My experience so far in Barcelona has been full of fun, excitement, exhaustion, frustration, adventure and many many surprises! First off, my flight here was not bad at all. After an emotional goodbye with my family, it was basically smooth sailing. Beatriz and I flew Turkish Airlines and it was very nice. We got meals on both our flights, had access to movies, and the seats were relatively comfortable. We asked for a seat between us so we had a little wiggle room (highly recommended). The only not so fun part was the time it took to get here. I’m easily entertained by nature and all its beauty, so looking out the window in amazement was a good time passer for me, as well as sleeping. Once we landed in Barcelona, our host mom picked us up from the airport (This was so nice since we didn’t have to worry about taking public transportation at 11:30pm). We had no idea what to expect since we hadn’t met her before and hadn’t seen a picture or anything. Honestly, I was freaking out that she wasn’t even a real person, just some hacker who ran off with my deposit. But thank God she was real. She was waiting in the terminal with a little sign that had our names on it (just like in the movies). It was great. I speak very little Spanish so initial communication was extremely awkward since she hardly speaks English. That has improved with time though. Our apartment is in a more family oriented neighborhood of Barcelona, which I really like. Quiet at night, but not too far from the lively parts of the city. We both have our own rooms to retreat to at night, and the whole family shares one bathroom (not as bad as I was anticipating). We get breakfast and dinner every day, which is absolutely amazing! Homemade authentic food and we have the luxury of not having to figure out what to eat for dinner. I would seriously be starving if I wouldn’t have done a homestay. The grocery stores are completely different and so confusing! She has made us Spanish Tortilla, Paella, African chicken, cous cous, hummus, fried fish, pork, chicken, soups, salads, and a few desserts. All so so yummy! Side note, back in the US I refused to eat tomatoes. Here, I eat them all the time and LOVE them! Also, gaspacho is like my new favorite thing. Its a cold tomato soup. Sounds a little strange but SO YUMMY! To anyone who is trying to figure out where to live when they study abroad, look into a homestay! I get food, housing, linens, towels, and laundry washed every week. It is very reasonably priced! All the other students we have met are paying either the same price or more to live in normal apartments and they don’t get all the perks we do.

My first week here, I did lots of errand type things like getting a Spanish SIM card, opening a Spanish bank account, buying groceries, and figuring out my way around Barcelona. It is important to know that if you want to open a foreign bank account, you have to have a local phone number, I learned this the hard way and wasted sooooo much time. I am also very directionally challenged, so I am still getting the hang of navigating myself around town. I just have to go out into the city not afraid to get lost and not afraid to ask for directions. For the most part, people are nice and willing to help you. During our first week here, we took a Barcelona City Tour, which was a little pricy, but it helped us become more knowledgable about the city and its history, as well as provide us with a little layout of the city. We saw La Sagrada Familia, Tibidabo mountain, Park Guell, many Gaudi buildings, the beach, the Gotic quarter, and so much more. It was a nice investment.

Our first Sunday here was the first Sunday of the month, which means FREE MUSEUMS. We took this opportunity to go to the Picasso  museum. I thoroughly enjoyed our time there. It walked your through his life of painting and the exhibits were beautiful.

Our Second week here, we took our first trip out of the city. We went to Madrid and Toledo, Spain. Madrid was a lot of fun. We did a few touristy things and had the chance to meet up with a fellow Mays Exchange student who is studying there. My favorite restaurant there was called d’Norte, absolutely delicious. The city literally never sleeps! They stay up all night long if they go out. We got an early train out of the city at like 8am, and people were just starting to go home. It was insane. My favorite part of Madrid was the Royal Palace. HOLY COW!! So beautiful. the whole place was insanely ornate. Tapestries, porcelain, silver, gold, statues, murals, from floor to ceiling. Each room had a description plack that said what the room was used for. One of them said that the room was where “the king performed his daily changing ceremony”. haha. Basically his closet. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but it was so amazing, no picture would have done it justice. After Madrid, we went to Toledo which is a little town in a valley. SO CUTE! The streets were crazy narrow. Half the time I thought I was going to get ran over by the cars zipping through these little alley ways. I seriously don’t know how they were driving, the streets were so small. We enjoyed going to little shops, buying mazapan cookies, and taking a nature walk along the outside of the town near the river.

Since returning to Barcelona, We have had student orientation (less than impressive) and welcome week with the ESN (Erasmus Student Network). We have made lots of friends from all over the world, experienced La Merce (Barcelona’s big week long fiesta) and started school(biggest headache EVER). This past weekend we went to Tossa de Mar which is an adorable town along Costa Brava beach. Absolutely beautiful! Seriously felt like I was living in a calender. We went to a little beach that was kinda hidden so there weren’t as many people. There were cliffs on either side, the water was crystal clear and astonishingly blue, and there were really cool rocks to climb on and jump off. It was a little freaky being able to see big bright fish swimming beneath you, but a completely surreal experience. I loved it so much!

Now school is getting started and the chaos has officially set in. Classes are so difficult to get into, and the university is crazy unorganized. I’m sure in the end it will all work out, but I would be lying if I said I haven’t thought about just giving up at times. I’m not going to lie, its been hard. I miss my family, friends, and fiance. My class schedule is a mess and getting a complete makeover. My sleep schedule is still needing adjustments. I still get lost walking around town, and learning a new language is really difficult. But the “goods” truly outweigh the bad. I know I am growing through this whole experience, even though I feel like crawling into a whole sometimes. I have found a Church community here called ICB (International Church of Barcelona) and I can’t tell you how comforting it is as a Christian to have that support. God is the only thing that has remained constant through all of this and I am learning to rely on Him so much more. Getting connected at a church has provided me with so much peace, and helped my make even more friends, both local and international. If you are used to having a church community at home, I HIGHLY recommend getting connected to one abroad. Even if you don’t get super involved, its nice to have Sunday mornings feel like they do at home.

So as of right now, Barcelona is amazing and I’m slowly realizing how much it has to offer. Classes are crazy disorganized but getting simpler by the minute. Slowly but surely I’m establishing a community of friends from all over the world that are so much fun to be with! I can’t wait to see how my time here progresses and changes. Oh, I’m also planning on visiting some distantly related family that live in Italy within the next month so that will be what I write about next. I’m so excited! 🙂

Tossa de Mar

Tossa de Mar

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

¡Hola!

My name is Beatriz. I will be attending Universitat de Pompeu Fabra, a relatively new yet internationally ranked university that is quite well known in Europe. This being my first blog entry, I apologize beforehand if it is so long. I just have so much to say and I feel like I can only touch on everything briefly.

I have been in Barcelona for three weeks now, and although it may seem like a long time I still find myself learning the ways of the Catalonians.I was lucky that another fellow Aggie, Katrina, is also studying at UPF and so we have been going through the journey together. Classes have still not begun so we have been exploring the city and visiting the tourist sites. So far I have found Barcelona to be such a diverse city. As you travel through the city you can go from a small historic community, to large buildings and skyscrapers, to the Gothic quarter, to mountains, and to the beach. It is evident that the city is still evolving, with new up and coming neighborhoods. Katrina and me are both staying with the same host family. We live in an apartment with Teresa and her teenage daughter, Alba. Our apartment is located in El Poblenou, an area of the neighborhood Sant Marti. This specific area is a developing family oriented neighborhood that used to be filled with factories and business buildings. Just two streets away is the Torre Agbar, a beautiful glass building that houses the water services company.

Around the city there are numerous tourist sites. Some I think are worth paying to see the inside of and others are okay to just take look at. All around the city you will find famous Gaudi works. You can’t leave the city without going to all if not atleast some of his works which include: Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Casa Batllo, La Pedrera, Colonia Guell, Palau Guell, and Casa Vicens. Depending on when you come some of them might be closed for repairs. This was the case when I went to La Pedrera. There are other remarkable sites around the city such as the Tibidabo mountain, the Monjuic mountain, the Picasso Museum, and the Catedral de Barcelona just to name a few. It would honestly take someone at least a week to truly get a good glance at Barcelona. There are many other museums not mentioned that I haven’t gotten around to visiting.

After about a week of being in Barcelona we took a trip to the Madrid, the capitol, and Toledo a nearby town. Just a short recap on the differences between Madrid and Barcelona (based on my observations, I could be wrong):

  • Barcelona is more spread out
  • The streets of Madrid are so much busier
  • Barcelona has more tourists
  • People in Barcelona are more open to trying to speak English for tourists
  • Madrid has 3 really important and extensive museums
  • Madrid has a much better park (Parque del Retiro)
  • The nightlife in Madrid seemed to take place all over the city where as in Barcelona it is only in certain areas
  • The metro system in Barcelona is better maintained, more useful, and a bit cheaper
  • And OFCOURSE in Barcelona they speak Catalan as well as Spanish

In general, the cities in Spain have basic similarities. For example, unlike in the US people in Spain are so much more relaxed and never seem to be in a hurry. It is very common for people here to be late so everyone walks at a slow pace and takes 2+ hours to eat meals. Although I’m not very fond of people not being punctual, I do appreciate that meals are a social affair. When ordering at a restaurant it is not uncommon to not have drinks listed on the menu. I find that the only time they are listed is when they are house specials, which means its only cocktails. It is assumed that all restaurants serve the same non-alcoholic beverages. Nightlife is extremely different. Here clubs are open from 12am to either 5 or 6 am, and then there are also after hour clubs. So when I say that they like to party, I mean they REALLY like to party.

At the moment I am attending my university’s orientation week, which is filled with ERASMUS events. Through the program I have gotten to meet people from all over and am just now starting to keep track of people’s names and hanging out with. The third week of September Barcelona has huge festivities. The event is called Festes de la Mercè and they have events for families, musical performances, parades, fireworks, and free music concerts all over the city. If you are in Barcelona during La Mercè, you must attend the Correfoc (fire run parade), the Castells (human pyramid), and at least one of the fireworks show.

Well I think I’ve over done it for sure. Stay tuned for next month. ¡Hasta luego!

(Below is a link to my dropbox folder because there’s simply no way I could only pick one or two pictures)

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/k0d8lfbe61cxhls/AADLp5eZAPkdiXh5I0QB406za?dl=0

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

Howdy!

I was unable to write a blog post for April because I was not in France for more than maybe a week. The first week of April I only had three days of class, so some friends and I went to Corsica- an island just south of France for the rest of the week. After that, I was lucky enough to not have any class for the other three weeks in April. My sister came to visit me from Houston and we traveled all around Europe. We had the opportunity to go to 4 different countries and 8 different cities. It was by far some of the craziest, most unpredictable, exciting time of the exchange. It was also amazing to get to see my sister right before finals.

The month of May was not quite as exciting. When I got back from all the traveling May 1st, I was exhausted! It was really hard to go to class and get back on track. As soon as my sister left, I had to start studying for finals. So as mentioned before, there were no midterms, homework assignments, or any grades throughout the semester in majority of my classes (a few minor exceptions). This meant that all of my grades depended on my finals. Some of the classes had ended back in January or March, and now I had to go back to that material and re-learn it for finals. I had 5 finals in three days, which was a very light schedule compared to some other students who had 9-10. The finals were extremely difficult. They were all cumulative and free response/work-out problems. There were no multiple choice questions. Thankfully I recently found out that I passed all exams and classes. I am very excited about that!!!

Studying for finals took about three weeks out of May. That was not very fun. However, some of the other students and I would sometimes go down and study at the beach. My last week in May was a great week, but sad because I had to say so many goodbye’s. All of the exchange students had gotten very close throughout the last five months we spent together. We probably all went out together every night leading up to everyone’s departures. Different people were leaving at different times, so it was a lot easier having to say goodbye gradually rather than all at once. I made so many great friendships with people all over Europe, and I can’t wait to visit them again!!View of Nice

Categories: 2014, France, Reciprocal Exchange

Howdy!

First and foremost, the best advice I could give would be to heed all advice/preparation that Katy Lane gives you. All the “work” is for your benefit and eases the transition into what will be a difficult and changeful experience. Initially, I had intended to take a cab from Frankfurt airport to Vallendar. After running into another exchange student at a different school in Germany, she helped me realize how expensive a cab would be. I made a split decision and decided to take a train to Koblenz and get a cab from there in a means to save money. The only thing I neglected to take into account was that I had no preparation for this alternative route.  Had I followed Katy’s advice, I would have been much more prepared to take on this seemingly minute challenge.

Recommendations: Plan a mode of travel and stick to it as you will skip out on a lot of headache and anxiety. Also, have an ample amount of Euros on you and do not try and use the currency exchange at the airport as the exchange rate was 1.34 to 1 when I went and they tried to charge 1.54 to 1. Give your bank a heads up and have them give you Euros before you leave.

As soon as me and the other exchange student parted ways, I was lost. I realized rather quickly that the best way to ensure my safe arrival would be to humble myself and ask a bountiful amount of questions to strangers. I can’t tell you how many times I asked to make sure I was in the correct train station and that I was on the right train and finally, what stop to get off at to end up in the desired area. One of the first positive things that I noticed while navigating my way to Koblenz, was how helpful strangers were to point you in the right direction. The beautiful thing about Germany is that most natives speak English or enough to get you in the right place.  Finally, I arrived in Vallendar at WHU and was overjoyed to say the least.

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WHU is a located in a quaint town called Vallendar with a beautiful campus. The inside is strewn with history and has almost a medieval feel concerning their architecture. One of the more unique things you will learn about WHU is that the university hosts most of its parties in an ornate room where many of the company presentations are held. Summed up, WHU constructed a place to host these company meetings and to be respectful of Vallendar’s community, opened it to host WHU parties in a means to not disturb Vallendar’s residents.

The first poignant emotion that came after being let into my room in GoethstraBe 8 (InPraxi) was that of being home-sick. Katy gives you a great chart about many of the emotions that entail studying abroad and the truth behind it is surprising. Being someone I’d consider very “independent,” I was surprised how much of a struggle the first few days were. I believe a lot of it had to do with the two day lay-over before orientation, where you will make a lot of friends, but regardless, I was a mess for those two days. I believe this is an important aspect of traveling abroad similar to mission trips and the like. I was severely emotional but found a deeper sense of appreciation of people, family, and A&M that I believe I wouldn’t have had I not come here. I realized how invaluable people truly are. The appreciation I gained through that tumultuous period is something I look to bring back to A&M.

Recommendations: If you are afraid of this period of hardship, study abroad with others you know as I went alone. Also, make sure you are fully prepared to not have wifi for a few days so bring a good book or go out and travel to kill time. It is truly a difficult time, but the depth of appreciation is worth the hardship I believe. Make sure to go shopping and figure out where you can get materials you need as it is surprisingly difficult without the known stores such as Walmart. You’ll notice that to use a shopping cart, you must have one Euro coin to unlock it that you will get back after returning it. Also, you must pay for your grocery bags, so bring some in advance. For shopping, go to ALDI or LIDYL (cheaper stores) or REWE (more expensive/closer) and ask around for various other needs.

Finally, the orientation came and everything instantaneously got better. Being able to talk other students going through the same thing helped massively. Also, you will be surprised with how quickly you form your niche within the students. A surprising observation was how students from the same country naturally formed groups. I found myself in a group of students from USA as well as Canada. I have been blessed to get close to a group I deem the “Hong-Kong Crew” and love learning about their culture. Regardless where you end up, the orientation is fun and interactive. WHU has a group called the VIP (Vallendar Integration Program) that is tasked with answering your questions/ showing you a good time and updating you with events going on at WHU. The VIP initiative is very well organized and I would recommend you use them and your designated tasuchie (Name for International students) buddy. This photo was the initial room we all gathered in during orientation.

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Following orientation, our group went to Koblenz right away to get our sim card set up. Koblenz has a stunning mall and will have nearly everything you could desire for your stay. Below is a picture of the popular mall Saturn within Koblenz.

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I would recommend traveling with a group as the busing schedules and etc. can get confusing. A few important things to note: Germans hardly drink water or have water fountains! They also do not give water out for free. Also, if you order water, make sure to ask for “stilles washer” which means tap water or you will get sparkling water every time! Sparkling water here is huge! Another thing that stuck out to me was that beer is often cheaper than water at restaurants! You will notice that the German culture, at least at WHU, is very keen on beer and bread. There are delicious bread shops scattered throughout Vallendar and also another item that is very popular here for college students, the Kebab. It is not a normal kabob, but a swirly hunk of meat sliced and coupled with various vegetables stuffed in a piece of bread. It is very cheap and popular option among WHU students.

Recommendation: Go to IKEA and get all the home appliances there. I got a French press for ~5 euros!!!! Also, the coffee is exquisite and cheap here, if I do say so myself. I use splenda back home and they have this nifty tablet dispenser of something that tastes similar to splenda. Get a water bottle and carry it with you at all times or you will feel massively dehydrated.

School finally started and it is massively different to say the least. First off, you will have half as many days at class. I usually have Fridays off and more often than not, another day off. This is not to hint that they do not take school seriously, as that is absolutely not the case. WHU is very small and competitive. The student’s take school very seriously and study rigorously but are understanding of the tauschie’s desires to travel and etc. Another surprising difference, is that there is not tutoring abroad or office hours, unless requested, and no homework to benchmark your progress. There is one test typically at the end of the Quarter (one semester has two quarters) and that determines your final grade as well as the fact that your grade is on a bell curve with the other students in the class. Therefore, it is much more individualistic with your best bet being to ask another student for help, if you need it. The best part about this is that it opens up the door to travel. Also, the case studies are much more interactive than back home. The groups meet much more often and it is a great chance to experience a different kind of collaboration. WHU does a great job stressing the group work.

Recommendation: Do not take WHU’s acclaimed hard classes and research the courses you intend to take before enrolling.

After getting situated and settling in, I decided to first travel within Germany and go to Koln (Cologne). I went to their famous cathedral that towers over the city and go inside and stand in awe at it’s grandiose stature and history. We made sure to go out to eat at the local places and tried their renown Kolsche beer. I was struck by how much more often you would run across gorgeous statues or pieces of architecture just by walking through Germany’s cities. I neglected to realize how rich in history Germany really is and it has been wonderful to witness all of the landmarks that make Europe unique. Below is a picture of Koln’s DOM (Cathedral).

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The following weekend, me and a few friends decided to travel one of the most history rich cities in Germany, Berlin. You need at least two days and I would recommend three to take advantage of all that Berlin has to offer. From the 1/2 off museum passes because of being students at WHU, to the various landmarks that Berlin has, you will need an ample amount to time to experience it fully. Our group decided to purchase the museum passes being 12$ and also made sure to see the renown places such as the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Wall, and Holocaust remembrances. Below, you will see a picture of one of my favorite museums.

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Thus far, the trip has been incredibly changeful. I’ve never been more appreciative of my girlfriend, parents, and other friends that I more than likely took for granted. I also will leave with a greater appreciation for A&M that I could not have gotten elsewhere. I believe everything happens for a reason and am excited to see why I was put here and how I can leave an impact and Aggie imprint. Gig Em!

Categories: 2014, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange

Howdy!

It is now August and I have been back in the States since May 29th. It is definitely bittersweet being back at home. I absolutely loved my time abroad, and did not want to come back; however, I did miss my family, friends, and how easy things are being here at home. My first meal when I got home was a massive cheeseburger, with fries, and all the toppings you could possible think of. It was GREAT! I never once ordered a burger abroad just because I knew I would be disappointed, and I didn’t want to have false hope of great American food. The first few weeks I was home I was really happy to be back. I got to see my parents, and most importantly my dog! It is really nice not having to worry about bus schedules, and meals. Having a car and my mom cook for me were definitely a perk of being home again. I had a good time catching up with friends again, and hearing about all the things that had happened while I was gone.

The things that made it hard being back home at first was coming back to a normal life. When I was abroad everyday was new and exciting and there was always something different to see, or somewhere to travel to. It was great! Being back in Texas, most cities are further away from my house than some countries were from my apartment in France. I missed the friends I had made abroad and it was difficult to keep in contact with them due to all the time differences. I missed the culture and all the adventures I had the opportunity to go on.

Now that it has been a few months I have adjusted to being back at home and am happy to be back at A&M. I am excited to say I still keep in close contact with a few of the people I met abroad, and at least talk to most people in the program once a month. I was the only American in my exchange program and that definitely kept things interesting. I am excited to say that the other exchange students and I have made plans to travel in Europe again next summer. We planned to go to October Fest in Munich, but due to test schedule I am unable to go. I am looking forward for them to come visit me after Christmas, and then travel back to Europe to see them next summer.

Going abroad was the best decision I have ever made. I recommend it to every student. The experience I had is one that is hard to describe in words. The friendships and connections I made with people in foreign countries are ones that will help me not only in my career, but are ones that I am glad I had the opportunity to make. The amount of culture and adventures I got to experience are ones that I will never forget.

 

Windy day at the BeachTobi

Categories: 2014, France, Reciprocal Exchange

Now that I am back on Texas soil, I want to take a moment to reflect on my last month abroad. I celebrated July 4th this year with students from twenty different countries. I was at an International Student Ministries NZ conference and learned about the lives and cultures of these amazing students. This experience granted me a deep appreciation for the human condition and the unique challenges faced by individuals all over the world. I realize that no society or individual is perfect and we all share common struggles.

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After this conference, I travelled on the north island of NZ before heading to Australia. On the first day of my trip I visited Huka falls which were absolutely stunning. Although they aren’t very tall, they are incredibly powerful and move more than 220,000 litres of water per second. That evening I checked into a hostel and then went to visit the hot springs in a nearby park. The water felt just like a hot tub and was quite relaxing. The next day I went on to Rotorua which is full of geothermal activity. The entire city smells faintly of sulphur, although it isn’t bothersome. There are dozens of steaming geothermal pools throughout the city and the skyline is scattered with columns of steam. There were mere wooden fences around most of the pools with warning signs about the lethal temperature of the water. Kiwis definitely tend to downplay things! We also passed a playground called “Volcanic playground.” They certainly seem to embrace the fact that they live on a volcanic island!

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I finally got to go Zorbing! Rotorua boasts the original zorbing spot and this sport involves rolling downhill in a giant inflatable ball. It was much more fun than I expected! Rotorua is also home to Hobbiton (or the Shire) from Lord of the Rings. I had the chance to tour Hobbiton and was continually struck by the incredible detail and beauty of this place. Despite a forecast of rain, the weather was perfect and the bright green hillsides shimmered in the sun. I enjoyed being transported into another world and learning about the magic behind Peter Jackson’s films. I was shocked to learn that the tree on top of Bag End is completely fake! The ancient-looking tree is a fabrication of the Weta workshop! Weta even repainted the millions of leaves on the tree by hand when Peter Jackson did not like the original color. Interestingly, Weta also hired a women three weeks before they began filming at Hobbiton to put clothes on the clotheslines and take them off at the end of the day so the lines to look worn in and used. Their attention to detail is incredible.

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I flew to Sydney the next day and enjoyed the four days I spent there. I had the chance to see The Rocks again and the harbour. The Rocks are a neat historical part of Sydney with some original buildings built by the convicts who were dumped there. I went on a night tour and was amazed by the dramatic stories surrounding the area. I also visited the Blue Mountains outside Sydney which were absolutely breath-taking! The day trip also included a visit to an aboriginal center, wildlife sanctuary, and ferry boat ride back to Sydney by way of the harbour near the opera house. I hiked a bit near the Blue Mountains and the vastness of the outback is stunning. There were flocks of cockatoo birds flying around which merely looked like dots in the trees below. The wildlife sanctuary was also fun and I got to pet koalas, baby kangaroos and various species of birds. I also saw dingoes, wombats and Tasmanian devils for the first time!

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After leaving Sydney, I went to Cairns (pronounced “Kens”). Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef but ironically there are no beaches in the town itself! I did go diving and the fish and coral were incredibly beautiful up close. I even got to film a sea turtle from only a few feet away! After Cairns I went to Melbourne which is probably my favourite city in Australia. I stayed with friends who live there and it was nice seeing the city through the eyes of a local. Melbourne claims to have the best coffee in the world and it was indeed the best I’ve had! I visited the Eureka Sky tower which has gold plated windows at the top. The tower also offers a magnificent view of the city which stretches on for miles. The city was full of neat architecture and the buildings around the university were quite memorable. One of them appeared to be covered in green slime! I was also fortunate to see Les Miserables on stage in Melbourne. The lead characters were stunning and the newly re-staged version was brilliant. The backdrops for the show were subtly moving images from Victor Hugo’s sketchbook and paintings so the audience saw the play as the author originally envisioned it.

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After leaving Australia, I returned to Wellington for a couple of days. I stayed with an awesome family from my church and on my last night in Wellington I had to bid farewell to my friends. It was heart wrenching saying goodbye to friends from Japan, China and Brazil. We made Okonomiyaki, a traditional dish from Osaka, and watched movies as we reminisced about our semester.

Overall, I have been blessed immeasurably by my time in New Zealand. Here are more things I will miss:

41. Hobbiton and the incredible ingenuity of the Weta workshop

42. Hot springs and the way kiwis downplay the danger of boiling sulfur pits

43. Zorbing and the amazing capacity of kiwis to devise methods of creating adrenaline rushes

44. The remoteness of this country and its capacity to think globally

45. The temperate climate and year-around coolness

46. The relaxed and less pressure driven culture

47. Night markets and live kiwi music

48. Glow worms

49. Open roads and mountains which capture the imagination

50. The ability of this country to capture more than a piece of my heart

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Categories: 2014, New Zealand, Reciprocal Exchange

Howdy everyone!

It has been such an adventure in Copenhagen this past month! Meeting so many different people from all over the world, going on weekend trips around Europe, everything about this study abroad experience has been extraordinary! First of all i would like to make everyone aware that i picked Copenhagen for no particular reason. I wanted to study abroad, yes, but i did not know where and honestly i just thought going to a cool climate during the summer sounded nice! (Texas is so hot). But this town/city has become one of my favorite cities in the world!

The first thing you need to know about Copenhagen is the look both ways before you cross the street, but don’t look so much for cars, it’s the bikes that will run you over. Copenhagen is the number 2 city in the WORLD for biking. The bike lane looks like a sidewalk and has a little lip that separates it from the main road. The next most popular mode of transportation is the metro that runs through the heart of the city all the way to the airport. Its fast, efficient, and for the most part, gets you where you need to go.

The first couple days in Copenhagen i went into the city center to check out the local shops and scenery. Its absolutely beautiful down there, with buildings no taller than about 5-6 stories and cobblestone almost everywhere you walk.After the first two relaxing days it was time to start class. The professors that teach the courses here are from all of the world, one of my professors is from Oregon, while the other is from Australia. They both have very different methods of teaching which i think is great for learning. I want to give a bit of advice to anyone coming here to study abroad. When you go to class, i know you will have international student friends you have made prior to class (or maybe not) but i would suggest you sit next to a Dane and become friends with them. During class is about the only time you will have to meet one and its good to know about the culture of which you live.

The picture above is the mid summers eve festival in Denmark. In Sweden its like a second Christmas, but it’s not as big in Denmark. But we still got to see a fake witch burn!

After the first week in Copenhagen i went on a trip to Malmö, Sweden. It was great to already see a new culture, but we went on a Sunday and most everything was closed (In Europe, most shops close or close very early on Sunday). But we still did a few things around town!

We had the fortunate opportunity of being here while the world cup was going on so a couple days a week a few of us would go down the public viewing they had here in Copenhagen and get in on some of the action!

After the second week of class, 3 other friends (who i all met here) decided to fly to Bornholm, Denmark for the weekend. Bornholm is an Island owned by Denmark that is right below Sweden. We all thought it would be fun to rent bikes and bike around the island. 120km we did, in 3 days. It was a lot of biking and very exhausting, but i believe it was worth it for some of the views and sites we got to see! Here’s a couple pictures from Bornholm!

The beach we are standing on is the best beach in Denmark, the sand is perfectly white and squeaks when you walk on it because it is so smooth.

The was by far the most exciting thing we did in Bornholm. A zip line in the lake below!

And back to Copenhagen! There are many different pizza places around Copenhagen and many different ice cream places, some making there own waffle cones right in front of you!

The 4th weekend i went to London with the same group of guys, but i won’t get into details but i will share this picture!

You might here stories of Danes being shy and reserved, but in my experience, they are very friendly and love to help/talk to you! I would encourage anyone who wants to study abroad to come here to Copenhagen, its a beautiful city and has a lively nightlife!

Thanks for taking the time to read this and i’ll be posting again in a couple weeks and I will have some pictures of Norway!

Categories: 2014, Denmark, Reciprocal Exchange

Five short months have passed and I am already back in the US. I am grateful for my experience and believe I have changed and matured significantly since my arrival. I made a great group of friends representing every continent except Australia (but one had lived there for a while). Having so many viewpoints surrounding me constantly challenged my own causing me to change some and reinforce others. Checking out of my dorm and closing my Catalunya Caixa account went smoothly, and while there are cheaper places to be found in nearby areas (I recommend Cerdanyola or San Cugat) I was very happy with both the dorm and my bank.

 

Before I left, my brother Jonathan came to visit, and we rented a car and went on a thirteen day, seven country Eurotrip. The trip was long, about the same distance as driving from coast to coast in the US. The first and last country we visited was predictably Spain. Here I was mostly in my element and was able to navigate us to where we needed to go to rent a car and show Jon around a bit. I even managed to play translator when my roommate chatted with us about the basic American topics like guns and the wars in the middle east. We started our journey with no cellphones that worked outside of Spain and no data plans. We used, and I highly recommend, the offline map called GPS nav & maps. It cost about $5.99 for the app and the map of Europe.

 

Our second country was Andorra, the sixth smallest nation in Europe. It was pretty, mountainous, and small. We really only stopped for breakfast and continued on.

 

Our third country was France. Here we visited Normandy and the point where Rudder stormed the shores with the aid of grappling hooks fired by rockets. We also visited a small vineyard and purchased some nice local wine. I was amazed at the number of windmills and nuclear power plants we passed here. One thing to consider when going through France by car is the tolls. They can run very expensive. I suggest googling how much they will cost and including that in your finances. Tolls easily cost us about 150-200 euros when all was said and done.

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The fourth country we visited was Belgium. This is another country we were really just passing through, but it was beautiful and had nice food. One of my favorite memories abroad is being in a bar in Belgium watching a losing Belgian team score two points to win in the very last minutes. The reaction of the crowd was priceless.

 

The fifth country and our main goal was The Netherlands. Here we took the boat tour and learned a lot about the history and culture of Amsterdam. We also saw old windmills and ate local food.

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After a quick pass through Germany for the autobahn and  some delicious German food, we headed to our seventh country Switzerland. This turned out to be the absolute best part of our journey. Hiking in the swiss mountains was beautiful, I don’t think there is much out there that can compete with their snow capped mountains, multiple waterfalls, old buildings, and plentiful wildflowers.

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Both the eurotrip and my study abroad were long, and at times stressful, but I wouldn’t trade the experiences, lessons, and friendships from either for the world. Thanks for reading.

 

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

It is strange nearing the end of my time in New Zealand. It has been a full semester and I’ve learned more than I thought possible. I also cannot think of a single negative experience during my entire time here.

This blog post is delayed because I have experienced more computer problems recently (surprise surprise!). My internet adapter, Microsoft Office and computer mouse all quit working within days of each other. I got it sorted but immediately after finishing my last final exam, I left Wellington for two conferences and only now have Wi-Fi again. The day I left Wellington was rather interesting. My final went well, but I also had to be packed and moved out of my house that afternoon. An awesome family from my church came to pick up my luggage which they are holding for me until I leave for the states at the end of the month. I am traveling now around the north island and then for a bit in Australia.

The conferences were absolutely amazing! The first one was with the student ministry Student Life and the second was with International Student Ministries NZ. I met students from throughout New Zealand and others at the second conference from over twenty nations! I had a blast learning about their cultures and lives and studying God’s word alongside them.

In addition to final essays and assignments, much of my time lately has been consumed with medical school applications. I’m nearly finished! Also, my last concert with the New Zealand School of Music Orchestra a few weeks ago went well. I thoroughly enjoyed performing with this group and will miss them. A few weekends ago, I visited Auckland and got to see the All Blacks Rugby team defeat England! My flatmates and I took an overnight bus to get there—a ten hour drive—and it was an experience indeed. The game itself was a blast! The score was nearly tied the whole time and the first ‘try’ of the game didn’t happen until the last play. Rugby is unlike any other sporting game I’ve been to and the All Blacks are incredibly tough! The British fans were fantastic—there were eight people in front of us all dressed as the Queen of England. You can’t make this stuff up.

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That weekend I also went canyoning which is definitely one of my top three favorite things I’ve done here. It is a strange feeling jumping off cliffs and repelling through waterfalls. My flatmates and I also visited a hot water beach near Auckland. I was completely skeptical and told my flatmates there was no way they were getting me out in the winter rain during low tide (10 pm) to go dig a hole in the sand and expect it to fill with hot water. Well how was I proven wrong! Simply walking on the sand felt warm despite the cold temperature outside and the water which came out of the ground once we dug a shallow hole was hot enough to turn my back red!

After returning from Auckland, I finalized class assignments and also planned another trip to the south island with a few international friends who had not been there before. We made a great team—Lauren from Texas, Gabrella from China, Carlos from Brazil, and Ryoichi from Japan. We had an amazing trip to Christchurch and Queenstown and I got to see some neat places I missed last time I was down there. I also got to go skiing at Mt. Hutt near Christchurch! The snow wasn’t the best because it is still very early in the season but I had fun nonetheless. And Carlos had fun as well—it was the first time he’d ever seen snow! One of the things I will miss most about New Zealand is how welcoming and kind everyone is. The women who ran the hostel near Mt. Hutt was awesome. She called me frequently before we arrived to give me road condition updates and mountain weather reports. She also made us soup one night which was so kind and generous—truly like a mother to us!

Christchurch itself was an interesting city. The earthquake in 2011 has left the city still in disrepair. However, out of this, great creativity has flourished. The historical Christchurch cathedral still has a gaping hole in its side, but the Cardboard Cathedral (designed by a Japanese architect) has been built nearby. It was absolutely stunning: peaceful and full of light. It looked as if the entire building could be lifted and moved.

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We also visited the container mall which is a collection of stores housed in boxcar containers. They are painted bright colors and are stacked in interesting ways—they can be transported easily and were an innovative solution following the destruction from the quake.

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On our way to Queenstown, we stopped through Tekapo and visited the lake, chapel and nearby conservatory. It is difficult to describe in words or pictures how truly breath-taking the scenery was. Miles and miles of colors and mountains and nature. It was impossible to take it all in. I couldn’t help but stand in awe of the Creator who imagined such beauty.

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We arrived in Queenstown just as the fireworks were going off. Of course we picked the craziest weekend to visit Queenstown. It was Winter Festival and the quaint little ski town was buzzing with people. We didn’t spend much time in the town itself, however, and on Saturday drove to Glenorchy which takes you through some of the most incredible parts of Middle Earth. Again, words and pictures cannot describe this place. It hardly seems real. And we found Paradise. Really, that was the name of the nearby town (Appropriately named!).

 

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When I got back to Wellington for my last week, I had assignments to finish in addition to other important things such as visiting the zoo and the Weta workshop (in the same day!). I finally got to see kiwi birds!! The Weta workshop was incredible. It is the design studio which created the props, costumes and sets for the Lord of the Rings and dozens of other films including Narnia, District 9, and King Kong. I am truly in awe of the creativity of the Weta geniuses. Their resourcefulness and thoroughness never ceases to amaze me.

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I now have fifteen days left before I leave for the United States. Leaving this country will probably be one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. The beauty of this country found in its people, landscapes and creativity has captured more than a piece of my heart here. I know I will be back, it is just a matter of when.

So to continue my list of why I love this place:

31. Less hierarchy than in the states—professors, students, bosses, and employees all use first names when addressing each other.

32. Seeing the real Middle Earth and realizing Rivendell is a mash up of two very distinct places (Wellington on the north island and Fiordland on the south)

33. 6 meals a day: breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, supper (aka chocolate).

34. Fergburger (a famous burger place in Queenstown)

35. Cookietime cookies

36. Being challenged and stretched by new ways of thinking about the world

37. Final exams which are more interesting than stressful and I get to apply what I have learned

38. Outdoor guides who genuinely love what they do

39. Beautiful sunsets over the city, forests, and harbor

40. Hills—I really will miss climbing the hills. They are endearing in a way.

Categories: 2014, New Zealand, Reciprocal Exchange

This post is being written from my apartment in Madrid on my last night in the city before I leave to travel Europe for seven weeks. It’s crazy to me that the semester is over. It went by so fast! And yet, I’ve gotten to experience so much. Basically I’m blessed beyond belief. I’ve loved every second of my time here in Madrid and this city will always carry a special place in my heart. It’s pretty ironic that I am at last feeling so at home in Madrid, and now I have to leave. I know my way around, I’ve mastered the public transportation system (Whoop!) and I know all the good restaurants. I achieved the status of a local (nearly) and that thought is so wild to me! I’m proud of myself and all the things I’ve learned this semester. Things about the world, about people, and most importantly about myself. If you have the chance to study abroad I’ll only tell you one thing: DO IT. It’s been one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made. And while it comes with it’s own set of struggles, they are easily outweighed by the rewards.

I won’t say goodbye just yet. I’ll be back in Madrid at the end of June with two friends. I’ll get to show them all the things I love about this city. And then I’ll be back again towards the end of July to make that leap across the Atlantic and finally make it home to Texas. I can’t wait. I’m so excited to travel this summer but I think I’m even more excited to some back home. I can’t wait to give my mom a hug, go to the movies with friends, go to church with my family, eat Whataburger for days, and see Aggieland again! I can’t wait to give out that Junior wildcat on game days, (A-A-A Whoop!) to put a penny on Sully, and to just be engulfed by the support of A&M again.

I am blessed to have had this beautiful experience of a semester. But I get to go home to a place that’s even cooler.

Texas, y’all.

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain