Arriving at my host country: my initial thoughts and feelings

Kim is currently studying at the Catholic University of America, and arrived at the campus in January 2013.  Read on to learn about Kim’s first few weeks at CUA!

Adjusting to the cold

After the long journey to land in Washington, D.C., the first thing I noticed was the cold. It wasn’t snowing or raining, but the wind chill cut straight through whatever I was wearing. As if to exaggerate the cold of outside, every building has the thermometer set to at least 25 degrees Celsius. My sinuses and ears struggled to adjust to the extreme temperature changes, and for the first fortnight my ears were nearly permanently blocked. However by the time they adjusted, the rest of me had as well, and I became used to adding and removing layers.

Starting classes

Classes at Catholic University of America (CUA) started almost immediately on arrival. I found this stressful mostly because we weren’t prepared. After the first class we still didn’t have any textbooks, or even access to the online system, Blackboard, to look at the syllabi. All of the professors have been most helpful in this respect, however. Our program coordinator arranged a meeting with us and introduced us to most of our Professors. We were given textbooks to borrow for the semester and temporary linen until our ordered linen arrived.   This, and the subsequent meetings, proved very useful in adjusting to the requirements of studying at CUA.  All of the Professors are extremely helpful with everything we have to do. They are very approachable and really make you feel at home. The reassurance that there are people we can talk to if we aren’t coping with the workload is great.

Living and eating

Every American I have met has been so friendly and welcoming.  I’m living on campus in a suite with four other girls. I’m lucky enough to have a room of my own, which I have furnished with a rented fridge, a rice cooker and a toaster. Who needs a meal plan? The student restaurant is an all-you-can-eat buffet with a different menu every day. It’s not bad; I just prefer to cook for myself.

I have found it a little difficult to adjust to the food here. For example, some breads have so much sugar in it I actually can’t eat it.  After some exploring, I discovered Whole Foods Supermarket, which has its own bakery, and bread with a low sugar content! It’s also freshly baked, which is a nice change from the normal preserved, sugar-filled bread you can get at the local supermarket, Giants. Yes, I’ve had an American burger. Yes, it was disgusting and yet so very delicious. It’s also impossible to get a pub steak. If you order steak from anywhere it’s usually in a sandwich. The other Aussie girls and I have taken to buying our own steak to cook up at home, as one of the girls lives in a building with kitchens in each suite.

Witnessing history

I was lucky enough to witness President Obama’s second Inauguration. It was quite breathtaking to actually be there, in the crowds, as President Obama became the first America President to mention equal marriage rights in his inauguration speech. It was great to see the world leader addressing such current issues. For me, the day began at 6am. Trains were running from 4am (one hour earlier than usual) and ran to a peak timetable all day. The Aussie girls and I arrived in the city around 7:30am and joined the line to pass security to get close to Pennsylvania Avenue. It was freezing. I had on a t-shirt, jumper and jacket, and even after buying an Obama beanie, I was still shivering. Security confiscated some fruit, went through all the belongings we had with us, frisked us and then let us through. We waited on the corner of Pennsylvania and 15th, which is across the road from the White House. Volunteers helping with crowd control informed us the President and his family were at the Church at that time, following the tradition of the Inauguration Morning Prayer. We stood and waited with a surprisingly small crowd, until about 11am, when President Obama drove by to get to the US Capitol Building. I saw him with my own eyes, and I considered the day a success at that point.

However the day was not done, so we crossed Pennsylvania Ave and headed towards the National Mall (a big grassy area between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building). The crowds were huge. They had set up quite a few big screens over the lawn, so we crowded in with everyone else and watched, waving our American flags, as the Vice President was sworn in. It wasn’t so cold in the crowds, but I was still shivering and mostly thinking of the hot shower that awaited me back home. Finally, President Obama said his famous vows, and began to make his speech. At this point the girls and I decided we’d start to head towards the nearest Metro station. Unfortunately a million other people made the same decision. There were speakers everywhere, so we listened to the speech as we went home with the crowds.  We didn’t stick around for the parade or for the shows because we had seen what we came to see, and we were too cold.

It’s been snowing of late. Snow is so beautiful that I’ve stopped caring that it’s cold. Now I just need to buy more appropriate footwear!

If you’ve travelled overseas on exchange, what were some of your first thoughts and feelings?