February, 2015 | Reciprocal Exchanges Blog

I have been in Vienna now for 3.5 weeks and I feel more comfortable in my routine each day.  It is a beautiful city with delicious food and plenty to see and do.  I am starting to think that six months will not be enough time to explore it all!  I love the European lifestyle but obviously miss my friends, family, and food back home.  My apartment is located in Neubau or the 7th District, which is considered the “Green” district with all the hipster types.  I love it because it is centrally located and close to everything.  It takes about 25 minutes to get to campus depending on wait times for transportation.

I participated in a Cultural Program through WU, which was a great way to see Vienna and to meet people.  Throughout the three week program we visited Rathaus (City Hall), Linz (another city in Austria), Schloß Belvedere, Graz (another city in Austria), Parliament, and Schloß Schonbrunn to name a few.  I also took a German class in the mornings, which has helped tremendously in getting around and grocery shopping!  Before we learned about food, I accidentally bought “Swiss Lard” instead of cheese.  My friend had a similar experience where she bought chunky “sour milk” instead of normal milk.  Jokes aside, it has been difficult not speaking the language.  Austria is the fifth country I have lived in and the only one where I have not been able to speak the language.  It is annoying to have to ask if someone speaks English and I think this has been the biggest hurdle for me to get over.

Coming from College Station, the land of friendliness, I have become accustomed to a certain level of politeness; be it having doors held open for you or smiling at people when you walk by.  I know it is stupid to assume this behavior is present everywhere but I miss the warmth of the Texan people!  Also, Viennese take their dogs everywhere.  Dogs are basically allowed everywhere except in certain grocery stores and buildings but that’s about it based on what I have seen.  Apparently there’s a saying that Viennese take better care of their dogs than their children!

I am excited for March because school is starting and we get two weeks off for Easter later in the month.  Tomorrow I am going to Budapest to visit my friends and then when I come back I have a friend visiting from the states.  It will be a packed two weeks but I am very excited!

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Schonbrunn Palace

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Belvedere Palace

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Belvedere Palace Gardens

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Cathedral in Graz

Categories: 2015, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

Grüß Gott!

It’s been nearly a month since I arrived in the city of Wien, Austria and I couldn’t be more in love. I am nearly accustomed to the Europeans use of military time and the metric system and it’s beginning to feel more of home than vacation. My university, Wirtschaftuniversitat (or WU for short), has a helpful exchange program called the Erasmus Buddy Network. My buddy, Thomas, picked me up from the airport as soon as I arrived and took me straight to my dorm. It was such a relief. The first day or so after arriving was not an easy adjustment. I had no data plan on my phone, no wifi in my dorm, and no idea where anything or who anyone was. However connecting with the other A&M students and taking full advantage of the programs the school offers were the two best things I did to begin to feel more comfortable.

The best part about the program here is the month long orientation. Before classes start it helps you make friends, travel throughout Austria, and immerse yourself better into the Viennese culture. We got to tour the Austrian parliament, city hall, Musikverein, the Belvedere and Schonbrunn palaces as well as travel outside of the city. So, while I haven’t been expected to hit the books until early March I’ve been able to meet most of my classmates and get accustomed to the location very quickly!

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The three hardest adjustments have been:

1) The public transportation system! It is very extensive and complicated. But, when you figure it out every where you want to go is within reach and at most times of the day.
2) Store hours! Do not remember you need to pick up something from the store any time after 8pm because that is the absolute latest you will find something open and even that is much later than a lot of stores. On Sundays, everything shuts down. However I’ve noticed people are much less rushed and expected to get things done now as a result of this.
3) Interaction with strangers and speaking quietly. Americans are so loud and when you get a group of us together I am sure all of the locals wish they had earplugs. Also, smiling at strangers in the streets will get you looks and you won’t hear any sort of apology for being bumped into. People keep to themselves a lot. Plus, the language barrier. Yes – everyone knows English. No – not everyone wants to speak it. Plus, most menus, maps, instructions, ingredients, etc are completely in German. I’m learning quicker than I expected but do wish I came with a better knowledge of the language.

However the three easiest adjustments were:

16000488694_3d737a0f2b_m 1) How incredibly beautiful everything is. Imagine walking out of your dorm, down the street, and all of a sudden you are presented with a palace or castle-like building with history that dates back farther than America has even seen.

2) The food. Kebaps, Krapfens, Schnitzel, Sachertorte   . For the most part it is also incredibly cheap!
3) How new and unique the culture is. I’ve enjoyed getting a taste of how to live differently than I ever have before and it’s taught me  more than I could have imagined. It’s hard to explain exactly what is different but seeing how differently the locals live gives you a new  sense of perspectiv16000523334_ff3741a0ce_ze.

Some of the things we’ve gotten to experience include day trips to the city of Linz, and my  favorite, the gorgeous city of Graz. Both of these cities won Europe’s cultural capital  sometime in the last decade. We got to climb to the top of a mountain coined “castle on the hill” and see where Arnold Schwarznegger’s favorite sausage stand was. We also visited a chocolate factory called Zotter where we were given the chance to sample every single kind of chocolate they made (I believe that was 160 varieties). It was a unique company – they also had a petting zoo out back.

I also got t16435492648_01d9d25ac1_mo experience a classic Viennese ball. Ball season ends around this time however we were lucky enough to find a masquerade at the Hofburg palace. This is an experience I would recommend for everyone staying in Vienna. There were several rooms with different music including a saxophone player, American music, classical music, and so much more! I got to see and experience a few of the traditional dances and ceremonies including a demasking at midnight (I got stuck in the middle of this one and I had no idea what to do – people were not amused).

However, hands-down the most fun thing we have gotten to experience is Night-Sledding. We actually sledded down a mountain and the views were breath taking.

I’ve already learned a lot living in Europe for this amount of time and have quickly realized studying here was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I still can’t believe I live in a city where cathedrals and palaces are just around the corner. In the city there is always something going on and I would go as far as to say I’ve forgotten what boredom feels like. It’s even more mind blowing that because of this location I can do things like buy a train ticket to Venice, Italy for the weekend or plan an Easter Break trip to 5 different countries.

Until next month, Tschuss!

Categories: 2015, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

How is it almost March?! Time flies!

My second month here in Barcelona has been all about adjustment. My daily tasks have been pretty similar to a typical semester at A&M as school has picked up- I go to class everyday, do my homework in the evenings, I’ve even been able to keep up with The Bachelor still! But on the weekends there’s always something new to do. My roommate and I are always discovering some new activity to partake in at Barcelona, and our to-do list is still lengthy, despite having conquered items continuously over the span of two months.

sagrada familia inside sagra

Above are photos of Sagrada Familia- the main attraction of Barcelona. It´s the cathedral designed by Gaudi that has been under construction for 130 years. It is due to be complete in 12 years.

Madrid

erasmus

Above is a picture of our Erasmus group on our last day in Madrid.

I haven´t been able to travel around Europe due to financial reasons, however, the program my roommate and I are involved in offers very affordable trips for some weekends. We went on a trip with our program at the beginning of the month to the country´s capital, Madrid. That was a ton of fun and we were able to bond with a lot of the other international students during that weekend. Also, it was nice being surrounded by the Spanish language in Madrid instead of Catalan. I was surprised at how much easier it was to understand people, and I was able to notice how much my Spanish has improved. In Spain, there’s a sense of rivalry between Madrid and Barcelona. A typical question asked is “Do you like Barcelona or Madrid better?” I loved Madrid, the environment was so different from Barcelona. However, it’s crazy how after just a short amount of time in Spain, I’ve developed partiality to Barcelona. Upon our return on Sunday, it felt like we were coming home.

catalonia

Above is a picture of the Catalonia flag that protests for their independence from the rest of Spain. This flag can be found all over Barcelona which is the most influential city within the Catalonia region of Spain. It was refreshing to see this flag again upon our return! I love Catalonia!

Somethings

Something that has shocked me during my time here has been the constant realization of how much influence the United States has on the rest of the world. Our new international friends  have asked us a lot of questions about our life back in America. I felt weird answering so many questions when from my perspective- my peers come from much more interesting environments.

Something I’ve come to appreciate about my life in Barcelona is the ability to always be surrounded by beauty in nature. One day, I wanted to relax and simply read a book. My roommate and I walked to the beach and read alongside the shore. One day, I felt like being more active so my roommate and I went to Montserrat which is a mountain near Barcelona that is a short train ride away. After our navigation skills went terribly wrong, we ended up not on the mountain but on a trail alongside it. Even though we ended up not where we had planned, we were still immersed in beauty incomparable to any in College Station.

beachblog photo 2park guell

Something I’ve valued during this trip is the company of others. I am so thankful for Erasmus (our student network) for helping me meet friends during this journey. Another “trip” we’ve taken during this month was to Manresa, which is kind of like a suburb right outside of Barcelona. It was interesting to see a non-city part of Spain, but the trip was cold, the guided tour was long, and we were hungry. We ditched the tour to go eat, and the restaurant had terrible service. We were in the restaurant for three hours, but during that time we were able to learn about eachother’s cultures from our home countries and simply laugh about how weird the day trip had been. It ended up being a trip with a ton of mishaps, but thanks to the company of the other international students, it also ended up being a trip with a ton of fond memories. My roommate is from A&M as well, and it’s been nice being able to talk to somebody that misses the exact same things I do, and understands the hardships that come with coming here.

Missing Home

My dad came to visit me this past Friday. I didn’t think I missed home, but whenever he came I realized I missed my family more than I thought. I miss junk food, and not having to worry about getting robbed everywhere I go. I should probably mention my phone was stolen AGAIN while I was in the library at my school.

I still appreciate and value this experience, I know this experience is something I am going to reflect on for the rest of my life. I don’t want to take for granted a single moment during my last month in this amazing city. But this experience has also shown me a new sense of appreciation for College Station, for Texas, and for America in general. I miss feeling safe and cared for everywhere I go. I miss living a faster paced lifestyle antithetical to that of a typical Barcelona native. I miss stores being open on Sunday. But I also know I’m going to miss Barcelona, and I’m not ready to leave just yet.

Categories: 2015, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

Hej!

I have officially been in Copenhagen for over a month now, and I can’t believe how fast time has flown. After the first 2 weeks of living here, I began adjusting to my new life and it started to feel more like home than a vacation. Unfortunately the weather is not at its prime during the winter, so most of the time I am inside, or braving the cold conditions on my bike. I’m very thankful for the residency that I live in because it has given me so many friends and wonderful memories. I spend most of my time in the common kitchen of my apartment. Thirteen different exchange students share this kitchen, and they all come from different backgrounds. It has become a common practice for us to cook group dinners together or gather around the couch and watch a movie! I have learned how to cook traditional meals from other countries just from watching the students here make their dinner!

I will begin traveling to other countries during the latter half of my stay here. My classes will have died down a bit by then, and I’ll be able spend more time in the cities I want to see. I’m very excited to begin that adventure, and already have some weekend trips planned out for the middle of May! At first I was a little discouraged that I couldn’t travel to other countries as soon as I arrived in Denmark, but now I’m thankful for it. I wanted to come and live in another country, and I feel like I now have that opportunity. I’m actually living the life of a Dane, and not just an exchange student. I get up, go to class, run to the store, hang out with friends, go out on Saturday night, and do everything that the citizens of Copenhagen do. The city has a wonderful nightlife, and I have gotten to enjoy that with my friends here at the residence. I also had the chance to meet some Danish exchange students that will be coming to A&M in the fall. It was nice because we shared stories about each other’s universities, and I enjoyed telling them all about the wonderful aspects of A&M. Once they arrive in August, I will be able to help them around A&M, just as my buddy did for me here! Well as of now, I have to get back to studying. I’m taking a couple of hard courses and I want to make sure I don’t get behind on the material. My biggest piece of advice for handling the classes here is to keep up with the readings over the semester. It may not seem like a big deal (since the only grade you have is the final) but it makes a big difference when test time comes around! Luckily I a have a month until my first final, but I’m already a little nervous about it. A good thing about it though, is that all of my professors have been very helpful, so I think I will be fine! Well that is all for now!

Farvel!

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Categories: 2015, Denmark, Reciprocal Exchange

Hello from Jönköping, Sweden! I have been in this amazing city in the central part of Sweden for about 7 weeks now. I have been so busy with exploring the city, making new friends, and keeping up with classes, that blogging totally slipped my mind! My journey to Sweden was very long, but so stress-free! I flew out of the DFW airport, had about an 11 hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany, and from there flew to Gothenburg, Sweden. Once I was in Gothenburg, I took a bus to Jönköping.

My first impression of this country was something along the lines of, “Wow, this is really cold”, but I have adapted to the weather and really enjoy the change! Before I came to Sweden, I heard a lot of stereotypes about this country, and so far I have to say that all of them are true… Everyone is tall, blonde, and beautiful. People here really like their techno and house music. And like I just said, its cold all the time.

My first week in school was one of the most fun of my life, and was filled with different events to meet other students and learn more about Sweden and Jönköping University. Imagine a week long Fish Camp, minus the piercings, but with hundreds of students from all around the world! After that week, classes officially started, but I will talk more about the schoolwork in my next post!

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I live in a student dorm which is about 3 miles from campus, and is right next to Lake Vattern, the second largest lake in Sweden. I live with about 60 other international students, which has been amazing because I now I have friends from all over the world! My favorite part about living here is shown in the picture above, which is about a 5 minute walk from my dorm. The nature here is incredible, and it has been so fun to explore it.

All in all, Swedish life is very different from Texas. The Swedish people are friendly, but not exactly open. In Texas I would say hello to strangers or give them a smile, but if I did that in Sweden people would think I’m crazy. One thing that has been really different for me has been relying on public transportation! I use my car for everything in the US, so having to rely on someone else’s schedule has been a big change.

I am so glad that I chose to study abroad in Sweden, and I am really excited to spend 3 more months here!

Categories: 2015, Reciprocal Exchange, Sweden

Even though I haven’t been to New York, I don’t mind comparing it to London. Both are major attraction sites, and are both very very expensive. 4 nights in London was well worth the price I had to pay. The “pounds” are a little deceiving, because they basically 1.5x the value of the American dollar. So when you see a deal for 30 pounds (like the entrance into Westminster Abbey), it’s hard to remember that it is $45, and doesn’t seem like a good deal at all. But London has been the most crowded city that I’ve been yet, so I think they can get away with whatever price they choose and people will still pour in.

Before I go back through the trip (which was excellent), I’ll first give an update on adapting to Europe, as I am closing in on finishing my 7th week over here. I have had the hardest time adjusting to the weather so far. No, I am not talking about the cold, as warm clothes fix that with no problem. I am solely referring to the lack of sun that I have had to endure. Maybe living in Texas for 20 years has planted a very high expectation, but I am shocked at how little sunlight there is throughout the day. I can hardly recall even a day where the clouds are minimal and the overcast is gone. I feel like it is constantly gloomy, and honestly I just miss the sun shining brightly. Come on, all I’m asking for is just a few days! Well, hopefully as we head towards the spring it will start to get better and appeal more to the Texan in me.

Another obvious adjustment is the travel. To show a little perspective, in the first 20 years of my life I have lived and stayed in the same country, the US of A. I was looking forward most to this semester abroad because of the ability to travel around Europe and see all the different cultures packed in nice and tightly together. And this was a major factor in why I chose to come to Germany. The location of Germany in Europe makes it great to travel from, as it is basically in the middle and you can go in any direction! I have followed through on my ambition to travel, as I have been to 5 countries in the 7 weeks I have been living in Europe. It is still crazy to think about, but I really am trying to make the most of it. Regardless, the effects of travel have been slightly different than I expected. Basically, upon returning to Germany from the journey, I just need a day or two to get my feet back under me. What I’ve been noticing that on each of these trips, I walk on average, close to 10 miles a day (at least). So after 4 or 5 days of travel, coupled with lack of sleep, my body gets very tired out. I usually require at least a full day of rest to feel like myself again. But it is certainly a worthy sacrifice, as I have already stated, I am doing my best to make the most of my dwindling time over here!

Last, but not least, has been my adjustment to school over here. It is amazing to see just how different college has turned out to be in a new country. I still am taking a while to get comfortable with the semester being divided into quarters. For instance, I am in a class right now that only lasts a total of 3 weeks! But it is the same amount of credit as any normal class would be, and has the same amount of sessions (6 lasting 3 hours each) as every other class. But I am still thrown for a loop on my brand management class. I have already finished the lectures for the class, but we have not had a single grade for it yet. The most peculiar part is the exam does not take place until the last week in April! So I have to wait over two months to take an exam for a class that surely I will have to relearn because all the material will be forgotten. Bizarre! But that is how a lot of the classes are, the exam being the only grade you will receive for the course. The 3 hour sessions have felt like a marathon, but luckily there is a 15 minute break in the middle of each class. My only real assignment so far was finished up this week by a group presentation. I merely answered a few questions, but it was still nice to feel productive in school for a change. Classes will begin to pick up more at the start of March, but so far I have enjoyed this relaxed schedule.

Now, to London! We found the cheapest flights ever to London through Ryanair (only $20 round trip!) that seemed too good to be true. The one setback was the airport we flew into was about an hour outside of London, but the train there was not too expensive, so still definitely worth buying the cheap airfare. We made a quick investment in the London pass the following morning, and it turned out to be a great decision, as it gave us access to most of the important places to see while we were there. First thing we decided to do was see the famous changing of the guard outside Buckingham Palace. We weren’t the only ones to have this brilliant idea, as the entire square was flooded with onlookers and, unfortunately, too many selfie sticks to count. Anyway, it was a worthy showcase as the band played and the guards with the poofy black hats marched around for a bit. Marching slowly toward our place in the crowd, the British were coming!

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It was a worthy 30 minutes spent, and we trekked onward towards Westminster Abbey. With the London pass, we gained free admission to this magnificent church. Although pictures were “highly discouraged”, I was able to take a few before we left. This church is the place for all the royal weddings throughout the history in England. It is also the burial site for many famous Brits, such as Geoffrey Chaucer and Charles Darwin. Among the many beautiful artifacts, the architecture of the church was nothing short of magnificent. Even an hour tour did not seem to do it justice, but it was the best we could do.

Westminster      insideWestminster

Next we run into a face we would be quite familiar with the next few days. His name is Big Ben. After seeing him in movies and pictures, I realized that staring at him in person was an incredible experience. He was as beautiful as ever and showed no visible sign of decay or old age. And without trouble, we has still clearly getting the job done,  ticking away. He resides very close to the Thames River, right across from the London Eye. Definitely one of my favorite things to see while in London.

BigBen

Next, we figured it would be keen to see what these fish ‘n chips were all about. I have never proclaimed myself to be a huge fan of fish, but I can admit that the Brits may have something going here. It did help that the helping was quite massive and it was a struggle to finish the whole thing, but in the end I did prevail. But check out the size of this thing!

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To round out the day, a tour of the Towers Bridge seemed like the best move. This is by far the most beautiful bridge I have set foot on, and it really does put the more famous “London Bridge” to shame. It is a great piece of architecture (seems to be a running theme) and was worth seeing what was inside the towers. They had a great exhibit along the walls of all the famous bridges around the world. But my favorite part was the view we were able to have on a day with decent weather!

Towers     ViewfromTowers

That rounded out the day nicely. Next day we woke up bright and early ready to take tours of two of the most famous football clubs in England, Chelsea and Arsenal (who happen to be bitter rivals). I won’t even try to pretend that I know much about these teams, or soccer for that matter, but I still thought these tours would be worth it! They did not disappoint in the least, and I think I understand more about the premier league that everyone always talks about. Anyway, the two stadiums were quite different. Chelsea seemed a bit more for the common man whereas Arsenal had an array of ways to treat its VIP guests. Nonetheless, the stadiums were similar in size and I’m sure were both as passionate on game days. Surprisingly, these two tours ended up taking most of our day, which I was perfectly fine with. Just a few pictures to show what these stadiums are all about.

Chelsea     Arsenal

But that night might have been the peek of our visit. There were very smart business men who decided to bring Chipotle over the pond. I have never been so happy in my life to step foot in a restaurant. I had Qdoba (similar to Chipotle, just simply better) in Dallas the two nights before I left and have missed it dearly since. I will definitely attest that the quality in London was very close to the real deal back in the states. Just take a look at this beauty.

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Last, but certainly not least, was our visit to the London Eye the next day. It took a while to get through the line, but the ride was a solid 30-40 minutes. Got to see some of the best views in London, but unfortunately it was a very cloudy day. Regardless, it was worth the trip up and I enjoyed it thoroughly. But here is a better picture of the Eye on the first day (with much more clarity)

The Eye

To round off the trip, we had a lovely return flight at 7 a.m. (no wonder it was so cheap). My experience in London has been one of the best so far. There is just so many things to do and the city is huge! I was a little sad because I was not able to see Harry Potter world, but maybe another day I guess when the tours aren’t all sold out. London is definitely a place I would want to return to, as the young life is heavily present here! Finding people in their 20s everywhere we went. Besides the cost of living, London would be a fantastic place to spend some time.

Categories: 2015, Reciprocal Exchange, United Kingdom

Howdy from France!

It is really hard to believe that I have been in Strasbourg for SIX WEEKS already! Time really does fly over here, which can be good and bad. In the days before my departure of the states I was most definitely ALL over the place. Trying to pack for two season’s in a completely foreign land into one big suitcase and a backapacking backpack is a lot harder than it sounds! But I got to the airport in Houston and was able to get my luggage to 49 pounds (just one pound shy of paying extra-success!) and safely got on my flight with my Aunt to Frankfurt. In Frankfurt they almost lost my luggage so you can imagine the mini heart attacks the crazy american lady was having in the airport. Crisis averted we got on our charter bus to Strasbourg! About two hours later we arrived early evening around 5 pm and it was already DARK (odd), cold and rainy… quite the welcome. I probably should have done more research on the transportation here because we walked all around town with my luggage in a HUNT to find my dorm. It was a long first night to say the least….

The first week here was filled with “orientation” type events with the business school. I have never been more grateful for the organization of America and Texas A&M… the different insurances we had to buy, student cards, french bank accounts, and scheduling of classes probably literally made my hair go gray. Two of the classes I had planned to take and had pre-approved weren’t starting until JUNE for some reason so I had to completely re do my schedule and figure out what classes I could take here that would apply to my degree plan back home. Very stressful none the less. Made it through though! 🙂

That first weekend our group (5 A&M girls and two new friends from Ohio and Louisiana) took a random train to Freiburg, Germany for the weekend. It was my first European adventure and hostel experience and to this day probably one of my most favorite trips. We have also made trips to Nancy, France, London, and Disneyland Paris. For our winter break, the last week of February, we are going to Portugal and Spain! CANNOT WAIT! The travelling is honestly where I have the most fun and learn the most about Europe, it’s affordable and absolutely beautiful!

Classes are VERY different here. We go to each class about once a week for a minimum of two hours maximum of four hours each session. We pretty much go to class, take notes and that’s it. No online quizzes, no homework, no textbooks. EM Strasbourg does A LOT of group project work so it is interesting to work with students from all around the world and learn their culture work ethic. One of my classes was “intensive” and was done in three and a half days with about eight hours of class each day. Last day of class for me in April 9th and then we have finals the last week of April.

France definitely does live up to many of it’s stereotypical warnings… They aren’t the friendliest people and they refuse to speak English with you. Thankfully I know a good amount of French so I have been pretty successful. My diet consists of a lot of ham and cheese baguettes, pasta, and french fries! Haha I went ahead and made the investment to buy some cookware and lately have been trying to cook more in my dorm kitchen. Many of us will travel to Kehl, Germany (20 minutes across the border) for groceries because they are significantly cheaper there. The weather here stinks… it has been VERY cold and we probably only see the sun once or twice a week. Sometimes it makes it hard to get out and venture and stay positive, but it’s important to keep pushing through to the beautiful spring time that is upon us!

The time difference is also harder than I was expecting, just in the fact of trying to contact people back home. We are 7 hours ahead here so most of the time I am up at 1-2 am here to skype people back home. But it’s worth it. My favorite times are sharing all the good, bad, and ugly of my adventures of here in Strasbourg. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity and try to make the most of each day I am given here! I can’t wait to see how the rest of the semester plays out 🙂

Stay tuned for more wonderful adventure updates of my time abroad!

Much love to all! <3

Kelsey

 

Orangerie Park   Disneyland Paris

 

Buckingham Palace                   Nancy France

Categories: 2015, France, Reciprocal Exchange

It has officially been over a month since I have made Madrid my new home. I feel like I just got here because this city has so much to offer! I am loving my time in Madrid!! My study abroad journey has been a nonstop adventure from the beginning and I will try to put into words what has made this an experience of a lifetime!

España Bound!

España Bound!

Although my first hour in Madrid did not go entirely smoothly, my host family was waiting eagerly to welcome my roommate, who is also from A&M, Jenny and me into their home. My host mom gave us a quick tour of our new home and gave us some time to get settled before we had dinner and went on a walking tour of Madrid. I would highly recommend staying with a host family for several reasons. First of all, they are like a walking/talking encyclopedia on your new city and they LOVE to share their recommendations! Anytime I need advice on something small like choosing a good place to get lunch with friends, to bigger decisions like which cell phone provider is the best choice, or simply needing help with directions my host family is always there to help! Secondly, they cook authentic, home made meals that you sometimes cannot even find in restaurants. On top of that, they then can actually teach you how to make those traditional meals to take home and show your friends and family! Lastly, I could not think of a better way to end you day than by sitting down to have dinner with your family in your home away from home.

My wonderful host family!

My wonderful host family!

Another thing that I will rave about is the public transportation! Every month I reload my transportation card and I never leave home without it. My card allows me to have unlimited travel (within a certain zone) by bus, metro, or train. It is perfect for commuting to school 45 minutes away or for those days you just want to get out and explore the city! Side note: having a transportation card is a luxury and really makes me feel like a local, but it is still possible to get lost! My first month in Madrid feels like it was filled with more questions than answers. Questions like, “Is this our [metro] stop?” “Where is ____?” “What street are we looking for?” and my personal favorite, “Do you know how to get there?” Constantly having to ask these questions in our first couple of weeks in Madrid gave Jenny and me the idea for a name of our hypothetical television series documenting our time in Europe called, Las Chicas Perdidas.

Overall, my first month in Spain is in the books and I can honestly say that Madrid is starting to feel more and more like home everyday!

¡Hasta luego!

 

Categories: 2015, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

I have officially been in Strasbourg, France for 6 weeks now. During the weeks leading up to my arrival, I was so nervous. I was nervous about flying across the world, nervous about the culture shock and nervous about missing my family and friends. However, looking back, I am so glad I decided to study abroad.

France is and isn’t what I expected. The people aren’t overly friendly, but they aren’t always super rude either. In my experience, the younger people and students are more welcoming and accepting than anyone else. The stereotype of the French eating cheese and bread is spot on. I see people every day walking around holding a baguette. Wine is a more accepted drink than water, and I am enjoying learning about it in my two wine classes. Also, if you want to go to eat or go shopping on Sunday, don’t even try. Everything, and I mean absolutely everything is closed on Sundays. The city basically shuts down…so weird for me since I’m used to 24 hour Whataburger’s and H-E-Bs.

Never again will I complain about the way A&M does anything. The business school in Strasbourg is not the most helpful, and creating a schedule and registering for classes was not the easiest task in the world. One of my classes got cancelled a week after registration closed, which is crazy to me that that’s even possible…I was able to get forced into another class, but there was definitely no advisor to put me at ease. I finally got my schedule finalized and now school is going well. I only have class 3-4 times a week and only for 2 hours a day. Most of my classes have group projects instead of exams, which is nice. All of my classes are small, with a max of 20 students. The professors and staff here are nice, but not overly helpful and definitely don’t feel the need to rush anything.

I am staying in a dorm about a 10-15 minute walk from the business school. My room is small, but what I expected. I have my own bathroom and enough storage for all of my things. There is a kitchen on every floor in my building so I have bought pots and pans and now cook at least once a day. There is a shopping center about 10 minutes away from my dorm, with a movie theater, grocery store, clothing shops and supermarket. Down the street from my dorm are several restaurants, a convenience store, post office and ATM. I am extremely happy with my living situation, simply because of the location.

Since I have been here I have traveled to Freiburg, Germany, Vienna and Salzburg, Austria, London, England and Disneyland Paris. Each place has been amazing in their own way. Freiburg was a small college town with good beer and amazing views from the Black Forest. Vienna and Salzburg were very different: Vienna being a large, historical city and Salzburg being smaller and more about the scenic views. That trip has hands down been my favorite for several reasons, including the fact that the Austrian people were the friendliest people I have met since being in Europe. It was really fun to be able to see the famous sights in London such as Big Ben and the House of Parliament, but the exchange rate between the dollar and the pound was not kind to my bank account! Disneyland Paris was very similar to the park in Florida, but it was fun spending an entire day with the exchange students I have met.

 

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I am trying to explore Strasbourg during the week and travel on the weekends. Strasbourg has many museums and historical sites so I hope to get to most of them before I leave. I haven’t been able to go inside Parliament yet but I hope to do so soon. I have started running, and it is fun exploring the city in that way. Overall, I am enjoying my time here. There are pros and cons about France, but I am so glad I decided to study abroad.

Thanks and Gig’em.

Victoria Valadez

Categories: 2015, France, Reciprocal Exchange

So the next stop was to visit the homeland of the great artist Vincent Van Gogh. All of these 4 day weekends had really been wearing me down, so it was good to finally get a “break” and travel. A group of us had our sights set on Amsterdam ever since returning from our trip to Belgium a few weeks back. This time around, we all felt much more comfortable navigating the train system and honestly most of the nerves I had on the first trip were nowhere to be found. After about a 5 hour train ride, we found ourselves in Amsterdam on a Wednesday afternoon.

Amsterdam Central

 

We weren’t exactly given the warmest of welcomes as it felt like we were walking into a mini tornado after leaving the station. Rain and wind turned out to be familiar sites throughout the weekend. Needless to say, we did not allow the weather to put a damper on the next few days. But it was okay, because I have already grown accustom to never really seeing the sun these days. Nonetheless, the weather could absolutely have been worse, so I don’t have much to complain about. Upon arrival, we immediately began the search for our hostel and also trying not to get too soaked. We found it in no time, but I was reluctant to call this place a temporary home for the next 4 nights. I have never in my entire life had to climb up such a steep and narrow staircase. I literally had to walk up sideways because they was not room for me to place my feet on the tiny stairs. I thought it should have a fitting name.

 

Staircase

 

The hostel was not of the highest caliber, but I guess we got what we paid for (which wasn’t much), and life went on. Amsterdam is home to quite a few amazing attractions. For one, they have an intricate canal system that dates way back to the 1600’s, when they were at the height of power as a dominant trading port. There are hundreds of bridges throughout the city and the canals are very beautiful.

 

Canal

 

The city also had some great places to visit. The first place we went to see was the Anne Frank house. This museum was quite moving, and one of the most powerful places I have ever been. The perfect time to go is at 10 or 11 in the morning. Any time after that, you’ll be stuck waiting in line for at least 30 minutes. This place is a must see if you ever find your way in Amsterdam. Next, we were able to see the legend that is Van Gogh.

 

Van Gogh

The museum is quite large and has about 4 floors of Van Gogh’s best work. There is a reason why he is one of the greats. So after spending a few hours soaking in the great artwork, the new museum we journeyed to is known as The Eye Museum. It is less famous, but it is a museum dedication to the film history in Amsterdam (and also it was free on the I Amsterdam pass). This was a neat place and had many short films running on antique projectors. It was interesting to see how the equipment evolved over the years, especially with how advanced it is today. Oh, and I began practicing for my TV show, Johnny and the Jets!

Greenscreen

 

Amsterdam did not lack places to get food. Everywhere you walk there are many options for all types of food. There are even small “restaurants” that only serve french fries! But by no means was Amsterdam cheap. And it was hard to find a decently priced meal that would fill me up all the way, so I spent way more money on food than I expected throughout the weekend. But the fries were delicious each time, so I really don’t have much to complain about.

As you can tell from the title of this post, Amsterdam is the biking capital of the world. Since gasoline is extremely expensive, people just opt to ride their bicycles everywhere. This is no exaggeration, as you always have to be on the look out for bikes coming from all directions, as we had a couple close calls. I would feel confident in saying I saw three times as many bikes than cars throughout the 5 days, and again people like to walk everywhere as well. One of the most unique things that I saw was a simple parking garage. But oh no, it was not for cars…it was for bikes! Never seen anything like it

 

Bikes on Bikes

The next day we made a trip out to see the soccer stadium where the Dutch team “Ajax” plays. I won’t even pretend to act like I know anything about this club, but that does not prevent me from saying that this stadium was highly advanced (but of course not even close to Jerry World). But hey, still good enough to cash out in!

Cashout

 

Took about an hour tour of the stadium and found myself being interviewed for ball boy position. All the job description said was to make sure that they were inflated at the correct size, so seemed worth a try!

AJAX

From here, we moved to the the legendary I  AMSTERDAM landmark, which was of course flooded with people. But this was a very beautiful part of the city, and for a change we had a few rays of sunlight!

IAmsterdam

 

Probably one of the highlights of the trip was doing the “Heineken Experience”. It is basically an interactive museum for Heineken, and was just a lot of fun. Definitely enjoyed my time there, and was able to hold onto a few souvenirs! To close, Amsterdam is definitely a hot spot for young life. There is a hostel called St. Christopher’s and it was crowded with people every night in their bar area. We ran into a few fellow Americans here and there, but the native people were more than welcoming. Amsterdam was great, and hopefully I’ll be able to go back someday!

Next to follow, is the experience from London!

 

 

Categories: 2015, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange