My initial impression of Universidad Carlos III de Madrid was how comfortable it is. It is a smaller campus than Texas A&M but it is so beautiful. I love hearing different languages (Spanish, Italian, French, English) as I’m walking to class. The people have been extremely welcoming and the professors are incredibly knowledgeable about what they teach. As soon as I arrived, I was made aware of the resources I had available to me. It has been so interesting to see the differences in the formatting of classes here vs. TAMU; many of my classes so far have been based much more on group work.
My initial impressions of Madrid and Spain were of how alive it is. There are always musicians and singers in places of high traffic such as Puerta del Sol and Gran Vía. People always stop to listen! There are so many differences, including the later eating schedule and how people go about their weekdays and weekends. I’ve already met people from so many different countries and it is incredible to live in a place with diverse culture everywhere you go. It is so easy to get lost walking around while just enjoying the view. I absolutely love it here and am so thankful for this experience to study in Spain.
Palacio Real de Madrid
This was my first time seeing an actual palace in person! The architecture here and how elaborate it is never ceases to amaze me. It seems like everywhere I look, the building facades are unique and ornate. It is something truly so different from Texas and the United States in general. I have loved my time so far getting to know the city and exploring all of the amazing things it has to offer.
Sunset over Madrid!
Huevos Rotos – my favorite!
The food here is absolutely incredible! I have tried so many new things, some of my favorites including huevos rotos, croquetas, tortilla española, and pan con tomate.
I arrived in Prague, Czech Republic about three weeks ago and have been having the best time. The city is absolutely beautiful, Prague has been named one of the greenest large cities, and this is very true. My friends and I enjoy going to different parks almost daily where we can often see the entire city. I would highly recommend Prague to anyone who enjoys to walk outside and see nature, or just interesting landmarks. The city is also has very pretty architecture that you can just see for days and still be in love. Due to COVID-19, we cannot go into restaurants or shops. Even without these things, Prague is gorgeous to see and be in.
I began classes a little over a week ago, online of course, and they are currently pretty similar to classes at Texas A&M. The lectures are just like what you would expect at home, but much smaller classes. The thing that is notably different is the grades. There is just one exam in many classes, and some are even oral exams. I believe a few classes have projects and things such as that, but classes really like to focus on the final exam.
Something I completely love about VSE, is the fact that we are housed with international students (mainly in one building). This gives me the chance to make friends from every culture imaginable. I think this is a twist that I would have never expected, but could not be more grateful for. Not only am I now learning the Czech culture, I am also learning about so many other cultures. I think this aspect of the trip, is what will cause me to be a completely different person upon arrival.
Needless to say, studying abroad is the best experience, but Prague is definitely a special place to do so.
Getting to my exchange in Maastricht, Netherlands, was months of planning and lots of last minute hoping that it would not be canceled due to the current pandemic. As Natsuki knows, since my first of many visits to her office, going on exchange was always part of my plan and there was no way I was going to let this opportunity slip me by. Although I must say that it was a lot of luck and help from others that allowed me to arrive safely in Maastricht. I count myself lucky that my program continued despite the pandemic, knowing that may others did not have the same outcome.
When I landed in the Schriphol airport in Amsterdam all the cheesy signage saying things like “Your journey starts here” and “Welcome to below sea level” made me beyond giddy. I knew that this exchange would be a different experience than what I originally expected, but I am still very excited for what may come of my time here.
First things first, quarantine. Unfortunately, I had to spend my first ten days in Europe in a private hotel room, but it did give me the time to purchase a sim card, set up a European bank account, read a book, and learn a few Dutch phrases. When you come to Maastricht it is essential right away to get a Dutch phone number and European bank account, to make life easier and avoid large fees from your US bank and phone carrier. I ended up getting a sim card from Lebara and setting up an online bank account with N26, although there are several other good options to choose from such as bunq and Knab. I would recommend any student coming to the Netherlands for an exchange to choose an online bank account, because the typically Dutch bank, ING, takes several weeks to get an appointment with and requires you to first register with the municipality and receive a BSN (social security number, issued upon registration with your local municipality), which takes quite some time. Whereas an online bank account only requires a European phone number and took just a few minutes to set up.
Once I got out of quarantine, I immediately went exploring. Maastricht has the charm and ease of a small town, while still feeling like a little city. After just a day or two you can figure out how to get anywhere in Maastricht, as everything is easily assessable by foot or bike and there are several landmarks that guide the way. As one of the oldest cities in Europe, Maastricht has many historical monuments, churches, parks, a fortress, and neighborhoods to explore. Just make sure to be in a waterproof coat as you never know when it will start raining or when the Dutch might be washing their windows.
Then reality set in and school started. Although classes are currently online, I must say I really have been enjoying the education system at Maastricht University (UM). The semesters here are broken into two periods, so you only take two classes at a time but at a much quicker pace. In one way it is really nice to be able to truly focus on your subjects, rather than being split between five classes like at A&M, but on the other hand the quick pace makes it easy to fall behind if you procrastinate or have trouble with a concept. Keeping up with the preparation and readings is key! What I enjoy most about UM is the problem based learning system, which means that class time is devoted to case studies, application, and discussion. We barely spend any time in lectures. I enjoy this method a lot for more qualitative classes, like my strategy course, but for more quantitative classes, such as my international financial management course, I wonder if more instructional time would be more beneficial.
Overall, I am so excited for the rest of my time living in Maastricht, studying with a new learning approach, and hopefully exploring more of Europe when the travel restrictions ease up.
Lights at the Vrijthof.
View of the Maas and the city. (P.S. Kaas croissants are the best!)
Arrived in Maastricht!
The town hall built during the 17th century.
Night view of the old bridge.
Belgium waffles with my friend, Carolin.
Tulips from the Markt and Flaming Hot Cheetos, the only necessities.
February 15th was the day on the calendar in which I had planned to go to France for my spring semester exchange. I attend ESSEC School of Business during my stay and currently reside in a small town in Cergy. Cergy is northwest of Paris by at least 50 minutes and you can take the train to go to Paris very easily.
Upon arrival in France, there were lots of quirks and differences that I didn’t account for in my semester exchange. When landing in the CDG Paris airport, I was taken aback by the sheer size of the airport but also how confusing it was given that lots of shops and services were closed due to COVID. I felt lost and anxious because I had a checklist of things I needed to accomplish while I was at the airport. I needed a sim card for reliable internet service, euros to be exchanged from my American dollars, a transportation pass, and finally a taxi to go to my apartment. After wandering around in a large and busy airport, I finally found all my necessities in one place. I was able to leave the airport and find a taxi to get home smoothly.
I arrive in my residence to an empty apartment with no food and welcomed with a special move-in kit that I ordered from the university which had plates, pots, and cups to make my transition in the residence much easier. For the first time in a long time, I had a blank slate to start my semester and this time it was in a completely new environment.
The city of Cergy isn’t very glamourous, to be quite honest, it’s basically College Station but with very few restaurants to go to. In the city center are the universities, the mall, and the metro station to get to downtown Paris. It is the most lively part of Cergy and where most people get their groceries done. Cergy is mainly filled with working-class people who commute to Paris to work and come back in the evening. It’s not a special place, but it is a home for many families.
Currently, COVID-19 in France is somewhat strict but there is a lot to look forward to. Depending on the size of the shop or public space, many places are still open for the public. You might not be able to go to the Louvre, but there are many small art galleries and small art installations you can visit. While the strict rules of France may seem a damper to larger tourist sites, it allows for smaller businesses to shine and be a resource to the public who wish to get a sliver of normalcy in their lives.
My classes do not start until March 1st, but I am excited to see what is ahead of me. Whether it’s going to meet new people or visiting hole-in-the-wall places in Paris, the opportunity is wide open.