Thursday, September 30, 2010


by Ashton Irwin, Universite de Savoie, France

I went to Geneva, Switzerland today. Honestly, I sometimes have to step back and look at the life that I'm living. I never thought I would hop on a train from France and go to Switzerland for the day. It can sometimes seen surreal; like I'm living someone else's life or I'm just in the middle of a movie. It feels like that. Chambery is like a movie set; almost too perfect and adorable to be a real city.

I tried really hard to enjoy Geneva. It was a cold, gray, and wet day and that has more influence on my mood than I would like for it to. I feel like I don't appreciate certain experiences like I should when my surroundings are less than ideal. However, I kept telling myself where I was and how many people dream of being in my very wet Sperry shoes. I think what I gathered from the little time I spent in Geneva is that, for people on a tight budget like me, window shopping is the only way to shop. Not only does the US dollar converted to the Euro converted to the Swiss Franc really put me at a disadvantage, but let's face it: I don't shop at Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, or any of those ritzy places on my best paycheck in the states. For the middle class American, Geneva should be visited for it's beauty and charm and certainly not for the shopping. We went to a church and up to the tower of the church for a panoramic view of Geneva and that was what did it for me. Even on a cold rainy day, it was breathtaking.

As far as the home front goes, I'm still tackling a small case of homesickness. That in addition to my cold has me occasionally missing American food, American television, and my American self on our American couch. So when I got my care package in the mail today (thanks, Mom!) I felt instantly better. It's nice to still feel connected to home. It makes being here a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable.

I still can't wait for classes to start, and even today I started thinking about all the things that I want to accomplish. There are so many things I want to achieve, not just here, but in my life as a whole. I think France will most definitely be the place that I find myself. I'm already on my way to self discovery as it is.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


by Ashton Irwin
Universite de Savoie, France

I really hate gas stoves. No matter how many times I take that tiny match to that gas burner, I still freak out and jump back when it ignites. Sometimes it nearly singes my eyebrows. That may be an exaggeration, but it's still terrifying. I'm looking into longer matches or a longer lighter for my sanity's sake.

I'm still sick. I don't know if I ever mentioned that in any previous blogs, but I have been sick for a while now. It's kept me in bed for the past few days and has really cramped my style. I will occasionally go out, but usually I just lay in bed and blow my nose. I thought I was getting better, but I think it keeps slowly getting worse. It doesn't help that it's frigid in this house. A man came yesterday to turn on the heat and he's coming back today to set the temperature. I can't wait because it's hard to get out of bed when it's so stinkin' cold.

I went to a dinner last night with all the Americans and our advisor from school. We had a meeting beforehand where he told us all about the programs that we have coming up for us. Looks like I'm going to Geneva tomorrow which is awesome. I'm really excited about it. I also might be going to London for my birthday if it works out. He gave us several weekend options and my birthday weekend happened to be one of them. We were all planning on going somewhere awesome for my birthday; this way it would just be paid for.

There's a lot of other stuff going on too, mostly in France which I'm fine with since I am in France for a reason. I think we may be going to a city in Italy at some point too. There will be lots of wine and cheese involved, as is the French way.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Study Abroad Scholarships!

Ragsdale Scholarship Applications are due on Friday, October 1.  These scholarships are available to Maryville College students who are studying abroad in Spring 2011 (and every semester!).  Applications can be found at

There is only one week remaining until the student deadline for the Gilman International Scholarship! All applicants must submit an online application by 11:59PM CST on Tuesday, October 5, 2010. Advisors must certify applications by Tuesday, October 12, 2010 11:59PM CST. To log into the application system or learn more, go to

There has never been a better time to apply for the Gilman Scholarship. With the recent funding increases for the Gilman Program, we will be able to award over 2300 scholarships to students studying abroad during the 2010-2011 academic year. The selection rate is approximately 1 in 3 applicants, so please  apply if you meet eligibility criteria.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mid-Semester Break, yes!

Since I've last written to you all, a lot of good things have happened! First, I finally found a job. It's kind of far away, takes a little over an hour to get there from my school, but it's in a safe area of Sydney called Surry Hills, and it's only a couple minutes from the Central train station. It's at Contact Centre Australia, which, yes, is a telemarketing company. But, I sell raffle tickets for good charities that help cancer research and provide volunteer firefighter funds and donate a cerebral palsy center, so I don't mind to do it. It pays well, I'm not on my feet all day, and I'm getting the chance to work on my phone and sales skills. I think it helps having a southern accent, on my 3rd shift I got best customer service, which means a free lunch voucher at work tomorrow!

In other news, I've just had an amazing week of mid-semester break. To start off the festivities, last friday I went and saw my high school friend Matt in Coogee Beach after work (how funny is it that we're in NSW at the same time!) and we hit up Oxford Street. Last Saturday I went to Darling Harbour and Kings Cross with some friends from res, and it was my first all nighter. Train stations close around midnight in the city, so we got back on the train at 5:30 a.m. and back to Kingswood station around 7:00 a.m. Then had to walk back to campus....and it was cold! Bed time that night: 7:30 a.m. Luckily my nights don't usually go that long!

Last Tuesday some friends and I flew to the Gold Coast to hit up the beach and clubs for the week. The weather wasn't great the first day, but several days were nice and sunny, so we spent our mornings and afternoons soaking up the Australian sun. With sun cream on, of course. And we all still managed to get spotty burns on the places that we missed. At night, we went out to enjoy the nightlife that Surfers Paradise has to offer. We did too nightclub crawls with a company called Wicked, and for $60 each several of my friends and I went to 5 different clubs on Wednesday and Saturday with a big group of backpackers and other student travellers like us. We got food at several locations, and a free drink or shot at each place too, and free entry. In all, it was a good deal and I'd recommend the tour for anyone heading to Gold Coast at some point.
Getting back was interesting. JetStar has these handy little kiosks for quick check-ins, and they usually take about a minute to do if you have no luggage besides carry on. For some reason, my ticket wouldn't show up. Even at the check-in counter they couldn't find it. So I went to the service desk, and we finally figured out that when I had called to cancel my tickets to NZ, JetStar cancelled the wrong flight. Luckily I was able to re-book, but had to re-pay since apparently the refund had already been granted. Very frustrating, but my friend travelling with me was able to re-book his flight for the later time with me, and we both finally made it home.

Now to write an essay that's due tomorrow, I hope you all at MC are enjoying the fall weather that's approaching!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

International Potluck

Alex (Republic of Moldova) set up his country's flag

Ji-won (Korea) wore traditional clothes

Smile, everyone!

In Sep 18th (Last Saturday) we had an International Potluck at Proffitt Dining Room from 5:30pm to 7pm. Many students cooked or brought their own dishes(some of the students cooked in the kitchen in I-house or Davis hall) and we enjoyed more than 10 countries' cuisines. In addition, some of the students wore the traditional clothes; it was very wonderful.
Sharing and trying another countries' food in potluck is one of the great idea to know the international culture, and we expect we can have a potluck again.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Impromptu trip to Paris

I just got back from Paris last night - luckily. It was looking like I wasn't going to make it out of that city at all at first. It was a fine example of how different the French culture is from the American culture. There was a train strike yesterday that made the train I was supposed to take back to Chambery get cancelled. So, my friend and I had to hop on the first train to Lyon and then take a bus all the way back to Chambery. It was all really complicated and stressful and we spent most of our last day in Paris dealing with the transportation system. It's so weird to me because they strike all the time, but in America if people continue to strike they just lose their jobs and get replaced and then it's over. Here though, they don't lose their jobs so they just strike. It's different and it's highly inconvenient.

Also, I got this newspaper at the metro stop yesterday that explained why there have been French military fellows with big big guns waltzing all over the place. I think that in another country there were some French people kidnapped and now they are worried about terrorism, but not super worried. The article mainly said the threat is really to French people outside their country, not within it. And it also mentioned they aren't worried about Bin Laden because he doesn't care about France, just the US. Thanks, article. But, the men are just guarding highly populated areas just to be safe. It's intimidating and comforting I guess.

I have mixed feelings about Paris. I like parts of it and don't like other parts of it. I think part of that was just me having really sore feet and being really tired. I went to the Louvre and just feel like I wasn't even in the right mindset to appreciate it. It was just kind of a mess of a trip and there was a lot of poor planning. A few people that went with us kept saying "Oh, don't plan things -- it doesn't matter, we're in Paris" but it did matter. You don't just go to a big city like that without some sort of plan.

I got to go to Roland Garros though, and that was all that I wanted to do in Paris. Mission accomplished. I'm ready for classes to start so I can start learning this language!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pasta and Baguettes

by Ashton Irwin
Universite de Savoie, France

Everything is closed in France on Sundays and I'm running out of food. I finished off some pasta earlier and I'm currently eating some potatoes. I miss American food. I'm too picky of an eater to appreciate French food and I'm certainly not a fan of their tiny portions.

Everything about this place seems to be like a movie set. It's like none of this is actually real. It's all too amazing to actually be my life. I went out dancing again last night and it just seems so natural. I don't know what it is, but I'm loving this. I want this to be my reality forever because right now it seems like I'm not even in the real world. I love it.

I love it, and at the same time I am starting to miss home just a little bit.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I have a cold, but its in France

by Ashton Irwin
Universite de Savoie, France

...So it's ok.

The past few days have been really busy and I haven't had much of a chance to actually update this. I went on a hike on Sunday to this mountain across from Mont Blanc which is the highest mountain in France, maybe Europe, I'm not actually sure. I'm sure they said, but everything's in French here and some things get lost in translation for me. Most things get lost in translation for me, actually. The hike was really hard. Even our guide from the school who goes hiking on a weekly basis told us after the fact that we did well because it was such a hard and steep hike. There were a few times where I wanted to give up and felt really defeated. That's becoming the theme of this place -- becoming defeated and then finding what it takes to push through it.

We finally got to the top and the view was worth it. The pain is always worth the reward here. I keep forgetting how much I hate the hike up too and just keep signing up for more of them. I was already feeling a little sick before the hike though, and now I think I have a pretty full blown case of the sniffles. Hiking a mountain will do that.

The next day we went to class and then almost immediately left for Lyon, which so far is probably one of my least favorite cities in France. The tour was boring because he really didn't show us anything interesting besides the cathedral and then we kept looking at the same building over and over. It wasn't the same, but they all looked the same. It was a failed attempt at a historical lesson on Lyon.

After the tour we wandered around and hiked up this huge hill to go to another big cathedral type building. The girls that I was with were all speaking French and some of them weren't as accepting of my inability to comprehend the conversation or respond. I stayed silent for most of it, unless someone was willing to speak English to me. There were some comments made, I later found out, about how we are in France to speak French and not to speak English. I took it kind of personal, but there was nothing I could do. I've only been here two weeks. I'm in France to learn French, and I can't help that it's a slow process. I'm sure they wouldn't have minded having someone there to translate for them if they couldn't understand.

That was just all a little disheartening. I was tired and sickly and just kind of felt defeated that night too. I was starting my spiral. According to people here -- week 3 is the "I'm homesick, I'll never be able to speak this stupid language, I'm miserable" week. I'm probably right on track. I don't know if I'll ever speak this language well, especially if people make me sad. It makes me less willing to attempt to speak because I feel like their judging me either way.

I'm done with classes now. At least the first intensive part of classes. I don't have to go back until October so I have a lot of free days coming up that I'm going to use very well. The next four days are already pretty much mapped out for me, but they're going to be awesome.

Last night was the first night I went out with a bunch of people. We had a dinner party at the other American's apartment and then went out to a few bars afterwards. I had the time of my life. I danced for about 4 hours and a few Spaniards taught me...maybe a salsa, I'm not really sure. It was amazing and I'll definitely be doing it again. I love this place, still. Even through the rough patches.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Wine & Cheese

by Ashton Irwin
Universite de Savoie, France

Wine and cheese was awesome, and if you know me then you know that I don't even really like wine and cheese all that much. But, I've adopted this new "try everything" philosophy to go along with my "say yes" philosophy and I had to try it all. I actually liked one of the cheeses so much that I bought a half-kilo of it. It won't last long around here though, not the way that we eat.

I wasn't as impressed with the wine though. Apparently it wasn't just me either, a lot of people who actually like wine weren't too impressed with it. I have my French phone in hand now, I just haven't added any minutes to it yet. When I do, I'll be cool.

Today is my first free day that I've had in a while so I'm going to soak it all up. Oh, and we went to Annecy yesterday which is a beautiful tourist-y city. Pictures will follow soon so don't worry.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Vin et Fromage

by Ashton Irwin
Universite de Savoie, France

Tomorrow is wine and cheese day. It's a school function too - une grande sortie to go wine and cheese tasting. I'm living the good life, friends.

It's been a pretty interesting few days in Chambery. I've struggled through some classes because I had to speak in front of the class. Speaking in front of the class isn't something I like to do in English so I especially hate it in French. I also did something a little crazy yesterday -- I bought a French phone! I belong here. It's a little lame though. They don't do roll over minutes so when I buy minutes and texts, they expire within a certain amount of time. I'll just have to give everyone here my number and use all the minutes up!

I feel like I haven't had a real meal since I've been here. I just keep binge eating little things and living off bread and pasta. Which, by the way, I made last night. I have yet to find alfredo in France so I decided to take matters into my own hands and I made it from scratch. It was delicious. Apparently one of the tricks here is nutmeg in white sauce.

I have a lot of amazing things lined up for the next couple of weeks. Tomorrow is the wine and cheese tasting, then there's another hike on Sunday, a trip to Lyon Monday, and then even more in the future a cruise and a surprise trip to London. I'm so excited. I love France, I love it all, I could live here forever.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Day: ...

by Ashton Irwin
Universite de Savoie, France

I can't really remember what day it is other than it's Saturday and that's only because I'm not in class. I don't know what day of the month it is and I'm not even really sure what time it is right now. I'm having a lazy to do try and bounce back from the week I've had.

I guess I'll get used to this in a while, but right now it's really hard to sleep because my bedroom has this balcony door that is 100% not soundproof and my bedroom is right next to the road. So I'm constantly hearing cars and insanely loud motorcycles speed down the road and when someone talks outside the window I swear it sounds like they're in my room. Right now that keeps waking me up and whatnot, but I think eventually I'll get used to the sounds and be able to sleep right through it.

I went shopping today. Shopping in France is a little different I guess. It took me a while to figure out what I was getting, but there were some familiar names. I jumped on the Activia yogurt just because it was something recognizable. I just kind of hand cashiers the biggest bills I have and hope that it covers it because I'm still not sure what they're saying when they speed speak the price of things.

I'm still having a hard time adjusting to the fact that drinking here is completely normal. In fact, the ISEP coordinator gave our tutor/show us around girl money to take us out for drinks. Essentially the school just paid for me Leffe beer, and that's totally acceptable here. I think that would be discouraged in the states, but...welcome to France, I guess.

I haven't done any real tourist-y things yet. I haven't taken an insane amount of pictures yet either, which as I know is starting to annoy some people. Like my mother. But I'm here for 9 months, and all these things around me aren't going anywhere so I'll take pictures eventually. I'll definitely take pictures on my hike tomorrow so you can all look forward to some of that. My goal now during my down time is to study French as much as possible. I'm starting to somewhat pick up on a few things here and there, but it's not coming as quickly as I'd like it to. So now it's time to buckle down and learn this language.

Oh, and I'm learning a little bit of Italian too, thanks to -- none other than the Italians. Ciao.

More Pictures from Western Sydney

Mrs. Macquarie's Chair

Rocks that jut out from the land in Royal Botanic Gardens

Apartment at res

Rugby Game!


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Things are starting to warm up Down Under!

I finally got to break out my shorts and sundresses last week. Which is a great thing since somehow I only ended up packing three pairs of jeans. And when you have to pay $4 to do your laundry unless you can coax someone in a townhouse to let you use their washing machine and dryer, laundry only gets done every few weeks.

Before I talk about warm weather events, I should back-track a bit because it's been quite a while since my last post! I'm just going to make a list of the cool and not so cool things that have gone on since then.

Not so cool will be first, since it's best to end things on a good note, even on a blog post.

1. Internet on res (aussie term for residential campus) is really terrible. My computer didn't work for ages here, but luckily my amazing housemate Marcus was able to fix it. Thanks to him I can type this blog on my laptop instead of the computer lab!

2. It's REALLY windy in Penrith. Which maybe isn't always a bad thing, but if it's not warm, you left your trashbag outside because you didn't feel like taking it to the bin yet, your clothes are on a line outside, you're walking back from train station, or it's raining, it's not a good thing. Last night I went to a 21st birthday party and the wind knocked down a pole that was holding up a tarp, and the birthday boy's grandpa got hit in the head with it. Don't worry, he's fine, but just an example of how vicious the wind can be.

3. Everything is really expensive. Spent $18 dollars on sunscreen the other day, the same brand I usually get at home. To be expected though, minimum wage here is like $12, so to a girl who gets a wage of $8 an hour at home everything seems ridiculously high priced. Transportation isn't too high though. To get from res to the Penrith Plaza for shopping, it costs $3.20 round trip on the bus or train. Buses come more frequently than trains, so they're the way to go. Luckily the student center here gave me a student concession sticker on my student card, so I get discounts on all transportation. The system is very strange for concessions for internationals though. I was told if you are on exchange, then you are eligible. But out of all my American friends, I'm the only one on exchange instead of study abroad, but several of them were able to get a sticker, while others were not. IMPORTANT ADVICE: It's a really bad idea to buy a student ticket if you don't have that special sticker. Security does come on the train at times to ask for tickets and IDs. So far all my friends who have been caught so far have been able to talk their way out of it, but if you can't it's a $200 fine. I wouldn't risk it!

4. Classes are taught way differently at UWS. You have a lecture (usually 2 hours) and a tutorial (usually 1 hour). Some lectures are huge, held in auditoriums with like 400 or 500 people. Luckily, they usually post these online. Since I can't pay attention in a room with that many people, one of my lectures I only do online, because I can concentrate better and if I physically went to that lecture then I'd be in classes for four hours straight. You only have two or three assignments in each class, but they are worth a lot so they are very important. Some classes have final exams, some don't. Professors here are not much like the ones we are privileged to have at Maryville College. I definitely miss the humor and casual environment of learning at MC, and having likeable, helpful professors. Not to say that all instructors here are terrible, I only have one that is a nightmare, and the rest are just a bit bland.

Alright, now on to the wonderful things about Oz!

1. The Blue Mountains are sooo pretty. I'll post some more pictures up later so you all can see what I'm talking about. Unfortunately when I went it was freezing and windy, but I'll go back later when it's warmer.

2. Rugby! I got to go to a Panthers vs. Rabbitohs game a few weekends ago! The Panthers are from Penrith, so that's the team I was going for. Cool fact: Russell Crowe owns the Rabbitohs rugby team. Even cooler: He came to the game! Not as cool: He was really far away and I never really got to see him. The Panthers smashed the Rabbitohs. Russell Crowe was probably a bit embarrassed. Next weekend I am going to an All Blacks (NZ) vs. Wallabies (AUS) rugby game! It's going to be amazing, these two teams are huge rivals and I've always wanted to see the Haka performed by the All Blacks in person.

3. Self-catering apartments. My living unit here on res is on the verge of perfect. I live in a brand new apartment building with two housemates. We each have our own bedroom, which are pretty decent size. Katie and I share a bathroom, while Marcus has his own in his ensuite. We have a full kitchen, complete with an electric tea kettle. One flick of a switch and hot water is ready for tea! I hope we have these in the U.S., I want one when I get home! We have a fairly large living area with two couches, a coffee table, and a flat screen tv. Not very many channels, but we don't watch much tv anyways so it's not such a big deal. Unfortunately our apartment is right above the common room, where a lot of parties are held, which sometimes makes sleeping difficult since people like to party on Thursday nights when I have 9 a.m. class on Fridays. One thing I thought I would miss but really don't is the dining hall. I'm learning to cook and I really like it! I eat a lot healthier now and Katie and I love making dinner together every night. I'm keen on Asian food too now, since Marcus is Chinese and makes an Asian dish every night. I've even eaten sushi and liked it! Last night I learned how to make fried rice. I will be making lots of it in Carnegie when I get back to MC!

4. Sydney. Best city ever, hands down. It has so much to offer, no matter what kind of person you are. If you love elegance, luxury, and perfect scenery, the Rocks and Circular Quay is the place to be. Lots of lovely restaurants and shops in this area, just be prepared to pay the price. Also, the only place that I've seen a Starbucks in! This is the place where the Aroma Festival I wrote about earlier was held.
Darling Harbour is also a really neat place for a tourist. I went with some friends and saw Inception on the largest IMAX screen in the world! There are a lot of cool looking fountains here and it's a great place to be at night. I've heard the nightclubs are good too, but I haven't been to any in this area.
One of my favorite places is Royal Botanic Gardens. It's a must to go to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair and take some photos standing on the rocks that jut out from the shore. You can see both the bridge and Opera House in the background of this area, so it's the perfect place to go if you want to get a few postcard-worthy photos.
Kings Cross is pretty hopping at night! This is the central hub where backpackers and party-goers hang out all night. Some of the known clubs in this area are Soho, World Bar, and Candies. There's also a really good place in this area that sells New York Slice Pizza. Kind of pricey for $6 a slice, but the slices are pretty large and delicious. There are lots of hostels in this area too. Two of my friends and I spent a weekend in the city and stayed at a hostel in the Cross. Not the nicest accomodation, but at $18 it wasn't terrible.

There's so much more to talk about, but I'll have to save it for a later time. Good luck to all of you starting a new semester at MC, and also to those who are studying abroad in other countries!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bonjour People!

by Ashton Irwin, Universite de Savoie, France

I had every intention of updating this daily, but with limited access to the internet that's presenting itself to be problematic.

I'm here, finally and have just finished day one of what's surely to be a grueling semester. I'm sure half the other people here are going to breeze right through it, but it turns out my French is horrible. I just nod my head and try to process everything, but it's not going as well as I'd hoped. I think I imagined this trip to be different in my head and I'd just step foot on French soil and be speaking the language right after. WRONG.

Navigating all my luggage in the airport and in the train station/on the train was a nightmare. Thankfully there were a lot of nice strangers along the way who helped me hoist a few suitcases here and there -- and actually get on the right train.

My landlady is cool, but speaks absolutely no French. And I'm pretty sure she weighs about as much as my suitcase. She's a little older and my room is up a few flights of stairs so I carried all my luggage in individual trips to my room. My room is cool. There's a balcony with an alright view. Just to touch on the view here a little bit -- the alps are incredible. It's gorgeous out here and this town is precious.

There are two other girls living here and its thanks to them that I've made it this far. Their translating has helped me a lot. Hopefully I'll get this down and be able to hold my own in conversations soon. I ordered a sandwich and some water in French today -- jambon et fromage. There are some other pretty awesome Americans -- one who is coincidentally from UT. Small world. We practically know each other and we're reppin' the south I guess.

I just took a shower. You wouldn't think that would be a monumental thing, but it was. I imagine its how my dog feels when I give him a bath. Only there was no one there to hold the shower head for me so I had to develop some serious skills -- in ten minutes. It's not easy and it's not refreshing. Showers are starting to creep up my "I'm going to miss..." list.

I haven't had a decent meal either. I've basically only had bread and tea, but delicious French bread and tea. Hopefully I'll get to the store soon and get some food. I've not been crazy hungry though. The walk to school is long and strenuous so when I get back to the states I want you all to expect calves of steel.

All in all, this seems like it's going to be an awesome trip. There are already hikes, bikes, and kayaks in my future and a few trips here and there with the people I've befriended.

More to come.