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Clock’s Ticking

Time May 22nd, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

I’ve officially finished my last final at the University of Edinburgh, and I’ve already completed course registration for my senior year at Princeton. This can mean only one thing: study abroad is almost over…#teardrop

My time in Edinburgh, Scotland has been indescribably amazing, but I’ll proceed to describe it anyway :). For starters, the people I encountered while abroad were definitely more welcoming and kind than I had expected. Whether I was bonding with my fellow study abroad students, eating dinner with Edinburgh students, or simply walking down the street, a sea of friendly faces were there to meet me. The genial personality of Scots was a special surprise because I come from a Southern culture that prides itself on hospitality and politeness. Also, as a city in general, Edinburgh is surpassed by few. It combines beautiful architecture, unique heritage, and cultural diversity all in one cosmopolitan setting (yet still retains an idyllic, homey ambiance). There are a myriad of activities and entertainment options to be indulged in within the city, from the iconic Edinburgh Castle and Calton Hill, to the breathtaking Botanic Gardens and Arthur’s Seat. As the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is also headquarters to the nation’s parliament building, famous for its unorthodox design that incorporates among other materials, bamboo. And then there is the food. The United Kingdom is keen on having a hearty breakfast, but it was not their bacon, eggs, and sausage that hooked me. Believe it or not, I fell in love with haggis, neeps, and tatties (aka sheep pluck, turnips, and mashed potatoes). And no, I’m not being sarcastic. It’s actually fantastic! But never fear. There is a surplus of other cuisine options from around the globe for those with a less-adventurous pallet. However, perhaps the piece-de-resistance of my time in Scotland has been the gorgeous landscapes that literally decorate the entire country. Whether it is up in the Highlands and Skye region, or mixed in the big city atmosphere, Scotland abounds with high-rising luscious landscapes.

Even with all that Edinburgh, Scotland has to offer, my experience would not have been nearly as wonderful (and my gloom over my impending departure not nearly as pervasive) were it not for the world-class friends that I have made here. My IFSA-Butler friends, and my Scotland friends have all been unbelievable.

But the clock is ticking on my time here. May the last “Hoorahs” begin as the memories settle in.




The Old Man and the Skye

Time April 28th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

From April 4th-6th, IFSA-Butler held it’s annual Skye trip. Now, I was tremendously excited for this trip for two reasons.

1. I would officially be finished with my Engineering Design course by the morning of the 4th, and

2. I would have the opportunity to see my friends again from the IFSA-Butler cohorts in St. Andrews, Glasgow, and Stirling.

Needless to say, I was PUMPED!

I always thoroughly enjoy the IFSA-Butler sponsored activities because they give us a chance to mingle with everyone in the program. With the hustle and bustle of daily living abroad, finding time to fraternize with the 70+ participants in the Edinburgh cohort is tough…really tough. Thus, the sponsored events provide a fantastic venue for catching up with friends old and new.

In particular, the Skye trip was incredible! For starters, I’m one of those strange people who actually enjoys long bus rides, so my day got off on the right foot. On the Friday bus ride to our hotel in Skye, we stopped on several occasions to enjoy picturesque views and take photos of course. Some of the highlights of the bus ride include our stop at Queens View on Loch Tummel, and also our stop at the historic Culloden Battlefield. On Saturday, we enjoyed a jam-packed day of visits and general touristy fun. The first noteworthy stop was at Armadale Castle, former home of the eminent MacDonald family. Next, and this is where things got interesting, was the decision part of the day. There were two options for us students in terms of early afternoon activities. Option 1: Hike up the ‘Old Man of Storr’. Option 2: Sightseeing tour around Skye, and thus sit on a bus for many hours after having just spent the previous day on a bus for 8 hours…not that I would be complaining because as formerly stated I love bus rides :). I just chose option 1 (if you couldn’t tell from the title) and I’d like to believe that I chose the right one.

The climb up to ‘Old Man of Storr’ was a treacherous one indeed. Mother nature threw her worst at us, but through the wind, the torrential downpour, and the ubiquitous mud we made it to the top. Many pictures were taken, and we hoisted the Scottish flag proudly after our hiking feat was completed. After returning from our hike, the groups reunited and then we headed to visit the fairy river at Sligachan. Myself along with plenty of others dipped our faces into the fairy river. According to folklore, we will now be young forever…take that aging. Upon returning to our accommodations in Broadford, we ate and got ready for the pièce de résistance: John and the Box. That night we were treated to the melodious tunes of John playing his sweet sweet accordion-piano-thingamajig. Not only that, but we were taught a plethora of ceilidh dance moves in the process. That night = success. Following the impromptu concert, the majority of us students conversed and bonded into the wee hours of the morning. Little sleep was had, but a lot of friendships were made. Sunday morning we departed for home, making stops in Glencoe and a few other destinations.

I was extremely sad to see the weekend come to a close; however, I know that no matter how much time passes, and no matter if my fairy-river-youth mysteriously fades, I will always have my memory of conquering the Old Man, and most importantly, I will always have the friendships made in Skye.







Where There’s a Will, There’s Norway

Time April 28th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Study abroad is an unforgettable experience.

Since this is the case, it’s best to plan ahead and ensure that this unforgettable experience is a positive one (which it’s bound to be 99.9% of the time…give or take). In order to facilitate this process, I wanted to pass some wisdom along to future study abroad students based on my personal experiences and those that I’ve heard through the grapevine.

1. Plan ahead. Be sure that you’ve packed all the essentials because you’ve only got one flight to ‘X’ location, and shipping costs overseas is a nightmare.

2. Make a budget. Have a budget for food, for gifts and souvenirs, for travel, for partying, for that unforeseen thing that probably won’t happen but invariably happens to someone, etc. Be sure that no matter what happens your financial situation while abroad is secure…especially if you can’t request a “top-up” from your parents at the drop of a dime.

3. Don’t plan everything. Allow room for spontaneity. Amazing opportunities can spring up at a moment’s notice, and you’ll want to have some free weekends to enjoy them.

4. Have a contingency plan. Have your emergency contacts saved and on your person at all times. Have spare copies of all travel documents, passports, visas, etc., and leave a copy with your parents. Also, have a plan of action should a crisis arise, such as you get lost or you have an accident and need medical care.

5. Travel. This is likely one of the main reasons why you came abroad. Be sure to enjoy it! There is a whole world out there to see! Be vigilant for travel deals and savings, and always make sure that someone back home knows where you’re traveling to, where you’ll be staying, and how long you’ll be staying there.

6. Don’t travel too much. Leave some weekends free to explore the city and country that is hosting your study abroad experience. It’s great to travel around, but make sure you have enough time to delve into the culture of your chosen location.

7. Don’t party too much. Nights spent out conquering the town with friends are fun, but you don’t want to party every night away. In between all the travel and partying and day-to-day activities, be sure to have time for deep conversations with friends. Get to know one another better. You may even find out some things about yourself that you hadn’t really thought to consider.

8. Branch out. Try something new. Make friends with people other than from your study abroad or exchange program. One of the most beautiful parts about the study abroad experience is making connections with people from a different part of the world. And as they say, “variety is the spice of life!” This opportunity for cultural exchange and discourse is nearly impossible to simulate outside of study abroad.

9. Take a class about the history or heritage from the country you’re living in. This is a great way to develop a greater appreciation for your home abroad, and to pick up some general knowledge about another part of the world as well. Everyone wants to be a cosmopolitan, right?

10. Keep a blog or journal. Future you will thank present you for past reflections. Trust me :)

One tale of myself following my study abroad rules number 3 and 5 was my recent trip to Oslo, Norway  back near the end of March (18-21). One week, out of the blue, a friend approached me and said she found cheap tickets to Norway for the ensuing weekend. All I actually heard of our conversation was “cheap” and “Norway”. I was sold already. By not planning every weekend ahead of time, and by making a comprehensive budget, I was able to take advantage of the spontaneous opportunity to travel somewhere exotic with friends. And.It.Was.AWESOME! O$lo (spelled purposefully) is super expensive, teeming with statues, and full of gorgeous landscapes. Pictures coming soon!

Til’ next time,



Innovative Traveling (Learning) Week

Time April 25th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Okay. So it’s been a while since my last post.


I’m reminded of an old adage: when everyone is quiet at the dinner table, it means that the food is delicious! I’m paraphrasing, but I think the message resonates. Like those mentioned in the proverb who were preoccupied eating delicious food, I too have had preoccupations of my own indulging in the rich nectar of study abroad experiences. Never fear, for I have been meticulous in documenting my escapades in a handwritten travel log. The subject of this post comes from my experiences over ILW (Innovative Learning Week).

ILW is a week-long break from classes at the University of Edinburgh where students are encouraged to partake in extracurricular activities focused on community engagement, intellectual  stimulation, and existential growth. So of course everyone takes this opportunity to do nothing other than travel. For me in particular, I chose to spend my ILW (Feb 14-21) gallivanting through Paris and Amsterdam with friends. The friends I speak of were fellow study abroad students in the IFSA-Butler program who I had developed close relationships with. And our travel group was a colorful one indeed. In all, we totaled 6 people. Our ragtag bunch consisted of a self-proclaimed wallflower, a former wallflower-turned-extrovert (*cough* *cough*), a vegetarian, a vegan, a Texan, and a New Yorker. Yes, we’re practically the poster child for diversity. But why does our group dynamic work so well despite our differences? Some would find it curious that someone who has doctors for parents, someone who has lawyers for parents, and someone who has bankers for parents could be friends with each other, let alone friends with a first generation college student. What ultimately binds us is the fact that despite our various backgrounds and differences we’re all human. And as humans we share innate human traits such as the need for acceptance, affection, and adventure. These needs become even more salient when one is placed in a foreign setting far from the comfort and routine of daily life at home.

I may not have been as well traveled or have come from the same socioeconomic status as most of my fellow study abroad students, but something about being strangers in a strange land acts as a Great Equalizer for social interactions. Personality matters all. Privilege matters none. Suddenly, being a good person became the sine qua non for friendship building. Lucky for me, my experience navigating college independently and changing schools every year prior to college helped me break free of my reclusive ways, but also helped me hone my character, compassion, and interpersonal skills. As a result, I was fully prepared to once again embrace the beautiful mystery of a new social and physical environment. Upon arrival to Scotland, I plunged headfirst into the social pool and before I knew it I had assembled a group of friends more fascinating and caring than I could have every hoped for. Perhaps it was my personality that first attracted them to me, or perhaps it was my rockin’ bod and devilishly good looks (haha). Either way, we became friends, and as friends we ventured to Paris and Amsterdam over ILW.

Now, the pictures I’ll upload in my next post express the fun and excitement of the cities more poignantly than I ever could, but I do have a few key points about them that I’d like to touch upon.

Paris: beautiful; teeming with culture at every turn; EXPENSIVE; not the nicest of people (granted we may have just encountered a bad sampling of Parisians…who knows); baguettes everywhere; and delicious food all around.

Must see/do: The Louvre (absolutely incredible collection of fine art); Eiffel Tower (it speaks for itself); Palace/Gardens of Versailles (breathtaking); Monet Gardens; Arc de Triomphe; Shakespeare and Company bookshop; and Notre Dame Cathedral.

Amsterdam: very relaxing; tremendously helpful and polite people; BIKES EVERYWHERE; lovely parks; scenic waterways; and cheap food.

Must see/do: Visit the Anne Frank Museum; tour the Van Gogh; visit the red light district (just to say you’ve been there); and take a picture next to the “Amsterdam” sign.


Tallest Man in Edin-brr-ah

Time February 12th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

The past two weeks have been a marathon. Not only have I had to start classes and (quite unfortunately) homework here at the University of Edinburgh, but I have also had to write papers, complete projects, study for finals, and take finals for my classes back at Princeton. Needless to say, adjusting to a new school and country when still tethered to another school with finals looming, all the while attempting to make friends and be social is not an easy task by any standards. I could have taken the primrose path and spared myself this two-week masochistic sprint by choosing a study abroad location that began Spring semester around a similar time to Princeton’s warped schedule, but then I would have missed out on the beauty of Edinburgh and the challenge of having to (for lack of a better phrase) be in two places at once…and that’s just not my style.

Thankfully, my years inside the academic-automaton incubator of Princeton equipped me with top-notch study habits, not to mention the ability to function intelligently on 3 hours of sleep, consummate levels of coherent stream-of-consciousness writing (a.k.a. BS’ing), and the masochistic tendencies ascribed above. All “jokes” aside, I really have appreciated my undergraduate experience thus far. Coming to Uni (short for university: colloquialism used in Europe) in Edinburgh, I expected an academic atmosphere perhaps not exactly the same as what I have been accustomed to, but somewhere on par with my prior scholastic experiences. To my surprise, I have found the academic environment to be quite refreshing. Student independent-based learning has always been present in my classes, but the UK system takes it to the next level. Weekly assessments (problem sets, quizzes, etc) are less stressed, with more emphasis being placed on intellectual discussions in class and individual engagements with readings. Translation: little to no work on a weekly basis, and lots of work in the weeks before finals since in most cases they are the only graded assessments. Admittedly, I have a small sample of classes to base my conjecture on, but through conversations with other study abroad students I find my conclusions unanimously validated.

This fact made finishing up finals back at school in the states not as stressful as it could have been. However, my success was not the result of my effort alone. The staff at IFSA-Butler provided beaucoup resources to help with acclimation to the university system and overall living in Edinburgh. My girlfriend Sydney was always there to give me encouragement, boost my confidence, and also make me laugh with her usual assortment of sarcastic quips. Lastly, the support of my family and friends back home, and the new friends I have made in Edinburgh kept my focus unflinching to the very end. Special shout-outs to Dan, Allen, Elizabeth, Hannah, Rachel, Sophia, and Travis for their help and support while I toiled away in my work dungeon for two weeks! I would not be where I am today were it not for the tireless efforts of those precious people around me who not only help me reach great heights, but give me reason to.

While on the tangent of heights, I feel it only necessary to give attention to my first order of business after officially finishing finals at Princeton. To commemorate my victory over junior fall classes, I proceeded to climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat, the highest point in Edinburgh which peaks at 823 feet. During the few minutes I stood atop Arthur’s Seat, I gazed unto the city below me and smiled as the tallest man in Edinburgh.


Farewell Sweet Home Alabama

Time January 16th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Before matriculating to college I had moved around a lot. Twelve times to be precise. Albeit my decision to attend a college 1000 miles away from home brought to light myriad anxieties and anticipation from friends and family, my imminent departure for a semester abroad in Scotland, a country an entire ocean away, has surfaced emotions both old and new.

The demands and adversities I faced from childhood through to early adulthood honed my independence, perseverance, and adaptability; thus homesickness was never a present concern addressed by my loved ones before I left for college. In their eyes I was a charismatic, silly (somewhat awkward), down-to-earth and lovable guy – epitomized by my family nickname “Love Machine”. All they really wanted was for the community at Princeton to feel about me the way they felt about me. They desired my complete acceptance into the social sphere of the university. Of course they wanted me to thrive academically as well, but I had complete and utter control  over this result thereby making it a lower-tier concern.

At the moment, my family is still wrought with anxiety about my potential “fit” into the foreign community in Scotland, but my soon-to-be home for five months has my family teeming with new concerns as well. Among these concerns are my safety and medical care. Having done ample research, my family is well aware of the many hazards that could befall someone trying to assimilate into a new country. Thus my overall safety and well-being are high on their worry list. Fortunately,  by registering to study abroad with the IFSA-Butler program I have been able to combat some of this negative juju that seems intent on dampening my inexhaustible excitement to go abroad. Through letters, emails, and a tremendous community bond IFSA-Butler has been able to provide my family with the reassurance they need to understand that my term abroad is going to be one of safe adventure and constant knowledge-seeking. I’ve purchased travel and safety guides, given my parents an itemized list of my plans while abroad, but nothing has had a greater impact in terms of assuaging my family’s stress than IFSA-Butler.

When I reminisce about my feelings preparing to go to college, I can’t help but notice the analogs between those feelings and the ones I now harbor towards studying abroad. As a first generation college student, the very idea of going to a university was strikingly similar to going to a foreign country. I recall being comatose with excitement for days on end as I prepared to leave for college. College was uncharted territory, and oozed with the promise of adventure. Going to obtain a degree was my escape from the drudgery of high school and my chance to not only become enlightened but have the opportunity to enlighten others. I was bursting with anticipation and joy for what awaited me. Likewise, I am dizzy with unbridled enthusiasm as I prepare to study abroad. The United Kingdom is uncharted territory as well, and it holds in store many wondrous customs and history that I yearn to experience. Leaving to go abroad has ironically enough become my escape from college, and hopefully will allow me to gain new perspectives on life and become a cosmopolitan. I desire to not just encounter haggis, bagpipes, and gingers, but to also encounter philosophers, travelers, and the timeless history of Scotland around every street corner. Though I will miss my friends and family, it is with a bright outlook that I anticipate my study abroad and say goodbye to the items and environments that I have called home for so long. Farewell family; farewell loved ones and friends; farewell driving on the right side of the road; farewell Southern accents, farewell Southern cooking, and farewell sweet home Alabama.