Saturday, September 29, 2012

Unusual Pack List

I'm sure that most people are capable of making sure they bring along all the right clothing and toiletry items, and the usual travel items (like outlet converters). Here I'm just going to provide a list of things that maybe you wouldn't think to bring along. I've studied abroad twice before, so at this point I really should know what I'm talking about, but of course I'm sure I'll get there and think, darn it why didn't I bring that? At any rate, here is my Unusual Pack List:

  1. Grocery Bag. Bring your own or else pay for your bags. It's usually only like 5 cents a bag, but I can think of better ways to spend money than on plastic baggies. 
  2. Laundry Bag. This is one I forgot last time, because frankly I didn't even think about it. It wasn't a big problem, but it's definitely a convenience factor to have something to hold your dirty clothes. The one I'm bringing, a gift from admissions I think, folds flat. I love things that fold flat. 
  3. Something homey. Whether it's a family picture, a favorite stuffed friend, or just a trinket you really like, bring it along. If you're going to live someplace for an extended period of time, it should have something in it that says Home.
  4. Books/movies/entertainment. What do you do in your free time? Read? Watch movies? Sew? Play harmonica? Don't pack your whole library, but be sure to bring a few or you are going to get bored in the evenings. 
  5. Paper and pens. I may not be taking any classes but that doesn't mean I won't need a spiral notebook and some pens and pencils. 
  6. First aid kit. They sell travel sized first aid kits, but I guess you could make your own if you're crafty like that. It's one of those things that if you have it, you won't need it, but if you don't, you will. 
  7. Sewing kit. Similar reasons to the above. They also sell little travel sized sewing kits. 
  8. A combo lock. And the combo. You will want a lock, especially if you do any traveling that involves a hostel. Also, make sure you know the combo to said lock, because they're not particularly helpful without it. 
  9. Alarm clock. If you generally use your phone, that's cool. The rest of us need to pack one. 
10. And finally an item to leave behind: An Important Documents Folder. This should be your last island of sanity in the event that all hell breaks loose. Think: if my apartment and all my stuff blew up, what would I need a hard copy of? What documents might I need to get my life back to a certain amount sanity? Gather it up and give it to someone responsible, like your mom. 

Any questions about what I'm bringing or not bringing? Please feel free to ask! 

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Sash

So I believe I mentioned a sash, and promised a forthcoming explanation...Well, here it is. Gratifying what must be overwhelming curiosity, I'm sure.

I joined the American Chemical Society my junior year of college, and since then I have received newsletters via email. Generally there's not much that actually pertains to me, but one article in particular caught my eye. It described a new initiative called Chemistry Ambassadors that is aimed at providing ACS members with resources to help them with science outreach. Science outreach is very important to me. At USC, I was a member of Carolina Science Outreach, an organization started by some friends of mine, that works to increase interest in science and science education through presentations on a variety of topics for all ages, but especially to students. This is an interest I hope to pursue in France as well. Everyone needs more science. Science too often gets placed on a pedestal as somehow inaccessible to all but the best (and nerdiest) students. Too many students push science away as too difficult or too boring. I want more people to see science the way I do: fun and exciting, but more importantly, I want more people to feel that science is just as  within their reach as any of the other liberal arts. However, I digress.

Chemistry Ambassadors. After exploring both their website and their facebook page extensively, I noticed many pictures of people wearing a bright yellow sash. They even have a photo album dedicated to "Where in the World is the Sash Today?" Well, of course, I had to have one. I couldn't resist, and thus wrote an email asking as to how one went about getting a sash. I had looked all over the website and even the ACS store, but couldn't find anything. And then I found out it was free! The woman who responded just asked me to send her an address and a quantity. A quantity? I thought. I just wanted one... So I asked for three: one for myself, and two for Carolina Science Outreach to use however they see fit. Thus I go off to France with a sash, ready for whatever science outreach opportunities await or at least for a series of silly pictures.

This is me, wearing my beautiful sash, in front of my high school. Expect many similar photos to follow. :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Goals for my Year in France

        Obviously, the main point of the next year is to do some really awesome chemistry research and change the world one discovery at a time, but here are some of my personal goals. These aren't exactly the result of days or weeks of thoughtful consideration, but some of these have been on my mental short list for a long time.  
  • Go back to Notre Dame de Paris. Last time I was there, I didn't get to really spend much time there and it's just beautiful. 
  • See the Parisian catacombs. When I visited Paris, I got to do just about everything I wanted, but there wasn't really time to see the catacombs, and I've heard they're really cool.
  • Absorb more art by visiting some of France's many wonderful museums. 
  • See the Normandy beaches. 
  • Visit Chambord. I'm a castle junkie and this one begs to be visited:
Chateau De Chambord Castle Loire Valley France
  • Learn to make crepes like a French person. Oh yes, anyone can look up a French recipe for crepes and with practice become a good crepe-maker, but I don't want to make crepes that are "pretty good for an American". I want to make crepes that are good, no qualifiers, and the best possible place to do that is France. 
  • Become fluent, really fluent in French. I've been studying French for a long time, and I can read and write with a certain amount of ease, but my speaking abilities are not really where I want them to be. 
  • Go to a soccer game, a real one, with people who care. I like sports, particularly football, basketball, and baseball, but I just can't get excited about soccer. I think being at a game in a country that cares about soccer, with people who care about soccer, might at least help me understand some of its widespread popularity. 
  • Get my groceries from a farmer's market and go make something awesome with it. I have this probably out-dated idea that this is a very European thing to do. In reality, they shop at supermarkets just like we do, but they still have a plethora of butchers and bakers, and produce markets, whereas these are not present in my suburban world. 
  • Go to a used bookstore, get some french books, and then spend an afternoon reading them. Used bookstores are a great way to get cheap books, and I love books. 
  • Visit Chateau Falaise. This feeds my castle addiction in a somewhat more personal way. A teacher of mine once became inspired to have us all look up our family histories to find when we immigrated to the US. This could have been an interesting project in our Ellis Island unit, except that my family has been in the US for ages. I'm not kidding. We must have been some of the first pilgrims to come over because you can go back a good 18 to 20 generations before getting outside the US; in fact, about 13 of those generations are all from Indiana. However if you go back as far as you can go, I am a descendent of Fulbert the Saxon de Pollock (who may have been one of Charlemagne's good buddies), who was grandson of Fulbert de Falaise (maternal grandfather of William the Conqueror). The Chateau de Falaise is the birthplace of The Conqueror. Since I am (nebulously) related to someone who once lived there, I feel an obligation to go visit. Plus, it's practically in Caen. 
Falaise chateau guillaume conquerant 2.jpg
  • Go to England. I don't really know if I'll be able to accomplish this one, but I'd really like to go see London, and ride the London Eye. 
  • Eat a lot of cheese. 
  • Eat a lot of chocolate, specifically Kinderbars.
  • Eat a lot of bread. (Ok, so I like food. Sue me.)
  • Take pictures of Cocky, and the sash (not necessarily together) at various locations. On a visit weekend, USC's admissions gave me a little stuffed version of our mascot, the wonderful Cocky. It's a trend with students studying abroad to take pictures with this little guy wherever they go. I forgot to take him on my previous trips. This time he will not be forgotten, and his picture will be taken. As for the sash, well, I'll explain that later on... ;)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Fulbright

So now I've gotten you excited about the Fulbright right? And you want to know more about what it is and how to apply, right? Of course you do. I'll explain it for you in the best way I can.

First things first: if you are really interested in the Fulbright program, go to their website
They have more useful information than anyone could possibly use, so go explore. Also, if you're looking for specific information, use their website. I'm just going to give a quick run-down.

What is the Fulbright?

The Fulbright Program is about exchanging students/teachers/professionals between the US and countries around the world for the benefit of everybody involved. It's named after the US Senator who came up with it, J. William Fulbright. Thank you very much Mr. Fulbright, I'm going to have a blast. Anyway, the Fulbright US Student Program really represents two possibilities: a Study/Research Grant or an English Teaching Assistantship. They are just what they sound like. A grant allows you to go to a foreign country and study or do research or a combination of both. {This is what I was awarded. I'll be mostly doing research and possibly sitting in on a few lectures as the opportunity arises.} An ETA sends you to a foreign country to teach English. Different countries support different numbers of each type depending on their own available funding and desires. Your chances of success vary depending on which country you apply to and for what type of Fulbright, but in any case, it's highly competitive.

How does the application process work?

For both, you're going to need the usual assortment of paperwork (resume, transcript, recommendation letters, etc), as well as some long essays. With the research proposal, you find an affiliation and you need to write out a Grant Proposal outlining exactly what you plan on doing, why, and how you are qualified to pull it off. With an ETA, you apply to a country with a Statement of Purpose explaining why you want to do this, and then they decide where they want you to teach. They both also require a Personal Statement, my nemesis. Honestly, who decided writing a page-long explanation of your life and goals was a good idea? Yuck. Get started early, really early, because everything takes a long time and it's not an easy application. After you make it through that application, you will go through some form of on-campus evaluation. Unlike some other national fellowships, the Fulbright does not limit the number of candidates a campus can support, and in fact it does not even require that you have the backing of your school. It certainly helps though. I personally felt that the campus interview process was very helpful; you get a new set of eyes on your application and a lot of really sound advice. Once you've done your final edits, you submit the whole thing online to the US Fulbright Committee who goes through and judges all the applications to each country. There's no hard and fast rule, but according to rumor/the internet, the number of Finalists is about double the number of grants or ETAs they plan on awarding. The Finalists are announced, and in the meantime the applications are sent to their respective countries' committees who make the final decisions about who is going to get a grant. That's the process, more or less, and it's lot of waiting. I'm not patient so it was torture for me, but maybe you're more virtuous than I am.

What do they look for?

Well, it's difficult to give specifics. Generally, they want great students who are passionate about their goals. With a grant, you need to be able to describe in detail what you plan on doing. They want to see that you have a plan for the next year; winging it is just not going to fly (heehee). It's also important to show that there is a need to go abroad, and specifically to the country and location you're applying for. If your project could just as easily be done in the US, why would they pay for you to go to a foreign country? As an example, my research project could be done in the US, but the CRISMAT lab in France offers me a unique opportunity. The CRISMAT lab is devoted to crystallography and materials science, whereas the equivalent American national labs tend to be based on region rather than subject matter. Thus, by working over there, I'm going to be in a situation I just couldn't have in the US. Other aspects the Fulbright committee looks for are larger impact and community interaction. If the results of your project are not going to impact anyone besides you, then why would someone else pay for it? Community interaction is a big part of the Fulbright's goals for cultural exchange so you need to explain how you plan on getting involved in your community.

How did you even get started on all this?

That is a good question. I am admittedly a nerd and something of an over-achiever occasionally. My freshman year, USC's Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs gave out a calender of their workshops, and I was immediately interested in the Fulbright. Any possibility of going abroad was going to interest me, and the ability to do research at the same time was enough to hook me. Since that workshop, the Fulbright has been a dream of mine, although for most of college it was a dream that sat on a shelf waiting for me to become an upperclassman. I had been thinking about, and assuming I would apply for, the Fulbright for so long in fact, that when I went to the Fulbright workshop again my junior year, I was initially surprised when I suddenly realized I'm not a typical applicant for the Fulbright. I naturally think of the sciences when I hear the words research grant, but of course in reality the Fulbright naturally attracts more people from the humanities and the social sciences, especially in Europe. It dawned on me more and more as I worked on my application that where I was almost too well-rounded (and not science-y enough) for some of my other fellowship applications, I needed to emphasize my non-science side in my personal statement and the human impact portions of my grant proposal. My research is very interesting (to me at least) and I think it will have a great impact on humanity, but it's not as straight forwardly humanitarian as someone who plans on researching cures to children's cancer. In fact, not to put too great a point on it, there were a couple times when I was working on the application that I had to consult the OFSP about what to do, because I had some science thing that just didn't gel with the format which was clearly designed with the humanities in mind. It's not that a Fulbright in the sciences is unusual, it's just the majority of applicants come from outside the physical sciences.

Who are these OFSP people you keep mentioning?

Ok well if you don't go to USC, I can't help you. I can only say that if you attend a reasonably sized university, you probably have something similar. There is probably at least someone on campus with some experience with national fellowships. If you are a Gamecock, a) good for you, and b) go visit them. Conveniently located on the Horseshoe in the same building as Undergraduate Research and Study Abroad, the Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs should go on your must-visit list. They are incredibly helpful, and you couldn't ask for nicer people. And you don't need an appointment. Just go visit them. They do a lot of things, but they are who you need to see if you want to apply for a national fellowship, like the Fulbright. They can help you find scholarships that match your interests, everything from the really big ones, to maybe some that you haven't heard of but that offer money for something you want to do. Once you know what you want to apply for, they will help you with everything from figuring out who to ask for a recommendation letter to reading over essay drafts. They've even been known to overnight a transcript in an emergency. They want everyone to succeed, and they know every trick in the trade. Seriously, don't wait until your senior year; go now and at least meet some nice people. Anyone can go; they don't just work with scholarship winners or even just undergrads. So since you fall in the 'anyone' category, go visit them.