First impressions: The 5 senses in Washington, DC by Samantha H
As the first week of the Global Gateway D.C. program comes to a close, I wanted to take the time to reflect on the sights and sounds of the incredibly dynamic city as I have been actively exploring it with my peers and instructor. The stunning visuals in the Library of Congress, the scent of coffee in my newfound favorite coffee shop, new foods to taste, the relaxing sound of running water at the FDR memorial, and the warm touch of the capitol walkway’s stones underneath my feet make for a sensory overload.
The stunning architecture immediately left an impression on my peers and I; the closest thing I had seen to this building was the Wisconsin State Capitol with its murals and large rotunda, yet the Library of Congress held a special charm and charisma that I had never experienced before.
I wish I had taken more pictures; however, I sat and soaked in the scenery with my friend, discussing the famous philosophers and writers etched into the murals. I remarked on Moliere and his notoriety in my hobby as a theater connoisseur. What was most interesting were the quotes inscribed into each pillar on the walls, each encompassing some insight into education, books, and nature. My two closest friends in the program and I sat on a bench for at least twenty minutes staring at the surrounding quotes, discussing our favorites and what they meant to us. My favorite quote was as follows: “Books will speak plain when counselors blanch.” It spoke to me as someone who finds wisdom and entertainment in reading and was something both of my friends could converse about too. It was a truly educational yet beautiful experience.
I have always been addicted to coffee; the smell and taste are something that I absolutely love. Because of this, trying new coffee places (especially cool local spots) is one of my favorite activities. I was practically frothing at the mouth when I came to the realization that a local coffee chain had a location across the street from our hotel. I quickly became a frequent customer to this shop, immediately calming at the comforting smell of freshly brewed coffee and baked goods upon entering the shop.
The cute yet modern decor of the coffeeshop added to the immediate appeal. If I’m going to plant myself somewhere and do homework, it has to be nice to look at when I inevitably zone out. This picture is the view from my favorite table in the corner where the coffee smell is the strongest, a constant focusing scent as if the caffeine is in the air making me more alert.
I order the same thing almost every time: a “whatever your medium size is” salted caramel cold brew and a banana chip muffin. If a chef’s kiss was a coffee order, this would be the physical manifestation of it. This picture is from moments before I sat to start writing this blog; I’m currently gripping my coffee as I discuss my love for this coffee shop (how meta). My favorite table is supporting my current writing and I can still smell the scent of fresh coffee even hours after taking my spot in the store.
If there’s one thing about me (as if you couldn’t gather this from the previous entry), I love trying new foods and eating at restaurants. D.C. has some of the most dynamic and interesting restaurants I’ve seen, ranging from British chicken establishments to fusion Puerto Rican cuisine. Only having been here for almost a week, I have yet to check some locations off of the eating bucket list for the trip; however, I have tried some amazing restaurants in my short time in the city.
Every morning, I make it my mission to try something new from the hotel Bistro for breakfast prior to seminar. Ranging to simple breakfast sandwiches to french toast and strawberries, the Bistro has something for every mood I find myself in. This specific picture is of the delicious breakfast quesadilla; the fresh avocado and salsa complemented the meal perfectly and satisfied my craving for something different than I would usually grab before class. The meal was made even better by the outdoor location; eating food outside simply makes everything taste better.
This has been my favorite meal of the trip so far. The girls and I wanted to try something new; the whole point of being in a new place is to try something that I can’t normally have in my hometown or Madison. We decided on a casual British chicken restaurant known for their Peri-Peri style spicy chicken. I love spicy food, so I over ambitiously ordered my chicken and rice bowl hot thinking I could handle it. The food arrived and was delicious (how could it not be when it looked that good??) yet I decided to add extra hot sauce to the meal. This was my fatal mistake. The chicken and rice were amazing, but after eating all of the hummus on the plate, I found myself succumbing to the spice of the chicken and the accompanying sauce. The flavor was amazing but the spice was overwhelming and I immediately learned my lesson to not be overconfident when it comes to restaurants I am not familiar with and spicy food.
I had been to DC prior for a debate tournament and had seen the super touristy monuments. They’re classics; the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial will always be breathtaking and special as a tribute to my first time in the district. Yet, I found myself intrigued and tied to the calming nature of the FDR Memorial. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this specific memorial (as was I), it is essentially a park-like area on the basin dedicated to FDR and his four terms in office as president. Upon entering the memorial, you are immediately met with the constant sound of running water. This water component and its symbolism is debated; some believe it is a tribute to his hydrotherapy practices while others say it represents the complexity of his presidency and the constant flow of events that occurred. I am partial to the theory that it was included simply to cover the constant sound of planes flying overhead to ensure a truly peaceful experience (which is effective).
Regardless of the reason, the water inclusion in this memorial and the sound of constant flowing water made this one of my favorite excursions. It was a sensory overload; the sound of running water combined with distant chatter and the grand yet simple visuals made for the perfect memorial. My goal for the next two weeks is to revisit the memorial with a book and park myself at a bench to listen to the relaxing sound of water and unwind from the busy weeks ahead.
The U.S. Capitol Building is just as cool as you’d expect it to be. Being able to walk through Capitol Hill every morning to class past elected officials and important, influential people is just the spirit of D.C.
One morning my roommate and I had extra time before class and stopped at the capitol. We approached as close as we could (there is still extra fencing up around the building for security precautions) and approached the guardrails on the path towards the main steps of the building. I gently placed my hands on the railing and looked up at the building looming over us. It was such an influential, life-changing moment.
My entire life, I have wanted to work in government. I intrinsically want to help people and I feel as if my natural calling in doing so is working as a staffer for a legislator or even running for public office myself. As I stared up at the building I had considered so much in my goals and aspirations for the future, suddenly everything felt in reach. My dreams felt less untouchable and turned into something as tangible as the historic building in front of me. Not only was being able to physically touch a component of the capitol fulfilling, but I feel as if in the future I will be able to grasp my aspiration in the same sense.
A “We’re not in Madison Anymore” moment by Palash G
As a rising Sophomore of Class 2025, it is not a surprise to say that my time in college has been limited and yet eventful. Coming to a different state to attend university, I did not know what to expect, and the experiences that I have been blessed with have been nothing short of wonders.
I feel for my peers who had to go through a year indoors due to the pandemic as I was in a similar situation due to coursework and health problems. Coming out of a heavy workload semester, the opportunity to explore and unravel our country’s capital’s wonders is just what I needed to rejuvenate myself. I have been awestruck a countless number of times. My humble words cannot describe the depth of Washington DC’s history.
To those who wonder about the program and whether they should go or not, do not hesitate, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you should make the most of it. This venture has seen its fair share of hurdles, from delays to sudden cancellations, but that does not change the fact that this is an opportunity I would recommend to anyone.
To be right in the heart of the capital and learn about Race and Politics is a privilege in its own right. I mean think about it, what place better to study about Race and Politics than the Capital, the place with innumerable resources and exhibits pertaining to these topics.
After landing in Washington and stepping out of the airport, I was dumbfounded. I have not been to a big city in a long time, and I am sure my face at the airport showed just that. My mind could not fathom the amount of time, care, and effort that was put into creating such an artistic masterpiece. The sunbeams gave life to such picturesque scenery, I will let the pictures and my poor photography skills do the talking. I forgot how good sunlight could feel after spending a winter in Madison. I wish I could forget that.
Oh, here is a picture from the airport of a rainbow that I butchered.
Walking to classes every day in a college town is an experience that is unforgettable. I thought a normal day in class in college was amazing until I came to DC. Let me walk you through the differences.
A normal day in college involves you going to class in mostly dull weather, thanks to it being Madison. Putting that aside, it’s a fun stroll to your classes which involves seeing a few familiar faces on some occasions and the accidental jaywalking that no college student does on purpose. Oh, also there is Bascom Hill.
Compared to that, DC is like walking in Disneyland.
Let me get this straight, I cannot stress how much I love this weather in comparison to Madison. Sure, I got a few days of sunlight towards the end of the Spring semester, but that doesn’t overshadow the many miserable days I had walking through the snow. My bias is of course, going to come into play.
Walking to class under the radiant sun makes you feel joy. Compared to the mostly college buildings and the occasional UW décor, there was nothing for you to see. Washington is like looking at a new ride every minute. You get to walk across something akin to a windmill that I still do not know how to describe other than a picture.
I love the statues of the Greek god Neptune and the Greek goddess Minerva. Something about this fountain mesmerizes me and I wonder if that same feeling is evoked within others who look at it. I guess if I had to put that feeling into words, it would be the feeling of modesty and humility to the Adamant nature of the Greek gods.
Other than that, instead of climbing Bascom Hill, you get to go on a bridge across the train tracks, and across the state capitol building, the Library of Congress, and even the Supreme Court. Talk about everything!
Another fun thing is trying to identify whether the person in a three-piece suit in front of you is a secret service agent or some famous politician. I did not know I walked past Kevin McCarthy until somebody pointed it out. Just another fun little thing to do while walking to class.
It is lovely to see the sense of urgency that everyone you pass by has on their face. It feels like everyone I see has some place to be or something to do.
Everyone you see is brisk walking to their destination without a care in the world, ignoring their surroundings. It stirs a feeling of sonder within me.
Things like these are what truly makes you realize that you are in the country’s capital and not in a small college town. How often do you get to see a politician in Madison?
On my way to class, I have seen a variety of people who are not politicians. I got to see people protesting the egregious abortion bills that were passed recently. I was told not to interact with anyone for my own safety and stuff, but I could not help but give them a fist in the air to show them my support.
Something I noticed is that the walk to class is nearly double the walk I did to my classes in Madison, but it sure does not feel like it. I guess that is truly one difference you notice in a big city, as I just feel like I am a smaller part of the environment than I already am.
One thing that though not unique to Washington, is the subway, something Madison does not have. I feel an underground metro system is something that truly separates a big city from a Big city. I was amazed by how complex yet compact the system was. It connected every place that was important and connected places that on the surface seem niche. Figuring out the metro lines probably took me more time than it took me to learn the most efficient way to climb Bascom Hill, which does not exist.
Like the streets on the walk to class, people using the metro had the face of those who solemnly swear to do their duty. Yet another characteristic was that the metro and places surrounding the stations had many street artists which gave the city life and culture.
Comparing the subways to the bus system on campus in Madison is a crime. You cannot compare the silent, overcrowded buses to the vibrant, but also overcrowded subway system. I feel safe in the metro even if I am travelling alone, which speaks to the progressive nature of the capital.
Another characteristic distinction between Washington and Madison is the diversity of food that is available here. Okay, I will be the first to admit that it is expensive, and the 10% sales tax does not aid in the matter but hear me out. The representation of different cultures and ethnicities that the food does here is marvelous.
Madison has some very good food places, don’t get me wrong, but they are few in number and from what I have to say and have heard, they are not authentic. Washington is the exact opposite as the ethnic foods here truly stand for authenticity. Also, the food tastes better.
Over the past week, my classmates and I have had the opportunity to visit several historical sites during our excursions. Thankfully, not all of them were walking as we did use the metro system for places that were far.
Our first day was also our longest day as we went to most of the major historical monuments and memorials. On the way to these memorials, we got to see a lot of food trucks, something that reminded me of Madison. The temptation to try them almost got to me but I was reminded of why we were here in the first place.
We followed that up with a visit to the Lincoln Memorial, a place that I was looking forward to visiting. The quotes on freedom of speech and liberty for everyone were symbolic. A cool fact, you can see both the Washington Monument and the State Capitol building from the Lincoln monument.
We followed this up by visiting the Vietnam War memorial, the Martin Luther King memorial, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Each of these sites had volumes to speak for themselves and each conveyed powerful emotions by those who were there when these great people or momentous occasions occurred. You could also see the passion of those who erected these structures through the care they put into designing these memorials.
Over the next few days here, we got to visit many other culturally rich places like the African American Museum of History and Culture. That museum should be visited by everyone as it is the perfect place for people to educate themselves about the culture of Black people.
There were several exhibits that made me ponder and challenged my true beliefs. In specific, I would like to talk about the Muhammad Ali memorial exhibit and the pillar of inspiration it is to not only to Black people, but to everyone seeking justice. He was one of the greatest boxers we will ever see and getting to hear and see some of the speeches and quotes really had me on the verge of tears. I spent a considerable amount of time mourning this legend and wish to spread his legacy through my future actions.
An unfortunate thing that did happen was our White House tour got cancelled. Words cannot express my sorrow. We did get to have a look from outside but of course, being inside would have been a different experience.
Finally, we went inside the Library of Congress and if it is not known already that place is nothing short of a wonder. The sheer amount of effort and care put into assembling that bastion is unfathomable to those who have not seen it. The details range from murals on the walls and ceiling to faces carved into the walls, something that most people would miss.
The observatory deck is a perfect place to view and understand the amount of knowledge that the library withholds. I, myself, stood there for a good 5 minutes just to see everything that was in play. The more time I spent, the more amazed I was with the detail that existed. From the names to the quotes, to the murals, to the statues, to the whatnot. I feel like I still missed so many fine Easter eggs that one could only uncover by scanning every inch of the building.
That about wrapped up the excursions for the week and to be completely honest, now that I am looking back, I am severely impressed that we managed to go to so many historical sites and museums within a few days.
That concludes my experience in Washington DC so far and it does not suffice to say how much of an adventure it has been. I am extremely grateful to those who provided me with this opportunity and to those who experienced this momentous occasion with me. My classmates and the professor have been amazing people who have made this
class even more memorable.
I look forward to our future seminars and visits to more of these historical sites as it feels like we have only scratched the surface and the amount of knowledge that the capital withholds is seemingly endless.