2014 | Reciprocal Exchanges Blog

I am back in Fort Worth, TX for the holidays with family and hometown friends.  Though cold, December had been an awesome month to witness in Copenhagen.

The Danish people get just as excited about Christmas as Americans, if not more. The daily lifestyle begins to include and often revolve around Christmas dinners and Christmas markets.  Christmas beer (Jule Byrg) is on tap at your local pub and lights decorate the city center.  The festive nature of Danish culture brings light to an otherwise dark season.

All CBS students were cramming to finishing up there final exams at different times (roughly within the first 2 weeks of December).  For the international exchange students (be reminded that international students at CBS make up a large percentage of the student body), completion of the final exam was a starting gate in a race to soak up the last bit of either Copenhagen, Denmark, or Europe in general before the inevitable return home to host countries.  For some this race included spending time with friends made of the semester to say proper goodbyes, and for others the race took form in a last minute trip to another country to experience a little more foreign culture before going back to the familiar.  I feel very fortunate to have been able to take advantage of that time to not only say some goodbyes/”seeya soon”s  to good friends who were strangers several months before, but also to take a last minute trip to Poland for a few days to experience another new adventure before returning home.

One particular December feature I was looking forward to experiencing in Copenhagen was some classic Scandinavian snow.  Neglecting the fact that most of their snow comes in January and February, I got my hopes up for something that didn’t come until… The morning of my departure flight from Copenhagen to Dallas-Fort Worth while I was loading my host lady’s car to go to the airport, it began to snow.  Although it only lasted for 5 minutes, I stood outside and closed my eyes to reflect on all the wonderful moments, friendships, education and emotion that this semester has presented.  As the snowflakes fell, settled and melted on my face, they symbolized a sort of surreal closure to my adventure abroad in Copenhagen, while the resulting moisture brought a more literal reminder that it was time to go.

I departed from Copenhagen on December 20th and actually travelled back in time to arrive in Fort Worth that same afternoon.  Since I have returned to Texas, I have enjoyed a warm homecoming to family and friends in such a unique time of the year.  I keep in touch with some international friends and my Danish host lady.  I skyped with her on Christmas day and she was even kind enough to send me some photos of the snow covered state of Denmark that occurred promptly upon my leaving (seen below).  I am very blessed to have had such an opportunity to study abroad.

-Colby

Auschwitz-Birkenau

Auschwitz-Birkenau

Last Supper w Hanne (Host Lady)

Last Supper w Hanne (Host Lady)

5 min of Snow :) (first snow)

5 min of Snow 🙂 (first snow)

Post-departure snow

Post-departure snow

Post-departure snow

Post-departure snow

Post-departure snow

Post-departure snow

Flight Home

Flight Home

family

homecoming

family

family

 

Categories: 2014, Denmark, Reciprocal Exchange

Madrid is finally starting to feel cold!  Surprisingly, it’s not much different than the weather that I’m used to in Texas. School definitely picked up the pace this month and has taken up a lot more time than in the previous months. One of the greatest challenges of this month has been juggling all of the 5 group projects that I have! I was aware of all of the due dates and presentations at the end of the month, but as usual, the deadlines always come faster than you imagine.

Unsurprisingly, one of the greater difficulties that I faced throughout the entire semester was adjusting to the different work styles with my group partners of different cultural backgrounds. While group projects are hardly ever easy to begin with, normal issues and communication problems are only magnified when a group of people of different backgrounds come together. I’d say this month was definitely the time in which I learned and developed the most academically. I had to adapt myself to working with people of Canadian, English, Spanish, French, Mexican, and Italian backgrounds. Working with such a diverse group of people was unlike anything I had ever experienced before at A&M. Although it was tough at times, I am ultimately thankful that I had this opportunity because it allowed me to develop my own communication skills and adaptability to work with people backgrounds successfully.

Aside from the noteworthy higher amount of school work during this month, I was finally able to visit Granada, a city that I wanted to see since the beginning of the semester. If there is a city in Spain that epitomizes the cultural richness and tradition of the country, it would be Granada. It has incredibly strong Moorish influence, best seen by the Alhambra, a Moorish palace that was completed in 1353. The architecture is unlike anything I had seen before; the geometric stalactite carvings in the ceilings of the palace were astoundingly beautiful and unique. The entire palace was built to feel like a water oasis; this is so because of the symbolic importance of water in the moorish religious culture. Each ceiling felt like looking through an incredible kaleidoscope. Outside of the Alhambra, I was also able to experience a Hamam, an Arabic bath.  Overall, Granada was definitely one of my favorite cities to visit.

At the end of the month, I was lucky enough to have my parents meet me in Barcelona for a weekend. It was such a special treat to experience Spanish culture with my family by my side. I was able to visit the Casa Batllo, Park Guell, and Montjuic. One of my favorite aspects about this trip was the fact that I was able to try really great food. Gaudi’s architecture never failed to surprise me with its total uniqueness and originality. His architectural style is definitely one that I will remember for the rest of my life. I definitely see myself coming back to Barcelona later in my life!

Granada 1 Granada 2 Granada 3 Granada 4 Granada 5 Granada 6 Granada 7

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

It has been a very long time since my last post. I got so busy with traveling, planning trips, showing my friends around Barcelona, and of course, school that I didn’t get the chance to post sooner. I will warn you now, this is going to be a lengthy post.

First off, school picked up so fast in November. It just flew by, but this might’ve been because I was so busy with other things. Toward the end of the month my semester projects were due, my classes ended, and some courses completely came to an end. Beginning December I no longer had any classes. Exams began on the 9th but mine didn’t start until the 15th so I took this opportunity to travel. Yes, I know that I should’ve spent those two weeks studying, but the way I saw it, I might never return to Europe so I had to make my time count. I returned from my travels just in time forrrrrrrrr MY BIRTHDAY!!! (the 10th). I went out for tapas and drinks with some of my closest friends that I made during my stay.

Feeling 22!

Feeling 22!

The next day I began studying and then had 3 days of hardly any sleep. Exams in Spain, or Europe I should say, are somewhat different. For one, they do guess correction like on the SAT’s, so you can’t just answer every question unless you actually have some idea of what the answer is. Second, you are encouraged, if not required to use a pen to bubble in your scantron. Lastly, the scantrons are so difficult to understand unless they are explained. Each question has two rows for you to bubble in. If you want to change your first choice, you bubble in the same letter on the second row and then bubble in your new choice on the first row.

After my exams were over I took one last trip to the south of Spain, and then came back for my last two days in Barcelona. My host family was so sweet and had a going away lunch for us in the form of a typical Catalonian Christmas meal. For my last two days I did some shopping, revisited my favorite spots, ate my favorite foods, and said goodbye to my dear friends.

Barcelona adventures

After many failed attempts to visit Montserrat, we finally made it happen. Katrina and I went with Gerard, a good friend we made from Barcelona. Because we arrived later than planned, we didn’t get to do as much as we would have liked, but we still hiked a bit, saw the monastery, ate mato amb mel, and got a small history lesson from Gerard. This mountain is technically not in Barcelona but it’s an easy hour train ride away and many people from Barcelona go visit it. 

Montserrat- Ramon Llul monument

There were many attractions that I hadn’t completely seen because I wanted to save them for when my friends visited. In the span of two weeks I had 3 different sets of friends visit. Planning their stay and exploring the city with them was the most exhausting thing ever, but I enjoyed it so much. During my friends’ stay I saw the inside of Sagrada Familia, the entire grounds of Park Güell, went to Castell de Montjuïc, Bunkers del Carmel, el Parc del Laberint, Palau Güell, and revisited other popular sites. I must say, after they left I felt quite homesick. I was surprised that I had already made it through the majority of my stay, and I felt homesick.

Parc del Laberint

Parc del Laberint

In one of my classes I met Anna, a nice and caring girl from Vienna, Austria. We became close friends and took a day trip to Colonia Güell. When I visit places I usually go informed but I hadn’t done any research on this place and I am glad I didn’t. When we got off the train we met a little old lady that gave us some history on the town, which by the way I didn’t realize that the attraction was the whole town in its entirety. Before she parted ways she made sure to tell us to have coffee at her favorite café. The audio tour took us around the entire town. I was amazed because it was such an unorthodox attraction. The colony was created to house the workers of the textile factory owned by the Güell family. Mr. Güell made sure to take good care of their workers and provided a school, a cinema, and the well-known church built by the modernist, Gaudi. Even though the town is about an hour train ride from the center of Barcelona I highly recommend it.

Colonia Guell-Gaudi's Crypt

Colonia Guell-Gaudi’s Crypt

One thing I didn’t want to leave Europe without doing was ictiotherapy. This is the infamous fish pedicure. Now I know that it’s a kind of disturbing idea to have fish nibble at your dry skin, and that many think it is unhygienic, but it’s something I may never be able to do again. It was really awkward at first, especially because I’m highly ticklish and couldn’t help but laugh, but then it became quite relaxing. I don’t know if I would do it again, but I wouldn’t be opposed.

Christmas time in Barcelona is truly amazing. The streets are adorned with Christmas lights, and Christmas markets fill the city. In the gothic quarter you can come across beautiful nativities and different organizations caroling. They even set up a skating rink in the middle of Plaza Catalunya.

Other trips

France:

Two weeks after my friend Frankie visited Barcelona I went to visit him in Paris. Paris was very different than what I had envisioned, to say the least. I always thought it would be a quaint and peaceful town filled with beauty and romance. While I did love my visit, it was actually a very large metropolitan city that was anything but romantic. Luckily I didn’t go there with my beau looking for romance, because if I had, I’m afraid I would’ve been disappointed. I found people in Paris to be very cold and independent, which worked out just fine for me as I was exploring the city by myself for the most part. The city is really dirty in comparison to Spain and the poverty level is so high. While I was there I visited the Notre Dame, the Picasso Museum, the Orsay Museum, the Arc de Triomphe, the Pantheon, the Royal Palace, the Rodin Museum, the Luxemburg Gardens, the Tuileries Gardens, La Saint Chapelle, the Louvre, the love lock bridge, Moulin Rouge, Sacre Coeur, and of course the Eiffel tower. Yes, to say I walked a lot is an understatement. In the Louvre alone I walked for 2 hours, which is actually nothing when you consider how enormous it is. Paris has so many museums and the best part is that they are free to students under 25. I never actually paid for a single thing except for food and a lock to leave behind on the bridge. What I loved the most that I could take away from this experience was to be able to order food in French. I must confess I had atleast one nutella and banana crepe every day that I was there. Before I left I told the owners of my favorite creperie that their crepes were my favorite. The pride in their smile was unforgettable.

I also made a day trip to the city of Versailles to see the palace. The palace was huge beyond words and had an even bigger garden. I walked around the garden with my friend and enjoyed a Panini by the pond. My only regret was not being able to spend more time there, so I recommend you arrive early and stay until close.

Eiffel tower by night

Eiffel tower by night

 

Girona:

My most spontaneous trip was that to the province of Girona. My friend Anna I spoke about earlier invited me to join her on a day trip to the city of Girona, Besalú, and Figueres. Girona is a historic town once known as Girona the gray because of all the old gray buildings. It was later renovated and made colorful with historic colonial colors. Figueres is the birth town of the great Salvador Dali, and home to the Dali Museum. The town has a really relaxing atmosphere and the museum is so bizarre & interesting. Besalú is an extremely small yet beautiful town rich with culture. It is the perfect little town to get lost in.

 

Dali Museum

Dali Museum

Italy:

My most awaited for trip was the one to Rome, and Florence. I would be staying in both cities for 3 days. In Rome I saw all the popular sites, Vatican City, The Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Castel Sant’’Angelo, Piazza Spagna, Villa Borghese, Galleria Borghese, Capitoline Hill, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Piazza Venezia, the Imperial Forum, the Roman Forum, the Colossuem, you name it. I admit my favorite part was meeting strangers in St. Peter’s and having pizza for dinner with them. I also had some of the best lasagna in my life, right in front of the Vatican Museum. Villa Borghese was also amazing. It is the largest public landscape park in Rome, covering 148 acres. I wish there was something like it in Texas.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

Next up was Florence, to visit my friend Valeria a month after she had visited me in Barcelona. On my first night there she and her roommates had a small get together at their flat with some of their closest friends. I had a blast with them and they were so welcoming. My friend was kind enough to plan my whole stay and showed me the Battistero, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Campanile di Giotto, the Galleria dell’Accademia, Santa Croce, the Ponte Vecchio, the Palazzo Pitti, the Giardino Boboli, the San Miniato al Monte basilica, and the Piazzale Michelangiolo. We started off the day with great pastries, had some of the best pizza for only 7 euros right by Palazzo Pitti, and strolled through the Christmas market enjoying some mouth-watering gelato. Some of her friends were kind enough to have us over for an Italian/Nigerian mashup dinner. The best part of the trip, she planned for us to take a fiat and vespa tour around the town and to the heart of the Chianti wine region. It was so relaxing and liberating to be on a vespa. It was the most amazing feeling. For dinner we went to a really popular restaurant, where I had a steak sampler that included a blueberry steak, a regular steak, and a balsamic steak followed by tiramisu and accompanied by wine. It was by far my favorite meal in Europe. Then later that night we went to secret bakery. Some bakeries start baking in the middle of the night to make pastries that will fill up the shelves of the city’s cafés the next day. If you can find them you can buy fresh pastries for 1 euro. The next day we went to the leather market and then headed for Pisa to see the leaning tower. Before leaving I made sure to grab a panino at my friends favorite spot.

 

Vespa riding

Vespa riding

View from Piazzale Michelangelo

Pisa Tower

Pisa Tower

South of Spain:

As my last trip, and a trip I thought I was not going to be able to do, I went to Sevilla and Granada. From the very start I wanted to go to Sevilla, Granada and Cordoba. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time for the latter. Sevilla was quite small and the main attractions were the Cathedral along with the Giralda tower, the Alcazar, the Metropol Parasol, Plaza de España, the Basilica de la Macarena, and the neighborhood of Santa Cruz. Although at first I thought that this town would be my favorite of the three, because of its small size, it was not.

To my surprise I liked Granada, the biggest of them, the best. In the very first attraction, the Cathedral, I met a girl from Colombia named Andrea. We got along great and decided to explore the city together. We saw the Monestario de San Jeronimo, went to the silk market of Alcaiceria, and walked through the streets of the Albaycin and Sacromonte neighborhoods. These two neighborhoods are rich with Moorish culture and have many viewing points of the city and the Sierra Nevada. We stopped for lunch there at a famous restaurant known for their snails. Yes, that’s right. I ate snails. They actually weren’t bad and reminded me of shrimp, or maybe crawfish. Before it got dark, we bumped into a group of maybe 10 guys that were having drinks with a bar owner right outside the bar. We began talking to them and before you know it we spent the entire night having drinks and tapas in different spots around the city. The next day I finally go tot see the long awaited for, Alhambra. You have to purchase tickets to this world heritage site at least two weeks before, and maybe even a month if it’s tourist season. Andrea had already planned to go to Sierra Nevada that day so I went alone, but before leaving I met two guys from Mallorca. I joined them to have tapas for dinner, and then off I was to catch a plane back to Barcelona.

New friends in Granada

New friends in Granada

I had an amazing time in Barcelona, and in Europe in general. The only thing I did not like was the university. They are not very well organized and so I struggled with things that I don’t think I should’ve or would have under different circumstances. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to travel abroad and meet such wonderful people. It definitely opened my eyes and sparked in me the desire to travel more and discover the world. Goodbye Europe! Adéu Barcelona! We shall be reunited some day, I am sure of it.

Last night in Barcelona with some close friends

I will provide the link to my dropbox again.

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/532mlwgg6qrmgkf/AAANUkShdQHQkp4byossFVIVa?dl=0

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

It’s Time to Say Goodbye

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard” – Winnie the Pooh. As my time in the Netherlands is coming to an end, I couldn’t agree more with good ole Winnie the Pooh. I feel extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to study abroad in the Netherlands and will miss the Netherlands, my friends, and my travels. It is a bittersweet time in the International Student Guesthouse since many of the exchange students are preparing to go back to their home universities. We all seem excited to see our old friends and family, but will miss our new international friends.

My main realization as the end of my study abroad experience approaches is that there is not enough time to do and see everything. My mind is constantly thinking of the many things I still want to do before I leave. I still want to travel to London, Paris, Rome, Norway, Prague, and Vienna. I also still want to do a few things in Maastricht. I want to explore the caves of Maastricht, go to the nearby indoor ski slope, and visit the Christmas market one last time. With only a week left in Maastricht and many chores/schoolwork that need attention, I will only get to do one or two of the fun things that are on my list. However, there is simply solution to this problem. I will simply come back to Europe. In fact, I want to visit Maastricht again and hopefully convince my new friends to pick a date for a study abroad reunion.

While saying goodbye is hard, I am more than ready to go home. A semester is a long time to be away from friends and family and being in a foreign country amplifies homesickness. I am tired of eating grocery food from the small nearby shop and am ready to reunite with my beloved Chick Fila, Chipotle, Layne’s, Papa Johns, Grub Burger, and especially my mom’s home cookin’! Additionally, my small dorm room that I share with my roommate Spencer seems smaller and smaller every day. I miss living in a house! There truly is no place like home.

Leaving the Netherlands also makes me a little bit nervous. Leaving reminds me of the same anxious feeling I had when first coming to the Netherlands. However, instead of opening a bank account, I need to close one. Instead of getting my residence permit, I need to retire it. Instead of checking into the dorm, I need to check out of it. There are many things on my to do list to ensure I correctly leave the Netherlands. I have found that many of these chores are just as much of a pain as they were when I was coming to the Netherlands. The chores are also difficult to accomplish because there are fewer instructions on things you need to do before leaving when compared to the instructions I received before coming to the Netherlands.

It is time for me to get back to those chores and finish studying for my final. To my international friends: I will miss you. To those back home: I will see you soon!

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, The Netherlands

As always Hong Kong never ceases to introduce me to interesting new people, places, and events. November was a quite a hectic month packed with school work (group projects and studying for tests), dance practice, and archery practice. Between group projects and all the practice I was doing for my organizations it felt as if I was stuck in some sort of constant juggling act. All in all though, the month finished with a bang and gave me quite a few incredible memories that I will never forget.

Before I get into my favorite memories and experiences I would like to offer some quick advice to any of my fellow students who encounter group projects in their future. Now this is common sense but I still feel the need to reiterate the point that the absolute worst thing you can possibly do is procrastinate. If you fall a little behind in a class you can catch up on your own time without anyone bugging you, but if you fall behind on a group project you’ll have about five people ready to remind you. Now multiply five people by four projects and well let’s just say you’ll need some serious patience to avoid having a nuclear meltdown if you start falling behind. So even if you know you can finish your part of the project in a day play it safe and don’t wait until the day before.

I’ll start with my experience as a member of the Dance Society (or DANSO as they abbreviate it), which was an unforgettable one to say the least. I don’t think I have ever been part of an organization so dedicated to a pure passion for something. The amount of practice we had during a week was honestly borderline overwhelming. We would literally practice at least 3 times a week for a minimum of 3 hours each practice. It was interesting because the vast majority of the practice would be conducted in Cantonese, but I was very rarely (if ever) lost or confused. We would usually get out of practice around 10:00 p.m. on a normal night, and sometimes closer to midnight on a long night. As you can imagine, if you start practice at 7:00 p.m. and don’t get out until midnight you’re going to be starving and exhausted at best. All of the practice was for a huge show at the university held on November 28th called the “Mass Dance” where 9 other universities come in to perform in addition to our team. The show lasted about 2 hours and was packed with all kinds of amazing performances, each carrying unique dancing styles and themes from all across Hong Kong. For me it was like a non-stop adrenaline rush as we performed on stage in front of hundreds of people. The performance only lasted eight minutes, but the rush lasted for the rest of the night. If you have time you can check it out for yourself, here is the link to our final performance:  http://youtu.be/GAryXFE31hs.

Pre-Team 2014

DANSO Pre-Team 2014

Another two notable memories from the month were the Dragon’s Back hike and the Hong Kong Pride parade. The Dragon’s Back hike is one of the most popular hikes in all of Hong Kong. It’s a relatively short and easy hike (no more than roughly two hours), but the scenery is absolutely incredible (even on a cloudy day like the one I went). I went to the pride parade to support a friend who I had met in Hong Kong. The parade was interesting because even though we are in a completely different part of the world people march for the same reasons. I also went to a rooftop bar called 270 Degrees in the district Causeway Bay with a view of the skyline that was awe inspiring. Everyone may feel differently as they look out over the skyscrapers, but I don’t think anyone could deny that at the very least it’s thought provoking.

Dragon's Back Hike

Dragon’s Back Hike

Pride Parade

Pride Parade

Rooftop Bar

270 Degrees Rooftop Bar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I mentioned a bit earlier I participated in a fair amount of archery club practice during the month of November. I started archery at A&M during my second semester, and upon finding out HKUST had an archery club I was eager to join. On November 30th, I competed in the Biannual Internal Competition for the Archery Club. I had never competed in an archery competition before so I was a bit nervous to say the least. Despite shaky hands at the start though, I’m extremely proud to say that this Aggie took first place for the Maroon and White. For the final score you can go to this link: http://ihome.ust.hk/~su_archy/.

Practice before the Tournament

Practice before the Tournament

In both of my previous blogs I mentioned some interesting eats that I had found. Well folks, I give you some tasty little fried fishes by the name of shishamo. Now I know at first glance these little guys don’t exactly look like the most delicious thing you could eat, but I must say they actually aren’t all that bad. Now I prefer them with soup instead of rice, but either way they’re an interesting break from the monotony of barbeque pork and rice (a pretty popular meal among exchange students at HKUST). You probably won’t find these in any Chinese restaurant back home, but if you’re ever in Asia (I think they actually originate from Japan) give them a try.

20141114_032359

Shishamo and Rice

As if the 30th wasn’t exciting enough with the archery tournament, later that day my parents actually came in to visit for a week. In the next blog I’ll talk about my experience playing tour guide for them, and some of the neat new experiences I got to partake in as a result. In December I’ll be going to do some sightseeing in Beijing for about five days, then coming back to Hong Kong to take my one final exam, and finishing out my last week in Asia with a trip to India to complete the Golden Triangle. The cool part is I’ll actually be staying with a friend who lives in Delhi who I met at HKUST, so I’ll be getting a true local experience.

Categories: 2014, China, Hong Kong, Reciprocal Exchange

No Hair

This month my Spanish friends convinced me to shave my head. The idea came up Saturday night when they decided that someone should have the same haircut as Jan, a bald student from Czech Republic. I volunteered. Although I enjoy my new hairstyle, I picked a poor time of year to shave it since it is getting pretty cold in the Netherlands.

School’s a breeze but the GMAT is not

School has been pretty easy. I am only taking one class in the second quarter called Commercializing Science and Technology. The class is about learning how technology can be scaled and evaluating different markets for technology. I have enjoyed the class a lot! There are many unique classes at University of Maastricht to choose from, and the entrepreneurial classes are great. Two out of the three classes I have chosen to complete are in the “Entrepreneurial School” of Maastricht University, which has given me a chance to learn more about concepts related to starting a business.

Although school is fun and easy, I have been studying for the GMAT and trying to find an internship, which takes up a lot of time. I recommend studying abroad when you do not have to do any career related activities, so you can focus on making friends and travelling!

The Carnival!

I took a day off of school activities to celebrate Carnival this month. Carnival is a holiday that is celebrated mainly in the Southern Netherlands. Maastricht has one of the best Carnival celebrations in Europe in its city square called the Vrijthof. During the celebration, everyone dresses up in extravagant costumes and listens to live music while enjoying excellent drinks and food. I wore my lederhosen, the German Oktoberfest costume, to the event because I didn’t want to spend money on a new costume. There was a huge outdoor stage where different bands and dance groups would perform. All the songs were in Dutch, but many were American songs that were translated into Dutch. For example, they sang “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith but in Dutch. Of course, I sung along using the English words!

Time is running out!

I leave the Netherlands on December 21, 2014. I am fully adapted to my new home here in the Netherlands and am sad to let it go. I will miss my friends, the Dutch culture, my school, the Dutch architecture, riding my bike instead of driving a car, and of course Dutch chocolate. I am excited to reunite with my family and American friends though. Hopefully, I’ll have a few more stories to tell before I return home.

Until next time,

Brandon Knapp

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, The Netherlands

November 1- 30th, 2014

I feel like each month that passes by goes quicker and quicker and this past month of November was no exception. Each month has held a new adventure and only gets better and better though!

My family left in the early hours of the morning of November 1st and that is where I left my last blog post. It was a sad goodbye but I was still looking forward to my last trip of the semester to Switzerland. This was the trip that both Madison and I were most excited for! We had planned to take this trip the second weekend in November but had yet to book anything, and only had a week until our planned departure.

I was a slightly stressed out about this trip though because our first exam was scheduled be released on November 13th so this would only be 3 days after we would get back from Switzerland. The exam was for a class Madison and I were taking together called Language of Negotiations, the equivalent of MGMT 439 at A&M. The exam would be a five-page essay that we would have a week to complete on an unknown prompt, and we would likely be missing the class prior to the last class, which stressed me out. Then on top of that I was also taking Web Interaction Design and Communication – New Forms of Interaction, Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration the equivalent of INFO 420 at A&M. I had a major presentation on November 18th 5 days after our planned return. Normally presentations are not a big deal, but for this class we had to complete extensive data analysis and research as a group and I was the group leader. Then following this we had to individually write a 10-page essay on separate topics presenting a creative analysis of the data with new conclusions. In the presentation we had to present what we had chosen to research, our findings, and our individual areas of research for our final projects so as you might imagine I was very stressed about this.

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 9.09.08 PM

All of this being said I was worried we might have to cancel the Switzerland trip or I would be studying the entire time! But in an inspired manner on November 1st, as many of our friends were traveling and with nothing holding me back since my family had just left that Saturday, I decided it may be a better idea for us to go to just go to Switzerland on a whim that day, so I mentioned it to Madison and a plan was set in motion.

What started off as a completely normal day, with Madison and I planning on cleaning the room, and maybe doing some studying or going to the gym (side note: if you need a gym, I recommend Fitness DK, right by Solberg Plads building, it cost around $40 usd a month and you can cancel your subscription at anytime) turned into Madison and I booking a plane ticket, train, and a hostel then taking off to Switzerland!

Here is a little timeline of my day:

  • 10:00am- wake up and checkout of my parents apartment with Madison, plan to go to Kathrine Kollegiet then the gym
  • 10:30am – arrive back at Kathrine Kollegiet
  • 11:00am – bring up going to Switzerland tomorrow instead of next weekend
  • 12:00pm – decide it would be cheaper to just go today
  • 1:15pm – book a plane ticket
  • 2:30pm – leave Kathrine Kollegiet
  • 5:00pm – take off from Copenhagen
  • 6:25pm – arrive in Switzerland

This had to be one of the most amazing trips of my entire life and I don’t know if anything will ever be able top it! Everything seemed to fall in place so beautifully and we decided to keep the theme of the trip being spontaneous. We only booked our hostel in Interlaken, Switzerland for the first night so we could keep as many options open as possible! We arrived in Interlaken at night and it was AMAZING, I have seen stars but I have never seen such a beautiful sky in my entire life. When Madison and I were walking to the hostel from the train station we stumbled upon this field in the middle of the town where you could look up and see the snow capped mountains surrounding you and the most beautiful star filled sky. Madison and I just took a moment to sit down on the bench in the beauty and reflect on how truly blessed we were to be able to experience this.

Paragliding over Interlaken

Paragliding over Interlaken

The next morning I woke up and I was just feeling the need to do something out of the ordinary, spontaneous, and crazy so I told Madison that and being that Interlaken is well known for extreme sports we decided to sign up for paragliding! I was so scared being that my biggest fear is heights but nothing was going to stop me from conquering this fear and experiencing this. It was truly the high point of my entire life and one of the most incredible things I have ever done. We glided over Interlaken for twenty minutes and saw some of the most amazing views; it seemed as though you could see forever and the beauty was unreal!

After this we decided to move to a smaller town a little higher up in the mountain, Lauterbrunnen. This town has the most amazing hiking trails, countless waterfalls, and is a stop to get to towns even higher in the mountains. We had such a great time here and took full advantage of the hiking trails, visited many of the waterfalls, and took a day trip up even higher in the mountains to some other towns via the gondolas.

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Switzerland was easily my favorite trip of the semester. The beauty of the country was unreal, and the spontaneity of the trip made it even better. I can only hope I get the opportunity to go back some day and visit again.

Once we returned to Copenhagen it was time to really get serious about my final exams. First was my Language of Negotiation exam, which as I stated early was a five-page essay, with a week to write it. I was originally very stressed about this but it ended up being a lot easier to write than I anticipated. Something to be sure to note is that CBS has very specific standards for their essays that took some getting used to. A typical page is considered 2,275 characters (including spaces) so you just multiply this by the total number of pages of the exam and that that is the maximum number of characters. The font is also a suppose to be Times New Roman and a minimum of 11, plus some minimum requirements on margins that aren’t that important as long as you are meeting (and not exceeding) character count. I would highly recommend paying attention to character count when writing because being this was my first exam I just wrote five normal pages and ended up having almost eleven pages by CBS standards and had to cut it way down in order for my paper to be graded.

I also had to work on my group presentation for my Web Interaction Design and Communication – New Forms of Interaction, Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration class while writing my Language of Negotiations essay which was slightly stressful but I had done much of the research data for the presentation already so it wasn’t too bad. The presentation was slightly scary at first since my professor was critiquing our research, and had been extremely tough on many groups but it seemed to go really well!

Something I would highly recommend for those on REEP at CBS during finals is to book study rooms and study seats in advance when you know your finals are coming. At CBS almost every seat in the library and all the study rooms require a reservation and these are in very high demand since they are very limited. You can book 10 hours worth of study rooms per person in any two rolling weeks and I think 40 hours of study seats per week. The reservations open up one week in advance and you book online at booking.cbs.dk. Often people will try and take your study room and study seat but if you just kindly tell them they have a reservation they completely understand!

As mentioned in Madison’s blog, there are various types of exam given at CBS such as:

  • 24, 48, or 72 hour written papers anywhere from 5, 10, to 15 pages
  • Essay research finals typically given towards start of the semester
  • Group essays
  • 20-minute oral exam over any class topic
  • 20-minute oral exam over previously written product
  • 20-minute oral exam in which students draw a topic from a bowl and speak over about it
  • 4 hour written exam (typed on computer)
  • Multiple choice exams (rare)
  • Various other paper types determined by professor

Before we went straight to work on our next exam we went to see the new Hunger Games movie with a few of our friends! The movie theater cost about $20 USD which was a little hard to swallow after paying College Station movie prices for years but it was well worth it! The movie theater was so nice, you reserved a specific seat and they even had couches! We chose regular seats but they were basically recliners, it was incredible! Some of the large lectures at CBS are held in the movie theater because they have run out of rooms on campus and I had always heard how comfy the chairs were and how people always fell asleep but I had never been into the theater, it was amazing!

Now it was time to start my group essay due on December 1st for Events and Festival Management the equivalent of RPTS 320 at A&M. The exam for this class was assigned at the start of the semester and we to suppose plan any event and write a proposal on it, then we would have a 20-minute oral exam over our essay later in December. The essay was written in a group of three people, was ten-pages detailing the entire event plus appendixes. Madison was in my group as well as a guy from Poland. This exam was relatively fun to write but the unknown of the oral exam hung over our heads, which was quite stressful. We worked until the last minute to pull this off and submitted it four minutes before it was due then had about a week and a half before our oral exam.

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To celebrate Thanksgiving Madison and I hosted a potluck dinner in our room with all of our new friends! Being the hostesses we are we went all out and invited about fifteen people and had everyone bring food in addition the variety of food we cooked ourselves, and set up long white tables in our room! Everyone had such a great time enjoying each other’s company and hanging out! Colby from the A&M REEP Program was also able to come over and it was a blast! It is so sad to think we only have a month of nights like these left!

With November coming to a close it is becoming more and more real that my time here is truly limited! Everyone is becoming very busy with finals, which is sad, but it makes moments that I get to share with all my great friends in Copenhagen all the more valuable. I feel like I have already grown so much as a person from this experience and I cannot wait to see what to see what the next month holds. I know I am still going to be busy with more finals since I have two more upcoming finals and an oral exam but I am going to do my best to make the most of it all!

 

 

Categories: 2014, Denmark, Reciprocal Exchange

Today is December 1st, and the start of my last month in Barcelona. School is coming to an end. This week is our last official week of classes, and then next week finals begin. I am so ready for classes to be over!!! I feel confident that I am going to be okay, and I am actually not stressing very much at all… yet! This week, Beatriz and I will be going to Rome/Siena/Florence and I am so excited! I have heard such great things about these places and I am excited to see them in person! I have to say, one thing I am learning about myself, is that I love having new and exciting experiences, but much to my surprise, I don’t love traveling. Before studying abroad, I thought that was all I wanted to do, SEE THE WORLD! And yeah, it is amazing and so much fun, but it isn’t my favorite thing. I can be perfectly happy even if I do not travel.

The big thing that happened for me this month was Brian, my fiancé, coming to visit! He actually just left yesterday and we had such an amazing time! We explored Barcelona, went to Monserrat (probably my favorite place), walked around Montjuic, and took a trip to Girona. I am not much of a city girl, and Brian prefers being outside the chaos as well, so it was the perfect trip for us! Weather was a little rainy all week, which kept us on our toes, but it ended up being perfect.

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In Barcelona, we walked around El Born(my favorite neighborhood), Parc de la Ciutadella, and visited La Sagrada Familia, which was actually not as cool as I was anticipating. I think the Barcelona Cathedral and Santa Maria del Mar are much more interesting and beautiful, but maybe that just means I like an older style of architecture. We also took a day to explore Montjuic area, I highly recommend the Castles at the top! They were beautiful, and if you take Bus 150 from Placa Espanya, it is really inexpensive. We also walked around Poble Espanyol which was my second time to go. Entrance is a little pricy, but I think it is worth it; beautiful buildings, cute shops, lots of handmade products, and good food. We also watched the Magic Fountains which was fun, but that is when it started raining so we didn’t stay long. Those happen from 7-9 on Friday and Saturday night.

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It was my second time at Monserrat, and it seriously gets better every time I go! The sights seriously amaze me every single time. My only regret about this trip was that we missed hearing the boys choir. They sing every day except for Saturday at 1pm and 6:45pm. The performance lasts only 10 minutes (something I didn’t know) and we arrived at 1:08, so we just missed it. I thought we could just hear them at 6:45 but the last train that went to Barcelona left at 6:15, so that was impossible. You have to allow for at least an hour and a half of travel time to get there, but it is so worth the trip!

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Girona was also absolutely lovely. So many cute shops, AMAZINGLY beautiful architecture and good food! It is fall here, so all the trees are different colors which made for even more beautiful scenery! I definitely recommend making this a weekend trip! It is a nice escape from the city. No metros, easy to walk everywhere, and you never have to worry about getting lost. If you actually try to make yourself get lost, you’ll have even more fun!

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Barcelona is a wonderful place, but as school is wrapping up, finals are approaching, and I am making plans to get home, I am really ready to be back in Texas. There seriously is no place like home!

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

The end of the semester is getting closer and I have five projects to complete and four exams to study for. I told myself I would take November easy, save my money, and study more frequently. However, I ended up taking a couple fun trips that were well worth the time and money. First, I decided on a whim to go on a single night trip with eight of my friends to the black forest in two cars. We stopped in Heidelberg, which is a great town to spend 4-5 hours in, and Baden-Baden, a small luxury town in the black forest. On the way to our cabin (which was more like a mansion) one of the cars nearly got stuck on a small steep road in the middle of the woods in the freezing cold rain in the middle of the night. It was a surprisingly fun experience and only made us all appreciate the nice warm cabin more when we finally arrived. We woke up to a beautiful hillside view of France. We had a nice brunch in a small town after driving through the black forest and then made our way back home.

 

Black Forest

Two days later, I was on the road again with two friends in a rental VW Golf GTI. Driving on the autobahn is an unforgettable experience. If you visit Germany, I recommend renting a car. My friends and I drove to Salzburg first and spent one full day sightseeing. The castle overlooking Salzburg has a spectacular view of the city and the Alps. We also toured the Stiegl brewery, which was my favorite brewery tour so far, and the Red Bull Hanger 7, which displays for free many land and air vehicles maintained and operated by the company. After watching Formula 1 here in Germany almost every weekend, it was one of the neatest experiences for me to see their cars just a couple feet in front of my eyes. The next day we drove through the Alps and stopped near Zell am See to go camping. We stopped at least five times on the way to take pictures. The views are absolutely breathtaking. Hiking up through the clouds later that day was equally as breathtaking. The next day, we drove to Innsbruck for the day and did some more hiking. We also took a chairlift 1.9 km up a mountain and played in the snow. That night, we drove to a small town with a cheap hostel in Germany. The next day, we stopped in Heidelberg for lunch and got home that evening. I did not have Austria on my list of places to visit but I should have. My most beautiful memories are from Austria.We also got to experience our first Christmas market in Innsbruck, which was fun. There is nothing better than delicious sauerkraut and warm mulled wine while walking through the Christmas markets on a cold winter evening.

Innsbruck

 

Back home, class has been the same as always. Nothing has really changed in my area from October to November. The Christmas markets have just opened up but I have not had a chance to visit any here. Most of the vineyards have been picked dry and the leaves have gone through the fall cycle. It’s a little colder, but not much. I have way too many projects to work on and way too many tests to study for, but that is the same as back at A&M. It’s been a nice relaxing month. I had a big Thanksgiving feast with 15 non-Americans, which was tons of fun. I cooked turkey, ham, pumpkin pie, and stuffing all purchased from the US military base in Wiesbaden, and used local vegetables for the rest. It turned out delicious! A lot of people told me studying abroad flies by, but I think it has been the opposite. Looking back, it seems like forever ago when I left. I actually feel at home here in Germany now, and I know I will miss it.

Categories: 2014, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange

Netherlands October Blog

 Getting in the Grove:

I’ve been in Maastricht for a little over two months now. While I feel like I have caught my grove and have my schedule down, there are still plenty of new experiences. I’ve made much better friends with the other international students and have a couple Dutch friends as well. I am starting to understand more of the Dutch culture and can also pick up on where people are from in Europe based on their accents. My friends and the Dutch have also taught me a couple lessons that have made my experience much better.

 

Lesson: Take Time

Last weekend, I went to Amsterdam on a “Men’s Trip” with 9 of my international friends. My Italian friend Tommaso would remind us to “take time guys, take time” whenever someone would try to hurry us along. Many of the Dutch also seem to understand how to “take time” and enjoy the present moment without worrying where they have to be next. There is no need to be constantly entertained. The simple phrase take time has taught me to be present throughout my Netherlands trip.

 

Lesson: Nothing goes against my plan

Another small lesson I’ve learned is to not expect things to go my way. When I go to the grocery to buy more coffee, I don’t actually expect the store to have coffee. It would be nice if there were coffee to buy, but the trip to the store itself is fun enough to make it worth getting out of my room. When I first arrived in the Netherlands, I learned that things operate “differently” here. Stores close early and have a small selection of items, finding your way can be difficult, setting up a Dutch bank account takes 6 different trips to the bank, and many more “different” things. Although I have adapted, which decreases the amount of times I mess something up, my attitude is still to expect nothing. With no expectations, life is full of pleasant surprises.

 

Study Abroad: You won’t regret it

 For those of you who are thinking of studying abroad, I can’t encourage you enough to do it. I’ve never heard of anyone who has regretted a study abroad experience, and I definitely understand why. One main reason to study abroad is to learn more how others live. In my opinion, American students are less “international” when compared with European students. Most of the European students I have met speak between two and four languages and know a lot about other countries’ cultures. I on the other hand only speak English and don’t know what language they speak in half of the European countries. However, I am learning.

Another benefit of studying abroad is learning different perspectives. For example, many students are not worried about having a plan after graduation. I stopped asking the seniors what job they wanted when they graduated because they thought it was a weird question. Many of the Dutch and other Europeans travel for a year or two after graduating. Then they might get a job or a Masters Degree or travel around the world some more. I think it is great that they are not worried about what job they will eventually apply for. It made me realize there are other paths besides attending college for four years, taking the summer off, and then going straight to work. Understanding how others live helps you better evaluate the way you want to live your life. While this may seem like a lesson any student studying abroad learns, it is particularly true for Maastricht. Living in the international dorm allows you to make friends from around the world and learn how they live. Maastricht is also considered the most culturally rich city in the Netherlands and was almost nominated as the cultural capital of Europe. Maastricht is the epitome of a cultural experience by offering both breadth and depth of cultural diversity.

 

Alcohol and Marijuana:

I’m sure many of you are curious about alcohol and marijuana use in the Netherlands. Although marijuana is legal, it is restricted to coffee shops and there is a new law that prohibits tourists from buying it in much of the country. While Amsterdam still offers weed to tourists in coffee shops, Maastricht has embraced the rule that marijuana cannot be sold to tourists. Marijuana use by locals is also pretty low when compared to other European countries. The Dutch don’t view smoking as the cool or rebellious thing to do and find that it is not necessary to have fun.

Alcohol is a different story. Alcohol is very common and the Dutch start drinking from an early age. It also seems that every social event has alcohol. During the first day of school we had welcome drinks in the business school. Also, my entrepreneurship class had free alcoholic beverages at its event. While drinking is common, the Dutch do not seem to get drunk often. They have learned how to drink in moderation quite well and look down on getting overly drunk. I hope this sheds some light on the “drug” aspect of the Netherlands.

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, The Netherlands