It was both an exciting and daunting prospect arriving from the UK into the DC heat back in August and starting school again with GW after 10 years in work! Having just returned from 6 months deployed in Afghanistan as a Royal Air Force Personnel Support Officer, serving alongside the US Marine Corps, I had already gained a small insight into the American way. However, I was quite overwhelmed by the friendly reception that I received during my first few days and weeks in the City.
As a graduate student on the Masters in International Policy and Practice (MIPP), I was joining a programme with others who had at least 10 years experience as professionals in the international sphere and what a diverse group they have proven to be. The experience and potential diversity of the class was a significant factor in my decision to apply to GW, and it is a real privilege to be a part of the MIPP group and the Elliott School. I had such a positive experience when I visited before applying last year that it was going to be tough for the Elliott School to live up to my high expectations, but so far the experience has been everything that I had envisaged.
The first few weeks after I arrived went really fast, as I began to get used to everything from driving on the wrong side of the road to managing the weekly shop without purchasing enough to last a full month! With the added excitement of an earthquake and a hurricane in my first week it was a memorable introduction to both the School and the City! The Elliott School orientation day was very well organized and provided a great opportunity to meet my MIPP classmates and the wider students and staff. Some of my classmates had been so organized that they had already been in touch before we even started classes! We all connected really well, the different backgrounds and professional experiences bringing us closer together. It was useful to discuss our professional backgrounds and the fears and aspirations that we felt coming into the course. I was relieved to know that others, like myself, were also taking on the course in just one single year.
So the first few weeks of classes have been a great introduction. The classes have a good selection of reading, which is both challenging and insightful; demanding that you consider new and innovative ways to assess current issues. I have been able to combine my classes into 3 evenings so that I have the ability to focus on reading and research in preparation for assignments during the day. I have also made sure to make time to explore the rich cultural insights that the City has to offer. I purchased a road bike to enable me to commute the 18 mile round trip to Foggy Bottom. It is mostly along the Mount Vernon trail, keeping me off the roads and giving me the chance to see more of the City each day. The route passes the Arlington Cemetery, Memorial Bridge and the Lincoln Memorial and it is a daily reminder of the significance of this fantastic location. It is certainly an amazing trip to school, even in the rain!
I have so far only visited the Museums of American History, with diverse exhibitions from charting the Civil War, to great inventions, and even the inaugural gowns of the first ladies, and of course I had to prioritize the Air and Space Museum. But with so much on offer, there is still a great deal to see! Foggy Bottom Campus could not be better located, only a short walk from the Smithsonian and monuments. So it is easy to combine classes and cultural visits together. Indeed the other morning I attended the open Senate Hearing of the Armed Service Committee, the last to be attended by Admiral Mullen as the Commander of the Joint Chiefs. It was a really useful insight into the current defense issues and just one example of the ways in which studying in DC can provide a really unique learning experience.
In my spare time I have also been training for the US Marine Corps Marathon (as I signed up with some of my colleagues whilst out in Afghanistan) that takes place later this month. I have joined the local running club for early morning runs around the City in preparation for the big day, whilst also making the most of the free GW gym facilities. There are so many sporting clubs to choose from and once again I have been delighted by how welcome I have felt. As a keen swimmer I have enjoyed participating in the GW Swimming Club, though the training times can be a little challenging for the graduate students (as we have our classes in the evenings), it has proven to be another great way to make new friends.
So even though it is early days, GW and life as a graduate student in DC is proving to be an intense but thoroughly rewarding experience and one that I fully intend to take advantage of. Only two months in and I cannot believe how quickly the time is passing!
MIPP candidate 2012
Personnel Officer, British Royal Air Force