Alumni Spotlight: Joe Van Deren


At the time of his study abroad experience, Joe was a Vanderbilt Mathematics and Engineering student. He had not left the country or traveled alone until his study abroad experience.

Why did you choose this program?

I limited myself to English speaking countries as I had no experience with a second language and I wanted to be able to wholly integrate into the culture. After explaining my interests at the study abroad fair on Vanderbilt’s campus, I was instructed that I would enjoy Edinburgh as it is a walkable school and allows for easy integration into campus life. I really did not know anything about IFSA at this point, but Vanderbilt pointed me in their direction once I had chosen Edinburgh.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

I was impressed by all of the information that IFSA passed on to me. I was also impressed by how much of the paperwork that IFSA took care of. If I remember correctly, the only thing I really had to do on my own was pick a flight and hostel for the first night, but IFSA had a group flight that I could have easily flown on to make things even easier.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I would recommend going over on your own a day or two early. Ifsa did a great job of showing us around the city once everyone checks in and is together, but I was very thankful that I had a little over a day to experience Edinburgh on my own before in a large group. Climbing Arthur’s Seat alone on my first day was an incredible experience as someone who had not been overseas. I would also recommend taking the trips that ifsa plans, but I do regret going on a homestay instead of joining the club American football team which had two games that weekend.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Once orientation is over, you’re essentially a University of Edinburgh student (aside from a couple weekend trips and meet ups). For a studying abroad student at U of E, your week looks like going to a few classes but going out fairly regularly as most of your grade is based upon a final which takes place in May.

You will find yourself traveling with other exchange students on many weekends as airfare is cheap once you are in Europe. You will also find that there are large breaks in the middle of the semester and right before finals that are great times for long trips with friends from Ifsa or your roommates. Finals time involves a good deal of studying which should not come as a surprise to the average college student.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

One thing that I have tried to do since being very disappointed when I had high expectations for something when I was little is to not really think about or get expectations before doing something. I honestly didn’t have a biggest fear because I hadn’t really thought about what going abroad would be like. I would say that there is really nothing to fear though. The people in Scotland are amazing, the country is beautiful, the people that study in Scotland are fairly like-minded and fun to be around, and you will make friends extremely fast.

With the knowledge you have gained while abroad and from others that went through different programs in different parts of the world, if you were to be able to choose how long, where, and if you studied abroad all over again what would be your ideal choice?

I would have studied for an entire year in Edinburgh. I feel as though I had an amazing experience as an “American Abroad student” (going to clubs, traveling throughout Europe, being a tourist in my own city) and a decent experience as a Scottish student, but I think I could have gotten much more out of each if I had gone for a full year. I would have joined clubs, seen more countries, been welcomed with the new set of “freshers” in the fall, and taken my travels slower. I have heard about many different experiences from friends about studying in mainland Europe, Asia, Oceania, Latin America, and those that stayed on campus. I firmly believe that, out of all of those, Edinburgh was the best place for me to study!