Student Stories: the point of view of an international student. How is studying abroad in the US?

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My teammate took this picture of me when we were all in Puerto Rico for a tournament.

My name is Silvia Grassini, and I am a  rising Senior International Business major at Towson University. I am also a student athlete, I play Volleyball in the varsity team here at Towson.  This summer, I interned in the Towson Study Abroad Office.

I am an international student from Padua, Italy. My adventure in the US started in 2017, when I transferred to Towson. I started as a sophomore, since I transferred some credits from back home in Italy.


This is a picture of my hometown, Padua (in Italian, Padova). Did you know that “Prato della Valle”, the square you are seeing in the picture is one of the biggest ones in Europe?

My experience in the US

To all the readers interested in studying abroad, I’d like to share my experience studying abroad at Towson University. Maybe seeing America from an external point of view can make you realize things that you never thought about before.

The first point I decided to analyze is whether or not America matched my expectations. Well, the answer is definitely yes. Coming from a European setting, I expected America to be more globally oriented and to have a lot more commodities. For example, I imagined big shops and huge groceries stores and the expectations weren’t disappointed. Just walking into a Wegmans makes my heart race for how everything is laid out nicely and the variety of goods offered is breathtaking.

Besides my shopping addiction for everything that is aesthetically pleasant, I was very impressed with how many people have a job and attend college as the same time. I don’t think I saw a lot of people attending university and working at the same time back home in Italy. I think this is a very important factor for students’s futures, being able to manage homework, study sessions and at the same time a job without falling behind.

My student-athlete experience

From the student athlete point of view, I realized how much more staff are ready to help you and how many more facilities are available when someone wants to workout. Even outside the regular practice schedule. I have probably never been in better shape than I am right now (I mean I really have to work out a lot though, considering all the food that I eat 😊) both mentally and physically.

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This is my volleyball team roster as last year! Can you guys guess what is my jersey number?

At first, however, the changes that I experienced while playing volleyball were overwhelming: of course, being in a different country, things are different; after a period of adjustment, I realized ultimately that if you put effort in whatever thing you do, you’ll not only see improvements (and sometimes rewards as well), but also you’ll achieve a level of personal satisfaction that will keep you motivated and active.

My final advice

Concluding this post, I must say that studying abroad really opened my eyes up, so much that I’m looking forward for the next study abroad experience! You’ll probably see me on the Australian beaches next spring! To all of you, I would say that even if at first changes may seem scary, with a little bit of adaptability there is no obstacle you can’t overcome; the final result of starting an adventure abroad is an enrichment that changes you for the better, not only as a student but also as a person.

TU Abroad Stories: Dorian Andrews (Part 4)

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“The Friday classes were over, and my host family waited for me by the school as planned. We set off for a 3-hour journey to my host parents’ hometown in Shizuoka. Though night came quickly, we still stopped to look at the lights illuminating Kakegawa Castle, castle built in the 15th Century built by a retainer of the Imagawa Clan: Asahina Yasuhiro. The next morning, we enjoyed freshly-picked fruits and a wholesome breakfast made by my host father’s parents. The scenery is beautiful there. There are many streams and farms in the neighborhoods. Everyone is so friendly. It reminded me of the small-town I grew up from in Alabama. That afternoon, we visited Okuni Shrine, a highly-ranked shrine in Shizuoka. It has the title of “Ichinomiya”, meaning it is among the top ranking shrines in Japan. Here, I witnessed two or three Shinto-style weddings. The women wore the traditional white headdress and kimono, something I saw during my first week in Japan at Yokohama. If I ever had the chance to participate in a wedding like that, I would be so thrilled! I took a paper fortune as well, and it is guiding me even to this day. Next was Hamamatsu Castle, the home of Tokugawa Ieyasu. If you do not know, he was the first Shogun of Japan. The castle is widely respected for the beautiful stones that make up the castle; stones that are only seen in Shizuoka. Immediately afterwards, I experienced my first trip to a private-room onsen. It was amazing! The rooms had a separate bathroom, bench, and bathing area (along with the hot spring itself). My host dad also surprised me by taking me alone to Sunpu Castle, the historical site of Ieyasu’s lifetime. At this castle, a young Ieyasu was a hostage for the Imagawa Clan. Fast-forward to about 50 years later, Ieyasu gave the position of shogun to his son Hidetada and renovated the castle. He continued to rule Japan while living in Sunpu before his death in 1616. It is nothing more than a museum-styles vicinity now, but it is still quite beautiful. Lastly, I visited my host mother’s family and cradled in my arms a new addition to the family: Sakura. That night, I drank organic nihonshu (Japanese sake) with the host dad and grandfather. We talked a lot about Japanese history, one of my favorite aspects of Japanese society. Playing with the kids, visiting specialized souvenir shops, eating katsudon (rice, egg, vegetables, and deep-fried pork cutlets) for the first time, and having unforgettable talks with my host parents makes this weekend the most memorable time of my Japanese experience.”

–Dorian Andrews, Tokyo International University Exchange, Calendar Year, 2016

TU Abroad Stories: Samira Barnes

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“Traveling abroad was one of the best experiences of my entire life. Often, Americans think of themselves as separate from the rest of the world but this trip opened my eyes to all the connects and parallels we have with other cultures. Before my trip I was excited, but the experience was 10x more amazing than I could have ever imagined. Everyday we learned something in a classroom or from the locals, giving us different perspectives. I truly believe studying abroad has made me a more open minded person and has definitely made me want to travel more and encourage other students to do the same! The trip opened my mind up to some many different ideas, culturally and academically, and I will always remember my time in South Africa.”

–Samira Barnes, TU Inequality and Resistance in South Africa (Faculty-Led), Summer 2017


TU Abroad Stories: Dorian Andrews (Part 3)

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“The Ghibli Museum is a showcase and tribute to various Japanese animators who have worked under the banner of the animation studio Studio Ghibli. It is located in Inokashira Park in Mitaka, about an hour and a half away from my former exchange school, Tokyo International University. On a breezy Sunday, I went with my friends John and Tya. The tickets were set for 4:00pm, so we walked the many streets and enjoyed the nature of Mitaka. The park connected to the museum is beyond gorgeous, with many residents and visitors alike playing and relaxing there. The line at Ghibli museum was long, but it did not take us long to get in. The reception was very nice, and the women who greeted us tried their best to speak in English. However, us three were participating in our second semester of Japanese classes, so we practiced Japanese the entire time. The workers were glad to speak to us in Japanese; I’m sure it made their jobs much easier! Miyazaki Hayao is easily to most well-known of the Studio Ghibli animators. Many tourists come to the museum only knowing of him. His famous works include: Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle and KiKi’s Delivery Service. The giant robot we took a picture with is from Miyazaki’s classic, “Laputa” or “Castle In The Sky” in English. Once you enter the Hogwarts-like environment, there are many rooms to enter into. There is a lounge area in the shape of the Catbus from “My Neighbor Totoro”, a replica of Miyazaki’s office, storyboards and traditional film machines used by him, and many souvenir and merchandise shops. The most memorable part for me was using an old-school machine and a piece of film I received after entering the museum to retrieve a single shot from a famous Miyazaki Hayao movie. I hope you get a chance to go to this magical wonderland someday!

TU Abroad Stories: Emily Trumble

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“Since I went to Ireland, I’ve really opened my eyes to the world around me. Being in college makes it really hard to keep up with news and such, but my professor for study abroad made me realize that there are so many perspectives in the world that it is ignorant to know only your own. I made really great friends in Ireland and we were never afraid to talk about news and current events, something I don’t usually do with friends in social situations. Having people to do that with it amazing and I would have never had the opportunity to meet such wonderful people had I not done this Study Abroad.”

–Emily Trumble, TU Education, Ethics, and change in Ireland (Faculty-Led), Summer 2017

TU Abroad Stories: Elssa Kenfack

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When Elssa Kenfack went abroad in the Minimester of 2018 on an Intensive language & Culture program through CIEE to Salvador da Bahia, she kept a blog highlighting some of the experiences that she had.

She starts her journey on her blog with:

“Coming to you all the way from the beautiful Salvador—I MADE IT! There are always some bumps in the road when it comes to me getting from point A to point B but nonetheless, I have to say this trip was smooth sailing.”

Throughout her stay in Salvador da Bahia, Elssa documented the various things that she did while there. In her blog posts, she captures the culture and various personalities of the town and the people in it.

To read all of her blog posts, please visit:

TU Abroad Stories: Emily Rickens

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“I went to Israel in January of 2017. It was only a ten day trip but it has affected me in more ways than one. This was my second study abroad trip, my previous being at my undergraduate school. Upon returning I think about Israel everyday. My longing and yearning to go back is palatable, as the vivacious was and tenacity of this country and it’s residents has resounded with me since January. I am saving up every spare penny I have so I can take my mother to Israel so that she can have the same world changing experience that I had.”

–Emily Rickens, TU Exploring Cross-Cultural Education and Social Services in Baltimore and Israel (Faculty-led), Israel, Minimester 2017

TU Abroad Stories: Dorian Andrews (Part 2)

“Over the summer, I traveled to Minato Mirai to visit some of the local malls and casually shop. I met with my friend Collin from my home college (Towson University), and we ran into THIS spectacle. It just so happened to be PIKACHU DAY! In Yokohama, every year there are parades celebrating the iconic cartoon character. In this video, we met a very peculiar and popular incarnation of Pikachu: Pikachu Diddo! The [Pikachu Outbreak!] event was held from August 7th (Sun.) through 14th (Sun.), in Yokohama’s Minato Mirai area in Kanagawa Prefecture. It usually occurs every year during the summer time. During this period, a total of 1,000 Pikachu perform in a variety of different of shows and a parade! This year also included a brand new Super Soaking Splash Show. These events are really nice to see as a tourist, and even better for kids! Are you interested? Check out this video and another about Pikachu Ice Skating Performance at DoreoTV only on YouTube!”

–Dorian Andrews, Tokyo International University Exchange, Calendar Year, 2016

TU Abroad Stories: Shelby Zimmerman

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“Studying abroad in Ireland at Maynooth University was one of the best experiences of my life. I became best friends with people from France, Ireland, and Germany and continued to exchange postcards after returning home. Upon returning to Towson, I knew that I had to go back to my Irish home. Last summer, I interned in Maynooth University’s International Office to help incoming Study Abroad students and ensure their experience would be just as great as mine. I am currently earning my Masters Degree in Modern Irish History from Trinity College Dublin. Thank you Towson’s Study Abroad Office for shaping my future and helping me find my second home.”

TU Abroad Stories: Dorian Andrews (Part 1)


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First impressions mean everything. You can learn a lot about a person from the first encounter, and maybe even determine whether or not he or she is a potential friend/acquaintance or not. After hearing the details of this family, I immediately wanted to have them! I am so grateful for the International Exchange Office for their efforts in assigning me to the best matching host family for me.

Fall of 2016, I stayed with the Kamezawa Family from Fujimino City. The family consists of: Kousuke(dad), Marika(mom), Riko(sister), and Raku(2-year-old brother). They are no strangers to the program, for they have hosted a former student from Tokyo International University within the past year or two.

When I first received an email from the family, I was extremely surprised to see the host mother’s English grammar…it was really good! Once we got to know each other better, she mentioned studying in California for 1-2 years. The 7-year-old daughter, Riko, is also learning English at her elementary school. Therefore, I used a mix of Japanese and English in order to help Riko practice for more conversational purposes. My host mother, Marika, also wishes to learn more English and utilize it for daily use. She mentioned that my vocabulary sheets from Japanese Language Class could be very helpful for her, Riko, and even the host father Kousuke. Because of that, I made copies for them!

My host mom, Marika is a housewife with a part-time job at a salon. I always call Marika “Superwoman” because it is amazing to see her take care of housework, practice with and facilitate Niko when she has homework, and work at a salon while taking care of little Raku. Her daily life painted a positive picture of a Japanese housewife for me. She is very patient, kind, and down-to-Earth.

My host dad, Kousuke is a classic salary man. He comes home around 10:30pm or later, and yet he wakes up early in the morning to start work all over again. As tiring as it sounds, he still has a calm and collected demeanor. He also finds time to have fun with the kids, whether it may be taking them out or simply playing with them at the house. Kousuke has been supportive of me since Day 1, whether I needed help with planning activities for the month or simply driving me to the station when I need to go there. He’s a very nice guy, and it’s always a joy to make him laugh!

My living situation was very comfortable. I had a room to myself upstairs, and automatic lights were in various places in the house. Whenever I came home late from a night of tutoring English, the lights leading upstairs and the shower room immediately come on so I could see my way. Very convenient! The kitchen stove was pretty easy to use, so I decided to buy ingredients from Yokosuka Naval Base and make American-Style tacos for my family. It was the first time for them to ever eat tacos! From hand-made burgers to chocolate chip pancakes, I felt so honored to cook that for them.

The parents are less than 20 years older than me, so it feels wonderful to speak to adults who are modern and understand the aspects of Japanese culture I fell in love with. The kids were fun to be around, and I quickly became attached to them. I can’t wait to see them again! Out of the most memorable things I’ve done in Japan, every single moment I had with this family is on the top of the list. #TEAMKAMEZAWA ALL THE WAY!