time in DC was a learning experience for sure. Although I have always been interested in taking part in politics, I had not previously done so. Most of my knowledge was from having the news on in the background or from seeing what was going on while reading online newspapers. I wasn’t actively seeking out what was happening on a day to day basis. Living and working in DC, I learned how important it is to stay informed. In order to stay connected with what is going on, it takes effort to follow stories and the knowledge of how to do so. Learning the sources that the people working in politics go to in order to find out accurate news and how they kept up with multiple sources at a time helped me to overcome the initial challenge of being fully aware of what was happening in Washington.

My time here has also taught me to be more critical of what I hear and to always think about both sides of every issue. I like to think about this as not only being applicable when listening to information given by the media, but also in everyday situations. When talking with people, their side of things is always as important to listen to as your own. You have to respect other people’s views because you can never know exactly through what lens they are viewing things through. Even if you try to relate with people, it is an individual’s own experiences that shape how they view the world. It is important to recognize that and try to understand as best as you can.

If there were one recommendation I would give to NYU DC, it would be to have everyone work the same number of hours a week at their internship. Because there is such a high variation in the number of hours people work, teachers cannot accurately assign levels of work that is accommodating for the whole class. Some people chose to only work a few half days a week, while others chose to work almost full time. For me, working an average of 30 hours a week was a much bigger task than my classmates only handling 15 hours. When we are all getting assigned the same amounts of work, I think it hurts those that either chose or were required to work longer hours. Although I appreciate the freedom to have control over my work schedule, I do think it would be better for NYU to establish a reasonable number of hours that way student’s academic work is not negatively impacted.

The most rewarding aspect of my time spent in Washington was seeing how much I accomplished over the semester. I had never thought of myself as someone that would be interning on Capitol Hill, especially in the actual Capitol. Realizing that this was something I wanted to take a chance on to see if I liked it was intimidating at first since I knew I had very little working knowledge of Congress. Watching myself accomplish the goals I had set for my time here and learn a ton about something I knew fairly little about taught me about my own perseverance and strength. I now look forwards even more to what the future holds for me.

My Helpful Hints

My Helpful Hints

Tips and tricks are often given for students planning on studying away at an international site. New cultures and customs can make life there difficult, and at times it can even seem impossible to navigate, but people rarely give tips for others traveling across a few states. Staying in the same general region of the country, no one really gave me tips for moving from New York to Washington besides a few good restaurants I should try to go to. I have learned a lot this semester through being challenged and pushed beyond by comfort zone, and the tricks that I have complied to make my life easier here may help someone in the future. Whether just considering whether this city is the right place for them, or just wanting to know what to plan for, I hope my advice can provide guidance and recommendations for the most successful time spent in D.C.

The first step someone should take when considering whether or not to study in D.C. is to evaluate their reasons for going. Almost everyone that comes here comes with the intent to pursue an internship opportunity that is not available to them in New York. For many of us this semester, that meant Capitol Hill. With every upperclassmen in the program holding an internship along with classes (granted there are only around 40 of us), we are bound to run into each other at some point. I remember my surprise when I ran into my classmate that lives across the hall at a briefing in one of the House office buildings. But working while also being a student is difficult, especially in a office where working until 6 or 7 can be expected. When you have students that are all working in politically affiliated offices, taking classes surrounding various political topics, and are living in the nation’s capital, the environment gets focused on politics 24/7. And if you are interested in politics, then you will love it. Even outside of work and class you will often find students debating one another about the validity of a certain candidate or on a vote that took place on the Senate floor that day. But if politics isn’t your thing, then you’ve been warned.

For someone already planning on coming to D.C., I would say that the most important thing is to already have established what you want to get out of your experience here. There are a ton of highly connected people here, but it is easy to get stuck in a routine and not take advantage of the opportunities around you. If your goal is to get recommendations for your future internship/job hunt, then make sure to take advantage of the chance to impress those that can put in a good word for you later on. If you want to get connections because you plan on returning to Washington, use your office, as well as NYU, to meet people that you can start building relationships with. NYU has a vast network of alumni working in D.C., and simply asking to be connected with some people could lead to a close relationship down the road. Networking is part of the culture here, but it doesn’t have to be formal. Most people are willing to grab a coffee with you during the week, which is a good chance to learn about what they do and to ask them for advice.

Many of the tips and tricks that help make living here more enjoyable can be learned early on, but if you came here for the wrong reasons, or end up missing out on what the city had to offer you, then they won’t help in the end.

China Road

China Road

Here I might compare both travelogues I read during our course this semester: the former namely J. Maartin Troost’s Lost on Planet China; the following namely Rob Gifford’s China Road. Whereas Troost reckoned with his experience abroad from the viewpoint of an unapologetic foreigner, both Gifford’s education in Chinese culture and fluency in Mandarin enabled China Road to resemble more of a ground-level, pith-helmeted ethnography. Indeed throughout his roadtrip Gifford would rub shoulders with busmates or hitchhike with Persia-bound teamsters. Hence whereas Troost’s cluelessness paired with his stand-up personality conduced entertaining situations, say, among Chinese prostitutes at karaoke bars, Gifford could sit down in privacy with those same prostitutes for a frank airing of grievances about Chinese morality and modernization.

Among the most interesting interviewees included those of the Uyghur minority from borderline Kazakhstan, whose weariness of China’s land exploitation and minority brutality reminds Gifford of the same in the United States. Just as Gifford refers to Chinese appropriation of the Uyghur lifestyle not unlike commercialization into shopping centers and theme parks, so too Marxist intellectual Slavoj Žižek critiques China’s “American-style socioeconomic transformation” of Buddhism whereby the Chinese marketize “Lhasa into a Chinese version of the Wild West with karaoke bars intermingled with the ‘Disney-like Buddhist theme parks’” (Žižek, par. 6). The private exchanges with locals enables Gifford to bring focus to their grievances against such colonialism and occupation, let alone critique the hypocrisy of China’s officialdom perhaps equally opinionated against imperialism otherwise.

Indeed for Gifford since China has wrestled with an inferiority complex following their humiliation versus Western superpowers, a lot of the infrastructural development throughout China bespeaks self-conscious, aspirational overcompensation to meet images of modernity from the reverse face of the globe. Gifford offers imagery of China’s transition from the kowtow to the air kiss within no more than a century. Perhaps among Gifford’s descriptors most relevant to me includes the comparison of present-day Shanghai with 1920s-era New York City. Yet whereas the immigrants fresh off the boat into New York City hailed from the old world to restart anew, Shanghai’s influx traceable to innermore China consists of refugees at work to modernize China’s old world into the new.

Here Gifford spells out the hesitancy towards China’s exponential growth rate whereby for instance although China’s industrialization wreaks havoc upon the environment, worldwide reliance upon China’s booming economy entails that nobody can afford for China to no longer consume at the current rate. This entails for Gifford the contradiction whereby the world wants China to stabilize and flatten out on the one hand and continue like so on the other. Gifford concludes with the recent movement to rediscover China’s essential heritage, contrary to the Maoist program to rid China of the old. Whereas Mao talked about the blank parchment of China’s people whereupon to inscribe socialism, the present-day situation bespeaks that China’s people strive for both the rediscovery of ancient Confucianist teachings and the self-sovereignty to inscribe that parchment themselves.

Goodbye Shanghai...

Goodbye Shanghai…

Wow, I cannot believe I’m already leaving Shanghai tomorrow. How is this possible? It seems like just yesterday I was packing to come here, or even when I was reading other travel blogs about study abroad, trying to imagine what my experience would be like… how does it all happen so quickly? It is amazing how quickly experiences flash before your eyes, in one moment you cannot fathom yourself in some future situation, and in the next you are already leaving.

Now in the middle of packing my bags and finishing up finals, I’m already thinking about my next big adventures… thinking about exploring Beijing with my dad and sister, heading to India with my boyfriend, finally seeing my mom again in New York, and settling into my new studio. But what hasn’t really hit me is that my time here in Shanghai is over, and I may never return.

I think I will spend a few minutes properly understanding how much I will miss Shanghai. Although I’m eager to get back to my life in New York, as my time here has felt like simply a pause on my life back home, I need to think about how much has happened here, how much I have changed, and how much I will miss.

I won’t be able to practice my Chinese anymore, this will probably be the best I ever am at speaking Chinese, I know I will lose it with time. I won’t be able to get steaming hot dumplings and rice right off the street or drink alcohol wherever I want. There will be no more crazy construction stories, no more silly times in the cab trying not to get ripped off, no more smile of “I have no idea what you’re saying” almost anytime I speak. I won’t be able to speak loudly on the subway about anything, and I probably won’t be back in China for a long time, or maybe ever.

Although I’m looking forward to heading home and experiencing new things, I just know one day when I’m trudging through New York snow feeling miserable and cold all over, I will miss China.

And it is so friggin awesome to know that I have all these memories earned and lessons learned here that I will never forget. I went to China for four months!! That truly is an experience I will have for the rest of my life. So thanks China, for taking me in, showing me an amazing time, and keeping me safe. Thank you for the times I will remember forever. Goodbye Shanghai, hope to see you soon!

Tips and Tricks of Shanghai

Tips and Tricks of Shanghai

Hello to anyone thinking of studying abroad in the one and only Shanghai! I would say this has been one crazy experience, and one I would recommend if you have the spirit of adventure and are looking for a study abroad experience you will remember for the rest of your life.

Shanghai is the perfect place if you are looking to actually use a language other than English, as most people you will interact with here only speak Chinese. But never fear! I came here with absolutely no Chinese, but am leaving being able to communicate basic information, have small conversations, and generally get around without too much trouble! It Doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment, but I am simply amazed with the amount I have learned in these four months, I didn’t believe it was possible. If you are a study away who knows no Chinese, I would recommend Conversational Chinese, it is a fantastic class that allows you to learn more than you would think possible. When it comes to speaking, use it loudly and use it often, as long as you deliver with a smile. People here are excited you are speaking any Chinese at all!

Beyond the language, make sure to make friends with the portal students. They can tell you where the NYU Shanghai hangouts are and where you can find some of the cool foreigner areas. However, make time to bond with the city and explore it yourself. Although it is sometimes inconvenient, Shanghai is loveable if you are willing to experience the good stuff. Don’t be afraid to eat street food, go to the fake market, check out all the tourist spots in the travel book they give you and look for new places too.

My absolute favorite part of the city is Tianzifang, not to be missed. If you’re looking for food around the AB and you can’t find any, head to Red Lobster or Century Mall (neither of those things are what they sound like… ask the portals and you will understand).

The one regret I have is not becoming more involved in things outside of school. NYUSH is sometimes a bubble, so get an internship even though they have to be unpaid or volunteer your time to something awesome within the city. I promise you in the long run it will be worth it.

Good luck and have fun potential NYUSH study aways, show China patience and you will always be happy 🙂

Just a Small Town Girl...

Just a Small Town Girl…

As I walked through the mud between two construction sites on either side of the road, almost getting hit by three motorcyclists, one car, and seven people I realized something: sometimes, I f**king hate Shanghai. Sometimes Shanghai is smelly, sometimes it is too inconvenient, sometimes it is too big and too loud and sometimes I want spaghetti to actually taste like spaghetti instead of fermented tomatoes, plastic, and Chinese noodles.

But about four seconds afterward I had another, more meaningful realization: it’s okay, and more than that, it’s expected. While I had come to China expecting to love every second of my experience, feeling incredibly lucky to be so far away, aiming to distance myself from the small-town American girl I was back home, I realized that’s impossible. No matter where I go, I will always be American. Even if I give up my citizenship and live in a different country for the rest of my life, my kids may not be American, but I still will be. I cannot run away from who I am or what defines me, and my realization was that I don’t have to.

There are things about America that I absolutely love and hope to never give up. I love Christmas, big, huge, giant, amazing, family-filled bright-lights Christmas. I also love so much the convenience of living in the States, and being in a culture in which I feel completely comfortable. America will be the only place in which I feel 100% comfortable, where I don’t have to think about what I’m supposed to do or how I’m supposed to behave for even one second.

I’ve realized while in China, I still sometimes want Christmas or still sometimes want spaghetti. I’ve realized that I am no less “cultured” if I sometimes act like a Westerner, because I am one. Furthermore, being who I am doesn’t stop me from doing certain things that Shanghainese people do on the reg. I eat street food with the rest of them ordering all my meals in Chinese, buy my shoes from the fake market after bargaining like crazy, and squish into the subway almost every day. I deftly avoid steamrollers and cars and scooters and people, can spit at quite a distance now, and am perfectly capable of peeing in a squatting toilet.

Living here for four months has been an experience I will remember for the rest of my life, and it is amazing to know that small-town Miranda fits into the Shanghai life quite nicely…. (most of the time)!

Units of Closure

Units of Closure

I almost prefer the earlier blog prompts assigned with reference sources because lately without the departure point of that literature I can hardly muster anything to write about. It seems the unremarkable circumstances of my daily living can inspire me to say far less than can critical literature having already reckoned with ground-level accidents of living. Instead of the primordial lived experience of subjectivity so-called the visceral, unreflective immersion of being-there, I noticed from the blogging process my observational detachment from daily living insofar as my preference to withhold my instincts and biases from carving up everything in advance of sober deliberation. Hence I tend to be quite unopinionated unless I can articulate my thoughts from beginning to end. That I prefer to negotiate the perspectives of the literature I reckon with rather than my own should be hardly any surprise. I realize of course the entirety of myself can never be fully self –present and –transparent because nobody can rationalize every contingency of themself beneath their consistent self-understanding. Yet I still criticize myself for the inconsistencies and dissonances of the few convictions I let myself embody.

If anything the demand to square and align my experiences into the templates of the blog prompts entailed that I carve up my overall experience abroad into concept-laden meanings instead of an undifferentiated, boundaryless manifold. In particular for this farewell post I have to parse my experience abroad into units of closure. For me the most rewarding of my experiences abroad have been apropos of the people I met among my on-campus peers as well as my faraway relatives whom I hardly ever visit. Given lately my improved fluency in Mandarin I can at least somewhat communicate with them. Doubtless I intend following my homecoming to resume communication both with my relatives here and with the peers I connected with over the past few months. Although I decided against another semester of the Mandarin program, I plan of course for continued maintenance of my Mandarin because after all I planned to study abroad here both for the valuable asset of subfluency in Mandarin and for the cross-cultural lens onto my studies.

Indeed since I expected the demand for Eastern-literature Americans to ensure the future value of graduates educated like so, I intended for my Gallatin concentration to be a cross-cultural comparative project between my Chinese ancestry and my interest in media and communication theory grounded in the Western tradition. I intended to fill in the blanks of neglected Eastern thought within the Western humanities. Although for sure throughout my schoolwork this semester I negotiated these antipodal traditions, I cannot profess myself to have fallen in love with this cross-cultural comparative project I intended. If anything my negotiation of these traditions has only enabled me to apprehend further dimensions of my motherland tradition—namely, of the West—from unexpected angles had I never approached my studies from here in the East. Since next semester I plan to supplement my studies with Professor Harkness for further inquiry, I can continue to sharpen and solidify my concentration in accordance.

After my formal responsibilities can be forgotten after an exam on Thursday, I plan to move in with family for a month until my homecoming. Hence my feelings about closure to the semester may be different from those of my peers. Instead I can express my delight to be immersed here across the globe for another month. Yet to be honest I look forward, as soon as I return home, to marathon the films I have to miss and have missed during my stay in Shanghai.

Washington, DC, at Night

Learning About Myself

Living in Washington, DC, has taught me a lot about myself. The struggles of day to day life are much different than what I experienced while living in New York City, though some of the same problems do persist. The NYU building here creates an interesting environment that I will probably never experience again. With classrooms and dorms located within the same structure, there is a constant battle between relaxation and academics. Balancing an internship along with 18 credits worth of classes has taught me more about what does not work than what does. My actual internship has matured me and informed me more than I would have ever been able to do on my own. I initially did not think that moving from New York to DC would be a big change, but spending a semester here has shown me how different two major American cities can be. Comparing it to my home city of Dallas, the differences between all three are even more prominent. My ability to adapt and thrive in different environments will help me for the rest of my life, teaching me the importance of recognizing and accepting differences within a whole body.

I do not think I would have had nearly the same experience here if it had not been because of my internship. As an intern for Senator Harry Reid, I got an inside look on how our Congress functions. Near the end of my internship, I would always find myself having these mini self-realizations as I was leaving work. The low murmur of voices, the brisk air on my face, and the night sky lit up by the capitol building—the setting alone was practically begging me to have an “Aha!” moment as I walked down the steps of the capitol.

These moments that I experienced were less about me realizing my grand purpose in life or anything like that, and were more about me realizing what I was accomplishing and what I had learned. If someone had told me 5 years ago that this would be my life in 2015, I would have had some serious doubts. I did not show any real political interest up until recently, which even has surprised myself. It is interesting to reflect upon my own mind’s response not to being introduced to a new topic, but to being submersed into it. The political world, although functioning for the general public, has a set of goals different from what you will find from those outside of it. Every policy can carry vast consequences, which creates an air of intensity around every vote. This semester has shown me that I do not have the same goals of those working there to enable me to devote all my time to the life of someone else. Seeing the devotion that employees have within the office, some working the same place for over 20 years, made me really consider whether or not I would be willing to do that for someone. The struggles that come with serving in the public sector had to be considered as well.

Throughout life, learning what you don’t enjoy doing is just as valuable as learning what you do enjoy. For me, my internship experience helped me understand the type of workplace that I best thrive in and the type of work that I feel most fulfilled doing. Even though it did not necessarily narrow down my interests, it did help me understand how I think and approach assignments compared to others. Knowing myself better helps me better understand others, enabling me to work better with the world around me.

Everything Went Wrong

Everything Went Wrong

Misadventure happens to the best of us. Sometimes all the preparation in the world can not help us avoid a mishap. These hiccups that often happen while traveling can feel like major setbacks. In the moment, a missed flight or a wrong turn can feel like it will throw your entire day out of motion. Mix in the stress of traveling to an unfamiliar place, and that feeling only intensifies. What I find most frustrating about mishaps that happen while traveling is that a lot of the time, the problem is out of my hands. I can understand if I cause something to go wrong, but when it has nothing to do with my actions and I am forced to rely on the strangers around me, that is the hardest.

My most recent mishap happened while taking a bus from DC to New York City. I was heading up for the weekend to visit friends in the city, and having had a positive experience earlier in the semester, I figured it would be a smooth trip like last time. I should have known from the start that things were bound to go wrong.

Arriving early to Union Station so I had time to grab dinner and then get in line for the bus, I felt ready for the 4 hour trip ahead. Typically, people begin to get in line about an hour ahead of the departure time, with boarding starting 30 minutes before departure. For my trip scheduled to leave at 4pm, I got in line at 3pm and was surprised to see that a few people were already in line. Having stood in line for around 20 minutes without a bus in sight, I started talking with the people in front of me that looked equally distressed by the lack of a bus. I soon found out that they had been scheduled for the 3:15pm bus, but had been forced to take a later trip because it had been overbooked. It was unsettling to learn that there were problems with the previously scheduled trip, yet it was somehow comforting to have other people there with me in a similar situation. By the time it was 3:45pm I started to get really concerned. This was the first time I was taking the bus on my own and I knew that I wouldn’t know what to do if the bus did’t come. To my relief, the bus came right at 4pm and were on the road a few minutes later.

Unfortunately, the hour late bus was representative of the trip as a whole. As I was putting my stuff in the bins overhead, a man walked by with a large backpack that had locks hanging off the zippers. My back turned to him, the locks caught in my braid and pulled me by the hair as he continued to walk down the aisle, completely unaware. Then, as I was walking down the aisle back to my seat, the driver slammed on the brakes. The forceful stop pushed me forward, throwing my knee straight into the corner of a chair. To top it all off, the trip that was supposed to take 4 hours dragged on for 6 slow hours because of traffic.

This bus ride to New York was unenjoyable to say the least, but despite all of the unfortunate events that happened, arriving to be with friends in the city made me feel like it was all worth it. I wouldn’t say that I learned much from this experience, except maybe patience, but I do feel like misadventures such as this are an undeniable part of life.

Hasta Luego Madrid

Hasta Luego Madrid

So this is it. The end. El fin. The closing remarks. The final hoorah you might say. I’m in the home stretch with one more essay to turn in and my last final tomorrow, my time here in Madrid is coming to a close. When I first signed up for this course I thought, “ok awesome, at least now I’ll be getting some Gallatin credits while abroad and (hopefully) a good grade.” However, it turned out to be a much more significant experience than that. The Art of Travel course forced me to sit down weekly and reflect on my experience and everything I’ve been confronted with here in Spain, it’s provided me an outlet with which to express my thoughts and feel a sense of creativity that are generally lacking in language courses. Reflection is something that I really have been trying to work on, but it’s difficult when you get caught up in school work, jobs, financial stress, your social life… It just feels as though there isn’t enough time in the day. I’m grateful that this course has given me an outlet to look back on my experience and realize it wasn’t as terrible as I thought.

Not to toot my own horn or anything… but I’m proud of the progress I’ve made this semester. My Spanish language skills have increased much more than I thought they had and looking back… I’ve done a pretty damn good job considering everything. I’ve struggled with some personal issues while being abroad and while it’s kind of scary to see that reflected in my blog posts over the semester, I find it extraordinarily interesting. This is a little heavy, but this semester I had to start taking depression and anxiety medication, something that is unfortunately all too common for American university students, but the weird thing for me was that I wasn’t in America? I was in a laid back country with an easy going attitude towards life, I couldn’t figure out why I felt this way? Reading my previous posts, I see the progression of myself from the super happy optimistic bubbly girl cracking cheesy jokes that I began this semester as, to a less happy girl using even cheesier jokes to thinly veil pessimism and the fact that I wasn’t satisfied with my abroad experience, to not even trying to be funny or optimistic (sorry if those posts were dull, at least they weren’t sharp… like cheddar… because my jokes are cheesy…. Ooof that was rough).

In the past few weeks however, I’ve realized what an incredible experience this has been. I mean we all just lived in a completely different country with a completely different language for five months and although a lot of college students do go abroad, very few are fortunate enough to break out of their comfort zone. Yes, this was scary and difficult but it was absolutely amazing and definitely worth it.

I go back to Texas on the 31st of December, leaving from Madrid mid day and touching down state-side a couple of hours before the New Year. I’ll celebrate with my friends then spend the first few days of 2016 with my family before heading off to New York for my last semester of college. Hopefully I’ll get a job after graduation, and life will move on. I may lose some of my Spanish language skills (although I’m trying to get a part time job teaching Spanish and English next semester so hopefully this isn’t the case), and I’ll eventually reset my internal clock to the New York City pace of life… no more dinner at 11 pm and a siesta from 2 to 5… and I probably will never drink a decent 1-euro bottle of wine on a regular basis ever again…. But I know for a fact that I’ll never forget my time here in Madrid, the people I’ve met, the struggles I faced, the knowledge I gained, and what the cities means to me. I know I’ll return again some day soon so it’s not adios, but hasta luego Madrid.

Ben's Chili Bowl in 2009 by mamojo

Favorite Food Spots

I feel as though my time at NYU’s Washington Square campus really spoiled me in terms of great restaurants. With tons of options no matter what part of town you are in, it is hard to find a bad meal. Before coming to DC, I had not given its array of restaurants much thought. When I think of DC, I typically think of politics or art, but not food. To my surprise though, this city has some lovely spots that are too delicious to keep to myself. From a French bakery, to some farm to table home cooking, to even an all American chili joint, this city is filled with some not so hidden gems that are not only satisfying to the palette, but have unique atmospheres as well. Trying out new restaurants with friends is a fun way to escape the all work no play atmosphere that can take over the city during the week.

Located right down the street from the NYU building, PAUL is a French bakery over 120 years old that is known for its fresh bread that is baked daily through traditional methods. Besides their wide variety of loafs, they offer sandwiches, coffee, and delicious pastries. Although PAUL has many locations all over the world, it feels like a cozy yet modern shop, a perfect place to study if you like the hum of a calm, public space. When I have a lot of work to do I like to take time to head down the street for a fruit tart and a coffee.

Our nation’s Founding Fathers understood the need for a country that provided basic civil liberties for all people, but Founding Farmers understands the need for quality food straight from the farm. A co-op-owned restaurant, over 40,000 family farmers of North Dakota supply the kitchen. And trust me, you can taste the difference. Perpetually crowded, there is a wait even if you have a reservation. They have three locations, but the one in central DC is by far the closest to me. My two favorite things to order here are their chicken and waffles and their fish and chips. Both are equally delectable and make you feel like you are having a real meal made up of true comfort food. For dessert, the beignets are a must, they come piping hot with three different dipping sauces. For me, Founding Farmers not only makes me feel good about eating there because they support the family farming industry, but their food is satisfying and comforting as well.

When you hear that a president favors a restaurant, you know it must be good. Establishing itself in DC in 1958, Ben’s Chili Bowl has become an iconic staple for locals and tourists alike, even receiving visits from President Barack Obama. Obviously, their speciality is their chili. A simple place, Ben’s Chili Bowl has a straight forward menu that focuses on what they are good at. Their chili is made with a secret family recipe that they won’t share with you even if you ask (and I have). It does not have any fancy additions or crazy flavors to it, but instead, tastes like the kind of chili you hope your great-grandmother once made. Perfect for cooler nights, it is easy to see why it is a DC tradition.

While DC never seemed to me like a city that would suit a foodie, I have had the chance to try some really great spots that have helped me to understand the flavors of the city.  For me, experiencing the popular restaurants and cafes of a city supplements my knowledge of the culture that exists there and helps me to see DC through the eyes of the locals.

Keep On Living

Keep On Living

I’ve taken my final flight of the semester and I’m finally home. After following my posts you may assume that I couldn’t be happier. Everyone here is asking how my trip was and “What is the one thing you learned?” “Do you think you feel different?” And every time I answer they say “Huh, interesting…” Like it isn’t profound enough and I failed them. But whatever, it’s important to me and it’s brought a lot of clarity to my life.

Studying abroad has taught me that people matter more than experiences. This past semester I had the opportunity to do and see so many things, and they were awesome, but it would have been so much better if I was with the people that I really care about in my life. I was fortunate enough to have one of my best friends with me for most of my travels and there were some things that I feel I got the most out of because I was alone. But I still spent a lot of my time missing certain people and wishing they were there to be with me. Some times I would be out experiencing whatever city’s nightlife, but I would have rather been at any shabby bar back in New York with my friends. It kind of makes me feel guilty that I’m not grateful enough for what I got to do, but when it comes down to it, why should I feel guilty for loving people?

However I still loved this past semester and I am so glad that I took the chance to study abroad. We’re all going to school to become educated but it’s useless unless we make an effort to understand other cultures or look at life in a new perspective. All the things that I saw and people I encountered were experiences that help me cross the line of being educated to intelligent. I’m not a genius or anything now, I just know and understand a lot more than I could ever learn inside a classroom.

I’ve spoken a lot about the racism I’ve experienced but it’s because what opened my eyes to most. I’m lucky to live in the two most diverse cities in America and I rarely feel the prejudice that I did in the semester. Sometimes I forget that racism exists and right now with everything that has happened, it’s really hit me how huge of a problem it is. Going back to LA and eventually New York, I want to be more aware of its presence in the States instead of putting it behind me because I won’t have to deal with it myself anymore.

And my answer to everyone’s second question: no. No, I don’t feel different, I’m still the same person than the one that left 4 months ago. I don’t think traveling has to transform you, whatever you get is whatever you get.

After fully reflecting I have an addition to my list of tips. Don’t feel like you have to accomplish anything when you’re traveling. Treat your travels as just another day in your life, don’t go around with the burden of obligation. You don’t have to see the Sistine Chapel when you’re in Rome if you don’t want to. People might tell you that you missed out on something great, but if you were there seeing something that you don’t enjoy then you’re missing out on more.

That’s my biggest regret, trying to satisfy the request of others instead of seeing and doing what I wanted. But I’m not going to let that ruin my whole experience, it’s just an excuse to keep traveling.



I write to you from Zurich, the first of five cities I’ve glued to the end of my study abroad trip. I’m spending a few days here decompressing at the home of my dad’s very welcoming friend from college, sleeping in his eleven-year-old daughter’s bedroom which is barely large enough to hold her bed and her enormous, empty gerbil cage (“My gerbil died Thursday,” she sniffs. “Thank God,” I think).

Last night as I situated myself at the dinner table, feeling overwhelmed by how friendly and gracious these people have been to me – adults who haven’t seen me since I was seven, and their two children who have no idea who I am – I realized suddenly that this is the first time in a long time that I’ve been surrounded by a complete family unit operating on its own turf.

My last day in Florence was Thursday. I had my last exam in the morning, and hung around campus the rest of the day hoping to absorb as much of the villa as I could before the long walk home. It’s unbelievably pretty, with hills that ebb into the Crest toothpaste blue sky, a hundred shades of green, neatly trimmed hedges and high, sharp trees like upside down icicles. Honey yellow villas give promise of comfort across the seemingly endless valley. We march like tired soldiers up and down the hills, forgetting what fortune we have. I stayed there and tried to store the image of it all somewhere behind my eyes, knowing no picture could really do it justice.

That night my suitemates and I had a home-cooked family dinner, a smorgasbord of all the food we have left at the end of the semester. We shared our favorite memories, like when we floated down a natural lazy river in the little beach town of Rosignano, which was so early on in the semester that I still was confusing everyone’s names, or when we decided, with the lack of open container laws, that the perfect place to relax and drink was sitting in a circle in the middle of our street. Before coming to Florence, I did not know any of the friends who surrounded me so warmly that night. The love in the room was syrupy sweet. Then Ruby’s hair caught on fire from her homemade menorah and we decided dinner was over.

After, I went to my other friends’ apartment right down the street. These friends were the only people in the program I’d known a little bit from New York, and I had started my semester by wandering like a lost puppy into their room. It was only fitting that I ended it there, too. We all almost fell asleep waiting for the hour of the secret bakery, a magical Florentine phenomenon that offers drug deal-esque baked goods transactions only after 2am. Somehow we stayed up, and after stuffing ourselves with Nutella-filled somethings we had our unceremonious see-you-soon goodbyes and I went back to my apartment and cried.

I’ve always been That Crying Friend. My final moments in any given situation are always punctuated by tears, whether it’s the last day of camp, high school, or even a really good night. I fear change and worry that the things I love so much in any one arrangement cannot possibly transfer over to anything new. I knew from the beginning that no matter how much I may have wrestled with my feelings about my time abroad, by the time I had to go, I’d get that whorl of sentiment again: the unmistakable end of something substantive, comfortable, and – albeit temporarily – real.

Florence, I love you, but I’m not, like, in love with you. You took a lot and gave a little. You made me feel entirely uprooted and made me reorganize in myself things I never knew were habits. A lot of the time, you made me feel very small, with your age-old streets and your lazily strolling locals. Most of the time, I was exhausted by trying to make something big of you. I never had that “click” moment I was promised, and you never swooped in all heroic, rescuing me with thunderous voice and teaching me the true meaning of Christmas. But you did give me the wonderful gift of people, and the added privilege of a place with which I will always associate them.

There’s a really great word in Portuguese called saudade, which has no direct translation in English, but which represents that intense, nostalgic, happy-sad feeling when you’re missing something or someone you love. Sometimes it’s called “the love that remains after someone is gone.” I left Florence drowning in that saudade envelopment, because even though I know I can bring all my people and memories home with me, I know that it will never be the same.

Tonight in Zurich I watch this lovely, odd little family in its symbiotic routine and feel lucky that I have a similar family to go home to in just a few days. But along with that I realize that love can manifest in many ways and modified versions of families can grow from a million different circumstances. For the first time in my life I feel like maybe what I’ve created over the past few months can last, and that the next chapter will enhance, not ruin, the magic of it all.

So for that, Florence, you’ve been pretty great. And I hope that as more time passes I discover more and more ways you’ve given me more than I’d ever realized.

Snap Back into Reality

Snap Back into Reality

I write to you now from my sister’s comfy couch in her apartment in Chelsea, with a mug of pour over coffee on a coaster on the coffee table, and sirens and car horns permeating through the closed window. What did I just do for the past three and a half months? In some aspects, it feels as though I never left New York City – I think you develop some sort of muscle memory that allows you to hop back in as you please. But I’m having a hard time finding the equilibrium between Tuscan living and Manhattan living – it feels like I’ve been on a travel adrenaline rush that propels me to want to have completely new experiences all the time, but I need to reign it all back in and remember that we have landed back in reality. Which is not to say that resuming life in New York means ending my craving for constant adventure; New York, of all places, can aptly satiate that need! It’s just that getting caught up in a daily routine will perhaps soon envelop all sense of superficial novelty. I’ll just have to consciously seek it, I suppose?

Going abroad to NYU Florence has been, without a doubt, the most fulfilling and rewarding and humbling experience in my life. As my last week in Florence snuck up on me, I realized that there had been so many things I haven’t done yet: see the Galleria dell’ Accademia and have a date with the David, climb to the top of the Duomo, watch the sunset in Fiesole, walk through the prolific Florentine museum scene. Just as all of these overwhelming, schedule restricting events kept popping into my mind, I made the executive decision to do exactly none of them. I wanted to spend my last week in Florence doing things I couldn’t experience vicariously through images on the internet, through other people’s Instagrams; I wanted to spent my last week living as a Florentine. And I’ll save those other things for my next trip back – I don’t need to throw coins in a fountain to know that I’ll be back in Italy.

It does feel strange though. I feel like I’m floating in some kind of weird, apathetic and numb space in which both polarizing ends (heartbroken about leaving Italy, and missing the convenience and familiarity of the United States) are too extreme for me to grasp. So I just stay in the middle and occasionally I will gravitate towards one end and eventually make my way back to the middle.

A little list of initial observations:

  1. I got into an elevator the yesterday, and as we were approaching the ground floor, the elevator dipped and we were stuck for roughly 45 seconds. The woman in the elevator with me and my sister immediately began spewing out a list of frustrations: “oh my GOD I can’t be stuck in an elevator. I’m going out!” (yes because all of us are just riding the elevator for fun, not needing to go out or anything), “are you SERIOUS? Should we call someone? No no no no,” etc. If I hadn’t just returned from Italy, the land of public transport delays and poorly timed inconveniences, I’m afraid that I would have reacted somewhat similarly. But four months of running after late buses and showing up to local restaurants, only to find that they are randomly closed has mellowed me out a bit to accept these inconveniences and move on.
  2. On markets and produce: Walking through Union Square Greenmarket was my first incident of culture shock. All the produce and goods are so much more expensive! Also, so heavily marketed. In Italy, everyone just knows that the produce at the markets is locally produced and the market culture is humble and accessible. In New York, it’s seen as a status symbol to shop at the markets, buying $15 small rolls of goat cheese. Everything is so heavily marketed and appeals to the idea of consumerism out of capability.

It’ll take some time to adjust back to the swing of things in Manhattan. I’ll try my best not to be an asshole about Italian food and afternoon cappuccinos and such. But until then, I’ll take my cappuccino in the morning and espresso macchiato after lunch.

I'm Getting Nostalgic

I’m Getting Nostalgic

Currently, I am packing up the last of my things. Tomorrow is the day I tell myself I’ve been waiting all semester for – the day I go home to the US. By this time tomorrow, I will be home, have had a wonderful non-Italian homemade meal, and will be sprawling my exhausted body across my heavenly full-sized bed. I promise it will be a relieving and genuinely satisfying moment. But at the same time, I will miss parts of this crazy semester abroad.

I’ve met some pretty special and amazing people. A few of which I hope to maintain close friendships with back in New York, and others I’ll distantly “keep in touch” with over Facebook. Although the country of Italy was not super rewarding to my experience, the people I met definitely were. Being around different people and having to make friends from scratch again allowed me to also discover parts of myself. Getting to know someone and become friends is something we kind of don’t feel like we need to worry about as juniors in college. We already have established friendships and groups, so unless put in new situations, I feel like no one ever really wants to leave those comfort zones. But in the end, they provided me with newfound confidence and asserted my identity even more so. While I am a strong believer in “you are the only one who can define yourself,” I do think, at times, it takes other people to help us believe in ourselves and actually face and become the person we try and hope to be.

While some of these new friendships were very rewarding, I also discovered how truly shitty some people can be. Dealing with the racism and sexism with people in this country demonstrated how different New York truly is from the world. Ignorance is absolutely not and will never be blissful. People are intolerant, scared of change and difference, and rude. Living in New York and growing up in Northern New Jersey, I was never really around people like that. Therefore, this experience also gave me a much greater appreciation for my life back in the US. Now, when I complain about struggles and probably pointless things back home, I’ll always think about its probably not as bad as I think it is. I never thought I would miss home as much as I did while abroad.

I think studying abroad is a great experience for anyone. It provided me with more self-confidence, self-assurance, and perspective. My appreciation for my family, friends, and home only increased and grew more genuine while abroad. Although I considered myself pretty self-sufficient before going abroad, I now believe I demonstrate more confidence when put in sticky or confusing situations. Studying abroad was both an amazing and miserable experience, but that’s what makes it worth it.

The Final Goodbye

The Final Goodbye

Looking back. As I am writing this, I am literally looking back at Florence, a view from my plane that just took off. Wow. What a semester. I can recall back to the first day that my mom said goodbye to be in front of I’Ghibellini. As I walked away, wiping away tears from my eyes, I could only imagine what this semester would be. And what happened in Florence exceeded my expectations. My first day seemed like yesterday, but everything that happened this semester feels like years ago (a feeling which I cannot explain). Everyone told me to be in the moment and enjoy everything because it flies by. I was like yeah yeah, I know, okay. But it is so true; everything flew by.

I cannot believe I am currently on the plane to CGD, then to JFK. I’m so excited to go to my home, friends, and family. But I’m so sad to leave my new home, new friends, and new family behind. I have enjoyed every sad, happy, scared, anxious, feeling I have ever felt on this journey, because it was all part of the experience. I have always wanted to study abroad and I can so proud of myself for doing it and accomplishing it. I can check if off my bucket list.

This experience was so worth it. The things I’ve learned about other people and myself, the things I’ve went through, and the things that I have seen, you will never learn from a classroom or textbook. It’s a journey that you, yourself has to go on.

I grew into a new Emily. I grew into a new person. I will take this new person, everything I have learned, and live it out in New York City. I will notice the new adventures that home has to offer. I will cherish my relationships with those I have missed so much. I will always remember that people I encountered, the places I have traveled, and the cultures I have learned about.

As I am moving forward by looking back, life never seemed so good. Returning to everyday life will be hard, especially after my semester, which seemed like a four-month vacation. I feel as though I have changed but college has stayed the same.  Going back to college should be easy. You are back on campus with your friends and adjusting back to everyday life. But something might hold you back from these precious moments. Friends back home might not understand the transformation I went through. I know it will feel nostalgic for Florence many nights or when I am stressed but I will embrace it with an open mind.

NYU prepared me and made my experience amazing. They school was beautiful, the resources helpful, and the events they planned were fun. I am especially grateful for putting me into an apartment with people I now call my closest friends.

What happens when you leave your heart and mind on your study abroad trip? Europe is everything the United States is not. I know I will miss the Italian language as the background music to my days, and I will miss my jet-setting days on Ryanair throughout Europe. My heart is currently in Europe, in Florence to be exact. The memories with the country I fell in love with will always be mine to keep, and no one can take that away from me.

So I want to say a final bye Florence, bye friends, bye Florence family, I will be back one day to get you.

Nos Vemos

Nos Vemos

If I am going to leave Argentina without being an emotional wreck I will have to leave not by saying “goodbye” but instead by saying “Nos vemos”, because I know I will be seeing Argentina again in the future. “Nos vemos” is much less final than goodbye. It lets me be hopeful that this isn’t the last time I will be here, and that my departure is just a brief interlude of separation.

It is a very bittersweet time right now. I miss New York and my home. I miss my friends. I miss my family. I miss the comfort of routine. I miss the familiarity of the United States. But I also love Argentina. I love speaking Spanish every day. I love being pushed outside my comfort zone. I love feeling welcomed in by my host family. I love experiencing new things. So my desires both to return to the United States and to stay in Argentina are equally strong.

One particularly important aspect about being abroad was making friends with Porteños (natives to Buenos Aires). My experience here feels more real knowing that there are people with whom I will continue to stay in touch. I know that for many who study abroad, there can be a bit of a USA bubble. When you are around so many other Americans all of the time, it’s only natural that one could fall into the comfort of staying with your fellow classmates. But having had the opportunity to befriend people in Argentina reassures me that I will always have someone to reach out to when I return in the future (which I know I will!). It makes my departure a little less sad, and little more hopeful.

So, to my wonderful host country that I have fallen in love with, this is just chau for now. Nos vemos pronto.



Aprovechar: that is the one thing that I would absolutely advise when studying abroad and even just traveling in general. It is the word that most encompasses how you should approach the wonderful opportunity of travel and exploration. When I was first learning to speak Spanish I had trouble grasping the concept of this word. I though it meant simply “to use”. But I remember having a conversation with a friend when I heard him use the verb “aprovechar” and in that context “to use” didn’t fit. We struggled with our obvious language barriers to contextualize and explain the verb aprovechar and what I learned is that it really means “to make use of” or “to take advantage of”. And that is exactly what I tried to do this semester, to take advantage of being in the incredible city of Buenos Aires by seeing and doing as much as I could.

It’s really easy to get stuck in the “Oh I have plenty of time for that” mindset. But in reality, four months is not that long of a time. And for me personally, it has gone by in the blink of an eye. Wasn’t I just arriving in the Ezeiza Airport a couple of days ago?!? So, if I were to advise anything, I would say to really try to make the most of your time from the get go. I think that I could have been even more adventurous at the beginning of the semester. Because now my flight is just around the corner and there are still a few last minute things that I am fitting in that I haven’t done!!

Other than the obvious advice of making the most of your time abroad, some Buenos Aires specific tips I would include are the following:

  • Bring US money: The dollar is very strong in comparison to the Argentine peso. If you bring actual physical money you can get a much better exchange rate than if you were to use an ATM or other money sending services like Xoom. Instead of getting the official rate which is around 10 pesos to the dollar, you can get about 15.5-16 pesos to the dollar if you use the blue rate.
  • Spend time in San Telmo: This is just my personal opinion, but I think San Telmo is one of the best neighborhoods in the entire city. It is the oldest and smallest neighborhood in Buenos Aires but there is still so much to do. It boasts the most incredible street art, has a large variety of restaurants, is the birthplace of Argentine tango, and has a huge antique market in the center with cute knick-knacks as far as the eye can see. You’ll never be bored if you spend time in San Telmo.
  • Learn how to use the Subways and Buses: I do love to walk. But sometimes in a city as big as Buenos Aires it’s impractical to try to walk everywhere. And taking cabs all the time can get pretty expensive. So, as intimidating as the buses and subways may seem, it is worth it to put in a little extra research time in learning how to use public transportation to get around the city. I was able to see so much more than I would have if I had not learned how to use the buses and subways.

So, to all the future study abroad students in Buenos Aires, don’t forget…APROVECHAR!

Adieu, Paris

Adieu, Paris

I have just one week left in Paris. That’s hard to swallow.

The last three-and-a-half months have been a whirlwind of excitement, novelty, and tragedy. It is still difficult to retrospectively identify how I have changed, but the countless blows to my metaphorical protective shell have revealed the gruesome real world to me. Paris broke my heart in more ways than one. I discussed the details in previous posts, but I think all the personal tragedy I have faced here has made me a stronger person. Whatever that means.

When I say goodbye to Paris next week, I will be leaving behind parts of myself as well. Since I’ve come to college I could feel the gradual loss of my naivety; the remaining shreds of innocence. I think, once and for all, the last shred of it has gone with all that I’ve faced here in Paris. Loss will do that to you, whether you like it or not. I am struggling to understand the effects of all that has happened to me. Rather than becoming more closed off, I think I have instead braced myself for what the future holds. There’s a perverse comfort in thinking that life couldn’t get much worse at this point, so the future will only hold things to look forward to. I’ve had some time to think about things, and I’m feeling OK. I feel confident in my abilities to cope and I have learned the best techniques to distract myself when the emotional waves hit.

When I arrive home next week and will have to deal with the countless family members asking me how Paris was, I know I’ll have to suck it up and mention the good parts only. No one wants to hear about heartbreak, loss, or violence. But the most transformative parts of Paris for me were in the darkest moments I spent here. Maybe away from home was the wrong place to experience tragedy, but that’s just it: life doesn’t wait. Life happens.

I think I will always look on my semester abroad in Paris as a pivotal point in my life. But I hope that in a few years, I am able to recollect the countless good moments that are currently overshadowed by the bad ones. The loss I have dealt with here has made me realize a chapter in my life is closing. The classical loss of innocence theme I’ve read about in all my beloved books has finally become a reality for me. Who would have thought a literary device as overplayed as that could have bore some actual truth? The future seems ambiguous, as the unknown always does, but it can only go up from here. A new chapter begins.

Adieu, Paris.

Cautionary Tales

Cautionary Tales

To be honest I can hardly suggest any worthwhile insight for prospective Shanghai study abroad students because I can hardly be an authority on the whereby for someone else to experience their life more fully. The primary authority and the ultimate referent of any such question has always been the personal experiencer. As always the content of and the lens onto any experience abroad depends upon the sovereign decision-making of the experiencer. Here the only insight I can offer would be to take command of yourself as the sovereign decision-maker of your own experiences.

They only justifiable standpoint of authority I can stand for must be my personal experience here contrary to any anticipatory preconceptions of those without. Prior to my arrival in Shanghai I had already heard from peers and family members enough cautionary tales that I persuaded myself into anxiety far in advance about the wayward Chinese mainlanders. By no means should I keep valuables in my hind pockets lest I be a schmuck for a subway pickpocket. From my parents I heard about the practiced stealth of the pickpockets here: willing and deft enough by way of a discreet incision to rummage through the knapsack of an unsuspecting passerby. Since for thfis reason the local subwaygoers here always harness their knapsacks frontward, I have persuaded myself to never sling any such bag over my shoulders without care like I would elsewhere. If not the pickpockets the decorum I accustom myself to expect elsewhere yet lacking among subwaygoers here likewise repels me from public transportation. The mob of subwaygoers devolve into a pushy competition to be in front as soon as doors open.

Although I dismissed as mere paranoia the warnings not to wear my bandana headband here lest I be incarcerated or beaten for resembling a Hong Kong protester, I sometimes internalize a self-conscious gaze from local passersby distracted by my appearance. Although given my Chinese features I can blend into a crowd far better than my study abroad peers, I still might not pass for a local given my attire and comportment. That once I was mistaken for a Japanese student seems not much better among the Chinese. For non-Asian crusaders of political correctness to encounter giddy locals eager for selfies with the racial misfit can be shocking. As far as brutality from authority otherwise, the infamous Chinese officialdom has been hands-off as far as our portal campus here. Any prospective students here would be thrilled to hear about on-campus accessibility of frequented social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Indeed I might dismiss most of those cautionary tales as overblown paranoia. Should an elder collapse to the sidewalk I should according to my mother continue to walk lest I be accused and sued for being responsible. I can speak from personal experience about none of the above incidents: albeit, perhaps because I observe those warnings to secure belongings to my person. Yet of course Shanghai has proven to be less treacherous than hearsay warned. For prospective students the caution necessary here should not entail paranoia.