August, 2019 | Reciprocal Exchanges Blog

“Tudo bem” is a standard greeting here in Brazil. It means “Is everything good?” In the couple of weeks since I landed in Brazil, for the second time, everything is good. I was lucky enough to see Brazil for the first time during a Texas A&M lead travel abroad and I instantly fell in love with the people, the culture, and the scenery in Brazil. I knew before boarding that flight back home to Texas that I would be back.

Traveling abroad and studying abroad for an exchange program have been completely different experiences for me. Finding housing, learning transportation, and adapting to a new “normal” are a unique part of this experience. Due to choosing a university that does not have on-campus living, finding housing was perhaps the most stressful part of my exchange. Being open and engaging with other students from around the world made the difference and I was easily able to find a place that I felt really was a home. My new “normal” involves taking the subway to class four days a week to a classroom where teachers ask you about your weekend and how you are doing before they will start the lesson. Brazil is a very open country, and everyone you meet is instantly a friend. It reminds me of the hospitality of Texas. Even with the language barrier, many are patient as I try to speak Portuguese and often help me learn. Another new “normal” for me is weekend adventures with friends to beaches, restaurants, and other cities close by. We have also planned trips to surrounding countries and are able to stay with friends we have met along the way.

While I miss hearing “Howdy,” life here in Brazil “tudo bem!”

Categories: 2019, Brazil, Reciprocal Exchange

It’s been a few months since I returned from my 5 months spent in France. Looking back, it seems strange that spending a mere 5 months in a place could flip my perspective on everything I thought I knew. Every one of my ideals were challenged during my France encounter, whether it was my resolve to abstain from drinking (the abundance of wine and casual day-drinking almost swayed me) to the ease in which native students took their schooling (that one got to me- I could’ve definitely done better grade wise!). From what I could understand, the students in the EU equated their Master’s degrees with our Bachelor’s (which is why Mays students that attend EDHEC are integrated into the Master’s program). What I thought was most interesting about learning business in France was a focus on microfinance. I had only read snippets in articles about microfinance, but it seemed to be a pretty relevant up-and-coming industry in France. As well as this, the science of consumerism and convenience is different than in the States. Grocery stores and patisseries were all closed for the day by 10pm. I lived in a largely residential area and if I didn’t have what I needed, or had midnight cravings, I was out of luck. Considering that only a small majority of the population owned a vehicle, it seemed obvious to me that France considered convenience to be less relevant than other traits.

Being back in the States definitely took a bit of an adjustment period. I had to get used to being behind the wheel of a a car again and driving literally everywhere. Public transportation in France was the main source of transit and oftentimes if there were problems with it, our classes would be essentially empty because most students relied upon the train and multitude of buses.

Classes were honestly, in my personal opinion, more difficult than they were at A&M. All exams and most projects were clustered near the end of the semester, and in most classes the final grade was a mix of a single test weighted at 70% and a project and/or a few quizzes weighted at 30%. Needless to say, the last few weeks of school were EXTREMELY stressful. However, all’s well that ends well I suppose!

There are so many different events that I experienced that pushed me to broaden my horizons and push my limits. Navigating the city on my own, barely speaking the language- it all came with a thrill and a spark of resilience. After all, relentlessly trying to figure out where the milk is in a foreign grocery store where no one speaks English is a lot harder than it seems, and every small victory seemed like a huge one. This is important because not many people talk about the slump that occurs when you study abroad. When grocery shopping and trying to find the train station seem to be the most difficult tasks to complete, it wears down on you. You start to feel a sense of degradation and hopelessness. But soon enough, the small victories will begin to add up. Finding the milk aisle. Getting on the right bus. Memorizing your way around your beautiful city. And you’ll realize that the small victories add up to be worth more than one big victory ever could.

Travelling alone, being completely on my own in a foreign place- it taught me that the only person I truly need is myself. I am enough for me. And if I can handle a whole new country on my own, I can do anything. I don’t mean to sound cliché but I genuinely believe that being in Europe for as long as I was changed me as a person. I have a newfound sense of independence. I have seen so many amazing places and met so many unique people. It truly was the experience of a lifetime. To my little city along the French Riviera, you will forever hold a special place in my heart. Ce n’est pas un au revoir, c’est un “à plus tard” (this is not a goodbye, it’s a “see you later”). I am so grateful to A&M and Mays for allowing me this incredible opportunity.

Categories: 2019, France, Reciprocal Exchange

It has been a little over a month since I arrived back to Dallas, TX after spending five months in Vienna, Austria. In that time, I have created some of the most incredible memories – I met people that have become lifelong friends, visited countries I never thought I would have the opportunity to see, and pushed myself to do things outside of my comfort zone. All in all, Vienna marks a period of time in my life that I will always cherish, and I cannot wait to go back one day.

While abroad, I attended one of the most esteemed business schools in all of Europe, Wirtschafts Universität (commonly referred to as WU). Here, I had the chance to experience an educational institution that functioned vastly different from the one I was familiar with. Classes were block courses, each one varying from 3-5 hours per session, starting and ending at different points in the semester. For example, the “summer” semester started officially on February 28, 2019, and ended on June 29, 2019. However, my finance course was in March for only three weeks, whereas my Human Resource class started in April and lasted four weeks. A schedule like this took some adjustment, considering it is nowhere near the “MWF” and “TR” structure I was used to. As an exchange student, there were pros and cons to this – I needed to develop a longer attention span since some of my classes were five hours long, but I also had a lot of days off to experience Vienna and travel across Europe.

My experience at WU specifically taught me a lot about how to interact with people from different cultures, especially business professionals. Since many of my courses were international-based, I had the opportunity to interact with professors and lecturers who had firsthand experience in working with multinational corporations as consultants, expatriates, or many other roles. There was a lot of discussions that emphasized the importance of seeking out other cultures, learning from them, and respecting them. This included anything from the language spoken in the country they were conducting business with, traditional customs, and even something as minimal seeming as understanding the cultural contexts of their country. All of these play key roles in building and maintaining relationships with businesses that are based internationally.

Even outside of my interactions at WU, the curriculum was project and research-based, forcing me to learn how to write long 15-20-page research reports, and present in front of the class anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. That was perhaps the most daunting part of my studies abroad. I had never done literature review before, and suddenly I was forced to spend hours a day (some weeks) thoroughly researching a topic (like, “conflict management in virtual multinational teams”) to write an error-free, empirical-based, lengthy report. This was later to be condensed into an hour-long presentation with a thirty-minute-long interactive portion. In retrospect, as frustrating as the process of researching and typing a report felt at the time, it allowed me to absorb information in a way that was new to me. I now realize that the purpose of this style of teaching is to learn the material in a way that you will be able to teach a class on it. And I did, successfully. Through this, I was able to learn how to write a report, improve my presentation skills, how to take in constructive feedback from my peers and work in group/partner settings. It’s an experience I am glad to have had.  This is just a fraction of the things I learned while abroad. Overall, my greatest takeaway was that although things may function differently than what I am used (and although it may seem like an inconvenience) it does not mean that it’s any less effective/efficient. I hope to implement some of my studying habits and skills that I picked up on at WU, back home at TAMU.

Categories: 2019, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

What a last 7th months it has been. From taking 6 classes abroad to traveling all around Europe, I have had the experience of a lifetime. Having the opportunity to experience a vastly different culture and meeting friends from all over the globe has truly changed my perception of the world. I now know people from all corners of the globe and will have valuable business and personal contacts if I ever end up doing something abroad.

In this final post I would like to highlight some of the main differences I experienced while abroad and how I feel about them.

First, I would like to begin with the differences in consumerism I noticed between the US and Spain. In the US, I noticed that convenience is stressed heavily in the commercial world. We have a 24/7 Walmart within a 10 minute drive of pretty much anywhere, fast food open all hours of the night, and stores, like Costco and Sam’s Club, where you can buy everything from medicine to furniture at a wholesale/bulk rate. It can be said that we consume at a higher rate than any other country and with the most convenience. In Spain it is not like this, especially in Barcelona. There are no stores that are open 24/7 like Walmart or McDonalds so if you need something late at night you have to wait until the morning unless you want to pay the extremely overpriced late night supermercats a 200% premium. Being a night owl, this was very detrimental to my bank account as I often found myself paying the premium at the late night supermercats after forgetting to buy groceries before 9PM and coming home late from class or working out.  I never fully adjusted to not having the convenience of Walmart at my fingertips so I am extremely happy to be back in that aspect.

Second, there is a huge problem with unemployment in Spain. The unemployment level for people 20-25 is over 20% which is so hard to comprehend. 1/5th of people looking for a job my age cannot find one. Many people in Spain, including a lot of my friends, live at home with their parents during school, sometimes even commuting 30-60 minutes by train everyday. This is drastically different than in the states where many people go away for school and live alone and have no problem with finding a part time or full time job in their college town. The life people life there is one that is a lot more conscience of spending and consumption which was super fascinating to experience.

Third, the free movement of labor and people in  the EU is astonishing. The amount of people working or studying in Barcelona who are not Catalans is really high. This is a huge contrast to the US where you don’t meet many people from other countries working here. It is fun to see the many different cultures interacting and blending right before your eyes and I’m sure it is even cooler from a business aspect.

Lastly, the economics of the travel industry, especially the Airline Industry, is super interesting as it is extremely competitive. It is ridiculously cheap to fly pretty much everywhere in Europe. I never paid more than $120 round trip for any of my travels. One time I even paid just $40 round trip for my flight from Barcelona to Milan. The most well known and cheapest of the budget airlines is Ryanair. This airline sometimes profits as low as $100 on each of their flights because of how competitive the market is. This is a huge contrast to the US where it is almost impossible to fly round trip, even just inside Texas, for these prices.

Overall, my time in Barcelona was one of the most exciting and beneficial times of my life. I grew as a person being away from what was known to me and living in a completely different culture. The amount of cultural differences was a lot higher than what I expected but in a great way.  I would strongly recommend this exchange to anyone and would do it again in a heartbeat! (If my bank account would let me) The experiences and people I met while in Barcelona are some of the best I have ever had, and I can’t wait to go back and visit soon!

Categories: 2019, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain