It is a bittersweet moment to say goodbye to Prague. Prague has been my home for the past five months and it was one of the hardest goodbyes I have experienced. My time in Prague truly shaped me into the person I have always wanted to be. This experience of being able to study abroad has been the best decision of my life. I have made connections from all over the globe, learned about new cultures, and experienced immeasurable happiness despite the circumstances of this past semester. I was hesitant to follow through with my abroad semester since I had never been away from home for so long and to be so far, especially with the COVID-19 epidemic. It was scary, to say the least in the beginning. However, the memories and friendships I have made during this time made this experience the best time of my life. To my best friends that I met in Prague, I will miss our daily trips to Zizkov beer garden, our walks through the snow to Flora station, our late-night wine and movie nights, and most of all, being able to spend every day together. The people that came into my life while I was in Prague truly changed my life.
To anyone who is considering spending a semester abroad, do it. My time abroad was the best time of my life so far. I felt a new sense of identity that I was not able to find back home. Even though it may seem daunting to leave home and to be gone from your current life for a while, I promise that it is worth it. The experience is unlike any other.
note: I am very intentionally and knowingly completely going off-topic for this post because… you’ll see. There is a point.
I lied. Well, not technically. And definitely not in what really matters. I changed the nuances, which matters to me, though not much to anyone else.
To everyone I had to pitch ‘going to Denmark on an exchange’ to, I had said I needed it to further develop my career:
1. That it doesn’t help to have this one sided- America focused- viewpoint of business and not know anything about the rest of the world (do you spot the issue here? again, intentional. hint: my word choice. answer: “the rest of the world”. What does that even mean? It’s like looking at a map and seeing America vs. whatever those other countries are. I would never in a million years admit that’s the way I thought of business; I most definitely do NOT think like that when it comes to society and people and everything else I care about like food or art or literature or theatre, but as far as business goes, that is all I have ever known because it’s all I have ever been exposed to: America, China, and the “rest of the world”).
whoa, that was a long bullet point. sorry.
2. That when my frame of reference is America, which possesses more than half of the WORLD’S equity market value (in comparison to Japan as a distant second- 7.4% and China right below Japan at 5.4%), my understanding of finance is bound to be more biased than the rest of global finance looking in on Wall Street.
3. That going to Denmark would eliminate some of the bias because I’d start to see things from Scandinavia’s perspective. It’d never be my frame of reference unless I spent more time there, but I’d be learning infinitely more just by being there.
4. Denmark is the happiest country in the world. How? I need to find out! The curiosity was killing me.
I had to pitch it because it was in the middle of a global pandemic and my reasoning for it had better have more value than my life or I wasn’t going, period. Kidding. I meant it was hard for me to get the ‘go-ahead’ due to the nature of our circumstances at the time.
While all of my points were true, I had left out the part where I was looking to find inspiration. The part where I didn’t even want to think about my full time career while I was there because I needed the time to cultivate my creativity. I always wanted to do something creative. I never knew what that could be. I never thought I could devote too much time to it now, where I was still learning the basics of financial analysis. I knew I was bad at the numbers, but my reasoning was that, at 21, with decades of time left in my career, I have the liberty to spend a few years being bad at my job so I’d have the foundations to move on from there and eventually go into something I know that, with time, I’d get very good at, like international negotiations or M&A.
But Denmark opened my eyes to a whole new idea: I am a free woman. I can be doing what I want while I make money. There is no rat race I need to be caught up in because I am not a rat. It’s that simple, yet just as complicated as it is simple. Every way we were taught we had to live were preconceptions, patterns people created, fed to us to feed a capital economy that needed to be developed as fast as possible essentially due to the timing of our history. I can live in a van if that lifestyle is what I crave; I didn’t think I could do that before I believed I am a free woman. I can be a traveling author if it’s what I really want; before Denmark, I didn’t think that was possible the minute I stepped into business school. Things change. I can change. My point is that, none of my circumstances changed just because I went to Denmark and came back. Financial analysis still doesn’t come easily to me. Finance is still my major. I still can’t make the cut for Wall Street. I still want to be a consultant for big 4 but haven’t been doing anything about it in the past year. I still don’t think I have the credentials to get in just yet. But what made all the difference in the world was my perception that I am free.
With that, I started writing a book that will be published the end of this year (Cacophony). I started a podcast (Wei Back When). I started updating my blog more (rubywei.com). All because I believed I was free. Too many times I let responsibility (or what I thought was responsibility) and money get in the way of my art, stifling my creativity.
And that, right there, is precisely what absolutely stuns me about Danes: they believe they’re not constricted. They aspire to be happy, to be more average than to get ahead. In turn, that has gotten them “ahead” in many spectrums, with happiness the primary one. My initial perception was that this country values life- they’re happy, they turn out innovative solutions, they really have their work-life balance down. My constant impression was how reserved they are to strangers and how utterly rule-following they are. I mean, they follow rules down to the comma; they don’t ever bend them. During quarantine, when the law said no more than five people can gather together, five is EXACTLY the number they stuck by. Why five? If two people gather together and one of them have covid, it’d spread regardless. If six people gathered together and none of them have been exposed, it’s highly unlikely any of them would get it. Five is not some magic number. It made more sense to me to be responsible about mask-wearing for yourself, make sure you’re meeting people you trust are responsible, have everyone in the group get tested and then a few additional people wouldn’t matter. But no, they had to stick to five. Or four. Or whatever the number the government said was the law. This constant- follow the rules precisely- was what I repeatedly saw: group projects, assignments, biking, walking, booking Airbnbs (quick example: I tried to stay for one more day at an Airbnb I’ve bent the rules many times in in the states, but the host said I had to go in and manually book another day even though I was trying to pay her the same amount minus the money that would go to Airbnb), etc.
Ultimately I came back with more of a conundrum than insights: why is Denmark a leader in innovation when the culture encourages sticking inside the box? Am I making false assumptions? Is there gray area I didn’t see through? Something I’m doing right now like spend most of my post going off topic so I can make my point that this is something that wouldn’t be tried in a Danish classroom… would not be tried in a Danish classroom. And YET, the NATURE of the education system has ambiguity and thus the need for creativity built INTO it- perhaps this is the answer to my conundrum, but I don’t know. And I am perfectly okay with not knowing. We- America looped into one culture (largely simplified and untrue, I know; just let me go for the sake of ending this blog post)- are incredibly results oriented. We’re good at solving problems (just look at our covid response), though not as good at preventing them (again, covid). But what if we approached business-innovation-education as needing creativity to be built into the system instead of bending rules after the fact? I don’t know. What if it won’t work because of predetermined factors such as the status of our country? I think I’m getting somewhere grand, but there are too many factors I haven’t thought of, yet I am completely okay with not knowing… for now.
I signed up for Danish class! Strategically, Spanish or Portuguese would be more “useful” because of the sheer number of Danes that speak English, but I think the greatest way I can respect a country is through the process of trying to learn their language. Am I going to forget everything as soon as I come back? Yes. But the process of trying garners more room for respect in my mind.
Today, well yesterday now, my SIM card plan expired. No internet. Which means I’ll be lost again. It’s okay, I’m used to it. Sometimes it’s fun. Like when I found a white-tailed deer. They’re not supposed to be active in the harsh winter, so I was lucky. Also, where I was, I could’ve just as easily been eaten by a wolf, but… I was lucky. Why didn’t I top it up? Well, when I went into 7-11 where I got the card from, the guy told me I had to repurchase a new card every month. ‘Wait that’s not how SIM cards work’, I argued, ‘I’ve never bought a SIM card like that’. I showed him my plan and even my receipt; he shook his head and assured me I needed a new card. A new number. I mean, I’m not a phone plan (or anything) expert, but I know people don’t change their numbers every month, even when the plan is for foreigners. Confused, I headed out to grab my textbooks at an electronic store.
I miss Prime. Amazon, where’s your next expansion effort located? S *my* S here. I need a foolproof method. These textbooks technically only took a week, but I was dumb and kept waiting for the textbook company to text me the number I needed to grab it when all along it was the shipping company who already texted me but I ignored it- it’d been half a month by the time I got it. Without data, I couldn’t check anything. “Is there a way you can look up…”. “That’s not my job” he interrupted. I’ll figure it out later, I sighed. Confused, I headed out to meet a friend.
Her apartment made me rethink what I’ve been doing with my life. She was paying less, had a gym, a music room, amazing architecture, incredible interior design, and with online class, being located away from school wasn’t a huge issue. It’s okay, I have some doves that hang out around my window sometimes. and a garage door across the street that wakes me up at night. Construction noise every day. Nice. One thing I do love – hearing all the laughter coming from the daycare when the weather’s nice.
When we walked into their open, spacious, elegantly designed kitchen (trademark of Danish society – even the most plain-looking exterior involves thoughtfully designed interiors), someone was already there, toasting bread.
“what are your plans for today?” she asked casually.
“absolutely nothing,” he declared, ever so confidently.
My mouth dropped open… “Ruby, you good?” they asked.
I snapped out of it, covered my awkwardness up with a laugh, “Yeah, yeah, sorry”, and smiled.
What shocked me, was his confidence in what he was saying. Absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! It wasn’t that I’ve never not done nothing- believe me, I’ve had my fair share of ‘absolutely nothings’ (I procrastinate. I’ve never been efficient. I’m still trying to learn how to manage my time); I was SO guilty about them, hated myself SO much when it happened, and never PLANNED for nothing before. I’ve never declared it so boldly- because if I ever did, I wouldn’t be able to trick myself into thinking ‘I’ll do ___ as soon as I ___”.
My first thought: wow, you are too cool.
My second thought: wow, I am so behind.
My thoughts afterwards: He must be SO fulfilled in who he is, SO satisfied in the work he’d already done, that doing nothing wasn’t a problem for a day.
what do I have to do to get to that point in my life?
The best way to describe my experience at ESSEC Business School was a change of pace. Going on a semester exchange during a COVID-19 semester was something I was hesitant on but decided to go for it anyways. Classes were very interesting and I was still able to see my friends on campus throughout the week. For the majority of the semester, many places in Paris and Cergy were closed. Museums, restaurants, and historical areas were shut down until my last month here. Despite all the closings, I was forced to look for smaller things that made me happier that allowed me to get more out of this semester. I focused on the relationships between my friends and staying together. Everyone wanted to explore Paris and do as much as we could, but the lockdowns prevented a lot of that. Instead, we focused on simpler things such as eating and cooking together and playing basketball to have a great time. Once Paris opened up, everything became a lot more lovely and I have grown to appreciate the city even more. Paris is a beautiful city and I plan on returning in the future for leisure or a new job opportunity. ESSEC Business School is a lively environment when it’s completely open and I recommend anyone to take this opportunity to go. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend my spring semester.
I am just about done with my time at Lancaster. Although it’s a great feeling to finish with exams and coursework, it’s bittersweet when you know your time abroad is coming to an end. The connections I’ve made with new friends while abroad are different than those made back home. Making little and big moments count to make your experience abroad worthwhile, such as throwing you a 21st birthday party (even when 21st birthdays are bigger in America). Learning about the differences, yet embracing them and intertwining our differences. Being taught new recipes from their different cultures and attempting to make them Texas BBQ ribs and southern sides with what’s available. Although I will say the weather is a bit on the colder side compared to Texas, I have missed air-conditioned rooms (especially as we near the summer heat). However, this has created more incentive to go outside and play ball or wear a flowy dress and have a picnic in the meadows.
Classes have come to an end, with the last few months only being dedicated to studying for exams. With the way the term and exams are structured here, I plan to do a bit of traveling around the UK to experience the different areas. Since the train station is not far from campus, it allows travel to be faster and simpler compared to America. So far I’ve gone to Wales, Manchester, and will be going to Scotland this week. Hopefully, I can do the most these last few weeks with lockdown easing in the UK and before I have to go back home.
I wish I could have spent more time abroad in different countries. So if I have anything to say to anyone interested in going abroad is: just go for it because the hardest thing is leaving, but once you go you’ll be craving more. Plus you get the benefit of being in college, so you get to see other different college cultures compared to that of TAMU. It is truly an eye-opening experience. Even within a lockdown, I would do it again or jump to any opportunity to go abroad.
I’m Liz and since I’ve always been quite curious about traveling to other places outside the U.S. However, I didn’t really know how to travel nor did I have people to do it with. Going to Texas A&M and hearing about the studying abroad opportunities excited me. This finally gave me an opportunity to travel for a long enough period to experience the culture and get education credit at the same time. Deciding which country to go to was a bit tough, but if anything adjusting my course schedule was more difficult. If anyone is interested in these opportunities I would recommend meeting with an advisor to see, which classes should be taken at TAMU and which credits are ok to be taken abroad as it would make it more simple.
When the pandemic hit, I was terrified my opportunity to go had passed. However, I decided as soon as the opportunity would arise again I would fully jump in. This is what brings me now to Lancaster University. Although arriving here was a bit of a tough experience (with Britain being in full lockdown and not having anything non-essential open). Living on campus with 11 other flatmates was something I thought I wouldn’t like; however, as they slowly kept showing up it brought joy as they helped integrate me into their social lives. Although we can’t go out and hang out with many people, we can hang out outside. This has led me to enjoy going on hikes or walks around the town and seeing the old monuments and castles. Although I knew Britain was an older country it did make me feel like I traveled back to medieval times with the cobblestone streets and stone buildings. It was fun to see although I’m sure it will soon bring more people out once things settle out and the sun starts shining again.
Classes have begun and are all online for now. Although we are just in the beginning, I have noticed they are structured very differently compared to those at TAMU. It’s hard to stay fully motivated when you are just watching lectures and don’t have anything due till the end of the term. Hopefully, I am able to adjust and work with their structure. I’ll write soon about the other adventures and things I’ve learned!
I am sitting in my dorm room, one week from departure, with a great bittersweet feeling. Studying abroad teaches you many things and allows you to experience many things you probably could not experience any other way. The feelings of newfound friendships combined with newfound love of a European city, provides for a very heartbreaking story-end. Some of my best memories include 10-hour train rides and hours of walking to explore new cities with friends, bundling up in our biggest coats just to play a few minutes of volleyball, and international dinners with an entire building of international students. If you plan to go abroad, you have to leave your comfort zone and enjoy all the moments that present themselves. Soon I will go home and continue my life, but will forever cherish my study abroad experience and will continue to use my experiences to help me continue to grow as a person. The picture I have attached to this is the friend group I made in Prague. We will have to go our separate ways but the bonds we have created will last a lifetime.
While being here I took many international business courses. I took Organizational Design and its studies across many countries, National Accounts (which deals mainly with the economics of many different countries, and Finance in International Management. The most bizarre factor that I learned in all three of these courses is that the world seems to revolve around the United States’ way of doing things, even if they do not like it. For example, in Finance, the US dollar was almost always used as a vehicle currency in equations, even though most people in the class were European. In National Accounts I realized that many countries had to make their numbers convertible to a US standard. And in Organizational Design, we almost never studied an organization’s structure, unless they were American. Many of these case studies we read about, in any class, were based out of the US. Maybe this was all just a fallacy that my university presented to me, but I genuinely feel as if international business is much more simple when you are American. Another aspect of this equation is the fact that an American can travel to almost any country in the world, and proceed to work for an American company. So my take on doing business in international markets? We simply have it easier, while it will always be simpler to do business in the area we know, we could certainly survive in international markets.