When GW students think of “study abroad” they think of traveling in countries in Europe, Latin America and Asia, but for some students, “studying abroad,” means coming from those countries to GW’s campus for a semester.
Each semester, a handful of international students arrive in the U.S. capital to get a taste of D.C. life. Several said that adjusting to college life in the District took some getting used to.
Fernando Fernandez-Monge Cortazar from Spain and Durita Hoydal from Denmark said they both have to apply themselves more in class at GW than at their colleges across the Atlantic.
Cortazar said he was surprised by the large amount of reading required for classes here because it’s nothing like he is used to in Spain.
“In Spain, we don’t do much work until finals,” he said.
He also said that he goes to class more often at GW, since the professors here take attendance and back at his school in Spain it’s not mandatory.
Hoydal, who attends Copenhagen Business School, said school and social life is separate in Denmark. While it is common for American students to live at the school that they attend, in Denmark they often don’t.
“We go to class at school, and then we go home,” he said. “Our social lives are separate from our school lives.”
But at GW, social and academic life are deeply intertwined – something that Hoydal and Cortazar realized pretty quickly. Hoydal has three roommates in New Hall, and Cortazar lives with two other students in City Hall. He also joined the rugby team to meet new people.
Cecile Dehesdin, a French student who attends Sciences-Po in Paris, also found a way to meet new people during her semester abroad. This semester, she was cast in GW plays the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Dinner.”
“Being in plays is something I do in France, and I was so happy to do it here,” she said. “It has been my favorite part of my experience here so far.”
GW’s academic program allowed Dehesdin, who is spending two semesters at GW, to take classes tailored to her interests while still fulfilling Sciences-Po’s requirements. She is using the opportunity to take courses in various subjects to help her to decide what her major will be since when she returns to France at the end of the spring semester, she will have to declare one.
Dehesdin said that one of her favorite classes is in public communication. “I wanted to challenge myself. I want to finish this year knowing how to write and speak well,” she said.
At Sciences-Po, all juniors are required to study abroad, Dehesdin said. Students begin the application process a year before they plan to study abroad. She completed an application and listed six schools in the U.S. that she wanted to attend. She chose theater- and media-based schools on the East Coast.
Cortazar and Hoydal’s application process was similar. Hoydal said she applied to schools on both the East and West Coasts. “I just chose schools in cities that I had heard of,” she said.
Cortazar said that he did not know much about American college life beforehand except for what he had seen in movies such as American Pie. But he noticed something familiar when he got to D.C.: “You actually do use the red cups at parties,” he said, “It’s not just something they use in the films.”
Cortazar, Dehesdin and Hoydal all described nightlife in D.C. as “frustrating.” Cortazar, who lives near Madrid, isn’t used to a 2 a.m. last call.
“I’m 22, but I still think that nightlife in D.C. is quite frustrating, mostly because everything closes at 2, while in Spain you can be out the whole night,” he said. “I’m not used to returning home that early. I only did when I was 14, and it was frustrating then ,so it is even more frustrating now.
While Hoydal is 23 years old, she said that the 21 and up requirement at most clubs and bars is disappointing because her group cannot always include everyone when going out.
“Once you’ve been to three or four 18-and-up clubs, you’ve been to them all. It’s really frustrating,” Dehesdin said. Instead, she has found other things to do for entertainment, such as going to the theater, hookah bars and campus parties.
Dehesdin said that one of her goals for next semester is to travel to other places in the U.S.
“I realize that I have not seen America,” she said. “I have seen Washington.”
Not all of GW’s international students were stuck in D.C. all semester. Over Thanksgiving break, Cortazar took a road trip with a few of his friends and went to South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Tennessee. He said he enjoyed seeing another part of America.
“I feel as though cities such as D.C. and New York are quite like European cities,” he said. “But it was strange to see cowboys walking around in the middle of Nashville.”
Hoydal’s study abroad experience ends in a couple of weeks, and while she said she is excited to go back to Denmark, she would like to come back to the U.S. one day.
Cortazar and Dehesdin will both return to GW in the spring and are clearly adapting to the GW way of life – they both hope to take advantage of internships that D.C. has to offer. Dehesdin, who thinks she wants to either study marketing or public policy when she returns to France, has already applied to internships with a communications firm, event planning office and public relations firm.
In the meantime, they are both looking forward to going home for winter break. After one semester in D.C., Dehesdin said that the experience has allowed her to view her home in a different light.
“For the first time, I’ve become very patriotic toward France,” she said. “I’ve started to see the good things about my country that I never noticed before.”