Reciprocal Exchanges Blog

I have officially completed one month in Spain! I arrived a few weeks early than my companions, Kira and Manu, to spend some time with family who live outside of the city. Not only am I happy I was able to see them, but spending ten days with them helped me immerse myself a little bit easier into the Spanish way of life. Things are definitely a lot slower around here, which has been the biggest adjustment, by far. As someone who is notoriously early and always on-the-go, I’ve had a bit of a hard time getting used to doing things at a leisurely pace.

We did just finish our first week of school. I think I am really going to like my classes and I love that my classes are intimate and small. I think my largest class has 35 people. Which is incredibly different than many of the large lectures we have at A&M. My schedule is incredibly flexible though, which gives me a lot of time to explore the city and surrounding areas. I keep having to remind myself that I live here now, and, therefore, don’t have to see everything all at once. Take things slow… maybe I am adjusting to the Spanish way of living better than I think. 😉

Below I’ll add some photos from my first few weeks. Good food. Great experiences. The BEST company.

Categories: 2021, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

Due to Covid, my original country of choice got canceled, within two months I planned everything to study in Maastricht. To be honest I did not know Maastricht even existed before deciding to study here because it is a small town about the size of College Station. Finding housing was quite difficult with the housing crisis in Maastricht, but I managed to find housing within a 10-minute bike ride to the business school. At A&M there is a decent amount of students who bike to campus, however in The Netherlands everyone bikes and it is the main type of transportation. Whether it is going to the grocery store, campus, the city center, or the park you go by bike. Riding a bike brings me to the part where the unexpected happened early on in my time here.

Long story short, I thought I bruised my tailbone from not being used to riding a bike, but it turns out I had a cyst that had to be surgically removed. My first week here, having only known a couple of people for a week now and I am in the hospital needing surgery on my first day of class. Thankfully 87% of people in the Netherlands speak English so there were no language barriers when the doctors had to explain the procedure to me. I have been recovering very quickly from the surgery and am even able to ride the bike again. I did have to miss the first week of class but was able to go on campus the next week.

One thing that is very different about Maastricht Univerisity and A&M is the learning structure of classes. In The Netherlands, they use a teaching style called Problem Based Learning (PBL). My classes consist of only 15 students with a Tutor that helps guide the conversation. The Professor may post lectures, but mainly you are responsible for coming to class prepared by doing the necessary readings. Students work in small groups to teach and facilitate. The time of each class is two hours long, however it goes by fast with everyone contributing to the discussion. One thing I love about Maastricht University is how international its campus is with students coming from countries all over the world. I have been able to meet students from Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Brazil, Vietnam, Georgia, Canada, Pakistan, Poland, Austria, Finland, Hungary, and so many other countries. I have been able to enhance my Global Mindset here being surrounded by people from all over the world.

Although, I did not have a culture shock because the culture in The Netherlands is much like southern hospitality in the US. The Dutch people are very nice and willing to help if you need to ask for directions (I know from personal experience). The weather is rainy and cold, but there are still sunny and 75 days here. I have enjoyed my first couple of weeks in the beautiful city of Maastricht and cannot wait to see what is to come.

Categories: 2021, Reciprocal Exchange, The Netherlands

On my first few days in Madrid, the first thing that shocked me the most is how much I walked. According to my watch, I took over 90,000 steps the past week. Also, coming from the state where everything is big, everything here seems small. From food portions to the size of cars and the size of the roads.  Something else that I noticed was that the Spanish people seem to have a very different take on life. People are out on the streets walking around, sitting down to have a drink, and not worrying about the next day. It feels like they take a minute to just relax and appreciate what they have around them. Lastly, I would say that another cultural difference between the United States and Spain is that the public transportation system works almost without flaw. I don’t think that I have gotten in a car more than twice. I can go anywhere using the train, subway, and bus. I can’t wait to see what the next few months have in store for me.

Categories: 2021, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

To say the least, this semester was not what I expected. While covid restrictions altered what I thought my exchange would look like everything exceeded my highest hopes.

Maastricht was such a lovely city to call home and thanks to the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) at the University I found new friends to call family. If you go on an exchange, I highly recommend connecting with the Erasmus Student Network or another similar student organization to help you connect with people and find your way around.

Because of travel restrictions, my first excursion was a Dutch road trip. I went with a few other exchange students that I met through ESN and we spent the whole weekend exploring the Netherlands. We visited Rotterdam, The Hague, Delft, Utrecht, and the Keukenhof Garden. In Rotterdam we picnic’d on the beach, walked the pier, and saw the parliamentary buildings, but the best part of the whole trip had to be the Keukenhof Garden. The Keukenhof Garden is one of the most famous spots in the Netherlands to see Tulips and it is definitely worth it! Pro-tip, you have to pay to get inside the Keukenhof Garden, but there are plenty of fields outside that are free to explore.

In addition to the cute city and new friends that contributed to my positive experience, the learning system at Maastricht University was so different from A&M and really challenged me as a student and professional. The problem-based learning system at Maastricht puts a lot of the responsibility of learning on the students. Instead of sitting in a professor’s lecture and taking notes, students take turns leading their peers in discussions, problems, and case studies. I found that this method allowed me to take ownership of the material and gave me the confidence that I was learning and understood the course. From my time in Maastricht University, I can truly say that I gained more confidence in my major and presentation skills.

Maastricht University was a great choice for my semester exchange and I would recommend it to everyone!

Categories: 2021, Reciprocal Exchange, The Netherlands

Looking back to this past semester living in Madrid, I have mixed feelings about it all. It has without a doubt been the best experience I have lived. I moved to Madrid knowing it would give me so many things to take with me, but I did not think through how hard it would be for me to say goodbye.

There is something extremely special about Madrid- something that makes your time living there only a positive one. I still do not know if it is the people, the food, or the overall culture, but it is for sure something that made me exceedingly happy to say the least. The beginning of my semester included things like “toque de queda” which made it complicated to do things like travel, but as the semester continued things started opening up more giving us a chance to travel. The first opportunity I had was to go skiing with some friends which was definitely something I was dying to do when moving to Europe. I love skiing and the fact that I could have that experience abroad was a memorable one. Along with this trip came my other 2 favorites, which were Gran Canaria and Rome, where I was able to visit with some friends and do things like go to sand dunes, natural pool waters, visit the Colosseum and the Vatican, and so on.

Although I was able to travel during this crazy pandemic study abroad year, I had already fallen in love with Madrid and the people there that it made it hard to even want to leave for only a weekend. This is something that shocked me since I am a person who loves to travel and will do so as much as possible, but the fact that Madrid had that power to make me so happy and never want to leave was definitely a good feeling. I made lifelong friends, visited new places, learned so many new things about different cultures, and most importantly grew as a person.

Leaving Madrid was definitely an emotional rollercoaster for so many reasons, yet all good. But at the same time, although I was sad to leave a part of me knows that this is not the end of my story with Madrid, and I hope this is the case because living in Madrid was the most amazing opportunity and I am so grateful to have experienced it.

I hope whoever has a chance to study abroad I say get out of your comfort zone and do it because I promise you it will be worth it!

Categories: 2021, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

Howdy!

I recently returned to College Station after finishing my semester in Madrid. Business in Spain tends to be conducted differently than here in the US. However, there are a few similarities. I found that businesses in Spain have different expectations for employees. Employees that I met are typically given more paid time off and the concept of allotted sick days does not exist. Here, employees are used to logging all time off under a specific category or reason. There is definitely something to be said about the phrase “working to live, not living to work” and how it positively affects the quality of life in Spain. Experiencing this was a cultural shift compared to the American dream mentality of prioritizing work and financial security above all else. Businesses that would typically be regarded as customer service based in Madrid revolve much less around the customer than I was accustomed to in the United States. Instead of the mentality of the “customer is always right” or an employee being on the customer’s time, customers must ask for what they need and are usually subject to the employee’s schedule. Customer service in Spain though it is not bad, just different. At my host university, I took a course called International Business Management; I learned a great deal about how regions from all over the world differ in how they conduct business. Things like power distance, masculinity/femininity, and individualism vs. collectivism greatly impact how business is conducted and how consumers make purchasing decisions. It was cool to see examples of this when I compared my knowledge of how business in the US works vs. how it works in Spain.

My experience abroad was an incredible one full of new experiences, new relationships, and personal growth. I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to meet so many amazing people! I rode in a hot air balloon, traveled to the Grand Canary Islands, and spent a ton of time exploring the city I quickly grew to love. Living in Madrid helped me to realize my love for travelling and my desire to eventually become an Aggie expatriate.

Enjoying the view from my apartment!

Beautiful view from the rooftop at Plaza Cibeles!

Lavapiés neighborhood!

Categories: 2021, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

It is a bittersweet moment to say goodbye to Prague. Prague has been my home for the past five months and it was one of the hardest goodbyes I have experienced. My time in Prague truly shaped me into the person I have always wanted to be. This experience of being able to study abroad has been the best decision of my life. I have made connections from all over the globe, learned about new cultures, and experienced immeasurable happiness despite the circumstances of this past semester. I was hesitant to follow through with my abroad semester since I had never been away from home for so long and to be so far, especially with the COVID-19 epidemic. It was scary, to say the least in the beginning. However, the memories and friendships I have made during this time made this experience the best time of my life. To my best friends that I met in Prague, I will miss our daily trips to Zizkov beer garden, our walks through the snow to Flora station, our late-night wine and movie nights, and most of all, being able to spend every day together. The people that came into my life while I was in Prague truly changed my life.

To anyone who is considering spending a semester abroad, do it. My time abroad was the best time of my life so far. I felt a new sense of identity that I was not able to find back home. Even though it may seem daunting to leave home and to be gone from your current life for a while, I promise that it is worth it. The experience is unlike any other.

Categories: 2021, Czech Republic, Reciprocal Exchange

note: I am very intentionally and knowingly completely going off-topic for this post because… you’ll see. There is a point.

I lied. Well, not technically. And definitely not in what really matters. I changed the nuances, which matters to me, though not much to anyone else.

To everyone I had to pitch ‘going to Denmark on an exchange’ to, I had said I needed it to further develop my career:

1. That it doesn’t help to have this one sided- America focused- viewpoint of business and not know anything about the rest of the world (do you spot the issue here? again, intentional. hint: my word choice. answer: “the rest of the world”. What does that even mean? It’s like looking at a map and seeing America vs. whatever those other countries are. I would never in a million years admit that’s the way I thought of business; I most definitely do NOT think like that when it comes to society and people and everything else I care about like food or art or literature or theatre, but as far as business goes, that is all I have ever known because it’s all I have ever been exposed to: America, China, and the “rest of the world”).

whoa, that was a long bullet point. sorry. 

2. That when my frame of reference is America, which possesses more than half of the WORLD’S equity market value (in comparison to Japan as a distant second- 7.4% and China right below Japan at 5.4%), my understanding of finance is bound to be more biased than the rest of global finance looking in on Wall Street.

3. That going to Denmark would eliminate some of the bias because I’d start to see things from Scandinavia’s perspective. It’d never be my frame of reference unless I spent more time there, but I’d be learning infinitely more just by being there.

4. Denmark is the happiest country in the world. How? I need to find out! The curiosity was killing me.

I had to pitch it because it was in the middle of a global pandemic and my reasoning for it had better have more value than my life or I wasn’t going, period. Kidding. I meant it was hard for me to get the ‘go-ahead’ due to the nature of our circumstances at the time.

While all of my points were true, I had left out the part where I was looking to find inspiration. The part where I didn’t even want to think about my full time career while I was there because I needed the time to cultivate my creativity. I always wanted to do something creative. I never knew what that could be. I never thought I could devote too much time to it now, where I was still learning the basics of financial analysis. I knew I was bad at the numbers, but my reasoning was that, at 21, with decades of time left in my career, I have the liberty to spend a few years being bad at my job so I’d have the foundations to move on from there and eventually go into something I know that, with time, I’d get very good at, like international negotiations or M&A.

But Denmark opened my eyes to a whole new idea: I am a free woman. I can be doing what I want while I make money. There is no rat race I need to be caught up in because I am not a rat. It’s that simple, yet just as complicated as it is simple. Every way we were taught we had to live were preconceptions, patterns people created, fed to us to feed a capital economy that needed to be developed as fast as possible essentially due to the timing of our history. I can live in a van if that lifestyle is what I crave; I didn’t think I could do that before I believed I am a free woman. I can be a traveling author if it’s what I really want; before Denmark, I didn’t think that was possible the minute I stepped into business school. Things change. I can change. My point is that, none of my circumstances changed just because I went to Denmark and came back. Financial analysis still doesn’t come easily to me. Finance is still my major. I still can’t make the cut for Wall Street. I still want to be a consultant for big 4 but haven’t been doing anything about it in the past year. I still don’t think I have the credentials to get in just yet. But what made all the difference in the world was my perception that I am free.

With that, I started writing a book that will be published the end of this year (Cacophony). I started a podcast (Wei Back When). I started updating my blog more (rubywei.com). All because I believed I was free. Too many times I let responsibility (or what I thought was responsibility) and money get in the way of my art, stifling my creativity.

And that, right there, is precisely what absolutely stuns me about Danes: they believe they’re not constricted. They aspire to be happy, to be more average than to get ahead. In turn, that has gotten them “ahead” in many spectrums, with happiness the primary one. My initial perception was that this country values life- they’re happy, they turn out innovative solutions, they really have their work-life balance down. My constant impression was how reserved they are to strangers and how utterly rule-following they are. I mean, they follow rules down to the comma; they don’t ever bend them. During quarantine, when the law said no more than five people can gather together, five is EXACTLY the number they stuck by. Why five? If two people gather together and one of them have covid, it’d spread regardless. If six people gathered together and none of them have been exposed, it’s highly unlikely any of them would get it. Five is not some magic number. It made more sense to me to be responsible about mask-wearing for yourself, make sure you’re meeting people you trust are responsible, have everyone in the group get tested and then a few additional people wouldn’t matter. But no, they had to stick to five. Or four. Or whatever the number the government said was the law. This constant- follow the rules precisely- was what I repeatedly saw: group projects, assignments, biking, walking, booking Airbnbs (quick example: I tried to stay for one more day at an Airbnb I’ve bent the rules many times in in the states, but the host said I had to go in and manually book another day even though I was trying to pay her the same amount minus the money that would go to Airbnb), etc.

Ultimately I came back with more of a conundrum than insights: why is Denmark a leader in innovation when the culture encourages sticking inside the box? Am I making false assumptions? Is there gray area I didn’t see through? Something I’m doing right now like spend most of my post going off topic so I can make my point that this is something that wouldn’t be tried in a Danish classroom… would not be tried in a Danish classroom. And YET, the NATURE of the education system has ambiguity and thus the need for creativity built INTO it- perhaps this is the answer to my conundrum, but I don’t know. And I am perfectly okay with not knowing. We- America looped into one culture (largely simplified and untrue, I know; just let me go for the sake of ending this blog post)- are incredibly results oriented. We’re good at solving problems (just look at our covid response), though not as good at preventing them (again, covid). But what if we approached business-innovation-education as needing creativity to be built into the system instead of bending rules after the fact? I don’t know. What if it won’t work because of predetermined factors such as the status of our country? I think I’m getting somewhere grand, but there are too many factors I haven’t thought of, yet I am completely okay with not knowing… for now.

Categories: 2021, Denmark, Reciprocal Exchange

Copenhagen Photography - Professional Photographers for Hire

I signed up for Danish class! Strategically, Spanish or Portuguese would be more “useful” because of the sheer number of Danes that speak English, but I think the greatest way I can respect a country is through the process of trying to learn their language. Am I going to forget everything as soon as I come back? Yes. But the process of trying garners more room for respect in my mind.

There’s that.

Today, well yesterday now, my SIM card plan expired. No internet. Which means I’ll be lost again. It’s okay, I’m used to it. Sometimes it’s fun. Like when I found a white-tailed deer. They’re not supposed to be active in the harsh winter, so I was lucky. Also, where I was, I could’ve just as easily been eaten by a wolf, but… I was lucky. Why didn’t I top it up? Well, when I went into 7-11 where I got the card from, the guy told me I had to repurchase a new card every month. ‘Wait that’s not how SIM cards work’, I argued, ‘I’ve never bought a SIM card like that’. I showed him my plan and even my receipt; he shook his head and assured me I needed a new card. A new number. I mean, I’m not a phone plan (or anything) expert, but I know people don’t change their numbers every month, even when the plan is for foreigners. Confused, I headed out to grab my textbooks at an electronic store.

I miss Prime. Amazon, where’s your next expansion effort located? S *my* S here. I need a foolproof method. These textbooks technically only took a week, but I was dumb and kept waiting for the textbook company to text me the number I needed to grab it when all along it was the shipping company who already texted me but I ignored it- it’d been half a month by the time I got it. Without data, I couldn’t check anything. “Is there a way you can look up…”. “That’s not my job” he interrupted. I’ll figure it out later, I sighed. Confused, I headed out to meet a friend.

Her apartment made me rethink what I’ve been doing with my life. She was paying less, had a gym, a music room, amazing architecture, incredible interior design, and with online class, being located away from school wasn’t a huge issue. It’s okay, I have some doves that hang out around my window sometimes. and a garage door across the street that wakes me up at night. Construction noise every day. Nice. One thing I do love – hearing all the laughter coming from the daycare when the weather’s nice.

When we walked into their open, spacious, elegantly designed kitchen (trademark of Danish society – even the most plain-looking exterior involves thoughtfully designed interiors), someone was already there, toasting bread.

“what are your plans for today?” she asked casually.

absolutely nothing,” he declared, ever so confidently.

My mouth dropped open… “Ruby, you good?” they asked.

I snapped out of it, covered my awkwardness up with a laugh, “Yeah, yeah, sorry”, and smiled.

What shocked me, was his confidence in what he was saying. Absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! It wasn’t that I’ve never not done nothing- believe me, I’ve had my fair share of ‘absolutely nothings’ (I procrastinate. I’ve never been efficient. I’m still trying to learn how to manage my time); I was SO guilty about them, hated myself SO much when it happened, and never PLANNED for nothing before. I’ve never declared it so boldly- because if I ever did, I wouldn’t be able to trick myself into thinking ‘I’ll do ___ as soon as I ___”.

My first thought: wow, you are too cool.

My second thought: wow, I am so behind.

My thoughts afterwards: He must be SO fulfilled in who he is, SO satisfied in the work he’d already done, that doing nothing wasn’t a problem for a day.

what do I have to do to get to that point in my life?

Categories: 2021, Denmark, Reciprocal Exchange

The best way to describe my experience at ESSEC Business School was a change of pace. Going on a semester exchange during a COVID-19 semester was something I was hesitant on but decided to go for it anyways. Classes were very interesting and I was still able to see my friends on campus throughout the week. For the majority of the semester, many places in Paris and Cergy were closed. Museums, restaurants, and historical areas were shut down until my last month here. Despite all the closings, I was forced to look for smaller things that made me happier that allowed me to get more out of this semester. I focused on the relationships between my friends and staying together. Everyone wanted to explore Paris and do as much as we could, but the lockdowns prevented a lot of that. Instead, we focused on simpler things such as eating and cooking together and playing basketball to have a great time. Once Paris opened up, everything became a lot more lovely and I have grown to appreciate the city even more. Paris is a beautiful city and I plan on returning in the future for leisure or a new job opportunity. ESSEC Business School is a lively environment when it’s completely open and I recommend anyone to take this opportunity to go. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend my spring semester.

Categories: 2021, France, Reciprocal Exchange