December in Copenhagen was so amazing! I truly enjoyed being there and seeing the great, bright skies. A Danish person will tell you winters are full of grey skies, scattered showers, and short days. This year, only one of those was true! The days are short, but the sun comes up. It was beautiful to be there when it was cold, crisp, and bright.
Classes pick up a lot at CBS during the December, if only because exams have finally come. It was so weird to go to school with no assignments or exams until the very end. I enjoyed the classes, but the motivation isn’t in full swing like it is at Texas A&M. I never thought I would ever say this, but I enjoy having exams throughout the semester. The best pro to this system is having a chance to improve when the next one comes around. But the final exam is all or nothing at CBS. It’s scary and nerve-wracking to have so much count on one exam.
Each of my four classes had a different style of exam. I thought they were all unique and had their own benefits.
1. The exam for my introduction to maritime economics exam was oral. Which means I went into a room, received questions, prepared my answers in a prep room, went back to the exam room and presented my answers. The examiners, one being the instructor for the course and one being an outside, impartial academic, would ask follow-up questions and prompt my answers. Following my presentation, the examiners deliberate my grade while I am outside of the room. Then they invite me back into the room to give the grade and some feedback about my answers.
2. The second exam I took for my economic growth and development course was something I was more familiar. It was a written, sit in exam. This means it was on pen and paper, which isn’t very popular at CBS. The exams there are more often given on a computer, but the instructor for this course petitioned the exam board for the class to take the exam on pen and paper. CBS has a special exam hall for students to take exams with many proctors and in a secure location, rather than just in classrooms.
3. Another exam style I took was simply submitting a research paper that was based on a case company. This was the format in social media management. The paper needed to be a maximum of 15 pages and answer a research question. This is something that can easily get away from you. I had all semester to write this paper, and of course I wrote it the week it was due. Don’t do this no matter how easy it is. Because more than likely your exams will be really close to your departure date. If you can submit your papers well before then, do it! The last days should be cherished.
4. My last exam was a mix of the oral exam from maritime economics and the research paper from social media management. For fashion entrepreneurship and business development I was to write a paper and present it in an oral exam. The paper was due about two weeks before the oral exam. Something different about this exam was that I wrote and presented the paper with a partner. I enjoyed writing this with a partner, because it allowed me to see another side of the world. My partner was from the U.K. and studies in London. We wrote the paper in British English, which was slightly difficult for me, but she carried a lot of weight in that account. The oral exam for this exam was simple, we introduced our paper for about five minutes and then heard questions about our research, our stance, and got to justify some aspects of how we wrote the paper.
These exam styles were really great, because they allowed me to feel like I was actually going to school. It sounds a little silly, but studying abroad feels like a big cultural experience, rather than going to class at Texas A&M everyday. I only had classes two days a week, which gave me so much free time. Most students in Denmark get student jobs for this free time, working as assistants at banks, government ministries, and other businesses. But I was able to experience life and every day joys of Copenhagen and Denmark.
So this is it, my last night here in Hong Kong. I have to say, its been quite a trip, but I’m more than ready to go back home. I miss my family, my girlfriend, and my friends. I’ve never been they type of person to miss anyone or get home sick. My home city being seven hours away from college station proves that, but this was different. Being on complete other side of the world has this psychological effect on you where you know you’re far from home, and you know there’s no way that you can get to family or the things you hold dear fast enough. This may seem kind of extreme, however you do learn a lot about yourself. You’re horizons expand past that of the “American Bubble” we built for ourselves. You see that the world is not all a big, and bad scary place away from the safe comfort of your home. When you travel, you get this high, and excitement that you have never felt before. You’re doing it alone, meeting new people, exploring new worlds you’ve only seen on TV, experiencing different cultures. That is what this experience is all about. That’s why going to a country that is extremely different will help you see the world at a different angle. If you’re reading this to determine if you want to do a REEP program here, I say take the leap. What are you waiting for?
I am getting to the end of my first exchange semester in Vallendar, Germany and I have had a blast. I have met so many new people that I will never forget and it will be very hard for me to say goodbye to all of them. This last month I finally put my traveling pants on and was leaving almost every weekend with a group of 3. The group was made up of a spaniard named Ismael that is in his masters, but we have been close ever since I got here in Germany naturally becoming friends because of the language of spanish that we both have as our native, but mostly because he is also a Real Madrid fan from Madrid. The other two components of the group are two italian girls (Debora and Eleonora) that we have become fond of because of the good times we have with them. The first weekend of this month we went to Copenhagen where I was also able to see my cousin that lives there and she was able to go out with us the 2 nights we were there.
We took a break the following weekend and took a day trip to Heidelberg that has a great castel with a view and a beutiful town where you can spend the whole day walking. That day I was also invited to the anual party organized by the Quischies, which are the incoming Freshmen. The party was held in the basement of the university and it was a great party with of course free beer.
The next weekend I was lucky to be invited to Italy by Debora to the city where she studies at which is Milan. We had a blast and the best was that I was able to meet her friends and enjoy the city with people that are from there. I even go the chance to celebrate the graduation of one of Debora’s friends that graduated from Bocconi and we were invited to the after party. The weekend was great and then we had to get ready for the work in the week.
Milan Train Station
This last weekend I was lucky to go to London with the usual group and we did all the typical sight seeing including the Big Ben, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, but also a few alternative places like Camden town and the Tate modern that I recommend a lot! I love traveling with this group and I know we will continue to be in contact in the years to come. Now we have been back for the past week studying because we have exams coming up this week and the following. Unfortunately we have a test on the 22nd of December, but I will leave the 23rd for Berlin and spend Christmas with my aunt and uncle that are from my mothers side because my grandpa is fully German.
Staying in Strasbourg for an entire month through has probably been the healthiest thing I’ve done for myself since arriving.
My view from the tram stop on the way to class at EM!
What I mean is, I’ve learned more about myself and this city in this one month than I have in the few weeks I’ve had here in September and October between traveling to other cities/countries.
While I’m in love with traveling and exploring every new place I have the opportunity to discover, it’s almost been restorative to stay in one place and truly make it your home. I know in my last blog I said I was homesick for most of October, and now since the start of November, I’ve come to feel as though I truly belong here in every respect. Whether it be with friends, school, or just making my way around Strasbourg, I genuinely feel at home.
With that said, November has definitely been busy: all of my classes have culminated with presentations and reports due one right after the other, some of my classes have ended completely (yay!!), I went to see Flume in concert with practically EVERYONE in Erasmus, I had 1000 questions thrown at me about my thoughts on the election results, we put together and celebrated our own Thanksgiving, the Christmas Markets have officially opened!!, I had an awful fever in the midst of my busiest week, my friend group has changed a bit, I’ve gone out almost every weekend to keep having as much fun possible with the little time I have left, and like I mentioned earlier, I’ve learned more about myself than ever before.
Us girls before Flume!!
To talk about a few things specifically, let’s start with the election. Being American, obviously, my opinion was sought after by literalllllyyyy everyone. From professors to other European students, from the days leading up to the election to the moment I walked into class the day after the election results, I was met with the same concerned looks full of worry and pity. Like I mentioned in my last blog, Europeans are not very fond of Donald Trump. At all. So when they asked who I voted for and found out that I did not vote for him, they were more than relieved. So, in the days before the election, mostly everyone here was convinced that the majority of Americans would vote for Hillary Clinton. … How confident they were in their assumptions. Well, like we all know, things didn’t turn out the way I and most Europeans hoped they would and once I walked into my Experiential Marketing class after the elections results came out, all I heard all day was, “Carmen. I am so sorry. How could this happen?” Or other comments along those lines. Now, truthfully, I was disappointed and genuinely sad for my country and friends back home, so I was pretty down for most of that morning. “God Bless the USA” was on repeat for me all day, in fact. Because although I was disheartened by the results of the election, I still have faith in my country and the love that we have for it. I still have hope that things will be okay. Time will only tell, I guess.
On another note, now that most of my classes are over, I’ve comprised a list of tips to keep in mind for anyone who reads this and is interested in or preparing to study abroad:
1. Know how to manage your free time wisely. After speaking with friends who have studied abroad before, I came to France knowing that the courses offered to exchange students are much easier compared to what I’m used to at Texas A&M. And since classes are only for a few hours once a week with the entire course being graded on a few assignments or one exam and/or presentation, the weeks fly by in the blink of an eye, especially with all of the extra time you spend not studying every minute of every day for multiple rounds of tests, quizzes, essays, etc. So the general concept of this tip is pretty self explanatory. Fill your time enriching your life with friends, new experiences, getting to know the city you’re in, and a bit of Netflix from time to time if you’re feeling up to it. 😉 Which leads me to…
2. Do as much as you can!! Do something new and crazy. Go explore and discover. Try new foods. Listen to other points of view and learn about everything possible! Dance and sing your heart out in the middle of a busy street. Go paragliding. Learn a new language. Travel anywhere and everywhere. Don’t just say or plan, DO. Which also brings us to…
3. If you have the monetary means and time, travel as much as you can (but don’t forget to explore your own city/region/country!) Self explanatory.
4. Meet people from EVERYWHERE! My closest friends are Scottish, Czech, British, French Canadian, German, Brazilian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Italian, Danish, and American. And you know, Americans are cool and all, but you’re here to make friends from all over the world and be exposed to their unique cultures, customs, and languages – take advantage, expand your horizons!!
5. Everything is temporary. Now this one may sound like a downer, but it’s really not. Yes, your time abroad is limited, but keeping that in mind will only make you appreciate it that much more. Your time is precious with the incredible people you meet, so it’s important to make your time worthwhile with them. Get to know these people, get to know your city and truly make it yours, get to know what it feels like to change, get to know yourself, get to know what it’s like be okay with going out of your comfort zone. Just get to know everything and everyone you possibly can because this opportunity is worth every second you have abroad. This being said, also remember that the bad stuff is temporary too. While it’s important to work out grades, classes, issues back home, etc., dwelling on worry and fear is too time consuming to focus on. These things are temporary and will all turn out fine in the end, so spend your time doing things you love with the people you love and let go of that which is out of your control, holding you back, or distracting you from making the most of your time abroad.
Personally, in the face of confusion and conflict, especially in regards to friendships and working in group projects/presentations, I’ve noticed that I’m more resilient than ever before. Thinking back, in previous situations, I would have obsessed over “what I could’ve possibly done wrong” and “how do I fix this?” and “how do I make these people happy?” But being in Strasbourg and going through all of this, I’ve learned how to let things go. I’ve realized that the only person responsible for my happiness is me. And with this knowledge I’ve come to discover the most impactful things I’ve learned/gained from this experience:
A Sustainable Mindset
France’s measures to promote sustainability and a cleaner environment are remarkable. Now that I’ve become accustomed to taking reusable bags with me to the supermarket and recycling on a daily basis, it’s hard to imagine that I could ever go back to such a lax outlook on waste management and eco-friendliness. This is definitely something I intend to bring back with me to the states and hope to instill in my everyday life.
I knew from the beginning that being so far away from home for the first time with essentially zero travel experience, this exchange would be the biggest challenge of my life. The unknown scared me, my lack of “worldly knowledge” scared me, not having familiar faces with me in a foreign place for 4 months scared me, failure scared me. But despite all of that, I knew that if I could overcome this, I could overcome anything. And I am immensely proud to say that I have.
I only have 2 weeks left in Strasbourg (3 weeks left in Europe) and now I am dreading leaving the unpredictable, exciting, new life I’ve found and the people that have come with it. I have conquered some of the biggest fears I’ve ever had here, so now, I feel secure in myself and ready to take on my next big challenge.
I’ve lost friends and gained them. I’ve stumbled my way through a French conversation. I’ve figured out public transportation in multiple European cities. I’ve learned how to budget and save money in a responsible way. I’ve taken an 11 hour bus to and from Vienna on my own. I’ve given more presentations in one semester than I have in my entire college career. I’ve found my voice again just by singing “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz at a karaoke bar in front of a bunch of people I had never met before in my life.
If there’s anything that I’ve gained from being here, it’s definitely the confidence in myself to face whatever life throws at me. Even if I fail miserably, embarrass myself horribly, or fall completely flat on my face, I still manage to pick myself back up and find a way to succeed. This kind of confidence has taken me years to develop, and although I’m still nurturing it and learning from my mistakes, I am now more than sure that I am capable of confronting anything that comes my way.
With everything that has not gone “according to plan” or “the way I wanted it to”, I’ve never had so much patience for the world and people around me. Of course, this is easier said than done, but I genuinely feel as though I am able to adjust to unfamiliar situations and perspectives much more easily than I have in the past. I am more understanding and empathetic. I am more capable of keeping a level head in frustrating circumstances. I have the power now to maintain my faith in the fact that what’s meant to happen will happen, and what is meant for me will eventually come and guide me in the right direction.
Long story short, the time I’ve spent in Strasbourg, France has been eye-opening and just being here has been one of the most courageous things I’ve ever done. And I regret nothing. 🙂
November was my last full month here. It’s sincerely starting to feel and look like Christmas since it’s gotten so cold (lows in the mid to high 20s, highs in the 30s) and the Christmas markets have drawn thousands of tourists and visitors every week. I have 2 weeks left in Strasbourg (I leave Wednesday December 14th to travel around the UK for a week) and I have every intention to do everything I still haven’t done here and spend each day appreciating my time with my incredible friends.
Tree lighting ceremony to officially start the Marche de Noel de Strasbourg (aka Christmas Market)!
I’m thrilled to see what these last few weeks in Strasbourg have in store for us!!
– Carmen Pilarte
For any questions about my time abroad, Strasbourg, or studying abroad in general:
As December approaches, my heart grows heavy. This semester is the most I have grown and learned about myself in my entire life. I have made some of the best friends I could have asked for and will leave with memories that I will never forget. To be perfectly honest, I’m nervous to go back to the same old town and the same old routine I have repeated for so long. Traveling has become the constant in my life and although I’m excited to see my family and friends again, I’ve grown to love the rootless lifestyle I have been exposed to. I had a taste and am now poisoned with the ache to see the world.
November in Norway brought my two favorite seasons. I often walked the parks, passing couples hand in hand enjoying the fall breeze and listening to children scream with joy as they buried each other in leaves. However, the fall leaves were covered by the first snow sooner than most expected. I’ll never forget the way my friends and I slipped down the icy hill to class and the snowball fights outside of my apartment window. Buildings are strung with festive lights and the Christmas market in town is bustling no matter how cold it gets, because there is always enough gluhwein to warm your insides.
My best advice is to experience the place you go for all that it is worth. School isn’t nearly as demanding here than at A&M, so while in Scandinavia I did everything I could to see what Scandinavia had to offer. Among all of the places I have been, I fell in love with the north in Svalbard chasing the Northern lights and dog sledding through the arctic of Norway. I had no knowledge about how to cope with the perpetual darkness of the polar night, yet I was immediately captivated by the clear air and far horizons. The darkness of the snowy mountains. The sheer power of the ice. I learned to observe in quiet moments; staring at blue shadows, straining to hear the faint cry of an arctic fox, embracing the chill of the wind whirling snowflakes around me.
I came here to learn about life and I found exactly what I was looking for. However, finals are beginning to loom over me and your entire grade is weighted on either an exam or a final paper so it’s important to manage your time wisely and buckle down when it matters. There were no assignments throughout the semester to balance out a bad grade on the final which weighs as 100% of the grade, so I would recommend keeping up with classes consistently to avoid destructive stress.
Yes, this has been the time of my life. However, I can’t deny that it comes with challenges. Your life may be moving fast, but that means everyone else’s life continues moving as well when your gone. A friend died in my absence, I lost a pet, missed an important time of my newly engaged sister’s life, and struggled communicating with my boyfriend until I doubted everything. Long distance relationships are hard and a few may crumble under the pressure. What I have learned is that complete independence is a time of growth and growth isn’t supposed to be easy. Every pain in your heart makes you more of who you are and that is beautiful. The people who matter will be there for you when you get back, so trust things will work out and don’t let the amazing opportunities you’re presented with get away from you because this is a once in a lifetime chance to take them.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”