March, 2022 | Semester Exchanges Blog

Almost everyone has heard the trope about finding yourself abroad. The truth is that the cliche comes from some truth. It is amazing to see how much your life can change at this age in a span of months. I’ve made lifelong friendships with people around the world who I still talk to on a regular basis, had a friend visit from Canada, landed my dream job, and my roommate became my best friend–all as a result of my semester abroad. All of which have been incredibly exciting. None, however, have been more revealing than two major lessons:

  1. Fulfillment comes from relationships.
  2. Seeing the world through the lens and experiences of others will be transformative in becoming a more well-rounded person.

For starters, I was nervous about studying abroad because I was afraid of being alone. Being surrounded by incredible friends was the single determinant to making the experience manageable and enjoyable. Having a network of support was so important that I urge anyone to make it a priority. It can be hard, but opening yourself up to opportunity means you may find that network in the most surprising places.

The bureaucratic experience of studying abroad is hard. I won’t lie. From course approval to opening a bank account in France, there seems like there are countless hoops to jump through. It may feel incredibly frustrating in the moment. The biggest advice I can give in these moments is to exercise empathy. The person on the other side of that French bank desk or school administrator does not know the long road you have taken to get here and we should not expect them to. After all, they have their own challenges to go through (like dealing with the back-end of exchange students or University bureaucracy). Taking this approach will allow you to focus on and internalize the good and lessons, rather than cutting the learning short because of something as futile as frustration.

Overall, the lessons of my study abroad extended beyond the beautiful scenery and language. They are ones that I will continue to exercise in every dimension of my life moving forward. They also made me prioritize travel … travel is really fun. 🙂

Good luck!

Categories: France

As my time in Barcelona comes to an end, there is so much to reflect on! Barcelona has been a great experience and I have learned so much. The culture here is so incredibly different and I loved seeing it. When it comes to conducting business and engaging with individuals, it is definitely very different than in the US, particularly in Barcelona there are Catalans who are very proud of their culture and keep it very safe, this is something super important to keep in mind when speaking to others. Remembering that you are in their home, it’s important to try your best to adapt, and not make others adapt to you, try your best to learn as many languages as you can! School here is very different too, for all my classes the only grades were a group presentation and one final exam. It can be stressful since we don’t know what the tests are like, but it also gives you more free time as you aren’t constantly doing homework. This is the library and a very nice area right next to where I live.

Barcelona has everything from the beach to a city that never sleeps. When I first came here I was very overwhelmed and felt like I would never be able to keep up. Now I know where everything is, I know how to get around, and I even see some friends anywhere I go! Barcelona is a great place to make new friends, learn a new culture, and change as a person. I am definitely far more independent now, more confident, and more ready for the ‘real world’ than ever before.

Categories: Spain

Semester Abroad Recap and Final Reflection

Last semester, in the Fall of 2021, I went participated in a reciprocal exchange program with the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU) in Vienna, Austria. It is a weird feeling to come back to Texas A&M after spending the past four and a half months abroad. For me, it is great to see my family, reconnect with friends and take comfort in the familiarities that I once remembered and longed for. However, my perspective on the world has seemed to change. My time in Europe will always be something that I remember for the rest of my life. Furthermore, the time I spent in Vienna and the experience that I made along the way will have a special place in my heart and will live with me forever.

Last day in Vienna, Austria.

Shared Experiences

One of the best things about going to a new place is meeting new people. At first, I was nervous to go abroad because only one other person from Mays Business School here at Texas A&M was doing the same exchange as I was. However, during the first week, thanks to the buddy program that the university has and the on-campus organizations, I met a really cool group of people right away. During the semester, we went on plenty of weekend trips, parties, and just miscellaneous adventures around the city. I can honestly say that the people you meet along the way make the adventure that much more fun. Reach out and make friends with someone new. You never know what will happen.

My friends and I standing on Tower Bridge in London, England.

Me, Ryan, and Joey enjoying the night scene in London.

Having a great time exploring the beautiful city of Budapest!

Reflection

I have learned a few things from my time in Vienna that I plan to incorporate into my life. Firstly, I plan to be more open to new experiences. You never know where something might lead to or what positive event will come from doing something new. In fact, one of the reasons I came to Vienna in the first place was to get out of my comfort zone. By doing what’s uncomfortable and exploring the unfamiliar, you can truly experience life and expand your way of thinking.

Another thing that I am trying to take back with me to Texas is to enjoy the smaller things more by being more in the moment. So much of your day-to-day is monotonous tasks where you are truly not even present. Being in a foreign country surrounded by a whole new culture has given me the opportunity to observe more. My education at WU wasn’t particularly challenging. My classes were once a week and they were pass/fail. Furthermore, I took classes that I found interesting. Altogether, this gave me ample time to explore the city and to take a lot of trips. By the end of the semester, I had gone to over eleven different countries! At each place, I tried to take some time to really try to be in the moment. It is different than being on a vacation. I did not feel rushed at all to get from one place to another. I had no obligations with school and I felt like I was not tied to the negative aspects of the world. Just then and there. One of the best trips I took was a hike in Interlaken, Switzerland. Interlaken is a small, quiet, alpine sporty town with nothing but good views of the surrounding Swiss Alps. A friend and I took a few trains up the mountain to the small town of Murren to then complete a small 3-hour hike of a trail called The Northface. We stopped multiple times to just take in the view and enjoy the world around us. Here are some pictures from that hike.

Sitting in a field in the middle of a small Swiss town.

Beautiful views while riding on a gondola.

Views while hiking up The Northface trail in Murren.

Gig’ em from Switzerland!

I feel like no one is always completely ready to participate in a semester exchange, or at least, you can never fully anticipate what will happen while you are there. Combined with Covid and Austria implementing relatively strict mandates, I can definitely get a little quiet sometimes. Compared to two-week excursions or small trips, in semester exchanges, you have so much more freedom. If you do not utilize this time, sometimes you may feel lost in what to do or see. For the first two or so months, I traveled to a new place every weekend and always did something new. However, around October, I slowed things down a little. My friends and I started to explore Vienna more and enjoy the local Austrian culture. In December, after going to London, a few of us got Covid, which messed up some plans. I did not have the chance to be able to go to Belgium for Christmas to see some family friends a second time. Even crazier, one of my friends missed his flight!

In the end, though, I wrapped up my semester with my family and girlfriend coming to see me in Austria. They came for around 10 days and spent New Year’s and a little bit of January with me. We traveled from Vienna to Prague and Budapest by train. I am so thankful that they had the chance to come and see me.

My girlfriend, Haeven, and I in front of the Gloriette in Schonbrunn.

My Mom and I enjoying views of Vienna!

My dad and Haeven enjoying a nice Kasekrainer (cheese hotdog of sorts) and a Gosser (my favorite local Austrian beer).

My mom taking in the sights of Salzburg, including the gate from A Sound of Music.

My parents and I enjoying the view from atop the Salzburg Castle.

My mom and Haeven on the Charles Bridge in Prague.

My brother Matthew and my dad and I in front of the House of Parliament in Budapest, Hungary.

Taking in the local attraction of Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest with my girlfriend and family.

Our group enjoying the sights and views of Prague on top of Prague Castle.

This was from my families’ last day in Vienna. Here we are in Belvedere Palace.

Altogether, my time in Vienna has come to an end. I am glad for everyone I had the pleasure of meeting while there and thankful for the experiences I made. I am ready to come back to College Station to finish out my college career. Thank you for reading my blog post!

A beautiful sunset from my first week back in College Station.

Categories: Austria

Hej Once Again!

This is Ngoc Huynh, Class of ’23, and a Management-HRM Major with a Minor in Psychology. I am writing this over a month in Copenhagen, Denmark (DK). I am attending Copenhagen Business School (CBS) and taking 12 credit hours over here. I am finally getting used to it here and I am honestly still loving it. It is literally a fancy version of Texas, however, I will admit, I am not a partygoer in the US—and I am definitely not one here—so my view is probably not like many. My roommate, who is from Hong Kong (HK), along with her peers all find DK boring, but, in all fairness, HK is DEFINITELY one of the faster-paced countries due to their competitive work-life, food hubs, and never-ending commute. For this blog, I am just writing to update on what’s going on with my life. No one really goes to DK from Texas A&M, so there is really not much to go from.

Anyways, my housing location (Svanejev—located in Nørrebro), takes about 40 minutes to walk from the campus. At first, I was dissatisfied with how far away I was from the other students, but I am kind of grateful for it. Nørrebro is where the “normal” people live and I love that I can actually see a snapshot of how Danish people actually live. There is literally a school in front and to the side, businesses all over, and grocery stores nearby. I love how easy it is to buy groceries; the closest store (REMA 1000) is 3 minutes away and down the street-ish is Fotex and Netto. There are also local businesses that sell fruits, vegetables, and knick-knacks. You can literally say, “Honey, I am going to get some milk. Be back in 5.” Interestingly enough, because DK has a focus on sustainability, you cannot buy in bulk and there is not a lot of variety. In the US, I go shopping every 2 weeks, but here, I have to go weekly because my food will actually go bad and I have limited fridge space. I am slightly better than most in expense and waste-wise because I meal-prep. Once again, I really recommend honing your cooking skills because eating out is very expensive. I do not know what’s going on, but what I spend for a week’s worth of groceries (~125 DK) is about 1 meal (~100 DK). If that is not ridiculous, I do not know what is. Also, just in case, I do buy random snacks, drinks, and knick-knacks as well. I already have a few favorite bakeries, and I am not starving. Shout out to Krumme & Co. (great Romkuglers), Andersen & Maillard (great Expresso Croissant), and Favori Baklavaci (everything is great)—the owner is a kind older gentleman, and the desserts are divine. I enjoy their walnut baklavas and chocolate cakes.

(A meal at Shake Down near CBS, however, I will admit that it was actually expensive, and I will only go if there is a deal—I’m sorry that I am not sorry.)

But, moving on, by now, I have finally established a schedule for myself—commuting, studying, meal-prepping, me time, etc. Commuting to school is honestly wild, but I can only become stronger and grow from it. I am sadly too short for the bikes at Swapfiets, a business collaborating with CBS that rent out bikes, so I cannot ride. I am also very stubborn and refuse to pay for the Metro, so I walk. The costs add up (140 DK per week) and I could honestly use that money for something else. Luckily, it is very therapeutic, and it wakes me up for my 8AMs. This is my cardio—period. Anyways, at CBS, almost every week has a different schedule. It changes a bit—be it room, class time, or format, and it is kind out of sudden. The professors are typically not even aware of the changes, so I recommend checking daily. I have had 3 incidents where something at the last second got changed. In addition to that, there are certain courses that start and end at different times. My roommate, who is taking the same number of courses as me, goes to campus literally twice a week and I go from Monday to Friday. Then, 2/4 of my courses are ending this month, while her exams are more concentrated in May. Your grade is dependent on that 1 exam, so there is pressure to it. There are pros and cons, but I am just grateful that I will have more time to explore DK after that. In all honesty, I believe if you do what you are supposed to do, you will be fine. This is a semester exchange—not a trip. Calm down. Please go to school, but do not take yourself so seriously as this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

(Please notice how the trees are purposefully trimmed bald. If you took HORT 201 with Professor David Reed, this is a throwback.)

Basically, right now, I am just fighting for my life with school. I am basically taking 2 summer courses with 2 normal Spring courses. I am still enjoying DK, but I believe I am still in the honeymoon phase. I literally go check out a bakery every week to try something new, cook whatever I want, go to school, and keep in contact with my family. However, it has been interesting to hear the different experiences my peers have been experiencing. For example, because DK is small and quite homogenous (93.7% White), they are not used to Asians. As an Asian myself, personally, I have not experienced anything crazy. They, on the other hand, have been assumed to come from Wuhan even though they are Singaporean. In all fairness, I look like I bite, and I do carry self-defense weapons on my body. But sadly, when you are Asian and if you are not in Asia, you are a minority and that is just the reality of the situation. On a lighter note, the days are being longer, warmer, and less windy, so I am looking forward to that.

Categories: Denmark

Howdy Aggies!!! I am back!!! After coming last semester to Cergy I decided to stay for one more!!! With that being said can you believe that school in France starts until March 7!! I had almost three whole months of winter vacation! Now that I am back I can say that Cergy is different in March than what it was a couple of months! Cherry blossoms are blooming and it looks like spring but still feels like winter! 

One thing about going a whole year abroad is that now you don’t have the anticipation of meeting new people because now you have the advantage of knowing a couple of people and you definitely know the place. It’s amazing what you can do when you feel already comfortable in a strange place. I mean now I can tell the new coming exchange students what to do and give them advice. Also what I really love about ESSEC is that they have a lot of events that allow exchange students to get to know each other, and also just a reminder that before you come, if you don’t have WhatsApp, download it. This app is the main source of communication with the students from here.

Even though Cergy grew on me and is a great way to start your abroad experience, I have decided that this semester I will be living in Paris. The commute from Paris to Cergy is not that bad, it’s only 30 minutes to take the RER. The only reason why you will really have to think about moving to Paris is that in Paris strikes happen almost regularly which can disrupt the metro lines, so this is why many people decide to stay in Cergy. However, I decided to move to Paris because I had the opportunity to put all of my classes Monday to Wednesdays, so now that I have Thursdays and Fridays off I could spend more time getting to know Paris.

Anyways, let me know if you guys have more questions about ESSEC and Cergy!!!

I’ll let you know how this semester turns out in a couple of months.

Categories: France