Saturday, January 29, 2011

Week 1 in the Netherlands

by Chase Newman
Leiden University, The Netherlands

So I've officially been in the Netherlands for 5 days now, and it's already been quite an adventure. And I'll go ahead and say that my overall attitude has shifted dramatically in that time. I arrived at 7:30 AM on Tuesday after an 8 hour flight, during which I got no sleep at all, so my first day was a bit rough to say the least. I had appointments in different buildings all over the city of Leiden and I had to find my way to each of them, on time, and still find time to eat something. During my desperate search for food in between appointments I finally happened upon this small cafe. I walked in, looked around for a few seconds, exchanged an awkward glance with the lady behind the counter, and finally said, "I don't know what I'm doing, but... I'm an international student and I want some food." So, I ended up with a slice of fruit and nut bread and an espresso- not exactly filling, but it would do. After that I had to go back to the visitor's center to get my luggage where the kind people there let me leave it, and then drag all 100+ pounds of it all the way across town to where I would be living. Let me just say that this is impossible to do without looking like a loser. When I finally arrived, got my key and got into my room, I fitted my bed with the awkward sheets that were provided to me and passed out until later on that night.

The following day was dedicated to purchasing a bike, because after the amount of walking that I did the first day, this was my top priority. For those of you who don't already know, bikes are a major part of life in the Netherlands. They pretty much dominate the roads here, and it's a common sight to see rows after rows of them locked up in places. With me being the type of person who likes to make the most well informed decision about everything, I decided to shop around at almost every bike shop in the city for the best price. I did a lot of walking. I ended up buying a second-hand one from the first shop I went to for 50 Euros. It's certainly not the best bike in the world, but it gets the job done. Also, that morning I had an "American" moment and saw something that I never thought I would actually be excited to see- a McDonald's. In a city where everything is written in Dutch, it was a huge relief to see something so familiar where I could know for sure what I'm getting. The Golden Arches actually made a pretty good breakfast, as a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich came with a croissant with fruit spread, an orange juice, and a cappuccino with a cookie. I also decided to go to the grocery store to buy a few things, but since everything was in Dutch, my options were a bit limited. This was actually a very interesting experience, as it showed me another aspect of just how different life here is. By the end of the second day, I still felt quite uncomfortable with my surroundings and rather lonely since I hadn't actually met anybody yet. I had this glorified expectation that I would come in and start having a great time immediately and that it really wouldn't be that hard, but I found out very quickly that I was completely wrong and that studying in an unfamiliar country is actually quite difficult. The city of Leiden is certainly a gorgeous city, but even that doesn't help much when everything is so different and unfamiliar. I guess there really isn't much of a way to prepare yourself for culture shock.

Thursday brought a very nice change. Thursday and Friday were the "Introduction Days" organized by the university, where I learned how to handle many of the online systems, how to deal with the Dutch people (yes, they actually had an entire program about how to deal with themselves), and where I received tours of different buildings and parts of the city. This was organized for all the international students, so on these days I was able to meet a lot of people and make quite a few new friends. This has definitely made all the difference, since many of these people are going through the exact same thing I'm going through. I guess you could say this was where my attitude started to shift towards a more positive outlook. I met people from all over the world, who were studying for all different reasons. Not all of them were undergraduates either, as I met quite a few people who were completing their Masters degrees and a few who were doing PhD work. I even met a few Dutch people, some of whom were rather interesting people. So many people have stereotyped the Dutch as rude people, but in my experience I've only met some incredibly kind people. For example, I was standing on a street-corner once holding my map, looking about as lost as anyone can appear, and some random guy just comes up and helps me figure out which direction I needed to go in. I know that there's a lot left for me to learn about this culture, but I'm already really enjoying it and anticipate learning much more.

Monday, January 24, 2011

And so it begins...

by Ashton Irwin
Universite de Savoie, France
Ok, so I'm not sure if today was the 'official' first day of class, but it was the first day of school for me, the protagonist of this European storybook adventure. It's after a long day like today that one simply falls down, puts up their aching but educated feet, and drinks a hot cup of tea to smoke out the cold chills. Which is what I'm doing. I don't know where we last left off, but I'll just begin with the events of today.

My first class (after long internal debate over whether or not class ACTUALLY started today) was medieval history at ten this morning. Classes in France are once a week and two hours long, which seems great, but talk to me again when you're about to fall asleep and realize you still have an hour left of mind-numbing lectures. Even in French, they are mind-numbing. My comprehension level is still only so-so and I only understand about half of what happened once, a long long time ago in the West. There was something about corn and then something about silk. It will take some work. But after speaking with the professor, I'll be getting help when I need it and I'm not all that worried.

The next class was French & Communication, where the professor dashed all my hopes and dreams by telling me that I'll be attending the class at 8 in the morning on Mondays. Curse 8 in the morning. The American Ashton would be a little worried and nervous about that class since her French is terrible and the course requires her to do a fifteen minute speech in French. The French Ashton is just "ehhh whatever". It will all be over soon.

That's the blessing and the curse of it all. It will all be over soon. Yeah, it will be over and whatever fear, nervousness, anger, anguish, loneliness, or despair that I feel will be gone and in the past. I'll barely remember how I felt as I stood there, probably red faced and trembling, giving the speech once I'm back home. But it will all be over soon and all those good, happy, wonderful feelings and memories will be gone too. Blessing and curse.

The last class I went to today was economics - and that will be the last economics class that I go to. Right now it's kind of pick and choose and you can go and feel out the class to see if you want to stay. I don't want to stay. The worst part is that I totally understood the vocabulary, the definitions, and even the professor's French. I was on top of that whole language thing in that class. The part I didn't understand - the economics. I can't do or understand economics in English and there's no way doing it in a different language is going to be any easier. So I've decided to drop that one, take something similar if I need it when I get home, and not add that extra stress to my life.

I have a few more classes that I have yet to go to this week, but I'll make sure to document how they go either on here or in a journal to later type up on here. I have my first day of tennis tomorrow which I'm more excited about right now than nervous, but ask me again at 10h15 tomorrow and I'll tell you the nerves have taken hold. I bought a Babolat racket so now I'm like Nadal, who is the greatest no matter what anyone says.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wrapping Up

The Beginning

Well, I'm back in Tennessee. Actually, I've been back for almost a month now. I've waited a long time to write this last post, so it's going to be a little difficult. Partly because it will be hard to recount all of my last days since they were so incredibly busy, and also because it's almost painful to think about my leaving process, and coming back to the states. Not that I'm not happy to be here, but I'll get to that bit later.

My last few weeks in Australia were probably my best ones. The activities? Beach, beach, beach, bbq, bbq, bbq, parties, karaoke, Pancakes on the Rocks, Darling Harbour, Italian in Parramatta (the city halfway between Penrith and the CBD), swimming, and spending time with the people I'd come to cherish the most during my semester.

One of the hardest parts of my last month in Penrith was saying goodbye to my American/Canadian/Argentinian/German/etc friends who were also on exchange and leaving for home. Thankfully, I had some pretty fantastic Australian (and internationals who stayed on!) friends to keep me company and make my last days memorable.

It's hard to describe when people ask how my "trip" to Australia was. Usually I respond with, "It was great!" or "Loved it!" There aren't really any appropriate sets of words I could use to tell someone what my semester abroad was like, and I'm sure others who have been abroad for several months at a time will understand what I mean.

Even though this is my last post about my exchange for the semester, I have decided to go back to the University of Western Sydney for a second semester, so I'm sure you all will be hearing from me again within the next few months. Deciding to attempt the process to go back to finish off my junior year was a big choice to make, and it definitely wasn't easy. Especially now that I am back at MC for J term and have seen family and old friends, and made new ones too. But opportunities like this don't come around every day, and for some reason I really like to shake up my life whenever it starts feeling a bit too normal. Being abroad has somehow sparked this new interest of mine to embrace change and discover as many new experiences as I can.

As much as I love Maryville College, while at UWS I could not think of many things that were pulling me back there immediately. I definitely want to finish my degree and complete my senior year at MC, but right before I left the car to go into the airport in Sydney I'm pretty sure I experienced some sort of panic attack. I had two really great people with me to see me off, and I'm pretty sure my panics would have started on the train if I had been travelling alone to the airport without them. The thought of never again seeing some of the people I came to befriend and really care about gave me a really terrible sinking feeling, and my whole being was telling me "Not yet." I don't doubt that Australia isn't done with me yet, and I'm looking forward to starting a new semester at UWS, finding and keeping a job in a different country, reconnecting with the ones I miss so much it hurts, and meeting new people who will no doubt be equally as important by the time I write the "Wrapping Up" post for the next semester.

So, to those considering studying abroad in the future, I really want to encourage you to do so! Whether a J term, Summer, Semester, or Academic Year, it is a unique and thrilling experience that will change your life. If you want to become a more open-minded, flexible, well-rounded person, living and studying in another country is the way to do it. If anyone is ever considering applying to the University of Western Sydney and wants some insider information or opinion, I'm glad to share what I know with you!

Enjoy your J-Terms, I know I am! It's great to be among everyone at Maryville College again, and the snow (and snow days....) have been a wonderful addition to my return. Leaving the country again on February 14th......hope to reconnect everyone before I take off!

The End......For Now!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Chambery, sweet Chambery.

I'm finally done traveling, I think. It's kind of nice to be in one place for an extended period of time now. Traveling was great and I loved every experience that I had, but traveling is exhausting too.

I'm moved into my dorm and almost completely settled in. I'm a little sniffly, but hopefully that will pass. I'm a little homesick too, but I'm hoping that will pass as well. I miss home a lot. I think it's the abrupt changes and the slow changes that have me a little off my balance. I miss all the people from last semester that made this place what it was. It's different now and I still haven't gotten used to that. I can't wait until May 31st right now. So many things I'm already planning to do when I get home.

Rome, Italy - let me just say this city was everything and nothing I expected it. I think I get in my head that these historical places still look like they do in the history books. I always know that's wrong, but it doesn't stop me from hoping to see no modern day buildings and cobblestones everywhere. I loved the coliseum and the Vatican. Rome is definitely a place I've always wanted to go and that's one more thing to scratch off my bucket list.

My dorm is different from where I lived last semester too. It's a pretty big room and I really like it, but it's definitely lonely. You're basically just alone unless you actively seek someone out to hang out with. I can't go into the kitchen and strike up conversation with two awesome ladies like I could last semester. I'm going to have a hard time battling with that, I think. I love my alone time and I love being alone, but I also don't like being confined alone for long periods of time. And since I'm kind of homesick, I definitely need to make myself get out there and do something. I need to distract myself.

*I've heard that it's not been possible to comment on my blogs without being a member of some sort. I think I have fixed that issue and I think that anyone who wants to will now be able to post comments on this blog. So go on, give it a go!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Gilman Summer Scholarship Open to all Academic Majors!

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Gilman Scholarship Program, Gilman has announced the expansion of their summer awards to include all academic majors. They anticipate this will be their most competitive cycle ever so please seek the guidance of CIE staff and utilize all available Gilman resources. For more information about the Gilman Scholarship please visit the Gilman website at

Summer 2011 online applications will open in mid-January with a deadline of March 1, 2011.

For students applying for any academic term (Academic Year, Fall, Spring or Summer) please find the eligibility requirements below:

• Enrolled as an undergraduate student at a two or four-year U.S. Institution

• United States citizen

• Receiving a Federal Pell Grant at the time of application or during the term of study abroad

• Participating in a study abroad program that is no less than 4 weeks in one country

• Receiving academic credit

• Study in any country not currently under a U.S. Department of State Travel Warning or Cuba

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

TSA Introduces New Medical Notification Cards for Travelers

I can't explain it better than this, so I refer you on the the IndependentTraveler Blog: to get more information about these cards. On this site is a link to print out the cards!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Boren Scholarship Information

Take a look at the information below if you are a study abroad student interested in applying for the Boren Scholarship! 

Applicants for the Boren Scholarships and Fellowships may need to work on their applications over the break. Take advantage of the final webinar series and our newly launched YouTube channel.

Upcoming Webinars

Friday, January 7, 2011 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM EST

Understanding the Service Requirement

Wednesday, January 12, 2011 5:00 PM - 6:00 PM EST

Boren Fellowships: Crafting Competitive Essays

Wednesday, January 19, 2010 5:00 PM - 6:00 PM EST

Boren Scholarships: Crafting Competitive Essays


Boren Awards has recently launched our own YouTube Channel. (
Visit us on YouTube to view speeches by David L. Boren and interviews with Boren Scholars and Fellows. We currently have two Boren Alumni interviews posted, an interview with Philip Lyon, a Boren Fellow who studied in Croatia, and an interview with Yanisha Brown, a Boren Scholar who studied in China. More interviews will be coming soon.

In addition, you can access recorded webinars. Visit the Webinars Playlist for background information about the awards, award preferences, information regarding the service requirement, and eligibility and application information.

Boren Scholarships and Fellowships Staff

1400 K Street, NW, Suite 650

Washington, DC 20005

tel: 202-326-7733

fax: 202-326-7672

Monday, January 3, 2011

Gilman Scholarship Information - Summer 2011

Application Deadline: March 1, 2011

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Gilman Scholarship Program, we are proud to announce the expansion of our summer awards to include all academic majors. We anticipate this will be our most competitive cycle ever so please CONTACT THE CIE  to seek guidance and utilize all available Gilman resources. For more information about the Gilman Scholarship please visit the Gilman website at

Summer 2011 online applications will open in early January and are due March 1, 2011.

For students applying for any academic term (Academic Year, Fall, Spring or Summer) please find the eligibility requirements below:

  • Enrolled as an undergraduate student at a two or four-year U.S. Institution
  • United States citizen
  • Receiving a Federal Pell Grant at the time of application or during the term of study abroad
  • Participating in a study abroad program that is no less than 4 weeks in one country and no more than an academic year
  • Receiving academic credit
  • Study in any country not currently under a U.S. State Department Travel Warning or Cuba

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

by Ashton Irwin
Universite de Savoie

It's been a while since I've posted, but I've not really known what to say. I did go to Colmar and it was as adorable as I wanted it to be. I went to Strasbourg too. But the best part so far has been staying with Melodie's family in Avignon.

French Christmas. I had two of them, really. I surprised even myself with the way I've pushed my limits and crossed my boundaries when it comes to being a picky eater and trying new things. I ate so many things that I never would have eaten if I hadn't been here and I'm better because of it. Chestnuts? Who knew I liked chestnuts? I didn't, but I sure do now! And snails, even. Superb.

It's been great being here and just having a home to stay in instead of a dorm. I know I lived in a house last semester, but I would hardly call that a home. It wasn't warm, it wasn't welcoming, it wasn't inviting. People weren't allowed to come over and it almost felt like we weren't allowed to actually "live" there, just be there. This has been wonderful and I'm going back to Chambery tomorrow. I'm going to miss it here. Melodie and her entire family have been more than welcoming and even though there's been a language barrier, it's been wonderful. I'm here for another 5 months and I just hope that I have a chance to come back and find a way to thank them for giving me a home for the holidays. I missed my own family, but it was nice to shake up the season. When else will I have a Christmas and a new year in France?

Speaking of the New Year - it was crazy. Where was I when it turned 2011? Well, technically I was passed out in bed for all my American friends and family, but when it turned 2011 in France I was living it up.

A few New Year's Resolutions - (I have some more personal resolutions, but these are the more general ones. If you want to hear about what else I have in mind, feel free to chat with me sometime)
-Actually say yes to everything. I know that Bridget and I made that pact in the beginning of the year and by the end of the year I was saying no more often than yes. I'm going to try to at least make it 50/50 this semester. Try and say yes as much as I say no.
-Speak French for crying out loud! That's what I'm here for!
-Keep trying new foods and new things. It's going well for me so far, so I don't see any reason to stop now.
-Keep in touch with the people close to me that aren't here with me. I've realized the value of friendship and how important it can be to not let the people you want in your life slip away from it.
-Finish a story. This was something that I said I wanted to do before I left for France and I'm not even close. I've got to get a move on.

That's really the gist of my list. There are more petty things like "dress like a Frenchie" (which I'm slowly starting to do) and the generic "do better in school" ones.
Up next for me is Rome and then back to classes. Hopefully everything will get settled down soon because it's kind of a mess going into it right now. Confusion is something very common in this country, I've realized. Hope everyone had a fabulous new year and here's to what 2011 can bring!