Tag: study abroad

Living in the Netherlands for three months has been surprising and challenging in many ways. Adjusting to total independence, fitting in to a new culture, and making new mistakes have all been interesting, but the most surprising thing for me has been how comfortable I felt in this new home.

Comfort is something I did not expect from my abroad experience. Whether it was flying on budget airlines with not enough leg room even for my short legs, sleeping in 16-person hostel dorm rooms, or simply always feeling out of place, discomfort — a clash of a person with their immediate environment — felt like an inevitability. While I did experience my fair share of embarrassment and confusion, something unexpected happened when my abroad country became my home. It was only as I was preparing to leave that I realized just how at home I felt in my little city of Maastricht.

The main way I realized that I had acclimated to Dutch life during my semester abroad was through my relationship with my bike. In the Netherlands, there are famously more bikes than people and that fact was clear everywhere I went.

Bike paths went everywhere, and cars would always stop for bikes, something wildly unfamiliar to me even in my bike-friendly home of Seattle. Even stranger was seeing Dutch toddlers perched helmet-free on their parent’s handlebars, blond hair blowing carelessly in the wind, looking as comfortable as if they were held in their parents arms.

While I knew how to ride a bike, it had been years, and my first few trips were unstable to say the least.

Cobblestones are a Maastricht mainstay, and bouncing along on my old bike was uncomfortable.

Grace PortelanceI wasn’t sure if I would actually bike everywhere, or just walk. However, as time passed I became more attached and more comfortable on my bike. I began to enjoy the rush of zooming down cobbled paths. I began to use my bike for more trips, more challenging trips. When I felt restless, I would just hop on my bike and ride — sometimes into Belgium — with confidence that I could make it home. And finally, when I had to sell my bike I felt like I was losing a friend, a right hand. I never imagined myself being so comfortable on a bike! Biking was what made me feel like one of the native Dutch people in Maastricht, and without it I felt like a tourist.

I believe that living in Maastricht gave me a confidence and comfort on a bike that will last my whole life. I am going to be a bike commuter at my job this summer, something I never imagined I would do, and I hope that each time I ride I remember the city that fostered this love of biking in me.

Guest Blogger: Grace Portelance is a junior studying Economics and Finance with a minor in Computer Science.

During mid-April, I decided to take a trip by myself to Naples and the Amalfi Coast, in Italy. I had been inspired simply by pictures of the region I had seen before, and wanted to see for myself the ruins of Pompeii and the waters of the Amalfi Coast. Not to mention, I had figured that Neapolitan pizza would be incredible, since pizza was invented in Naples.

My first day was spent in the Pompeii and Vesuvius regions. I began by taking the Circumvesuviana train (which, as the name suggests, is a train line that travels around Mount Vesuvius and the local region) to Pompeii, where I joined a group tour of the ruins. Our tour guide led us through the city’s winding cobblestone roads to see miraculously preserved ruins of villas, bathhouses, and even ancient fast food restaurants. The highlighted exhibits of the preserved casts of people who perished from the fallout of the fabled Vesuvius eruption were just as haunting as I imagined they would be.

Zhou Ruins of Pompeii

Ruins of Pompeii

The city was dwarfed by the massive Mount Vesuvius and that’s where I went after the Pompeii tour. Luckily, I was able to ride a bus up to the top of the crater, where I could see into the volcano. Unluckily, the ride was the bumpiest I have ever been on in my life, and multiple bruises were acquired. Despite that, the view at the top was breathtaking. I could see the ruins of Pompeii, just a small patch of brown in the valley below the mountain, surrounded by the modern city of Sorrento. On the other side, the vast expanse of Naples stretched all the way to the end of the coastline. Interestingly enough, the crater itself was actually steaming, as Vesuvius is still active.

Zhu View from Vesuvius Crater

View from Vesuvius crater

My second day was the highlight of my trip, and the main reason why I went on my trip. I began by taking a train from Naples to Salerno, which was just under two hours away. From there, I took a ferry to Amalfi, the namesake of the Amalfi Coast, getting a great view of the coastal towns along the way. From there, I transferred to a bus that took me on a long, winding climb to a village that clung to the top of a coastal mountain, to begin my hike on the famous Sentiero Degli Dei – The Path of the Gods.

This six-mile mountain trail along the Amalfi Coast provides the best views one can get, 3,000 feet above the beautiful blue sea below with a sharp descent to the coastal town of Positano at the end. Along the way, I passed by both ancient dwellings, from houses carved into the rock faces of cliffs to old stone huts, and modern ones, generally small vineyards.

It’s a mystery how some of the current inhabitants survive, as there are no roads and most of the time the only way down is a drop off a cliff. All food and supplies need to be brought up by horse (and don’t picture some big wagon either, as the trail is only barely wide enough for one horse with saddlebags).

The hike took a total of about four hours, as the trail was very rocky and had many steep descents and ascents. The most tiring part though, was the sharp drop at the end, a near-vertical descent of about 2,000 feet worth of stairs. The sight of a gelato shop near the entrance into Positano was, to say the least, quite a relief. And I was able to relax for an hour on the Positano beach before taking the ferry back to Salerno.

Overall, vicious sunburns aside, my hike on the Path of the Gods was the most beautiful hike I have ever been on. The Amalfi coastline is, I would say, an incomparable sight. I’m already itching to go again.

Zhu Positano

Tony Zhu is an Olin Junior studying Economics and Strategy and Finance. He is spending the semester in London with the London Internship Program.

Chloe Baker in Madrid

Among chatter of finals, WILD, and summer plans, April is also the month juniors compare study abroad options. I am extremely lucky in that I’ve been a Spanish minor since day 1 of freshman year and always knew that the Madrid program was for me. However, for many, the decision does not come as easily. From watching my friends gallivant around the world and experiencing my own semester abroad, here is some advice for picking the best study abroad opportunity for you.

1) Keep an open mind

Many of the Olin programs are less traditional study abroad destinations when compared to some bigger schools your friends from home may attend. Even if it’s not a location you’ve always heard about, don’t count it out. Every place has its merits.

2) Think about what you want from your abroad experience—without your friends.

I’ve become extremely close with other WashU students while studying abroad.
It’s easy to succumb to groupthink and end up picking a location just because you have friends going there, even if it’s not the type of experience you’re looking for. I made the decision independent of my close friends, and it’s worked out incredibly. Plus, I’ve become extremely close with other WashU students in the process.

3) Keep travelling in mind—consider accessibility and location

For some, travelling is a huge part of their abroad experience; for others, not so much. It was a crucial aspect for me, and I have been lucky enough to visit more than 15 cities during my time abroad. I have friends who have spent most weekends in their abroad city and they’ve loved every minute of it. There’s no right answer to this—it’s just important that you keep in mind a city’s accessibility and location if travelling is important to you.

4) Don’t think of studying abroad as the default option

chloe friend
It’s easy to when everyone is discussing it, but it’s a deeply personal choice and it’s not for everyone. Don’t force yourself to go abroad just because you think it’s the right thing to do or most of your friends are going—that’s a recipe for being unhappy. Needless to say, studying abroad is an incredible experience that has truly opened my eyes to so many different cultures, as well as things about myself.

5) Ask questions!

Do not hesitate to reach out to older friends or even just people you know of who have studied in places you’re interested in. We (students abroad) love talking about our experience and can go on for days. The best way to learn about an abroad destination is to talk to someone who’s experienced it!

Photos courtesy of Chloe Baker

We don’t like to brag, but we can’t help it when Olin student blog posts from abroad are named among the best on the subject. Credit Donkey describes our Olin Around the Globe blog posts as “a top study abroad blog.”  And the praise continues, “Business students from Washington University travel the world to apply their marketing, finance, and strategy skills to international companies and organizations, and then write about what they learn on the blog.”

Click here to read, “Best Study Abroad Blogs to Change Your Life”


I’ve been looking forward to going abroad since my freshman year at WashU. Attending high school in Singapore had given me the chance to explore Asia, but Europe was still a complete mystery to me.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I chose Maastricht in the Netherlands for my study abroad program; it was a relatively small town, I didn’t know a lot about it, and I didn’t really know any of the kids on my program. It was easily the best decision I’ve made.

Although I’m only halfway through my program, I can’t even fathom the idea of leaving Maastricht yet. Over the past two months, I’ve been lucky enough to experience St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, hike through Southern Germany, and see the Dutch football team play live.


One of the most interesting places that I’ve been so far has to be Berchtesgaden National Park in southeastern Germany in the Bavarian Alps. It’s not exactly a popular destination for students abroad, but it’s definitely been my favorite trip so far.

I first saw pictures of the park when one of my favorite photographers spent a week there. After seeing the pictures, I knew I had to go. I started texting all my friends who love hiking to try to convince them to come with me. Turns out, I didn’t really need to do much; the pictures spoke for themselves. For three days, we just hiked all around the national park. It was perfect. It was right before peak season, so we had a lot of the trails to ourselves and the trip was such a nice contrast from the normal visit to a European city. Between swimming in glacier-water lakes to trudging through 3 feet of snow to find an off-the-path lake to everything about the trip—it’s definitely one for the books.


Being abroad has definitely taught me a lot in terms of work-life balance. At WashU especially, I feel like it’s easy to get caught up in schoolwork and not take time to enjoy yourself. On my hall, I live with kids from Australia, Colombia, and England. They’re some of the brightest kids I know, but one thing I realized very quickly is that while they do value how they do in school, they value their social life and their own happiness a lot more. I think that’s something I’ll keep with me, even when I return to WashU and for the rest of my life. Regardless of what career I end up in, I’ll make sure to leave time for the things I really care about: my friends, traveling, and just enjoying myself.

It’s crazy to think that in two months, I’ll be back in the US, working an internship. Maas has become like a second home to me and the people I live with have become family. I would recommend Maastricht in a heartbeat to anyone thinking about going abroad. The program is everything I could have wanted from my abroad experience.

Guest Blogger: Sach Siriwardane is an Olin junior studying abroad in Maastricht. He is studying Finance and Economics & Strategy.

I’ve decided to dedicate my blog post to one of the cities I have visited, as I feel like it really encapsulates why I decided to study abroad. I travelled to Istanbul, Turkey, from February 19th-February 22nd with one other traveling partner, my girlfriend.

There’s something about Istanbul that is just absolutely memorable. Whether through both good and bad experiences (and we certainly dealt with both), I feel like this trip really made it clear to me why I decided to go abroad.

First takeaway from Istanbul: the food is delicious. The Turkish don’t eat pork; instead, they’ve replaced it with lamb as their meat of choice. It’s not the meat or the excessive amount of bread they include in each meal that makes Turkish food have that certain, unmistakable taste; rather, it’s the spices. (You don’t really realize excessive bread can be a thing until you take two large bites out of a meat wrap and get nothing but bread!)

I can’t do the spices and seasoning justice in this post, due to the intangible aspect of taste and my complete inability to describe food tastes well, but all I know is that it would be nearly impossible for me not to recognize Turkish food when I came across it. It’s really a microcosm of its culture from an Eastern/Western fusion perspective: nothing I’ve ever seen or tasted before.

Also, an observation that was both a positive and a negative: Istanbul is just nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced. In my life, I’ve only traveled to Europe, China, and North America. Istanbul, despite technically being in Europe, is the capital of a country that is geographically predominant in Asia and is culturally Middle Eastern.

I’ve never been in a primarily Middle Eastern atmosphere and city, and that experience in itself was amazing. The architecture styles, stores, and the people’s customs were something I’d never encountered before in my life. However, that same exhilarating feeling had its downsides. It was the first time I’ve been the only Asian in a community, and by only Asian… I really mean only Asian (aside from my girlfriend).

It took us about 16 hours from when we landed until we found another group of Asian tourists, and those 16 hours were noticeably different. Not in an offensive way at all; rather, it’s just that I’ve never been in such a scenario in my life. If I was close to being the only Asian, I was made aware of it when surrounded by unknown Turkish people.

The Turkish certainly stare, and it’s very noticeable to feel those eyes boring in the back of your head. I’m positive we got scammed a few times, and random people in the streets really enjoy trying to say hi to us in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. I don’t blame anybody for the unsettling parts of our experience; that’s part of being abroad and part of the fun; in retrospect, however, I’ve definitely come to appreciate the diverse population in America now.

And it’s not just the generic description and culture of Istanbul that is so unique: the attractions come off as so original and new, as they don’t share similarities with Western structures. Mosques have a very different and distinct flavor, nothing like the sprawl of churches and cathedrals which, while also very grand and impressive, begin to have diminishing returns after excessive visits.

Nick Wang 2My personal favorite attraction was the Basilica Cistern, the largest of several hundred cisterns beneath Istanbul. As an avid video game player growing up, walking in that labyrinth with the lights, dripping water, and vast columns made me feel like I’d entered some mythical temple.

Another highlight was the boat cruise on the Bosphorous Strait, the body of water that separates the Asia and European portion of Turkey. Just thinking about how I sailed between continents and watching the sunset in this setting is enough to justify why I made this trip.


Nick Wang is an Olin Junior studying Economics and Strategy, Finance, and Chinese Language and Culture. He’s interning abroad in London this semester.