Annoying Circles

In 2. Wayfinding, The Art of Travel, Washington DC by Sonia2 Comments

Since moving to Washington D.C. in June, I’ve tried to explore the city by walking it. This summer, every day after work I’d walk from Dupont Circle down to Key Bridge in Georgetown. During my summer internship I also took many Lyfts and Ubers from Arlington to Dupont and then Georgetown back to Arlington. Since moving to the NYU dorms, I’ve been walking mostly everywhere with a little help from subway rides.

However, DC feels very small to me after having lived in Shanghai and New York. I’ve never felt really lost or anxious about where I was. I rely pretty heavily on Google Maps when heading somewhere I’ve never been and to pin down my exact location but because I know there’s always a map at my fingertips or an Uber a few moments away, I’ve never felt worried. This is very different from Shanghai. My first two years, I did not have a phone plan nor could I call a ride share company. If I was lost, I was lost. Luckily, I could always try to hail a cab and give them one of the few addresses I had memorized. But generally, if I didn’t have a friend with me who had an internet plan, I had to map out exactly where I was going to go. This past spring, in Shanghai, I did end up getting a phone plan which opened up a whole new world of being able to explore aimlessly. Now, being in a place where I know the language fluently and have access to the internet at all times has given me more immense freedom.

Despite being in my home country and in a city I’ve visited many times, I have, however, gotten on the wrong side of the Red Line at least 4 times now. And each time I am absolutely certain I am on the right train until about 2 stops in when anxiety sets in that the names of the stations are not correct. Last weekend, I was heading to the Baltimore airport to catch a flight to Atlanta and I went at least 2 stops in the wrong direction before I jolted out of my seat and ran out the closing doors of the subway.

Generally, when walking around DC, I associate certain locations with memories I have with people in those locations. Dupont Circle reminds me of my friend and fellow summer intern, Jay, and our lunch scrambles. The Georgetown waterfront area reminds me of one of my best friends, Cha Mi, with whom I sat at the water in early June. U Street reminds me of my former boss, Grace, who came to visit in late June/early July. Each of these difference pieces of DC come with a map of where I’ve been with friends, many of whom left when summer ended.

When I picture a map of DC in my mind, it’s mostly circles. Annoying circles, that can take forever to drive or walk around. I picture American University and Cleveland park at the very top left, Georgetown at the very bottom left, George Washington at the bottom middle, U Street and Adams Morgan at the top middle, the National Mall smack in the actual middle, H Street and part of Capital Hill at the top right, and at the bottom right corner the baseball stadium. I’ve formed this map through my own experience walking, biking, and driving through the city but the significance of these places has always come from meaningful memories with others.

Now that many of the initial friends I made in DC this summer have left, I predict my associations with different parts of town will change as I make new memories here.

(Image: Somewhere in DC; Source: Sonia Alvarez)


  1. HI Sonia, I enjoyed reading your post as I really connected with it. I had an internship this summer in DC and live by American University, took the red line, and spent a lot of time walking around Dupont Circle. I thought DC seemed small too compared to NYU and Shanghai yet it was odd to navigate. The circles almost act as epicenters that roads just spring out of and go on forever. It’s nice that you’ve already made sense of DC, hopefully, you get to explore more of the nooks and crannies!

  2. Hi Sonia! The feeling you described when you realize you’re not on the correct train made my palms sweat I know that feeling all too well. It’s great that you spent your first two years in shanghai without a phone plan- I’m sure it prepared you well to navigate a new city without as much dependency on the internet. DC is also great because the significant amount of landmarks define the map of the city. I hope you enjoy your semester in the U.S. this semester, I’m curious to know how DC compares to Shanghai!

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