September, 2014 | Reciprocal Exchanges Blog

My time in the Netherlands has been one of much learning, fun, and adjustment. I am studying finance in Maastricht, one of the southernmost cities in the Netherlands (and also the oldest). But I guess I’ll start from the beginning. My arrival to Europe was interesting to say the least. After an overnight flight from Houston to Amsterdam, I was bombarded by a confusion of Dutch signs and chaos at the airport. Luckily, I made it onto the train to Maastricht in no time. That was the easy part. Once I arrived in Maastricht, it took me two hours to find out where I lived and how to get there. I was sleep deprived, the wheels on both my luggage bags had fallen off from wheeling them around the rough streets, and it was the first real challenge I had. Everything was different and unfamiliar, but once I finally found the international student dorm I was staying in, it made things a lot easier. That’s the thing about going to a completely new place- every little hill you have to overcome can easily become a mountain. There’s nobody to help you adjust, and figuring things out for yourself is the only way to learn.

That story wasn’t meant to bore you, but to be an example of the many difficulties in adjusting to a new environment. Throughout the coming weeks there were more adjustments to be made, but the friends I met in Maastricht made those adjustments so much easier. Another thing I want to point out is how welcoming everyone is. I met other American exchange students the day after I arrived, and less than a week later I was on the beautiful Spanish island of Ibiza with them on an impromptu vacation before classes started. Since then, I’ve met people from over 20 different countries and still hang out with them in the international dorm we all stay at. Whenever I said I was from Texas, everybody thought that was the coolest thing and immediately struck up conversation about my cowboyish ways (obviously inaccurate). We all went out to the bars and saw the city the first week, but in the back of our minds was the looming inevitability that school, the “real” reason we were here, was right around the corner.

Maastricht University is a really cool place. The business faculty is housed in a 600 year old building, but the inside is very modern and new. The school is split up into two periods a semester, and in each period you take two classes. Most classes comprise of a day of lecture a week, and two days of tutorials. This is because of the Problem Based Learning (PBL) system of learning the university implements. Instead of having a professor lecture three times a week, the class is split up into many smaller groups of 10-15 students who are led by a tutor (typically a master’s student- the TA equivalent in the US), who sit back and moderate a conversation amongst the students about the topic. The students read before class and then teach the others in the tutorial, with assigned discussion leaders and secretaries every class. The system is dependent on each student being involved, so attendance and participation are mandatory. I can’t say I like it more than lectures (which we’ve had in the U.S. since kindergarten), but the extreme shift in learning has been a refreshing challenge. Because the classes are so short, usually 7 weeks in a period, the tutorials are 2 hours and there is a LOT of outside work.

Enough about school, I’ll talk about the city of Maastricht for a bit. It’s beautiful. It’s the oldest city in Maastricht, built by the Romans in the early 1200s, and sits right on the edge of the River Maas which makes for great views and architecture. The downtown area is vibrant and has tons of shops and markets. The city has thousands of landmarks, and the city looks so old still because they can’t change the outsides of the buildings, only the inside. This blends the old with the new, and keeps the culture and tradition of the city alive. Also, everyone rides bikes. Everyone. The city is much smaller with a bike, and the city is downright made for it. I bought an old bike and have since made the most of it, but anything with a set of wheels makes life easier. It’s also pretty cold here, with the weather ranging from 50-75 degrees since I’ve been here. I’m hoping it doesn’t get too much colder, I’m still used to Texas weather. Everyone does speak English, which is extremely helpful, but I do intend on picking up some Dutch while I’m here. The real advantage of Maastricht, however, is that it is situated right in the middle of Europe. I can ride my bike to Belgium or take a 30 minute train to Germany, and the rail systems are very reliable and easy. This means that I have the resources to do lots of traveling in different countries all over Europe, hopefully without missing too much class.

Overall, the first 6 weeks of my study abroad have been filled with adventure, friendships, and excitement. Now that I’m settled in, I have even higher hopes for the next 10 weeks. I’ve already been to Spain, Belgium, and Switzerland with trips to Germany and Austria in the works. Every country has its own unique vibe and culture, so exploring as much as possible is highly recommended.

 

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Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, The Netherlands

Hola! It’s a little surreal to believe that I’ve been in Spain for a month! If you think time flies while you’re in College Station, just try going on a study abroad and see how quickly everything goes! Spain is everything I thought it would be, but of course it has a few surprises. Every street, corner, avenue, and plaza is charming in its own way. It’s completely unique and different than Aggieland. There’s a history and story behind every building that dates back farther than you thought. I absolutely love living in the center, and I was surprised at how familiar and comfortable everything became once I settled into my apartment. I love being being able to walk downstairs and order a mixto (a ham and cheese sandwich) from a cafeteria. I live about 15 minutes by foot from Puerta Del Sol, the heart and center of Madrid and also technically Spain. It is the area in which roads begin their direction to other Spanish cities; there’s a sign on the ground that reads “Kilometro O.”  I find myself going there basically everyday, as it is an easy and common meeting point for people. Tapas, sangria, paella, jamon and churros have all been consumed in abundance, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it. I completely embrace Spanish food, and I can already tell I’ll miss it when I’m back in Texas. I’ve been able to also visit Toledo and Valencia. Toledo is a town that dates back to Roman Empire times, and it genuinely feels like you’ve gone back hundred of years. I became amazed at the fact that I was able to walk down streets and into stores and plazas that people from 400 years ago did too. It’s the town where the famous painter, El Greco, spent his life and completed master works of art. Valencia, on the other hand, is a newer city that offers not only historic sights but also an incredibly modern area called “The City of Arts and Sciences” that hosts the largest aquarium in Europe. The buildings are something you’d imagine in Startrek or some futuristic movie that takes place in space. To be honest, it isn’t something you’d expect from a beach town in Spain, in particular, the city that the world-famous paella originates from; it’s intriguing and beautiful in its own way. I have to say that my favorite part so far has been just meeting new people and immersing myself not only in Spanish culture but also the culture of other countries where other exchange students originate from. I love meeting people from all over the world and hearing about what is normal for them. In my opinion, there is almost nothing better than finding out something different than what I’m accustomed to. I love trying new things, seeing new things, learning new languages, and meeting new people that add to a more whole and complete perspective of life. School has been in session for three weeks. The way it functions is totally different than A&M. It’s an incredible opportunity to have insight to see how another university works. It’s so easy to only think of your own university and become accustomed to how one country’s school system works. It took a little bit of adjusting to the school, but I’m enjoying my classes. I especially like  Spanish History of the 20th century and learning about the recent history of  Spain. Also, it’s interesting to gain a different perspective on business principles and teachings, yet also observe similarities and shared knowledge. So far, I adore Spain and am trying my best to say yes to everything and live in the moment. I love to document as much of my experience as I can (often I’m a little overzealous with picture taking.) I feel insanely lucky and happy to have this opportunity, and I can’t imagine not doing it. Until next time! Hasta Luego! -Laura Madrid! September 2014 Toledo Toledo 2 Toledo 3 Plaza Mayor Flamenco Puerta de Sol Ham Palace Palace 2

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

I IMG_9801have been in Europe for almost two months now and in Copenhagen close to a month and a half, and it is safe to say I am beginning to love it here. With all the anticipation and build up to this trip it is still hard to believe I am actually here living in Europe now and I cannot believe how quickly time is beginning to go by! I said my tearful goodbyes to my family on August 1st from Austin Airport. But I am incredibly blessed that my best friend, Madison Seidel is also going on a Reciprocal Exchange to Copenhagen Business School and is rooming with me this entire semester.

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The flight to Europe was not nearly as bad as I had anticipated it to be which was great. A very nice aggie happened to be sitting behind us so that was very comforting as we were full of nervous energy and excitement! We bought our tickets through Lufthansa round trip (flying home December 20th) since they have a website called generationfly.com allowing you to change one of your tickets travel days if needed. This was very helpful since you don’t find out when your finals are until late September, we thought this may come in handy later to avoid an extra fee if we did ended up having to fly home later.

Once we landed in Copenhagen we stayed at a hotel, since we could not get into our dorm for another 2 weeks. We took our extra bags to a family friend who lives in Sweden (a short 15 minute train ride) for storage while we traveled around to Barcelona, Rome, Cinque Terre, Venice, and Florence before returning to Copenhagen on August 16th. If anyone is planning on traveling before classes start and don’t want to carry a semesters worth of luggage around Europe with you, another option is the International Office at CBS. The International Office is happy to store any luggage for you while you travel free of charge as long as you drop it off during office hours but since we arrived on a Saturday and were leaving for Barcelona on a Sunday this wasn’t an option for us!

The first four days of traveling is when I experienced the worst culture shock and homesickness. I am very independent and was traveling with my best friend so I was convinced before leaving there was no way I would be homesick but trust me it gets even the best of us! I called my parents crying and thought I was going to be miserable the entire semester but I after forcing myself to get out of bed and do things it all began to get better. I learned the importance of having a strong support system and the value of great friends and family through the experience!

We had a few ups and downs along this trip while learning how to use rail passes and adjusting to the culture in Europe but we made it through and had such an amazing experience filled with so many great memories! Granted we learned a few lessons the hard way like when Madison got a train ticket in Italy for filling out her rail pass wrong, or when we came within seconds of ending up stuck on a non-stop train to Pisa when trying to get to Monterosso, or having to sprint across crowded train stations with full backpacks to avoid missing trains we showed up late for. We just laughed it off and called it part of the experience!

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As the two-week trip was coming to an end we were exhausted and ready to get to a place we could finally call home! Copenhagen Business School has an optional program (which you need to sign up for) that partners each student with a “buddy” who helps you find your new apartment and can just help in general with any questions you have about the new city. Unfortunately, my “buddy” was out of town on the day we were arriving but lucky Madison’s buddy was able to meet us at the airport with her roommate to show us to our new home!

IMG_5141Our dorm, Kathrine Kollegiet, is on the opposite side of Copenhagen as the airport so it took about 25 minutes to get to it on the metro and by the time we arrived at the front door the anticipation was killing us since we had very little idea of what the room would actually look like. The room is in a U-shape and it gives us the ability to both have somewhat of our own private areas, which is fantastic. The room is on the first floor, which in America would technically be considered the second floor. Our room is one of the few that was completely re-done with new everything (paint, flooring, updated kitchen area, and furniture)! We are so lucky with the room we were assigned and we absolutely love it!

10629629_10203979803431358_8070843499822583275_nSince classes did not start until September we did not have anything required of us during our first two weeks here but we had signed up for some optional two social week programs, which gave us a fantastic opportunity to meet so new many people! These programs were hosted through Copenhagen Business School and included a combination of day and evening events ranging from international dinners, to mardi gras parties, to sight-seeing canal tours, to renting out a clubs from 10pm-3am with drink specials! These events were an amazing way to meet so many new people so fast from all over the world. These first two weeks in Copenhagen were incredible and were what really made me fall in love with the city. Copenhagen is so incredibly beautiful everywhere you look! The main method of transportation here is bike so it is also much more peaceful than other large cities, and the people here are very concerned about the environment so it is very clean. Many people ask me about the language barrier with the people here speaking Danish but almost every person in Denmark speaks perfect English and as soon as you start speaking they will switch over and talk to you in it.

 

Some of the things I can tell you now about Copenhagen is that everyone in Copenhagen loves the color black so if you want to fit in with the crowd bring every black-colored clothing item you own! I would invest in a nice raincoat with a hood because that will become a staple of your wardrobe; personally I would recommend a black one. No one here wears wedges out so no need to even pack them, but you should bring a nice pair of Nikes because people here love wearing nice running shoes with everything (dresses and jeans alike). Pack lots of the medicine you typically take because they don’t sell the normal brands you buy at home here and it is all very different here any you will get sick (everyone’s allergies here are terrible)!

When the first day of school came both Madison and I were a little nervous but luckily we have ¾ of our classes together! I am taking Events and Festival Management, Language of Negotiation, Web Interaction and Design and Communication – New Forms of Interaction, Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration, and Organizational Behavior. The class structure here is set up a bit different than what we are used to at A&M. Instead of having classes twice or three times a week for a shorter time we have class once a week for two hours and thirty-five minutes (we get 2 breaks for 5-10 minutes during class). Also, there is no required attendance, your class schedule is allowed to overlap, and no grades other than the final. All my classes are in taught English and for the most part the teachers are not from Denmark but from other parts of Europe and don’t have too strong of an accent.IMG_1034

As to my finals, a majority of them consist of theoretical essay topics given anywhere from 72 hours before they are due, to one week before they are due. Depending on the class the essays are required to be anywhere from 6 pages to 14 pages long. Some of my finals also have an oral portion. For example, my events and festivals management class, has a 20 minute one-on-one session with the professor (with an expert in the field observing to make sure the grading is fair) building upon the theoretical essay you turned in where he can ask you anything he would like then you are graded immediately following this discussion. Another class has a group presentation for 15-20 minutes prior to the written essay, which stands as a basis for the essay.

The hardest part about classes is trying to force myself to read the textbooks, as there is very little incentive. I know I have no upcoming test I just have to keep reminding myself if I don’t read them than the finals will be impossible! Classes here are also very teacher-student interactive which is a little intimating at times, the students are encouraged to speak up during lectures and challenge views as well as comment thoughts and view points which is extremely different then the large lecture style I have been used to.

While I value the importance of class while I am studying abroad I also find that there is so much to be learned outside of the classroom while I am here in Europe through the people and places around me so we have made it a point to travel as much as possible. We have done a day trip to Malmo, Sweden. We took a trip to London, UK for three days and from there went to Dublin, Ireland for two days. We just got back from an amazing trip to Prague, Czech Republic for two days traveling by train to Munich, Germany for three days to attend Oktoberfest. We have met so many wonderful people while traveling and seen so many amazing things on these trips!

 

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I cannot wait to see what the next for weeks has in store for us with fall break coming up we have a pretty big trip planned and my family is coming in just over 20 days to visit! So far I have had such an amazing experience and have learned so much about the world around me and myself and I cannot wait to learn even more.

Categories: 2014, Denmark, Reciprocal Exchange

Hej Ags!

It’s so hard to believe that I have officially been in Europe for almost two months and in Copenhagen, Denmark for about a month and a half. The past few months have been a whirlwind of preparation for the semester and now that I’ve finally settled into my new home I’m happy to say I truly love it here. My semester will be spent in Copenhagen, Denmark where I study at Copenhagen Business School (CBS). I have been lucky enough to come to Europe with my best friend, Lauren Oldani, and on August 1 we said goodbye to family and friends for the trip of a lifetime. Initially I was very wary of such a long journey to Copenhagen but was pleasantly surprised to find the eighteen hours fly by without too much trouble. In fact, an Ol’Ag Class of 1964 sat behind us on our international flight. Before we knew it our time in Europe had begun! The profound idea that I had left my friends, family, dogs, routine, and comfortable life full of familiarity for a semester of unknowns was mind blowing to me. Just the thought that I would not set foot back in the US and be surrounded by everything I have always known was initially hard wrap my mind around. Even though I have been lucky enough to experience very little homesickness there at moments in which I still can’t believe that I am living in Europe, navigating my way through this once in a lifetime experience.

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Something that Lauren I have said since we decided to study abroad was that we wanted to travel as much as possible this semester. In doing so we planned to arrive in Europe four weeks before CBS required and did a short backpacking trip. After a quick night in Copenhagen, Denmark we started our first journey by flying to down to Barcelona, Spain. This literally being within the first forty-eight hours of leaving home so both of us were a little slow to start our explorations. I had relatively little jet lag but was still very unfamiliar with such new surrounds. Immediately after arriving in Copenhagen and then Spain we were surrounded by unfamiliar faces, different languages, new smells, seemingly a different world which I have been able to assimilate into pretty well. After a few days in Spain we moved onto Italy where we traveled to Rome, Cinque Terre, Venice, and Florence. If I could pick my favorite destination of these two weeks it would have to be Cinque Terre, an area along the Mediterranean Sea full of picturesque views and endless hiking trails. Sadly, the vacation had to eventually come to a close but the sadness was nothing compared to the excitement I felt as we were finally making the transition of moving to our new home away from home.

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If I had to summarize Copenhagen Business School in two words it would have to be both HELPFUL and ORGANIZED. This school has such a phenomenal exchange program! A very large portion of the school is full of exchange students and the majority of Danish students have already done an exchange or plan to do so in the future. From the moment I arrived back into Copenhagen I was met at the airport with my Danish buddy who attends CBS and was there to show Lauren and I the way to our dorm, which would have been a disaster otherwise. I think the buddy program is such a wonderful element of CBS exchange because this gives an instant connection to the Danish community. For example, not only was Emelie able to help with any initial questions I may have had but also gave me tour of the city and even cooked us dinner amongst many other things. CBS did a wonderful job of organizing two weeks full of activities and helpful orientations for all the exchange students. The first week was optional as many had not even arrived to school yet but for those who were here like me I attended a Danish crash course packaged with many social events. The Danish language is not one you can pick up easily, it is so very different than the English language that even with the crash course I am still having trouble reading signs, directions, etc. Luckily the people of Denmark can almost all speak perfect English so even as it may be a bit unnerving to not always understand what is going on around me I can usually find someone who can help me. This week was also full of nightly social events such as a trivia night, bingo night where I was able to meet tons of new friends, some of which I have continues to stay close with since that very first week. When preparing for this semester I was told that the first two weeks after your arrival are the most important as this is the time when you will be the people whom will becomes your niche for the semester and in reality that has been very true for me. My advice for this is to stay open minded and meet as many people as possible. After having such an amazing first week in Copenhagen I was happy to began the official introduction week at CBS full of daily orientations about classes, exams, info about the campuses, and more social events in the evenings that led to meeting even more students. This week was spent learning everything about CBS and at night attending meet’n’mingles, an international buffet, a lake party with our buddies, and a Mardi Gras party to close the week. I believe that the amount I learned and the number of people I met during my first two weeks in Copenhagen is an ideal first representation of how great the CBS exchange program is.

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While staying in Copenhagen I live in a dorm called Kathrine Kollegiet or as we lovingly refer to as KK. Housing in this city is a premium, it is both very hard to find housing and extremely extremely expensive to live here. In fact its one of the most expensive cities in Europe budgeting on necessities has become something I’m slowly learning to cope with. Luckily Lauren and I were able to find our way into a dorm about 10 minutes from campus where we share a room that is surprisingly spacious. Our dorm is diverse and has students from literally all around the world. I feel like I have definitely found a great group of friends in this building as we are all having these new experiences together which has brought us all together very quickly and I have grown close to some already. Something I do recommend to anyone planning to study abroad is to live in some type of student housing, it is such a great way to meet other students and really gives a sense of community in a new and unfamiliar place.

School has been in session for almost a month now at CBS and it sure has been a new experience for as it is quite different than at Texas A&M. Classes generally only meet once a week for almost three hours at a time, many of classes are actually only run for half a semester. CBS works on a quarter system so classes generally run from September-mid October, mid October- December, or the whole semester. For instance I currently have three classes that go the whole semester and one that will begins in the middle of October. One of the largest differences in school life here is no attendance policy, quizzes, homework, or even routine tests; your ending grade in the class is based upon the final exam. Personally one of my biggest stressors of this trip has had to cope with the idea that one assignment will determine my outcome of each class no matter how many classes I attended. Hopefully as long as I keep up with the endless amounts of readings and attend each class this won’t be a problem I have to face.

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As I stated earlier, one of the biggest goals of this semester is to travel and experience as much as I can in these few months. Only having class Monday afternoon, Wednesday, and Thursday I have already have had many opportunities to restart my European travels! Since school began I have journeyed to:

– Malmo, Sweden
– London, England
– Dublin, Ireland
– A weekend trip around Denmark sponsored by CBS
– Prague, Czech Republic
– Munich, Germany

Travel is something I have always loved and each new place I see opens my eyes to newfound cultures, people, and endless other things.

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When my weekends aren’t spent traveling I find myself wondering the city of Copenhagen. I can already tell that once my time comes to an end here I will have fallen in love with this city. The city is beautiful as it boasts such a European feel from the buildings to the people you find on the streets. Danes are very warm and inviting people in this well run city. You can get to anywhere in the city by either taking the metro or biking. This is a very efficient and environmentally friendly city where the majority of people bike to work, school, seemingly anywhere. You are probably more likely to be hit by a bicyclist than a car, they are very aggressive and wont’ hesitate to let their frustrations be known. At this point I have not purchased a bike as many of my friends have as I have become quite accustomed to using the metro that runs 24/7 and can get me anywhere I need to go.

My short time in Europe has already been filled with traveling, new friends, new experiences, and so much more that I’m overly excited to keep the semester going and discover what the next few months have in store for me. Even now I can’t believe how fast time has flown past my very eyes and before I know it the semester will almost be half over. These past two months have already let me experience a different world than I formerly knew in Texas and I can’t wait to form new memories that will last me a lifetime.

Until next time!
Madison Seidel

Days in Europe: 61
Countries visited: 8
Aggies met in Europe: 3

Categories: 2014, Norway, Reciprocal Exchange

The Journey Begins:

Venturing to Maastricht, Netherlands is the first time I have been to Europe and the furthest I’ve been from home. When I arrived, I didn’t know what my dorm was called, how my phone was going to work abroad (if at all), if my credit card was going to be accepted, and much more. It was a huge shock as soon as the plane landed, but figuring out how to manage in the Netherlands was a blast!

The City:

Maastricht is the best home base for studying abroad because of its central location in Europe, the size of the city, and the beautiful sights. The central location is easy to prove by just looking at a map and recognizing that Maastricht is in the middle of Europe, which makes traveling very convenient. However, one of my favorite parts of the city is its size. It is a relatively small city with about 200,000 citizens and is 23 square miles in area. Biking is the preferred mode of transportation and almost everything in the city is within biking distance. Despite the small size, there is plenty to see and do. There are many beautiful churches, libraries, parks, castles, a river, plazas, statues, bars, and restaurants to explore. Maastricht has just enough to do without being overwhelming and is a great place to call home.

The Dutch:

During our school’s orientation, we had a presenter inform us about Dutch culture. He told us the Dutch are very direct. He was right. They do not sugar coat their words or try to phrase things in the most polite way. I’ve personally experienced this directness during school discussions in the classroom. One Dutch student disagreed with me and looked me in the eye and said “you are wrong and do not understand the material.” We actually get along fine, but he never hesitates to say what is on his mind. However, one great thing about the Dutch is that most of them speak English. I thoroughly enjoy being able to communicate without having to worry about a language barrier.

The International Students:

One of the great things about Maastricht University is the amount of international students who attend the University. About half of the students at the University come from abroad and many of those international students are studying abroad for only one semester. I am also staying at the University of Maastricht Guesthouse, which is a dorm for international students. The Guesthouse is actually located inside of a hospital, so I see patients in the halls on my way out of the building. At first it seemed really weird living in a hospital, but I got used to it pretty quickly. The dorms are in separate wings from the hospital rooms too, so I don’t have to worry about catching any illnesses. I would highly recommend living in the Guesthouse to anyone interested in studying abroad in the Netherlands. Although it is a bit expensive, I have enjoyed meeting students from all over the world. So far, most of my friends are from Spain, but I have made friends with students from every continent except Antarctica. I love learning about the other students’ hobbies, eating habits, and culture.

The School:

I am studying at the School of Business and Economics or SBE. The actual buildings of Maastricht University are spread throughout the city, so there is no congregated campus like at Texas A&M University. SBE is about an 8-minute bike ride from the international guesthouse where I am staying. The actual building is extremely old and part of it is actually a church. While the outside of the building is extremely antiquated, the inside is very modern. The builders did a great job of making a very modern facility without ruining the original architecture of the old building.

Classes:

Instead of normal classes where students listen to a lecture, SBE uses a learning process called problem based learning or PBL. This approach is much different from a lecture because students are responsible for learning the material prior to class. Class time is lead by a student discussion leader who moderates a discussion of the material and sets learning goals for the next class. The learning method has many benefits, but I am still a fan of traditional lectures too. For studying abroad, I definitely love the PBL approach because it is another opportunity to see how students from different countries think.

I wanted to share a background on what life is like in Maastricht for this entry and will delve into more specific stories in my next post. Thanks for reading!

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, The Netherlands

My experience so far in Barcelona has been full of fun, excitement, exhaustion, frustration, adventure and many many surprises! First off, my flight here was not bad at all. After an emotional goodbye with my family, it was basically smooth sailing. Beatriz and I flew Turkish Airlines and it was very nice. We got meals on both our flights, had access to movies, and the seats were relatively comfortable. We asked for a seat between us so we had a little wiggle room (highly recommended). The only not so fun part was the time it took to get here. I’m easily entertained by nature and all its beauty, so looking out the window in amazement was a good time passer for me, as well as sleeping. Once we landed in Barcelona, our host mom picked us up from the airport (This was so nice since we didn’t have to worry about taking public transportation at 11:30pm). We had no idea what to expect since we hadn’t met her before and hadn’t seen a picture or anything. Honestly, I was freaking out that she wasn’t even a real person, just some hacker who ran off with my deposit. But thank God she was real. She was waiting in the terminal with a little sign that had our names on it (just like in the movies). It was great. I speak very little Spanish so initial communication was extremely awkward since she hardly speaks English. That has improved with time though. Our apartment is in a more family oriented neighborhood of Barcelona, which I really like. Quiet at night, but not too far from the lively parts of the city. We both have our own rooms to retreat to at night, and the whole family shares one bathroom (not as bad as I was anticipating). We get breakfast and dinner every day, which is absolutely amazing! Homemade authentic food and we have the luxury of not having to figure out what to eat for dinner. I would seriously be starving if I wouldn’t have done a homestay. The grocery stores are completely different and so confusing! She has made us Spanish Tortilla, Paella, African chicken, cous cous, hummus, fried fish, pork, chicken, soups, salads, and a few desserts. All so so yummy! Side note, back in the US I refused to eat tomatoes. Here, I eat them all the time and LOVE them! Also, gaspacho is like my new favorite thing. Its a cold tomato soup. Sounds a little strange but SO YUMMY! To anyone who is trying to figure out where to live when they study abroad, look into a homestay! I get food, housing, linens, towels, and laundry washed every week. It is very reasonably priced! All the other students we have met are paying either the same price or more to live in normal apartments and they don’t get all the perks we do.

My first week here, I did lots of errand type things like getting a Spanish SIM card, opening a Spanish bank account, buying groceries, and figuring out my way around Barcelona. It is important to know that if you want to open a foreign bank account, you have to have a local phone number, I learned this the hard way and wasted sooooo much time. I am also very directionally challenged, so I am still getting the hang of navigating myself around town. I just have to go out into the city not afraid to get lost and not afraid to ask for directions. For the most part, people are nice and willing to help you. During our first week here, we took a Barcelona City Tour, which was a little pricy, but it helped us become more knowledgable about the city and its history, as well as provide us with a little layout of the city. We saw La Sagrada Familia, Tibidabo mountain, Park Guell, many Gaudi buildings, the beach, the Gotic quarter, and so much more. It was a nice investment.

Our first Sunday here was the first Sunday of the month, which means FREE MUSEUMS. We took this opportunity to go to the Picasso  museum. I thoroughly enjoyed our time there. It walked your through his life of painting and the exhibits were beautiful.

Our Second week here, we took our first trip out of the city. We went to Madrid and Toledo, Spain. Madrid was a lot of fun. We did a few touristy things and had the chance to meet up with a fellow Mays Exchange student who is studying there. My favorite restaurant there was called d’Norte, absolutely delicious. The city literally never sleeps! They stay up all night long if they go out. We got an early train out of the city at like 8am, and people were just starting to go home. It was insane. My favorite part of Madrid was the Royal Palace. HOLY COW!! So beautiful. the whole place was insanely ornate. Tapestries, porcelain, silver, gold, statues, murals, from floor to ceiling. Each room had a description plack that said what the room was used for. One of them said that the room was where “the king performed his daily changing ceremony”. haha. Basically his closet. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but it was so amazing, no picture would have done it justice. After Madrid, we went to Toledo which is a little town in a valley. SO CUTE! The streets were crazy narrow. Half the time I thought I was going to get ran over by the cars zipping through these little alley ways. I seriously don’t know how they were driving, the streets were so small. We enjoyed going to little shops, buying mazapan cookies, and taking a nature walk along the outside of the town near the river.

Since returning to Barcelona, We have had student orientation (less than impressive) and welcome week with the ESN (Erasmus Student Network). We have made lots of friends from all over the world, experienced La Merce (Barcelona’s big week long fiesta) and started school(biggest headache EVER). This past weekend we went to Tossa de Mar which is an adorable town along Costa Brava beach. Absolutely beautiful! Seriously felt like I was living in a calender. We went to a little beach that was kinda hidden so there weren’t as many people. There were cliffs on either side, the water was crystal clear and astonishingly blue, and there were really cool rocks to climb on and jump off. It was a little freaky being able to see big bright fish swimming beneath you, but a completely surreal experience. I loved it so much!

Now school is getting started and the chaos has officially set in. Classes are so difficult to get into, and the university is crazy unorganized. I’m sure in the end it will all work out, but I would be lying if I said I haven’t thought about just giving up at times. I’m not going to lie, its been hard. I miss my family, friends, and fiance. My class schedule is a mess and getting a complete makeover. My sleep schedule is still needing adjustments. I still get lost walking around town, and learning a new language is really difficult. But the “goods” truly outweigh the bad. I know I am growing through this whole experience, even though I feel like crawling into a whole sometimes. I have found a Church community here called ICB (International Church of Barcelona) and I can’t tell you how comforting it is as a Christian to have that support. God is the only thing that has remained constant through all of this and I am learning to rely on Him so much more. Getting connected at a church has provided me with so much peace, and helped my make even more friends, both local and international. If you are used to having a church community at home, I HIGHLY recommend getting connected to one abroad. Even if you don’t get super involved, its nice to have Sunday mornings feel like they do at home.

So as of right now, Barcelona is amazing and I’m slowly realizing how much it has to offer. Classes are crazy disorganized but getting simpler by the minute. Slowly but surely I’m establishing a community of friends from all over the world that are so much fun to be with! I can’t wait to see how my time here progresses and changes. Oh, I’m also planning on visiting some distantly related family that live in Italy within the next month so that will be what I write about next. I’m so excited! 🙂

Tossa de Mar

Tossa de Mar

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

¡Hola!

My name is Beatriz. I will be attending Universitat de Pompeu Fabra, a relatively new yet internationally ranked university that is quite well known in Europe. This being my first blog entry, I apologize beforehand if it is so long. I just have so much to say and I feel like I can only touch on everything briefly.

I have been in Barcelona for three weeks now, and although it may seem like a long time I still find myself learning the ways of the Catalonians.I was lucky that another fellow Aggie, Katrina, is also studying at UPF and so we have been going through the journey together. Classes have still not begun so we have been exploring the city and visiting the tourist sites. So far I have found Barcelona to be such a diverse city. As you travel through the city you can go from a small historic community, to large buildings and skyscrapers, to the Gothic quarter, to mountains, and to the beach. It is evident that the city is still evolving, with new up and coming neighborhoods. Katrina and me are both staying with the same host family. We live in an apartment with Teresa and her teenage daughter, Alba. Our apartment is located in El Poblenou, an area of the neighborhood Sant Marti. This specific area is a developing family oriented neighborhood that used to be filled with factories and business buildings. Just two streets away is the Torre Agbar, a beautiful glass building that houses the water services company.

Around the city there are numerous tourist sites. Some I think are worth paying to see the inside of and others are okay to just take look at. All around the city you will find famous Gaudi works. You can’t leave the city without going to all if not atleast some of his works which include: Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Casa Batllo, La Pedrera, Colonia Guell, Palau Guell, and Casa Vicens. Depending on when you come some of them might be closed for repairs. This was the case when I went to La Pedrera. There are other remarkable sites around the city such as the Tibidabo mountain, the Monjuic mountain, the Picasso Museum, and the Catedral de Barcelona just to name a few. It would honestly take someone at least a week to truly get a good glance at Barcelona. There are many other museums not mentioned that I haven’t gotten around to visiting.

After about a week of being in Barcelona we took a trip to the Madrid, the capitol, and Toledo a nearby town. Just a short recap on the differences between Madrid and Barcelona (based on my observations, I could be wrong):

  • Barcelona is more spread out
  • The streets of Madrid are so much busier
  • Barcelona has more tourists
  • People in Barcelona are more open to trying to speak English for tourists
  • Madrid has 3 really important and extensive museums
  • Madrid has a much better park (Parque del Retiro)
  • The nightlife in Madrid seemed to take place all over the city where as in Barcelona it is only in certain areas
  • The metro system in Barcelona is better maintained, more useful, and a bit cheaper
  • And OFCOURSE in Barcelona they speak Catalan as well as Spanish

In general, the cities in Spain have basic similarities. For example, unlike in the US people in Spain are so much more relaxed and never seem to be in a hurry. It is very common for people here to be late so everyone walks at a slow pace and takes 2+ hours to eat meals. Although I’m not very fond of people not being punctual, I do appreciate that meals are a social affair. When ordering at a restaurant it is not uncommon to not have drinks listed on the menu. I find that the only time they are listed is when they are house specials, which means its only cocktails. It is assumed that all restaurants serve the same non-alcoholic beverages. Nightlife is extremely different. Here clubs are open from 12am to either 5 or 6 am, and then there are also after hour clubs. So when I say that they like to party, I mean they REALLY like to party.

At the moment I am attending my university’s orientation week, which is filled with ERASMUS events. Through the program I have gotten to meet people from all over and am just now starting to keep track of people’s names and hanging out with. The third week of September Barcelona has huge festivities. The event is called Festes de la Mercè and they have events for families, musical performances, parades, fireworks, and free music concerts all over the city. If you are in Barcelona during La Mercè, you must attend the Correfoc (fire run parade), the Castells (human pyramid), and at least one of the fireworks show.

Well I think I’ve over done it for sure. Stay tuned for next month. ¡Hasta luego!

(Below is a link to my dropbox folder because there’s simply no way I could only pick one or two pictures)

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/k0d8lfbe61cxhls/AADLp5eZAPkdiXh5I0QB406za?dl=0

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

Howdy!

I was unable to write a blog post for April because I was not in France for more than maybe a week. The first week of April I only had three days of class, so some friends and I went to Corsica- an island just south of France for the rest of the week. After that, I was lucky enough to not have any class for the other three weeks in April. My sister came to visit me from Houston and we traveled all around Europe. We had the opportunity to go to 4 different countries and 8 different cities. It was by far some of the craziest, most unpredictable, exciting time of the exchange. It was also amazing to get to see my sister right before finals.

The month of May was not quite as exciting. When I got back from all the traveling May 1st, I was exhausted! It was really hard to go to class and get back on track. As soon as my sister left, I had to start studying for finals. So as mentioned before, there were no midterms, homework assignments, or any grades throughout the semester in majority of my classes (a few minor exceptions). This meant that all of my grades depended on my finals. Some of the classes had ended back in January or March, and now I had to go back to that material and re-learn it for finals. I had 5 finals in three days, which was a very light schedule compared to some other students who had 9-10. The finals were extremely difficult. They were all cumulative and free response/work-out problems. There were no multiple choice questions. Thankfully I recently found out that I passed all exams and classes. I am very excited about that!!!

Studying for finals took about three weeks out of May. That was not very fun. However, some of the other students and I would sometimes go down and study at the beach. My last week in May was a great week, but sad because I had to say so many goodbye’s. All of the exchange students had gotten very close throughout the last five months we spent together. We probably all went out together every night leading up to everyone’s departures. Different people were leaving at different times, so it was a lot easier having to say goodbye gradually rather than all at once. I made so many great friendships with people all over Europe, and I can’t wait to visit them again!!View of Nice

Categories: 2014, France, Reciprocal Exchange

Howdy!

First and foremost, the best advice I could give would be to heed all advice/preparation that Katy Lane gives you. All the “work” is for your benefit and eases the transition into what will be a difficult and changeful experience. Initially, I had intended to take a cab from Frankfurt airport to Vallendar. After running into another exchange student at a different school in Germany, she helped me realize how expensive a cab would be. I made a split decision and decided to take a train to Koblenz and get a cab from there in a means to save money. The only thing I neglected to take into account was that I had no preparation for this alternative route.  Had I followed Katy’s advice, I would have been much more prepared to take on this seemingly minute challenge.

Recommendations: Plan a mode of travel and stick to it as you will skip out on a lot of headache and anxiety. Also, have an ample amount of Euros on you and do not try and use the currency exchange at the airport as the exchange rate was 1.34 to 1 when I went and they tried to charge 1.54 to 1. Give your bank a heads up and have them give you Euros before you leave.

As soon as me and the other exchange student parted ways, I was lost. I realized rather quickly that the best way to ensure my safe arrival would be to humble myself and ask a bountiful amount of questions to strangers. I can’t tell you how many times I asked to make sure I was in the correct train station and that I was on the right train and finally, what stop to get off at to end up in the desired area. One of the first positive things that I noticed while navigating my way to Koblenz, was how helpful strangers were to point you in the right direction. The beautiful thing about Germany is that most natives speak English or enough to get you in the right place.  Finally, I arrived in Vallendar at WHU and was overjoyed to say the least.

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WHU is a located in a quaint town called Vallendar with a beautiful campus. The inside is strewn with history and has almost a medieval feel concerning their architecture. One of the more unique things you will learn about WHU is that the university hosts most of its parties in an ornate room where many of the company presentations are held. Summed up, WHU constructed a place to host these company meetings and to be respectful of Vallendar’s community, opened it to host WHU parties in a means to not disturb Vallendar’s residents.

The first poignant emotion that came after being let into my room in GoethstraBe 8 (InPraxi) was that of being home-sick. Katy gives you a great chart about many of the emotions that entail studying abroad and the truth behind it is surprising. Being someone I’d consider very “independent,” I was surprised how much of a struggle the first few days were. I believe a lot of it had to do with the two day lay-over before orientation, where you will make a lot of friends, but regardless, I was a mess for those two days. I believe this is an important aspect of traveling abroad similar to mission trips and the like. I was severely emotional but found a deeper sense of appreciation of people, family, and A&M that I believe I wouldn’t have had I not come here. I realized how invaluable people truly are. The appreciation I gained through that tumultuous period is something I look to bring back to A&M.

Recommendations: If you are afraid of this period of hardship, study abroad with others you know as I went alone. Also, make sure you are fully prepared to not have wifi for a few days so bring a good book or go out and travel to kill time. It is truly a difficult time, but the depth of appreciation is worth the hardship I believe. Make sure to go shopping and figure out where you can get materials you need as it is surprisingly difficult without the known stores such as Walmart. You’ll notice that to use a shopping cart, you must have one Euro coin to unlock it that you will get back after returning it. Also, you must pay for your grocery bags, so bring some in advance. For shopping, go to ALDI or LIDYL (cheaper stores) or REWE (more expensive/closer) and ask around for various other needs.

Finally, the orientation came and everything instantaneously got better. Being able to talk other students going through the same thing helped massively. Also, you will be surprised with how quickly you form your niche within the students. A surprising observation was how students from the same country naturally formed groups. I found myself in a group of students from USA as well as Canada. I have been blessed to get close to a group I deem the “Hong-Kong Crew” and love learning about their culture. Regardless where you end up, the orientation is fun and interactive. WHU has a group called the VIP (Vallendar Integration Program) that is tasked with answering your questions/ showing you a good time and updating you with events going on at WHU. The VIP initiative is very well organized and I would recommend you use them and your designated tasuchie (Name for International students) buddy. This photo was the initial room we all gathered in during orientation.

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Following orientation, our group went to Koblenz right away to get our sim card set up. Koblenz has a stunning mall and will have nearly everything you could desire for your stay. Below is a picture of the popular mall Saturn within Koblenz.

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I would recommend traveling with a group as the busing schedules and etc. can get confusing. A few important things to note: Germans hardly drink water or have water fountains! They also do not give water out for free. Also, if you order water, make sure to ask for “stilles washer” which means tap water or you will get sparkling water every time! Sparkling water here is huge! Another thing that stuck out to me was that beer is often cheaper than water at restaurants! You will notice that the German culture, at least at WHU, is very keen on beer and bread. There are delicious bread shops scattered throughout Vallendar and also another item that is very popular here for college students, the Kebab. It is not a normal kabob, but a swirly hunk of meat sliced and coupled with various vegetables stuffed in a piece of bread. It is very cheap and popular option among WHU students.

Recommendation: Go to IKEA and get all the home appliances there. I got a French press for ~5 euros!!!! Also, the coffee is exquisite and cheap here, if I do say so myself. I use splenda back home and they have this nifty tablet dispenser of something that tastes similar to splenda. Get a water bottle and carry it with you at all times or you will feel massively dehydrated.

School finally started and it is massively different to say the least. First off, you will have half as many days at class. I usually have Fridays off and more often than not, another day off. This is not to hint that they do not take school seriously, as that is absolutely not the case. WHU is very small and competitive. The student’s take school very seriously and study rigorously but are understanding of the tauschie’s desires to travel and etc. Another surprising difference, is that there is not tutoring abroad or office hours, unless requested, and no homework to benchmark your progress. There is one test typically at the end of the Quarter (one semester has two quarters) and that determines your final grade as well as the fact that your grade is on a bell curve with the other students in the class. Therefore, it is much more individualistic with your best bet being to ask another student for help, if you need it. The best part about this is that it opens up the door to travel. Also, the case studies are much more interactive than back home. The groups meet much more often and it is a great chance to experience a different kind of collaboration. WHU does a great job stressing the group work.

Recommendation: Do not take WHU’s acclaimed hard classes and research the courses you intend to take before enrolling.

After getting situated and settling in, I decided to first travel within Germany and go to Koln (Cologne). I went to their famous cathedral that towers over the city and go inside and stand in awe at it’s grandiose stature and history. We made sure to go out to eat at the local places and tried their renown Kolsche beer. I was struck by how much more often you would run across gorgeous statues or pieces of architecture just by walking through Germany’s cities. I neglected to realize how rich in history Germany really is and it has been wonderful to witness all of the landmarks that make Europe unique. Below is a picture of Koln’s DOM (Cathedral).

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The following weekend, me and a few friends decided to travel one of the most history rich cities in Germany, Berlin. You need at least two days and I would recommend three to take advantage of all that Berlin has to offer. From the 1/2 off museum passes because of being students at WHU, to the various landmarks that Berlin has, you will need an ample amount to time to experience it fully. Our group decided to purchase the museum passes being 12$ and also made sure to see the renown places such as the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Wall, and Holocaust remembrances. Below, you will see a picture of one of my favorite museums.

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Thus far, the trip has been incredibly changeful. I’ve never been more appreciative of my girlfriend, parents, and other friends that I more than likely took for granted. I also will leave with a greater appreciation for A&M that I could not have gotten elsewhere. I believe everything happens for a reason and am excited to see why I was put here and how I can leave an impact and Aggie imprint. Gig Em!

Categories: 2014, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange