I once had a counselor who told me that one of her students, as a junior, had never ventured off of GW’s Foggy Bottom campus. That blew my mind for a couple of reasons: first of all, it’s not a huge campus. How did she not get tired of it at some point? And second, we live in the middle of Washington, D.C. We live walking distance from the monuments, the White House, the Kennedy Center. How could you not take advantage of any of that?
Personally, I love to get off campus. In fact, I’m committed to doing so at least once every weekend. I think I’d lose it if I didn’t. My favorite thing to do in the city is to visit one of D.C.’s indie theaters. They show movies that I would never get to see back home. And those films pretty much all end up becoming Oscar contenders.
It’s gotten to the point where they recognize me at E Street Cinema—I see just about every film they show there. It gets pricey, but I’ve learned to really prioritize that in terms of my casual spending. I always put it to myself like this: would I rather buy these boots I’ll wear once every two weeks or see eight movies? It’s not a hard choice.
Of course, I’m not made of money. One of the great things about D.C., though, is that all of the Smithsonian museums are free. Naturally, I try to take advantage of all the Smithsonians, but I find myself at one museum in particular at least once a month. It’s also probably the one that other people visit the least, for understandable reasons.
It’s the Hirshhorn, the museum of modern art.
When I started at GW, I hated modern art. I didn’t get it and I didn’t want to. And honestly, I still don’t really get it most of the time. But that’s not really the point. The last thing I want to do is go somewhere that’ll make me think when I need a break from studying.
The Hirshhorn is perfect because it’s so often ridiculous, but in a fun way. They have an installation of string tied from floor to ceiling (Is that it? You may ask. Yes, that is it). They have a video of a cartoon man pulling his face off before placing his organs in TSA bins. They once featured a room full of printer paper just covering the floor that you could walk through. Why? No idea. But its whimsicalness distracted me from all of the very real work I wasn’t doing at the moment.
If I really want to pretend that I’m being a good, cultured young citizen, there are plenty of opportunities unique to D.C. that not many people know about.
The Korean Cultural Center, a building next door to the The Embassy of the Republic of Korea, hosts an array of awesome events. I once went there for a screening of a Korean gangster flick.
The Embassy of France also hosts cultural outreach events. I once went to the embassy and watched a series of animated short films about World War I. They were equal parts intriguing and creepy. It feels exciting just to go to an embassy. And the (free!) entertainment provided while there is only a bonus.
When I’m really in the mood for shopping, it’s typically a nerdy affair. I’m what an old professor once called a “book fetishizer,” meaning I don’t rent my books, I purchase them and stack them shamelessly in huge piles all over my dorm room, much to my roommate’s dismay.
That also means used bookstores include some of my favorite places in the world. I frequent in D.C., like Capitol Hill Books. This tiny two-story building packs more books into it than I can describe. They even stack books high beside the toilet in the bathroom.
The whole place is run by a cantankerous little old man who, the first time I went there, lectured the girls in front of me about the evil abundance of the word “like” in the modern lexicon. When I placed my book in front of him, one that I climbed on top of a stool to get to, he somehow knew exactly where this particular book was and asked if I’d knocked everything down getting to it.
It was a different author and genre than all of the other books on that shelf. I initially thought it ended up there by accident. I was floored by the level of his knowledge of and devotion to his collection, which, by the way, is entirely peerless in the realm of D.C.’s used bookstore scene.
One off-campus establishment that has become a tradition for me. I take my family to this restaurant every time they visit. And I almost always end up there on my birthday. Oki Bowl D.C., a little ramen shop on the basement level of a building on M Street, serves ramen that stacks up to the real deal. I would know, I studied abroad in Japan.
Beyond that, the restaurant feels incredibly cozy and has the weirdest bathroom. You might not think a bathroom could blow your mind, but this place can. Random knick-knacks like toys and radios cover the bathroom walls from floor-to-ceiling. A black light illuminates the whole room in addition to a spinning disco ball. Excellent food plus unbeatable ambiance make it a welcome respite from the fare at the campus Whole Foods.
One of the great things about GW is its location in the middle of a large city. That means access to great internships and jobs, sure, but it also means that there’s a lively cultural scene to explore in your downtime.
If you don’t feel like you have downtime, I can’t stress enough how important it is to make downtime. Sequestering yourself in the library for 72 hours every weekend isn’t just mundane and painful, it’s unhealthy.
You don’t need to go on an adventure. At the very least, take an hour or two to visit your closest modern art museum and laugh at an upside-down urinal with the word “CAPITALISM” spray-painted on it. That always makes me feel better.