Gemütlichkeit or How to feel at home in a foreign culture

This post is part of our weekly International Voices column, writing by UT students, for UT current and prospective students. Enjoy!

Cornelia Loos photo

Connie Loos

Sunday morning I got up early to bake Brötchen – not sweet bread, nor biscuits or croissants but good old-fashioned bread rolls covered in pumpkin seeds. I’d never made those myself but I was craving a traditional German breakfast so much that I braved the daunting yeast-based recipe and kneaded myself the best self-made Brötchen ever. I served them with home-made egg salad and thyme butter, supplemented by store-bought cold cuts, cheeses, jam, and Nutella. Add to that some orange juice, good friends and plenty of time and you’ve got yourself the best Sunday breakfast ever!

Brötchen seem to be my coping mechanism for occasional onslaughts of homesickness or a way of grounding myself in this city and culture. I’ve made friends in Austin, I go out and socialize, but sometimes I need to do things that feel utterly familiar. After a stressful week of interacting only in English, I’ll watch a cheesy German movie like I used to back home with my mom. Or I’ll go to a Stammtisch and indulge in German conversation (not so much German beer, something must have gone terribly wrong in my design plan and I do not like beer!).

Apparently, I’m not alone in needing a familiarity fix now and then. A friend who just moved to Kuala Lumpur admits to working at Starbucks for the familiar flavors, the ordering ritual and free wifi. Another American friend would frequent McDonald’s in Germany although she’d never set foot in a chain fast food restaurant at home. I’ve sighed at the familiar silly names of furniture at the Round Rock IKEA and have pilgrimaged there several times to buy almond pastry because it reminded me so much of family vacations in Sweden. Funnily enough, Walmart makes me want to travel to Mexico, because that’s where I used to shop when living in Guadalajara as a German teacher.

If you are studying abroad for six months or even a year, you want to experience and soak in as much of American culture as you can, and I encourage you to do so. Go to at least one football game wearing only burnt orange (or cheat with coral and salmon, because let’s face it, burnt orange isn’t everyone’s color), take in a music festival, a rodeo, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Howl at the moon at Barton Springs and watch the bats fly (bring a nose clip) on Congress Bridge. But if you’re here for the long haul, because you’re getting your MA or PhD at UT, you might need to take a break from Austin now and then. Hang out with other internationals, rejoice at finding that spice/dish/beverage from your country on the shelves at the supermarket (or, in my case, Haribo juicy goldbears), and pursue a hobby that makes you feel at home. I for one like salsa-dancing, because no matter where I am on this globe, the familiar moves and rhythms of the dance are a welcome constant.

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Posted in General, International Voices

Schlumberger Foundation Call for Applications for the 2015-2016 Faculty for the Future Fellowships

The Schlumberger Foundation is accepting new applications for the 2015–2016 Faculty for the Future Fellowships from September 10th to November 14th, 2014.

The Faculty for the Future program, launched in 2004, awards fellowships to women from developing and emerging economies to pursue PhD or Post-doctorate studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines at leading universities worldwide.

The long-term goal of the program is to generate conditions that result in more women pursuing academic careers in STEM disciplines thus contributing to the socio-economic development of their home countries and regions. The program is growing each year and has become a community of 405 women scientists and technologists from 68 countries. Grant recipients are selected as much for their leadership capabilities as for their scientific talents. Ultimately they are expected to return to their home countries to continue their academic careers, to further their research, to teach and to become inspirational role models for other young women, especially in the STEM fields.

More information.

Posted in General

International Voices: The Summer That Changed My Life

Meet our final International Voices blogger, Rita, who shares her once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this summer and why international students should seek opportunities to get involved on campus.

I recently returned from a 70 day bicycle ride from Austin, Texas, to Anchorage, Alaska, with Texas 4000, a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading hope, knowledge and charity in the fight against cancer.

Rita Bitar Nehme

Rita Bitar Nehme

This ride was the longest annual charity bike ride in the world. When people ask me about my summer experience was, I struggle with words. It seems impossible to express how these 70 days were spent and what they meant to me, but I’ll try my best to tell you a story about the things I learned along the way, and how I came to take part in this life-changing experience as in international student at the University of Texas at Austin.

It all started with a leisurely walk on the Forty Acres. It was my first month in the United States. It was my first week of school with thousands of students and hundreds of student organizations. I stumbled upon the Texas 4000 table and instantly felt drawn to learn more about it. The idea of cycling across a continent to fight cancer struck me. I knew I needed to apply and be a part of this. No matter how physically and mentally challenging this was going to be, I knew I needed to do it. I applied, got an interview, and made the team. I made the team!

After 18 months of fundraising, volunteering, route planning, physical training, and friendship building, the summer ride started on the 31st of May 2014. We took off and started the summer of our lives. Everything was new to us in the first few days of riding.  It felt like it was yet another form of training. Not only were we exploring our physical limits, but we were also expanding our mental limits too. The ride was divided into three different routes. This helped us reach out to as many parts of the country as possible. The routes separated on day 2 and met again on day 60 to ride together during the last 10 days. I rode what we referred to as the “Sierra” route, the most Westerly route. We cycled through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Yukon Territories and finally Alaska.
DSCN7276It is difficult for me to name some of my favorite places along the way but a few rides stand out. The beautiful California road shadowed by colossal redwood trees in Avenue of the Giants was mesmerizing. The steep slopes and mountain ranges that lead to Lake Tahoe, California were exhausting but even more rewarding. The national parks of Zion and Crater Lake offered some of the most beautiful natural scenery of the kind that inspires. The isolated Canadian roads, surrounded with nothing but impeccable mountains and lakes, presented trails of self-discovery on our way to the stunning state of Alaska. One of my favorite moments was reaching the Alaska border sign. There the 2013 Texas 4000 team had left us a letter which said: “They say Alaska is the last frontier, but maybe the last frontier is really the rest of your lives. It starts here.” Those words will forever be carved into my heart.
There is something special about being on a bicycle and seeing the world from its perspective. It was great to see some of the most beautiful parts of the United States and Canada from this very unique point of view. On the bike, we felt in direct contact with everything surrounding us. We felt the heat, the cold, the sun, the rain, the wind and our legs burning on a steep hill. We were flooded with feelings.

Often times we camped outdoors. At other times we had a roof above our heads thanks to the overcoming generosity of strangers and longtime friends of the organization. We slept in homes, churches, gymnasiums, schools, a farm, a police station and even a bowling alley. The people who took us in and hosted us are one of main reasons of why we can do this. My faith in humanity was restored by experiencing firsthand the extent of people’s generosity and by seeing how much people are willing to give and to help. It has been truly special to witness this.

Every day before getting on the bike, we did a ride dedication circle to share our stories and to talk about whom we are riding in honor of and dedicating our ride to for that day. Our hosts often joined the circle and shared their stories with us and who they wanted us to ride for.  Every ride dedication touched each one of us and always reminded us of our purpose while giving us more reasons to keep at it. Their stories become our shared sources of inspiration and motivation. We were able to open up, be ourselves and experience the importance of being vulnerable and of sharing experiences, passions, hopes and dreams.

The difference we made and the impact we on had on people’s lives were becoming more tangible through every story shared and every person met. The people we met along the way introduced us to their lives and helped me form a better idea of how I want to live mine.

I felt so much personal growth and I felt it in each one of my teammates. Many things were put into perspective along the long way and we learned to savor, appreciate and find the joy in the little things. We experienced the importance of living every day with purpose. We felt the joy and satisfaction of pursuing our passions, being open to opportunities and not being afraid to jump at them. A Texas 4000 alumnus once told us: “Don’t let this be the best thing you’ll ever do. Take it and do something bigger with it”. That’s what I’ll do.

That leisurely walk that lead to a purposeful ride across a continent also taught me that every step has the potential to change a life. Where will your leisurely walk take you?



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Posted in International Voices, Spotlight

Free Employment Seminar: September 24, 2014


The University of Texas at Austin has a vibrant and thriving international population of students and scholars, numbering approximately 6,700 individuals. This population hails from all over the globe, representing the diversity of talent and knowledge celebrated by our university. In an effort to provide information and continue to serve our international Longhorns, UT Austin’s International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) Advising Team is offering a FREE Employment Seminar. Yes, FREE! If you are in an F-1, J-1, H-1B, or other visa status, this seminar is for you!

ISSS will be holding the three-part Employment Seminar on September 24, 2014 from 6:00-8:30 p.m. in the Peter O’Donnell, Jr. Building (24th & Speedway). The sessions will focus on post-graduation/completion employment options, will explain work visa types, and will offer knowledge of the permanent residency process. The ISSS Advising team will be speaking specifically about F-1 and J-1 visa types in concurrent sessions, to be followed by a wrap-up information session presented by Maggie Murphy, special guest speaker and immigration attorney at Jackson Lewis P.C.

The Employment Seminar offers a great opportunity for you to ask questions and understand your options better! We’d love to see you at the below sessions:

               6:00 p.m. – F-1 Student Session (Avaya Auditorium, POB 2.302)

               6:00 p.m. – J-1 Scholar Session (POB 2.402)

               7:00 p.m. – Immigration Attorney Presentation, followed by a Q & A Session                                                                                                                                                                                                          (Avaya Auditorium, POB 2.302)

We look forward to seeing you there!

–Your ISSS Advising Team

Posted in General

International Voices: Feeling at Home in Austin for Undergraduates


Shruti Kota

As the fall semester begins, our International Voices columnists will be sharing their experiences as new UT students. Welcome to Austin, new (and returning) students! We hope your school year is off to a great start.

Exactly a year ago, I had just started my freshman year at UT, and I had no idea what to expect in terms of adjusting to social life in America. I quickly discovered that college is definitely not what you see on TV shows, where the characters always look extremely well put together and you never really see them spending Friday nights at the library. The reality of the situation is that no matter what major you are, college is difficult, and at a great school like UT Austin, the workload is pretty intense. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean you have to shut yourself in your dorm room and pore over your books every waking minute, especially in a vibrant and beautiful city like Austin. Balance is key! Meeting people and making new friends is also a big part of feeling at home in college. I found that joining a First Year Interest Group as a freshman is the best way to make friends since you share some classes with the people in your group.

There are definitely tourist-y things Austin is known for, like watching the bats fly out when the sun sets at South Congress, visiting Barton Creek and posing in front of graffiti decorated walls in Castle Hill. I would recommend doing all these things at least once during your freshman year at UT. Seeing the bats fly out at dusk is extremely exciting to watch, even if it does smell a little funky, and waiting for 45 minutes for a burger at Hopdoddy’s Burger Bar in South Congress is worth it (don’t forget to order a milkshake too!).  Just walking down South Congress on a Friday or Saturday night when the trees are lit up and there are live musicians on the street, is such a great experience – it feels like Christmas every night! However, I would suggest getting to know the bus system quite well before venturing out on journeys across Austin, otherwise you could find yourself hopelessly lost in a sketchy part of Austin (I speak from experience). Downloading the Google Maps and the Cap Metro apps if you have a smart phone is a surefire way to keep track of where you’re going.

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Hopdoddy Burger Bar, Photo by David Ingram

Austin definitely lives up to its reputation as the live music capital of the world. I have discovered fantastic new music in the year that I have lived here, and I have also had the opportunity to see some of my favorite bands live. Even if tickets are a little pricey, I would really urge saving up to go see your favorite artists live because it is an experience you will never regret.

The best way to really feel at home in a new country is to explore it with new friends and make really great memories. The International Office at UT really helps with this by arranging trips to nearby cities like San Antonio and Houston. This way you get to meet other international students whilst visiting exciting places in Texas.

So, whether you decide to spend your weekends strolling down South Congress or checking out the music scene, you will never run out of things to do in Austin. They say home is where the heart is, and after a few months, Austin will absolutely have your heart.



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Posted in International Voices, Spotlight

Scholar Social Hour – September 2014

bstruwe1On Wednesday, September 3, the International Scholar Services team hosted the first scholar social hour of the Fall 2014 semester.  What a fun opportunity to meet a diverse group of scholars!  About 20 scholars attended the event and our conversations ranged from Texas politics to favorite books and authors.  Conversation was aided by the delicious pizza provided by the International Office.  I had a great evening learning how passionate all of our scholars are about their studies and research.  A few scholars who are already comfortable with the Austin area gave tips on places to eat, places to explore, and places for visiting guests to stay.  Since I’m a newcomer to Austin myself, I plan to take advantage of the great advice I heard on Wednesday.

If you are …

  • Looking for a fun way to meet other scholars here at UT;
  • Looking for tips and recommendations about the Austin area and lifestyle; and
  • Wanting to enjoy some free pizza

… look no further than the monthly Scholar Social Hour!  Make your way to our next social hour on Wednesday, October 1st from 5:30-7pm.  Scholar social hours are held the first Wednesday of every month, and all social hours take place at Austin’s Pizza located at 2324 Guadalupe.  Families are more than welcome to come. We look forward to seeing more new and returning faces come out and join us for a terrific evening!


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International Voices: First impressions

As the fall semester begins, our International Voices columnists will be sharing their experiences as new UT students. Welcome to Austin, new (and returning) students! We hope your school year is off to a great start.

I was introduced to Austin one late August night like this: The airport doors slid open and I bumped into a wall of heat and humidity. It was the summer of 2011, and I had just walked into the hottest year of record with 90 days at 100°F (that’s 38°C everywhere else). Seeing as I was not familiar with AC window units, I spent my first night struggling to get my room at one of the co ops in West Campus to a viable, sleepable 70°F, but eventually gave up and fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.Cornelia Loos photo

It wasn’t until November that I learnt to appreciate the beauty of 229 sunny days per year, walking around in flip flops for most of the semester, and swimming at Barton Springs Pool in October(!) while my family back home was starting to bundle up in sweaters and turn up the heaters.

That first morning in Austin, I woke up at 6 a.m. and felt great. It was still pleasantly cool outside as I walked along the drag (Guadalupe St) to get my student ID, open a bank account and get an American SIM card. I felt accomplished for getting so much done before breakfast and considered myself invincible. I’d come to UT to get my PhD in Linguistics and get it I would!

This exuberant confidence lasted until my first day of classes when I was inundated with fear by my department’s expectations for me to get an A in all of my classes, by the new demands of TA-ing, in addition to taking classes, and by my fellow students’ laments that from now on, we would not have a spare moment until the end of the semester. But guess what? I survived my first semester. (I still wear an invisible badge saying: Got an A in Syntax)! I managed not only TA-ing but also AI-ing, and I did have glorious moments of spare time dancing at the Broken Spoke, listening to live music at Halcyon, or simply hanging out with new friends. Granted, some of those moments happened at 3 a.m., right after handing in that vermaledeite syntax assignment, but it just goes to show that you have to make time for fun and relaxation, whenever you may chance upon them. Because if you don’t, you will break down and you will cry in front of your professors, and that really doesn’t help anyone.

So if this is your first semester in grad school and you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop. Breathe, take a nap, have a healthy meal. Then go back to your desk with a clear mind, and if you’re still lost, talk to your professors. That’s what office hours are for and you’re not losing face by asking them to go over a tricky topic again. Use your cohort for support: study together, do assignments together, and moan about the amount of work – bond. Don’t worry about feeling like an impostor, ‘playing’ at grad school – I still do in my fourth year! And most importantly, make friends, Americans and internationals, outside of your department. Because who wants to talk about linguistics/biochemistry/central Eurasian studies allllll the time?

And you’ll be fine.

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Posted in International Voices, Spotlight

For Departing J-1 Scholars


Congratulations on completing your J-1 program and advancing your research or teaching here at The University of Texas at Austin! We have prepared a recommended departure checklist to assist you in completing your university and personal affairs before leaving the United States. For additional information about each item on the checklist, please see your J-1 Scholar Orientation Guide, page 24.

Departure Checklist:

  • Update your forwarding address.
  • Pay your University fees, if applicable.
  • Save all of your immigration documents.
  • File your tax return or mark your calendar.
  • Request the return of your apartment deposit.
  • Make sure you have received reimbursement on all of your medical insurance claims.
  • Obtain a retirement deduction refund (UT employees only).
  • Close your bank account.

It has been a pleasure assisting you during your visit. We hope that you will stay connected to UT Austin in one of the following ways:

We hope that your J-1 program has provided you with numerous opportunities for exchange with students, faculty, researchers and the Austin community. We are grateful to have been a part of your experience here in Austin. As you depart from Austin and embark upon your future endeavors, we wish you the best of luck and hope you carry with you the motto of The University of Texas at Austin, “What starts here changes the world.”

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Posted in General, Immigration Updates, Taxes

International Voices: Finding Your First Home in Austin

New international students are arriving on campus for the fall semester, so our International Voices columnists will be sharing their experiences as new UT students on the blog this month. Welcome to Austin, incoming students! We look forward to connecting with you in ISSS.

By Nabiul AfroozNabiul Afrooz

College can sometimes be stressful, so it’s important that you have a tranquil place to go home to. Austin is a lively city with many nice neighborhoods.  However, as an international student coming to a new city, I found it really difficult to get a comfortable and safe location close to the UT campus within my price range. Here, I would like to pass on some of the insights I gathered throughout my apartment hunting experience.

If you are a first year undergraduate, you might want to live within walking distance of the campus as this will help you make friends, stay connected with the school community, and ensure that you make it to class! The North Campus or West Campus private dorms would be the best choice for you, especially if you are an engineering or science major. If you like partying, etc., and are looking for the “college experience,” you should consider living in West Campus.

If you are an incoming graduate student and are not into the party scene, you may want to avoid the West Campus areas because of the high density of undergraduates there. University housing is the most affordable place for graduate students; however, you need to apply early for an apartment to ensure a spot. Many graduate students live in the Hyde Park, Pleasant Valley, and Riverside areas. You may also consider the Far West/Northwest Hills area, which is 10-12 minutes from UT, with a very convenient commute to the school using the UT shuttle.

Austin offers various transportation options, including a safe and widespread metro system with buses that have a UT campus route and shuttles that are specifically for UT. If you aren’t too far, riding a bike is always a great option. Look at the transportation routes that are within the UT shuttle loop to make sure you will always have a way to travel between school and home.

Students on a tight budget should look to live with roommates in order to share the cost of rent and utilities. Single room apartments in Austin range from $750 to $1200 per month, depending on the square footage and location. The cheaper apartments are smaller and further away; while pricier places are usually larger and downtown. If you’re in a roommate situation, your monthly living expense may come down to $500.

While all the areas close to UT are generally safe, like with any city, there are areas that are not the best to live in.  Try to consult the Austin crime zone map if you are concerned about safety. Try using a site like or; these sites will give you honest looks at complexes and hook you up with potential roommates.

No matter where you live, one thing is for sure: Austin is a great place to be. There are so many things to do from dining out, hitting up concerts, or chilling at lounges or coffee shops. You will never be bored!

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Posted in General, International Voices, Spotlight

International Voices: Discovering Happiness in a Bowl

New international students are arriving on campus for the fall semester, so our International Voices columnists will be sharing their experiences as new UT students on the blog this month. Welcome to Austin, incoming students! We look forward to connecting with you in ISSS.

Shruti_141By Shruti Kota

I knew that I wanted to go to college in the United States since I was 10 years old. I’m not exactly sure what the allure was, and I knew it would definitely be more challenging in terms of adapting to the lifestyle and living about 8,000 miles from my family. However, I decided to take a leap of faith, and with my parents encouragement, I accepted the offer to join the University of Texas at Austin. I had never been to the United States before, and as I landed in Houston, I felt a mix of apprehension and excitement with a tinge of nausea from sitting on a plane for 17 hours. Time flew past as I attended orientation and started to meet my fellow Longhorns. I found out that registration really isn’t that stressful as long as you have a general idea of which classes you want to take (waitlists are your best friends) and that Tex-Mex food was like eating happiness in a bowl (or burrito).

I think one of the most dreaded questions you can get asked as an international student is, “So, where are you from?” Ninety percent of the people I met were from Texas, but I was still unfamiliar with the Texas geography, and so when people said Grapevine or McKinney, I was mystified. When I said I was born in India, grew up in Qatar, but went to an English school, I drew quite a lot of attention, and to be completely honest, I enjoyed it. I think as an international student, one of the most entertaining things you can do is to compare and contrast culture in the United States with where you’re from. For example, that little dot you use to complete a sentence, is called a “period” in America but a “full stop” in some other parts of the world. Also, everybody kept talking about how it was 110 or 90 degrees outside, and I was baffled by this obscenely large number until I realized they were talking about degrees Fahrenheit. A definite advantage of being an international student in America is you get pretty used to doing quick calculations in your head as you mentally convert Fahrenheit to Celsius and miles per hour to kilometers per hour!

I have currently finished my first year of college, and as I think back to a year ago, I admire how far I have come. Apart from a wonderful education at a world-renowned university, I appreciate how much I have learned from the American culture, just by living here for a year. The most sincere advice I could give to an international student who is just about to start their freshman year at college is that even though it may seem like a scary experience right now, you will get through it! You will find your niche and make some great friends and even greater memories at college. I can honestly say I made the best decision of my life choosing to come to the University of Texas at Austin, because really, who wouldn’t want to go to a school where squirrels eat Chick-fil-A fries out of your hand?!

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Posted in General, International Voices, Spotlight

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