October, 2014 | Reciprocal Exchanges Blog

Netherlands October Blog

 Getting in the Grove:

I’ve been in Maastricht for a little over two months now. While I feel like I have caught my grove and have my schedule down, there are still plenty of new experiences. I’ve made much better friends with the other international students and have a couple Dutch friends as well. I am starting to understand more of the Dutch culture and can also pick up on where people are from in Europe based on their accents. My friends and the Dutch have also taught me a couple lessons that have made my experience much better.

 

Lesson: Take Time

Last weekend, I went to Amsterdam on a “Men’s Trip” with 9 of my international friends. My Italian friend Tommaso would remind us to “take time guys, take time” whenever someone would try to hurry us along. Many of the Dutch also seem to understand how to “take time” and enjoy the present moment without worrying where they have to be next. There is no need to be constantly entertained. The simple phrase take time has taught me to be present throughout my Netherlands trip.

 

Lesson: Nothing goes against my plan

Another small lesson I’ve learned is to not expect things to go my way. When I go to the grocery to buy more coffee, I don’t actually expect the store to have coffee. It would be nice if there were coffee to buy, but the trip to the store itself is fun enough to make it worth getting out of my room. When I first arrived in the Netherlands, I learned that things operate “differently” here. Stores close early and have a small selection of items, finding your way can be difficult, setting up a Dutch bank account takes 6 different trips to the bank, and many more “different” things. Although I have adapted, which decreases the amount of times I mess something up, my attitude is still to expect nothing. With no expectations, life is full of pleasant surprises.

 

Study Abroad: You won’t regret it

 For those of you who are thinking of studying abroad, I can’t encourage you enough to do it. I’ve never heard of anyone who has regretted a study abroad experience, and I definitely understand why. One main reason to study abroad is to learn more how others live. In my opinion, American students are less “international” when compared with European students. Most of the European students I have met speak between two and four languages and know a lot about other countries’ cultures. I on the other hand only speak English and don’t know what language they speak in half of the European countries. However, I am learning.

Another benefit of studying abroad is learning different perspectives. For example, many students are not worried about having a plan after graduation. I stopped asking the seniors what job they wanted when they graduated because they thought it was a weird question. Many of the Dutch and other Europeans travel for a year or two after graduating. Then they might get a job or a Masters Degree or travel around the world some more. I think it is great that they are not worried about what job they will eventually apply for. It made me realize there are other paths besides attending college for four years, taking the summer off, and then going straight to work. Understanding how others live helps you better evaluate the way you want to live your life. While this may seem like a lesson any student studying abroad learns, it is particularly true for Maastricht. Living in the international dorm allows you to make friends from around the world and learn how they live. Maastricht is also considered the most culturally rich city in the Netherlands and was almost nominated as the cultural capital of Europe. Maastricht is the epitome of a cultural experience by offering both breadth and depth of cultural diversity.

 

Alcohol and Marijuana:

I’m sure many of you are curious about alcohol and marijuana use in the Netherlands. Although marijuana is legal, it is restricted to coffee shops and there is a new law that prohibits tourists from buying it in much of the country. While Amsterdam still offers weed to tourists in coffee shops, Maastricht has embraced the rule that marijuana cannot be sold to tourists. Marijuana use by locals is also pretty low when compared to other European countries. The Dutch don’t view smoking as the cool or rebellious thing to do and find that it is not necessary to have fun.

Alcohol is a different story. Alcohol is very common and the Dutch start drinking from an early age. It also seems that every social event has alcohol. During the first day of school we had welcome drinks in the business school. Also, my entrepreneurship class had free alcoholic beverages at its event. While drinking is common, the Dutch do not seem to get drunk often. They have learned how to drink in moderation quite well and look down on getting overly drunk. I hope this sheds some light on the “drug” aspect of the Netherlands.

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, The Netherlands

Today is HALLOWEEN!!!! I am feeling a little torn about what to do today because my host mom is making a traditional Spanish Halloween dinner, but the group at the church is having an open mic night/costume party. I was planning on going to this party until I saw her cooking this morning. Ugh! This struggle is real! Right now I am sitting in the school café drinking a café con leche desnatada con canela! MMm! So, I have finally started to settle in! I somewhat have a routine, school work is piling up and I am continuing to procrastinate, I am making friends and life is finally not stressing me out every two minutes! I am loving my time here. I definitely still miss my friends and family and fiancé, but I have figured out a routine to where I get to talk to most of them from time to time. AND, Brian is coming to visit me in t minus 22 days! I am beyond excited!!! Right now I am working on a plan for what to do when he gets here, this weekends trip to Monserrat, and various travel plans! School is a little more difficult than I thought it was going to be, but I am managing. The main thing I want to write about is what I did this past weekend, VISIT MI FAMILIA IN SICILIA!!

So, this is an entirely crazy story and I am going to start from the very beginning. Bea and I, like the responsible young women we are, booked out flight a good 3 weeks to a month before our plane was scheduled to depart. It was scheduled to leave on Friday November 24th at 12:40pm. On Thursday night, right as we are getting ready to sit down for dinner (around 10pm), Bea gets an email from the airline saying that our flight was canceled due to a recent transportation strike in Italy. Not only was it canceled, but we were going to have to pay to change our flight and we were not going to be refunded for our return ticket, since it wasn’t technically effected by the strike. Seriously?! Not only is this horrible news because meeting my Sicilian family is literally the only thing that got me through the week and now it wasn’t even going to happen, but I am going to have to pay for the trip reguardeless?! Ugh! I was furious. That night, we stayed up late trying to find another weekend to visit them that wouldn’t be too much more money than we had already spent, and we made zero progress. I went to be completely angry and bummed and all sorts of negative emotions.

The next morning, I woke up early because I was too upset to sleep. I tried for at least an hour to get a hold of the airline on the telephone and had no luck, so I bit the bullet and deciding I was just going to go up to the airport and talk to them in person. Then they will have to deal with me right then and there! After an hour of wandering around, taking metros, busses and shuttles I found the customer service desk, in which I waited in line. SIDE STORY. While I am in line, this woman, probably in her late twenties, comes busting through the line passing everybody up. I thinking to myself, this is weird. The woman behind me in line, probably in her late 40s, becomes enraged at her lack of courtesy and decides to make the young woman go to the back of the line and wait like everyone else. Clearly this young lady was distressed, who would go pushing through a line at the airport customer service desk if they weren’t? So when the older woman approaches her, things get UGLY. And I mean they literally start fighting, physically! Pushing, pulling, hitting, and I have a front row seat! Meanwhile the guy at the customer service desk does NOTHING. He is just watching too! Haha finally both of the ladies boyfriends come and pull them apart and they both eventually get to talk to the customer service desk. One of the weirdest experiences of my life. Okay so then it was my turn. Im talking to this man(in broken Spanish), and he is talking to me (in broken English) and as I am telling him which flight I booked and how it was canceled and blah blah blah, he tells me that no, it actually has been rescheduled, and is leaving in an hour and a half! WWHHHHAAATTT???? I am at the airport with nothing more than the clothes I have on my back, Bea is not with me and actually she is sleeping at home because we stayed up late last night trying to find other flights, and I have no cell phone to call her. OH MY GOSH! (panic ensues). I am talking to this man saying stuff like “what do you mean?…But I don’t have my bags… my friend is supposed to be coming with me and she isn’t here… there is no way I can make it”. His only response was to tell me to go up to the check in desk and have them print my boarding pass. Thinking he doesn’t understand me, I let out a distressed “YO TENGO NADA!!! HOW AM I JUST SUPPOSED TO PRINT MY BOARING PASS?!?!” well this is all the help I was going to get from him, so I proceed to the check in desk where I meet a super nice lady who helps me so so so much! She pointed me in a direction where I could use a phone, printed my pass, and helped me avoid lines so I could speed up the check in process. I finally get a hold of Bea, she scrambles to pack not only her bag, but also mine, snags a taxi, runs to the airport, and we somehow manage to make it on the plane 5 minutes before take off. HOLY COW! PRAISE GOD! It all worked out. But wait, another problem arises. I realize that my family is no longer expecting be because I told them last night that our flight got canceled. They are supposed to pick us up from the airport and provide us with a place to sleep (such generous people), and now they have no idea we are even coming! AND I have no way of contacting them because wifi does not exist on a plane… Just when I thought the mayhem was over! Well long story short, 1 plane, 1 bus, 2 internet cafes, and a train later, we make it to Cefalu, the town where my family lives and the town my great-grandfather grew up in. My family picked us up from the train station and all is well. We were greeted by Donatella and Eleonora, my third cousins. They are so sweet and welcome us with hugs and kisses. I had only spoken with Donatella on facebook messaging so this was the first face-to-face meeting and the first time I heard them speak. They were so cute apologizing for their English and saying how horrible it was, but it really wasn’t that bad! Definitely better than my Italian! I immediately felt comfortable around them, like instant family connections took away an possible awkwardness. I seriously can’t put into words how amazing they are. So now that we finally made it to our destination, Wow! I am HUNGRY!!

So after all this craziness of a day, D and E take us to our room at the Bed & Breakfast they own. They literally had an entire full one bedroom apartment for us! Complete food stocked for us for breakfast! What? SO nice! Then they ask us if we are tired or if we want to go out and get some food. Hallelujah! FOOD! Bea and I quickly freshen up and meet them downstairs to go get a bite to eat. Donatella and her boyfriend, Guiseppe (aka Pino), meet us at their car and take us to their favorite pizza place in town. I ordered a pizza with jamon, fungi(mushrooms) and some super good cheese and sause. OH MAN!!! It was sooooo delicious! And, being sicily, we all had an entire pizza to ourselves. There was no way I was going to finish it, but I wish I could have! After dinner, they ordered us a round of limoncello, an icy cold refreshing liquor shot that is a common drink in Italy after your meal. It is a digestive and is supposed to help settle your food after a big meal, which is literally every meal in Italy! After that, Donatella and Pino took us on a little night car ride tour of cefalu. I have been missing car rides so bad. I haven’t been in a car since my host mom picked us up from the airport. It was so nice. After the little tour, they took us back to out apartment and we got some much needed sleep.

The next morning, we woke up, ate breakfast on our terrace that overlooked the ocean to our left, and a small citrus orchard to our right. Oh man! Talk about luxury! The weather was a little chillier than we had anticipated, so we struggle with our clothes a little the whole trip (probably also due to the fact that Bea had to pack 2 bags in 10 minutes). Haha. We took our time getting ready for the day and when we were ready, I texted Donatella and she met us downstairs for an actual tour of the town. Her and Eleonora, her younger sister, showed us around the whole town. The town was absolutely beautiful during the day. Old narrow streets, a big cathedral, the ocean, a big mountain called La Rocca, an old clothes washing station, a couple harbors, and so many gelato, food, and gift shops! I loved it! When lunch time rolled around, we went over to my family’s apartment where we met D and E’s parents, Salvatore (Toto), and Conjetta. Conjetta had been cooking all morning for us and treated us like royalty. The food was SOOOOO good! And so much! She had prepared and 4 course meal, yes 4. The first couse is typically a pasta of some sort, we had rice thing. Second, we had a chicken patty, and some salad. Third course was fruit, which we ate the cactus fruit, and lastly was postre. I had a canolo for the first time! Everything was delicious. After lunch we sat down with Salvatore and he showed me our family tree which he has been working on for YEARS. I helped him fill in a few blanks and I enjoyed the whole experience so much. I have always been curious about family history and it was like discovery a side to myself I have never known before. He had family traced back to the 1700s! holy cow! And he hasn’t been using the internet to find this information, he literally has 300 year old documents that he is deciphering and finding where they fit. WOW! So cool! I was in awe! Just absolutely amazed. He even made me my own condensed family tree and let me keep it. Right before I left, he gave me a copy of his big one. That is a present I will cherish my entire life and share with my entire family! Later that day, we walked along the beach and went to a few shops in town. Bea and I found a few souveneirs to take home and it was so so so much fun! That night we went out to dinner with D & E and their boyfriends, who are both named Giuseppe! Haha this name translates to Joseph and is an extremely common name in Sicily. We went to a neighboring town that was a 30 minute drive through the mountains. I got a little car sick, but it was so worth it. It was called Castelbuono, meaning good castle! Mushrooms were in their peak season and a nice restaurant was have specials for all their meals that had mushrooms. It was amazingly delicious and we had great company. We laughed so much that night about being starving, about communication barriers, and just poking fun at each other. It was like we had all been friends for years. Afterwards we walked through the town, saw the castle, and drove back to Cefalu.

The next day, we had a relaxing breakfast once again, and then met up with D & E for a morning hike up La Rocca! I was in Heaven! Apparently, the water levels in cefalu used to be much higher so the town used to be a little bit up the rock. We got to see ruins of the old roman city on our way up which was so cool. I love hiking so I fully enjoyed the entire thing. I was probably the only one who wasn’t slightly miserable at some point. But one of the things I love about hiking, is that as you walk, the view is the best thing you have ever seen, and you think there is no way it can get better, but the higher you go, the more amazing it gets! From the top, we could see the whole town, the ocean, and the rolling mountains of the country side! Wow! Loved it! On the way down, we got to see some goats just chillen eating some grass. They let us get so close to them and they didn’t run away. I love unexpected surprises like that! After the hike we were all exhausted and had worked up an apetite. We went over to their house again, where we met the rest of the family, the oldest sister Annalisa, her husband Cicho, and their 2 week old baby girl(bambina) Carla. This day we had a HUGE meal and it was even better than the first day. The first plate was some penne pasta, which was to die for! The second was some sort of meet that was so tender and absolutely delicious, a red pepper stuffed with ground beef(perfect flavor). The third we had fruit once again, today we tried a Sicilian banana which is much less sweet than a normal banana and a lot fatter. I really enjoyed it. Then for dessert, we ate a profiterol pie which was balls of yummy dough filled with cream all stacked on top of each other smothered in chocolate mouse and drops of the same cream that was on the inside of the ball. OMG! YUM! I could have eaten the whole tray! After lunch, we went back to our apartment for a little siesta. We rested, then walked around a little looking at different shops, then met up with the family for a small dinner. We ate some street food. A calzone thing that was so so so so yummy, and a fried stuffed rice ball, apparently Sicily is famous for them and this is the only place you can get them. That was also delicious! That night we said good bye to some of the family and I had to hold back a few tears. They are a part of my family now and it was so hard to say good bye to such amazing, generous and loving people.

The next morning Donatella and her father Salvatore took us to the airport at 4am so we could catch our 6:50 flight back to Barcelona. We had a connecting flight in Rome but it was only a 2 hour lay over so we didn’t get to leave the airport. We got back to Barcelona around 12pm and back to school we went. The trip was so wonderful! I hope that I can see them all again someday. We talked about making another trip to Cefalu in which I bring my whole family, and they talked about coming to the US to see Texas and fulfill their dream of going to New York City! I truly hope to see them again! What an amazing time!

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Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

Well let me start by saying howdy from Hong Kong to everyone back home! What a journey it was just to arrive (hurray for 14 hour connecting flights from Houston to Beijing!…), and things have not slowed up one bit since I touched down here over a month ago.

Before I dive into the university (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) I’ll talk a little bit about the city, landscape, and culture of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is essentially a massive city inside of a massive jungle on an island that lies just off the south coast of mainland China. It is one of the best places in the world to capture a truly unique culture of east meets west. The city itself is every bit as bright and vibrant as Times Square in New York (there is actually a Times Square here by the way), and I would argue that if New York is the “melting pot” then Hong Kong is the melting cauldron. I have met individuals from almost every country in Asia, western Europe, South America, North America, and even a few countries in Africa. People here move a mile a minute and it doesn’t exactly help that there are 7 million of them. If you want to get a perfect picture just go during rush hour to the subway system called the MTR (Mass Transit Railway). I would liken it to trying to fit a tennis ball into a Gatorade bottle in 10 seconds. No worries though, no exchange student would ever have to worry about rush hour since they all live on campus. People are generally nice and helpful, and in addition to most people understanding English, virtually all signs are in English and Chinese so getting around is no problem. For those who are interested, Hong Kong boasts one of the best night scenes I have ever experienced (just ask anyone who has been here about Lan Kwai Fong, it makes 6th Street look weak). Aside from being an urban paradise, Hong Kong has some of the most beautiful beaches, jungles, hiking trails, and temples I have ever seen. Don’t believe me? Just take a look for yourself.

Man Cheung Po (Infinity) Pool

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 To get to the pool you have to take a bus to a place called Tai O, and hike on a trail alongside a jungle for about one hour (so worth it).

Po Lin Monastery
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Next to this monastery is the largest seated bronze Buddha statue in the world, which you hike up over 260 steps to get to (also worth it).

At this point I would like to include a special segment just for the foodies out there who may be reading. If you think you are an adventurous eater searching for a place to enhance your culinary expertise, then look no further than Hong Kong. For anyone who is not quite so adventurous you can easily find a McDonald’s (actually one on campus), Subway, Pizza Hut (delivers), or KFC (also delivers) in just about any district on the island. Now for all my “eat now ask questions later” kind of people, you are going to be in heaven with the most amazing local restaurants and street food. Oh and by the way my meals on average cost about $3 to $6, so prepare to eat like a king or queen for an unbeatable price. Portion sizes are generally comparable to what you might get in the United States, and because it is so cheap (comparatively speaking) if you have room for seconds you’ll certainly find it in the budget. I’ve had fish balls (balls made of fish), kidneys, and ostrich intestines (surprisingly delicious) just to name a few unique dishes. Here’s a picture (below) of some Dim Sum (a traditional style of eating in which many small dishes are ordered and everyone shares) I shared with a few friends. My personal recommendations for anyone passing through would have to be barbeque pork buns and shrimp dumplings (each small bites scrumptious of heaven). Don’t eat meat? No problem, I have yet to go to a restaurant that does not offer numerous vegetarian options. One of the best parts of eating in Hong Kong is that you have such a wide array of types of food you can eat. Whether it’s Thai, Chinese, Indian, Western, Italian, or Turkish (try a Kebab they are magnificent) you are sure to find something that fits what you’re in the mood for that day.

Dim Sum (at the ground floor Chinese restaurant ON campus)

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Now ladies and gentlemen our train has arrived at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. The question is where should we begin the last leg of our tour? Oh wait, how about the view from the university that is essentially on the side of a mountain in a jungle that overlooks a gorgeous bay (see below, I actually wake up to this every morning). My arrival here went generally smooth with the help of two local buddies the school assigned to help me with my transition to Hong Kong. Upon arriving I found a large population of international students all every bit as eager to explore and make friends as I was. The student organizations here are some of the most devoted and active I have ever seen. It feels like the perfect place for an Aggie to really come and dive right into some student activities. In fact, I’ve already joined the Management Students’ Association, the Archery Club, the International Students’ Association, and the Dance Society. Want to learn martial arts from a real master? There’s a club for that. Interested in the ancient art of Kendo? There’s a club for that. No matter what your interests or hobbies are you’re guaranteed to find an extracurricular activity here you will absolutely love. Getting into the classroom you’ll find things more or less similar to how we do them at A&M. My classes are generally medium sized hovering at about 40-70 students per class. I don’t find them particularly difficult, however be prepared to have group projects in almost every class that last the entire semester and are somewhat time consuming. Most professors are very well qualified and actually make the classes far more interesting and interactive than just a straight lecture. One thing that is small but worth mentioning is that books are super cheap here, so expect to save on what you would normally spend at A&M.

The View from my Dorm

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All in all, Hong Kong has become my home away from home. Maybe I’m still in the “honeymoon” stage of my exchange, but I think there’s something a little more profound to my attraction to this vibrant city. I’ll be taking a trip Bangkok soon and midterms are coming up so the next blog will feature that as well as more specific details on my explorations of the culture and scenery of Hong Kong. If you have any questions or comments please let me know and thanks for reading!

Categories: 2014, China, Hong Kong, Reciprocal Exchange

The second month was a period of settling in. I wish I could say that I was fully acclimated to the new environment, but it took me a few more weeks before I felt normalized. I believe that everyone takes a different amount of time and would have envisioned a quick and seemingly easy adjustment. I’m a proclaimed extremely independent person, so do not be surprised if it takes you more time than anticipated. As I got adjusted to the courses, I realized how blessed I was to go to such a prestigious school. WHU is Germany’s number one business school and their course difficulty follows suit. I have absolutely had to spend much more time than anticipated in class and studying, but the beauty in that is realizing the pros and cons of each educational system. One thing that I really admire here is the competitive nature and the learning it drives. Everybodyyyyy studies hard here. There are different amplitudes, but the students in the deemed more difficult courses here all spent a much higher average amount of hours studying than back home and thus, they have some awesome opportunities out of college. It is not rare to have multiple students going to the big 3 consulting firms as well as the bulge bracket banks. I found that very intriguing and fortunate but was not surprised as their curriculum and emphasis on 3 years of straight business courses allots more time and knowledge in these fields. There are absolutely cons paralleling these pros, but I admire that about WHU. I also have enjoyed learning about the work-life balance in Germany. Apparently, Germany has a lower base salary, but is compensated through additional vacation and sick days. There have a minimum amount days off that is significantly higher than America. I admire that heavily especially in industries such as banking and consulting where the hours of work can be draining. The additional days off surely create a more balanced lifestyle and allot more time to indulge meaningful time with family and beloved ones. With that being said, I have grown to love and admire A&M in a different fashion. I keep getting emails about the constant programs and organizations that are putting on events to drive student’s careers. Germany has organizations but put a significantly less emphasis on them. I have been blessed to be a part of many of the organizations and have grown in many ways that school can’t teach and it is evident on WHU’s campus. A&M has so many additional perks and accommodations that suit any kind of college student. I have been an ideal victim of taking these blessings for granted. In little ole’ Vallendar, we have three grocery stores and little bread shops scattered throughout. Therefore, without a car, you will find much less to do and engage in here other than your academic ventures. I have a theory that this is why many students place such an emphasis on school haha! I miss being able to grab food at nearly any time and have an overwhelming amount of varieties to choose from. Here in Vallendar, most shops close at 5 pm (or 17:00 here) and  the latest place to get food is either REWE or a doner kabob and both close at around 10 pm. Therefore, no late night Denny or Fuego trips and I can’t express how much I miss that. Also, I miss the variety of activities to engage in back home. Whether that be ping pong, intermurals, an awesome rec center, or etc., I have absolutely not utilized what I now would love to indulge. My biggest plea would be that we internalize what a great university we go to and use it to the fullest as it not only shapes your career, but your state of mind and character.

Now, to the fun stuff. Traveling. This month, I have had the opportunity to go to many places within Germany such as Wiesbaden, Munich, and Hamburg.

My first destination was Wiesbaden and it was my favorite place in Germany thus far. I do not believe that is a typical answer among travelers, but I believe it was a combination of the group I traveled with and the fair festivities that by happen chance were going on during our trip. The first thing I saw when I arrived was the main Protestant church Marktkirche.

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Like most churches in Europe, the inside was incredibly grandiose and had a silence that was filled with feeling of God. After that, we ventured to the fair on the outskirts of the church. There, I took part in the classic sausage and various deserts and coffees. Below is a picture of a random cool looking sculpture with the fair behind it.

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Finally, we finished the trip by traveling up to the Russian church called Neroberg.

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And by the end of this day trip, we were tired to say the least

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My next trip came about mid-way through the month as our whole international group traveled up to Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest.

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Oktoberfest is without a doubt, one of the most happy places on earth. The atmosphere within one of the many tents is only described through experience and the outside food and drinks available complete the experience.

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The pork knuckle as well as the half leg of chicken were one of my favorite foods.

 

Finally, I wrapped up the month with a trip to Hamburg, Germany. Personally, Hamburg turned out to not be a personal favorite, but with anyone interested in industrial ports and shopping, Hamburg could potentially encompass the experience you desire. While traveling, we came across the coolest park for kids I have ever been too. Therefore, naturally we reverted to a younger age and took full advantage. While there, I randomly found SpongeBob’s house (or at least a look a like 😉 haha)

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After that, we decided to indulge our sweet tooth and purchased an extravagantly expensive and delicious desert in one of the many cafes.

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Finally, we wrapped up our trip there by going to Hamburg’s town hall and this is where I found my proclaimed “Lightception” photo.

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Last notes: Towards the end of the month, I finally felt that I garnered a place where I could grow again. For a while, I felt like I was just trying so hard to gather any foothold in my new environment, but in this month, I finally found it and am excited for the growth and experiences that lie ahead. I now look to travel outside of Germany as I have stayed there the whole trip and I look forward to witnessing some new cultures!

Until next month! Tschuss/Auf Wiedersehen

 

Categories: 2014, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange

Howdy!! fra København (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Study Abroad… what an awesome opportunity.  I am studying at Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, and so far, the semester has flown by.  The entire experience of exiting my comfort zone in the form of entering a new country has proven to be the best decision of my academic career.  For those viewing this blog while trying to decide on which school to attend abroad, allow me to provide some information on the Copenhagen program on two different levels: Host University & Host City.  But first, allow me to preface:

If you think that one program is more beneficial than the other (i.e. The Netherlands vs. Germany, Spain vs. Norway, etc.), don’t kid yourself.  Simply going somewhere you haven’t been before offers more significant academic-growth than the marginal differences between programs.  I can honestly admit that I have learned more outside of the classroom than inside (and I have only missed 2 lectures).  In truth, like most international exchange students, school is one of the last things on my mind during this adventure.  Sure, I get it done and learn a ton, but as an international student, I didn’t come to Europe to read books I could have bought cheaper in the States. I came to gain perspective and knowledge about other cultures. And thanks to Katy Lane, the CIBS office, Mays Business School, TAMU, etc. – I am harvesting those most valuable fruits that travelling provides.

University:

Here at Copenhagen Business School (CBS), each academic semester is broken up into two Quarters.  Most classes are scheduled to host lecture for a full semester (2 quarters) in which they will meet once a week for 2.5-hour lecture.  Those courses that are only a quarter long normally meet twice each week for 2.5 hours each lecture in order to cover the material in shorter time.  Attendance is not mandatory, nor are there any grades besides whatever form of final exam presented by each course (oral exam, written exam, or writing assignment).

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Of the approximate 20,000 students enrolled at CBS, more than 4,500 are international exchange students.  For these students (me), the school has assigned a team of local students to coordinate the ‘Buddy Team’ and Exchange Social Program (ESP).  The Buddy Team matches you with a local student as a resource.  The ESP offers a few different opportunities before and during the semester to not only network you with other internationals from all over the world, but to also optimize your cultural experience while abroad.  I commend this team for organizing such an effective program, and I would highly recommend incoming exchange students to take advantage of all the opportunities that they provide, for the ones that do cost money are well worth it.

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City:

Copenhagen, like many European cities, is a beautiful concoction of urban ancestry and modern ecology.  It offers pretty sights and amazing culture, but most every product is more expensive than what Americans are accustomed to so grocery shopping to replace most eating-out is key (even though restaurants like Halifax Burgers and Kødbyens Fiskebar make this discipline tough to hold).

As the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen is a dense city and housing is particularly tough to achieve.  I was planning on flying from the States to Copenhagen without yet a place to stay like many of the exchange students did thinking they would just find some much easier here than online at home.  Luckily, for me, I found a “private-housing” opportunity with a local the day before my flight.  Unfortunate for some other students, however, is the unexpected expenses they paid for Hostels because finding housing turned out to be the most difficult task of the culture adaptation.

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I stay with a local woman, age 66, named Hanne.  Hanne is a thoughtful Scandinavian woman who welcomed me into her home with a dinner of chicken and bacon.  It has been so beneficial to live with a local for she has taught me so much about Danish culture from the history of Viking invasions and Danish foreign involvement in the World Wars.  She took me to the symphony house for classical music and to her summer house for a different taste of Danish living.  In return, I have changed a light bulb and done some man-work around the house.  Essentially we are an old adorable couple on the outskirts of town whom drink wine and watch the Danish News together.  Needless to say, I highly recommend living with a host family or local whenever studying abroad.  On a more serious note though, I have thus been able to put together so many pieces to the global puzzle my curiosity has created just by listening and seeing things from a Dane’s point of view.

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The past 6 weeks have been impactful and humbling.  I look forward to more perspective-building and stimulating experiences.

-Colby

Categories: 2014, Denmark, Reciprocal Exchange

I’ll break this post up into three parts: my local area, my school, and my first trip.

 

I am attending EBS University in Oestrich-Winkel, which is kind of a misnomer because the main campus is actually in Hattenheim. However, there is a building in Oestrich-Winkel. I live in a tiny town called Aulhausen. Technically Aulhausen is part of the city of Rudesheim, like how a neighborhood is part of a bigger city. The nearest town that Germans know is Wiesbaden, and the nearest town that everyone knows is Frankfurt — it’s a one hour train ride east of me. The region is called the Rhein Valley and is world renowned for its wine: a dry sweet white wine you can find under the label Riesling or Rheingau. There are hills everywhere here and I am never more than 2km from the Rhein. The hills are almost completely covered in vineyards. I usually hate running but I enjoy it here because of the view, terrain, and delicious grapes I can snack on. The towns are ancient and have tight winding streets. If you visit the region, Rudesheim is a a must see. It looks like what you imagine a small touristy German town would look like plus it has a chair lift that carries you above the town and vineyards to the top of the hills for a peaceful walk through the forest. Wiesbaden is the nearest modern town and has a futbol/soccer team that is fun to watch for 3.5 Euro per game. I’ve gone to two wine festivals — one in Rudesheim and one in Mainz. Both had all sorts of local wine, music, food, and trinkets. If you’re more of a beer fan, Pilsners are famous here. The most common is Bittburger but I also see a lot of wheat bears (weizen bier) such as Paulaner Hefe-Weizen. I have had no negative experiences with locals. All the ones I have talked to are helpful and friendly. Almost all Germans speak English, so not knowing the language well has caused few problems for me so far. It would be difficult to be a vegetarian here since almost every menu item has meat, especially pork.

 

Aulhausen

Aulhausen

 

Rudesheim (left) and the Rhein

Rudesheim

EBS is a small private school mainly focused on business/management and law. The study part of my study abroad experience has been surprising so far since the classes are on arbitrarily dates with no consistent week to week schedule. Lectures can be as long as 6 hours and I have already had a couple Saturday classes. The schedule is good for traveling, though. I had seven days in a row with no classes so I took a trip to Amsterdam and Copenhagen. There are about 300 international students from around the world out of the 1,500 total students, but I haven’t met many Germans because they mainly stick together. I like how many international students there are because I have learned so much about different cultures that I didn’t expect to learn about. I have two roommates (one Irish and one from Montreal) in a nice three story house. I also started playing ice hockey with guys stationed at the US military base located in Wiesbaden. I’ve never played before but it is so much fun!

 

My trip to Amsterdam and Copenhagen was fantastic. I went with my Canadian roommate and our train left from Frankfurt at 5 AM. We stayed up overnight in Frankfurt and then took six different trains over six hours before arriving in Amsterdam. The entire city is intertwined with canals, the streets are made of cobblestone, and there are literally bikes everywhere. The city has so much to do; we spent three days and nights there and never got bored. We stayed in a hostel near the red light district and walked everywhere. The city is small enough that you can walk across in 30 minutes. The must see items are the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Heineken Brewery. We then flew to Copenhagen and arrived around 8 PM. Copenhagen is just as beautiful as Amsterdam. However, there isn’t as much to do. I highly recommend visiting one of the castles or palaces — they are magnificent. The Carlsberg Brewery was comprehensive and I enjoyed learning about their history and brewing processes. The highlight was standing on the spire of a church in Christiana looking over the entire city. Both cities were small enough to walk around and had canals flowing through them, but Copenhagen was much less touristy, which I liked. The downside of Copenhagen is they use a different currency and the prices there are ridiculous. Good luck getting lunch for less than $10. I loved both and can’t tell you which I liked more. If you’re planning on visiting Europe, you only need to see one of the two. We took three trains and a ferry back, which took 14 hours!

 

Next post will be about Oktoberfest and hopefully another two-city vacation.

Categories: 2014, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange