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October 2017
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The freshman experience: life changing


I have been awake all night. It seems that my brain won’t stop working. Tomorrow (or actually today) is my birthday, but that is not that reason that I can’t sleep. Tomorrow is also my last day at Millersville University. All night, memories have been flashing through my mind. When I left my friends and family at the airport with tears in my eyes. When I first arrived at Millersville and couldn’t find my dorm. The first classes I took and how much I loved American politics. The friends I have made and to whose houses I traveled during Christmas break. The crazy things I have done, such as ordering pizza with my roommate late at night. The activities I participated in, like writing for the University paper. The parties I went to that ended in fun nights with my friend and many more great memories. It just makes me so incredibly sad that I have to leave everything behind, but it also makes me thankful that I have had this experience.  

Studying abroad is a great opportunity; a chance that should never be missed. Currently, the deadline for the Erasmus exchange 2016 is coming closer and many students are dying for a spot. The process of going abroad has been around for a long time. Fabienne van den Bor, educational adviser at the Fulbright center, states: “around 1948, students already went to American universities for a gap year. Back then, they went by boat instead of by airplane. The experiences of freshmen seemed unabatedly positive over the years.”

Fulbright offers many different study or work related programs in the Unites States.  However, there is one program in particular that is very interesting for high schoolers. The Campus Scholarship Program (CSP) makes it possible for students to take a year off after high school to study at an American university for one year. Currently, about 40 students are participating in the CSP program yearly.

Every student describes his or her experience as only positive, like Jacomijn Belle – CSP 2013-2014, Millersville University of PA. She states: “My experiences were beyond words. Going to the US has been the best decision of my life; I have learned so much about myself, but also about the country and its culture.”

Margot Verbeek – CSP 2011-2012, Roanoke College – describes her experience as follows: “Studying in the US for a year is so special, because it does not only gives you a good image of the US, but it also teaches you to look at your own country in a different way.”

Fulbright guides the students in the process beforehand and during the year itself, mediates between the student and the university and helps students in obtaining a scholarship. Naturally, the process that leads to participating in the CSP is not an easy one. It starts with thorough orientation on Fulbright and the CSP, as leaving for an entire year to study abroad in the United States is not a small step after high school. Thereafter, students have to apply to the program first and when they are accepted, Fulbright provides them with a list of ten universities that match the students profile. Students then pick a top four and apply to these universities. When they get accepted into one or more universities, the informal part of process starts: tickets, passport, visa, vaccinations, roommates, and many more things that can be a true hassle. It is already this process that teaches students a lot about themselves and about the United States, as they have to do a lot of research, they have write multiple essays and motivational letters and they have to participate in multiple tests.

The best thing about the experience abroad is that it teaches you so many things. As a freshman, you can follow all different types of courses. This gives students the opportunity to look around and take time to think about what they actually want to do. Maartje Meijers, CSP program coordinator, mentions that “participation in the program has a positive effect on the study development in the Netherlands: students do better, get better grades and are less likely to fall out.” This all became evident from a study that was done by the Fulbright center in 2013 among CSP alumni.

Another very valuable thing about this experience is the process of making friends. As freshmen in college, everybody is eager to make friends and especially the intercultural friendships are very relevant, life changing and just amazing. Some of those friendships last a lifetime and can turn out to be very valuable later in life, also in terms of networking. Belle comments on this statement that she has made friends for life there and she already went back to visit them another time.

Jan-Paul de Bruin – CSP 2012-2013, Grand Valley State University – describes his experience as follows: “Spending my gap year studying in the United States was the best and ‘worst’ decision I have ever made. The best because it has been the greatest year of my life: not only to find out what I wanted to do next, but also to meet new people from many different cultures with whom I have travelled through the entire country. The worst because I had to leave everything behind after a year. I wish I could have done my bachelor there.”

I think one of the most special things about the CSP is the fact that everyone has his or her own unique experiences that make the year so fantastic. However, in the end, my own experiences still relate to similar overall experiences that everyone has, such as the things I learned about myself, the country and its culture, the travelling, the friends I made and the activities I have participated in. This year has helped me to make the right choices in my life and it has changed me as a person. Being a Fulbright student does not end when you come back to the Netherlands, because it is a lifelong experience and nobody is ready for it to end when the last day has arrived.

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