February, 2022 | Semester Exchanges Blog

The train from Munich crossed over the Vlatava River at 8pm, and I thought to myself “Wow, this isn’t just a dream anymore.” After months of preparation, stress over visa application, and still not knowing what to expect, I am here, in Prague!

I have been in Prague for a week, and I am surprised at how much of the city I have already seen, like the Prague Castle and the Astronomical Clock. (I learned yesterday that Prague is known as the “City of 100 Spires” … I wonder if I can visit all 100…) The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) has partnered with my host university, VSE, to provide social events, a buddy program, and various discounts for the 200 international students. The social events they provide include touring the main sites of Prague, wine tasting tours in Moravia, brewery tours in Prague, and reserving huge club spaces for international students. My ESN buddy has introduced me to other international students and has shown me parts of the city. The churches, castles, and landmarks are stunning in their architecture and artwork.

My school routine in Prague looks quite different than it did at Texas A&M. The day begins with riding a tram for 20 minutes to the campus. There are four buildings, so it is easy to arrive to class on time. (There is no Wellborn train blocking West Campus lol.) Most of my classes occur once a week for 90 minutes. I have organized my schedule to only have classes Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. It is a pretty sweet schedule, and I have already taken a day trip on Tuesday to a nearby village. (For reference, I am taking the class equivalents of SCMT 340, MGMT 439 & 363, and FINC 341.) Like at A&M, my professors are friendly and passionate about their discipline; their excitement makes it easy to be excited to learn. My class sizes have been relatively small, 20-30 students, and are filled with international students. Participating in the ESN events has allowed me to see familiar faces in classes and make friends quickly. I have just finished my first week of classes, and I am still determining how to balance my time between learning in school and learning through travel 🙂

Outside from the university, I have met many people who live in Prague who only speak English. They claim that it is not difficult to only speak English because many Czech people learn English at a young age. The Czech alphabet is Latin based, and after a little study of a few phonetic rules, reading Czech is very doable. With the tram, most places are about 20-30 minutes away from the student housing, and being a university student makes the tickets very cheap.

Besides the expected American and European differences (metric system, different outlets, sparkling water, etc.), here are a few of my personal “culture shock” moments that will be helpful for anyone visiting Europe:

  1. Most coffee shops serve alcohol as well. It is not uncommon to see someone enjoying a beer at a Sunday family brunch.
  2. Eggs are kept in the pantry… this is still difficult for me to comprehend.
  3. Although Czech people are very friendly, do not make eye contact and smile with people on the street. Some of the stories of friendly Americans who have not broken this habit are unnerving.
  4. Not so much a culture shock, but non-native English speakers pronounce Texas as “Tex-sass,” I pronounce it as “Tex-iz.”
  5. People on trams are very talkative. My only experience with public transport is the New York subway and Moscow metro, where it is silent.

Going on an exchange program is a learning process and has been intimidating at times. I have made many mistakes since being here, and from all, I can learn how to avoid the mistake in the future. I was hesitant about leaving my comfortable life in Texas to live somewhere new and foreign, but I am so grateful I took the leap. I’m excited to continue meeting new people, exploring the city, and traveling Europe! Cheers to many more memories to be made, ahoj (“ahoy”)!

Categories: Czech Republic

Ciao!

 

My first few days in Milan have been filled with meeting new people, learning new things, and experiencing different cultures. The first things I noticed upon my arrival to Italy were the buildings. Everything has so much character and it was surreal to walk through the streets that Olive Garden tries to imitate. Milan itself is different than I expected, but not in a bad way. Being up north, the stereotypical rolling hills and small cottages are not present, but instead, Milan is a modern city bustling with people. The Duomo in the center of town is the most beautiful building I have seen, and almost every other building is unique in some way. I haven’t been able to explore much more of Italy yet, but something I’ve appreciated is how easy their public transport system is to use.

I began classes at Bocconi last week and have been very impressed so far. Located close to the center of town, the campus is a mixture of cool old buildings and sleek, modern cylinders. The classrooms are nice, and the professors have done a great job of getting us used to how things are done over here.

From a cultural point of view. Italy is definitely different from the United States in some ways. One of the most obvious ones is that people are more relaxed and less obsessed with profits/work/getting ahead. The other A&M students and I encountered this first hand when we tried to get some food on one of our first days. Our residence is pretty far from the more touristy city center, so when we went walking around looking for food in the middle of the afternoon, every place we passed was closed. After figuring this out, we’ve become much more in tune with the schedules here, but it was definitely a shock!

I’m excited to continue my journey over here and immerse myself deeper into the Italian way of life!

Categories: Italy

As I’m writing this, it marks exactly two weeks since I have been living in Madrid. To say that the past few weeks have been a whirlwind would be an understatement. From the 9 hour flight to encountering countless hurdles trying to get my metro card, I have definitely learned a lot that I would love to share.

The first thing that I noticed when I got here was how beautiful the architecture was. The buildings themselves make you feel like you’re in a movie. I filled up my camera roll within two days (and I have no shame). Just waking up to the view from my apartment felt like a dream. Walking 20,000 steps a day around the city and eating nothing but tapas & coffee for the first week honestly just felt like a vacation. The reality of being here for 5 months didn’t hit until the initial adrenaline wore off.

Now I’m going to go ahead and share some essential things that I wish I knew before moving here:

  1. Make a metro card appointment BEFORE you arrive in Madrid. I had to go to a train station in the middle of nowhere just to get this card.
  2. Don’t even think about eating dinner until 9 pm. Everything here is a lot more laid back and meal timings are all shifted a few hours behind American times so just be prepared for that.
  3. Be willing to put yourself out there even if the situation is unfamiliar. Being a study abroad student is all about growing and learning to adapt to a new environment. If you stick around only what you’re comfortable with, then you won’t see the growth that you’re hoping for.

I’ve only been here for a few weeks and I can’t even express how excited I am for the rest of the semester. Traveling, meeting new people, and learning about business from an international perspective is truly a dream come true. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I intend to make the most of every moment. Stay tuned for my reflection at the end of this (hopefully) incredible journey. 🙂

Categories: Spain

I arrived in Strasbourg a few weeks ago and I have to say it truly felt like a culture shock. The first day of travel was as I anticipated with multiple delays and long rides, but what I didn’t expect was for one of my checked bags to go missing for over a week. Luckily my second luggage with my bedding, toiletries, and a few sweaters arrived. I was also thankful that a French student picked me up from the train station and showed me how to use the tram and bus stations since I live pretty far from the school and inner city. Even though traveling was a hassle, the next day after orientation, I got to explore the city on my own and the entire time I was in awe. Strasbourg’s Grande Ile, which is the main city and includes le Petite France, is small so it was easy to explore. The Germanic architecture mixed with French life was a truly unique experience, and it was then I knew I would love my study abroad.

I will admit it took me a while to get used to the French classes, with all of them being at least three hours long. Sitting through those can be boring, even with the short breaks, but I usually only have each class once or every other week. Although, every week my schedule changes, with different rooms or some classes end even in early March or April. Typically I have classes only 2 days a week which is a really nice change, and it gives me a lot of time to travel, participate in sports, and just wander around the city with friends.

One of the things I had to get used to is not being able to understand what most people are saying since I know very little French. I’m able to read it for the most part, but at shops and talking with students I only speak very broken French. But the wonderful thing about Strasbourg is that everyone I’ve talked to has been understanding and kind, they try to help me in any way they can.

But one of my favorite parts has been the food here! Surprisingly the meals at the university are cheap and of good quality. I was even able to try duck for the first time on campus. Then there’s the sweets they bake, where it doesn’t taste sugary, only natural sweetness like fruits. And of course, being in France I have to get baguettes from the bakery every week, it’s probably the French way thing I can do, but it feels really normal to do so.

Overall, Strasbourg was difficult to adjust to, but I’m so excited that I did it. It isn’t like I expected at all, especially with the new wave of Covid mandates, but every day feels like an adventure, even if I’m just going to class or shopping. I can’t wait for what the next three months have in store for me!

Categories: France

I have been in Nottingham, UK for almost 2 weeks and so far I have been enjoying my time getting to see the city and country. Nottingham is in central England and is about 2 hours north of London. Nottingham is best known for its Sherwood Forest from Robin Hood and there are a lot of references to him throughout the city.

My first week in Nottingham was spent exploring the city and figuring out public transportation. Public transportation is a very popular way of getting around the city, whereas back home we usually drive everywhere. Here, there are trains, buses, trams, and taxis everywhere. Another alternative is to just walk! Everything in the city is fairly close together and getting around is quite easy.

Classes began this past week and I am noticing many differences between the US and the UK. The structure of classes is very different in England from what I’m used to in the US. For example, there are no homework assignments during the week and no quizzes or exams throughout the semester. Our grade for our courses, or as they call them here, modules, rely on one final at the end of the term. In my case, I have 3 essays and one exam for my 4 modules. Additionally, we have different class styles throughout the week instead of only having lectures. There are seminars and lectures. Seminars are more discussion-based than lectures are. We usually have lectures earlier in the week which are followed by seminars later in the week where we talk about what we learned in our lectures. This structure also causes my class schedule to change week to week because some modules don’t have seminars held every week.

I think that after a couple more weeks I will be able to acclimate and get more immersed in the culture. I am still getting used to my new environment, but I am very excited for my time here and I can’t wait to experience more!

Categories: United Kingdom

Hej Everyone!

This is Ngoc Huynh, Class of ’23, and a Management-HRM Major with a Minor in Psychology. I am writing this on my 1 week-versary in Copenhagen, Denmark. I will be attending Copenhagen Business School (CBS) and taking 12 credit hours over there. My stay started rocky, but I am enjoying it so far.

To give some background on my REEP Journey, I have been trying to go abroad for the past 1.5 years (Spring 2021), and I have been with Mays for 2. If you could not infer by now—COVID was primarily the reason why I could not. My first 2 attempts with Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) were due to the low costs and expenses associated. It got deferred then canceled. The Exchange I am writing on is my 3rd and only successful attempt; I chose this based on the courses necessary for my degree planner. I had to make an executive decision to change my program due to me wanting the International Business Certificate—which I recommend everyone take advantage of if you are planning to go abroad, and COVID-19 still wreaking havoc. It was also the last time I was even eligible for one as well because I will be graduating in Fall 2022, so I was not risking another Exchange getting canceled.

Anyways, before arriving here, I did research. It is very nerdy, however, one of the most ignorant things you can do is not. Thankfully, it paid off and I have managed to save money and time, and my safety. Some things I got that were correct:

  1. Get a lot of dark clothing! Danish people wear a lot of black. It is honestly okay if you do not, however, if you do not, there is a possibility you can bring attention to yourself and make it obvious that you do not “belong” there. That can be dangerous.
  2. Everything is more expensive—please, save your money and create a nest. Sign up for the scholarships. Denmark is a hub for foodies and Michelin-Star restaurants, so it would be a shame not to go. In addition, conversion and transaction fees do add up, and it hurts. To give an estimate, it costs $13.50 for a burger, shake, and fries at Burger Mojo and $30 over here. Do not fret, there are cheaper foods, but burgers (fries and shakes) are my guilty pleasure.
  3. Surprisingly, almost everyone spoke English. I thought it was an exaggeration. I do recommend going on Duolingo because it will teach you some words. Though everyone does speak English, signs, packaging, directions, etc. are all in Danish. When you do not have LTE or a Danish SIM, it will help make going grocery shopping, eating out, and navigating around easier.

When I finally arrived, I immediately got lost. CBS arranges for exchange students to have a “Buddy.” They help you assimilate into Danish society and CBS itself. Typically, your Buddy picks you up and brings you to your residence (the one the school helps you get connected with) and they have your new SIM, your keys, etc. My Buddy did not do that—but that’s an entirely different story. They are not expected to do so, so definitely be prepared if you are in that position. I emailed my landlady and she helped with transportation. After that, it was crazy because I did not have LTE, a Danish SIM, my Buddy, etc. I could not go onto Maps and find the directions. Long story short, I thought I was going to be sleeping on the streets. I did not.

But, after finding my way with some help, things started to look up. I settled my area of the room and cleaned out my luggage. I found out that my adapter (that also converts voltage because Denmark uses 230V instead of the 120V in the US) worked—and that is crucial. I would not have power anything. I got my Danish SIM, my keys, my leasing contract from a friend of my Buddy a day later. I managed to go grocery shopping. I also finished up my Mandatory Social Activities provided by CBS to get to know the school, its resources, and its many accomplishments.

Since then, I have just been slowly exploring and relaxing. This is the opposite of what I have been doing these past few years. People from Denmark live a slow and steady life. They walk everywhere. They are sustainable. They are just vibing, and I have a chance to be a part of that. Though I did come to CBS to learn and fulfill the criterion for an International Business Certificate, I also came for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Realistically, I am never going to have a chance like this. As of the moment, I do not have a pet, a partner, or kids. All I have is my time. Moving on, right now, Denmark is honestly what I imagined it to be. It is open, people do not care about what you do, and it is more “clean.” I will admit that it is not as cold as I thought it would be and it is definitely windier as well. Other than that, I am excited for what is to come, and I am truly grateful for this experience. Though it was rocky, I laugh (out of hysteria or humor—I do not even know anymore) anytime I think about my first day. I am grateful for that experience as well because I do not think things can get even worse than that.

Lastly, I just wanted to thank those who supported me financially and emotionally. I really could not have made it here without them. Though it is early to say thank you, I would not be here without them. I would not have felt certain stability and safeness. My family has managed to keep me not homesick by regularly keeping in contact and helping me prepare. Director Katy Lane, Program Coordinator Kerri Vance, my Academic Advisor Maria Martinez, and ex-Program Coordinator Natsuki Hara were rocks through this 1.5-year process as well. Finally, my sponsors (yes, sponsors) helped me help my parents. I could not even imagine an opportunity like this coming true due to our finance and the fact that there are 4 sisters, including me, they must care for.

Categories: 2022, Denmark, Reciprocal Exchange

I arrived in the UK a little over a week ago and after spending a few days in London, I moved into my dorm at the University of Nottingham. Nottingham is situated in Northern England (it’s about a two-hour train ride from London) and it’s much colder and windier than Texas. It’s the home of Sherwood Forest (as well as the legend of Robin Hood), Nottingham Castle, and the oldest pub in England. I’ve had a lot of fun exploring the city and learning about its history. The easiest way to travel between campus and the city center is via the bus/tram system. It took some trial and error to figure out how to use and navigate this system as I am used to driving pretty much everywhere back home. But I’m happy to say that I think I’ve got it mostly figured out and I love how convenient it is to take the bus and/or the tram. I’m grateful that I don’t have to drive anywhere as the English drive on the other side of the road. I just have to remind myself to look in the opposite direction than what I’m used to before crossing the street.

One thing I’m grateful for is the absence of a language barrier. However, it’s been interesting figuring out the different terms the English use. For instance, French fries are called chips in the UK and potato chips are called crisps. Classes are called modules and when you meet someone on campus, you don’t ask what their major is, you ask what course they’re taking.

My classes (or modules) started yesterday and I’m enjoying them so far. The school system is very different here. My class schedule changes almost every week which makes me miss the consistency of A&M’s class schedules. Also, I don’t have any weekly assignments, quizzes, or tests. My grade depends solely on a cumulative exam at the end of the semester. Because of this, I’ve had a lot of free time to explore both the campus and the city. I’ve also noticed that students tend to dress nicer for their classes (and just in general) than they do in the US. The University of Nottingham has a large population of international students so there are a lot of opportunities to meet people from different backgrounds as well as get involved in different organizations (which are called societies here).

I’m definitely still adjusting to life in a foreign country but I’m excited to be here! I’m looking forward to traveling around England and experiencing more of its culture during my semester abroad!

Categories: 2022, Reciprocal Exchange, United Kingdom

115 days full of interesting people, amazing experiences, and knowledge in Europe. Saying bye was difficult, but the aspiration to be back in Milan, and to see all my international friends again, made that sadness go away. 6 countries and 12 cities, during these past 115 days I learned so much about the world, society, and business.

We have heard dozens of times how business is different around the world. From the US to Brazil to France to China to Australia, each country has its own customs in conducting business. As I took time to collect my thoughts on conducting business in Italy (and with the people I met during my exchange), 2 trends kept popping up in my head: People love to talk about themselves, and people value when you are interested in learning about their culture.

My International Friends and I before Christmas (10 nationalities)

People love talking about themselves, and it gets them to be comfortable with one, as the human tendency to be accepted by another person helps in relationship building. It is within our capabilities to listen actively to others, and when conducting business, being a good listener will prove its worth.

People appreciate when you are curious about their culture, as they tend to jump on the role of being ambassadors of their culture and showing you what it is like. Not only that, one gets to learn many things and gets the opportunity to see things from a different perspective.

(Brussels, Belgium) Visiting cities around with people from different backgrounds opens your heart and eye

Of course, business is still conducted differently all around the world, but who conducts that business? People!! I think if we are able to listen, be curious, and be open-minded, our interpersonal skills will allow us to conduct business with any nationality, background, and mindset.

I believe Italians are as friendly as Texans. Very welcoming and affectionate, the people of Milan made me feel loved. Italians are known to be laid back and very social, and during my exchange, I was able to observe that. Not only that, but they are also driven, and even though they may take breaks more often than others, they are able to get to work and deliver results. A smile goes a long way and trying to speak Italian (in this case the host country’s language) helped in navigating the city and talking to strangers.

I now understand that even though we may have different flags, at the end of the day we are all people who probably have more in common than not. Not only that, I learned that we all tend to be more good than evil. Being abroad has expanded my horizon on how I see the world and how it is connected. I am now more understanding of various cultures that I had never been exposed to (like the ones from Ghana, Cost D’ Ivoire, France, Japan, Chile, China, and Thailand), and I am more tolerant of differences, as I see a learning opportunity in them and a chance to let my curiosity run free.

Being abroad made me a better person, businessman, and leader. It opened my eyes, expanded my dreams, and grew my passion for learning about the world and its beautiful landscapes, cities, and cultures.

Categories: 2021, Italy, Reciprocal Exchange