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Steven Chao, George Washington University – Spring 2016

Zombie Attack!

My last week in Paris, I tried out an escape game. This has become a popular activity for young adults especially. The games are live versions of “escape the room” video games which originate from Japan. When I arrived to Team-Time on rue Richer, I did not know what to expect. We were shown a video that told the backstory for our mission. A mad scientist was attacked and eaten by zombies before he could deliver the cure to the rest of the world. It was our job to find the antidote for the zombie virus and escape the bunker. If not, we would meet the same fate as its previous occupant. We were skeptical going in, but it was impossible not to fall into character. A sense of urgency was created by a warning countdown: 1 hour to self-destruction. Nothing would be achieved through force, only by solving the logic puzzles. One of my favorites was when we found a dismembered finger in a bloodied lab coat. We soon realized that we needed to press the fingertip to activate a sensor which would give us the next clue. I won’t lie: we failed and were eaten by zombies. As disappointing as that was, we had a great time and rode the adrenaline rush for the rest of the day. Team-Time will update the missions regularly and are also building an anti-café – I am tempted to come back!


Rodin museum

The Rodin museum and sculpture garden are a great way to spend a sunny afternoon. And it’s free for students! The Thinker depicting Dante Alighieri is one of its prized collections. In fact, all the sculptures represent scenes from Dante’s Inferno, most prominently the gate to hell which assembles multiple motifs into one.

The French medical system

It is easy to get worn out from travel and the end of semester academic pile up. Around this time of year the metro becomes germ central. Getting sick is no fun and getting sick in a foreign country makes things even more complicated. Luckily, France has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. APA can recommend a doctor or better yet ask your host family who they see. When I wheezed that I was sick, my host sister made an appointment for me with the physician whose office was right in the building. We made are way over later that same day as my host sister volunteered to interpret. We both realized I didn’t need it, but still it was nice having some moral support. The process was just some paperwork and the typical examination. I got the impression that doctors see a lot of patients one after the other during the day. However, I had a positive experience and found the doctor to be efficient and very sweet. Don’t forget to ask for a certificate excusing you from classes! Pharmacies are evenly spaced throughout Paris so there will likely be one down the street from you. The fee was 35 euro and the drugs were under 15.


Berlin is not your typical traditional fairy-tale European city. As most of it was destroyed during WWII, it is ultra modern. To me, it felt like a cross between an industrial complex and a park, in the coolest possible way. The streets are extremely wide, so after packed in Paris, you feel that Berlin just gives you a lot of breathing room. It’s a green city, everyone bikes. Almost all of the memorials are consecrated to remembering the Holocaust; Berlin takes the message of reparation seriously.

The scene can be quite hipster. Think folktronika. Think warehouse renovated into trendy club. Think street art like the famed East Berlin Gallery.

I highly encourage anyone new to a city to go on a free tour. We learned so much from our guide, Ron, who moved here from Jerusalem to be with the love of his life. We were taken to Checkpoint Charlie (the scene of what could have been WWIII), Berlin wall (one time a family escaped to West Berlin by flying over the wall in a hot air balloon), Holocaust memorial (inspired by a Jewish cemetery in Prague where tombstones are stacked one on top of the other), Hitler’s underground bunker (now a car park). Ron also pointed out the North Korean embassy, the only one in Europe, another testament to Germany’s commitment to open diplomacy and peace.


There is no way you can discover Le Comptoir Général just by walking along canal Saint-Martin unless you see other people sneaking in or were given explicit directions. My UChicago friends studying in Barcelona and I were brought here by a French friend who wanted to show us a “really cool place”. The speakeasy is so well hidden that even though Paul has been before, he walked passed it at first, doubling back to push open a gate off the main road. You have to walk through a narrow alley before you see the pink arrow over the otherwise unremarkable door.

This place has so many influences ranging from kitschy to tropical to hipster. There is a distinct African and Caribbean vibe because the space used to be a colonial museum. Now, in an ironic cynical twist, the waiters are all black. The prices are not too bad and the drinks are strong. We ordered two pitchers of rum punch and were good to go by dinner. There was a hip older couple and even a few children running around, but for the most part, the clientele are bobos (bourgeois bohemians) in their 20s and 30s. The music is also all over the place – ranging from mainstream, French chansons and West African riddims.


If you want to see French people lose their minds and learn some colorful language, go to a soccer game at the Stade de France. We got French flags on our cheeks and I patriotically painted the Russian flag on my forehead. The security was top notch due to the November attacks and the game started off with a moment of silence for Belgium. A cacophony of “putain”, allez les bleus and the marseillaise propelled the players to a French victory of 4-2 against Russia.

Donald Trump? Marine Le Pen?

Europeans are fascinated with Donald Trump.

If someone hears that you are American, they will likely ask you about the Republican candidate.

Case in point: Overhearing us speaking English, a man at a café enjoying his afternoon omelet, turned to us and asked, “Donald Trump”?

We immediately began blustering on about how his popularity is overblown and how most don’t support his policies on immigration. At least not in New York City… At which point we were stopped mid-sentence with a:

-And why shouldn’t you?

-Because banning all Muslims or building a wall is not conducive to anything and is racist. The solution is not as simple as closing the border.

– If they come and bomb us, what is there left to do? We don’t want them here.

Many in France are beginning to think like this: First privately and now openly. The rise of Trump has coincided with that of Marine Le Pen, President of the Front National, France’s far right, conservative, nationalistic party.

On one end are those saying that Europe has no one to blame but itself, claiming that the surge in Islamaphobia has created networks of native-born, marginalized radicals. On the other are those asking, How can we integrate people into our society who don’t want to be a part of it?

There is no simple solution to this complex problem, but a simple solution is certainly the most palatable.


Paris, Brussels, …?

On Tuesday, a series of bombings occurred at the Zaventem airport and the Maelbeek metro station in Brussels. Today, according to the French Interior Minister, an anti-terror raid in Argenteuil successfully foiled plans of another bombing in Paris. The next major attacks are planned for Germany. My next weekend trip, I am going to Berlin – it will be interesting to evaluate the atmosphere there as compared to Paris.

Interviews with top rung Belgian officials, including the foreign minister, and European analysts, have taken over the evening news. The Eiffel tower lit up at night in the colors of the Belgian flag as a show of solidarity. Security has visibly tightened once again.

The only thing left to do is to stay vigilant and make sure your program and family can easily contact you. I would not discourage anyone from studying abroad in Europe – hiding will not achieve anything.