2015 | Reciprocal Exchanges Blog

As of today, its been three weeks since I landed in Houston. I am so excited to finally be able to see my family and friends after such a long and exciting time in Vienna.

I knew that reverse culture shock was to be expected, and I was actually looking forward to it! As soon as I got home I started my car and dusted off my driving skills, stalling out at stop signs along the way. After that I took a trip to HEB and gawked at the aisle sizes, cereal choices, and most importantly mourned Blue Bell. I didn’t expect myself to marvel at free ice water at restaurants, but I did.

What also hit me was the sadness of leaving behind great friends and places. Now, Facebook helps me watch their lives continue in every corner of the globe, some even found jobs and relationships to keep them in Vienna. The most important thing that I can always tell myself is how I am able to adapt to any city I move to.

Moving long distances or hearing different languages every hour of every day no longer gives me anxiety but instead gives me excitement because I know that there are so many opportunities to make connections with people. I’m even looking into job opportunities in the UK.

I hope you found some useful insight out of these sporadic posts… and if you’re ever in Vienna, please swing by Travel Shack and start a conversation. It was the best choice I’ve ever made.

Danke,

Andrew Quinn ’16

Categories: 2015, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

Before leaving for my trip to Dublin, I was worried about adjusting to life abroad. I was shocked to have a pretty easy adjustment and at how quickly I fell in love with the culture and lifestyle of Ireland. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was how difficult it would be to readjust to life in America. Of course it was hard to suddenly be miles away from the people I had spent 8 weeks with and grown to love so dearly. And of course it was equally as hard to suddenly not have activity 24/7 and to not be able to walk out my door and explore a new city. But even harder, was it to leave the culture and life of Dublin that I had gotten so attached to.

 

I miss the welcoming and kind Irish people. I think the untrue stereotypes of the Irish people don’t go too much further than the Guinness. These stereotypes, however, fail to correctly illustrate a population that is genuine, easy-going and welcoming to all. I was lucky to have encountered some of the best people I know at my office in Dublin. These people embraced me with open arms and for that I couldn’t be more grateful. With my Irish coworkers I was able to debate the happenings of the world without judgement from anyone. We all had very different opinions and it was incredible to learn about so many different outlooks on life.

 

I miss the busy city life. One of my favorite things was my walk through the city on my way to work in the morning. Walking through Grafton Street allowed me to pass by many cafes and restaurants with employees preparing to start the day. People were delivering shipments, setting up tables and welcoming the first customers in. Then there were the other business people hustling on their way to work. The excitement in the air made me motivated to take part in the working world of Dublin. Being back in the suburbs of Austin is just a little different from this experience… I love home life, but there is just something about the hustle and bustle of Dublin.

 

I miss the heritage. Dublin is so rich in culture. I loved asking Irish people something about their culture; asking someone to explain gaelic games, Irish dancing, pubs, their wars and history, would turn into a long conversation and would probably include a few pints of Guinness. Everyone was so in touch with their country’s history which was so cool to observe. I love the spirit of the Irish people and that is something that I miss terribly.

 

Above all, I miss the experience itself. I couldn’t have been more lucky with my time in Dublin. The people I met, my job, the city itself, all came together to make my trip to Dublin the best 8 weeks of my life. I think a little bit of me will always miss Ireland and the memories I made there, but I am excited to take everything I’ve learned with me the rest of my life.

Categories: 2015, Reciprocal Exchange

After talking about the struggles of my first day in Germany, I want to share some pictures of some of the fun things I experienced the next few weeks.

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Our first weekend, a few of us visited the Ludwigsburg Palace. So beautiful!!

 

One day I made a trip to the Wilhelma Zoo and Botanical Garden. Honestly, I did not think I was interested in gardens until I experienced this place. I think I spent hours just looking at how green and beautiful everything was.

One day I made a trip to the Wilhelma Zoo and Botanical Garden. Honestly, I did not think I was interested in gardens until I experienced this place. I think I spent 5 hours walking around and taking in the beauty of it all. You can’t get enough of it!

One weekend we traveled to Lake Constance. The water was so blue which was new to me. Lakes in Texas are always brown. This was probably my favorite memory.

One weekend we traveled to Lake Constance. The water was so blue which was new to me because lakes in Texas are always brown. We got to visit Meersburg, an old city on the lake, and I loved seeing the history in the buildings. This was probably my favorite memory from my trip and when we all became so much closer as a group.

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Our very memorable bus ride!

Everyone in front of Hohenheim!

The whole group on our last day at Hohenheim!

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Our ceremony/wine tasting to celebrate the completion of our course and our last night together.

Every part of this trip ended up being part of one of the best experiences I will have in my life. I met so many wonderful people not only from America, but from France, China, Vietnam, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, and South Africa. Who knew that people from completely different places could actually have so much in common. I will never forget the experiences I had with this group and I encourage everyone to study abroad at some point in their life. Going without knowing anyone was a little scary for me, but I wouldn’t do it any differently. If I had gone with friends, I really don’t think I would have given myself the chance to get to know each and every one of these cool people the way that I did. Branch out and do something crazy!

-Abby Smith

Categories: 2015, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange

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Beautiful, isn’t it? The university of Hohenheim resides within a grand old palace built during the time of dukes and duchesses in southern Germany. One walks through the halls wondering of all the history that has passed, and then they turn into a classroom with an overhead projector and WiFi. That’s the strange beauty of Europe. The people here live not apart from their history but thoroughly within it. They live and breath the stories of generations before them and hope to take some semblance of wisdom from those tales.

When the great volcano of Mount Tambora erupted, sending fiery rock and dark ash into Earth’s atmosphere, none could have predicted the effect it would have on the poor farmers of southern Germany. This was 1815, and the volcano was across the world in Indonesia, so when the skies darkened and unnatural cold enveloped the land for years no one knew quite why. This rare climate event caused great famine here, and the people’s beloved leader, King William I, wanted to protect his kingdom from future disaster. He decided to establish an institution of study in one of the old, then abandoned, palaces of the region. In 1818, the University of Hohenheim was established, originally purposed with the task of researching new, improved methods of agriculture so that no famine could strike the people once more.

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The city of Stuttgart has flourished ever since, providing its people with an economy the envy of the rest of Germany. I came here three weeks ago, and have come to love this bustling center of friendly people and ancient treasures. Every corner there is something to do, someone to greet you, or a song to be enjoyed. Never have I been to a place more fond of festivals, concerts, and the outdoors. Of course, one can hardly discuss the pleasures of Germany without mentioning the marvelous beer and fresh baked bread, the two of which I have enjoyed more than I care to admit here.

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My time here is spent studying Entrepreneurship and Innovation, two topics that perfectly top off five years of business study at Texas A&M. We bounce between classroom lectures from some of the finest minds at Hohenheim and Stuttgart, and on-site visits of companies that are happy to welcome us into their offices. We have seen small start-ups, massive multi-national corporations, and intriguing R&D departments. Stuttgart is home to Mercedes and Porsche, so we have had the opportunity to speak with some of these companies and visit the local museums dedicated to their achievements.

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Finally, we have gone on a few road trips. Jumping on a train here is so easy a free weekend can turn into a castle-exploring excursion in no time. I’ve stared out over the Neckar River from the battlements of ancient castles, swam in the icy waters of the beautiful Lake Constance, and canoed down calm canals in the village Johannes Kepler studied astronomy. I could write pages upon pages about these experiences, but it suffices to say that my time here will be a permanent fixture in my memory and a source of great pleasure to recall. I’ll discuss other, more interesting things about this journey during my closing post after my return to the states, but for now I will say bye.  As I’m writing this, a light rain has broken out and the view from the window is too peaceful to miss

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Categories: 2015, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange

Hallo!

In preparation for this trip, I did what anyone would do and made a Pinterest board full of all the adventurous things I wanted to do and amazing places I wanted to explore! In hindsight, I realize I probably should have focused more on practicing the (very confusing) Norwegian language and becoming familiar with the modes of transportation in Oslo. Luckily, the program coordinators at BI were very thorough with their instructions and even met us at the train station to help us take the correct metro line and give us directions to get to our dorms. Here’s a picture of me outside of the gorgeous and very modern university after 12 hours of travel, arriving at the dorms, and going to the grocery store to finally get some dinner (because everything seems to close early in Norway, especially in the summer)!

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My first impressions of Norway was that it was cold but that was pleasant after leaving the Texas heat, the people were generally tall and reserved, and everything was beautiful! My first impressions of the program was that there would be a nice balance of academic work and social activities. I was extremely excited to start going to class because I was about to be surrounded by almost 90 other students from all over the world with extremely different backgrounds than myself. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about how well I’d mesh with everyone. The first weekend there was an optional hiking trip to Nordmarka, a beautiful forest in Oslo full of trails for everyone to enjoy, and my nervousness was put to rest. During the hike conversation flowed and friendships started to form already. Here’s a picture from halfway through the hike including students from America, Australia, Lithuania, The Netherlands, and Hong Kong!

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Lecture in Norway is undoubtedly different than in America. Our professors insisted we call them by their first name and we got a fifteen minute break for coffee and tea every hour without fail. It was much more discussion based and there were many more breakout sessions with groups to gain a better grasp of the material and to spur discussions. The first week of class we dove into intercultural theories by Hofstede, Project GLOBE, and Hall. We discussed sophisticated stereotyping and how when done properly, stereotypes can be extremely helpful in identifying with cultures. Discussions in class led to discussions between students and we already started to develop a better idea of our similarities and differences. I hope by the end of this program I will gain a better grasp on intercultural communication and improve my skills when interacting with people much different than myself. I also hope to be pushed out of my comfort zone and to learn not only about the world, but about myself as well during the process. I’m definitely excited to see how the different experiences of this trip will change how I view the world around me!

Thanks (takk) for reading!

– Tricia Chittenden

Categories: 2015, Norway, Reciprocal Exchange

Two weekends ago me and my fellow Dubliners took a trip all the way to Rome, Italy. We had an absolute blast, however, honestly we still felt like Dublin was home. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy lots of pizza, pasta and hot Italian sun while we were there.

We managed to pack a whole lot into our two day trip. We saw the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Vatican and got to squeeze in lots of food and laughs. It was an incredible experience to explore a new city with some of your best friends.

One thing we weren’t prepared for was the lack of air conditioning. Even as a Texan who feels like they can put up with some pretty intensely hot summers, I was toast. Literally. When we touched back down on the green, Irish ground we were happy to be welcomed back by some cold weather, even though the little taste of sun was wonderful!

Besides having the time of my life in Italy for the first time, I learned two things on my weekend trip: my desire to continue traveling and my love for Ireland.

I envy the way that Europeans can simply hop on a plane and see another country in a matter of hours. I would love to visit the places that my coworkers have and learn about the other cultures in the world. Getting lost on the streets of Rome was a treat and I would love to spend my days wandering around new places. Yes, on this trip I saw what the life of a European would look like, jetting off for a weekend to explore a different country… aahh the life.

I also learned that Dublin truly is a home away from home for me. Every time I take a trip to another place in Ireland or another country, when I come back I am instantly comforted. Seeing the familiar streets of the city and the welcoming Irish people I feel an excitement inside that is just hard to beat. As I am nearing the end of my time in Dublin, I am sad to leave this place that has been my home for the summer and the people that have become my family. I hold onto the dream of coming back someday – for a long time or even just a visit to this place that will always hold such a special place in my heart.

Categories: 2015, Italy, Reciprocal Exchange

Hi!

I arrived in Stuttgart, Germany on June 30 to study at the University of Hohenheim for three weeks. I must say the first day was an eventful one. Our group met with Katy Lane before we left and she gave us advice that I should have taken more seriously. I think I just assumed I would be able to figure it all out immediately, which was very dumb on my part… First off, definitely bring a towel with you, just in case your accommodation does not provide them (I used a t-shirt as a towel the first couple of nights because I could not figure out where to get towels). Another piece of advice that I failed to follow- look up the area that you are staying in and make sure to save maps on your phone before you go in case you do not have access to wifi or data. MOST IMPORTANTLY, bring meds and lots of vitamin C because you never know how your body will react in a different environment. The good thing is, there are pharmacies all over the place so if you forget something you can always stop at one close by.

Unfortunately, I was sick when I got off the plane so I did not get off to the best start. I landed in Frankfurt and took a train to the main train station in Stuttgart. The transition went well and Katarina, one of the Hohenheim students, picked me up at the train station and walked me to the hotel. From there I was on my own until classes started the next day. I settled into my room and tried to figure out what I should do with myself for the rest of the day. I decided that I was going to try to find my way around the city (this is where maps would have been very helpful). Feel free to laugh at me because I can’t help but laugh at myself looking back on it. I did not have access to internet the first day, so I just thought I would wing it.

First, I decide I am hungry. So I go to the first restaurant I come across because I am desperate and of course they speak English because everyone speaks English (no). I walk in and sit down and realize that my waiter does not know any English so I just point to something and hope it will be good.  I then ask for wine, but he brings me water (confused but okay). Luckily my food was tasty and I guess this is when the jet lack kicks in because I actually fall asleep at the table..I wasn’t out for more than a couple of minutes, but being the only person in the restaurant at the time, it was pretty embarrassing. So I immediately pay and get out as fast as possible to explore some more.

Next I decide to try to figure out the public transportation. Most of the time I took the Ubahn to get around. I decide to just get on a train and get off at a stop that other people seem to be getting off at. All I managed to do was lead myself to the middle of nowhere behind some random apartments. I would suggest having some sort of destination when doing this.. Finally some friendly guy guided me to the main station which led to all the stores and main shopping area. The rest of the day I spent walking around and trying to familiarize myself with the area. I mostly just kept going in circles and did not get very much accomplished. I ended up just going back to my room discouraged and hoping that the next day would be better because we would be meeting everyone here for the summer school. I also think the exhaustion from jet lag and being sick probably made me a little delirious.

I should probably mention that this was my first time in Europe and traveling alone. If you have any experience with this, most likely you will not run into these difficulties. If this is also your first time traveling, please do not let this freak you out because after the first day everything turned around for me. Also, I am not the best with directions in unfamiliar areas and did not take proper measures to prepare for this trip. I just wanted to share my struggles to hopefully prevent anyone else from running into these issues.

At the end of the first day, I really was wondering if I made the right choice by deciding to study abroad. Katy had warned us that it could be frustrating at first, but I was not expecting to feel this discouraged. However, to my surprise, my mindset completely turned around the second day. I got to meet the other students from all over the world and we had someone familiar with the areal showing us around. It was much more comforting to have other people to figure things out with. Over the next few days I became so comfortable in the city and decided that I would be okay here for the next three weeks.

I can’t even explain in words how wonderful my experience turned out to be, but I will give it a try in my next entry. This is my first time blogging so I hope you at least got some entertainment from my initial experiences.

-Abby Smith

Categories: 2015, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange

I can honestly say I don’t know what I did all March?? The first week was the week after our winter break and my travel excursions. We had a fairly light week of schoolwork in week one after the break so that was a relief. However I had a crazy busy school week during week two. Then…oh wait now I remember what I did all of march, I had a VBA final due that sucked up all my time for a bit, it was incredibly incredibly hard, I swear I did all my learning while I was creating my final program. Then we had two group projects due during the 2nd and 3rd week.  We even worked on them during the weekend… I must have blocked those two weeks out because it hurt my brain just thinking about them. But then, during the 3rd week people started inviting us to dinners where they cooked stuff from home. First it was some soup from The Czech Republic, then was a dish the Norwegians made with cod I believe? I’m not sure but it was delicious. Followed up by my personal favorite…Indian food night! Then there was the attempted pizza night via the Italians but due to their lack of oven and my lack of space it turned into pasta night (with homemade cheesecake) am I making you drool yet?

After this well appreciated feasting I made it through the final week and headed to Italy for the extended weekend. We road tripped along the coast from Rome to Naples and then Pompei and back. It was all good minus the teeny tiny bit where my phone got stolen in Napoli. Note to self, don’t let your friends get drunk in Naples. You will have to try and get them home safely. You will pull your phone out when the taxi doesn’t take you all the way to the hotel to google maps your way back. Your drunk friends will draw attention to you guys and you WILL get mugged. I’m going to spare the details from here. But I can’t say it wasn’t an experience.

As March came to an end I realized so is my trip. I only have a little less than 2 months left including all my final exams. It’s a rather depressing thought that I have to leave this place…especially now that the weather is warming up and the sunshine plus the beach just adds up to bliss.

I wish I could upload pictures from Italy but well I lost them all with my phone so you’ll have to use your imagination or… well theres also google.

Ciao till April ends!

Categories: 2015, France, Reciprocal Exchange

I have now been back in Texas for about a month and it has been an interesting adjustment. I miss everything about Europe: the sights, the people, the food…especially the food! But there were definitely things about the U.S. and Texas that I missed. It was a crazy semester, but if given the opportunity I would without a doubt do it all over again!

Here are a few pictures of the places I was able to see and the people I had the pleasure of meeting.

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My advice to those considering studying abroad:

1. Do it. Without a doubt it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Besides the incredible cities and scenery, I learned so much this semester that has shaped me. You will learn problem solving skills (like when your train gets cancelled and you are stuck in a small German town for the night), how to communicate with those who don’t speak the same language as you, how much you can push yourself out of your comfort zone…and so much more.

2. Do your research. Make sure you consider all of your options and chose the one that seems the best fit for you. Don’t just consider the country, consider the program, the timing of it, how intense the classes will be, how easy it will be to travel from wherever you are…all of those things make a difference.

3. Embrace the country and the culture. Wherever you go will be so different from life in the U.S., but take the opportunity to really embrace your new home. It will make it easier to make friends, and really learn about the culture. Don’t be afraid to try new things. If the country you choose takes 2 hour naps every day, try it out! If the country you choose walks around with bread on a daily basis, try it out! Studying abroad is your chance to experience something different than what you are used to. Take advantage of every opportunity.

4. And finally, enjoy yourself. Don’t get too hung up on the little things. At the end of the day it won’t really matter if you don’t get the dorm room you want or your flight gets cancelled. Don’t stress about the small things and make the most of the time you have.

Studying abroad is a truly unique experience, one that is hard to explain. My time in Strasbourg was amazing, and I strongly encourage anyone who has the opportunity to take advantage of it.

Categories: 2015, France, Reciprocal Exchange

Its so strange that I have less than a month left in Vienna. Classes are winding down and more friends are saying goodbye as they move back to all corners of the globe. This past month was filled with tests, presentations, and readings. I mainly stayed in Vienna and spent time with friends ticking off every item on our giant list. While I thought these last few weeks would be rough as great friends leave, I realized one thing. After only 5 months, I have friends all around the world! I can already see myself saying things like “My Dutch friends always say…” or “Brazilians love kebabs more than anybody” when I’m back in the states pestering my friends.

I miss the US so much…my dog, driving on long highways to name a few things. Nonetheless Vienna has felt more and more like a home with each passing day. Whether its walking through Karlsplatz after class, saying hallo to the the gelato vendor by Prater (who now knows me by name and knows my order, yikes), or even bumping into other exchange students in the merkur food market in Westbahnof. Everything is fitting into place and becoming comfortable.

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This semi assimilation over the past few months has proved something to me. I’m capable of moving anywhere, and with time and effort I can make friends, appreciate the local culture, and enjoy the small things. This fact really puts my mind at ease when I think about interviewers asking me which office I would see myself at. The anxiety of moving across the country doesn’t even come compare to this experience, because I know that by getting through the tough first few weeks of this exchange I can handle any move. I’m definitely not the same person.

Categories: 2015, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange