July, 2019 | Reciprocal Exchanges Blog

My semester abroad in Vienna has come to an end, but the memories, friendships, and lessons I learned will forever stay with me. Studying abroad has never been in my plans until the year before I left for Vienna and it was the best decision I made. The exposure to the beautiful history, culture, cuisine, public transportation, and just the way of life was eye opening.

A friend abroad explained studying abroad as a mini version of college. You start a chapter by moving in to a foreign place, make new friends, and learn your way around the school. Then all of a sudden the semester ends, and you have to pack everything up and say goodbye to all the friends you just made and say goodbye to the place you lived at and formed all your memories in. I couldn’t agree with that explanation anymore, because after totally immersing yourself into the Viennese culture it is hard to forget.

In Vienna, I took four courses and they were all international business related.  I learned that when it comes to doing business there are always some similarities in all cultures, but what truly separates business negotiations are the different hierarchy systems in different cultures. One really has to understand a culture before preceding a business deal abroad. Classes in Vienna were taught once a week or if you really wanted to finish a course quickly, they offered intensive courses where you could finish a course in one week. I took a mix of both and enjoyed it because it made a lot of time for traveling.

The way the classes were laid out gave me the chance to travel outside the country throughout the semester and also fully explore the city of Vienna. I had about 2 big trips every month and several small trips here and there. My tip when it comes to traveling is to only take a couple big trips every month because you also want to explore the city that you are studying in. You wont regret the time you spend with your friends exploring the city you are studying in.

Overall, my experience studying abroad has exceeded my expectation. I am thankful for the opportunity, fund, and support from my loved ones to make such an experience a reality. I will never forget my 2019 spring semester.

Categories: 2019, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

It’s been weeks since I came back from Hong Kong, but my head still swims from all the experiences and adventures I had while I was there. Not only did I learn so much in all of my courses, but I also gained firsthand exposure into the cultures and the people of this region. Where would I even begin to describe my semester abroad?

 

When it comes to traveling abroad, the first thing that comes to mind is the food. There was just so many types of food to enjoy, from the street markets that sold siu mai on sticks to the sit-down dim sum restaurants! No place in America could even compare to a traditional, family-style dim sum restaurant, where you wash your own bowls and cutlery as per tradition and order dishes together to enjoy as one. It doesn’t even stop there; from Hong Kong, I was able to travel to many other countries in Asia, each with its own unique backgrounds and things to enjoy. Many weekends were spent traveling, visiting other cultures, and learning more and more about this great continent. Thailand, Taiwan, China, Macau… Those don’t even begin to cover what countries I was able to visit, or what I was able to learn from those travels. Take advantage of cheap air fares, you definitely won’t regret it! Then there were the festivals. Lantern festivals, the Lunar New Year fireworks, light shows, there was just always something going on nearby, ready for me to be immersed in. Even without traveling to other countries, there was plenty for me to do.

 

In terms of business, there is a definite distinction between employee and manager. Hierarchy is important, as Hong Kong is a country rooted in collectivistic culture, much like the rest of Asia. Even with the Western influence of being a British colony in its past, Hong Kong still heavily draws towards its Asian roots in that aspect. Contrasting greatly with American individualistic culture, where it’s “every man for himself” and people are encouraged to think as individuals, Hong Kong prides itself on thinking for the greater of the group and having people with the mentality of family values and staying together.

 

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is a school notorious for hard classes and hours of studying, even being dubbed by its students as the “Hong Kong University of Stress and Tension” due to this fact. This was very evident, as there were never any tables open in the library due to students studying every night. Courses here were graded on a curve based on how everyone in the class had done, which I thought was interesting since courses at A&M are normally clear-cut on how the grading is and what grades can be expected for certain points. Nonetheless, the professors were top-notch and very knowledgeable in their subjects; one of my professors even translated parts of his lecture into Mandarin and Cantonese if he wanted to express an important point!

 

Overall, my experience studying abroad exceeded my expectations, not only in my studies, but also in my learning outside of my coursework. I was able to meet so many new people and see so many new things. As the protests in Hong Kong continue over the integration of this region into mainland China, I only hope that my friends at HKUST are safe and that Hong Kong continues to be the magnificent territory that it was for me.

Categories: 2019, China, Reciprocal Exchange

My semester abroad experience would not have ever been possible without the generosity of scholarships like this one. Throughout the semester, I learned how interconnected our world really is. Taking international business courses taught in Italy reinforced how much of a world leader America is. It was incredible to have classes just three days a week. This enabled us to travel on the weekends and truly spend some time at the places we were going, instead of just having Saturday and Sunday to travel there, sight-see, and immediately travel back to Venice. Instructions were less spelled-out for our assignments, tests, and projects than we are used to in America. Syllabi were far from detailed and rubrics were not common. It was interesting to navigate this throughout the semester. I learned a lot about international marketing and communication. I appreciate what I learned from my professors and from my classmates who came from all across the world.

I learned the true differences in high-context and low-context cultures. I saw differences in cultural values played out in the day-to-day of life. For example, Italians really value time with friends and family spent over a meal or drinks. They do not value efficiency like we do in America. There are both positive and negative aspects to their lack of desire for efficiency. Italians truly do a better job of taking life more slowly and they seem far less stressed than Americans in the day-to-day. Also, when did we stop caring how beautiful buildings are? Venice has some of the most beautiful buildings for the most mundane purposes (like banks, grocery stores, etc.). It was incredible to walk around in a city where your eyes are so treated. My eyes, heart, and soul were treated this semester to beautiful sights, restful moments, and fun adventures.

I have always been a confident person. Yet, I have grown even more confident in who I am and my abilities from living abroad this past semester. I have always been a planner. It is part of my personality and thought process to plan things out. Over the last year in my personal life, I had to grow to be more go-with-the-flow. I noticed tremendous growth in my ability to stick less rigidly to plans in the latter parts of last year. My semester abroad this spring confirmed this growth in my ability to go-with-the-flow because when travel plans were wrecked, I would roll with it, stay calm, and even laugh it off most times.

I am coming back to America a better citizen of the world. I have a greater understanding of other cultures and ways of life. I know that “different” doesn’t necessarily mean “wrong”, even if I have strong preferences one way over another. I am so thankful to live in America, invest in and be invested in by Texas A&M University, and receive free water at restaurants again.

The amount of travel, rest, and adventure I experienced this semester was phenomenal. I will never be able to experience so many different places in such a short time frame again. What a gift this was for me. This semester I got to separate myself from the responsibilities I am overwhelmed by in a normal semester at A&M. What a gift this was for me. I took the time to be still and soak in sights my eyes had never been treated to before. What a gift this was for me. I am so thankful for the opportunity, funds, and my own courage it took to make this semester abroad a reality. It was a gift I am forever thankful for and would easily encourage others to do.

Categories: 2019, Italy, Reciprocal Exchange

Even though I am well readjusted back into my life in Texas, I think about my experience abroad almost every day. It was the greatest 4 month adventure of my life to date. Sometimes I wake up and life is so normal and exponentially different in Texas that I wonder if it was all a big dream. It is hard to believe that I visited 34 cities, lived on an island and took 12 hours in a foreign country. It seems like a different life.

I did not expect to go back to the United States with such a deep appreciation for our country. I was shocked to learn just how much impact the United States has on the decisions that Italy and countries all around the world make everyday. We have always been told in school that the Unites States is a superpower. But because of the debt and political/economic turmoil that the United States faces today, I just assumed that other countries didn’t look up to us as much anymore. Going to the Univeristy of Ca’ Foscari in Venice changed my mind. Our Italian university must have referenced the United States 5X during every 1.5 hour class. They base their business moves and education system off of the US. More than that, we met dozens of people in Italy and other countries that really want to come to the America. They would describe their personal American dream and it was eye-opening. We may have lots of problems of our own, but being in Europe made me so grateful to live in the country I do.

Italy has a high context culture. Meaning that there are many unspoken rules and implicit messages in what is said and done. Communication is not direct and much is left up for interpretation. This made it harder for us to adapt to the country because we were often lost in the translation of instructions and meaning. For example, 3/4 of our classes did not contain a formatted rubric. Sometimes our professors would just verbally tell us about a paper and say “due next week”. When next week? Times new roman? Double spaced? What am I being graded on? Whereas in the United States (A low context culture) we always know exactly what is expected of us, down to the last detail. This is the same with ordering in restaurants, buying tickets to something, bargaining, and doing business. There are definitely pro and cons to each type of culture, but it was a great learning experience to be thrown into a vastly different environment.

Attached are a few moments from our last day in Venice and at Ca’ Foscari University. I will greatly miss it.

 

 

Categories: 2019, Italy, Reciprocal Exchange

I don’t have the words to describe my experience leaving Strasbourg. I was excited to go see my family but so sad to leave a city that truly became my home. I knew the in’s and out’s of that city, from the best restaurants, parks, bars, streets, stores, so on. Everything about it was absolutely amazing. My favorite thing about the city was the every shop we went to was locally owned and authentic, something you don’t see as often in America because it’s hard for authentic stores to thrive. They all had their own quirks and were loved regardless of their flaws. Stores in America are curated to what they think the consumer would like, but in Strasbourg, they did what they wanted, and we loved them because of it. Nothing was better than grabbing a bowl from Harmonie then eating it on the river (when it was warm enough to sit outside without freezing to death). The one complaint I had was that I was only able to wear a short sleeved t-shirt maybe two times the whole time I was there. Even then, once it turned to 6pm I would be too cold to not have a jacket on.

I also really enjoyed the way the courses were set up. I only had three days of class a week meaning I had the longest possible weekend. Even when I did have classes it would only take up six hours of my day, meaning I still had a lot of free time to see my friends and explore the city. I also had a lot of time to travel, as many people expect when they study abroad. Though I did travel, I didn’t travel very often and only went on one large trip. I even got to go to Barcelona to work at the Bridal Fashion Week with my aunt which was really exciting.

Overall, I loved my time in Strasbourg and wouldn’t change it for the world. I hope to come back as soon as possible because it really did become a third home for me (after Austin and College Station). I still remember everything so vividly and am so grateful for my experiences there.

Categories: 2019, France, Reciprocal Exchange

I just wrapped up my time in Vienna, and I have nothing but positive things to say. What a fantastic experience that I will hold dear to me for the rest of my life. Vienna itself is the perfect place to study abroad as it has everything you would want history, culture, an abundance of activities and fun experiences to keep you busy, excellent public transportation, and it is super safe and clean. Every time I would travel outside of Vienna, coming back always felt like home, and it didn’t take much time after arriving to feel this way. The city itself along with the friends I made here truly made Vienna such a great place to be.

One of the significant differences I found was the way the classes are set up compared to those at TAMU. I only had class on campus for a total of thirty days. This schedule is great for allowing more time to travel, but it is difficult making your schedule as the times are all random, and some classes are three hours long. I highly recommend taking intensive courses, which only last about a week but meet five-six hours a day. It is a lot of time to be in a classroom, but it is worth it. Most courses here are heavily graded on presentations, which allowed for a great learning experience getting to work with students from around the world.

When it comes to housing, the dorms are a good option, but I also know people that got an Airbnb for the semester and loved it. I lived in Tigergasse, which I personally loved. Most other exchange students lived in Gassgasse or Molk, but Tigergasse was in a fantastic location, so I was pleased living there. My dorm was only a few blocks from the city center and was surrounded by multiple trams and U-Bahn stops, as well as an abundance of restaurants and stores. The biggest downside is there is no air conditioning, which became quite hard to handle at the end of the semester.

I am so thankful for my time abroad and would not have wanted it any other way. This semester has taught me so much about myself and the world around me, all of which would not be possible without my experience abroad. I loved Vienna, and I am so glad that I was selected to study at WU. Thank you to Texas A&M and Mays for this amazing opportunity that I will never forget!

If you are interested in studying abroad in Vienna and want to know more feel free to contact me at hmot32@tamu.edu!

Me on my last day in Vienna!

Categories: 2019, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

As my time in Australia comes to a close, I have had some time to reflect on some aspect of this experience. I am very grateful for the family with which I have stayed and the friend which I have made. The opportunity to not only travel in Australia but also to New Zealand, Bali, and other surrounding countries has been incredible. I will cherish this experience for the rest of my life. Thank you also to Texas A&M for the opportunity to participate in this reciprocal exchange, without the help of the fantastic university, I would have not known about this incredible opportunity. Australia has left me with some great lasting feelings. The culture is very inclusive and unique. It is a hybrid of proper English upbringing with a flare of souther hospitality. Being a Texan, I feel right at home in this place. This country is a melting pot of cultures from all of the world and QUT is truly a university for the modern world . I would recommend studying abroad in Brisbane, Australia to anyone. Brisbane needs more Aggies!  Gig ‘ em!

Categories: 2019, Australia, Reciprocal Exchange

My roommates and I on the last day of us three together.

The beginning of exchange was very scary for me. I was scared I had made the wrong choice by studying in Prague, but I was completely and utterly wrong. Prague was definitely the best decision I have ever made and it quickly became one of my favorite places. Traveling on the weekends was fun, but the feeling of landing in Prague just felt like home. Studying abroad in the Czech Republic was such a great experience. I enjoyed my classes a lot, even though it took some time to get used to the long classes, it soon got easier. Another thing that took some getting used to was the closed off personalities that Czech people tend to have. On our campus in College Station, everyone is so quick to give a small smile or a Howdy here or there. In the Czech Republic, you won’t really see a stranger give a small smile back. Eventually you get used to it, and sort of assimilate.

I truly believe that Prague is such a great place for students to study abroad in. The city is so student friendly and has a lot of student discounts for different types of daily activities and museums. The professors are very understanding and all have great experiences working for FMCG companies such as P&G and Unilever. My marketing professors worked for Loreal and Nivea, so they talked about the experiences they had. In another class, we got to work closely with Czech companies to work on a marketing campaign for a social problem in the Czech Republic. We got to experience first-hand what it is like to work with foreign companies and tailor our interactions and ideas to them and their cultural differences.

Since I was living in the dorms that every exchange student got to live in, I was able to meet a lot of great people. I was able to make friends from France, Italy, and Turkey and other countries. I am truly grateful for pushing myself out of my comfort zone and going to study abroad for an entire semester. I was able to navigate through small everyday challenges with my friends and experience the Czech Republic with them. The end of the semester meant having to say goodbye to really amazing people and it was one of the hardest thing to do since we wouldn’t know when we would see each other again. However, we made promises we would see each other soon and have a reunion trip.

I am so grateful to have had such a great exchange experience in Prague and I look forward to returning to the Czech Republic and the rest of Europe one day.

Categories: 2019, Czech Republic, Reciprocal Exchange

I am so incredibly thankful for the experiences I had this semester. I learned so many things and grew immensely as a person. I did a lot of solo traveling which really allowed me to soak everything in and enjoy my experience that much more. My favorite country that I visited was Krakow Poland. I loved the history and how everything look like it came right out of a fairy-tale. It was also special to me because my Grandfather came from Poland so I got to see where some of my ancestors grew up. At my school in Milan, the University of Bocconi, it was great getting to see how Italians do their schooling and I must say that I learned how much I took for granted at A&M. I definitely was not used to having no campus life and not having a library open 24/7. I also now appreciate how my classes at A&M had more than one test and homework to really help understand the subject and help balance out the grades. Only having a final test and a project for the semester was very unusual to me and also pretty stressful so I am looking forward to returning to A&M’s style of teaching. Still, it was neat to learn about how Europeans grow up, how different the school systems are and just learning how their way of life in general is different from ours. One of my favorite parts of the semester was getting to work with and hear from such amazing companies. In my marketing class we worked with LEGO Italia on capturing data across the customer journey to enhance their marketing strategy. I also got to work with Siemens in my Big Data class and got to visit their corporate office to present our ideas on a new business strategy for one of their clients! Even some of the guest speakers we had were very interesting and really helped with understanding the topics we were discussing in class. I will definitely miss being abroad and getting to experience so many new and incredible things but I am happy to be home with my friends and family and I am excited to return to A&M in the fall!

Mindsphere lounge at Siemens

University of Bocconi

At the Duomo in Milan!

Categories: 2019, Italy, Reciprocal Exchange