Bonjour from Strasbourg, France – Sophia Rahimeh
Mays Business School, March 8th, 2019
Bonjour à tous!
It’s hard for me to believe that almost two months of my exchange semester has gone by – time has flown and I have enjoyed every second of my time abroad! I’ve adjusted to the change in scenery quite well as I have wanted to study abroad for most of my childhood. This experience has been long-awaited and I am beyond happy that it has finally come.
By studying in Strasbourg, France, I am able to experience a culture within another culture. While France has its own culture unique to Europe, Strasbourg is a city nestled on the French-German border and thus, a part of the Alsatian cultural sphere. The way that I’ve described it to many is that the people are French but the place is German. By this, I mean that the common language here is French and the style is French while in terms of architecture and street names, Strasbourg very much can seem a bit German at times.
I believe France to be a beautiful country in every way: with its fashion, cuisine, architecture, land, people, and more. I’ve come to admire its beauty on a daily basis – whether it is by grabbing a chocolate pastry from a nearby “Patisserie” on my way to class in the morning or a baguette on my way back from a “boulangerie”, visiting the local market and supporting farm fresh produce, going to various cathedrals and museums where I can learn more about the history of the area, or having a picnic with some friends at a local park when the sun decides to pop out. As you have probably guessed, the French love bread. We also love presentation in terms of many things – fashion especially! It is important to always look presentable and to have a sense of style when dressing. An all-black outfit is an easy go-to here!
Classes here are quite different from those at Mays. The French system, or at least what I have been able to observe from EM Strasbourg, differs in that most examinations are done at the end of the course – and that most of your grade is determined by that exam. Homework or small assignments don’t exist here, in the sense that the professors expect you to keep up with their course / material however you choose to do so! I like this approach as it allows students to be self-motivated. Lectures are also less common and classes are very participative. On the other hand, I do wish that EM Strasbourg combined exchange students with domestic students in courses, like Mays does, but it tends to be a rarity here. However, I was able to take one of my courses in French which was great in order to expand my French language skills and meet locals.
Something that seemed just crazy to me was the ability to go for a casual morning run to GERMANY ! If I wanted to run 10-15 kilometers (roughly 6-9 miles), I could start in Strasbourg, run to the nearby city of Kehl (cross by bridge with no border control or anything of that sort), run along the river, then continue my run back to Strasbourg with ease. Many students in Strasbourg also do their grocery shopping in Kehl since it is cheaper and a 15-minute tram ride away.
As Strasbourg houses the European Parliament and is deemed by many to be the “heart/capital/center” of Europe, it is the place to be. I visited the European Parliament, where I sat in on a plenary session. My dream job is to be a diplomat (Foreign Service Officer), ambassador, or to work for an international organization (or embassy) so this was quite a valuable experience for me. Even with the representatives of the different European countries talking about the topic of taxes and how the present laws affect the country and people that they are delegates of, I was interested in every second of it!
Most of Europe is under the “Schengen Area”. This refers to a compilation of 26 European states that have mutually undefined borders – in the sense that the Schengen Area has a common visa policy which generates the ease of international travel. I love this concept! The ability to be just kilometers (metric system rules out the customary system here 😉 or hours away from a whole other culture (and language) continues to baffle me! When I traveled to Budapest, Hungary, I bussed back (which is fairly common in Europe, especially for young travelers) so ideally, I had breakfast in Hungary, stopped for lunch in Austria, had a quick dinner in Germany, then arrived back in France in the evening to sleep – passing through four countries in one day! In Texas, if you drive for seven hours, you are likely… you guessed it – still in Texas!
Furthermore, I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to travel often during my time here. Typically, my weeks are spent in Strasbourg while 2-3 out of 4 weekends per month are elsewhere. So far, I have visited cities in Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and of course, France. I was also able to spend New Year’s Eve in Paris with an old friend before classes had started (a previous exchange student who I met during my Freshman year at Texas A&M) which was just amazing. I also have plans to visit Milan and Barcelona in the near future, then we will see from there!
And for that, I thank IBA (the International Business Association) for the opportunities it has encouraged me to pursue. I have already visited / been visited by / met up with 15+ previous IBA students (of which were exchange students at one of our 15 partner universities and studied abroad at Texas A&M within the past 3 years). It was really amazing to have been able to switch roles with them – when these past exchange students were in Texas, I was their tour guide and took trips with them, showed them around, engulfed them with the traditions of both Texas A&M and the US, etc. but with me being in Europe, it was now their time to play the role of the tour guide and show me their land & its ways! IBA has allowed me to meet so many different people that I undoubtedly would not have had a chance to meet otherwise. For several years now, I have helped out the exchange students and been a part of our buddy program, where I have been able to meet over 150+ exchange students at Mays at Texas A&M. Upon my return to Texas, I look forward to having gained a newfound appreciation (that is now firsthand, not secondary) of Europe and an international education which I believe will allow me to continue to better connect with others.
But not every moment has been high-fly and easy – when I visited in Brussels, I actually got my purse stolen by a group of three in broad daylight (which, since we were moving to a different place of accommodation and I wasn’t the brightest, had all my identification cards, credit & debit card, a little cash, and the most important… my PASSPORT!). I had to file a police report – all in French of course. I was then escorted to the embassy by the police since the embassy was only open for another hour that day and I had a flight the next morning / would need an emergency passport to be able to leave Belgium. With the emergency passport, travel is possible throughout Europe except for the fact that France does not recognize the emergency passport – but I was lucky to have flown into Switzerland and travel to France back by bus, so there was no issue there. I am still working out the last minute kinks with sending in my emergency passport for a full-validity one as well as getting my visa stamped back into my passport – but all should be well soon, fingers crossed. Rather than allowing the situation to cause stress, I looked at the bright side and realized that 1) I learned a lesson 2) It was a great opportunity to be able to practice my French speaking skills / broaden my vocabulary with terms that I don’t use on a daily basis in Strasbourg 3) Stuff happens and you just have to laugh it off sometimes.
Until next time (À la prochaine),
Categories: 2019, Reciprocal Exchange