February, 2017 | Reciprocal Exchanges Blog

Living in Venice has definitely been a change of pace from College Station. For one, there are absolutely no cars or bicycles and the only way to get around is by foot. It’s rather nice once you adjust to walking 7+ miles a day. The school here is spread out all over the city unlike the convenient and wonderful layout of TAMU. I currently have classes in three different buildings and the average distance between them is 1.2 miles. All the walking helps balance out the mounds of pizza and pasta I’ve been consuming though. As far as the structure of classes, I am most definitely not impressed. The professors often ramble on about topics completely unrelated to the course materials and offer no advice on what to study for the single exam that counts for our total course grade. The massive celebration of Carnevale is underway and the streets are often lined with men and women dressed in traditional 18th Century clothing. It is quite the spectacle, however I am ready for this week-long festival to be over so the hundreds of tourists will disappear. 

Categories: 2017, Italy, Reciprocal Exchange

HOSTELS AND HOMESTAYS

 

Hola España y bienvenido readers!

 

January was a dream. When I think about what I could tell someone about my study abroad, I should put the crazy flight delays, confusing metro systems, and foreign languages aside. Just know: those moments of craziness are present. However, one moment in particular stands out as a defining moment of my month of January.

 

Toledo.

 

This hidden, quiet, and extremely medieval town took me by total surprise (as did every incredible Spanish town, come to think of it). Toledo was so medieval, I could easily imagine horses and knights moseying down the squished, cobbled streets. We went to Toledo on a day trip celebrating the last day of freedom before classes started. It was a perfect 45-minute bus ride, and we had wonderful weather greeting us there. That day, we wandered the streets, spoke a little Spanish, toured the beautiful cathedral, ate tapas y paellas, and got a little lost by the river (in the best way).

 

 

 

One moment stands out as something I will never forget. We wandered down to the river next to a beautiful bridge at one point in the day. Our group of 10-12 students all dispersed around a cobblestone ledge that looked out over the water. Some of us took pictures, others explored the area closer to the water, and still others paid 10 euros to zipline across the river. I sat with my friends (from TAMU) Kelsey and Mikel, and just took it all in. It was actually so warm that day, and I was so thrilled to have the sun on my face. The picture above is where we sat, and the picture below is the view from there. Waiting on that stone ledge, I took a short siesta. I cannot describe how content I was to wake up to a truly dreamy day with the sun on my face.

In College Station, I am always wishing to be going somewhere fun and different. I love traveling and experiencing new things. This day/moment in Toledo was so sweet because I realized how content I was to be exactly where I am. I absolutely love studying abroad and am so excited for the adventures and experiences that are to come in Spain this semester!

 

Un abrazo grande,

 

Lydia

 

Más fotos:

^Gig’em!

Categories: 2017, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

Pre-Arrival:

Before getting to Frankfurt and starting school, my family and I actually took a few days of Winter Break in London, Brussels, then Frankfurt. The funny thing was that we originally planned on going to Taiwan/China/Japan for our winter break till we found out I had to go to school early for German Intensive Courses, which made me sad because I missed out on so much food. I mean, I’m not saying that I regret going to Europe early, I’m just saying that I wish I could’ve gotten Taiwanese street food easily here as I could in Taiwan. Other than exploring around the three cities, there wasn’t much else for us to do during that time. Unlike the states, Europe is dead during the holidays. And I mean, completely dead. Boxing day lasted essentially from the 26th of December all the way till New Years, meaning a majority of the restaurants and shops were closed. A few shopping and attractions in London were opened, the restaurants on the main street of Brussels were light up but otherwise were quiet as a mouse, and Frankfurt was completely empty. Going to Frankfurt on New Year’s Day felt like we were walking though a post-apocalyptic scene. There were remnants of the New Year’s laying around (empty champagne bottles and fireworks) surrounded by piles of snow and empty shops. The one awesome thing about this, other than the obvious snow, was meeting another Aggie! Meeting other Aggies is common, but doing so at Europe outside of exchange programs isn’t exactly common. I vividly remember the day; my mom was talking to other hotel employees who mentioned that there was someone else from Texas working there. My family and I were interested and thought that was unique but we were in a rush so we didn’t have much time to meet her. Fortunately enough for me, I had some problem with my contacts so I had to run back in and get my glasses from upstairs. After coming back down, I noticed someone new there. I glanced and noticed that she had a sweater that said Aggies on there but I just let it go and kept going to the car outside. Then it hit me; I think that was the worker they were mentioning and who apparently is an Aggie! I told my family and ran down and started talking to her. After that I was sure that my exchange was going to be going off to a great start!

Meeting my first Aggie abroad!

It’s not European Business School, its EBS:

German Intensive course was really a blast I gotta say. I meet some great friends there, but I didn’t really learn any German. It’s like learning any other language. You gotta take things slowly and get it into your head. You have to memorize the words, the terms, the conjugations, even the tenses. But, not if classes were squeezed into five days with you learning for 8 hours a day and with each lesson thrown at you with the expectations that you’ve already learned the topic and must now know how to use it to understand it all while not reinforcing the material. Yea, that was a mouthful. Unfortunately, the teaching style wasn’t something I could’ve worked with and I ended up leaving the class with an understanding of numbers (albeit slowly), basic works (thank you and goodbye, Danke and tschuss), and an understanding of comparing German words to English words to find some similarities. The other interesting thing about EBS is their weird class schedule. I have classes I’m taking where I have the first day of said class in one week and then don’t go back to class till a whole month later. This long gap time is a blessing and a curse. It gives you time to travel but at the same time doesn’t give you enough time to travel. You CAN go on a trip to Milan, but then you really can’t with only 4 days off. So unfortunately, for the first month, I didn’t travel at all. I did decide to explore the nearby cities of Wiesbaden, Mainz, and Frankfurt.

Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof (Main train station) is always busy!                                              Mainz Ice Sculpture Festival.

Welcome to (South-West) Germany!:

Going the three major cities in the Frankfurt area, I can say, unfortunately, for us poor college students, there’s not all that much to really see. Mainz contains a lot of clubs, which aren’t my cup of tea, Wiesbaden is pretty big and has a nice shopping area which I’ve gone back to a lot of times, while Frankfurt is Frankfurt. It’s too big for us to see everything and too spread out for us to have the time to in a day. My roommates and I actually spent a total of three days in both Wiesbaden and Frankfurt, mind you we took the train back home every night, to get some shopping that they needed and some touring. In Frankfurt, once the shopping was done, we went straight to the Romer. Unfortunately, with it not being Christmas, the famous Romer Christmas Market wasn’t up and running. It was still a very interesting plaza and still had the grand building of the Romer standing tall. Afterwards, we went straight to the side of the Rhein River and saw the assorted bridges and took to walking parallel to the river and towards the European Central Bank. Unfortunately, with no way to go up, we decided that that was the end of our stop and we ended up crossing to the otherside of the Rhein in hopes to find anything interested before night time arrived. Unfortunately, we weren’t luck enough and had to head home. The annoying thing about living in Oestrich-Winkel, are the bus/train schedules. With only one train an hour that leaves and comes back to Oestrich, time-constraints become an issue. If you do miss the train, you can take a bus, but then have fun waiting for 40 minutes before getting back home (compared to 20). My worst story was when my friends and I went out one Friday night. We got separated and had to wait for the train at Mainz. Unfortunately, at 2 PM, the next train wasn’t till 4 PM. So I decided to take a nap in near freezing temperatures. When the train finally came, I would still have to wait for the 6:30 AM train from Wiesbaden back to Oestrich. Overall, the transportation system, even though we are fortunately enough to have it and have it included in our student fees, has been a big system of frustration for my friends and I.

Enjoying Chinese New Year Hotpot with many friends!

Categories: 2017, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange

Hej is Danish for hello, and although it looks hard to say, it sounds pretty close to “Hey” when you say it.

I cannot believe it has been 3 weeks since I arrived in Copenhagen!! In some ways it seems like I’ve been here for months and in some ways it feels like it’s been a couple days.
Moving in was a whirlwind, but CBS has made the transition so easy! I had my buddy pick me up from the airport and help me move in which was so great because navigating the metro alone would have been crazy. This is funny to look back on because after only 3 weeks, the metro is like second nature.
I live in an only exchange student dorm called Katherine Kolliget and that was my best decision I have made so far. Everyone is so friendly and I’ve already made so many friends. Also, everyone is from all over the world so I have already learned so much about the world and also taught a lot of people about Texas culture (which they think is so fascinating) Try not to be nervous about the first couple of days because you have to remember that everyone is in the same boat as you and is trying hard to make friends! Making friends will happen naturally but also make sure that you say yes to everything! In my first week, I said yes to everything and have great memories that I wouldn’t have if I stayed in my dorm room.
CBS arranges a social week package and I highly recommend it! We had a traditional Danish dinner, international buffet, lake party, Copenhagen canal tour, and other stuff!!! It’s a great way to meet people in a structured setting. Also getting to Copenhagen 2 weeks early gave us a lot of free time to explore the city and be a tourist in our own city. I’ve explored Nyhavn (the typical colorful houses on the canal picture), Carlsberg Brewery, Louisiana Museum, and much more!! This has come with a couple hiccups like taking the wrong bus when the metro is shut down and also almost getting hit by many bikes.
On the topic of bikes, I highly suggest getting one!! This city is so bike friendly and I love using my bike! Taking the metro everywhere adds up and although it is cold, it’s not too bad to bike everywhere. I would suggest watching youtube videos like I did about the biking laws and how to make left turns (it’s hard!!) Also, don’t get too upset when little kids pass you on their bikes… they’ve been biking as long as they can walk.
Classes have just begun this week so I am getting used to my professors and also 3-hour lectures!! Although we do get breaks, it has been a real adjustment from 50-minute lectures. I am taking retail marketing, foreign policy in the EU, international marketing and also consumer behavior. There are a lot of readings and also having my whole grade depend on just a final is slightly terrifying. But I enjoy my classes and am excited for the semester!
A couple interesting things that I have noticed that Copenhagen does:
1. The street lights turn yellow before the lights turn green also
2. People leave their children in the strollers outside shops while they are inside (so trusting!!)
3. Everyone speaks English which is so helpful!!!
This weekend I am starting to take advantage of the cheap flights in Europe and heading to Budapest!!
Farvel!! (Goodbye in Danish)

Categories: 2017, Denmark, Reciprocal Exchange

Hej!

It’s crazy to think that I’ve been abroad for a month now. Copenhagen (and Europe in general) is so different from America. From the weather, the architecture, the food, the language, and even what people wear is different. The biggest difference is probably the transportation. I don’t know any students that have cars. Everyone here takes the metro, bikes, or walks. The metro is incredibly efficient and convenient, but it cost around $1.50 every time you take it and that adds up really quickly. I bought a bike and bike to class and it’s not so bad. I was scared at first because I haven’t ridden since I was about five years old but I picked up on it pretty quickly.

December and February have definitely been very chilly and very gray. When I left Texas to head to Cope, it was 80 degrees, so I’ve had to adapt to the frigid 30 degree weather here. It actually started snowing a couple days ago! It was really cool because I’ve never seen snow fall and it was absolutely incredible.

The people here are so friendly and so genuine. The main language spoken is Danish, but if you go up to anyone and ask for help, people are more than happy to speak English. It’s really interesting walking out into the streets of Copenhagen because everyone here is tall, blonde, blue eyed, and beautiful. I swear everyone here could be a model.

The classes are quite different than back home. They run to be around three hours long which is a little brutal, but they are usually only once a week. My classes have been very interactive. The teachers will call on students (usually at random) to answer their questions or to participate in a discussion. The good thing about classes only being once a week is that it makes traveling super easy. I have been in Copenhagen for 4 weeks and have already traveled to Budapest and Belgium! It’s incredibly cheap to fly around Europe and I feel that it’s completely to take advantage of our time here in Europe to go out and explore.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.. I can’t believe I’ve already been here for a month when I can so vividly remember just arriving yesterday. I’m excited to see what this next month has in store for me.

Farvel!

Categories: 2017, Denmark, Reciprocal Exchange

It’s crazy that I have now been in Barcelona for about 5 weeks! I am already starting to feel like one of the locals and I’m learning my way around.  My roommate and I have are now regulars at a coffee shop near us.  We go in almost every morning and the barista knows to start getting our café con leches for us.  The city of Barcelona is filled with so much art, character, things to do, and beautiful buildings.  It’s been fun to walk outside, decide if I want to go left or right on the street, and see what all I can find.  I could go on and on about all the things I have already discovered!

There are so many narrow streets that wind throughout Barcelona with several different restaurants, gelato places, and boutique-style shops.  Every time I turn a corner there is another new thing to try!  There’s so much life and excitement in Barcelona, from people playing instruments, blowing soap bubbles almost as big as I am, or people taking their dogs with them everywhere.  I have also realized how easy transportation is around here. I walk most places, for example, the university I go to here, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, is about a 15-minute walk from my flat.  The metro is also an easy, inexpensive way to get around.  I try to use the metro when I can simply because we do not have anything like it back in Texas.

When I first got to the University (UPF), I join an organization called Erasmus, or ESN.  It was around 30 euros to join and I’m so thankful I did it! I’ve met people from all over the world including, Australia, Finland, the Netherlands, Canada, the UK, and many more.  Hearing about different cultures is something I absolutely love and am always curious to know more about.  ESN had welcome day activities the first 10 days of classes where every day there was something different to do.  Some days were touristy, learning more about Barcelona’s history and seeing some absolutely beautiful buildings.  Other days were more hangouts, with speed-friending, dinners, meeting at bars, and going to a few clubs.  I’ve been able to make such close friends already through ESN and classes and I still have another 2 months of being here!

Classes at UPF are much different from what I’m used to at Texas A&M.  It is more challenging here in the sense that I’m in class longer than what I’m used to, I’m required to take 5 classes when only 4 is the maximum amount recommended, and I want to travel as much as I can while I’m here, which brings my motivation to study way down.  Thankfully all of my professors speak English very well and they understand that many international students are in their classes.  With all the friends I’ve been making, I’m able to get study groups together or work on group projects with people from ESN.  There are also local people from Spain in my classes, so it has also been interesting talking to them and getting recommendations on places I should visit while I’m here.

So far, other than Barcelona, I’ve been to Girona and Madrid. I plan on going to Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Switzerland, and several other places.  Flights from Barcelona are relatively cheap and I want to take advantage of this opportunity of being in Europe to see more of the world.  I’m probably most excited to take a few weekends to see more of Barcelona, what else is in this gorgeous city, and take in the Spanish and Catalan culture around me.  I’m already so thankful for this experience and how open my eyes have become to the world outside the United States.

There are a few things to be prepared for in advanced if you are interesting in living in or visiting Barcelona:

  • Understand that you have to walk almost everywhere. I was not used to walking much in the States and was easily worn out after a day of seeing the city.  It will definitely get you in shape being here and walking will get easier, but if possible, start walking around where you are now.
  • Be cautious of your surroundings. Keep your belongings zipped up if possible and keep your phone in your bag or purse when you can.  I did have someone try and take my phone out of my pocket as I was heading to the metro one day.  Thankfully he didn’t take it, but he was seconds away from having a new phone.  I now keep everything in my purse or backpack just to be safe.  But don’t worry! My biggest tip is every once in a while, look around you and notice the people near you.  Make eye contact with people so they know you notice them.  As long as you’re aware, you will have no problem!
  • If there are multiple people studying abroad from your home university, live with them, even if you don’t know them well going into it. I am living with one other girl from A&M, we didn’t know each other before the study abroad orientations but we knew it would be a good decision to live with each other.  We were right! I know I have someone to relate to when I’m homesick and we eat together almost every day.
  • Look into student housing immediately! The spots fill up and the locations of the student housing are great. I took too long to start looking into it and sadly couldn’t get in.  Thankfully, I found a place through Air BnB at a decent price and a great location.  I’ve heard of some people having to take about 20-30 minutes on the metro just to get to campus.  My recommendation is to start looking into housing right when you know you’re going to Barcelona to study!
  • Have fun and keep an open mind. Cultures around the world are so different compared to the United States.  So far, I’ve noticed that Barcelona has smaller personal space bubbles, a less friendly attitude towards strangers, but a loyalty to friends once you meet people.  Don’t be shocked when people kiss both of your cheeks when saying hello and stand close to you when they’re talking to you.  I was not used to this at all and the first time was not sure how to react.  It’s less strange now and I admire the closeness that people have with each other.  However, if you try to talk to a random person, even to say “bless you” when they sneeze, they think you’re the odd one, because that is just not normal to talk to random people.

 

I’m excited for the next 2 months of being here and learning more about what the world has for me.  I love this city already!

 

 

Categories: 2017, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

This new semester has started of with meeting a lot of new faces since all of the exchanges students last semester were only here for a semester. I was one of the few to stay the whole year and it was hard to adjust once again to all the newcomers. Thankfully I have some german friends that like me stayed all the year. The first week was a little repetitive with all the same events, but I did them again to get to know the new exchange students. The highlight was a weekend that included a pub crawl of Koblenz, a visit to the nearby Marksburg Castle, and finally a beer brewery where we got to do some beer tasting and have a look at the factory. Other than that, I went Rotterdam to visit a french friend that I made last semester in his town and I had a blast, taking also one of my good friends that I made here already. Another great experience was that I made friends with a french guy that invited me to go to Paris for the weekend so we hopped in his car and got to meet one of the most amazing cities I have ever been to. Other than the traveling, I have had fun helping out in Taushie Tuesdays, which is every tuesday and a different country prepares typical food from their country at a local bar and everyone comes to have food and drinks. Last Tuesday we made tacos and they were a hit. Now I am planning to Berlin this weekend to visit some friends and family. I will keep you updated.

Categories: 2017, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange

This new semester has started of with meeting a lot of new faces since all of the exchanges students last semester were only here for a semester. I was one of the few to stay the whole year and it was hard to adjust once again to all the newcomers. Thankfully I have some german friends that like me stayed all the year. The first week was a little repetitive with all the same events, but I did them again to get to know the new exchange students. The highlight was a weekend that included a pub crawl of Koblenz, a visit to the nearby Marksburg Castle, and finally a beer brewery where we got to do some beer tasting and have a look at the factory. Other than that, I went Rotterdam to visit a french friend that I made last semester in his town and I had a blast, taking also one of my good friends that I made here already. Another great experience was that I made friends with a french guy that invited me to go to Paris for the weekend so we hopped in his car and got to meet one of the most amazing cities I have ever been to. Other than the traveling, I have had fun helping out in Taushie Tuesdays, which is every tuesday and a different country prepares typical food from their country at a local bar and everyone comes to have food and drinks. Last Tuesday we made tacos and they were a hit. Now I am planning to Berlin this weekend to visit some friends and family. I will keep you updated.

Categories: 2017, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange

Howdy!

I have been in Spain for close to a month and I can honestly say this has been the best month of my life. I have met many students that are in the same situation as me, figuring out the city of Madrid and making many mistakes along the way (and learning from them, of course). I was lucky enough to come with four other aggies on this amazing journey, and even though we did not know each other before we came, it feels like we have been friends for a long time because of the experiences we have had here.

From my first few weeks I can say that my only regret was not getting my apartment sooner. I have family here in Madrid so they allowed me to stay with them for a couple of weeks until I found a place to stay. By the time I got here most apartments were already booked so finding a good place to stay was hard for me and really stressing. If I could do something all over again about this trip would be getting a place to stay a couple of months before.

Now, after getting the negative out of the way, let me get to the good stuff. Madrid has a lot of different things to discover, and I am still just starting to do that. There are many museums to which we get access for free for being students, including El Palacio Real, which is a castle where the Spanish Royalty used to live and is still used for special events. Another great thing here is the public transportation, students get a monthly pass for 20 Euros with access to all public transportation in the city. This has given me the chance to go around the city without worrying about having to pay anything else for transportation.

As for our school, UC3M has a great environment. There are many international students in the same position as me, they are looking to meet new people and travel around Spain and Europe. Classes are very different here, there are 2 meetings per week. One consists of a big lecture with around 60 students and the other one is a small group class with around 25 students, in this class most professors give small projects for the semester. School will definitely challenge me this semester but I hope to find a good balance between school work and getting to know Madrid.

Categories: 2017, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

Howdy from Texas! I’m a bit (okay, a lot) late on writing this post because of the craziness of the holidays and returning to school.

About a month ago, I returned to the good ole US of A and have now settled back into life at Texas A&M. Although I had some concerns about the impact returning to a life of normalcy would have on my mental state, I can honestly say the transition turned out to be much smoother than I anticipated, and I experienced little to no “reverse culture shock” (aside from the Texas heat, of course). It may be hard to believe, but after living abroad you will realize there are some things that no place does better than Texas. The southern hospitality, embrace of loved ones, and southern comfort food have undeniably made the past month a lot easier. Helpful hint: if you ever feel yourself starting to miss Europe, eat your weight in queso, and you will feel better. After having some time to reflect on my experience abroad, I wanted to use this last post to hopefully help prepare you for the unexpected during your semester abroad.

I wish I could tell you that every part of my experience abroad was incredible. Magical. Out-of-this-world-unbelievably-perfect-in-every-way. Unfortunately, in case you haven’t figured it out, life isn’t always perfect. Don’t get me wrong- it was amazing and magical, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. However, when moving across the globe for 4 months, a few bumps in the road are to be expected. Here are a few I encountered throughout the semester and how I dealt with them:

  1. News Flash: Europe gets hot. Upon my arrival in August, I was a little taken aback by the high temperatures and lack of air conditioning in most facilities. To avoid overheating, I would suggest packing a couple pairs of shorts and some short sleeves to get you through the first month. I also purchased a cheap electric fan at a drug store to put next to my bed to help me sleep at night.
  2. A rocky start.  Moving to a new place with new people, new food, a new language, a new culture, a new time zone and about 100 other new things, as awesome as it is, can also be a little overwhelming in the beginning. Give yourself some time to adjust. It’s okay to feel homesick. In fact, it’s normal. When you start to miss home, follow these simple steps:
    1. Let yourself feel a little sad for a minute
    2. Breathe
    3. Get out of your room
    4. Go look at something pretty
    5. Eat a pastry
    6. Remind yourself how amazing this place is that you get to call home for a few months
  3. The food… I may get some criticism for this, but Austrian food was not my favorite. I like food a lot, so this was very disappointing to me. Thankfully, there will most likely be lots of restaurants that offer options aside from the traditional food of your country. I personally just decided to cook most of my meals. Exploring international grocery stores is actually very fun! Also, when in doubt, McDonalds anywhere besides the US is pretty fantastic. Don’t knock it ’til you try it…
  4. My phone got stolen. I know. It was not fun. I was in Berlin on a trip, and someone on the subway platform stole my phone. Now, don’t freak out- these things don’t happen super often. However, if something of that nature does happen, I promise it will be okay. My advice is to always be aware of your surroundings in crowded places, and have a plan for if/when it does happen. If you go on a solo trip, just be hyper aware, and don’t put anything valuable in your pocket…
  5. You can’t see it all. I had a physical list of all the places I thought I would get to see during my semester, but in reality, I probably only made it to about 2/3 of those places due to budget and time constraints. However, I still left Europe having no regrets. Why? Because I instead ended up traveling to a couple random places that were less expensive but still incredible. My advice would be to have a couple of places in mind that you REALLY want to see, but also be flexible. It will be amazing no matter what. Besides, you should save a few places for the next time you decide to travel, because the travel bug is real, and you will catch it.

You may face challenges similar to mine, or you may encounter your own set of challenges. Whatever they may be, use them to learn and grow. Go into your semester with an open mind, be flexible, and most of all, enjoy the ride. It will be an experience you will cherish forever. Be bold, make it your own, try new things, and make the most of every day.

Best of luck and well wishes to any future exchange students out there! Auf Wiedersehen!

Categories: 2016, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange