I’ve become acclimated to living in Madrid for a few months now and feel like I really know the city. I’ve been able to explore so many restaurants, neighborhoods, parks, and events. I feel like I can really show people around Madrid and share my favorite places. My dad came to visit me a few weeks ago, and I loved showing him the areas that I frequented and what I’ve been up to. I don’t feel uncomfortable talking to locals in Spanish, and even if my Spanish isn’t perfect I can keep learning and putting myself out there to use it.
School has been hitting harder now so I’ve been needing to study for midterms and meet for group projects. I’ve gotten settled into my classes and the commute to and from school on the train. It’s at that point of the semester now where classes are almost over and finals are coming. I’m definitely scared of the finals, but even more scared of the semester almost being over since I’ve loved it so much. I have a little over a month left until I go back home, and there are so many things I’m going to miss about Madrid and Europe. I’m going to try to spend my last month as a tourist of Madrid again, going to places I haven’t been yet and exploring and experiencing as much as I can in the time that I have left. A whole semester seemed like it’d last forever but I realize how quickly it actually goes by.
As the weeks passed, I got to know my way around our tiny island and was able to focus more on school. This was a good thing, as school came into FULL swing mid-March. The way the system is set up here, each semester is broken into two terms so classes are much shorter than back home. I was fortunate enough to allow my class schedule to work out so that I could take all four of my required courses in the first term, allowing me the entire second half of the semester to travel. This plan has also helped me budget my finances much better than expected; I was so consumed with school in the first half that I really only bought groceries and a lot of coffee. I was able to take a very cheap flight to London for a weekend, and my view from the London Eye can be seen in the image below. While this trip was very fun, we were in the city only days prior to the attack at Westminster Abbey, which was quite frightening to think about. We have been reminded countless times to stay aware here, and to be vigilant of our surroundings, all for good reason. My classes wrapped up at the end of March, and we had a sort of “dead week” where there weren’t any classes or exams, and then tests were help the following week.
The lack of communication between faculty and students, and between the school and faculty, is very frustrating. The syllabi handed out (if they are handed out) simply outline what topics will be covered, but mention nothing about exam dates, modified days of classes, nature of exam, etc. Most of the information is distributed orally, not always in class, but often when a professor passes a group of his students and mentions to them that class is canceled tomorrow. This is why it is vital that you stay aware and make friends whom you can ask what is going on. Most of the exams I took where between 3 and 10 questions, asking broad questions concerning the main topics of the class. Some professors ask very detailed questions, and unless you can find this information out beforehand, it is best to study ALL the material given, which can be extremely overwhelming but more manageable if started early.
One of my professors held an “informal” exam, for those of us who wanted to take it prior to the June testing, but apparently this is frowned upon by the university so he was unable to communicate about it via any type of online forum. While I am grateful I was able to take the exam without extending my stay here, this was very frustrating, and from talking to other students it happens often. Aside from a final exam, I had a professor instruct us to travel 2 hours outside of Venice to present a business proposal to a company. We had to find our own transportation, which included me walking about 25 minutes through a small Italian town trying to find this business. Upon arrival I learned that not a single person in the company spoke English and that all the other students would be presenting in Italian. Although my Italian skills have improved since arrival, I was clearly in no position to be presenting a final project in the language, and my professor allowed myself and another student to present in English, regardless of the fact that none of the board members could understand us. They all nodded and clapped appropriately at the end of my presentation, but I could not help but feel aggravated that our professor of an “English taught” class had disregarded his obligation to the university to be teaching in English. Students take these classes so they can perfect their English, and so that international students could be involved.
Overall it has been quite frustrating interacting with professors and school faculty, and I must say that I am glad to be done with classes. There is no one to go if you cannot find the information you need, and you are often left feeling helpless on the outside, as both an international student who does not speak the language and as a student (pupils are assumed to be incorrect most of the time, and often disregarded by faculty and staff). This experience will contribute greatly to my improved determination to succeed, as frustrating as it was I have not let it get me down and have completed all my courses successfully.
Starting out April in Venice, I am feeling very fortunate to have completed all of my required courses in the first half of the semester here, and with finals being finally over I am now free to do what I want. Traveling is obviously at the top of my list, but my wallet has other ideas. I have spent countless hours relaxing in Venice, and exploring our small island. The search for an internship continues, and lots of days are devoted to applying endlessly to companies back home, who are not always fond of offering an online/phone interview in substitute of the real thing. My roommate and I traveled to Dublin, Ireland for a few days and were able to go on a Guinness Brewhouse tour, and see a lot of the city which closely resembled home. It was also a very nice change to be in a city where English is spoken so commonly, directions were easy to find and understand, and ordering at restaurants was also much easier. Katie, my roommate, has a plethora of TAMU friends studying abroad all over Europe, and we got to meet up with some of them in Ireland for dinner and to explore the city. It was very cool to have these connections, and it would be my advice to anyone wanting to study abroad to possibly ask your friends and plan on doing the same semester so that you would have someone to meet up in cities with.
As the weather is warming up into April, the tourists are pouring in. The streets, trains, ferries, and restaurants are becoming packed almost all of the time. Ironically, I do not consider myself a tourist anymore since I now have a weekly schedule and go grocery shopping more than eating out. The best times of day to go out are during the very early morning when those visiting are still sleeping, or during the mid-afternoon when shop keepers and businesses take a break to eat and go home to see their families. Venice has a multitude of small hidden gems that I have been able to explore more since finishing classes. My favorite find thus far has been the marketplace near the edge of the Rialto bridge, it is open every week Tuesday-Saturday and barges begin arriving at early dawn to deliver fish and vegetables. The locals often suggest not ordering fish on Mondays at restaurants as it is unlikely to be fresh. I usually buy groceries, but sometimes it is enjoyable to just go and watch the hustle and the bargaining over goods.
March ended up being my busiest month. Not because of classes, but because of traveling! There were many ups and downs during the trip, but I would say the best one was going to Iceland. Nothing beats the chance to explore the icy unknown.
The first place we went to was Iceland. Funny thing was, my friends and I came back from Luxembourg the day before this trip, so it was safe to say that we were all rushed and worried about all the packing and preparation we had to do in less than 12 hours. I ended up deciding that I HAD to wash and dry my clothes at my friend’s place (since she had a drier) and ended up getting back home at 3 AM, 5 hours before my flight. OK! I can just stay up like I usually do. Or take a quick hour nap. Or, you know, just take my nap and sleep through my alarm while I’m at it. Lucky for me, my roommate ended up waking up when my friend started spam calling both of us (for him to wake me up). As you could already tell, this trip was starting off well.
Day 1: Our first day consisted of us driving around the Golden Circle. Here, frozen waterfalls, icy paths, unfrozen water falls, and even a geyser made up the wonders of the Golden Circle. Unfortunately, walking slowly down icy slopes is never a great idea. Especially when you fall on your butt twice, once going up and going down. Note to self; buy hiking boots or ice spikes. Due to some unexpected issues that occurred that day, the two groups ended up being separated (there were ten of us in two cars). Our car, when we were done with everything, decided to change our plans up and walk to the Abandoned Plane that afternoon, seeing as everyone else in the other car didn’t want to do it the next day. That was horrible. Let me explain it in the easiest way possible; walking through winds speeding past at seemingly 60 mph (might be an exaggeration) while being pushed and pulled by the wind, a large amount of sand flying into our eyes constantly, and the temperature drop due to the wind chill. I didn’t need a meteorologist to tell me that that wasn’t the best time to have gone on an hour-long hike, both ways. At the end of the Black Sand Beach, we ended up at the Abandoned Plane. With its white body contrasting the black sand, many photographers are attracted to the site (as seen with three photographers at the site). I saw how it was unique and looked like a piece of art, but at the same time, I never really understood why the Icelandic government decided to just leave an abandoned plane in the middle of nowhere Iceland for tourist to go look at. Why not clean up the mess (as to prevent any environmental issues) or just, you know, move it closer to the entrance so there’s not an hour-long walk. The real bummer was that there wasn’t even any souvenirs shops there at the site. That night, we tried to go looking for northern lights. Unbeknownst to us, we didn’t even expect for it to be snowing heavily. The road to get out of the cabins we stayed at ended up having way too much snow that we couldn’t get out to go look. We ended up staying in the car for an hour (since it had a better view than our cabin) to try to catch a glimpse of anything, which we couldn’t.
Sunset at the Golden Circle! Abandoned Plane
Day 2: Day 2 was a lot easier for our car. Seeing as everyone in the other car decided that they now had to go see the plane, we decided to sleep in. Yet, funny enough, even with sleeping in, we were still ahead of them, schedule wise. We arrived at the actual Black Beach and even climbed up the side of the cliff there! We then went on a two hour drive and ended up at Skaftafell, to see the Svínafellsjökull Glacier. And lucky us! The wind yet again felt like it was 60 mph! Trudging through the snow with winds this strong made it almost impossible to even get close to the glacier safely. It was disappointing since seeing a glacier up close was on my bucket list.
On the cliffs! Welcome to the Black Sand Beach!
Day 3: Today, we went back towards the Svínafellsjökull Glacier to go visit the Ice Caves. With a hefty price of $180, I decided that my money was better spent elsewhere, so three of us waited for everyone else. The views we got at the nearby beach and even the glaciers there made the wait not bad. After this was over, we were ready for the longest drive we had to do, a six hour drive all the way to Mývatn, a beautiful lake with a nearby volcano. The winding roads on the mount side, icy roads, and detours due to closed roads helped make this ride even worse. That night after getting to the hostel, we tried to do another aurora chase, which ended up being a failure. The radar was picking up a lot of clouds in our area and our best bet was to go over an hour away to get even a chance of the lights. We didn’t want to risk it with a non-full tank and camped out at the side of the road. We had to give up and headed back to our hostel.
Day 4: We spent the better part of the day exploring Mývatn and driving around to the various sights. The two places to see were Hverfjall and Dimmuborgir. Hverfjall, the nearby volcano, ended up not being a place we saw due to the roads being icy and dangerous for a Texan to drive. Our friends in the other car apparently went all the way up through, but I have no regrets due to many unaccounted-for dangers. Dimmuborgir is a national park with various lava and rock formations that shape the area. The funny thing about the park is that the Yule Lads, essentially Icelandic Santas, lived and roamed around the area. There happened to be one there who ran up and down the side of the rock formations with ease. It was kind of funny seeing him trying to ask someone to marry him by proposing with a toilet brush! With that done, our next stop was Akuryei, the second largest urban city after Reykjavik. The biggest thing to see there was the church of Akuryei, Akureyrarkirkja. It’s shape and design was unique, which is probably due to some cross influence of Lutheran and Icelandic culture. With nothing else in the town, we continued on our drive to get to our next place.
Day 5: Our second to last day in Iceland was spent going to the west peninsula of Iceland, Snæfellsnes. The first city we got to was Helgafell and we mapped out our plan for the day there. The first thing we saw was the second church on our trip, the Stykkishólmskirkja. Just like the Akuryei, this one also was designed in a very interesting way. I’m usually not that interested in the outside of churches/cathedrals since they’re usually the same design (gothic), but these churches just really interested me due to how different they were. Afterwards, we did a small backtrack to get to the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum. One thing I found out about Iceland before getting there is that they have something called Hákarl, rotten shark. It has been a cultural and historical food in Iceland, so I just had to try it. Words can’t really describe the taste. It wasn’t as bad as I thought people said it was. It was just tasted and smelled of a lot of ammonia. In fact, even the way they ferment the sharks is interesting. Due to the sharks that are caught having high amounts of urea and trimethylamine oxide, they have to be processed and fermented (underground) before being able to be consumed. They use only the body of the shark though, which made me question what the fins were used for. Funny enough, on our trip to the museum, two people from China were there to inquire about purchasing the unused shark fins for consumption in China. Our trip around Snæfellsnes ended right after our trip to Þjóðgarðurinn Snæfellsjökull, the national park located there. The views of the ocean and the surrounding volcanoes made the view surreal. We went down to the beach and saw two seals in the ocean near the coast. Everyone tried their hardest to get them to come to shore, which I doubt would’ve ever happened. We ended the day driving back to Reykjavik to get ready for the early morning.
Stykkishólmskirkja Rotten Shark
Day 6: The morning started out with us getting up early to get to the Blue Lagoon, a popular geothermal spa resort. This place was amazing! Minus the chilly winds that plagued us the moment we stepped outside of the water. The water was amazing, the view was amazing, just getting the opportunity to do this blew my mind. We stayed for a few hours, enjoying the nice water, until we decided it was time to get lunch in Reykjavik. We went to see the last and final church during our visit to Iceland, Hallgrimskirkja. This one was on an even more grander scale compared to the other two with its size rivaling many other cathedrals in mainland Europe. This grand church was a great way to end our tour of Iceland. Due to a mistake, my friends got our last hostel at Reykjavik instead of where the international airport was, 40 minutes away. This influenced many things; the first was that we could’ve had a better parking place when we went to explore the city. Second, was that it affected how we would return the car, as it required me to drive pretty fast to get our car back to the rental place in time. But, we made it in time, even if just barely! That night, I decided that I was going to go to the bars nearby and would be dragging my friend along. The reason being was that compared to the last two Reykjavik hostels, this one was closer to the bars than the other two. No trip is complete without experiencing the night life of the city. Trying the local beers and the specialty liquors weren’t remotely cheap at all (one beer I got was $14 and two shots I got were $10 each, totaling $34 just for three things) but allowed me to try some new things, the shots. The first was Brennivin, Iceland’s national schnapps, and the second was Bjork, liquor produced from birch sap. These two shots were unique and, to me, seemed to really show the culture of Iceland and how they live off the land (being how the shots were fruit and birch tree based).
Blue Lagoon Entrance Hallgrimskirkja
Going to Iceland was amazing. I got to see so many things that I wouldn’t usually see (mainly a glacier) and got to experience Iceland as it is. Unfortunately for me, the trip was expensive (a single bowl of soup was upwards of $15…) and majority of the driving was done by me, meaning 3 to 6 hours of constant driving sometimes. But, it was a great learning experience, on the driving side. I did learn how to deal and cope with ice/snow and discovered that 90 km/h is slow. I wouldn’t have given this trip up for anything.
The next trip is divided into two parts; the first is with my friend, Alexis, who’s at Madrid for her exchange program, and her three friends, followed by me with a group of friends from EBS. The different groups really change the whole aspect of the trip and was what made and broke the trip for me.
I’ve always wanted to go to Berlin for as long as I could remember. It’s a city full of history; the capital of Prussia, the capital that split in two, the Berlin Wall, and much more. No matter what it was, I had to go experience Berlin. Luckily for me, Alexis was planning on going there! We ended up only staying in Berlin for one day/night, which was fine for me because I could always try to revisit Berlin if I ever felt the need to. We decided the best way to see all the sights was with a walking tour. It just so happened that our hostel was a meeting place for a free walking tour that took us to see the most essential parts of Berlin. Of the places we saw, the most memorable one to me was the Brandenburg Gate. From starting as the gateway to Berlin when the city first started to the Quadriga being taken away by Napoleon after defeating Prussia to the now historical importance of it and the plaza it’s at, you learn so much just from that one area! At the end of the night, I’m glad that we also got a chance to have a pint of Guinness to celebrate St. Patty’s Day!
Berlin Wall protected from vandalism Brandenburg Gate
Prague amazed me to no ends. From the minute we got there, we were already seeing wonders. The city hall was close to our hostel, so we quickly booked it over there and went up to the top of the tower in time before it got too dark. The view we got was unbelievable. We saw everything; the castle, the various churches, the far away tower on a hill, and much more! We knew from those sights that it would’ve been a day tomorrow. One thing that every has to at least experience when in Prague is the five story club. While clubbing may not really be my thing, getting to experience something like this that isn’t exactly found in the states blew my mind. The ability to change to different songs whenever, the sheer amount of people crammed in there, and the over atmosphere of happiness really made the place shine. The main things we wanted to see during our trip was the John Lennon wall and the castle. The castle was not what I was expecting. Unlike other castles in other cities, the one at Prague felt like a small town by itself, with its multitude of buildings and various sights to see within the palace.
Trekking through the rain to get to the John Lennon Wall
View of Prague from the top of the City Hall
Vienna, for all of us, was more of a time to relax. We had already done so much climbing beforehand at Prague that all we wanted to do this time was explore the city. We visited the Schönbrunn Palace and then the main castle in the city the next day. Sadly, we came an hour before closing so there was only so much we could see within the palace. But outside behind the palace, the gardens were spacious. We spent the better part of our free time climbing up the hill to the top where the Gloriette and a small pond were situated. Alexis and I went all the way to the top of the Gloriette which gave us an amazing view on the sunset and over the city. As amazing as the place was, I still found it second to Versailles.
Schönbrunn light at night
Alexis and I from the top of the Gloriette
The next day was spent exploring the rest of the city. Since everyone else had to leave that night to get back to Spain, we quickly went through all the places we could. We started at the main palace and went to the Austrian National Library. Afterwards, Alexis and I yet again split from the rest and went to see the Beethoven Museum. As great a tour as it was, it ended up being a skeleton of his house in Vienna. Beethoven moved out before he passed away, meaning that all his belongings weren’t even there to begin with. That the layout of the room was left for your imagination and what researchers believed.
Finally, the thing that I was looking forward to the most, the Vienna Philharmonic. My friends wanted to go to an opera performance, which really didn’t appeal to me. So, I looked up the Vienna Philharmonic and saw that they had 5 euro standing tickets! Even if I had to stand, paying so little to experience one of the best orchestras in the world was a steal! Vienna might’ve just became my most interesting trip thus far!
Going to a cheap country makes everything much more fun and interesting. Eastern Europe, for those who don’t really know, is a lot cheaper than Western Europe. Food, alcohol, even living is a lot more affordable. The first thing we did was to go to the Széchenyi Thermal Bath. Compared to Iceland, it was a lot more older in how it felt. The indoor baths and two giant outdoor baths were more of a meeting place for the residents of Budapest rather than a tourist attraction. Being more like a pool made the whole experience different than what we felt at the Blue Lagoon.
Day two consisted of going to the Budapest castle. The amount of people there was outrageous, with both castle grounds and the nearby Fisherman’s Bastion being filled with tourists taking all the pictures they could. As my friends were busily getting all the pictures they could of all the different poses they could’ve gotten with all the different lightings/effects they could’ve found, I choose to just explore the palace ground (Yes. I finished walking around most of the castle ground before they even finished taking pictures). The sight of the castle and the view from the Fisherman’s Cove gave a much older look at Budapest that contrasts with the rest of the city.
After lunch, I decided to ditch my group. By being the seventh person (and only guy) in the group, I was often pushed out of the group. They would all be speaking their own languages to each other, be avoiding me, and wanted to only do things that they wanted. One thing that they didn’t even want to experience was the night life in any of the cities. Especially with Budapest having its Ruin Bars, I felt that it would’ve been a waste to not go experience it. The Ruin Bars are hipster looking bars that have taken over the old Jewish Ghettos. Everything was flashy and reused, the beer they had was different and like that of a microbrewery, and the place was filled with people of different ages, showing that no matter how a bar looked, it was for everyone. I couldn’t say I experienced the whole thing (since it wasn’t during the night), but I am glad that I choose to do what I wanted and experienced Budapest in a different light before I left.
A quiet, calm Ruin Bars
I mentioned earlier that the different groups changed my view on my trips. The reason being is that other than not having any sort of common ground with some of the girls on the trip, they just didn’t really care about what I wanted to do. This made traveling with them a pain. I obviously didn’t find out about it till it was too late. I joined them mainly to get the opportunity to go to Poland. Visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp has always been something that I’ve always wanted to do.
Krakow, the old capital of Warsaw, contained many historical locations. Our group had a big debate before we got to Krakow about when we should do the Auschwitz-Birkenau/Wieliczka Salt Mines tour. For me, it was the best idea to just get picked up two hours after getting to Krakow and do the tour then, since we would have a guide driving us. After a long debate and everyone finally understanding that they could go to sleep on the ride, we decided to do the tours on the first day.
Auschwitz-Birkenau felt and looked as how I was taught. It was a memorial full of history and sadness in the atmosphere. Going from seeing pictures of the area to being at the areas where the cruelty happened is a big change. Being that it’s most likely the last concentration camp I’d be visiting during my exchange program, I was glad that I at least got to see Auschwitz-Birkenau and got to learn more about the horrors that happened there. It’s great that Germany, and other countries affected, have gone through many lengths to keep these memories alive as so that no same atrocities would happen again.
Entrance to Auschwitz
Afterwards, we went to the salt mines. I really didn’t understand how these were famous, until we got in. The mines, expanding many miles under and across the city, were mined as early as the 13th century. All that history, how important it was in the past (with that one salt mine itself being a gift to a queen), and all the engineering and architecture to keep it as breathtaking as it was amazing. For example, you don’t expect there to be a chapel in a salt mine right? But jokes on you. There were in fact two! With one of them being a famous place for even marriages. Plus, this mine told me that Chopin was Polish, something that I never knew, and something everywhere in Poland likes to bring up.
Main cathedral within the Wieliczka Salt Mines (Pictures weren’t allowed unfortunately without paying)
We wanted to explore the rest of the city and learn as much as we could during our last day. We found a golf cart tour and decided that would be the easiest way! The most notable things for me about the trip were visiting the Jewish Ghetto, old Jewish Town, and Schlinder’s Factory. The Ghetto and the old town weren’t fancy by any means, but they were full of history and culture; an assortment of monuments in remembrance of WWII to large marketplaces happening in the middle of the square. The city was alive no matter where you went. Schlinder’s Factory, sadly, was sort of a disappointment to all of us. Being within the old factory, and with such an importance of what happened there, we assumed the whole museum would’ve been about the situation. Well, they touched upon him and what he did in Krakow, but after and before that, everything else was about Krakow in WWII. So Schlinder and his Factory only played a small part in the museum of Schlinder’s Factory. But on the bright side, I got a history lesson on Poland/Krakow in WWII. That night, I wanted to go see the bars at the Jewish Ghetto. Funny thing is that the bars happen to be located in old Jewish ghettos, as seen here and Budapest. I found a microbrewery pub and got to try some nice different beers. Afterwards, I head out to another bar in hopes of burning some more time before I went back home. I ended up meeting a group of guys from England and hanged out with them for the night, making my trip a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would’ve been.
Warsaw was interesting. Despite it being a city of history, there really was only the old town for us to see and experience things. Everything was crowded with tourists with tourist prices or was closed due to it being Sunday. Overall, the trip was just a time for me to relax. The girls in my group decided that they wanted to watch movies and just go shopping. Being things that I didn’t want to do, I spent minimal time with them. On the first night, I stopped outside of a sports bar since Poland happened to be playing against Montenegro in the World Cup qualifiers. The moment Lewandowski made a penalty kick, the whole place exploded in cheers, reminding me how big a deal Lewandowski was in Poland. The next night, I decided to go try out the bars in Warsaw. There wasn’t much to see or do in the area being a Monday night. I happened to meet some new people at the bars to hang out with, who happened to be more guys from England. Overall, both of my nights in Poland with a cool group of guys that I just meet ended up being great nights for me.
Currently on the downhill slide of my time in Madrid, with only 5 full weeks left. I can’t believe how time has just flown by. It’s all so surreal to me looking back at the various phases all 5 of us Aggies have gone through in our time here. First we were excited, but thoroughly terrified; then a little homesick; then comfortable and set in a routine; then very anti-routine and thirsty for new discoveries in Madrid; and now I think we’re all at various levels of Madrilleño.
Since I last posted, I’ve had more time to reflect and experience other countries. I can confidently say that of all the nations I’ve visited in Europe, Spain is my favorite, and Madrid is my favorite metropolis. Time after time, I’ve been taken aback by how amazing the Spanish way of life is. Going into this exchange, I wrote off Spaniards as lazy people who ate a lot of ham and napped mid-afternoon, but it’s really so much more than that. They take the time to enjoy the important things in life that people in the States so-often pass up because we always have something else to cross off the to-do list or somewhere else to be. They value family as the most important thing, and are so passionate about cooking and even more passionate about being happy. People here are all so friendly and kind and easy-going and I feel
Showing Keaton around Retiro
a lot of that is attributed to the lifestyle that Spaniards are so keen on living.
In April, my boyfriend from A&M had the opportunity to visit during my spring break and he got to see first-hand all that I’ve observed over here, and he was truly amazed by the cultural difference. We visited a couple cities within Spain, as well as Marseille, France and Venice, Italy, and both of us wished we had spent the whole time in Spain because the people’s energy and attitude is just unparalleled. It’s taught me so much about myself and made me realize that I want to incorporate these fundamental aspects into my life back home when I return. I couldn’t be more excited to do this.
Another favorite memory of mine since I last posted happened last weekend. It was the first time that most of my friends were all in Madrid for the weekend since the beginning of the semester, so I decided to host a potluck lunch at my apartment. We sat around eating and gabbing for about 3 hours and it couldn’t have been more perfect. We all reflected on our experiences here and reminisced about just how fast its all gone by. It feels like an eternity ago that we all met up for orientation here but none of us can believe that our time here is wrapping up. Participating in this exchange has been the best decision I think I’ve ever made and even though it’s not over yet, I already wish I could do it again.
I arrived here on January 5, 2017 and have spent already a month here. This is my first time in Europe and it has been quite the culture shock. I flew in from Dallas and had a couple of layovers in Washington DC and Zurich, Switzerland before I finally landed in Nice. When I lay foot in France I was overwhelmed with a lot of different emotions. I was filled with excitement for this once in a lifetime experience; however, I also had feelings of anxiety and doubt. It helped to have a friend from Texas A&M to spend the semester because I was not alone in a completely foreign place. When I had touched down my school, EDHEC Business School, had a personal driver waiting to take us to our apartment. When we got dropped off we had to stall for a couple hours while we would wait for our landlord to arrive to give us our keys. We wondered across the street to this little French bistro with all our luggage to get some wifi to contact our parents and to grab a bite to eat. The waiter came up to us and immediately began speaking very quickly in French. Garret and I looked at each other bewilderedly. I panicked and responded to the waiter in Spanish asking for water and bread while he laughed at my incompetence. This was my first true experience of feeling helpless in not understanding the language, the culture, and this new way of life. After waiting several hours our landlord arrived and brought us our key. We entered our flat and met one out of our two roommates immediately. She was a 31 year old Chinese woman who was working to accomplish her masters. It was really tough to communicate with her originally because she spoke broken english causing a huge language barrier. However, over the next month we would get much better at communicating with her and she began to understand us more. My other roommate is a 23 year old German girl who speaks slightly better than the Chinese girl. At first when I met both these girls I thought I had made a mistake in choosing this flat because it was extremely difficult and time consuming to have a simple conversation. However, over time we began to understand each other more easily, and I began to really enjoy learning about their cultures and backgrounds.
On January 6 we had orientation with all the other exchange students. I quickly became acquainted with the other 30-40 students over lunch and a tour of Nice. We had exchanged numbers and created a group message with all the students so we could keep in touch. After talking with all the students I quickly realized that there was only one other American in my program. There were students from Norway to Germany to China to Brazil. It forced me to get outside of my comfort zone and engage with people from all over the world. I was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to have a casual conversation with all the other students which helped to put me to ease. It was fascinating to learn about all the different dialects and backgrounds of each international student. I really enjoyed hearing about others experiences in many ways which were similar to mine and yet so different. While they came from different countries and cultures most of us all shared the same interests which was a comforting. Garret and I have made a strong core group of friends that we have began to do quick day trips with and spend a lot of days and evenings with exploring the city.
School has been awesome thus far. The schedule layout is odd because there is no set schedule of when your class will be held. My schedule each week fluctuates. One week I may have 5 days of classes and the next week I may have just 1. I really enjoy this layout because I can look at my schedule and pick weeks to travel around Europe when I have little class. The school itself is very nice and modern. It is right next to the ocean and the airport. In class I have found myself distracted by the private jets landing and the remarkably clear waters of the Mediterranean sea. The content has been pretty simple so far. Teachers don’t assign much homework; rather, they assign a lot of projects to work in with groups and then a final at the end of the semester. I am currently enrolled in 7 classes but some of the classes are condensed into a couple weeks. Therefore, I have already finished one of my classes because we met frequently for 3 hours a day 3 days a week. All the classes are 3 hours long with a 30 minute break. While this may seem long it is convenient to knock out one class a day rather than attending it 3 times a week. However, it can be tough to keep up with classes since they are not on a routine basis.
The transportation in Nice is quite accessible and simple to use. The school informed us on how to get set up for a year long bike pass for 25 euros, and a tram and bus pass that we could renew monthly for 20 euros. I usually bike along the Promenade to class because it is usually the quickest and prettiest way to get to class. The food is incredible. I have been enjoying the French cuisine, but I have to remain conscious of my savings account dwindling ever so quickly.
So far, I have only done quick day trips in January as I get acclimated to France and solidify friendships. I have taken a quick 20 minute train to Monaco to visit the luxuries that Monte Carlo has to offer while also taking an hour and a half day trip to ski the French Alps. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the mountains and the ocean are so close to one another making it the perfect place to study abroad. I am excited to adventure further into Europe and Nice and experience all the different cultures.
This past month has been one of the best months of my life. I have slowly eased into the European lifestyle and feel comfortable calling Nice my home base. I have even gotten a Euro haircut and a jacket to blend in with the French. While the city and the culture have become familiar to me, the language still perplexes me. I have begun a beginner French course. This class is very difficult because I have no foundation so I am starting from square one. Everyone within our program and school speaks english as well so I do not get much practice with the French language other than class and with uber drivers. When I try and speak French with people they instantly realize I am American and speak english. While this is convenient to have english speakers, it is frustrating that I have not excelled in the French language at the pace I had expected.
I have already finished 1 class and am closing in on finishing 2 more. Because of this school has slowed down significantly and I am beginning to have longer weekends to travel around Europe. No complains over here. Class is not very intensive so far and it requires a lot of group collaboration for projects. I enjoy this style of learning rather than being lectured for 3 hours a day. EDHEC aims to use a hands on approach with learning and I have found it very effective. However, I have to force myself to focus at times because it is pass or fail and my GPA doesn’t transfer over.
With all this extra time from some of my classes coming to an end I have travelled to Florence, Venice, Murano, Rome, Eze, Monaco, Ville-Franche Sur Mer, and other small cities along the French Riviera. In Florence my girlfriend and one of my best friends studies there so I had my own personal tour guide. I got to see the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, Florence Baptistery, and other sites while walking by the Uffizi Gallery, the Palazzo Pitti and more. While the sites to see in Florence were breathtaking, the thing I enjoyed the most was Italian food. I was introduced to many different Italian pastas and pizza that will never be forgotten. The next week I went to Venice with Garret to meet up with one of our A&M friends who studies there. She showed us an awesome time and we saw the Grand Canal, Saint Mark’s Basilica, the Rialto Bridge and much more. Venice is a very small place so we saw the city within a day. Three days was honestly too much time in a place that small so on the 3rd day we took a day trip to Murano, the glass island. We were privileged enough to see glass being made and all the antiques on the island. The next week we went to Rome and it was absolutely incredible. Garret and I chose to do the hop on hop off bus because it dropped us off at every single popular site to see in Rome. We saw the Colosseum, the whole Vatican, the Spanish Steps, the Moses, the Roman Forum, Trevi fountain, and many basilicas. I have never seen such a historically rich city and thoroughly enjoyed the 3 days I spent there. I also did some quick day trips the week after Rome along the French Riviera. I hiked up Eze, enjoyed the beaches of the Riviera, and explored Monaco.
I am almost halfway finished with my time here in Europe. The time is going by way too quickly. Everyday is a new challenge and adventure and I can’t wait for the rest of my time here.
It’s hard to believe that I only have about 2 weeks left until I leave Europe. This experience has been life-changing and something that is hard to really describe to others. I never thought I would be traveling all over, meeting so many people, and gaining memories that will last forever. I had the opportunity to go to a small country right next to Spain called Andorra to go skiing. Erasmus Student Network put the trip together, making it much cheaper than if I had tried to plan it on my own. I had not skied for about 10 years before this so I was a little nervous but mostly excited. The girls I was around while there were very helpful and encouraging to me and others. I bonded with so many people there, enjoyed the beauty around me, and I got to re-teach myself how to ski, which was challenging but definitely a blast!
During my twin sister’s Spring Break, she and my parents took the opportunity to come visit me. Seeing them actually made me more home sick than before and reminded me of how much I love and miss them. This is the longest I’ve ever been without my sister since we go to A&M and live together so it was lovely getting to see her. It was exciting showing my family around Barcelona, all the touristy sites as well as the places most tourists don’t know about. We got to go to the well known places like Park Guell and Sagrada Familia, as well as getting to eat some delicious food Spain is known for! One of the evenings they were here, we had a picnic on a hill with a 360 degree view of Barcelona as the sun set. They were amazed at the beauty that Barcelona and for me to be their tour guide made it even more special. Seeing my family’s reaction to Barcelona reminded me how special it is that I’m here and able to live in this amazing city.
Another student and one of my good friends who is studying in Venice this semester came to see me and Barcelona for a weekend. Again, I was able to show off this city and what it holds! It doesn’t matter how many times I see Barcelona from on top of a hill, the view leaves me speechless every time. I’m able to point out some of the buildings and their significance to the city as well as admire looking at the Mediterranean Sea. I’m absorbing these last special moments in Barcelona before I leave.
I’m going to spend the next two weeks traveling to places like Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, and Poland. Someone who I consider to be like a sister to me lives in Denmark, so getting to see her and her family will be extremely special! I’m going to be able to see more of the world, visit a concentration camp and I’ll even be skydiving! I’m making sure to have experiences that will stick with me for a very long time before leaving to go home. Although I can’t wait to see my friends and family when I get back, I know I’m going to miss Barcelona, traveling, and the easy access to seeing new places and countries. Gracias Barcelona for everything you’ve provided for me!
For being the shortest month, February was definitely the busiest. School started, travels started, and I got adjusted to a somewhat everyday life here in Copenhagen.
The first weekend in February, a group of my friends and I headed to Budapest for our first trip. There is usually one downfall to the cheap Ryanair flights throughout Europe- they have weird times. So we left Copenhagen on Saturday night at around 9 PM. Budapest for being my first trip was amazing! We got one day of sunlight which was completely foreign to us at that point. We met up with other students studying abroad there and they showed us around. If you know anyone in the cities you’re traveling to, I highly recommend reaching out! They know the city way better than any hop on/hop off bus. Also, Hungary is SO CHEAP! We got a nice sit-down meal with drinks for only about $6 which is impossible to find in Copenhagen (even McDonald’s is more). This weekend was Superbowl Sunday, so we went and watched the super bowl at a Hooters in Budapest. It was an interesting experience but also so fun. However, my favorite part is the commercials but Hungarian TV didn’t show American ones.
Since my schedule changes each week, I only had class on Wednesday so I went to 2 3-hour lectures which I still do not think I will ever get used to.
Thursday, a large group of us headed our for Belguim. I had no expectations for this trip, but it was a cheap flight and since I have never been to Europe, I was down for anything. We spent a night in Brussels, 2 in Brugge and then left from Brussels on Sunday. Brussels felt very American to me, walking around the street the buildings could be found in a major American city. First stop was to get waffles. We ate waffles, chocolate, and fries every single day in Belguim. Brugge can be described as a storybook town. I highly recommend it to anyone who is in Belgium!! Except for the freezing weather, we had a great weekend. This trip also taught me that when you travel with people is when you learn people’s true personalities. There is nothing like being together 24/7 to realize how people like to travel or spend their time.
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After this trip, it seemed like EVERYONE got sick. Since we live in a dorm again, sickness spread like wildfire. I suggest to anyone going abroad to being all types of medicine even if you don’t think you will need it. My mom made me a survival kit and I swear someone each day asks me if I have some type of medicine. They have different brands here of medicine and everything is in Danish so medicine shopping can be overwhelming.
Our next trip was Iceland. This trip is so hard to put into words, it was incredible. Iceland is a place every single person needs to see. We all piled up in rented cars and went on a 3-day road trip across the Southern part of the island.
After this trip, we had 2 weeks in Copenhagen and I was so excited to be home. I definitely know I made the right decision on where to study abroad because when we travel, I miss Copenhagen. Studying abroad comes with a hard balance of spending time in your city and also traveling. I suggest you give yourself a weekend in between or do 2 trips back to back then give yourself a week. Travelling is exhausting and can take a lot out of you mentally and physically.