January, 2022 | Reciprocal Exchanges Blog

I am currently studying abroad at the University of Limerick (UL) in Ireland for my Spring 2022 semester. While it has only been a short two weeks, I already learned and experienced so many new things and started to go beyond what I am typically exposed to! The first week here was orientation week where I attended online sessions to learn more about my time here, the university, and Ireland. School began the second week, and during this week I got to “tour my classes” to pinpoint which classes (modules) I wanted to take. Along with two core business courses and an MIS elective, I’m excited to be taking Irish Folklore while here. The classes are structured and presented differently at UL than at A&M, and the grades are largely based on a final exam. For each class, I either attend two 50-minute or one 1-hour and 50-minute-long lectures along with a 1- or 2-hour lab or tutorial for the module each week. My biggest lecture is online for COVID safety reasons, but the rest are on campus.

My initial impression of the university, the city of Limerick, and Ireland is that everything here is so green and beautiful. There is so much nature, culture, and history everywhere you look, and I love it! While a lot is different than it is in Texas, I did not experience too much culture shock. However, I did have to adjust to a few cultural differences such as the 6-hour time difference, driving/walking on the left side, using 24-hour military time, Celsius and the Metric system, and relying on public transportation like the bus and train.

Irish people are extremely friendly, laid back, cheerful, and welcoming to all, and the majority speak English which is helpful. I love the fun and lively culture of Ireland, and there are even a couple of pubs right on campus for the students to enjoy after a long day of classes and studying! Additionally, music is big here and I really enjoy listening to live music and watching Irish dancing (fun fact: the rock band The Cranberries were formed in Limerick, Ireland)! Sports are also a huge thing at UL, and I can’t wait to watch a traditional Irish sport such as hurling (the world’s fastest field sport) and Gaelic Football.

The climate in Ireland is cool, damp, windy, and cloudy but the weather has been pretty pleasant so far. It has mostly stayed around 35-50°F and while light rain showers are common, the sun still comes out plenty. I have gone out to the city center and to the weekend Milk Market, and I feel safe walking and using public transportation. COVID-19 is taken more seriously in Ireland and there are stricter restrictions, however, there has been a national easing of restrictions recently. For instance, Ireland had an 8 PM curfew when I first arrived, but the curfew was lifted a week ago. The use of masks is still required in indoor settings and public transport.

The stores and restaurants may be different and sell different products, but there are some familiar places such as Aldi, TK Maxx, Starbucks, Subway, and even KFC. I’ve enjoyed Irish food, but I still have to try a lot of the traditional meals. Along with their drinks, the Irish love potatoes and chips, or as we like to call them: French fries. Standard chips are commonly served with meals (even pizza), but you can also get different flavors and toppings with chips for a snack or meal! Spice bags are a popular fast food dish found at Chinese takeaways in Ireland. Typically, a spice bag consists of chips, chicken, peppers, onions, a variety of spices, and curry sauce and they’re so tasty!

UL’s campus is stunning, and each building is unique. Compared to Texas A&M, the campus and student population is a lot smaller at the University of Limerick. The student body at UL is close to 16,500 students, including more than 2,000 international students which is amazing because I’ve gotten to meet people from all over the world. Conversely, A&M has more than 70,000 students. It is definitely a big difference population and size-wise, but I’m enjoying the smaller campus vibe and seeing more familiar faces while walking around campus. The entire campus is walkable and there is a short 10-minute break between classes since it only takes about 10 minutes to walk from one side of campus to the other. The Kemmy Business School is smaller compared to Mays with about 3,000 students, but KBS is still one of the largest business schools in Ireland and is in the top 1% of business schools in the world.

Many locals also occupy the campus to walk, bike, exercise, and eat because it is such a wonderful campus to be at. Personally, I love walking around campus, especially on the Living Bridge over the Shannon River. The study abroad and exchange program at UL is remarkable. They offer tons of support, fun and educational events, and weekend day trips around Ireland. This past Saturday I went on the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren tour, and all the sites were truly breathtaking. I’m looking forward to the Blarney Castle and Cork City tour this Saturday, and can’t wait for the experiences and trips to come! So far, I have fallen in love with Ireland and the University of Limerick in all its beauty. During the upcoming weeks, I hope to travel more around Ireland, become increasingly globally aware, challenge myself, and truly immerse myself in the culture and customs of Ireland!

Me at the Cliffs of Moher

Categories: 2022, Ireland, Reciprocal Exchange

I have been in Spain for over 2 weeks and I have loved every second since I got here! I feel like for me it has not been too hard to get adjusted here because I speak fluent Spanish, however, Spaniards do speak a bit faster and use a lot of words I typically don’t. I’ll start back from the first day of arriving, me and 2 other girls from TAMU flew in together and made our way to our flat (apartment) via a taxi from the airport. When we got to our flat our landlord met us here to give us our keys and introduce us to our roommates. One thing I highly recommend is looking on Erasmus Facebook groups to find housing: it’s significantly cheaper than a dorm and you can find a great location! Thankfully I got in contact with this landlord early on in the fall semester and got rooms for myself and the 2 other girls. We are so lucky to have found this place because it’s in the perfect location in Madrid! Sol has so much to offer from food, shopping, and lots of nightlife activities. As far as adjusting to living here it was a bit challenging for me because the jet lag was real!! And with Madrid being a night city, it’s a bit hard to get some sleep at night lol, but I would not trade sleep for the location of this flat–it’s so worth it!!

I guess I’ll move along to some tips that I have gathered while being here! First and foremost literally nothing here is spicy… which has been a real struggle for me because I’m Mexican and I need spice in my life lol, so if you can, pack your favorite hot sauce. Another thing is that things here are not as sweet/artificial as they are back home which can be a little odd to get used to since we are so used to having all the sweets back home. One other tip I would like to mention is to get your metro card appointment before getting here!!!!!!! Seriously, if you’re reading this I hope you at least take one thing away from it and that is to set your appointment before arriving in Madrid. My friends and I tried to make appointments to get our metro card (which is crucial to getting around here) and the earliest appointment in the location we are staying was like 2 weeks away so we made our earliest appointment in a town that was 1 hour away from Madrid, which was quite the adventure. One other thing I suggest is to pack lightly which I wish I would have done because you will do a lot of shopping here, everything is so much cheaper than back in the US. I hope this helps anyone who is interested in coming to Madrid; of course, I am biased because it’s the place I decided to study abroad at but it seriously is such a beautiful city with so much to offer. There are so many international students here and lots to do!

The amazing view from my apartment!

Categories: 2022, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

When I got to the city of Madrid, I didn’t know what to expect. Truly. I had never been abroad before partaking on this exchange, but now, twelve days into this program, I have covered quite a bit of foreign ground. Here are my initial impressions and advice for anyone looking to make that trip overseas:

After a total of 18 hours traveling to the capital of Spain, I arrived at the airport only to encounter my first of many international hiccups. While passport control was a somewhat seamless process, the officer who took my documents forgot to stamp them, which led me to getting a jump start on practicing my Spanish speaking skills. It took three officers to resolve the issue, but that wasn’t the end of my airport troubles. Let me preface this by saying: when going on an exchange, depending on your mobile provider will determine whether or not you need an international SIM card. My personal plan did not allow me to use any data without one, and while the airports sell them, their store was closed for the first hour I was there. Eventually, the store opened and I was able to buy a working SIM and get a taxi to my flat in the center of town.

Once getting to the flat, I was finally able to settle in and start navigating the ins and outs of living abroad. Some of the differences I have noticed so far: contactless pay is a thing–it’s so common that taking out your card to pay feels wrong (*note on the credit card: if you are planning to be abroad, get a VISA or Mastercard, those will be the most universally accepted, as I learned); if you attempt to speak Spanish even if it’s at a beginner’s level, they won’t switch to English and rather continue with their language, which is ideal for anyone seeking to learn; Spanish time is real–they truly have a schedule unlike any other where lunch is around 5pm and dinner doesn’t start until 9pm; with that, the city holds its title of having the best nightlife, where the streets are crowded and full of energy every single night.

There are many more things I have learned and yet to learn on this trip, especially when it comes to the inner workings of the Spanish school system. While classes don’t start until tomorrow, it is evident that they approach education in a different way. From looking at the syllabi and talking to my international roommates, I have found that lectures aren’t the main teaching style and rather it’s practicals and presentations that drive home the lessons. I’m interested to see how this semester goes and how I will be able to adapt and adjust!

Overall, this past week has been an incredible and insightful experience, despite the few hiccups I’ve run into. And to think this is only the beginning of my five-month-long adventure!

Categories: 2022, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

Today is my 11th day in Maastricht, and while it has not always been the easiest settling into a foreign country, I have loved my experience so far. The city of Maastricht is not super big, making the city super walkable, leaving the opportunity to explore all that Maastricht has to offer! On arrival in the Netherlands, I had to quarantine for 5 days due to COVID, while my time alone in the hotel was frustrating, it did give me a chance to slow down and settle into this new and foreign environment–which was also made easy as most Dutch people speak English as a second language, making the transition less frightening and more friendly to the standard American.

Once I got out though, I was still not able to experience the city at its best due to COVID restrictions, meaning there was a curfew on stores, and restaurants were not allowed to open (only takeout). I was still determined to get started on a high note, so I had the opportunity to walk around the city. Maastricht has an awesome city center that is beautiful and is only within a ten-minute walk from most other points in the city, as well as being in one of the only hilly parts of the Netherlands, there are a bunch of nature trails close to the city for students to get some fresh air.

As far as Maastricht University, they have a very unique approach to learning, called PBL (problem-based learning), where students will hold their own tutorials in groups of about 15 or so. This means students are supposed to come to their tutorials prepared with all the materials and discuss the units with other students, with grading being based on participation and a final exam. I personally like this approach as it makes the school feel smaller and you get a consistent group of students to work with and learn with. In addition to this, over half of the school is international students, meaning you will definitely get to meet people from other nationalities!

These are more general first impressions I got from the city and the school, and so far they leave an awesome taste in my mouth, outside of the COVID-19 restrictions. The biggest piece of advice I would give though about coming to Maastricht would be to join some sort of student organization before arriving, as it will make your time to adjust way easier, by having a network of other incoming exchange students to be able to hook up with, rather than coming out solo with no plan.

I am so excited for my time in Maastricht to get rolling! I know that my experience will only get better and better as the semester goes along, I would encourage anyone who is looking to participate in an exchange program to at the very least consider Maastricht!

Categories: 2022, Reciprocal Exchange, The Netherlands

Today on the 21 is my second week in Barcelona. I wanted to use this post to talk about the arrival process and adjustment! I honestly didn’t hear too much about how this process would work but so far it has been great! If you decide to study abroad, know that adjusting can be hard, but it gets easier every single day! We got to the airport in Austin on January 6, landed in Atlanta, then Paris, then Barcelona! The Barcelona airport had a bus that took us right to Placa Catalunya which is where we live so that was a very easy process! I know it can be a tough thing figuring out how to get somewhere after the airport. We then arrived at our apartment, right now in our program we have 2 people (Avni and I), we are sharing a one-bedroom apartment that also has a sofa bed so we make it work! Definitely keep in mind that most apartments are much smaller than I would say we are used to in the US. You’ll learn how to make your space work! The food here has been great, cheaper than in the US, mostly everyone you’ll need to talk to speaks English so don’t let the language barrier scare you! Though you should definitely try to learn Spanish if you come. School here is much different than TAMU, they have the same classes on Monday and Tuesday and then Thursday and Friday. There is only 1 exam per class and they don’t do much homework here. Each class also has a seminar that varies every week so just make sure to keep up with your schedule! The professors here are also super passionate about what they’re talking about. The locals don’t really take notes, you’ll hear them say that they rather just pay attention to understand better which I thought was so interesting as we are so used to taking pages and pages of notes. I would definitely say to pack light, clothes here are much cheaper than in the US so I bet you’ll want to go shopping! But make sure to bring what you need, especially in the Spring semester where it is pretty cold. Many things are different due to COVID, we thought orientation was in person so we came the first day, it was actually online but for some reason, we didn’t know! COVID definitely makes it tough to sometimes know what’s going on, but just like anything, always ask questions. Adjusting takes time but it’s completely worth it. Love Barcelona!

Categories: 2022, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

I cannot believe how much I have already learned in just my first two weeks in Strasbourg! I knew it would take time to adjust to the differences between French culture and the culture back home, but it has been an incredible learning experience so far. One thing that surprised me the most when I first arrived was how safe I felt. I arrived in Strasbourg much later in the evening than I anticipated because of a delayed flight. However, being picked up by a member of the international student group at the university made me feel very welcome and made it much easier to get to my residence. I also live right next to the university and fairly close to the city center which has been great for going into the city often and navigating my way around campus. The city of Strasbourg is fairly small, and I live right next to the university and near the city center, which is very convenient. So far I have loved having the opportunity to walk anywhere I want or take a quick ride on the tram to get across town.

I arrived a few days before classes started so I had a little bit of time to familiarize myself with the business school and the rest of campus. My first few classes at EM Strasbourg Business School were very similar in style to classes at A&M, except the fact that they are 3-4 hours long just once a week. In addition, my schedule changes each week, meaning some weeks I have classes and other weeks I do not. This is an interesting change from having a consistent schedule each week at A&M, but I am excited to see for the classes I am enrolled in!

Aside from the academic differences, there were some things I had to learn pretty quickly when I arrived, such as when and where to get food. Many stores and restaurants are closed during some parts of the day and nearly all shops are closed on Sundays. This was a challenge because for the first few days after I arrived, I had no idea where I was supposed to get food because it seemed that everywhere I went was closed. Although this is quite different from home, where I can go to HEB or any store to get whatever I need at any time of day, I do admire how the French value time off and rest. For example, I went to a park the first Sunday I was here, after many failed attempts at finding food, and I found so many people taking a walk and having a picnic. This change in pace, although frustrating at first, has helped me settle in and enjoy the beauty of the city.

Another challenge that I faced when I arrived was the language barrier. It has been a very humbling experience trying to communicate with people who do not speak any English and instead try to communicate with the little French that I know. But I have seen these interactions as opportunities to grow and challenge myself to really learn about the French language and customs. I am excited to continue pushing myself to really integrate into the French culture.

Overall, my first two weeks in Strasbourg have been amazing. Although I am still adjusting to this foreign environment, the challenges I have faced so far have been valuable in helping me step out of my comfort zone and have some really great experiences. I am looking forward to challenging myself as an individual and I am excited for the rest of the semester here in France!

Categories: 2022, France

I have been in Nice, France for two weeks now and am loving it! EDHEC Business School Nice is quite different from Texas A&M and Mays. EDHEC is housed entirely in one building right on the Promenade des Anglais, and I have a view of the Mediterranean from many of my classes. The building itself is very modern and has a lot of amenities for students such as a restaurant. There are also many terraces around the building to eat lunch at and watch the planes take off from the nearby airport. The classes here are once a week for three hours, and a few of the courses begin at different points in the semester. I have some electives that do not begin until March. The schedule can also change from week to week, which I am not used to. One aspect of the courses that I feel will have the biggest impact is that most of the courses are based solely off one final exam. I will have to adjust my studying and learning style, as I am used to frequent midterms, quizzes, and homework.

I have noticed many differences between the lifestyle here and back at home in Texas. I have become used to walking everywhere or using the tram/bus system to get around. Many of the restaurants and businesses here will close in the middle of the day and on Sundays, which I was not used to. The food here is also different, and there are bakeries everywhere to get a baguette, pastry, or sandwich. Nice is also known for having excellent seafood, especially mussels. The language barrier has been difficult, as many people here do not speak English. Navigating things like the grocery self-checkout in French and some other tasks have been a little difficult but I am starting to recognize more. Luckily, my French course here begins this week.

I was able to meet a lot of my fellow exchange students at our orientation before school started. I found out that I am the only American exchange student in my program, and it has been fascinating to meet people from all over the world. They speak so many different languages and bring parts of all their cultures. We have been trying to make the most of our time here and have begun already exploring the Cote D’azur with trips to Cannes and Monaco already! While in Cannes we took a ferry to the nearby island of Sainte-Marguerite, where there was a royal fort and a small prison that housed the infamous “Man in the Iron Mask.” I have also been spending a lot of time on the beaches near me, especially during sunset as it is always spectacular. I am looking forward to the rest of my time here and hope to make the most of it!

Categories: 2022, France

I truly cannot believe how much I have learned within the first few weeks of living in France. I knew it would be different and was ready to face the change, but it still felt different from what I expected. I am so glad that I did the bulk of the work before I left. In the months and weeks leading up to my flight abroad, I did so much research on my own that has helped me so much along the way. When the day of my flight came I was calm and ready. It definitely took a few days to adjust to the 7 hour time difference, and a few more to get a hang of the new culture but now I love it here.

My initial impressions of France, and more specifically Strasbourg, were very positive. I felt safe my first night and have loved walking and using public transportation to get around the city. I will say however that arriving on New Year’s Eve was a little rough. Here in France, holidays are for resting and most businesses were closed the Saturday of New Years Day. We also learned that all businesses are closed on Sunday. This was the hardest part of our journey. We had to wait two days before going to the grocery store and Ikea, which is very different from stopping at HEB at any hour of the day. But once I had the essentials I felt like I could start exploring the city.

Orientation for school was held in this amazing building that reminded me a lot of the museums and government buildings I had visited in Washington D.C. We were with the entire international cohort. Hearing the mix of languages and cultures was so impactful and continues to be every day here. Later that day we toured the school! I was so excited. I had looked up the school on Google Images nearly 100 times but now I was here! It was very unique and most of the classrooms had huge windows. The library was bright and there was even a cafeteria in the middle (I think Wehner would benefit from a few of these additions). And to add to the magic, it started snowing while we were outside the school. On the walls are maps and arrows guiding you to the right area and have found that is all I need to know to get around the school. The business school is part of a larger school that compares to the size of A&M (60,000+ students).

Overall, I have loved taking part in French life and culture. Here, rest is valued and things seem to move at a slower pace. At restaurants, you have to ask for the bill and you are never rushed out of places. Classes are 3 hours long, but only once a week and so far I have liked this approach! Not all classes start the same week and it feels way more approachable to start this new semester. I cannot wait to learn even more about France as I travel and work on learning the language here. My mindset has already expanded so much and cannot wait to absorb even more just by being here!

Categories: 2022, France, Reciprocal Exchange

My first class at EM Strasbourg Business School was very different from Mays in some ways but in other ways similar! The building itself is huge and has an open space feel to it, which feels quite different from the Wehner building. The business school is completely detached from the main campus of the University of Strasbourg, which is somewhat similar to Wehner being on west campus at TAMU, but in Strasbourg, the school buildings are built right into the city, so it’s not like you’re on campus the whole time when you’re going from one building to another. As far as the class goes, the lecture felt very familiar. Besides the class being three hours long and only once a week, the class structure and teaching style feels quite similar to home.

The city of Strasbourg is quite unique and the biggest difference I feel is how safe it is. I am staying in university housing which is off-campus and a bit out of the city center, so we are right in the middle of a quaint neighborhood a ways away from downtown, and I really like it. Everyone kind of minds their own business when they are out and about, which I have found comforting. One thing that we learned quickly after arriving is that they take their holidays VERY seriously. We arrived Friday, Dec 31st—New Year’s Eve—and everything was closed, and I mean everything. Everything stayed closed Saturday—New Years Day—and Sunday, in accordance with French law, so it was difficult the first few days not having access to any grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants, etc. This has probably been the biggest difference in day-to-day experiences here in Strasbourg compared to back home.

The people we have encountered so far have been generally pretty nice, though they keep conversation pretty short and to the point. In fact, one administrator told all of the exchange students to prepare to “get over the wall” when making friends with French students because they tend to be much more reserved. This is probably the biggest cultural difference compared to the US and even Texas. It’s common in Texas to be met with that southern hospitality that we are so proud of, but in France, it’s unlikely for someone to strike up a conversation with you unless you prompt something yourself.

The first two weeks have been overall good! It definitely felt overwhelming at times, and like a huge shock to your mental and physical state, but I feel as though I’m adjusting well, though it is taking longer to fix my sleep schedule than I would’ve expected. I’m looking forward to the semester getting started and learning more about France during my time here!

Categories: 2022, France, Reciprocal Exchange

My semester abroad was very eye-opening to how the French conduct their daily lives. As a business major, it was shocking to see the difference in the work-life balance that the French had compared to Americans. In the United States, we are used to a very fast-paced environment where efficiency and money are the priority. From my observations, this is not the case in France. For instance, almost everything, including grocery stores, was closed on Sundays in Strasbourg. The locals took their Sundays very seriously as a day of rest, whereas for me and many people I know, Sundays are for meal prep, grocery store, and preparing for the week. I personally got used to having slow Sundays while I was in Strasbourg, and it is something that I became very satisfied with. Another example is the bank. I opened a French bank account, and the process took over 6 weeks from when I made an appointment to when I got my card working. That is a process that would have taken no longer than 3 business days in the United States. I then realized that the bank was closed on Mondays, and every day from 1-3 pm for lunch break! As a customer, that annoyed me because that was a convenient time for me to go. However, I admire how respectful corporations are of their workers’ time and work-life balance.

However, I also noticed that in France, customer service is not a priority for most businesses. Particularly in restaurants, waiters and waitresses became impatient very easily. The “customer is always right” culture is truly an American rule. Also, businesses would close whenever they pleased, even if their hours said otherwise. Some of this is due to the small-town culture that Strasbourg has, where there were many family-run businesses that could close when it was convenient for them. In my point of view, when I saw businesses randomly close for a couple of days I initially thought, “they’re losing money.” But when I got to meet the lady that ran the coffee shop next to my apartment, and learned that she was a single mother that had to take off work to be with her kid sometimes. Thus, I was reminded that businesses are run by people that have lives outside of work. 

As far as my initial impressions of France, I was both right and wrong. My initial prediction was that the French are very proud. That is true to a certain extent, but being proud does not mean that they are not nice people. They simply want you to respect their culture, and adapt to it, and that is something that makes perfect sense to me. Something that really surprised me is that France is the second leading economy in the European Union. The reason this surprised me is that I noticed so much inefficiency in stores, banks, restaurants, that I would not expect from a leading economy. This proved to me, though, that a country does not have to be working all the time for it to have economic success. Work-life balance is something that I was constantly witnessing in France, and I hope to continue to make this a priority of my life when I begin working full-time.

Categories: 2021, France, Reciprocal Exchange