Friday, August 29, 2008

Getting Started

I'm here to study, and now I've already been taking in loads of new information. The last few days have been clogged with orientations, presentations, explorations, welcome receptions and get-togethers. First of all there were two days of international student orientation, then there's the Elliott School orientation, the International Trade and Investment orientation, the Career Development reception, the graduate students reception etc.
Some of the things I've learned are how difficult it is to keep track of your rights and duties as an alien resident in the US, the complicated and incredible system of health insurance, how many student- and academic organizations you can subscribe to and how many resources they have at the (24/7 open) library. They even have a Digital National Security Archive where you can find materials that used to be classified (for example about the Cuban Missile Crisis but even about the weapons of mass destruction-campaign waged by Bush and Powell). What most struck me is how serious they take career planning here in the US. There is an office at the Elliott School specially focussed on helping students to get nice internships and job opportunities. The infrastructure they set up for that ranges from regular networking-receptions to online job databases and from assistance in writing your resume to information from alumni about working conditions at certain employers. And of course they can't stress enough how great the location of the school is in terms of job opportunities: from the roof of the Elliott School you can see the Worldbank, IMF, the White House and the Congress and the State Department, Treasury Department, Chamber of Commerce and tens of other institutions are just a few blocks away. But the most interesting of the last few days were the people I met here. Especially at the Elliott School everybody seems to have done the greatest things: teaching two years in Tanzania, setting up their own business, doing consultancy for the IMF as an internship or working for the US Department of Defense. I'm really lucky to be surrounded by such nice, interesting and experienced people who bring on-the-ground experience into the classroom.
And classes will start next Tuesday already, so this weekend I'll lock myself up in the library to do the necessary readings and preparations so that I'll make a good start. And I just picked up my books for my Arabic course! I couldn't withstand the temptation to learn another freaky language, so after Japanese I'm going to dive into the Arabic script as well!
And next to all these academic preparations I also had to get a telephone, a health insurance, a bank account and a place to stay... Luckily I'd found a room by just calling a telephone number that was in an advertisement in the Washington Post. So now I'm sharing a house with four other people who also came to America from abroad (though not from Europe, they all came from Africa) in a modest, multi-cultural neighborhood about 4 miles from the GW University It's the house on the corner. I've got two small rooms upstairs and share the bathroom and kitchen. I've been commuting by metro up till now, but tomorrow I'll get myself a bike from a fellow student so that I can continue my Dutch habit of roaming the streets on two wheels.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Mixed Feelings

So here I am, yesterday I arrived in Washington, DC! I've been through a lot of trouble, it has taken about a year of preparations and there have been many uncertainties, but finally I've arrived! And yet, I can't say I feel as euphoric as I expected. I've had a great summer and spent a magnificent time in Berlin, Belguim, Bolivia, Prague, Vienna, Croatia and Beerze, my hometown with friends and family and to leave all that behind isn't very easy. So I feel what we call in Dutch 'ontheemd', un-homed. I don't live in the Netherlands anymore, and I still don't have a place to stay here either. I won't see most of my friends for quite some time, but I don't know anybody here in DC. So when I walked the streets here yesterday, it felt like I wasn't really there. Like I was watching everything from a distance, as if it was a movie. But it's real, and I'll just have to deal with it.
Luckily, I've already had some encouragements from people I met on the plane, at the border security and in between. The guy sitting next to me on the plane worked in DC as a business consultant, and he said I'd have a great time here. Then there was a girl who'll study law at the George Washington University this year and who also had to take care of a lot of things, and while I was lining up for border security a guy from London told me about his cousin who lived here and that he could help me out if necessary. So those encounters were a nice experience to start with, but that doesn't make up for the friends and family, and especially my girlfriend, who I left behind in the Netherlands. My last day there was great: me and Rianne, my girl, went to the beach at Noordwijk and we enjoyed the Dutch shore, sun and sky. And I must say, Holland is very different from the US. While Leiden, where I studied, as all these nice little brick houses, what I've see of DC up till now is just big office and appartment buildings. Instead of small streets and squares they have big avenues and crossroads here. And everything is big: big buildings, wide streets, big cars, large distances and big people. I hope I'll fit in here with my skinny body.