All My Bags Are Packed

Almost. And I’m ready to go.
See you soon!

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Why Washington Is a Great City

I’m not quite sure yet if Washington wins the race but it is definitely shortlisted in my personal “favorite city of the US” ranking. And here is why (and the order is not hierarchical):

  • It makes sense, seems very inviting, and has a fairly clear structure.
  • It is a walking city and you easily walk a couple of miles without even realizing it.
  • There are wide sidewalks.
  • There is a coffeeshop on every corner (true!).
  • There are tons of things to see and do; great museums, monuments, buildings, theaters, shops, etc.
  • All the Smithsonian museums are free.
  • It is clean.
  • It is very international.
  • It appears to be very safe.
  • There is public transport.
  • People have picknicks, play ballgames, and promenade in the National Mall / Monument area; it’s incredibly lively there in the late afternoon / early evening.
  • There are many green spots and a huge park (and the zoo) right in the city.
  • The First Family lives here. (Is that a reason? Well, at least it sounds … important. By the way, a couple of days ago the roads were blocked temporarily and a police convoy passed by. Someone said it may be Michelle coming back from her holiday in Spain. Who knows, but that’s the downside of living in the city: streets are cleared quite often for convoys and police escorts)
  • The Library of Congress (boy, they really have everything!!)
  • Cupcakes (sweet but – wow!)
  • U Street with lots of bars and restaurants and a very international cuisine
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Day One

Day one after the program (I’m staying in D.C. for two more days – on my own!): I said goodbye to my roommate Outi, grabbed a cup of coffee, spent some time with my favorite artists, had more coffee, got my reader card renewed at the Library of Congress and did some research, spent two hours in a bus to Georgetown (rush hour and rain – a very bad combination), had dinner, went to Barnes and Noble until they kicked me out at 11 p.m.

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This Is It

The last day in the program started with a debrief at the State Department. After a thorough security check and signing in, we received our “escort required” visitor passes and took the elevator to the basement, where we had brief sessions on the SUSI alumni program and a Fulbright program to bring experts over to our countries. The following feedback session turned out to resemble the one with the external evaluator the evening before in several respects. In any case, for the Bureau of Education program officers it soon became clear that this was not one of their usual “everything was great – thank you very much” debriefings. One could tell that they had not anticipated the nature and scope of our criticism. Anyway, we still got our diplomas 🙂 and had the rest of the day to explore Washington D.C.

We had a scheduled tour of the Washington Monument in the evening, which was fabulous. They only re-opened the elevator to the top recently for the public and even though we did not get to see a sunset, we saw how the lights went on everywhere in the city.

After that we went to an Ethiopean (I love Ethiopean!) restaurant for our farewell dinner. The food was excellent, however the atmosphere was awkward and I think it was because the program directors had had a meeting at the State Department in the afternoon to talk about their performance and there seemed to be this giant elephant in the room that made it difficult to simply have a good time. Since everyone leaves on different flights the next day and people were taken to the airport at different times, this was the last time we all saw each other and I think hardly anyone really realized it at the time, at least I didn’t. Web 2.0 will hopefully make it easier to keep in touch and that is what many of us are planning to do. So, this is it; at least for now and for the program.

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Everyone seemed quite happy and relaxed this evening. The reason is simple: We had a feedback session with an external evaluator of the program. Basically, we spent more than two hours telling him about everything that went wrong (and right) in the program, which ranged from things like the level of lectures to our current accommodation. Well, it certainly had a cathartic effect on us and some of us went out for dinner together afterwards and continued a lively discussion.

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Newseum! and VOA

One of the things I’ve really been looking forward to this entire time was the Newseum in D.C. and it was definitely worth the trip. Again, we “only” got the regular admission, no tour, no extras, but with a group of 20 you are probably better off exploring the parts of the museum that interest you most alone, anyway. Exhibits include sections on the Berlin Wall, Pulitzer Prize Photographs, the history of news from its very beginning to the present day (including many original newsletters, books and newspapers), the 9/11 coverage, First Amendment rights, press freedom around the world, and a big interactive section on how to make news. They also have a TV studio there from where they broadcast the show “This Week with Christine Amanpour” live each Sunday.

The Newseum from the outside and a piece of the Berlin Wall (supposedly the largest one outside of Germany)

Collection of front pages covering the September 11 attacks as a background to the radio antenna from one of the Twin Towers.

Press freedom around the world and the Knight Studio where they shoot “This Week.” Obama and I were in the same room! (just not at the same time).

Did I mention they bought us tickets for the Trolley Tour? Well, they did, so I went on the Cathedral-Georgetown loop before we had a tour of Voice of America in the afternoon.

The tour of Voice of America was quite interesting, only it would probably have made more sense to a) have a more thorough discussion and b) to have the discussion after the tour, not beforehand. Anyway, the U.S. Government spends an awful lot of money to broadcast news in places all around the world. They currently air radio and TV programs in 44 different languages and their Persian division (covering the middle east) currently employs some 200 people.

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National Press Club and The Washington Post

We walked to the National Press Club this morning (3 blocks down the road) and had a nice chat with one of the former presidents, a fairly young reporter for USA Today. She stressed how drinking is an important part of journalism (there are bars there in every room; and apparently the Press Club was issued the very first license after the prohibition in the U.S. in 1933) and shared a couple of entertaining stories about her various assignments as a reporter abroad (covering crises and natural disaster) and how she likes to go to beauty parlors and talk to the women there to get her stories.

After that we went to The Washington Post and talked to several people there. Nice newsroom and impressive work they do there, including video and everything.

As for the rest of the day, well, I found Filene’s Basement and Barnes & Noble. And when I finally resurfaced, I realized it was dinnertime and the Trolleys we had tickets for stopped running at 5.30. To overcome my disappointment I had dinner in Chinatown and a big cup of fabulous icecream.

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