June, 2016 | Reciprocal Exchanges Blog

So, what has this exchange semester meant to me? To answer this question, it first took me a while to realize exactly how much has happened in Europe lately. Living in Vienna provided a first-row view to some truly remarkable, historic events. When I arrived in Vienna interest rates were negative across the bloc (as they remain) and Greece was on the verge of financial ruin. American – Russian relations were tense to say the least. These events provided brief distractions for newspapers that had previously focused on one crisis or another. The Syrian refugee crisis for instance was already the most disruptive event since WWII and the effects of immigration were readily apparent throughout Austria.

I was also in Europe when the terrorist attack occurred in Brussels. It’s been fascinating (and terrifying) to see how these events are impacting this region and the rest of the world. Just last month Austria elected a new president and the far-right candidate was defeated by only the narrowest of margins. The results of this election have since come into question. Austria is certainly far from unique as extreme right-wing parties continue to gain ground in Germany and across Europe. In fact, in less than 24 hours Great Britain will vote on whether to remain in the EU in a referendum largely motivated by immigration and nationalistic sentiment. Sound familiar? Politics in the U.S. and Trump’s rise to power seem eerily similar.

So yeah, there has been a lot going on… What a great time to live and study in another country, right? However, none of these topics were discussed in my coursework at WU. This was extremely disappointing but I didn’t let it slow me down. Speaking with students from all over the world proved fascinating and more than made up for WU’s shortcomings.

On another note, it’s hard to believe I return to the U.S. in less than a week. I’m so not ready to leave! Portugal has been amazing. If you find yourself in Lisbon be sure and stay at the Home Hostel!

Categories: 2016, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

June 19th, 2016

Well, my semester abroad officially ended this past Friday. Thoughts? Reflections? Emotions and the like? Although the semester’s end means it’s time to go home and say goodbye, I can’t help but feel happy and excited to return to Texas. I love Korea and I will definitely miss everything that is Korea, but I can’t wait to be in a place where I don’t struggle to communicate and where I can buy Mexican food easily and for a reasonable price. Did I ever tell y’all that a month and a half into my study abroad I had sudden Mexican food withdrawals to the point in which my friends and I traveled for an hour and a half to eat at the nearest Mexican restaurant? Well, we did and it was worth it. But back to the point, I’m ready to go home. This past week has been hard because all I wanted was to go home sooner and eat things that aren’t Korean. One of my professors told me that the closer my return home comes the harder it would be to live abroad, but I didn’t really think it was true. I thought all I would feel would be sadness. In actuality, all I feel is excitement and sometimes a little frustration that I am still here in Korea while others have already returned home. Perhaps I only feel this way because I will be returning to Korea for the fall semester, so I don’t feel the need to feel sad yet.

Korea, let's meet again.

Korea, let’s meet again.

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June 29th, 2016

Well, I’ve been home for almost a little over a week now. It feels weird that it feels as if I never left! Everything seems just as I’ve left it. My friends that have studied abroad told me that when they came back they saw the “ugly parts” of our culture, but I am not seeing what they talked about. I mean, I am looking at things and saying, “This would be more efficient if we adapted Korea’s system.” But, I haven’t seen any part of our culture that seems backward when compared to that of Korea’s. In fact, now that I have lived in and studied about Korea, I feel that my whole perception of Korea has changed. Before, when I thought of Korea, I mainly thought of all the good things Korea has to offer: a growing economy; a leader in the technology industry; the Hallyu Wave. Now, I mainly think about the aging population, the high rates of poverty that exist among Korea’s disabled and elderly, the world leading suicide rates among every age group in Korea, the extremely high academic expectations placed on students, and the poor work environments due to long hours and a hierarchical culture, and much more. Having experienced Korea by living in the countryside, I feel that I saw all the things Korea is still trying to develop and may have even forgotten about while trying to catch up to the world’s leading countries. For example, one thing I found very confusing about Korea is that although it is required by law for trash to be sorted into things that can be recycled and those that cannot (paper, plastic, glass, aluminum, and food waste), it is completely legal to litter and simply leave trash everywhere. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but this seems so backward to me.

This is an example of the recycling in Korea. Every restaurant and cafe has this same set up.

This is an example of the recycling in Korea. Every restaurant and cafe has a similar set up.

Anyway, I’m happy to be home and I’m excited to return to Korea at the end of August for my second semester abroad.

 

 

Categories: 2016, Reciprocal Exchange, South Korea

I went on a train from Shanghai to the UK in June to experience cultures and do some sightseeing. It was incredible exciting and a little risky!  These are only some pictures I took.

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Categories: 2016, China, Reciprocal Exchange

This month was more relaxed and focused on school, after having almost a whole month without it. I know it’s weird, but I enjoy having school and a schedule to follow. And I finally feel settled in and know my way around the area-Hohenheim is starting to feel like home, so I enjoy spending a little bit of time here! But I still managed to get a few trips in.

I went to Spain for a few days in the beginning of June. I loved Sevilla! The food was delicious, the night life was awesome, and the weather was just perfect. It’s been a little chilly still in Stuttgart, so it was nice to finally see the sun 🙂 I could definitely go back to Sevilla. We stayed really close to a palace, and in biking distance of downtown. We visited a friend who was doing an ERASMUS semester, and the organization at her Uni also puts together weekend trips. Well, the weekend we went happened to be there was  to a beach in Portugal. It blows my mind how easy it is to travel through Europe! This little beach was absolutely stunning. It was small and kind of hidden…so just the right amount of people.

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There’s an organization at Hohenheim called ISO, International Students Organization, and they’ll organize trips around the region or just even hangouts around the school, but one weekend we went to Lake Constance. I love this town! I seem to love almost every place I go to! But it’s nice going with a group like this- they don’t strictly plan the day so you aren’t running around aimlessly trying to see everything you can for just 30 seconds. They give you time to just sit and enjoy. And Lake Constance is a perfect place for this. The lake first of all, is beautiful. Unfortunately it was a little chilly and rainy, but it was nice to still sit and eat by it. We stayed in a Hostel on the Switzerland side of the border right by the water. We all went down to the water and played some games and drank. There’s one game a lot of germans play- it’s so fun! I already forgot the name, but I think it would be a perfect new tailgating game. This was also the last weekend my friend Johanna was going to be in Germany. She just left at the end of June to go back home to Sweden, so it was a nice little goodbye weekend.

 

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This was also the month for SOCCER! The European Champion Cup or whatever it’s called was this month. Like I said, soccer is not my favorite to watch, but you just kind of get pulled into when you’re in Germany or any other soccer loving country. So it wasn’t that bad! The school has this room, TMS, where other organizations can throw parties or host events, and every time Germany played all the students who lived on campus or close it would come and watch in this little warehouse type building. Sweating and everything! But it was fun. Go Germany! I also went to some public viewings in a neighboring area called Esslingen a few times to hangout and watch soccer. Again, I LOVE this town! It’s hard to explain-but there are just little neighborhood type areas within Stuttgart, but they have mostly everything the city center has-shops, restaurants, businesses. It’s like a mini city inside the big city.

 

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I also hung out with my host family from high school a few times! It’s really comforting having a family I know in Stuttgart. I cooked with them, and they took me to a neat little outdoor zoo type thing one day. The animals are mostly the same as in a zoo, they just have much more room. I hosted Larissa when I was 15 and she was 16, and we are still good friends. Germans huh? It’s also an amazing time to practice my german. I wasn’t very good at german when I came to live with them for a month in high school, but now they will only speak german with me! I love it.

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cooking spaetzle

Categories: 2016, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange

Well, I am officially done with my exchange in Jönköping, Sweden. It has been an amazing experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. The friends and memories I have made here are so invaluable. Before I get into summing up my trip as a whole, I want to talk about my final month here.

For the first week of May, I went on a Cruise from Stockholm, to Helsinki, to St. Petersburg, back to Helsinki, then finally back to Stockholm. It was a total of four nights on the boat and two nights in St. Petersburg. We left from Stockholm on an overnight trip to Helsinki, stayed in Helsinki for a day, took an overnight trip to St. Petersburg, stayed in St. Petersburg for two nights, took an overnight trip back to Helsinki, then took a final overnight trip to Stockholm. The cruise ship was so much fun. Everything was extremely cheap in the duty free store, there was a casino, live music, and the ship had everything that a normal big tropical cruise liner would have.

Finnish Cannon                  Russian Castle

St. Petersburg Squad

The rest of May consisted of me working on group projects and studying for finals. The typical end of the semester stuff that every student dreads. Although it was a bit stressful, I still always get the same feeling of relief when it is all said and done and I realize that I am free!

After I finished finals, it really hit me that my exchange was over. I had everything packed up and was on my way to the airport to hop on my flight home. There are so many people I have met that helped make my exchange amazing and I cannot believe it is actually over. However, on a more positive note, there are so many awesome things you can take away from going on a semester exchange:

  • You get to get to say you have actually lived in another country and fully invested yourself in the culture and way of life.
  • You will most likely have had the opportunity to travel to many other countries and can now say you are sooooo well cultured and traveled.
  • You will probably have picked up a bit on a new language and can engage in basic conversations with that language.
  • You can put on your resume that you have attended a university in another country. Employers really like this because it really shows that you are able to adapt to completely new situations and are not scared to move outside your comfort zone. It also shows employers that you are diversified in your life and cultural experiences (see bullets one and two).
  • You will have friends all over the world. So if you do decide to travel to somewhere where you have friends that you met on exchange, you will be able to see a familiar face.
  • You will make memories that will last a lifetime and that you will be able to tell your kids and grandkids.

If you are thinking of doing an exchange in Sweden, here is my list of the main things that you should be aware of:

  • Yes, it is true that all of the women are blonde, blue-eyed beauties.
  • Yes, it is true that they listen to a lot of electronic music
  • Yes, it is true that they dress up for everything and are very fashionable. You will get weird looks if you come to class in sweats and a t-shirt.
  • Yes, it is very cold. You will be wearing a jacket until at least May. However, when it is blistering hot back home in Texas during May, a hot day in Sweden will be 75 degrees.
  • Yes, during the winter, the sun sets really early. When I arrived in January, the sun was completely down by about 4:15 in the afternoon. By the end of May, it would not be completely dark until 11:45 pm and the sun would rise around 3:15 am.
  • SWEDEN IS EXPENSIVE.
  • Common things like going out to eat, alcohol, transportation, and normal everyday items are more expensive than compare to the US because of the high tax rates that Swedish citizens pay. However, if you are able to budget your money correctly, these increases in price are really not going to make you go broke.

Sweden was an amazing place to do my exchange. A lot of my friends have gone to places such as Spain, Austria, Germany, etc. Although those places were so amazing when I visited them, Sweden seemed an atypical place to do an exchange and it seemed like a country that I would not think to travel to. However, I am 100% glad I chose to come. I am so happy to have been able to call Jönköping, Sweden my home for 5 months, and I am going to miss it dearly. Until next time…

Sweden Squad

 

Categories: 2016, Reciprocal Exchange, Sweden

WELL, it’s over. I feel like I blinked and I have made such great friends, shared great memories, and now I’m boarding a plane! I can’t express how great this reciprocal exchange has been.

Firstly, it was a small group of only 13 people attending the summer program. This made us instantly depend on each other and form a bond. I really enjoyed becoming so close with every single one of my classmates. From riding the buses together, eating lunch, spending evenings, sharing dinner to even sharing our weekends with each other – I had an amazing time.

I quickly had to overcome a few obstacles, one of which being the cultural differences here in France and the other was being “American”. French people are a passionate population, some regions differ from others, but here in Nice it became apparent that the language barrier was a struggle. Many people understand and speak english, but prefer to speak french. Many times I was given looks and judgements when speaking english in public, but after asking program coordinator at EDHEC I learned it had less to do with my language and more to do with my tone of voice. The French not only dislike speaking english, but they absolutely cringe at loud speakers. Of course American’s are naturally very loud speakers! So I quickly learned to be more respectful and that turned my experience around!

Being “american” unfortunately has a few disadvantages, and I learned quickly to have tough skin and be respectful. Being the only american born student in the program this year, I was the joke through many of the class discussions. This was expected and welcomed, all fun and games! The problem with being the only american is that every student knew more about american politics than I knew about their home country’s politics. I had many instances of attacking questions regarding the presidential election, gun reform, and our historical abuse in the middle east. I was asked very detailed questions, and it was very difficult giving a neutral answer. My recommendation – tell them you are not a diplomat for america, you are just a citizen. America has a history, as does every other country in the world. The most important advice I can give is to stay away from your natural instinct to be defensive, it will only make the situation worse. If I had a euro for every deep debate that was spurred by a gun reform question directed at me — well, I’d be rich. It was a challenge that I’d say you should know is coming, and can’t be avoided.

Other than these challenges, I had a few advantages. One of which being the fact that France drives on the right side of the road! I was able to rent a car on our off-weekend, and drive to Italy and Monaco while taking in some once-in-a-lifetime views of the coast and mountains. I highly recommend trying to rent a car (fairly inexpensive, especially if you split it with friends) and explore, regardless of the city!

Academically the program was better than I could have imagined. Our first professor came from Germany (a powerful EU member) and through teaching us about the EU, was able to give us the german perspective and his knowledge of other large EU perspectives. Our second professor was from Moldova, and through her lectures regarding eastern europe’s struggles with the post-soviet transition and the EU/Russian intervention, she was able to give us first hand recollection and experiences with these topics. Most importantly, all of the students came from different countries (America, Australia, China, Japan, Angola, UK, India), so not only did we learn from the professors, but also from each other. During each debate, simulation and even general class discussion, each student brought in examples from their own home-country.

I know if I don’t end this post soon, I’ll have written a book. Plus, my flight it about to board to Barcelona. Off I go to a celebratory mini-vacation to Spain and Italy! Hope you found this blog post interesting. Au Revoir France!

 

Here’s a few photos from my last day in Nice!

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Categories: 2016, France, Reciprocal Exchange

After the school year ended and the last month wound down I got a chance to reflect upon some experiences that I had while I was abroad on my program. I also got a chance to take a few more trips in this free time that I was granted.

I got a chance to take a trip to Berlin for a few days, followed by Krakow in Poland. This last from the 10th to the 18th of May.

In Berlin I got to see the Berlin Wall, followed by the Brandenburg Tor and much of the Tiergarten on the first night. I then made it out to checkpoint Charlie and their Cold War museum there the next morning, followed by the Berlin Dom and museum island, where I got to see three of the five museums. The next day was the Holocaust memorial and Jewish museum, both moving experiences.

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I was mostly interested in going to Poland in order to see the unique culture that the people there have, as well as some of the important places in Pope John Paul II’s life. I arrived on May 13th, staying until the 17th. I saw a bunch of unique places, ate pierogies, and met a few great friends.

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The theater has been the main center for Polish culture for more than a century, as this is how Poles have been able to show their past when it was not allowed in their schools and universities by law.

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The Jagiellonian university has been another important piece of Krakow since the 14th century. It survived the many different regimes that ruled Poland for numerous centuries.

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The salt mine at Wieliczka is definitely worth the trip! There are many miles of mines that run underneath the area, and you can see some of best parts of them, including this chapel that some of the workers made.

I then made a trip with my parents to a number of other places in Europe during our last few weeks here. We got to see Paris, the Alsace region where some of our family is from, Baden-baden, Fusen and the Neuschwanstein castles, Salsburg in Austria, Nurnburg, the Marksburg castle, Cologne and its cathedral, as well as many other places.

As my time here closes I think its definitely good to reflect on how thankful I am to Texas A&M, my parents, and the many others who were able to help make this trip possible. All of the people who contributed have given me the best prolonged experience of my life. I know that tons of people never get the chance to have this kind of an experience but I strongly recommend that anyone who has the chance does so as soon as they can. You’ll love every moment of it.

Auf wiedersehen!

Stephen Harden

Categories: 2016, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange

Although I was welcomed by rain, my first day in Nice was “nice”… I’ll just leave that there. It hasn’t truly hit me that I have been living in this beautiful coastal city for over a week. Since starting class last week, I have become quite the local. Learning the well connected bus system, visiting the local grocery store and taking some amazing pictures.

I’ve also learned some hard lessons. The french love their language, and it took me a few confrontations to understand that speaking english in public is not recommended. I have been called out and scowled at for speaking english with my friends from my program, being told that I, “don’t even try to speak french” and numerous eye-rolls and looks of disgust. My recommendation for dealing with this is to speak low, almost whisper, and to be very respectful when you get these reactions. It’s not fun, but swallow your pride and apologize in french, it will get you a long way!

My touristy time has been spent in three different countries, France, Monaco and Italy. I have captured some beautiful photos on my trip, and weekend trips. I’ll leave a few here…

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One more week to go, and it’s over! Not looking forward to leaving my new international friends. I’ve been blessed with a great group of new friends!

Bye for now.

Categories: 2016, France, Reciprocal Exchange

My last class officially just finished yesterday! The past few weeks have been a series of going away events as everybody is getting ready to head home or onto their next destination. It is easy to forget the feeling of alone we all once felt when we first arrived when you start to realize how many new and incredible people you have in your life. The people I have had the opportunity to meet and get close to have made my life that much more full. I will certainly miss the Sunday struggle when all the grocery stores would be closed and having friends to call in the building to ask what ingredients they have so you can possibly combine your items and make something edible. Coming home and shouting up the building and having friends greet you through their windows in all their different accents.

As I head into my last week in Austria, the feeling of “end” is really sinking in. I am starting to get all my final grades, close all the remaining paperwork for my housing contract, and packing up nonessential items. The last few weeks, I have helped so many people to sort and clean their places but it is hard to believe that it is now my turn to do it. Some of my closest friends have already left but I am glad to not be one of the last ones here. Everyone is chatting excitedly about their plans for summer and their remaining travels after the semester ends and I am so happy that I now have so many connections all over the world. It is incredible how quickly the time has come and gone and I would not have changed a single moment of it. Vienna and all the experiences I have had on this exchange semester have filled my life with so much beauty and joy. To all the people I cherish, I will never forget how you have changed my life and it is not a matter of when we will see each other again, but where in the world we will be when that does happen.

One more week. One more week until I head to my next destination, Jerusalem, Israel. I have been given the opportunity to volunteer in a hostel in Jerusalem which is something I have always wanted to do but never imagined actually being able to. This next chapter of my life excites me but I realize once again I will be in that lonely place of being in an entirely new country while a completely different culture. But looking back on everything I have accomplished since I first left the United States earlier this year, I am far more confident in myself that I will be able to face whatever challenges lie ahead. This opportunity has certainly been a once in a lifetime opportunity and I will cherish all the memories I have made and perspective I have gained for the rest of my life.

Categories: 2016, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

My last full month in Europe has come and gone!! Reality is hitting hard right now as I am slowly realizing that this journey is about to come to an end. It’s bitter sweet as I am excited to return to the States and see my friends and family however, I am going to miss the life I am leaving behind here. The friendships and memories made are unlike any other. It’s strange seeing close friends start to leave and I’m just trying to take in each moment.

So May! The month started off slowly which was much needed after my last week in April where I had tests/projects and a trip to Italy. Me and friends found a nice “beach” spot down the U6 line and had a few lazy days hanging around, swimming etc etc. Then one day I got a text from a friend back home who is involved in the International Business Association there and in charge of the students studying abroad at May’s. It’s bizarre to me that someone would chose Texas as a place to study abroad  but all the Europeans here are pretty intrigued by it. So he asked if I wanted to be a mentor to an incoming student from Vienna. Having just gone through this whole process I knew how helpful these buddies are so of course I said yes and turns out this girl goes to WU! So we were able to grab lunch and talk about A&M and Vienna and everything under the moon. She’s super excited to experience football games and buy cowboy boots. She’s also been able to show me more local things around Vienna and I think it’s going to be really neat when I can do the same for her.

The next week I took a day trip to Hallstat, Austria. If you come to Vienna, don’t leave without seeing this place!! It’s breathtakingly gorgeous and I can’t imagine a more beautiful city. It’s unreal, no picture does it justice but this one tries.

Hallstat

We spent the day here hiking around, having lunch and just enjoying each others company before we headed back on an evening train. School was relatively steady for the next couple of weeks so I decided to go out on a limb and take a solo trip to Prague. Never in a million years could I have seen myself doing this (because I’m not good with directions and hate being by myself) but something inspired me to give it a try. And it was one of the best decisions I’ve made thus far. I gained so much confidence in myself and felt so independent. I could do anything I wanted to (so naturally I got a fish pedicure) and I made so many new friends at my hostel. I had such rich conversations with new friends that I met traveling around the world. Each new person I talked to had a story and it was all so interesting to listen to what brought each one of them here. I completely recommend giving it a try.

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When I came back that week I had finished one of my courses. This one was structured more like a seminar, with hands on projects all throughout class and hardly any lecturing. We basically taught the class after researching and preparing about topics. By far, my favorite class because it was so interactive. A good end to that week was a hiking trip that I took with the school followed by a trip to Krakow, Poland to celebrate my friends 21st birthday. I loved Poland. Great city and insane history with WWII. We took a day to see Auschwitz and that was indescribable. Seeing in real life what I had only previously seen in history book pictures was crazy…proof that this horrible time actually happened was hard to wrap my head around. As we walked inside of the blocks in the concentration camps to see the dirt floors that the prisoners slept on or the museum which contained thousands of their shoes and hair that was scraped from their scalp was madness. But definitely worth learning about and honoring the people that suffered through this time. The next day we caught a train bright and early back to Vienna and I actually just finished my German final! Definitely my hardest class here but rewarding when I can use what I’ve learned to order in restaurants and speak to cashiers in shops. I’m still in denial about leaving soon. There is a different mood heading into June knowing that it will be my last couple of weeks here but I’m excited to see how this journey finishes up!

Poland                                 Auschwitz

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Categories: 2016, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange