From Indonesia to Australia

Senior Randi Williams has traveled abroad through Towson programs three times in her undergraduate career, beginning with a semester in Italy in Spring 2014. Below she compares some of her experiences between Indonesia and Australia, her two long term experiences this past year. 

Q: Did your experiences abroad met your expectations? Exceeded them?

My experience in Indonesia exceeded my expectations. I thought I was going to have to wear a hijab everywhere and be careful of what I said about myself or other people, not that I was rude, but tiptoeing around won’t give you the experience you need. The USIPP group of students, both American and Indonesian were beyond amazing. We cracked jokes, we each had partners to show them and show us the ropes of shopping, eating, and praying in each other’s home cities. Every time we reached our new destination, the amount of intelligence located in every city would have been incredible for many people to hear because we all changed in so many ways being a host for one another.

I think what I am trying to say is that sometimes it isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey. It wasn’t about where we were, it was about how we adapted to where we were. It was about how we chose to bond using the tools that we had. It was about eating at the table at six in the morning like old family breakfast before school.

It was about sharing stories about our religious educations and how far we wish to go within our religion. We cried, we laughed, we sang, we danced (I have videos to prove it), we screamed, we fell asleep on each other, and we smiled. The 2015 USIPP group was filled with students who have hearts bigger than the sun, my experiences had no expectations because each experience was indescribable.

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In Australia, I felt like an American. It isn’t as fun trying to figure out the language when you go to a country that speaks just as much English as you, but I was very intrigued by the educational and teaching techniques they have here. My teachers didn’t rush through anything and they had time to meet with me to help all the time. One of my professors actually called me on my cell phone to see how my paper was going and to answer questions about its structure. It was almost relieving to finish my degree in a place where everything slowed down, where students and teachers actually asked for help without feeling bad for not knowing the answer.

I didn’t know what to expect when I reached Australia. To be honest when I got off the plane all I could think about was Finding Nemo. Sounds childish, but 42 P. Sherman Wallaby Way may not have been that far away. Hobart, Tasmania excites me everyday. I lived on campus and every time I came my door I could see the other half of the island. It was either sunrise or sunset and man it was amazing. It reminds me of Jamaica except the seasons actually change, lol. There is no place like Tasmania!

Q: What challenged you while you were abroad? Why?

My biggest challenge was going from a group of 15 to a group of 1. I spent an entire month with beautiful souls of people and then I was alone in Hobart, Tasmania. From there I paced myself and my days and how much I would talk to people at home just so I wouldn’t have an anxiety attack. By the time Ausgust rolled around I was ready to go and had made a new set of friends. It’s not that hard to be alone, but you will start to miss home if you’re a commuting college student.

Q: What advice do you have for students thinking about studying abroad, particularly to Asian countries?

Be aware of your surroundings and take learning the language very seriously. They are people just like you. They have feelings, jobs, children, siblings, businesses, church events, pretty much a life. Be very open to seeing what your place has to offer, but also be careful. Always have a partner with you. Try every coffee shop in the town or city. Witness a church service. Drop in on a wedding ceremony. The fear of not knowing what’s going to happen in your new city should be the reason why you go anyway. Get ready for different sleeping times, shower and bathroom arrangements, fashion ideas, and educational techniques.

Don’t worry – I was afraid, too. I was afraid of being black, I was afraid of being Christian, I was afraid of not knowing Bahasa (the Indonesian language), I was worried about the food whether fried or fresh, but when I got there it was as normal as it could be, just without cell phone service. It was fun not being on the phone all the time. I had assignments to complete. Indonesia is 90%+ Muslim, so I was scared about what they would say if I didn’t wear a hijab or a borku. They didn’t say a thing to be honest. The only time they asked about attire was if we were going to a Mosque. Just as many women who wear hijabs or borkus don’t wear any in Indonesia.

Thanks for sharing your story, Randi!

Full ride study abroad scholarships!


This exciting scholarship announcement from our partners at The Education Abroad Network (TEAN). A Towson student recently received this awesome scholarship — will you be next?

“To celebrate 20 years of students studying and interning abroad with us, we’ve teamed up with our partners to bring you the “20 for 20″ scholarship program. We have 20 scholarships for both semester and summer study abroad programs across the Asia Pacific to encourage even more students to study abroad. One lucky applicant will also receive a full ride from TEAN to a program of their choice that includes tuition, program fees, housing and airfare to study abroad in 2016. Since 1995, TEAN has been deeply committed to giving students an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience study abroad in a new and exciting culture.”

For a full list of applicable programs in Australia and New Zealand, click here: 

Towson Student Wins TEAN Scholarship

We are thrilled to announce that Towson’s very own Jarrett Booz has been awarded a $2,500 scholarship from The Education Abroad Network for his studies next fall at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. The scholarship is part of TEAN’s 20 for 20 initiative, in which they are awarding 20 scholarships to celebrate their 20 years of sending students into the world!senior pic

Jarrett is currently a freshman studying computer science and is a member of the Honors College. In winning the scholarship, he demonstrated academic excellence, campus involvement, leadership ability, and a keen awareness of the value of an international education. He also wrote a one-page essay in response to the question, “You are packing for study abroad semester and you need to bring 3 items that best represent you. What are those items and why did you select them?” – a deceptively simple question. It’s hard enough picking just three things to take, let alone the three that best represent you!

When we talked to Jarrett about his upcoming experience, he said, “I chose the RMIT program based on a recommendation from a study abroad advisor at Towson. I knew I wanted to at least visit Melbourne while in Australia but she said that Melbourne is so great that you can’t just visit, so I followed her advice and chose a Melbourne school that had a good reputation in computer science. I am looking forward to going out and seeing as much of Australia as possible, including the Great Barrier Reef for the pre-semester excursion, and any other wildlife that I can visit. I also look forward to touring the cities of Sydney and Melbourne. This scholarship will help by taking a substantial financial burden off my family and allow me to explore the country as much as possible with a little less attention to the cost of tourism.  This scholarship means a lot to me and my family and I greatly appreciate it.”

Congratulations again, Jarrett! We look forward to seeing the pictures from your adventure in the land down under!

Alumni spotlight: Clark Rachfal

This post by Associate Director Kelly Holland is a result of her phone interview with Towson University study abroad alumnus Clark Rachfal. Clark is perhaps best known as a Team USA para-cyclist, who has been competing since 2007, but we know him first and foremost as a study abroad success story. We wish him well as he races this week in the Netherlands in the UCI Para-cycling World Championships! 

Study abroad can be a lot of things to a lot of different people. For Clark Rachfal, study abroad was an opportunity to “hit the reset button.” Enrolled at Towson as a double major in Economics and Political Science, he went looking for an off-campus experience where English was the primary language. Clark jokes that when he realized fall semester would be cold in the United Kingdom and summer in Australia, he quickly committed to Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, Australia!

Photo courtesy of Clark Rachfal Facebook: Segovia World Cup 2014

Photo courtesy of Clark Rachfal Facebook: Segovia, Spain World Cup 2014

The Annapolis native says, “Australia was somewhere I wanted to go in the world since I was a child.” What started as a fall semester extended to a full academic year, allowing him to study halfway around the world for ten months. ANU greeted him with a wide variety of students: Australians from Melbourne and Sydney, some American and Asian students, as well. Meeting new Australian friends allowed him to travel beyond Canberra and explore the country. Was there a difference between semester one and two? Clark says the first round was about personal growth, and the second round was about academics.

When asked what his family thought about his decision to go abroad and stay abroad even longer, he acknowledges, “My parents were scared shitless.” Growing up, the family had hosted au pairs from Norway, France, Australia, and Northern Ireland. Clark notes, “Whenever we could, our family would travel in the U.S.” and even had the pleasure of attending the wedding of a former au pair in France. “My parents ingrained the travel bug into me and my sister,” he points out. So why were they so scared about a semester in Australia after all this exposure to travel? Clark Rachfal is legally blind.

Diagnosed at age 4 with a degenerative retinal condition, both he and his family learned to adapt in many ways. Australia was an opportunity to meet new people and visit a new place, and he was fortunate to find support abroad as well. “Disability Support Services at ANU were awesome. They made the transition very easy,” Clark shares. It was in Australia that he hopped on a tandem bicycle and rode for 270 kilometers (about 168 miles) for three days as part of a fundraiser. Clark stopped riding a single bike around age 13 when it became too dangerous to do alone, riding his family’s tandem bike instead. In 2004 when his friends offered him the opportunity to get back on a bike he jokes, “I didn’t think they’d find someone who would let us borrow a tandem but they did!” Clark says it was important to be open to the idea but also credits his new friends as a support system: “I was growing more comfortable in my own skin, and they were trying to make [the ride] happen.”

The charity ride was when Clark first started to use a team for mobility. As it turns out, that long tandem bicycle ride was just the beginning. Clark would later return to Australia in Fall of 2005 to complete two independent studies and an internship with the Australian Legal Aid Society. He recalls being warned that the return trip would be different, and it was. “People, environment – that all changes. You yourself change.”

Photo courtesy of @usparacycling 3/24/15

Photo courtesy of @usparacycling 3/24/15

When asked about the challenges he faced while abroad, Clark is honest and candid with three moments for three different reasons. One, “the realization that I am there for classes and still had to study and write essays,” he jokes. Two, in between semesters when his mom came to visit and travel with him and returned to the States, he experienced homesickness. Last but not least, Clark acknowledges that there was a time when he realized being “a person with a disability as great as this is, there are still things that I can’t do.” When he speaks about returning home from Australia after that first year, he asks if Towson students are aware of reverse culture shock, recalling when he had to assimilate from Australian culture back to America culture after ten months abroad and how he didn’t know it would be an issue.

Challenges aside, Clark’s enthusiasm for study abroad and travel is evident. When asked what he would say to students who are considering study abroad or nervous about the experience, he says, “Few opportunities like study abroad are going to come up in your life. You almost have this opportunity to hit the pause button on reality, go gallivant around the world for an extended period of time.”

Clark’s para-cycling career took him back to Australia once more, racing in the World Cup in Sydney in 2011. Although Australia first stole his heart, Italy is also one of his favorite countries, “for people, experience, and culture.” When talking about another important piece of culture – food – he admits he is a “seafood snob,” thanks to his Annapolis upbringing and fondly remembers many BBQs in Australia where grilling out was a big part of the culture. A less fond memory is the time Clark mistook Vegemite for Nutella and slathered it on a piece of bread, only to throw the whole thing out after two bites — we can relate.

Thanks to Clark for taking the time out of his busy training schedule to speak with our office. Best of luck in the Netherlands!


Read more about Clark’s journey: 

Team USA biography:

Towson Alumni Magazine, Fall 2010:

“Annapolis resident to compete in para-cycling world championships,”

My Study Abroad Experience and What Came After

This incredible story of adventure in the Outback comes to you from Zachary Renner, a Study Abroad and Towson University alumnus. This is part one of two installments about Zachary’s adventures abroad.

Zachary Renner
Studied Abroad Sophomore Year
The University of The Sunshine Coast, Australia
Graphic Design Major
Graduated from Towson Spring 2010

I studied abroad at the University of The Sunshine Coast in Australia. Right from the start it was a new and exciting experience. Before this trip I had only seen parts of the east coast of the United States.

The adventure started right away when I found out that my standby plane ticket only took me as far as Sydney. Once in Sydney, I hunted down a bus to Brisbane, then a second bus to the Sunshine Coast. I was loving the feeling of adventure and freedom right away. It was a new culture, new people, new animals and new landscape.

The university was very nice, located within the Mooloolah River National Park. We were also 15 minutes from the beach. There were kangaroos and exotic birds literally everywhere on campus. My teachers were all very nice and the classes were interesting. I made sure to get my assignment finished quickly so I would have plenty of time to meet new people and see as much of the country and culture as possible.

Kangaroos in front of a classroom in Australia

Kangaroos in front of a classroom in Australia

I befriended people from all over the world. My roommates were two girls from Japan. They loved to cook for me and listen to my surf adventures over dinner. I went on camping trips with my German friends, and surf trips all over with my best friend Rocco from South Africa. One camping trip we arranged was for a boat to drop us off on an outer island of the great barrier reef for 7 days. We brought only water, a tent, food, and snorkel gear. This is still one of my favorite weeks of my life.

Camping with my German friends in Australia

Camping with my German friends in Australia

It was absolutely eye opening to hear about all of the traveling that my friends had done even before college. Many had lived with host families in other countries for a few months during, or just after high school. All of my German friends spoke perfect English. I met other people at hostels that were just traveling and making the money they needed as they went. That really sticks out in my mind. The idea of just bouncing around with very few possessions, no plan, work when you need money, relax when you don’t.

As soon as my exams were over I went down to Sydney to see my girlfriend, Kate. She studied abroad in the same semester. We rented a car and drove the Great Ocean Road, 150 miles of beautiful rocky cliffs along the coast in Victoria, Australia. It was surfing heaven. We camped every night and woke up every day to beautiful coastlines and exotic animals.

Once we were back in the States, I was consumed by dreams of more traveling. My experience in Australia taught me that this whole idea of school, career, house, kids, retire… was really just one option of many.

Q&A Spotlight: Ebonie Ravenell

Name: Ebonie Ravenell
Major: Animal Behavior and Biology major with a minor in Psychology
Grad Year: December 2015
Program Abroad: University of Tasmania in Hobart Tasmania via the TU Exchange program

Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, Queensland

Q: Food, your favorite subject & ours. Best dish? Worst dish? New recipe you picked up?
My favorite food from Australia were biscuits, what Americans called cookies. A brand called Tim Tams! I brought home 20 packs…I’m sort of like an addict. I have tried every flavor, some are better than others. My least favorite thing about Australia was Vegemite. It looks gross and tasted even worse.

Q: Did a local point you to a market, pub, or park you didn’t know about? Pass it on.
Some spots to definitely hit while in Hobart is Salamanca Market, Telegraph and Daci Daci. They have some of the best foods and drinks in the city!

Q: Weekends, full of travel. Where did you go? How did you choose? Was it difficult to plan?
I only had classes three days a week so a four day weekend was amazing. I went on a lot of hiking trips! It was awesome, seeing all the beautiful views never got old. I went to the mainland and visited Cairns, Melbourne and Sydney. I knew for a fact that I wanted to go to Cairns because that’s where the Great Barrier Reefs are located. It was something I have wanted to do since I was seven years old. It was definitely a dream. It wasn’t hard to book, it was more of trying to find the cheapest alternatives of getting there. You never want to spend  too much money if it’s not necessary. It’s really important to have a good budget for those sporadic trips with your friends.

Painted Cliffs meets the coast line at Maria Island

The American Way of Life from Australian Eyes

Exchange student Stef is studying at Towson for two semesters from the University of Tasmania. Follow Stef as she documents her crazy experiences through her blog!

“Fresh daily waves of culture shock were repeatedly buried under layers of distraction with the relentless schedule of orientation activities. That was a clever tactic on their part. The endless jet lag held me in a petrified zombie state most of the day. The intense heat and humidity of Maryland in August was also a shock to the system after Hobart’s icy winter. We went on several tours of the university campus. We met ‘Doc’, Towson’s official tiger mascot. I noticed a funny parallel between the Tasmanian Tiger and the Towson Tiger and I wonder if I will start barracking for the AFL Tigers when I return to Australia?”

Life After Study Abroad

Coping with being home after studying abroad, as told by 3 Study Abroad Alum:

ImageIn order to cope with the “abroad hangover,” I would recommend not jumping back into the normal college life to the extreme. I found that it was very difficult for me to balance everything between 18 credits, a job, and being involved in numerous clubs and positions after studying abroad. If I could do it over again, I would have not overwhelmed myself and have gotten into the swing of things more slowly. I also found that people seemed to not care as much as I thought they would about my experiences and that they didn’t want to hear me talk about them. One thing that is important to keep in mind is that your friends (at least these ones) were not there with you and just hearing about it does not convey the experience of living it. It’s hard to face everything after having such an incredible time, but I promise with time it gets much easier and the experiences you had will make you a better, more cultured, and more aware person.
– Will Weise, Semester at Sea



If leaving an Australian summer and landing in a Philadelphia winter wasn’t hard enough to cope with, I struggled immediately with severe jet lag. By the time I left the Gold Coast, the time difference was 14 hours ahead of east coast USA time. Needless to say, I spent a good two weeks enjoying a lot of free time from the hours of 3 AM to 6 AM. Other than jetlag, my biggest issue with being home was just how bad I already missed everything. I compared every little thing to how it was in Australia, which basically tortured me. My biggest tip of advice is to just look for all the things you appreciate about being home like plugging something into the wall without an adaptor or eating that one food you’ve been craving for the past few months that they didn’t have in your host country. It’s almost been a year since I went abroad and I’ve learned how to appreciate everything I  did without getting too upset over missing it all. It’s definitely a process! It also helps if you have friends from your program to visit or at least keep in touch with. That way you’ll have someone to reminisce with because, trust me, your friends and family will get very tired of listening to you brag about your unforgettable experiences!
– Amy Procaccini, Australia



The biggest advice I have for dealing with returning home after you study abroad, is remembering that you will never stop missing it (which isn’t a bad thing). It has been over a year since I was in Salamanca, Spain with my host family and friends and I still get twinges of sadness that I’m not back there again. But, there are things that can make it easier. First, remember all those pictures you took? DO SOMETHING WITH THEM! Don’t just leave them sitting in a folder on your computer that you never look at. Make a scrapbook, hang them up in your room, showcase where you have been. Next, don’t lose touch with the people you met along the way. Every time I talk to my roommate from Spain, I can’t help but be happy. She and I experienced so much together over the 4 months we were abroad that we are always sharing memories and laughing together. Finally, and probably most importantly, find someone at home to share your stories with whether it be your mom, dad, best friend, boy/girlfriend, whoever! As everyone says, you will find that most people are content with asking you one question about your study abroad (Usually “How was it?”) and then never asking again. But you are going to want to talk about it all the time and you are going to want someone to be interested and excited to hear about it. To this day I still refer to times when I was abroad. Obviously, every person deals with being home differently, but hopefully these tip help a little bit!
– Kelly Rudolph, Spain

Feeling the pain? Check out this article from BuzzFeed on the Symptoms of Study Abroad Withdrawal.
We know you can relate.

Spring 2014 Photo Contest Winners!!

Thank you to all our world-traveling students who submitted their amazing photos from their time abroad!

We’re excited to announce our Spring 2014 winners:

1st Place – Julia Heslin/Italy



2nd Place – Chloe Probst/Tasmania



3rd Place – Britt Sorensen/Africa



If you missed out on our top 10 photos, they’re on our Facebook page! We can’t wait to see what amazing pictures our Tigers have next semester!!