ISCOR major Ashley McMichael talks Fulbright experience in Belfast

With only two-and-a-half weeks to prepare, Ashley McMichael, a freshman majoring in International Security and Conflict Resolution (ISCOR) took on the daunting task of applying for a UK Fulbright scholarship. She spent “a ridiculous amount of time” writing

Victoria Square Dome
Ashley McMichael (center right) pictured with members of her cohort at Victoria Square Dome

and reviewing her 1,395-word application and 749-word essay. She passed the rigorous application stage and was invited in for a personal interview. McMichael didn’t feel she performed well during that interview, so when she received the acceptance notice, she had to read it several times before she believed that she, indeed, was selected as one of three scholarship recipients from SDSU. “I was completely overwhelmed and in disbelief.

Fast-forward to July and she’s now studying at Queen’s University Belfast, in Northern Ireland. This is McMichael’s first trip abroad. In-between side-trips and studying she shared the experience of the first half of her four-weeks on the Emerald Isle.

Q: What is your focus area of study in Belfast, Northern Ireland.


A: I’m studying Conflict Transformation in Belfast. As an ISCOR major, this has been a completely unparalleled opportunity to study my focus area. My program has largely focused on Conflict Transformation during and after the era of the Troubles, and thus far, we have covered areas such as transitional justice, dealing with the past, trauma, borders, and policing, all in the context of the Troubles.

Q: Have you had a chance to research and connect with people impacted by the Troubles yet?

A: Throughout the entire program, we have heard snippets of peoples’ lives from the era of the Troubles. We have heard from people in securitization aspects as well as people whose everyday lives were impacted forever by acts of violence. However, it is during the field trips and excursions out to the town that I feel that I have truly been exposed to the reality of the situation. From hearing about Bloody Sunday from a relative of one of the men killed during the event to the perspective and experiences of people at pubs, the memory of the Troubles truly is everywhere in Belfast, and I have been able to hear about it from both sides.

 Q: How do you expect meeting them will change, inform, or enhance your research?

A: Meeting these people and hearing their experiences has truly made the Troubles real

Giant's Causeway 2
Ashley McMichael and members of her cohort at Giant’s Causeway

for me. Hearing about a subject from an academic lens is one thing, but it is completely different to listen to people who have personally experienced events. That has been one of my favorite parts of being here and of studying this subject matter, as I feel that it is what has really made me understand the Troubles best. Putting a face and emotion to something so broad makes it more understandable. In terms of enhancing my research, I would say that this has truly opened my mind and solidified my understanding of the knowledge that we are gaining in class.

Q: What are examples of cultural differences/similarities you have noticed during your first time abroad?

 A: I suppose it’s easier to look at the differences than the similarities, as those are what we notice first. One cultural difference that really surprised me and continues to throw me is that pedestrians don’t have the right of way here, and that drivers don’t stop. My friends and I have almost been run over a few times while we’ve been walking across the street. Something else that has been very different is the fact that most places, whether they are pubs or restaurants, don’t split the check. There’s a “round buying culture” here, and that has proven very difficult for me and my friends to wrap our minds around when we’re out eating, as we’re so used to each paying for our own meals.

 Another difference that has been harder to adjust to is the fact that most stores close

Giant's Causeway
Ashley McMichael and part of her cohort at Giant’s Causeway

early here. During the weekdays, most stores close at six or seven (this was extremely frustrating when my luggage was lost and we got out of class after four). Many places are also closed on the weekends, particularly Sundays.


 One of my favorite cultural differences is the abundance of live music in this city. It absolutely comes alive at night, and there’s a great appreciation for live music that I haven’t seen as much in the U.S. People here have been very friendly so far, and that has been such a pleasant experience, especially with this being my first time abroad.

 In terms of similarities, there are still many things that remain the same between the cultures. People enjoy having fun and they love socializing. Especially because the language is the same and our culture is so tightly connected with this part of Western Europe, many things have been very similar, and I’ve appreciated the familiarity and universality of that.

Q: Where are you conducting your studies? What is unique about the city?

A:  I’m currently studying at Queen’s University Belfast, which is in the center of Belfast, Northern Ireland. It’s an absolutely amazing university that looks like a castle on the outside and has a completely modern interior, and I adore it. This city is so unique because it has so much history in it, especially given the events of the Troubles in the latter half of the 20th century. This history is still very much alive in the memories of people, but you can also see much of it in the conflict architecture (ie the peace walls). This is something that I haven’t seen anywhere else; the landscape of this modern city bears the scars of the conflict itself. The city is also trying to rebrand itself, and you can see that everywhere you go. It’s making its way out of the shadow of the Troubles and is making an effort to become a tourist attraction, and this is something that I’ve found fascinating while I’ve been here.

Q: Who is in your cohort?

A: In my program of Conflict Transformation, there are about 58 students. Amongst the three programs, I believe there are around 90 students. It is a very international crowd; many are either from the U.S. or Australia, but there are also people from Austria, Spain, Germany, Israel, and Canada whom I have met. I originally expected that the students would all be undergraduate students, but there are actually quite a few people who are taking a gap year or who are in some sort of postgraduate work. The ages themselves range from 18 to 65+; it truly is a diverse group. As far as studies are concerned, I have met people from an array of studies within Conflict Transformation. Sociology, political science, international relations, criminology, and law are the most common ones that I have heard, but we really do have some of everything.

In the Fulbright group itself, there are six of us total, and two in each of the summer school programs. They’re from all across the country, with four of them being from various places in the Midwest and one from Georgia.

Q: How do you think this experience will impact your life?


Cave Hill
Ashley McMichael shown at Cave Hill

A: Already, I have been exposed to so much that I would not have been able to see otherwise. From learning to be independent to adapting to a new country to having the opportunity to see these amazing sights, I know that this experience will stick with me forever. Within the educational aspect, I’ve learned an enormous amount about my area of study in such a short time, and I know that I’ll be able to bring this experience back to my classes at SDSU. I honestly think that this independence and being adaptable will return home with me, as it is very confidence-inspiring to know that I am fully capable to deal with some of the situations I have been presented with during my time here. Beyond that, however, the friends who I have made are such genuinely wonderful people with such bright futures ahead of them, and it is inspiring to know that I will have them in my life. Overall, the first two weeks of this experience has already helped to provide me with more direction and desire to see the world.


Although I’m only halfway through the program, this has already been one of the most life-changing events of my life. I never expected to be doing something like this after my first year of college, and it has exceeded all of my expectations. I’ve been able to see and do things that I didn’t imagine myself doing for another few years, from hiking up Cave Hill to visiting Giant’s Causeway to casually strolling around eight-hundred-year-old castles. The friends I’ve made through Fulbright and through the program itself are people with whom I definitely intend to stay in contact, and their company has contributed to this trip being as excellent as it has been. I truly only have the best things to say about this experience.

Carrickfergus Castle


Ashley McMichael is a first-year ISCOR student. She is studying abroad for the summer semester in Northern Ireland at the Queen’s University, Belfast.


The Steepest Roller Coaster in the World


Welcome to Takabisha, the steepest roller coaster in the world:

3,300 feet long, 141 feet tall, 62 m.p.h., 121 degrees over vertical drop — and two minutes and 40 seconds of pure thrill and exhilaration.

As I approached the two-month mark of my semester abroad in Japan, mid-term exams and projects arrived. As a breather, right before mid-terms, a group of friends and I decided to head down to Fuji-Q Highland (“Fujikyu Hairando”), one of the most amazing and thrilling amusement parks. Famous for its world-record roller coasters and attractions, it is definitely an awesome place to go and have fun with friends on a day or weekend trip. As a thrill-seeker and roller coaster enthusiast, I have had a longstanding dream to go to this amusement park. I was extremely excited to go to Fuji-Q and ride Takabisha as they have been on my bucket list for quite some time.

There were quite a few interesting things that I noticed when I went to the amusement park, so I wanted to share some of my observations and tips for going to Fuji-Q Highland. Hopefully, if you ever plan on making your way over to the town of Fujiyoshida, near the base of Mount Fuji, these tidbits will be a little helpful to you. Continue reading “The Steepest Roller Coaster in the World”

Living in the Emptiness

For the last time on this platform, welcome back beloved readers!

How did you feel when you read the title of this blog post? Confused? Concerned? Five months ago, I would have felt perplexed by a person’s description of their study abroad as “empty.” Isn’t the exchange experience supposed to be exploding with excitement and constant plans? For some students, that concentrated activity is exactly what they need to fuel their soul.

As a person who had a solid Google Calendar for the last two years, existing in the space between very few colored appointment blocks has been a privilege. Thanks to guidance from my free-spirit exchange buddy, Cora, I discovered that when you leave days unplanned, accomplishments are still made and magic fills the emptiness.

The following photos represent some unplanned magic I have accomplished in the free spaces. Continue reading “Living in the Emptiness”

Developing Global Citizens

One of SDSU’s goals is to develop global citizens — as embodied by students like 2019 graduate Marjon Saulon.

Marjon was born in Manila in the Philippines but spent his formative years studying at the Kaohsiung American School in Taiwan after a family move. His studies would eventually lead him to San Diego State University as a business major. After joining the student organization AIESEC (Association for International Exchange of Students in Economics and Commerce), a global nonprofit, Saulon decided that the comparative international studies major would be a better fit for a global citizen.

It was around this time that Saulon returned home for the summer to take an internship in Kaohsiung at the Philippines Consulate, giving him the chance to learn more about the real-world applications of his major.

Like many other SDSU students, Saulon had a study-abroad requirement, and he returned to the region to study criminal justice in Xiamen, China. He experienced a familiar area in a whole new way through the lens of his studies and career interests.

Saulon, who graduated in May 2019 and was chosen as an Outstanding Graduating Senior in the comparative international studies major, continues to explore his professional opportunities through his job at the Philippines Consulate in downtown San Diego. He took a few minutes to reflect on the challenges and rewards of his Aztec Experience.

Q:  What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

A:  I would give three pieces of advice: embrace your independence, get involved in the community and set a foundation for your career.

Continue reading “Developing Global Citizens”

Golden Week Mini Adventures

Golden Week is a cluster of Japanese holidays occurring from the end of April until early May that gives both workers and students more or less one week of freedom from the stressors of everyday life. During Golden Week, many people try to travel both within and outside the country and, with Emperor Akihito’s abdication of the throne and the welcoming of the Reiwa era, Japan was especially crowded and hectic.

Since there were more people coming into and out of the country during this time, the shinkansen or “bullet train,” planes, as well as hotels and other accommodations, (especially onsens) were full. Initially, I had wanted to take a trip south and go hit Kyoto, Nagoya and Osaka but, after looking at the prices and availability, I knew that it just wouldn’t work out, so those plans are postponed for the time being. To save my wallet a bit, I decided to just do some small day trips around the Tokyo area in the hopes that they would be less crowded than other areas. They weren’t — but I still had a lot of fun.

Continue reading “Golden Week Mini Adventures”

China Series: I Can’t Even

It’s 3 a.m., and I have class in five hours, but I suddenly felt compelled to start writing — and finishing — my blog posts again. Thanks to the shouting of students living across the hall preventing me from sleeping, I was scrolling through social media and stumbled upon a post my freshman-year roommate had written about graduating. Suddenly, I was hit with this sudden melancholy I assume most students feel right before graduating. But the difference is, I didn’t spend four years at SDSU. In fact, I feel so out of touch with events and life at SDSU that I was surprised to see this graduation reflection.

Continue reading “China Series: I Can’t Even”

Too Little Time in Thailand

How is this possible, for time to pass without warning me that I would crave more?

I am one of 300 other students in the Puey Ungphakorn Library at Thammasat University today, just a few days away from the start of our finals. The sunshine pours through the windows, but we are enjoying the cool air conditioning — it’s 98 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). All of our laptops and textbooks are open, but some students are laughing with friends or fast asleep on the desks.

The academic portion of this study abroad experience is nearing its finale on May 16 — that’s way too soon. Time passed so quickly here. Instead of introducing myself to new classmates, I’m preparing for my final exams by reviewing my professors’ handouts and attending my last group meetings.

These last four months have radically impacted my view on my home. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to step away from my home and understand more about people’s perceptions of it.

Continue reading “Too Little Time in Thailand”

They Welcomed a Stranger


Originally, I was going to have my third post be about my routine and other things I’ve noticed in Georgia, but there’s one story I need to tell first.

When I arrived in Tbilisi, I was initially amazed but also disappointed in little ways. One thing that had been advertised to me was how green the country is. I was told that the country was known for its farmlands, vast nature and abundance of farm animals. I had arrived in the city on Jan. 10, so all the plants were either dead or barren, and there were no animals to be found. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to me, but it was a shock. The closest animals I could find were in the Tbilisi Zoo. Even then, the fact that the wildebeest were housed with the yaks was a bit worrisome to me — they aren’t even from the same continent! Despite my shock, I continued my journey within the city and did my best to find stuff of interest among the Georgian post-Soviet infrastructure. As a girl who prefers the outdoors, it was easiest to find things I enjoyed at Lisi Lake, the animal shelter and inside the number of museums within the city limits.

Recently, my friend Mariam has been taking me to her favorite areas in Georgia. We had planned to visit Kahetsi Lake, but the travel agency had canceled with us last-minute. With our bags already packed and a longing for adventure, we approached a random marshrutka, or minibus in English, asked where there were going and if they had room for two more. They were going to Gudauri, a city known for its snow-covered mountains and ski resort, and they had room for us!

Continue reading “They Welcomed a Stranger”

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