January, 2020 | Reciprocal Exchanges Blog

December 31st, 2019. Queue my arrival to Barcelona, Spain.

Throughout January of 2020, I have experienced the invigorating life of a short-term Spanish local. Catalonia embodies a trilingual society where people chat in Catalán, Spanish, and English – all in the same conversation. Barcelona is a city that offers a multi-faceted lifestyle. It possesses a charming city center surrounding Plaza Catalunya enlaced by the genius of architect Gaudí, a refreshing beachside with incredible seafood paella and mussels, a peaceful Montserrat Mountain enriched by its religious significance and delicious wineries, and an electrifying nightlife of comedy, jazz, and outlandish 6am closing times. Through exchange student activities and an unmatched “Welcome Week” hosted by the University of Pompeu Fabra, I gained companions from the UK, Italy, Canada, Germany, and infinitely more. Every “where are you from?” opened doors for enlightenment on cultures I truly knew nothing about. As an Economics student, classroom conversations bred my excitement for learning about international business, holding my keen attention because you never knew what perspective or strange question someone would provide.

Inspiringly, I tasted the joys of exploration through weekend visits to the Czech Republic, Italy, and Portugal. I admired the architectural diversity (Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance, etc.) of Prague, Czech Republic. I gasped in awe of the largest church in the world – St. Peter’s Basilica – in the Vatican City of Rome, Italy. I devoured francesinhas – glorious meat-cheese-and-bread concoctions – and Porto wine in Porto, Portugal. I shopped fantastically around the famous Duomo di Milano Cathedral in Milan, Italy. The rich diversity I was immersed in through hostel stays, historical tours, and bar chatter with locals and fellow travelers was overwhelmingly eye-opening. Each conversation was like liquid gold, dripping with unexpected commonalities and providing depth by unraveling our human experiences together. I realized for the first time how “American” I was, and how our cultures can influence everything from our food preferences to our friendliness. Yes, there were challenges. Missed flights, overnight airport stays, a flurry of unprecedented fines, confusion, and a lack of control everywhere you go. But my complaints paled in comparison to the reward of living a lifestyle that yielded constant discovery.

In short, I encourage you to do the things that scare you the most. In doing so, I promise that you’ll feel exhilarated, confident, and truly alive !!

Soaking in the stunning views of Barcelona, Spain from Park Güell.

Check out my YouTube channel here for more on my study abroad journey 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjn5JDzEro2ufbH_MEkA1Gg

Categories: 2020, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

There is a certain charm to Ireland. People are always willing to stop to have a conversation and will joke about everything with you. There’s something about living in a place with beautiful landscape even when it rains half the time. Even though the weather can be dreary people’s chipper nature makes up for it. Because of the crazy amounts of rain, it is still a good idea to bring a rain jacket, a backup rain jacket and a poncho. Ireland has certain quirks that takes getting used to and there are always new things to try. Instead of bacon they have what they call rashers which is some place in between Canadian bacon and American bacon. Also baked beans and roasted tomatoes are staples for breakfast.

University of Limerick while nowhere near the size of A&M is in no way small. The campus spreads over both sides of the Shannon River and has 16,000 students. There are so many different perspectives and types of people and it makes every conversation different. Even in my roommates one is from Beijing, and the others are from all different parts of the United States. I’ve been able to meet people from all over the world including Italy, Germany and Japan and it is so fascinating hearing how unique their college experiences are. One thing I’ve learned is in Japan you start each school year in the Spring and have a four-month break after December! I love having the opportunity to meet people who under no other circumstance would I have met.

I’ve been able to do some travelling around Ireland and has been so special. From Dublin all the way to southern Ireland in Cork back to the west coast of Limerick, each place has its own rich history and unique stories to tell. I am excited to spend the rest of my semester in such a diverse landscape and explore the Irish culture more.

Categories: 2020, Ireland, Reciprocal Exchange

I hadn’t been this excited in a long time. I had been waiting for this opportunity to study abroad in Spain for nearly a year now and it had finally come. I knew that I was in for totally new experiences that would shape me for a lifetime, but I could never have prepared myself for just how different the experience was going to be. Within the first hour or two after landing in Madrid, I could already start to see the stark differences in cultural that I was in for. There was definitely an initial culture shock that I went through during the first day or so of trying to learn the city. I was so confused at why people ate dinner at 10 p.m. here and just how vastly different the daily schedule is here. Instead of going to an HEB once a week and stocking up, I am going to the grocery store once a day it seems like and just taking home what I need for the immediate future. While I have only been here a short time, I feel like I have already experienced many of the great things that Madrid has to offer. The current highlight of my trip was a tour of the Santiago Bernabeu. I would have never guessed that spending nearly 2 hours inside of a soccer stadium would have been such an amazing experience. I have started to figure out just how amazing public transportation can be and how much more accessible it makes a big city feel as I learn it better. Overall, the experience has been everything I could have hoped for and more so far, and I look forward to exploring more of Madrid, Spain, and the surrounding countries in Europe over the coming weeks and months.

Categories: 2020, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

Arriving to the U.S. was filled with mixed emotions. I was ready and excited to come home and see my family, friends and go eat to my favorite restaurants. On the other hand, leaving the place that changed me for the best is tough. It is ridiculous how much I grew while living in Germany. Can’t even begin to imagine what would have happened if a stayed longer, the type of person I would become. The biggest thing that Germany inflicted on my was to open my mind to the world. Before that, I was set on staying in Texas for the rest of my life. Now, my goals and standards have shifted. I now desire to keep traveling and getting to know cultures on a deeper level. I now understand that every culture has something valuable to offer and I have this newly discovered desire to learn as much as I can about other cultures. If I grew incredibly over a few months, what could happen in more? Which is why now I am shooting for the stars and have no borders when it comes to internationals internships and job positions. For me, that was the biggest change because my entire life plan has changed to a more flexible idea. Before it was specific to company and city I wanted to live, and now it has change to simple work within finance anywhere and any company. Lastly, I can’t begin to describe the amazing and unique people that I met and currently miss. However, I wanted to come back home already because being in an alien environment is exhausting and I missed and valued my own culture more than I ever did. Now back at TAMU, I am more flexible and social than before and I am excited for my new and improved mentality and where it can take me.

Categories: 2019, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange

During my time in the Czech Republic, I was luck enough to visit two continents and seven different countries. I was also taken back by how immersive the experience was as well as the cultural immersion in general. The program/school I attended (VSE, Prague) actually had an enormous international student population. There were around 600 of us. We all lived in set-aside dorms near campus and the city center. I was the only student from A&M to attend, and it was unbelievable to be surrounded by other eager, open-minded, fun individuals of other nationalities who had chosen to partake in this experience as well. The program set up by the university was incredible, it was very easy to make friends and participate in the local community/culture. Because of this, I not only learned a great deal about Czech culture, but Australian, Kiwi, French, you name it.

The culture (as I mentioned in my prior post) took a bit of getting used to. The older generations especially preferred the quiet and minimal social interaction , in large part due to the bloody recent past of their country, but upon getting to know them, are all wonderful people. Many of my classes were very immersive, with both international and Czech students. Because of this, I could actually see how greatly general business practices and etiquette vary across cultures. And even more meaningful, I was able to witness how said cultures can effectively blend together in order to create a broader, more knowledgeable, work environment.

Most of my travels were in western and central Europe (with the exception of Morocco). When I traveled, a lot of the history revolved around communism, totalitarianism, and the Holocaust. While these certainly are not uplifting topics, they are important to history nonetheless. Reading about it in books back home is drastically different from witnessing where such practices occurred in person, and how their shadows still linger today. Learning about topics such as these made me more mindful to what others in the world must endure as well as opened my eyes to why certain people and cultures operate in which they ways they do.

On a lighter note, the city of Prague was well as the others I visited (Berlin, Vienna, Krakow, Morocco, Paris, and Budapest) full of beauty, fantastic food, cheap drinks, and never-ending entertainment. I’ll share some of my favorite pictures from my trips below!

Budapest, Hungary

Prague, Czech Republic

Sahara Desert, Morocco

Berlin, Germany.

 

I hope whoever reads this post gets a bit of insight into what a great experience my exchange was. It is an experience unlike any other and highly recommend!

Categories: 2019, Czech Republic, Reciprocal Exchange

It’s been about a month since I have been back home and honestly, I feel like I am in culture shock once again. Coming back to all these products that I can actually read and food that I was once used too is so different. I realize how much I missed home. I HIGHLY recommend if deciding to do business in another country to learn that language. I did not know one bit of Italian and it was just so difficult when trying to talk to students and teachers at school. Also, maybe take a crash course on that different mannerisms because what other countries do are ENTIRELY different than what we are usually used to.

Studying abroad was honestly one of the most rewarding experiences in and out of the classroom. I really did love every single minute of studying abroad from living in my really cute apartment next to St. Mark’s Square to walking over a mile to and from class every single day. The scenery was just so beautiful, walking through all the little alleyways and over so many bridges. Venice, Italy is one of the most visited cities in the world and being able to live there and see things from not a tourist point of view is so different. Living like a local there was crazy and to see how people carry little carts around for their groceries, how people take the trash out on boats, and the mode of transportation was boat or walking. My mom asked me, “Why don’t you take a taxi?” My answer was, “Mom there are only boats.” The boats in Venice took just as long as walking, so my recommendation is just to walk everywhere!!

In the end, I got to visit 14 countries and over 25 cities. In each and every single one I met people who forever changed my point of view on life and I am so grateful for every single one of them. I already miss all the wonderful food in Europe and how every single time I crossed a border I was immersed in a new world with different food and a different language. If you are reading this, take advantage of this wonderful experience you will (or might) embark on and do not be afraid of stepping out of your comfort zone because you WON’T regret it one bit!

Cliffs of Moher

Paragliding!!!

Swiss Alps

Categories: 2019, Italy, Reciprocal Exchange

I’m writing this post curled up in my house in Houston, Texas. After 3 1/2 months abroad it is really nice to be home with family and friends but there is still a part of me that longs to be back in Vienna. After getting home I had time to reflect on my time abroad and I can’t help but smile and get a little nostalgic. People say that studying abroad changes you but I never thought it would change me in all the ways that it did.

Studying abroad gave me a new found passion to travel – I discovered new cultures, backgrounds and beliefs. I had the opportunity to travel to seven different countries while studying abroad. I went to France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia & Czech Republic. It opened my eyes to all the different cultures there are in this world, I not only am dying to go back to Europe but I would love to explore places like Asia or South America. I feel as though we often get so caught up being American or even Texas A&M culture that we forget all that is out there. It also made me realize I would much rather spend my money on experiencing what this world has to offer rather than spending money on temporary materialistic things. Don’t get me wrong, I still love shopping and getting a cute new outfit, but there is so much more out there. Spending money on experiences will last a lifetime, the materialistic things only bring temporary happiness.

While studying abroad at WU, I met so many amazing people. I was expecting a lot more people from America if I’m being honest. But I was pleasantly surprised at how many people weren’t from America. I made friends from Ireland, Japan, Hong Kong, Sweden, Canada, Australia, Israel, and so many more amazing countries. I loved sitting down and comparing the two countries, talking everything from politics to day to day life. It was fascinating and everyone was so intrigued that I was from Texas. I was asked quite a bit why I didn’t have an accent, but I was made fun of because I said y’all (I don’t think I can ever not say y’all, it’s pretty much engraved into my head forever). I loved learning about peoples beliefs and religions, everyone was so respectful of each other which was really refreshing. In America a lot of times it seems as though no matter what your views are on (especially in politics), there is someone bashing you for your beliefs. In Austria everyone is quite respectful no matter what you believe.

Another thing that I wasn’t expecting to learn was how environmentally friendly everyone was in Austria. Mostly everyone recycles, stores don’t even carry plastic bags (you have to pay for paper bags, but most people bring reusable bags) and there is less waste overall. I even went to a Fridays for Future climate strike inspired by Greta Thunberg. It was so cool seeing people from all ages and life come and meet up for one special cause.

I loved that studying abroad made me become more independent. I always liked to think of myself as an independent person, as in I could go to the grocery store by myself or run errands by myself. After being abroad I truly believe that I became independent and confident in myself. I spent a lot of my days commuting and doing things randomly by myself. Yes of course I made friends and spent a lot of time with them, but the everyday things I learned to love to do myself. I lived in a 2 bedroom dorm with my friend Danielle (we got so close through study abroad and I know we will be life long friends, already planning a reunion). Our school schedules were sadly pretty much the opposite, whenever she was gone I was home and vice versa – therefore the everyday commute, the everyday breakfast and lunch was primarily spent alone. I learned to love doing things by myself. I became so much more confident from the first time walking the city alone to the last time walking the city alone. I remember thinking about 2 weeks in from starting studying abroad that I would never be able to understand the city without a map and someone by my side, by the last month or so I could pretty much go anywhere without my phone or someone by side.

There is something so freeing about being able to get around a somewhat unknown city without anyone’s help – including my phone. One of my favorite things about doing things alone was truly being able to experience the city, the people and the culture. Sometimes whenever you’re around people you get distracted and can talk about random things and not truly embrace what you’re looking at, but when you’re alone you can embrace every little thing. You notice the details and you feel like a local.

I took my first solo day trip to Salzburg which was easily one of my favorite travel experiences while abroad. I woke up about 5 a.m and lugged my giant backpack and my to-go coffee I bought the night before and walked to the train station. The train ride was about 4 hours or so from Vienna and I loved looking around and seeing who was on the train. I remember it was a pretty vacant ride but I definitely saw lots of Austrian natives, business men and women and a few small families. Life in Austria is at a much slower pace than America, although they get things done everything is less stressful there. After the train ride I got off and explored Salzburg on foot, which was incredible. It was such a beautiful little city. I ate lunch alone and got a coffee and talked with the owner of the food place. Although every once in a while I’d get stares that I was alone – I genuinely didn’t care because I was in Salzburg drinking a cappuccino embracing my the experience. I will forever want to go to back to that blissful moment. I also did the Sound of Music Tour which was my childhood dream! It was amazing and I ended up meeting two incredible girls who we ended up having mutual friend. I also sat next to a sweet mother next to me which we talked most of the time talking about what the almost 55 year old movie meant to each of us. It was truly such a special trip and I loved that I had that experience to myself. Don’t get me wrong I love traveling with people and gaining that experience with someone, but doing something alone and figuring everything out for yourself is truly so special.

(Picture of Vienna Christmas Markets -people travel from all over the world to come these famous markets!)

I am beyond lucky to have been able to study abroad I truly believe that this past semester has and will forever shape who I am. Being abroad will forever inspire me to evolve, learn, grow and never stay consistent. I will forever want to travel and meet people and learn cultures, there is so much more out there than we know.

I am so thankful that A&M allowed me to study abroad this past fall. I will forever hold the memories I made, the lessons I learned, and the people I met so close to my heart. Vienna will forever be a home away from home and I am looking forward to the day that I can return to the beautiful city of music. Until next time Vienna. Auf Wiedersehen Wien ♡.

Categories: 2019, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

Hola!

As my second week studying abroad in Barca is wrapping up, I have had some time to gather thoughts on what it’s been like so far. First off, it’s been amazing to explore the city while walking with this beautiful weather. It is currently sunny and around 60 degrees, which is, in my opinion, the perfect weather! Whether it be la Sagrada Familia, the beach, or the countless amazing restaurants, I’ve been able to experience so many great things already. However, one of my favorite parts so far is meeting so many other exchange students from my school. It’s crazy to me that I have become friends with people from Australia, Finland, and even Argentina! As the semester goes on, I hope to be able to meet even more people and build new lifelong friendships.

One of my goals for the rest of my time here is to be able to visit other countries in Europe! Currently, I am dying to experience what Paris, Brussels, and Copenhagen are like. It has also been a great experience seeing how different, yet similar, studies are here at UPF. Whether it be my teachers walking and talking with me after class, specific teaching styles, or how intriguing some of the subjects are, school here has been an extremely unique experience. Although there are a lot of things I miss from the U.S., I also have been having the time of my life here and can’t wait for what’s next.

Categories: 2020, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

As the start of a new semester draws closer and I think back both on my time abroad as well as my time since returning to the states, it is hard to find the words to describe what I have experienced these past few months. Leaving Madrid was bittersweet as I was so excited to see my family and friends back home but I was sad to leave the place that taught me so many new things about my-self as well as the incredibly diverse world we live in.

The Spanish have a unique way of life and of doing business that at first led to a bit of culture shock but that throughout the semester I came to appreciate. I think the biggest difference between Spain and the United States in terms of both business and culture is the slower pace of the Spanish. The Spanish really value being present and enjoying the moment without being in a rush to experience or do something else. What this means for business is that shop owners often feel more free to be flexible with their hours, it’s very common for places to close from the hours of two to five in the afternoon for siesta time. You won’t see this occur much in a large metropolitan city like Madrid but we definitely experienced the almost ghostly effect when we traveled to smaller towns outside of Madrid. Another example is on Sundays many businesses are closed, even in the city, because in Spain Sundays are for being with and spending time with family.

More than anything I think my time in Spain was a period of growth and learning, learning both about myself and about cultures and life styles different than my own. I gained so much insight from this one semester that will affect my perspectives and the way I view the world for the rest of my life. Getting to take business classes with students from all over the world provided so many opportunities to hear about different views from different parts of the world and living with an exchange student from Scotland meant we got to learn all about Scottish culture and share our culture with her. Even though I was studying in Spain I was able to get to learn about cultures from so many other countries as well. Not to mention I picked up some pretty practical and useful skills along the way as well, from traveling on a budget to using Google maps to navigate while on foot and public transportation systems, which for someone like me who is from a very suburban area and isn’t used to using a metro system was pretty daunting at first, but most importantly I gained a new level of adaptability. While abroad I encountered many obstacles from lost luggage to homesickness and I can now say I am much better equipped to deal with whatever challenges are thrown my way.

In conclusion, studying abroad for a semester in Madrid was a once in a lifetime experience that I will remember and cherish forever because of the wonderful people I met and all the new things I learned and experienced! For anyone wondering if a studying abroad is right for them my advice is go for it you will make memories that will last a lifetime!

Here are a few pics from my travels 🙂

Categories: 2019, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

“How was your study abroad?” “Oh my gosh that’s so cool, what was it like?” “What are some of your favorite memories?”

I have been pressed with a stampede of questions about my study abroad since my return to the States, and I have given a plethora of answers. However, I think it is likely that I may never find the words or even formulate a cohesive mental conclusion to such a wild episode of my life.

If you are reading this, you are probably either part of the faculty that helped make this adventure possible or you are a student considering whether a journey similar is the right thing for you. I sadly can’t give either party a full mental picture of my experience, but hopefully a snippet of a mental picture and a few real pictures will give deeper insight into what my experience abroad looked and felt like.

Here is my campus:

Beautiful right? My time spent on campus was limited but I view it fondly. The quaint little coffee shop (out of frame on the left of both images) was the writing place of my previous blog post and the mission zone of most of my projects.

School was less than arduous, which is how it should be. This gave me time to travel and visit 13 countries.

If you are part of the latter party on here looking for advice, let me key you in on Colton’s #1 tip: Go somewhere different.

Yes, go to the popular places and see the things that everyone sees for a reason, but consider taking one or maybe a few trips to places that aren’t exactly popular.

Here are some images of my “less seen, but all the more beautiful” spots.

A couple classics:

One of my coolest experiences while in Vienna was being able to witness history unfold as Eliud Kipchoge ran a marathon under two hours! Wild right? The crazy thing is, it was on my way to class!

As I ponder that last photograph, I think about how I feel right about now. To be completely honest, I don’t feel like Eliud. I do not have this great sense of completion and accomplishment. What I am feeling is more like what he was probably thinking at the start of his two hour feat. I am feeling like my legs are just warming up to cultural understanding. Spending a semester is well worth the sacrifice (and it is a sacrifice) because I do not think another length of time is going to even get the proverbial clock started.

If you are on the fence, if you are a Christian like me, pray about it. If you’re not a Christian like me, consider praying about it.

I am immensely blessed to be able to use one of my God given abilities (taking pictures) to capture many of the different canvases He painted. The crazy part is, there is so much more. Studying abroad has given me a deeper, yet still incomprehensible, understanding of the breadth of this world. I am so humbled by this world. It is big. I am small. I like it that way now.

Till next time,
Colton Shorman

@cshormy

Categories: 2019, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange