So at the end of my third month here in Hong Kong, classes are starting to come to a close. Today is actually my last day of classes before we get a full week to study before final exams. After that, I fly home.
Last week, my girlfriend came during our thanksgiving break. It was honestly something we both needed given how far apart we’ve been from each other. She was lucky and daring enough to come across the world for a week to be with me and experience the culture I have described to you in previous blogs. I took here to pretty much all the main spots here in Hong Kong, and some different. I took her to Ten Thousand Buddha, Big Buddha, and we even went to Hong Kong Disney! Every bit of it was just extremely enjoyable and memorable. If there is one thing you need to try, its traveling with one other person your care deeply about. Her one week here was probably the most fun that I’ve had during my whole time here.
Even though I’ve had fun and made a lot of memory’s here in Hong Kong, I am ready to go back home. Because I’m doing my exchange during the fall, I didn’t plan any more travels after the semester is over so I can be back in time for Christmas. If it weren’t for that, I would probably have something else to look forward to and not be so home sick already. In any case, I only have 3 weeks left here, so I’m going to make them count!
Disclaimer: it is going to be difficult getting through this post without getting a tad teary-eyed, because this is the last post you will see from me until after I return from the beautiful Wien. Therefore, please excuse my mush.
The month of November has been filled with much excitement. With the absence of Thanksgiving, the Christmas season in Vienna actually begins in mid-November with the opening of Christmas markets throughout the city. Ornate Christmas lights line the streets, and the smell of Gluhwein (a popular mulled wine drink) fills the air. The Christmas markets consist of cute little stands, each selling a different assortment of Christmas-related knick-knacks and tasty treats. There are so many markets, it is difficult to go through the city without accidentally walking through one. It sometimes feels like I am living in the North Pole (minus the snow, which doesn’t really appear until January). The Christmas market madness is definitely something I will miss most about Vienna!
Christmas Market at Rathaus
Christmas Market at Karlskirche
Walkin’ in a winter wonderland
With the end of the semester drawing near, much of my time has been overtaken with studying for exams, group meetings, and preparing for presentations. Believe it or not, study abroad does actually entail some studying. It is, however, still much less strenuous than classes at Texas A&M (although my German course isn’t exactly a walk in the park…). I was enrolled in four classes this semester- International Marketing, International Tourism, Global Branding, and German
I have enjoyed my classes for the most part. It has been interesting to learn about Marketing from a different and more global perspective.
Most classes here only meet once a week and consist of two or three major grades (midterm exam, group presentation, final exam) with very few assignments in between. This has allowed for ample travel opportunities, excluding the few weekends when my International Tourism class was scheduled to meet. Overall, I have not had to worry about school too much throughout the semester. However, it is important to spend time studying for the few exams you do have to take since they are weighted so heavily! Most of these major exams/assignments don’t take place until the end of the semester. In the next three weeks I have two final presentations and three finals exams. My last exam is the night of December 19th, and my flight home leaves the morning of December 20th.
Took a study break for a Friendsgiving feast!
In exactly three weeks I will be back “home”, a concept I can hardly grasp. After all, this place has sort of become my home away from home. I have found that one of the strangest outcomes of studying abroad is this very vague sense of “home“. One might think that being away from it for four months would have the opposite effect. In many ways, leaving for such a long period of time truly has made me appreciate many things about Texas that I might have taken for granted before (eg.: Tex Mex, pie pans, kolaches, Target, the English language, people saying “excuse me”, etc.). However, there is something about living on a different continent for four months and traveling to so many different places that turns your life upside down (in the best way possible). I know that when I finally board the plane towards Houston, I will be leaving a little piece of my heart here. They say home is where the heart is, so that must mean that part of my “home” will remain here as well.
Subway station art
The Albertina Museum
State Opera House
View from the Wiener Riesenrad
So much self-growth occurs when you study abroad. It’s not just about the studying or the traveling. It’s a collection of experiences which serve as your own personal building blocks, and you don’t realize how much you’ve grown until it’s all said and done. I can distinctly remember the panic attack I had while going through security in the Chicago airport when it finally hit me that I was actually doing this. At that moment, I couldn’t imagine the fear subsiding, but walking through the beautiful streets of Vienna, taking the subway, shopping at Christmas markets and studying in Viennese cafes now feels like something I’ve always done. I can honestly say this semester has been the most rewarding, growing, adventure-filled, fast-flying, and unforgettable time of my life.
There is so much beyond our own borders worth exploring. I’m so thankful I’ve gotten to explore some of it. I hope you do, too.
The leaves are falling and the temperature is dropping. November has arrived and I cannot believe it. October has come and passed all too quickly. This could be considered the half-point of my journey here, however, to this day, I have already spent more time here than I have remaining. Even though I do miss my family and friends very much, I do not feel ready to leave. There is so much more I want to see, learn, and explore, and I feel like I am running out of time! However, I have been able to cross out a lot of items from my bucket list, so I cannot complain. ?
For instance, Gelato for breakfast?
Classes are becoming more difficult. I had a round of tests at the beginning of October, midterms during mid-month, another round of tests last week, and several writing assignments throughout. So we can say that October was a stressful month. Now is the times for projects. I have group projects for nearly all my classes and deadlines for those are approaching. It can be stressful to plan your travels around all of the schoolwork, however, it is do-able. Most of my teams are formed of exchange students, like me, who wish to travel on weekends. Therefore, working during the week is in everyone’s best interest. This past month, I didn’t have much time to wander around Milan as much as the first weeks. My weekdays mostly consisted of classes, studying or working on assignments, and, why lie, during my free times, Netflix. (BTW, Italian Netflix has Modern Family!)
Bocconi’s campus isn’t nearly a fourth of A&M’s. It is very small and, therefore, can make it very difficult to find a place to study. Italian cafes are not like Starbucks, where you can go and work for a couple of hours. Here you are to go in, drink your coffee, and leave. And no, Italians are not shy to tell you to leave if you’re working on your laptop and they need your table. Yet, just last week, I discovered an “American experience” café. It is called Arnold’s Coffee and here they do have many sofas, chairs, and tables, like Starbucks, where you can go and work for many hours. It is about a 15-minute tram ride from Bocconi, but I will definitely be going there a lot now.
Italy is geographically perfectly situated. It is very close to many other countries and makes it so easy to travel! My first weeks here, I traveled to Switzerland and Austria by train. Traveling by train is so, so, so much easier than airplane! You don’t have to worry about liquid limitations in your luggage, there is no need to arrive an hour before departure, and it is a lot more comfortable. When it comes to traveling by airplane, Milan has three airports. The ones where most flights depart from are Malpensa and Bergamo. These are about an hour away from the city and taxis charge 95 euros to take you there! Fortunat
ely, there are many buses that run every thirty minutes for only 8 euros. The third airport is Linate, and that one is in the city and can be reached through public transportation. Yet, I am not sure which flights arrive there as I have never had a flight depart or land in Linate. Through plane I have flown to Munich, Budapest, Prague, and this weekend I will be flying to Brussels and Amsterdam. In Italy, I have been to Venice, Lago di Como, Cinque Terre, and Bologna. The benefit of traveling through train is that you can easily make day trips out of cities that only require a day to explore. My friends and I traveled to Venice early on a Saturday morning and returned at night. We had more than enough time to see all the beauties of this city and, of course, do a gondola ride.
Cinque Terre has been one of my favorite trips so far! Cinque Terre, meaning five lands, is exactly as its name describes. It is made up of five small villages, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, that lie on the Italian Riviera coastline. You must do a hike of about an hour/an hour and a half to get to and from each of these villages. Well, there are 5-minute trains that run between them as well, but that’s no fun. Each of these villages has beautiful scenery and is composed of small, cute, very colorful houses. I recommend this place to anyone coming to Italy. It is beautiful and a lot of fun. I would suggest coming while it is hot so you can jump in the ocean, which is very cold.
Overall, October was a bit stressful month, nonetheless, I was still able to efficiently manage my time and travel a lot. Oh, and I did already experience my first cold. I got sick mid-month. However, thankfully it wasn’t anything too bad and was gone after a week.
Now, time to go get some pizza!?
W/ my roomie, Sydney. (Yes, you will find a pic of pizza on all my blogs?)
Copenhagen started feeling like home around the middle of October. That was when I truly understood the roads, the system of biking and walking and catching trains, shopping in small supermarkets, and overall I got the “hang of things.” It was also, October was the first time I ever truly saw the seasons change. In about two weeks Copenhagen burst into a gold wonderland of falling leaves, crisp air, and even pumpkins showed up everywhere. It was exciting to see the changes that so many associate with fall, yet we miss in South Texas. I grew up in San Antonio, and the leaves never really changed, not until they fell off in December. It was a kind of wonderland for me to see.
Copenhagen city parks come alive in the Fall!
October was also a mid semester break at CBS! For many students this means a week of traveling, catching up on reading, or simply exploring. However, this break was consumed by an exam at CBS. Academics at CBS are based heavily on final exams, meaning there are no mid semester exams, assignments, or quizzes, but each class ends with a final assessment. CBS also has a system of quarters and semesters, meaning some classes end in October and other begin in October, while many last through December. I am enrolled in one quarter class, which had an exam in October, the last day of the mid semester break.
This exam was an oral exam for my maritime economics class. The strucutre of an oral exam is actually quite nice, once you get over the fact that you could be asked a very few number of questions that could cover everything you learned in over 20 class sessions. I prepared for the exam simply by reviewing my notes and reading the summaries at the end of each chapter of the textbook. For oral exams, CBS has the course professor and one outside examiner, to make the grading more fair. It was great to finally take an exam (funny to say, but true). CBS has so few assessments in the courses, but they really are enjoyable classes that are taught in a different way than those at Texas A&M.
Another thing about this exam, and the courses at CBS in general, is the grading scale. Danish courses are graded on a 7 point scale, -2, 0, 2, 4 , 7, 9, and 12, where 2 is passing (however Texas A&M requires a 4). This is a pretty basic scale, but still strange when compared to A, B, C, D, and F.
It is now getting very cold in Northern Europe, as one would expect. Copenhagen had snow a week ago, but has since started to warm up! The best part of the snow was experiencing it with my parents, who visited from the U.S. at the beginning of November. If anyone can visit you on your study abroad, welcome them! It is so fun to show off your new home to parents, friends, and even siblings.
This month started off with a great German trips by visiting Koblenz which is 10 minutes on bus from Vallendar. This is the city where the two rivers, the Rhein and the Mosel meet. We walked around and took the cable car to a old fortress that is on the other side of the Rhein in the highest point where you can get the best view of Koblenz and the surrounding Rheinland-Phlaz area.
This is the view from the fortress.
These weeks were a little bit more calm after the crazy Oktoberfest experience and I went hiking near Koblenz to visit a castle called the Dragon’s castle.
After some studying and a bit more relaxing weekend we made our way up to Holland to visit Amsterdam! It was a blast and we rented an Airbnb between 15 people that came along for the fun.
Great time with some great people.
After Amsterdam’s fun times we had to study for about a week to prepare for exams. If you come to the university of WHU you will soon realize that the semester is split into quarters. Therefor we had final exams this week where we in Tamu would have mid-semesters exams.
After exams we were able to relax a little bit and we took a day trip to Trier and Luxembourg City. It was a great way to enjoy the beautiful colors of fall.
The picture on the left is the Porta Negra in Trier that was one of the 4 doorways to the ancient city.
The most anticipated event of the year for the Vallendar community took place the first weekend of November and it is called Euromasters. Many different Business Universities from all over Europe come and participate in sports events ranging from rowing, soccer, basketball to cheerleading. The events started on Friday and ended on Saturday, but from Thursday night to Saturday night there were full on parties with the many students from all over Europe. I am living in a fraternity house that hosted 50 students from France and Belgium and I was able to meet a lot of cool people. Also I hosted 3 of my good friends from Stuttgart, one being the guy I met in Texas A&M when he came to study abroad. The parties had so many people that they had to be hosted in an airplane hangar! The weekend was a success and this past weekend I took a relaxing trip to visit some old family friends in Saarland, which is the smallest Bundesland(State) in Germany on the border with France and Luxemburg. I was glad to see them and we had a fun weekend visiting the region and on Sunday watching the local soccer team win 6-4 in the regional league.
This was in the gym where they hosted the sports events. When the picture was taken, there was a mascot battle taking place between the universities.
Stay tuned for the next month. Today we are going to head to Copenhagen, next week Milan, and the first weekend of December is London!
It is definitely a breathtaking sight, Fall in Europe. It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of when thinking about what the season is supposed to be like – leaves changing into the most beautiful reds, oranges, and golds, then eventually falling to the ground and giving your daily walks an extra crunch to your step, the days are cool and crisp, the streets are festive with holiday decorations, and the people are all out enjoying every part of what the season has to offer. We don’t get this in Texas. At most we get a few fallen leaves, but summer just seems to blur into winter one day after some kind of cold front in mid-November.
Enjoying a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower!
Visit to Vienna to see my fellow Aggie Morgan Hampton!
Actually, there are a lot of things that I’ve observed this past month that make Strasbourg and College Station/Houston seem like they are worlds apart. Here are some examples to illustrate:
Having cash on hand is a MUST because a lot of restaurants or food stands only accept cash. Back in Texas, I would rarely ever have cash on me and just pay for everything with my debit card. Here, the only places you can really count on to have a card machine are American food chains, nicer, “sit-down” restaurants, most bars, and grocery stores.
Everyone smokes cigarettes. And when I mean everyone, I genuinely mean that most, if not all, of the people I’ve met smoke daily or on occasion, depending on the social setting.
The language barrier isn’t as much of an obstacle as I thought it would be. Strasbourg is actually a very “English-friendly” city. And if I come across someone who doesn’t speak any English, I have some wonderful friends who are always there to help me out or there is always someone within distance who speaks even a little bit of English who can help translate. For the most part, the French here are open to practicing their English with you. They may be a bit shy or self conscious about it, like how I feel when I try to speak in French, but with a welcoming attitude and some reassurance, we’ve always found a way to communicate and have interesting conversations!
In the U.S., it’s pretty much mandatory to keep dogs on their leashes at all times when they’re in public. So many of the dogs here are so trusted by their owners, that they are constantly off their leashes! Being an extreme dog-lover, it always warms my heart to see them walk so freely and loyally next to their owners. 🙂
Bicyclists and bicycle lanes are immensely respected. So much of every sidewalk is dedicated to bicyclists, sometimes leaving small, narrow walkways for other pedestrians. Also, both pedestrians and bicyclists are given priority when crossing the street, 99% of the time. Being from a country where everyone just wants to get to where they’re going as fast as possible at whatever the cost, it’s so unusual to see practically every driver give the right of way to a pedestrian, even if the pedestrian is in the wrong and it’s the driver’s turn to go.
The cars here, judging by what I’m used to seeing in Houston and College Station, seem to be stuck in the 90s/early 2000s, with the majority of them still being manual and using stick shift.
Air conditioning is basically non-existent throughout Europe, but radiators are everywhere. When I arrived in London and then in Strasbourg a week later at the end of August, this was my biggest issue to deal with because temperatures had reached record highs at that point, meaning that it was as hot here as it was in Texas. In August. With no A/C. When I was so used to having it every single day to cool off from the scorching summer heat back in TX. This was a huge adjustment, but luckily I bought my own fan and it got cooler soon after arriving, so I didn’t have to suffer for too long!
Baguettes are definitely everywhere. The French love their baguettes!!
Meals are seen as a social event, meaning that the French like to sit down, take their time, and really enjoy their food with the people around them. Meals can sometimes take hours, especially depending how much wine there is to drink!! So all of this basically implies that eating on-the-go is typically frowned upon and people can give you some judgmental looks. Trust me, I’ve learned from experience. But at the same time, if I am really in a hurry, really hungry, or really don’t care (which is most of the time), I will still occasionally eat my food while I’m walking around Strasbourg! Maybe it’s the American in me, maybe it’s because I love food too much. Either way, I’ve definitely learned to embrace this concept of meals being social events and I appreciate now the importance of taking your time to sincerely enjoy a meal and the company you’re with.
Obesity is rare. The French are considerably more active and eat healthier in comparison to the United States. Despite having a lot of bread and pastries incorporated into their diets, the opportunities for the French to gain a lot of weight is also extremely low here. With all of the bicycle lanes, lack of drive-thrus, limited options for fast food, and short distances between businesses, homes, etc., the French eat healthier foods, have healthier meal options, and walk/bike on a daily basis.
When travelling on French highways, traffic is nonexistent and the views are beautiful because of all the French countryside between major cities. The highways are also not bombarded by businesses, billboards, and lights right next to them, so at night, all you see is darkness around you, with the only lights coming from the few passing cars, distant light poles, and the stars above.
Besides being a paying customer at a restaurant or gas station, sometimes you have to pay to use public toilets… very annoying and inconvenient at times when you don’t have 50 or 70 cents and really have to go to the bathroom.
Class attendance is mandatory for all of my classes, all of which have a sign in sheet for the 20-30 students enrolled in the class – very different from the classes with 100+ students that I’ve taken at A&M, which are obviously very easy to skip if you’re not feeling up to going to class that day.
EVERYONE WANTS TO KNOW MY OPINION ON THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION AND WHO I VOTED FOR. They all are so in-the-know of everything that’s going on in the States, and a lot of them held watch parties for the presidential debates!! Also, very important note, every European I’ve come across hates Trump and breathes a sigh of relief when they find out that I did not vote for him… Interesting.
And last but not least, my very favorite: DOUBLE CHEEK KISSES. Being a Hispanic American, I’m used to a kiss on the cheek to greet other Spanish speakers. But for some reason, the double cheek kiss is so much more fun! 🙂 Any time I meet someone new, greet, or say goodbye to my friends (guys and girls), I always do the double cheek kiss and I secretly hope to bring this back with me to the U.S. after I’m done here. A girl can dream!!
Despite all of these differences, Strasbourg has finally started feeling like home. I don’t feel like a visitor anymore. I’ve claimed Strasbourg for my own and genuinely feel as though it is my city. Crosswalks and public transportation have become so familiar to me, getting around Strasbourg has become second nature. The people I see every day are so ingrained into my daily routine and life, I feel as though I’ve known them for years and that I will seem them every day for years to come. But, of course, this isn’t true – I have about a month and a half left in Europe and every day that goes by, this reality starts to hit me harder and harder. As much as I don’t want to leave and am trying to make the absolute most out of rest of my exchange, I can’t help but think about how excited I am to go home and see my family again. October has definitely been my homesick month. For some people, they are homesick for a couple of days, for a week, or maybe even less or more. But for me, it’s been this whole month. It was more prominent at the beginning of October, but each day that goes by, I keep thinking, “I’m one day closer to seeing my family and friends back home.” I feel pretty guilty about this on some days, just because I know that once I’m back to my “normal” routine in Texas, I’m just going to want to be here and I’ll miss France constantly. That’s why although I’m excited to see all of my loved ones back in Texas, I’ve been trying extra hard to enjoy the rest of my days here and continue to enrich my time/life in France with all of what Strasbourg has to offer. So, I’ve decided that November will be my “Strasbourg” month. I’m not travelling anywhere outside of France until after exams are over, so I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can about my city in the time I have left.
October has been a roller coaster month for me. It’s been unbelievable how much I’ve learned about myself in the face of adversity, frustration, and longing, especially in such a short period of time adjusting to a new home. It may seem as though I’m not enjoying myself, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I am truly happy. I’m happy with who I am, who I’m becoming, who I’ve surrounded myself with, what I’m learning, and how I’ve been spending my days here. Life just happens, you know? Adjusting to a new home takes a lot of time, effort, stress, worry, and improvisation. This “frustration stage” is typical of a lot of people who study abroad (we were warned about it in one of our pre-departure meetings before leaving). But I’m glad to say that this stage of my exchange (not the exchange itself!!) is coming to an end.
The phrase “The grass is always greener on the other side” keeps popping into my head these days. But so does the phrase “It’s greener where you water it.” I know right now I might want to be back in Texas, but I know once I’m there I’ll just want to be in France. So I’ve come to the decision that I’m going to make the most of my days here, however I decide to do that, and take in every moment I have with my friends so that I can leave with no regrets, only the fond memories of everything I’ve had the opportunity to do and the lasting relationships with the people I’ve had the honor of meeting here in France.
So, here’s to the last 2 months in Strasbourg, they’ve challenged me more than I can put into words, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything! And here’s to the next month and half, let’s see what happens next! 🙂
Halloween in Strasbourg with Nicole!
Notre Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg!
– Carmen Pilarte
For any questions about my time abroad, Strasbourg, or studying abroad in general: