2014 | Reciprocal Exchanges Blog - Part 2

Today is HALLOWEEN!!!! I am feeling a little torn about what to do today because my host mom is making a traditional Spanish Halloween dinner, but the group at the church is having an open mic night/costume party. I was planning on going to this party until I saw her cooking this morning. Ugh! This struggle is real! Right now I am sitting in the school café drinking a café con leche desnatada con canela! MMm! So, I have finally started to settle in! I somewhat have a routine, school work is piling up and I am continuing to procrastinate, I am making friends and life is finally not stressing me out every two minutes! I am loving my time here. I definitely still miss my friends and family and fiancé, but I have figured out a routine to where I get to talk to most of them from time to time. AND, Brian is coming to visit me in t minus 22 days! I am beyond excited!!! Right now I am working on a plan for what to do when he gets here, this weekends trip to Monserrat, and various travel plans! School is a little more difficult than I thought it was going to be, but I am managing. The main thing I want to write about is what I did this past weekend, VISIT MI FAMILIA IN SICILIA!!

So, this is an entirely crazy story and I am going to start from the very beginning. Bea and I, like the responsible young women we are, booked out flight a good 3 weeks to a month before our plane was scheduled to depart. It was scheduled to leave on Friday November 24th at 12:40pm. On Thursday night, right as we are getting ready to sit down for dinner (around 10pm), Bea gets an email from the airline saying that our flight was canceled due to a recent transportation strike in Italy. Not only was it canceled, but we were going to have to pay to change our flight and we were not going to be refunded for our return ticket, since it wasn’t technically effected by the strike. Seriously?! Not only is this horrible news because meeting my Sicilian family is literally the only thing that got me through the week and now it wasn’t even going to happen, but I am going to have to pay for the trip reguardeless?! Ugh! I was furious. That night, we stayed up late trying to find another weekend to visit them that wouldn’t be too much more money than we had already spent, and we made zero progress. I went to be completely angry and bummed and all sorts of negative emotions.

The next morning, I woke up early because I was too upset to sleep. I tried for at least an hour to get a hold of the airline on the telephone and had no luck, so I bit the bullet and deciding I was just going to go up to the airport and talk to them in person. Then they will have to deal with me right then and there! After an hour of wandering around, taking metros, busses and shuttles I found the customer service desk, in which I waited in line. SIDE STORY. While I am in line, this woman, probably in her late twenties, comes busting through the line passing everybody up. I thinking to myself, this is weird. The woman behind me in line, probably in her late 40s, becomes enraged at her lack of courtesy and decides to make the young woman go to the back of the line and wait like everyone else. Clearly this young lady was distressed, who would go pushing through a line at the airport customer service desk if they weren’t? So when the older woman approaches her, things get UGLY. And I mean they literally start fighting, physically! Pushing, pulling, hitting, and I have a front row seat! Meanwhile the guy at the customer service desk does NOTHING. He is just watching too! Haha finally both of the ladies boyfriends come and pull them apart and they both eventually get to talk to the customer service desk. One of the weirdest experiences of my life. Okay so then it was my turn. Im talking to this man(in broken Spanish), and he is talking to me (in broken English) and as I am telling him which flight I booked and how it was canceled and blah blah blah, he tells me that no, it actually has been rescheduled, and is leaving in an hour and a half! WWHHHHAAATTT???? I am at the airport with nothing more than the clothes I have on my back, Bea is not with me and actually she is sleeping at home because we stayed up late last night trying to find other flights, and I have no cell phone to call her. OH MY GOSH! (panic ensues). I am talking to this man saying stuff like “what do you mean?…But I don’t have my bags… my friend is supposed to be coming with me and she isn’t here… there is no way I can make it”. His only response was to tell me to go up to the check in desk and have them print my boarding pass. Thinking he doesn’t understand me, I let out a distressed “YO TENGO NADA!!! HOW AM I JUST SUPPOSED TO PRINT MY BOARING PASS?!?!” well this is all the help I was going to get from him, so I proceed to the check in desk where I meet a super nice lady who helps me so so so much! She pointed me in a direction where I could use a phone, printed my pass, and helped me avoid lines so I could speed up the check in process. I finally get a hold of Bea, she scrambles to pack not only her bag, but also mine, snags a taxi, runs to the airport, and we somehow manage to make it on the plane 5 minutes before take off. HOLY COW! PRAISE GOD! It all worked out. But wait, another problem arises. I realize that my family is no longer expecting be because I told them last night that our flight got canceled. They are supposed to pick us up from the airport and provide us with a place to sleep (such generous people), and now they have no idea we are even coming! AND I have no way of contacting them because wifi does not exist on a plane… Just when I thought the mayhem was over! Well long story short, 1 plane, 1 bus, 2 internet cafes, and a train later, we make it to Cefalu, the town where my family lives and the town my great-grandfather grew up in. My family picked us up from the train station and all is well. We were greeted by Donatella and Eleonora, my third cousins. They are so sweet and welcome us with hugs and kisses. I had only spoken with Donatella on facebook messaging so this was the first face-to-face meeting and the first time I heard them speak. They were so cute apologizing for their English and saying how horrible it was, but it really wasn’t that bad! Definitely better than my Italian! I immediately felt comfortable around them, like instant family connections took away an possible awkwardness. I seriously can’t put into words how amazing they are. So now that we finally made it to our destination, Wow! I am HUNGRY!!

So after all this craziness of a day, D and E take us to our room at the Bed & Breakfast they own. They literally had an entire full one bedroom apartment for us! Complete food stocked for us for breakfast! What? SO nice! Then they ask us if we are tired or if we want to go out and get some food. Hallelujah! FOOD! Bea and I quickly freshen up and meet them downstairs to go get a bite to eat. Donatella and her boyfriend, Guiseppe (aka Pino), meet us at their car and take us to their favorite pizza place in town. I ordered a pizza with jamon, fungi(mushrooms) and some super good cheese and sause. OH MAN!!! It was sooooo delicious! And, being sicily, we all had an entire pizza to ourselves. There was no way I was going to finish it, but I wish I could have! After dinner, they ordered us a round of limoncello, an icy cold refreshing liquor shot that is a common drink in Italy after your meal. It is a digestive and is supposed to help settle your food after a big meal, which is literally every meal in Italy! After that, Donatella and Pino took us on a little night car ride tour of cefalu. I have been missing car rides so bad. I haven’t been in a car since my host mom picked us up from the airport. It was so nice. After the little tour, they took us back to out apartment and we got some much needed sleep.

The next morning, we woke up, ate breakfast on our terrace that overlooked the ocean to our left, and a small citrus orchard to our right. Oh man! Talk about luxury! The weather was a little chillier than we had anticipated, so we struggle with our clothes a little the whole trip (probably also due to the fact that Bea had to pack 2 bags in 10 minutes). Haha. We took our time getting ready for the day and when we were ready, I texted Donatella and she met us downstairs for an actual tour of the town. Her and Eleonora, her younger sister, showed us around the whole town. The town was absolutely beautiful during the day. Old narrow streets, a big cathedral, the ocean, a big mountain called La Rocca, an old clothes washing station, a couple harbors, and so many gelato, food, and gift shops! I loved it! When lunch time rolled around, we went over to my family’s apartment where we met D and E’s parents, Salvatore (Toto), and Conjetta. Conjetta had been cooking all morning for us and treated us like royalty. The food was SOOOOO good! And so much! She had prepared and 4 course meal, yes 4. The first couse is typically a pasta of some sort, we had rice thing. Second, we had a chicken patty, and some salad. Third course was fruit, which we ate the cactus fruit, and lastly was postre. I had a canolo for the first time! Everything was delicious. After lunch we sat down with Salvatore and he showed me our family tree which he has been working on for YEARS. I helped him fill in a few blanks and I enjoyed the whole experience so much. I have always been curious about family history and it was like discovery a side to myself I have never known before. He had family traced back to the 1700s! holy cow! And he hasn’t been using the internet to find this information, he literally has 300 year old documents that he is deciphering and finding where they fit. WOW! So cool! I was in awe! Just absolutely amazed. He even made me my own condensed family tree and let me keep it. Right before I left, he gave me a copy of his big one. That is a present I will cherish my entire life and share with my entire family! Later that day, we walked along the beach and went to a few shops in town. Bea and I found a few souveneirs to take home and it was so so so much fun! That night we went out to dinner with D & E and their boyfriends, who are both named Giuseppe! Haha this name translates to Joseph and is an extremely common name in Sicily. We went to a neighboring town that was a 30 minute drive through the mountains. I got a little car sick, but it was so worth it. It was called Castelbuono, meaning good castle! Mushrooms were in their peak season and a nice restaurant was have specials for all their meals that had mushrooms. It was amazingly delicious and we had great company. We laughed so much that night about being starving, about communication barriers, and just poking fun at each other. It was like we had all been friends for years. Afterwards we walked through the town, saw the castle, and drove back to Cefalu.

The next day, we had a relaxing breakfast once again, and then met up with D & E for a morning hike up La Rocca! I was in Heaven! Apparently, the water levels in cefalu used to be much higher so the town used to be a little bit up the rock. We got to see ruins of the old roman city on our way up which was so cool. I love hiking so I fully enjoyed the entire thing. I was probably the only one who wasn’t slightly miserable at some point. But one of the things I love about hiking, is that as you walk, the view is the best thing you have ever seen, and you think there is no way it can get better, but the higher you go, the more amazing it gets! From the top, we could see the whole town, the ocean, and the rolling mountains of the country side! Wow! Loved it! On the way down, we got to see some goats just chillen eating some grass. They let us get so close to them and they didn’t run away. I love unexpected surprises like that! After the hike we were all exhausted and had worked up an apetite. We went over to their house again, where we met the rest of the family, the oldest sister Annalisa, her husband Cicho, and their 2 week old baby girl(bambina) Carla. This day we had a HUGE meal and it was even better than the first day. The first plate was some penne pasta, which was to die for! The second was some sort of meet that was so tender and absolutely delicious, a red pepper stuffed with ground beef(perfect flavor). The third we had fruit once again, today we tried a Sicilian banana which is much less sweet than a normal banana and a lot fatter. I really enjoyed it. Then for dessert, we ate a profiterol pie which was balls of yummy dough filled with cream all stacked on top of each other smothered in chocolate mouse and drops of the same cream that was on the inside of the ball. OMG! YUM! I could have eaten the whole tray! After lunch, we went back to our apartment for a little siesta. We rested, then walked around a little looking at different shops, then met up with the family for a small dinner. We ate some street food. A calzone thing that was so so so so yummy, and a fried stuffed rice ball, apparently Sicily is famous for them and this is the only place you can get them. That was also delicious! That night we said good bye to some of the family and I had to hold back a few tears. They are a part of my family now and it was so hard to say good bye to such amazing, generous and loving people.

The next morning Donatella and her father Salvatore took us to the airport at 4am so we could catch our 6:50 flight back to Barcelona. We had a connecting flight in Rome but it was only a 2 hour lay over so we didn’t get to leave the airport. We got back to Barcelona around 12pm and back to school we went. The trip was so wonderful! I hope that I can see them all again someday. We talked about making another trip to Cefalu in which I bring my whole family, and they talked about coming to the US to see Texas and fulfill their dream of going to New York City! I truly hope to see them again! What an amazing time!

DSC02174

 

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

Well let me start by saying howdy from Hong Kong to everyone back home! What a journey it was just to arrive (hurray for 14 hour connecting flights from Houston to Beijing!…), and things have not slowed up one bit since I touched down here over a month ago.

Before I dive into the university (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) I’ll talk a little bit about the city, landscape, and culture of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is essentially a massive city inside of a massive jungle on an island that lies just off the south coast of mainland China. It is one of the best places in the world to capture a truly unique culture of east meets west. The city itself is every bit as bright and vibrant as Times Square in New York (there is actually a Times Square here by the way), and I would argue that if New York is the “melting pot” then Hong Kong is the melting cauldron. I have met individuals from almost every country in Asia, western Europe, South America, North America, and even a few countries in Africa. People here move a mile a minute and it doesn’t exactly help that there are 7 million of them. If you want to get a perfect picture just go during rush hour to the subway system called the MTR (Mass Transit Railway). I would liken it to trying to fit a tennis ball into a Gatorade bottle in 10 seconds. No worries though, no exchange student would ever have to worry about rush hour since they all live on campus. People are generally nice and helpful, and in addition to most people understanding English, virtually all signs are in English and Chinese so getting around is no problem. For those who are interested, Hong Kong boasts one of the best night scenes I have ever experienced (just ask anyone who has been here about Lan Kwai Fong, it makes 6th Street look weak). Aside from being an urban paradise, Hong Kong has some of the most beautiful beaches, jungles, hiking trails, and temples I have ever seen. Don’t believe me? Just take a look for yourself.

Man Cheung Po (Infinity) Pool

20140906_014641

 To get to the pool you have to take a bus to a place called Tai O, and hike on a trail alongside a jungle for about one hour (so worth it).

Po Lin Monastery
20140831_130010

Next to this monastery is the largest seated bronze Buddha statue in the world, which you hike up over 260 steps to get to (also worth it).

At this point I would like to include a special segment just for the foodies out there who may be reading. If you think you are an adventurous eater searching for a place to enhance your culinary expertise, then look no further than Hong Kong. For anyone who is not quite so adventurous you can easily find a McDonald’s (actually one on campus), Subway, Pizza Hut (delivers), or KFC (also delivers) in just about any district on the island. Now for all my “eat now ask questions later” kind of people, you are going to be in heaven with the most amazing local restaurants and street food. Oh and by the way my meals on average cost about $3 to $6, so prepare to eat like a king or queen for an unbeatable price. Portion sizes are generally comparable to what you might get in the United States, and because it is so cheap (comparatively speaking) if you have room for seconds you’ll certainly find it in the budget. I’ve had fish balls (balls made of fish), kidneys, and ostrich intestines (surprisingly delicious) just to name a few unique dishes. Here’s a picture (below) of some Dim Sum (a traditional style of eating in which many small dishes are ordered and everyone shares) I shared with a few friends. My personal recommendations for anyone passing through would have to be barbeque pork buns and shrimp dumplings (each small bites scrumptious of heaven). Don’t eat meat? No problem, I have yet to go to a restaurant that does not offer numerous vegetarian options. One of the best parts of eating in Hong Kong is that you have such a wide array of types of food you can eat. Whether it’s Thai, Chinese, Indian, Western, Italian, or Turkish (try a Kebab they are magnificent) you are sure to find something that fits what you’re in the mood for that day.

Dim Sum (at the ground floor Chinese restaurant ON campus)

20140925_010321

Now ladies and gentlemen our train has arrived at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. The question is where should we begin the last leg of our tour? Oh wait, how about the view from the university that is essentially on the side of a mountain in a jungle that overlooks a gorgeous bay (see below, I actually wake up to this every morning). My arrival here went generally smooth with the help of two local buddies the school assigned to help me with my transition to Hong Kong. Upon arriving I found a large population of international students all every bit as eager to explore and make friends as I was. The student organizations here are some of the most devoted and active I have ever seen. It feels like the perfect place for an Aggie to really come and dive right into some student activities. In fact, I’ve already joined the Management Students’ Association, the Archery Club, the International Students’ Association, and the Dance Society. Want to learn martial arts from a real master? There’s a club for that. Interested in the ancient art of Kendo? There’s a club for that. No matter what your interests or hobbies are you’re guaranteed to find an extracurricular activity here you will absolutely love. Getting into the classroom you’ll find things more or less similar to how we do them at A&M. My classes are generally medium sized hovering at about 40-70 students per class. I don’t find them particularly difficult, however be prepared to have group projects in almost every class that last the entire semester and are somewhat time consuming. Most professors are very well qualified and actually make the classes far more interesting and interactive than just a straight lecture. One thing that is small but worth mentioning is that books are super cheap here, so expect to save on what you would normally spend at A&M.

The View from my Dorm

20140903_005501

All in all, Hong Kong has become my home away from home. Maybe I’m still in the “honeymoon” stage of my exchange, but I think there’s something a little more profound to my attraction to this vibrant city. I’ll be taking a trip Bangkok soon and midterms are coming up so the next blog will feature that as well as more specific details on my explorations of the culture and scenery of Hong Kong. If you have any questions or comments please let me know and thanks for reading!

Categories: 2014, China, Hong Kong, Reciprocal Exchange

The second month was a period of settling in. I wish I could say that I was fully acclimated to the new environment, but it took me a few more weeks before I felt normalized. I believe that everyone takes a different amount of time and would have envisioned a quick and seemingly easy adjustment. I’m a proclaimed extremely independent person, so do not be surprised if it takes you more time than anticipated. As I got adjusted to the courses, I realized how blessed I was to go to such a prestigious school. WHU is Germany’s number one business school and their course difficulty follows suit. I have absolutely had to spend much more time than anticipated in class and studying, but the beauty in that is realizing the pros and cons of each educational system. One thing that I really admire here is the competitive nature and the learning it drives. Everybodyyyyy studies hard here. There are different amplitudes, but the students in the deemed more difficult courses here all spent a much higher average amount of hours studying than back home and thus, they have some awesome opportunities out of college. It is not rare to have multiple students going to the big 3 consulting firms as well as the bulge bracket banks. I found that very intriguing and fortunate but was not surprised as their curriculum and emphasis on 3 years of straight business courses allots more time and knowledge in these fields. There are absolutely cons paralleling these pros, but I admire that about WHU. I also have enjoyed learning about the work-life balance in Germany. Apparently, Germany has a lower base salary, but is compensated through additional vacation and sick days. There have a minimum amount days off that is significantly higher than America. I admire that heavily especially in industries such as banking and consulting where the hours of work can be draining. The additional days off surely create a more balanced lifestyle and allot more time to indulge meaningful time with family and beloved ones. With that being said, I have grown to love and admire A&M in a different fashion. I keep getting emails about the constant programs and organizations that are putting on events to drive student’s careers. Germany has organizations but put a significantly less emphasis on them. I have been blessed to be a part of many of the organizations and have grown in many ways that school can’t teach and it is evident on WHU’s campus. A&M has so many additional perks and accommodations that suit any kind of college student. I have been an ideal victim of taking these blessings for granted. In little ole’ Vallendar, we have three grocery stores and little bread shops scattered throughout. Therefore, without a car, you will find much less to do and engage in here other than your academic ventures. I have a theory that this is why many students place such an emphasis on school haha! I miss being able to grab food at nearly any time and have an overwhelming amount of varieties to choose from. Here in Vallendar, most shops close at 5 pm (or 17:00 here) and  the latest place to get food is either REWE or a doner kabob and both close at around 10 pm. Therefore, no late night Denny or Fuego trips and I can’t express how much I miss that. Also, I miss the variety of activities to engage in back home. Whether that be ping pong, intermurals, an awesome rec center, or etc., I have absolutely not utilized what I now would love to indulge. My biggest plea would be that we internalize what a great university we go to and use it to the fullest as it not only shapes your career, but your state of mind and character.

Now, to the fun stuff. Traveling. This month, I have had the opportunity to go to many places within Germany such as Wiesbaden, Munich, and Hamburg.

My first destination was Wiesbaden and it was my favorite place in Germany thus far. I do not believe that is a typical answer among travelers, but I believe it was a combination of the group I traveled with and the fair festivities that by happen chance were going on during our trip. The first thing I saw when I arrived was the main Protestant church Marktkirche.

IMG_1113

Like most churches in Europe, the inside was incredibly grandiose and had a silence that was filled with feeling of God. After that, we ventured to the fair on the outskirts of the church. There, I took part in the classic sausage and various deserts and coffees. Below is a picture of a random cool looking sculpture with the fair behind it.

IMG_1158

Finally, we finished the trip by traveling up to the Russian church called Neroberg.

IMG_1224

And by the end of this day trip, we were tired to say the least

IMG_1243

My next trip came about mid-way through the month as our whole international group traveled up to Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest.

IMG_1285

Oktoberfest is without a doubt, one of the most happy places on earth. The atmosphere within one of the many tents is only described through experience and the outside food and drinks available complete the experience.

IMG_1296

The pork knuckle as well as the half leg of chicken were one of my favorite foods.

 

Finally, I wrapped up the month with a trip to Hamburg, Germany. Personally, Hamburg turned out to not be a personal favorite, but with anyone interested in industrial ports and shopping, Hamburg could potentially encompass the experience you desire. While traveling, we came across the coolest park for kids I have ever been too. Therefore, naturally we reverted to a younger age and took full advantage. While there, I randomly found SpongeBob’s house (or at least a look a like 😉 haha)

IMG_1511

After that, we decided to indulge our sweet tooth and purchased an extravagantly expensive and delicious desert in one of the many cafes.

IMG_1443

Finally, we wrapped up our trip there by going to Hamburg’s town hall and this is where I found my proclaimed “Lightception” photo.

IMG_1475

Last notes: Towards the end of the month, I finally felt that I garnered a place where I could grow again. For a while, I felt like I was just trying so hard to gather any foothold in my new environment, but in this month, I finally found it and am excited for the growth and experiences that lie ahead. I now look to travel outside of Germany as I have stayed there the whole trip and I look forward to witnessing some new cultures!

Until next month! Tschuss/Auf Wiedersehen

 

Categories: 2014, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange

Howdy!! fra København (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Study Abroad… what an awesome opportunity.  I am studying at Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, and so far, the semester has flown by.  The entire experience of exiting my comfort zone in the form of entering a new country has proven to be the best decision of my academic career.  For those viewing this blog while trying to decide on which school to attend abroad, allow me to provide some information on the Copenhagen program on two different levels: Host University & Host City.  But first, allow me to preface:

If you think that one program is more beneficial than the other (i.e. The Netherlands vs. Germany, Spain vs. Norway, etc.), don’t kid yourself.  Simply going somewhere you haven’t been before offers more significant academic-growth than the marginal differences between programs.  I can honestly admit that I have learned more outside of the classroom than inside (and I have only missed 2 lectures).  In truth, like most international exchange students, school is one of the last things on my mind during this adventure.  Sure, I get it done and learn a ton, but as an international student, I didn’t come to Europe to read books I could have bought cheaper in the States. I came to gain perspective and knowledge about other cultures. And thanks to Katy Lane, the CIBS office, Mays Business School, TAMU, etc. – I am harvesting those most valuable fruits that travelling provides.

University:

Here at Copenhagen Business School (CBS), each academic semester is broken up into two Quarters.  Most classes are scheduled to host lecture for a full semester (2 quarters) in which they will meet once a week for 2.5-hour lecture.  Those courses that are only a quarter long normally meet twice each week for 2.5 hours each lecture in order to cover the material in shorter time.  Attendance is not mandatory, nor are there any grades besides whatever form of final exam presented by each course (oral exam, written exam, or writing assignment).

IMG_4846  IMG_4849IMG_5369

Of the approximate 20,000 students enrolled at CBS, more than 4,500 are international exchange students.  For these students (me), the school has assigned a team of local students to coordinate the ‘Buddy Team’ and Exchange Social Program (ESP).  The Buddy Team matches you with a local student as a resource.  The ESP offers a few different opportunities before and during the semester to not only network you with other internationals from all over the world, but to also optimize your cultural experience while abroad.  I commend this team for organizing such an effective program, and I would highly recommend incoming exchange students to take advantage of all the opportunities that they provide, for the ones that do cost money are well worth it.

 IMG_4555IMG_4541

City:

Copenhagen, like many European cities, is a beautiful concoction of urban ancestry and modern ecology.  It offers pretty sights and amazing culture, but most every product is more expensive than what Americans are accustomed to so grocery shopping to replace most eating-out is key (even though restaurants like Halifax Burgers and Kødbyens Fiskebar make this discipline tough to hold).

As the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen is a dense city and housing is particularly tough to achieve.  I was planning on flying from the States to Copenhagen without yet a place to stay like many of the exchange students did thinking they would just find some much easier here than online at home.  Luckily, for me, I found a “private-housing” opportunity with a local the day before my flight.  Unfortunate for some other students, however, is the unexpected expenses they paid for Hostels because finding housing turned out to be the most difficult task of the culture adaptation.

IMG_4704

IMG_4089

I stay with a local woman, age 66, named Hanne.  Hanne is a thoughtful Scandinavian woman who welcomed me into her home with a dinner of chicken and bacon.  It has been so beneficial to live with a local for she has taught me so much about Danish culture from the history of Viking invasions and Danish foreign involvement in the World Wars.  She took me to the symphony house for classical music and to her summer house for a different taste of Danish living.  In return, I have changed a light bulb and done some man-work around the house.  Essentially we are an old adorable couple on the outskirts of town whom drink wine and watch the Danish News together.  Needless to say, I highly recommend living with a host family or local whenever studying abroad.  On a more serious note though, I have thus been able to put together so many pieces to the global puzzle my curiosity has created just by listening and seeing things from a Dane’s point of view.

DSC00515  IMG_4305IMG_0021

The past 6 weeks have been impactful and humbling.  I look forward to more perspective-building and stimulating experiences.

-Colby

Categories: 2014, Denmark, Reciprocal Exchange

I’ll break this post up into three parts: my local area, my school, and my first trip.

 

I am attending EBS University in Oestrich-Winkel, which is kind of a misnomer because the main campus is actually in Hattenheim. However, there is a building in Oestrich-Winkel. I live in a tiny town called Aulhausen. Technically Aulhausen is part of the city of Rudesheim, like how a neighborhood is part of a bigger city. The nearest town that Germans know is Wiesbaden, and the nearest town that everyone knows is Frankfurt — it’s a one hour train ride east of me. The region is called the Rhein Valley and is world renowned for its wine: a dry sweet white wine you can find under the label Riesling or Rheingau. There are hills everywhere here and I am never more than 2km from the Rhein. The hills are almost completely covered in vineyards. I usually hate running but I enjoy it here because of the view, terrain, and delicious grapes I can snack on. The towns are ancient and have tight winding streets. If you visit the region, Rudesheim is a a must see. It looks like what you imagine a small touristy German town would look like plus it has a chair lift that carries you above the town and vineyards to the top of the hills for a peaceful walk through the forest. Wiesbaden is the nearest modern town and has a futbol/soccer team that is fun to watch for 3.5 Euro per game. I’ve gone to two wine festivals — one in Rudesheim and one in Mainz. Both had all sorts of local wine, music, food, and trinkets. If you’re more of a beer fan, Pilsners are famous here. The most common is Bittburger but I also see a lot of wheat bears (weizen bier) such as Paulaner Hefe-Weizen. I have had no negative experiences with locals. All the ones I have talked to are helpful and friendly. Almost all Germans speak English, so not knowing the language well has caused few problems for me so far. It would be difficult to be a vegetarian here since almost every menu item has meat, especially pork.

 

Aulhausen

Aulhausen

 

Rudesheim (left) and the Rhein

Rudesheim

EBS is a small private school mainly focused on business/management and law. The study part of my study abroad experience has been surprising so far since the classes are on arbitrarily dates with no consistent week to week schedule. Lectures can be as long as 6 hours and I have already had a couple Saturday classes. The schedule is good for traveling, though. I had seven days in a row with no classes so I took a trip to Amsterdam and Copenhagen. There are about 300 international students from around the world out of the 1,500 total students, but I haven’t met many Germans because they mainly stick together. I like how many international students there are because I have learned so much about different cultures that I didn’t expect to learn about. I have two roommates (one Irish and one from Montreal) in a nice three story house. I also started playing ice hockey with guys stationed at the US military base located in Wiesbaden. I’ve never played before but it is so much fun!

 

My trip to Amsterdam and Copenhagen was fantastic. I went with my Canadian roommate and our train left from Frankfurt at 5 AM. We stayed up overnight in Frankfurt and then took six different trains over six hours before arriving in Amsterdam. The entire city is intertwined with canals, the streets are made of cobblestone, and there are literally bikes everywhere. The city has so much to do; we spent three days and nights there and never got bored. We stayed in a hostel near the red light district and walked everywhere. The city is small enough that you can walk across in 30 minutes. The must see items are the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Heineken Brewery. We then flew to Copenhagen and arrived around 8 PM. Copenhagen is just as beautiful as Amsterdam. However, there isn’t as much to do. I highly recommend visiting one of the castles or palaces — they are magnificent. The Carlsberg Brewery was comprehensive and I enjoyed learning about their history and brewing processes. The highlight was standing on the spire of a church in Christiana looking over the entire city. Both cities were small enough to walk around and had canals flowing through them, but Copenhagen was much less touristy, which I liked. The downside of Copenhagen is they use a different currency and the prices there are ridiculous. Good luck getting lunch for less than $10. I loved both and can’t tell you which I liked more. If you’re planning on visiting Europe, you only need to see one of the two. We took three trains and a ferry back, which took 14 hours!

 

Next post will be about Oktoberfest and hopefully another two-city vacation.

Categories: 2014, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange

My time in the Netherlands has been one of much learning, fun, and adjustment. I am studying finance in Maastricht, one of the southernmost cities in the Netherlands (and also the oldest). But I guess I’ll start from the beginning. My arrival to Europe was interesting to say the least. After an overnight flight from Houston to Amsterdam, I was bombarded by a confusion of Dutch signs and chaos at the airport. Luckily, I made it onto the train to Maastricht in no time. That was the easy part. Once I arrived in Maastricht, it took me two hours to find out where I lived and how to get there. I was sleep deprived, the wheels on both my luggage bags had fallen off from wheeling them around the rough streets, and it was the first real challenge I had. Everything was different and unfamiliar, but once I finally found the international student dorm I was staying in, it made things a lot easier. That’s the thing about going to a completely new place- every little hill you have to overcome can easily become a mountain. There’s nobody to help you adjust, and figuring things out for yourself is the only way to learn.

That story wasn’t meant to bore you, but to be an example of the many difficulties in adjusting to a new environment. Throughout the coming weeks there were more adjustments to be made, but the friends I met in Maastricht made those adjustments so much easier. Another thing I want to point out is how welcoming everyone is. I met other American exchange students the day after I arrived, and less than a week later I was on the beautiful Spanish island of Ibiza with them on an impromptu vacation before classes started. Since then, I’ve met people from over 20 different countries and still hang out with them in the international dorm we all stay at. Whenever I said I was from Texas, everybody thought that was the coolest thing and immediately struck up conversation about my cowboyish ways (obviously inaccurate). We all went out to the bars and saw the city the first week, but in the back of our minds was the looming inevitability that school, the “real” reason we were here, was right around the corner.

Maastricht University is a really cool place. The business faculty is housed in a 600 year old building, but the inside is very modern and new. The school is split up into two periods a semester, and in each period you take two classes. Most classes comprise of a day of lecture a week, and two days of tutorials. This is because of the Problem Based Learning (PBL) system of learning the university implements. Instead of having a professor lecture three times a week, the class is split up into many smaller groups of 10-15 students who are led by a tutor (typically a master’s student- the TA equivalent in the US), who sit back and moderate a conversation amongst the students about the topic. The students read before class and then teach the others in the tutorial, with assigned discussion leaders and secretaries every class. The system is dependent on each student being involved, so attendance and participation are mandatory. I can’t say I like it more than lectures (which we’ve had in the U.S. since kindergarten), but the extreme shift in learning has been a refreshing challenge. Because the classes are so short, usually 7 weeks in a period, the tutorials are 2 hours and there is a LOT of outside work.

Enough about school, I’ll talk about the city of Maastricht for a bit. It’s beautiful. It’s the oldest city in Maastricht, built by the Romans in the early 1200s, and sits right on the edge of the River Maas which makes for great views and architecture. The downtown area is vibrant and has tons of shops and markets. The city has thousands of landmarks, and the city looks so old still because they can’t change the outsides of the buildings, only the inside. This blends the old with the new, and keeps the culture and tradition of the city alive. Also, everyone rides bikes. Everyone. The city is much smaller with a bike, and the city is downright made for it. I bought an old bike and have since made the most of it, but anything with a set of wheels makes life easier. It’s also pretty cold here, with the weather ranging from 50-75 degrees since I’ve been here. I’m hoping it doesn’t get too much colder, I’m still used to Texas weather. Everyone does speak English, which is extremely helpful, but I do intend on picking up some Dutch while I’m here. The real advantage of Maastricht, however, is that it is situated right in the middle of Europe. I can ride my bike to Belgium or take a 30 minute train to Germany, and the rail systems are very reliable and easy. This means that I have the resources to do lots of traveling in different countries all over Europe, hopefully without missing too much class.

Overall, the first 6 weeks of my study abroad have been filled with adventure, friendships, and excitement. Now that I’m settled in, I have even higher hopes for the next 10 weeks. I’ve already been to Spain, Belgium, and Switzerland with trips to Germany and Austria in the works. Every country has its own unique vibe and culture, so exploring as much as possible is highly recommended.

 

Displaying photo.JPGDisplaying photo.JPG

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, The Netherlands

Hola! It’s a little surreal to believe that I’ve been in Spain for a month! If you think time flies while you’re in College Station, just try going on a study abroad and see how quickly everything goes! Spain is everything I thought it would be, but of course it has a few surprises. Every street, corner, avenue, and plaza is charming in its own way. It’s completely unique and different than Aggieland. There’s a history and story behind every building that dates back farther than you thought. I absolutely love living in the center, and I was surprised at how familiar and comfortable everything became once I settled into my apartment. I love being being able to walk downstairs and order a mixto (a ham and cheese sandwich) from a cafeteria. I live about 15 minutes by foot from Puerta Del Sol, the heart and center of Madrid and also technically Spain. It is the area in which roads begin their direction to other Spanish cities; there’s a sign on the ground that reads “Kilometro O.”  I find myself going there basically everyday, as it is an easy and common meeting point for people. Tapas, sangria, paella, jamon and churros have all been consumed in abundance, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it. I completely embrace Spanish food, and I can already tell I’ll miss it when I’m back in Texas. I’ve been able to also visit Toledo and Valencia. Toledo is a town that dates back to Roman Empire times, and it genuinely feels like you’ve gone back hundred of years. I became amazed at the fact that I was able to walk down streets and into stores and plazas that people from 400 years ago did too. It’s the town where the famous painter, El Greco, spent his life and completed master works of art. Valencia, on the other hand, is a newer city that offers not only historic sights but also an incredibly modern area called “The City of Arts and Sciences” that hosts the largest aquarium in Europe. The buildings are something you’d imagine in Startrek or some futuristic movie that takes place in space. To be honest, it isn’t something you’d expect from a beach town in Spain, in particular, the city that the world-famous paella originates from; it’s intriguing and beautiful in its own way. I have to say that my favorite part so far has been just meeting new people and immersing myself not only in Spanish culture but also the culture of other countries where other exchange students originate from. I love meeting people from all over the world and hearing about what is normal for them. In my opinion, there is almost nothing better than finding out something different than what I’m accustomed to. I love trying new things, seeing new things, learning new languages, and meeting new people that add to a more whole and complete perspective of life. School has been in session for three weeks. The way it functions is totally different than A&M. It’s an incredible opportunity to have insight to see how another university works. It’s so easy to only think of your own university and become accustomed to how one country’s school system works. It took a little bit of adjusting to the school, but I’m enjoying my classes. I especially like  Spanish History of the 20th century and learning about the recent history of  Spain. Also, it’s interesting to gain a different perspective on business principles and teachings, yet also observe similarities and shared knowledge. So far, I adore Spain and am trying my best to say yes to everything and live in the moment. I love to document as much of my experience as I can (often I’m a little overzealous with picture taking.) I feel insanely lucky and happy to have this opportunity, and I can’t imagine not doing it. Until next time! Hasta Luego! -Laura Madrid! September 2014 Toledo Toledo 2 Toledo 3 Plaza Mayor Flamenco Puerta de Sol Ham Palace Palace 2

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

I IMG_9801have been in Europe for almost two months now and in Copenhagen close to a month and a half, and it is safe to say I am beginning to love it here. With all the anticipation and build up to this trip it is still hard to believe I am actually here living in Europe now and I cannot believe how quickly time is beginning to go by! I said my tearful goodbyes to my family on August 1st from Austin Airport. But I am incredibly blessed that my best friend, Madison Seidel is also going on a Reciprocal Exchange to Copenhagen Business School and is rooming with me this entire semester.

IMG_9811

The flight to Europe was not nearly as bad as I had anticipated it to be which was great. A very nice aggie happened to be sitting behind us so that was very comforting as we were full of nervous energy and excitement! We bought our tickets through Lufthansa round trip (flying home December 20th) since they have a website called generationfly.com allowing you to change one of your tickets travel days if needed. This was very helpful since you don’t find out when your finals are until late September, we thought this may come in handy later to avoid an extra fee if we did ended up having to fly home later.

Once we landed in Copenhagen we stayed at a hotel, since we could not get into our dorm for another 2 weeks. We took our extra bags to a family friend who lives in Sweden (a short 15 minute train ride) for storage while we traveled around to Barcelona, Rome, Cinque Terre, Venice, and Florence before returning to Copenhagen on August 16th. If anyone is planning on traveling before classes start and don’t want to carry a semesters worth of luggage around Europe with you, another option is the International Office at CBS. The International Office is happy to store any luggage for you while you travel free of charge as long as you drop it off during office hours but since we arrived on a Saturday and were leaving for Barcelona on a Sunday this wasn’t an option for us!

The first four days of traveling is when I experienced the worst culture shock and homesickness. I am very independent and was traveling with my best friend so I was convinced before leaving there was no way I would be homesick but trust me it gets even the best of us! I called my parents crying and thought I was going to be miserable the entire semester but I after forcing myself to get out of bed and do things it all began to get better. I learned the importance of having a strong support system and the value of great friends and family through the experience!

We had a few ups and downs along this trip while learning how to use rail passes and adjusting to the culture in Europe but we made it through and had such an amazing experience filled with so many great memories! Granted we learned a few lessons the hard way like when Madison got a train ticket in Italy for filling out her rail pass wrong, or when we came within seconds of ending up stuck on a non-stop train to Pisa when trying to get to Monterosso, or having to sprint across crowded train stations with full backpacks to avoid missing trains we showed up late for. We just laughed it off and called it part of the experience!

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 8.51.00 PM

As the two-week trip was coming to an end we were exhausted and ready to get to a place we could finally call home! Copenhagen Business School has an optional program (which you need to sign up for) that partners each student with a “buddy” who helps you find your new apartment and can just help in general with any questions you have about the new city. Unfortunately, my “buddy” was out of town on the day we were arriving but lucky Madison’s buddy was able to meet us at the airport with her roommate to show us to our new home!

IMG_5141Our dorm, Kathrine Kollegiet, is on the opposite side of Copenhagen as the airport so it took about 25 minutes to get to it on the metro and by the time we arrived at the front door the anticipation was killing us since we had very little idea of what the room would actually look like. The room is in a U-shape and it gives us the ability to both have somewhat of our own private areas, which is fantastic. The room is on the first floor, which in America would technically be considered the second floor. Our room is one of the few that was completely re-done with new everything (paint, flooring, updated kitchen area, and furniture)! We are so lucky with the room we were assigned and we absolutely love it!

10629629_10203979803431358_8070843499822583275_nSince classes did not start until September we did not have anything required of us during our first two weeks here but we had signed up for some optional two social week programs, which gave us a fantastic opportunity to meet so new many people! These programs were hosted through Copenhagen Business School and included a combination of day and evening events ranging from international dinners, to mardi gras parties, to sight-seeing canal tours, to renting out a clubs from 10pm-3am with drink specials! These events were an amazing way to meet so many new people so fast from all over the world. These first two weeks in Copenhagen were incredible and were what really made me fall in love with the city. Copenhagen is so incredibly beautiful everywhere you look! The main method of transportation here is bike so it is also much more peaceful than other large cities, and the people here are very concerned about the environment so it is very clean. Many people ask me about the language barrier with the people here speaking Danish but almost every person in Denmark speaks perfect English and as soon as you start speaking they will switch over and talk to you in it.

 

Some of the things I can tell you now about Copenhagen is that everyone in Copenhagen loves the color black so if you want to fit in with the crowd bring every black-colored clothing item you own! I would invest in a nice raincoat with a hood because that will become a staple of your wardrobe; personally I would recommend a black one. No one here wears wedges out so no need to even pack them, but you should bring a nice pair of Nikes because people here love wearing nice running shoes with everything (dresses and jeans alike). Pack lots of the medicine you typically take because they don’t sell the normal brands you buy at home here and it is all very different here any you will get sick (everyone’s allergies here are terrible)!

When the first day of school came both Madison and I were a little nervous but luckily we have ¾ of our classes together! I am taking Events and Festival Management, Language of Negotiation, Web Interaction and Design and Communication – New Forms of Interaction, Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration, and Organizational Behavior. The class structure here is set up a bit different than what we are used to at A&M. Instead of having classes twice or three times a week for a shorter time we have class once a week for two hours and thirty-five minutes (we get 2 breaks for 5-10 minutes during class). Also, there is no required attendance, your class schedule is allowed to overlap, and no grades other than the final. All my classes are in taught English and for the most part the teachers are not from Denmark but from other parts of Europe and don’t have too strong of an accent.IMG_1034

As to my finals, a majority of them consist of theoretical essay topics given anywhere from 72 hours before they are due, to one week before they are due. Depending on the class the essays are required to be anywhere from 6 pages to 14 pages long. Some of my finals also have an oral portion. For example, my events and festivals management class, has a 20 minute one-on-one session with the professor (with an expert in the field observing to make sure the grading is fair) building upon the theoretical essay you turned in where he can ask you anything he would like then you are graded immediately following this discussion. Another class has a group presentation for 15-20 minutes prior to the written essay, which stands as a basis for the essay.

The hardest part about classes is trying to force myself to read the textbooks, as there is very little incentive. I know I have no upcoming test I just have to keep reminding myself if I don’t read them than the finals will be impossible! Classes here are also very teacher-student interactive which is a little intimating at times, the students are encouraged to speak up during lectures and challenge views as well as comment thoughts and view points which is extremely different then the large lecture style I have been used to.

While I value the importance of class while I am studying abroad I also find that there is so much to be learned outside of the classroom while I am here in Europe through the people and places around me so we have made it a point to travel as much as possible. We have done a day trip to Malmo, Sweden. We took a trip to London, UK for three days and from there went to Dublin, Ireland for two days. We just got back from an amazing trip to Prague, Czech Republic for two days traveling by train to Munich, Germany for three days to attend Oktoberfest. We have met so many wonderful people while traveling and seen so many amazing things on these trips!

 

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 9.02.28 PM

I cannot wait to see what the next for weeks has in store for us with fall break coming up we have a pretty big trip planned and my family is coming in just over 20 days to visit! So far I have had such an amazing experience and have learned so much about the world around me and myself and I cannot wait to learn even more.

Categories: 2014, Denmark, Reciprocal Exchange

Hej Ags!

It’s so hard to believe that I have officially been in Europe for almost two months and in Copenhagen, Denmark for about a month and a half. The past few months have been a whirlwind of preparation for the semester and now that I’ve finally settled into my new home I’m happy to say I truly love it here. My semester will be spent in Copenhagen, Denmark where I study at Copenhagen Business School (CBS). I have been lucky enough to come to Europe with my best friend, Lauren Oldani, and on August 1 we said goodbye to family and friends for the trip of a lifetime. Initially I was very wary of such a long journey to Copenhagen but was pleasantly surprised to find the eighteen hours fly by without too much trouble. In fact, an Ol’Ag Class of 1964 sat behind us on our international flight. Before we knew it our time in Europe had begun! The profound idea that I had left my friends, family, dogs, routine, and comfortable life full of familiarity for a semester of unknowns was mind blowing to me. Just the thought that I would not set foot back in the US and be surrounded by everything I have always known was initially hard wrap my mind around. Even though I have been lucky enough to experience very little homesickness there at moments in which I still can’t believe that I am living in Europe, navigating my way through this once in a lifetime experience.

Blog Photo #1

Something that Lauren I have said since we decided to study abroad was that we wanted to travel as much as possible this semester. In doing so we planned to arrive in Europe four weeks before CBS required and did a short backpacking trip. After a quick night in Copenhagen, Denmark we started our first journey by flying to down to Barcelona, Spain. This literally being within the first forty-eight hours of leaving home so both of us were a little slow to start our explorations. I had relatively little jet lag but was still very unfamiliar with such new surrounds. Immediately after arriving in Copenhagen and then Spain we were surrounded by unfamiliar faces, different languages, new smells, seemingly a different world which I have been able to assimilate into pretty well. After a few days in Spain we moved onto Italy where we traveled to Rome, Cinque Terre, Venice, and Florence. If I could pick my favorite destination of these two weeks it would have to be Cinque Terre, an area along the Mediterranean Sea full of picturesque views and endless hiking trails. Sadly, the vacation had to eventually come to a close but the sadness was nothing compared to the excitement I felt as we were finally making the transition of moving to our new home away from home.

Blog #1

If I had to summarize Copenhagen Business School in two words it would have to be both HELPFUL and ORGANIZED. This school has such a phenomenal exchange program! A very large portion of the school is full of exchange students and the majority of Danish students have already done an exchange or plan to do so in the future. From the moment I arrived back into Copenhagen I was met at the airport with my Danish buddy who attends CBS and was there to show Lauren and I the way to our dorm, which would have been a disaster otherwise. I think the buddy program is such a wonderful element of CBS exchange because this gives an instant connection to the Danish community. For example, not only was Emelie able to help with any initial questions I may have had but also gave me tour of the city and even cooked us dinner amongst many other things. CBS did a wonderful job of organizing two weeks full of activities and helpful orientations for all the exchange students. The first week was optional as many had not even arrived to school yet but for those who were here like me I attended a Danish crash course packaged with many social events. The Danish language is not one you can pick up easily, it is so very different than the English language that even with the crash course I am still having trouble reading signs, directions, etc. Luckily the people of Denmark can almost all speak perfect English so even as it may be a bit unnerving to not always understand what is going on around me I can usually find someone who can help me. This week was also full of nightly social events such as a trivia night, bingo night where I was able to meet tons of new friends, some of which I have continues to stay close with since that very first week. When preparing for this semester I was told that the first two weeks after your arrival are the most important as this is the time when you will be the people whom will becomes your niche for the semester and in reality that has been very true for me. My advice for this is to stay open minded and meet as many people as possible. After having such an amazing first week in Copenhagen I was happy to began the official introduction week at CBS full of daily orientations about classes, exams, info about the campuses, and more social events in the evenings that led to meeting even more students. This week was spent learning everything about CBS and at night attending meet’n’mingles, an international buffet, a lake party with our buddies, and a Mardi Gras party to close the week. I believe that the amount I learned and the number of people I met during my first two weeks in Copenhagen is an ideal first representation of how great the CBS exchange program is.

10629629_10203979803431358_8070843499822583275_n

While staying in Copenhagen I live in a dorm called Kathrine Kollegiet or as we lovingly refer to as KK. Housing in this city is a premium, it is both very hard to find housing and extremely extremely expensive to live here. In fact its one of the most expensive cities in Europe budgeting on necessities has become something I’m slowly learning to cope with. Luckily Lauren and I were able to find our way into a dorm about 10 minutes from campus where we share a room that is surprisingly spacious. Our dorm is diverse and has students from literally all around the world. I feel like I have definitely found a great group of friends in this building as we are all having these new experiences together which has brought us all together very quickly and I have grown close to some already. Something I do recommend to anyone planning to study abroad is to live in some type of student housing, it is such a great way to meet other students and really gives a sense of community in a new and unfamiliar place.

School has been in session for almost a month now at CBS and it sure has been a new experience for as it is quite different than at Texas A&M. Classes generally only meet once a week for almost three hours at a time, many of classes are actually only run for half a semester. CBS works on a quarter system so classes generally run from September-mid October, mid October- December, or the whole semester. For instance I currently have three classes that go the whole semester and one that will begins in the middle of October. One of the largest differences in school life here is no attendance policy, quizzes, homework, or even routine tests; your ending grade in the class is based upon the final exam. Personally one of my biggest stressors of this trip has had to cope with the idea that one assignment will determine my outcome of each class no matter how many classes I attended. Hopefully as long as I keep up with the endless amounts of readings and attend each class this won’t be a problem I have to face.

Blog photo 2

As I stated earlier, one of the biggest goals of this semester is to travel and experience as much as I can in these few months. Only having class Monday afternoon, Wednesday, and Thursday I have already have had many opportunities to restart my European travels! Since school began I have journeyed to:

– Malmo, Sweden
– London, England
– Dublin, Ireland
– A weekend trip around Denmark sponsored by CBS
– Prague, Czech Republic
– Munich, Germany

Travel is something I have always loved and each new place I see opens my eyes to newfound cultures, people, and endless other things.

venice

 

IMG_1212

 

Blog photo 3

 

When my weekends aren’t spent traveling I find myself wondering the city of Copenhagen. I can already tell that once my time comes to an end here I will have fallen in love with this city. The city is beautiful as it boasts such a European feel from the buildings to the people you find on the streets. Danes are very warm and inviting people in this well run city. You can get to anywhere in the city by either taking the metro or biking. This is a very efficient and environmentally friendly city where the majority of people bike to work, school, seemingly anywhere. You are probably more likely to be hit by a bicyclist than a car, they are very aggressive and wont’ hesitate to let their frustrations be known. At this point I have not purchased a bike as many of my friends have as I have become quite accustomed to using the metro that runs 24/7 and can get me anywhere I need to go.

My short time in Europe has already been filled with traveling, new friends, new experiences, and so much more that I’m overly excited to keep the semester going and discover what the next few months have in store for me. Even now I can’t believe how fast time has flown past my very eyes and before I know it the semester will almost be half over. These past two months have already let me experience a different world than I formerly knew in Texas and I can’t wait to form new memories that will last me a lifetime.

Until next time!
Madison Seidel

Days in Europe: 61
Countries visited: 8
Aggies met in Europe: 3

Categories: 2014, Norway, Reciprocal Exchange

The Journey Begins:

Venturing to Maastricht, Netherlands is the first time I have been to Europe and the furthest I’ve been from home. When I arrived, I didn’t know what my dorm was called, how my phone was going to work abroad (if at all), if my credit card was going to be accepted, and much more. It was a huge shock as soon as the plane landed, but figuring out how to manage in the Netherlands was a blast!

The City:

Maastricht is the best home base for studying abroad because of its central location in Europe, the size of the city, and the beautiful sights. The central location is easy to prove by just looking at a map and recognizing that Maastricht is in the middle of Europe, which makes traveling very convenient. However, one of my favorite parts of the city is its size. It is a relatively small city with about 200,000 citizens and is 23 square miles in area. Biking is the preferred mode of transportation and almost everything in the city is within biking distance. Despite the small size, there is plenty to see and do. There are many beautiful churches, libraries, parks, castles, a river, plazas, statues, bars, and restaurants to explore. Maastricht has just enough to do without being overwhelming and is a great place to call home.

The Dutch:

During our school’s orientation, we had a presenter inform us about Dutch culture. He told us the Dutch are very direct. He was right. They do not sugar coat their words or try to phrase things in the most polite way. I’ve personally experienced this directness during school discussions in the classroom. One Dutch student disagreed with me and looked me in the eye and said “you are wrong and do not understand the material.” We actually get along fine, but he never hesitates to say what is on his mind. However, one great thing about the Dutch is that most of them speak English. I thoroughly enjoy being able to communicate without having to worry about a language barrier.

The International Students:

One of the great things about Maastricht University is the amount of international students who attend the University. About half of the students at the University come from abroad and many of those international students are studying abroad for only one semester. I am also staying at the University of Maastricht Guesthouse, which is a dorm for international students. The Guesthouse is actually located inside of a hospital, so I see patients in the halls on my way out of the building. At first it seemed really weird living in a hospital, but I got used to it pretty quickly. The dorms are in separate wings from the hospital rooms too, so I don’t have to worry about catching any illnesses. I would highly recommend living in the Guesthouse to anyone interested in studying abroad in the Netherlands. Although it is a bit expensive, I have enjoyed meeting students from all over the world. So far, most of my friends are from Spain, but I have made friends with students from every continent except Antarctica. I love learning about the other students’ hobbies, eating habits, and culture.

The School:

I am studying at the School of Business and Economics or SBE. The actual buildings of Maastricht University are spread throughout the city, so there is no congregated campus like at Texas A&M University. SBE is about an 8-minute bike ride from the international guesthouse where I am staying. The actual building is extremely old and part of it is actually a church. While the outside of the building is extremely antiquated, the inside is very modern. The builders did a great job of making a very modern facility without ruining the original architecture of the old building.

Classes:

Instead of normal classes where students listen to a lecture, SBE uses a learning process called problem based learning or PBL. This approach is much different from a lecture because students are responsible for learning the material prior to class. Class time is lead by a student discussion leader who moderates a discussion of the material and sets learning goals for the next class. The learning method has many benefits, but I am still a fan of traditional lectures too. For studying abroad, I definitely love the PBL approach because it is another opportunity to see how students from different countries think.

I wanted to share a background on what life is like in Maastricht for this entry and will delve into more specific stories in my next post. Thanks for reading!

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, The Netherlands