July, 2014 | Reciprocal Exchanges Blog

Howdy everyone!

It has been such an adventure in Copenhagen this past month! Meeting so many different people from all over the world, going on weekend trips around Europe, everything about this study abroad experience has been extraordinary! First of all i would like to make everyone aware that i picked Copenhagen for no particular reason. I wanted to study abroad, yes, but i did not know where and honestly i just thought going to a cool climate during the summer sounded nice! (Texas is so hot). But this town/city has become one of my favorite cities in the world!

The first thing you need to know about Copenhagen is the look both ways before you cross the street, but don’t look so much for cars, it’s the bikes that will run you over. Copenhagen is the number 2 city in the WORLD for biking. The bike lane looks like a sidewalk and has a little lip that separates it from the main road. The next most popular mode of transportation is the metro that runs through the heart of the city all the way to the airport. Its fast, efficient, and for the most part, gets you where you need to go.

The first couple days in Copenhagen i went into the city center to check out the local shops and scenery. Its absolutely beautiful down there, with buildings no taller than about 5-6 stories and cobblestone almost everywhere you walk.After the first two relaxing days it was time to start class. The professors that teach the courses here are from all of the world, one of my professors is from Oregon, while the other is from Australia. They both have very different methods of teaching which i think is great for learning. I want to give a bit of advice to anyone coming here to study abroad. When you go to class, i know you will have international student friends you have made prior to class (or maybe not) but i would suggest you sit next to a Dane and become friends with them. During class is about the only time you will have to meet one and its good to know about the culture of which you live.

The picture above is the mid summers eve festival in Denmark. In Sweden its like a second Christmas, but it’s not as big in Denmark. But we still got to see a fake witch burn!

After the first week in Copenhagen i went on a trip to Malmö, Sweden. It was great to already see a new culture, but we went on a Sunday and most everything was closed (In Europe, most shops close or close very early on Sunday). But we still did a few things around town!

We had the fortunate opportunity of being here while the world cup was going on so a couple days a week a few of us would go down the public viewing they had here in Copenhagen and get in on some of the action!

After the second week of class, 3 other friends (who i all met here) decided to fly to Bornholm, Denmark for the weekend. Bornholm is an Island owned by Denmark that is right below Sweden. We all thought it would be fun to rent bikes and bike around the island. 120km we did, in 3 days. It was a lot of biking and very exhausting, but i believe it was worth it for some of the views and sites we got to see! Here’s a couple pictures from Bornholm!

The beach we are standing on is the best beach in Denmark, the sand is perfectly white and squeaks when you walk on it because it is so smooth.

The was by far the most exciting thing we did in Bornholm. A zip line in the lake below!

And back to Copenhagen! There are many different pizza places around Copenhagen and many different ice cream places, some making there own waffle cones right in front of you!

The 4th weekend i went to London with the same group of guys, but i won’t get into details but i will share this picture!

You might here stories of Danes being shy and reserved, but in my experience, they are very friendly and love to help/talk to you! I would encourage anyone who wants to study abroad to come here to Copenhagen, its a beautiful city and has a lively nightlife!

Thanks for taking the time to read this and i’ll be posting again in a couple weeks and I will have some pictures of Norway!

Categories: 2014, Denmark, Reciprocal Exchange

Five short months have passed and I am already back in the US. I am grateful for my experience and believe I have changed and matured significantly since my arrival. I made a great group of friends representing every continent except Australia (but one had lived there for a while). Having so many viewpoints surrounding me constantly challenged my own causing me to change some and reinforce others. Checking out of my dorm and closing my Catalunya Caixa account went smoothly, and while there are cheaper places to be found in nearby areas (I recommend Cerdanyola or San Cugat) I was very happy with both the dorm and my bank.

 

Before I left, my brother Jonathan came to visit, and we rented a car and went on a thirteen day, seven country Eurotrip. The trip was long, about the same distance as driving from coast to coast in the US. The first and last country we visited was predictably Spain. Here I was mostly in my element and was able to navigate us to where we needed to go to rent a car and show Jon around a bit. I even managed to play translator when my roommate chatted with us about the basic American topics like guns and the wars in the middle east. We started our journey with no cellphones that worked outside of Spain and no data plans. We used, and I highly recommend, the offline map called GPS nav & maps. It cost about $5.99 for the app and the map of Europe.

 

Our second country was Andorra, the sixth smallest nation in Europe. It was pretty, mountainous, and small. We really only stopped for breakfast and continued on.

 

Our third country was France. Here we visited Normandy and the point where Rudder stormed the shores with the aid of grappling hooks fired by rockets. We also visited a small vineyard and purchased some nice local wine. I was amazed at the number of windmills and nuclear power plants we passed here. One thing to consider when going through France by car is the tolls. They can run very expensive. I suggest googling how much they will cost and including that in your finances. Tolls easily cost us about 150-200 euros when all was said and done.

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The fourth country we visited was Belgium. This is another country we were really just passing through, but it was beautiful and had nice food. One of my favorite memories abroad is being in a bar in Belgium watching a losing Belgian team score two points to win in the very last minutes. The reaction of the crowd was priceless.

 

The fifth country and our main goal was The Netherlands. Here we took the boat tour and learned a lot about the history and culture of Amsterdam. We also saw old windmills and ate local food.

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After a quick pass through Germany for the autobahn and  some delicious German food, we headed to our seventh country Switzerland. This turned out to be the absolute best part of our journey. Hiking in the swiss mountains was beautiful, I don’t think there is much out there that can compete with their snow capped mountains, multiple waterfalls, old buildings, and plentiful wildflowers.

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Both the eurotrip and my study abroad were long, and at times stressful, but I wouldn’t trade the experiences, lessons, and friendships from either for the world. Thanks for reading.

 

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

It is strange nearing the end of my time in New Zealand. It has been a full semester and I’ve learned more than I thought possible. I also cannot think of a single negative experience during my entire time here.

This blog post is delayed because I have experienced more computer problems recently (surprise surprise!). My internet adapter, Microsoft Office and computer mouse all quit working within days of each other. I got it sorted but immediately after finishing my last final exam, I left Wellington for two conferences and only now have Wi-Fi again. The day I left Wellington was rather interesting. My final went well, but I also had to be packed and moved out of my house that afternoon. An awesome family from my church came to pick up my luggage which they are holding for me until I leave for the states at the end of the month. I am traveling now around the north island and then for a bit in Australia.

The conferences were absolutely amazing! The first one was with the student ministry Student Life and the second was with International Student Ministries NZ. I met students from throughout New Zealand and others at the second conference from over twenty nations! I had a blast learning about their cultures and lives and studying God’s word alongside them.

In addition to final essays and assignments, much of my time lately has been consumed with medical school applications. I’m nearly finished! Also, my last concert with the New Zealand School of Music Orchestra a few weeks ago went well. I thoroughly enjoyed performing with this group and will miss them. A few weekends ago, I visited Auckland and got to see the All Blacks Rugby team defeat England! My flatmates and I took an overnight bus to get there—a ten hour drive—and it was an experience indeed. The game itself was a blast! The score was nearly tied the whole time and the first ‘try’ of the game didn’t happen until the last play. Rugby is unlike any other sporting game I’ve been to and the All Blacks are incredibly tough! The British fans were fantastic—there were eight people in front of us all dressed as the Queen of England. You can’t make this stuff up.

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That weekend I also went canyoning which is definitely one of my top three favorite things I’ve done here. It is a strange feeling jumping off cliffs and repelling through waterfalls. My flatmates and I also visited a hot water beach near Auckland. I was completely skeptical and told my flatmates there was no way they were getting me out in the winter rain during low tide (10 pm) to go dig a hole in the sand and expect it to fill with hot water. Well how was I proven wrong! Simply walking on the sand felt warm despite the cold temperature outside and the water which came out of the ground once we dug a shallow hole was hot enough to turn my back red!

After returning from Auckland, I finalized class assignments and also planned another trip to the south island with a few international friends who had not been there before. We made a great team—Lauren from Texas, Gabrella from China, Carlos from Brazil, and Ryoichi from Japan. We had an amazing trip to Christchurch and Queenstown and I got to see some neat places I missed last time I was down there. I also got to go skiing at Mt. Hutt near Christchurch! The snow wasn’t the best because it is still very early in the season but I had fun nonetheless. And Carlos had fun as well—it was the first time he’d ever seen snow! One of the things I will miss most about New Zealand is how welcoming and kind everyone is. The women who ran the hostel near Mt. Hutt was awesome. She called me frequently before we arrived to give me road condition updates and mountain weather reports. She also made us soup one night which was so kind and generous—truly like a mother to us!

Christchurch itself was an interesting city. The earthquake in 2011 has left the city still in disrepair. However, out of this, great creativity has flourished. The historical Christchurch cathedral still has a gaping hole in its side, but the Cardboard Cathedral (designed by a Japanese architect) has been built nearby. It was absolutely stunning: peaceful and full of light. It looked as if the entire building could be lifted and moved.

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We also visited the container mall which is a collection of stores housed in boxcar containers. They are painted bright colors and are stacked in interesting ways—they can be transported easily and were an innovative solution following the destruction from the quake.

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On our way to Queenstown, we stopped through Tekapo and visited the lake, chapel and nearby conservatory. It is difficult to describe in words or pictures how truly breath-taking the scenery was. Miles and miles of colors and mountains and nature. It was impossible to take it all in. I couldn’t help but stand in awe of the Creator who imagined such beauty.

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We arrived in Queenstown just as the fireworks were going off. Of course we picked the craziest weekend to visit Queenstown. It was Winter Festival and the quaint little ski town was buzzing with people. We didn’t spend much time in the town itself, however, and on Saturday drove to Glenorchy which takes you through some of the most incredible parts of Middle Earth. Again, words and pictures cannot describe this place. It hardly seems real. And we found Paradise. Really, that was the name of the nearby town (Appropriately named!).

 

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When I got back to Wellington for my last week, I had assignments to finish in addition to other important things such as visiting the zoo and the Weta workshop (in the same day!). I finally got to see kiwi birds!! The Weta workshop was incredible. It is the design studio which created the props, costumes and sets for the Lord of the Rings and dozens of other films including Narnia, District 9, and King Kong. I am truly in awe of the creativity of the Weta geniuses. Their resourcefulness and thoroughness never ceases to amaze me.

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I now have fifteen days left before I leave for the United States. Leaving this country will probably be one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. The beauty of this country found in its people, landscapes and creativity has captured more than a piece of my heart here. I know I will be back, it is just a matter of when.

So to continue my list of why I love this place:

31. Less hierarchy than in the states—professors, students, bosses, and employees all use first names when addressing each other.

32. Seeing the real Middle Earth and realizing Rivendell is a mash up of two very distinct places (Wellington on the north island and Fiordland on the south)

33. 6 meals a day: breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, supper (aka chocolate).

34. Fergburger (a famous burger place in Queenstown)

35. Cookietime cookies

36. Being challenged and stretched by new ways of thinking about the world

37. Final exams which are more interesting than stressful and I get to apply what I have learned

38. Outdoor guides who genuinely love what they do

39. Beautiful sunsets over the city, forests, and harbor

40. Hills—I really will miss climbing the hills. They are endearing in a way.

Categories: 2014, New Zealand, Reciprocal Exchange

This post is being written from my apartment in Madrid on my last night in the city before I leave to travel Europe for seven weeks. It’s crazy to me that the semester is over. It went by so fast! And yet, I’ve gotten to experience so much. Basically I’m blessed beyond belief. I’ve loved every second of my time here in Madrid and this city will always carry a special place in my heart. It’s pretty ironic that I am at last feeling so at home in Madrid, and now I have to leave. I know my way around, I’ve mastered the public transportation system (Whoop!) and I know all the good restaurants. I achieved the status of a local (nearly) and that thought is so wild to me! I’m proud of myself and all the things I’ve learned this semester. Things about the world, about people, and most importantly about myself. If you have the chance to study abroad I’ll only tell you one thing: DO IT. It’s been one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made. And while it comes with it’s own set of struggles, they are easily outweighed by the rewards.

I won’t say goodbye just yet. I’ll be back in Madrid at the end of June with two friends. I’ll get to show them all the things I love about this city. And then I’ll be back again towards the end of July to make that leap across the Atlantic and finally make it home to Texas. I can’t wait. I’m so excited to travel this summer but I think I’m even more excited to some back home. I can’t wait to give my mom a hug, go to the movies with friends, go to church with my family, eat Whataburger for days, and see Aggieland again! I can’t wait to give out that Junior wildcat on game days, (A-A-A Whoop!) to put a penny on Sully, and to just be engulfed by the support of A&M again.

I am blessed to have had this beautiful experience of a semester. But I get to go home to a place that’s even cooler.

Texas, y’all.

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

My name is Travis and I am studying at EDHEC Business School in Nice, France

20 Things to Know for Study Abroad (France Edition):

  1. Learn how to use a map and keep it on you at all times. If you don’t have WiFi or your phone dies you need to know how to get home.
  2. Go very open-minded to Europe. A lot of European countries are much more accepting to certain things than we are in the U.S.
  3. In France, wine is cheaper than water.
  4. Guys, don’t carry anything in your back pockets. Girls, always keep your purse zipped up and close to your body.
  5. Download Viber or WhatsApp. This is going to be your means of communication between the people you meet.
  6. When planning things out with friends use the following rules:
    1. Establish a meeting time and place beforehand! Most people wont be able to contact each other when outside of their apartments.
    2. Wait 10-15 minutes after the scheduled meeting time for anyone who shows up a little late (believe me, it may be you!)
    3. Know where you are going afterwards so that people who are really late can still meet up with you!
  7. Always have cash on you! You never know when your credit card won’t work.
  8. Bring a water bottle with you from home. Fill it up before you leave everyday! Bottled water is very expensive and my $14 water bottle has paid for itself.
  9. Sometime traveling by rail is cheaper; sometimes traveling by plane is cheaper. Check all options before doing any traveling.
  10. In France, learn how to order tap water (“une carafe d’eau”). If you just ask for water they will bring you bottled mineral water, which is 5-7 euros.
  11. In France, it is required for them to give you “free” (as long as you are ordering something) tap water. DO NOT pay for tap water!
  12. If you are a milk addict, like me, don’t be surprised to find milk on the shelf in France. 95% of the milk in France is not fresh milk, but “made to last” milk. It will be thicker, creamier, and sold non-refrigerated! This takes some getting used to. Also, refrigerate after opening.
  13. Ask for the WiFi password at every restaurant you eat at! As you eat out more and more, you will slowly gain a small “city” WiFi network that can be helpful for those nights you are looking for directions, trying to contact someone, etc.
  14. Public transportation in France does NOT run all night! If you are going out make sure you leave early enough to take the metro home, know where to get a cab, or party till the morning metro begins J (5:30 – 6:00 a.m.).
  15. Lots of things in France close on Sundays. Make sure you don’t need to go buy anything specific on Sunday!
  16. Students in France dress up a lot more for class than those in the U.S. Don’t be surprised if shorts, flip flops, tank tops, etc. are not allowed in the classroom.
  17. Even in the summer it gets cold at night in France! Bring a jacket with you at all times!
  18. France has a very unionized workforce. Be aware of (obviously, non-violent) strikes that could affect you or your travel plans! i.e. Train strikes, cab strikes, air traffic control strikes, tourist attraction employee strikes, etc.
  19. Everything is expensive in Europe. The saying “Buy Less, For More” is no truer than it is in Europe. Bring your maximum spending amount. Then double that…then bring a little more. Seriously.
  20. Yes, you actually have to study on study abroad.

 

A picture of Nice, France.

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I rode my bike every morning up the Promenade de Anglais to school. This was one calm morning.

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Categories: 2014, France, Reciprocal Exchange

I am finally done with school! Finals went well although they were very different from our typical exams. Every exam I had was essay formatted…in one of my exams I wrote 10 pages and didn’t even complete it!! My overall Uni experience was amazing. I loved the lecture/ tutorial format. It made the classes more personal and I definitely wish we had the same format at A&M.  Most of my friends have either left or are leaving in the next few days. It’s sad to see them go but I am incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to meet such dynamic people. I have friends in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, England, Scotland, Brazil, China, and Australia now!!! I definitely feel much more multi-cultural and an appreciation for internationals, especially travelers.

Now that Uni is done with I am off to traveling! I will be visiting Victoria for a week, Northern Territory for 2 weeks and then heading up to Southeast Asia for a week before I leave to go home!

This experience is one I will never forget and I am incredibly appreciative of the opportunity to study abroad. My biggest advice to future study abroad students (which everyone should be!) is to embrace the culture. It is easy to fit in and make friends with the international students, however to truly have an experience make sure to connect with locals. I lived with two Aussies and worked at a bar with Aussies, so that really helped me embrace the culture. Also connecting with locals is a great way to get car rides, see the country in a new light, and hear the best places to eat and entertain! Some of my best friends live here and I can’t wait to see them again one day!

COME TO AUSTRALIA!

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Categories: 2014, Australia, Reciprocal Exchange

Bonjour!

I am a student at EDHEC Business School in Lille, France. I have officially been in Europe (for the first time, by the way) for two whole weeks! Instead of starting with the amazing, life-changing, crazy experiences I have already had in these two short weeks, I’m going to tell my story in a different format. A format that hopefully will give you helpful advice, relieve some anxieties, and show you how I – a solo traveller – felt throughout the process.

Departure:

This was the first time I have travelled internationally…by myself…not knowing a single person…or the local language…and having no phone to contact anyone if anything happens. You get the picture. I was completely terrified when my Air France Boeing 737’s door sealed shut and we began taxiing to the runway at IAH. This would be the last time I would be on American soil for the next three months.

Welcome to the pinnacle of all your anxieties. The nervous feeling you got after signing your study abroad commitment form; the anxious planning all semester long, while continuously doubting your ability to actually go through with this; the night before packing and realizing the “last” time you are going to eat Mexican food or sleep in your own bed or have a phone that’s not useless without WiFi. Unfortunately, none of these compare to the sound of the door sealing on that Boeing 737. The sound that ultimately means there is no turning back.

**Congratulations, hearing that sound of the door sealing means you just made the last and final commitment to study abroad and potentially one of the best decisions of your life.

Arrival:

No sleep, terrible airline food, two hours to get through French customs, and I miss my train out of Charles de Gaulle Airport to Lille. It is a Sunday, my first day in France and my first day of study abroad. After finally figuring out the train system, and still being pretty jet-lagged, I catch the next outbound train north towards Lille. I was finally on my way.

After arriving in Lille I used a map (because your phone doesn’t work of course!) to find out how to get to my apartment. I buzz my flat mates to get inside. No answer. It being a Sunday, most places in France are closed and I have no way of getting ahold of the precious WiFi (not an exaggeration, you will learn…) to contact my flat mates. I eventually wait around for roughly two hours hoping someone would show up. Nothing. It is getting late, I am running on 24-hours of no sleep, I have my entire luggage with me, and I have no place to go. The only likely answer is a hotel.

I head back to the city center on the metro and find a hotel; luckily they have a room available. I purchased a room for the night for around 85 euros and honestly, at this point, I would have been willing to pay 200 euros for a bed, WiFi, and a shower. So my first day of study abroad was finally over, a truly less-than-ideal first day.

**Eventually everything worked out fine! I got ahold of my roommates and I got into my apartment, but things obviously didn’t go according to my ‘perfect’ study abroad plan. This is a lesson for you future study abroaders: some things aren’t going to go according to plan! You may miss your train, get locked out of your flat, lose your wallet, or any other crazy mishap! You just need to stop, relax, look at your options, and make your best decision. Be resourceful while you are abroad! This is apart of your learning experience. You are old enough, smart enough, and every-bit capable enough to take care of yourself in a foreign country. It may not be the most convenient or easy way for things to happen, but things will eventually work out fine in the end.

 

My 2-Weeks in Lille:

Amazing. Met a ton of great people, traveled to two other countries, and countless other cities including Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Brugges, etc. I have experienced so much, in so little time.

I am purposely leaving this section as vague as possible. I have already told you about bad things of study abroad: the before-departure anxiety and the potential misfortunes you may have along the way.

If you want to know what the amazing parts of study abroad are, the parts that justify the money spent, the anxiety felt, and the parts that make it all worth it…well you are going to just have to experience that on your own!

 

 

 

 

Here are a few of the HUNDREDS of Pics I took.

 

– Standing in front of The Louvre in Paris

 

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– A fairytale-like city called Brugges in Belgium

 

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– In Amsterdam with a couple of my classmates20140531_182617

Categories: 2014, France, Reciprocal Exchange