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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

You can still learn things while at 'Home'

Saskia sitting on the grass on top of the library roof at the Technical University of Delft—a typical day working and studying (okay, with absolutely beautiful weather, too)

Most people expect a ton of new “firsts” when they study abroad. First time visiting a city, first time speaking a foreign language, etc.
I, however, returned to my home country this summer—I was born in the Netherlands, and didn’t move to Texas until I was 8 years old. So please excuse me, but I expected the whole “foreign country” bit to be somewhat underwhelming… well, I was wrong. I had plenty of firsts this summer, and here are some of the best:
  • fixed a broken bicycle chain
  • visited Brussels and London and Geneva
  • gotten an autograph from a celebrity (okay, a first since I got Mickey Mouse’s at Disneyworld at age 4)
  • hiked for 14 hours from dawn to dusk
  • taken—and survived—a rugby tackle
  • shaken hands with a Nobel Peace Prize winner
  • read a full length Dutch novel. Yes, it was Harry Potter en de Relieken den Dood (the 7th book). Don’t worry, I read a ton more after :-) 
                Those are just a few stories from my 80 days spent in the Netherlands. I lived with family members, worked a day job, and took night classes. It sounded like a pretty normal life, almost like my schedule back in Dallas. So, I wasn’t expecting too many adventures—but I kept the door open, and took any opportunity that came my way. An e-mail from a freshman physics professor who now works at CERN led me to look at easyjet.com for a cheap flight, and a fantastic weekend hiking in the Alps and exploring an international physics laboratory for minimal costs. I kept in contact with my McDermott classmates, many of whom were travelling across the continent on their own Eurotrips this summer. Their growing expertise with hostel reservations, train schedules, and free city tours helped me organize my own weekend travel away from my Dutch home base. I even met up with another ’09, Anna Li, to take two weekend trips to Copenhagen and London together! 

Saskia with Anna after we saw Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothingat Wyndham Theatre in London’s West End. Did I mention that we didn’t have tickets to the show that morning? We won them in a lottery drawing outside the theater at 10 AM, for less than 16 pounds each. A lot of theaters do this the morning of a show, so be sure to check the theater website before reserving your seat too far in advance.
Those led to shaking hands with a Nobel Peace Prize winner (Dr. Nielsen, one of the scientists who contributed to the IPCC Climate Change Report that was awarded the 2007 Prize along with Al Gore) and getting the autographs of David Tennant and Catherine Tate, two of my favorite British actors in London.
                I had no idea that I would see or do any of these things when I arrived in the Netherlands. But a bit of flexibility with money and time goes a long way, and I want to make sure to leave you all with that message. The best part of studying abroad in a new place is the adventure, not quite knowing where you’re going to be in the next five minutes or even tomorrow night (any alumns of the summer 2009/2010 “Guanajuato Spanish Programs” will attest to that). So don’t plan much, keep in touch with friends and professors (you never know when they’ll be nearby), and appreciate every opportunity that comes your way!

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