2016 | Reciprocal Exchanges Blog

Howdy from Texas! I’m a bit (okay, a lot) late on writing this post because of the craziness of the holidays and returning to school.

About a month ago, I returned to the good ole US of A and have now settled back into life at Texas A&M. Although I had some concerns about the impact returning to a life of normalcy would have on my mental state, I can honestly say the transition turned out to be much smoother than I anticipated, and I experienced little to no “reverse culture shock” (aside from the Texas heat, of course). It may be hard to believe, but after living abroad you will realize there are some things that no place does better than Texas. The southern hospitality, embrace of loved ones, and southern comfort food have undeniably made the past month a lot easier. Helpful hint: if you ever feel yourself starting to miss Europe, eat your weight in queso, and you will feel better. After having some time to reflect on my experience abroad, I wanted to use this last post to hopefully help prepare you for the unexpected during your semester abroad.

I wish I could tell you that every part of my experience abroad was incredible. Magical. Out-of-this-world-unbelievably-perfect-in-every-way. Unfortunately, in case you haven’t figured it out, life isn’t always perfect. Don’t get me wrong- it was amazing and magical, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. However, when moving across the globe for 4 months, a few bumps in the road are to be expected. Here are a few I encountered throughout the semester and how I dealt with them:

  1. News Flash: Europe gets hot. Upon my arrival in August, I was a little taken aback by the high temperatures and lack of air conditioning in most facilities. To avoid overheating, I would suggest packing a couple pairs of shorts and some short sleeves to get you through the first month. I also purchased a cheap electric fan at a drug store to put next to my bed to help me sleep at night.
  2. A rocky start.  Moving to a new place with new people, new food, a new language, a new culture, a new time zone and about 100 other new things, as awesome as it is, can also be a little overwhelming in the beginning. Give yourself some time to adjust. It’s okay to feel homesick. In fact, it’s normal. When you start to miss home, follow these simple steps:
    1. Let yourself feel a little sad for a minute
    2. Breathe
    3. Get out of your room
    4. Go look at something pretty
    5. Eat a pastry
    6. Remind yourself how amazing this place is that you get to call home for a few months
  3. The food… I may get some criticism for this, but Austrian food was not my favorite. I like food a lot, so this was very disappointing to me. Thankfully, there will most likely be lots of restaurants that offer options aside from the traditional food of your country. I personally just decided to cook most of my meals. Exploring international grocery stores is actually very fun! Also, when in doubt, McDonalds anywhere besides the US is pretty fantastic. Don’t knock it ’til you try it…
  4. My phone got stolen. I know. It was not fun. I was in Berlin on a trip, and someone on the subway platform stole my phone. Now, don’t freak out- these things don’t happen super often. However, if something of that nature does happen, I promise it will be okay. My advice is to always be aware of your surroundings in crowded places, and have a plan for if/when it does happen. If you go on a solo trip, just be hyper aware, and don’t put anything valuable in your pocket…
  5. You can’t see it all. I had a physical list of all the places I thought I would get to see during my semester, but in reality, I probably only made it to about 2/3 of those places due to budget and time constraints. However, I still left Europe having no regrets. Why? Because I instead ended up traveling to a couple random places that were less expensive but still incredible. My advice would be to have a couple of places in mind that you REALLY want to see, but also be flexible. It will be amazing no matter what. Besides, you should save a few places for the next time you decide to travel, because the travel bug is real, and you will catch it.

You may face challenges similar to mine, or you may encounter your own set of challenges. Whatever they may be, use them to learn and grow. Go into your semester with an open mind, be flexible, and most of all, enjoy the ride. It will be an experience you will cherish forever. Be bold, make it your own, try new things, and make the most of every day.

Best of luck and well wishes to any future exchange students out there! Auf Wiedersehen!

Categories: 2016, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

It’s been about 3 weeks since I’ve left Strasbourg and I cannot even put it into words how much I miss my beautiful city.
I miss my breathtaking cathedral, I miss the rivers around the city, I miss strolling around all of the wonderful parks, I miss the abundance of food and WINE, I miss the Christmas markets!!, I miss being around crowds of people at the Christmas markets, I miss being outdoors all the time and watching people ride their bikes everywhere, I miss the sustainable attitude that the French people integrate into their everyday lives, I miss all of the languages I grew accustomed to listening to everyday (even though I didn’t understand a word of any of it), I miss the freedom and independence I felt from living on my own in EUROPE of all places, but most importantly… I miss my friends.
I miss my friends so incredibly much. They became a part of my daily routine and I felt as though I was going to see them everyday for years to come, so it feels so strange now that we’re all worlds away again. But, of course, this doesn’t change the fact that we are all a part of each other’s lives one way or another and I now have friendships with some of the most amazing people I have ever had the honor of knowing. The people I surrounded myself with, people from all over the world whom I didn’t even know existed until about 4 months ago, they are what I fell in love with the most about this beautiful city of ours. I mean, we all fell in love with our city together. But my friends and the memories we all share are what make Strasbourg home. And I thank my lucky stars everyday that I got the once in a lifetime opportunity to become friends with all of these uniquely incredible people.
But enough with the sappy stuff. I do have to give a bit of a recap of my two weeks in December that I spent in Strasbourg:
• Classes/exams ended for me on December 7th. I got lucky because I only had one final exam (all of the rest of my classes ended before that in mid/late November or early December and they only required a final group project presentation). So, anyone who asked me “How many finals do you have?” or “When are you done with finals?” wasn’t very happy for me and my lucky streak… (*insert nervous/soft smile emoji here). I’m pretty sure I failed that one exam (I wasn’t too keen on studying for it, but if I had it would’ve been a piece of cake) but I had done well in the rest of the class and I only had to pass each course soooooo, eh I wasn’t too bothered. After Dec. 7th, I had one week left in Strasbourg so I decided to fill my last week with as much fun, friendship time, and Strasbourg-y things as possible!
• I visited local museums, went on a boat tour, and went to parts of Strasbourg I still hadn’t been to because I didn’t do as much of the touristy things as I should have when I first arrived!! Better late than never I guess!!!!!
• Christmas Market season was in full swing!! Since Strasbourg’s Christmas Market, or Marche de Noel, is the original and biggest in Europe, I enjoyed it for as long as I possibly could. My friends and I would stay there around the cathedral for hours on end! My favorite thing to do was walk around and see everything each little hut/stand had to offer. After going through security and getting our bags checked (they took extra security measures because of all the terrorist attacks/threats in France recently), my friends and I would walk around and get mulled wine (aka gluhwhein in German, vin chaude in French) and crepes as we passed by each stand with all of their cool candle holders, Christmas presents and decorations, knick knacks, trinkets, food, drinks, chocolates, souvenirs, and any other thing they had to purchase! There would be street performers and carolers entertaining crowds of people and we would all dance or sing along to whatever song they’d be treating us to. We would stop several times to get more food and have our cups refilled with vin chaude (oh how I miss being able to legally drink) and indulge ourselves with more of the smells, sights, and sounds that the Marche de Noel merrily provided for us. It truly felt like Christmas there, and I have never been happier.

I never wanted to leave.

After my two weeks in Strasbourg, I ended up traveling around the UK for a week before finally touching down in Texas on Dec. 23rd. Now, don’t get me wrong, as much as I wanted to see my friends, family, and my pup here, I D R E A D E D leaving Strasbourg, and Europe in general. I got here and it didn’t feel like Christmas anymore. Yes, I got to be with my family so that felt wonderful, but it was 80 degrees here!!!!!! I WAS SWEATING SO MUCH. The holidays should not be the time to sweat and wear shorts outside. But, alas, as much as it seemed like such a dramatic change being back home, I honestly felt like I never left. Everything felt the same. I remember in one of our departure meetings that “reverse culture shock” is something that some people have experienced after studying abroad, but not me. To be fair, two or three things had me floored and reminded me of “how America is”, but nothing surprised me too much, it all just felt normal. So now looking back, it’s so crazy to think that I was actually gone for 4 whole months living a whole different life. Like, the memories and experiences are there in my head, but when I’m the only one here to remember or recall them, it feels as though no time has passed at all. It’s a very surreal thought/feeling. But, even though I’m the only person here in Texas remembering everything, I still have my friends who are now all scattered across the globe to remember them with me with just a text, phone call, or video call away. I’ve kept in touch with my best friend/long lost Scottish twin Laura every day since I left Strasbourg, even visiting her in Scotland before coming back to the U.S. 🙂 And since being back in TX, we haven’t gone a day without talking and have already FaceTimed multiple times. 🙂 🙂

Looking back on everything, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world. Through all of the ups and the downs, the home sickness and the adventures, the confusion and the certainty, the heartache and the overwhelming happiness, I have found more of myself in these short months than in all of my adolescent/adult years so far put together. I am still at a loss for words to describe just how much I’ve cherished this experience and will continue cherishing it for the rest of my life. I miss Strasbourg and the people I met there so much. And if I had the chance to do it all over again, I would and I would not change a single thing. I have no regrets. And although everyone has their own experience, I CANNOT RECOMMEND STUDYING ABROAD ENOUGH. Even for just a week, or two, or six, or a semester, or a year! This has been the most challenging, eye-opening, and life changing experience of my life.

I truly won the lottery on this one.

– Carmen Pilarte
For any questions about my time abroad, Strasbourg, or studying abroad in general:
FB: Carmen Carolina Pilarte
Email: carmenpilarte@tamu.edu

P.S. Y’all know how I love lists, so to give an idea on how my travels went (especially since my parents told me I had to earn my traveling money myself and therefore I was on a VERY limited budget), here’s a quick overview on all of the villages/cities I traveled to in 6 different countries in Europe on a $1400 budget (it requires some sacrifices, but it’s definitely possible!!!):
• Strasbourg, France
• Kehl, Germany
• France – Obernai, Barr, Ribeauville, Colmar (Wine Route of Alsace)
• Switzerland – Zurich, Luzern, Iseltwald, Isenfluh, Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Montreaux, Shillon, Etoy, Lausanne, Nyon, Geneva, Bern (Switzerland Roadtrip)
• Munich, Germany (Oktoberfest)
• Eguisheim, France
• Paris, France
• Vienna, Austria
• Basel, Switzerland
• Amsterdam, The Netherlands
• United Kingdom
o England – London, Four Marks, Alresford, Winchester, Leavesden, Alton
o Scotland – Edinburgh, Dunfermline, Rosslyn, Stirling, Loch Venachan, Falkirk, South Queensferry, Anstruther, St. Andrews

Thank you for reading my blogs and sharing this experience with me! And if you plan on studying abroad, I sincerely hope these blogs helped! 🙂

Categories: 2016, France, Reciprocal Exchange

December in Copenhagen was so amazing! I truly enjoyed being there and seeing the great, bright skies. A Danish person will tell you winters are full of grey skies, scattered showers, and short days. This year, only one of those was true! The days are short, but the sun comes up. It was beautiful to be there when it was cold, crisp, and bright.

Classes pick up a lot at CBS during the December, if only because exams have finally come. It was so weird to go to school with no assignments or exams until the very end. I enjoyed the classes, but the motivation isn’t in full swing like it is at Texas A&M. I never thought I would ever say this, but I enjoy having exams throughout the semester. The best pro to this system is having a chance to improve when the next one comes around. But the final exam is all or nothing at CBS. It’s scary and nerve-wracking to have so much count on one exam.

Each of my four classes had a different style of exam. I thought they were all unique and had their own benefits.
1. The exam for my introduction to maritime economics exam was oral. Which means I went into a room, received questions, prepared my answers in a prep room, went back to the exam room and presented my answers. The examiners, one being the instructor for the course and one being an outside, impartial academic, would ask follow-up questions and prompt my answers. Following my presentation, the examiners deliberate my grade while I am outside of the room. Then they invite me back into the room to give the grade and some feedback about my answers.
2. The second exam I took for my economic growth and development course was something I was more familiar. It was a written, sit in exam. This means it was on pen and paper, which isn’t very popular at CBS. The exams there are more often given on a computer, but the instructor for this course petitioned the exam board for the class to take the exam on pen and paper. CBS has a special exam hall for students to take exams with many proctors and in a secure location, rather than just in classrooms.
3. Another exam style I took was simply submitting a research paper that was based on a case company. This was the format in social media management. The paper needed to be a maximum of 15 pages and answer a research question. This is something that can easily get away from you. I had all semester to write this paper, and of course I wrote it the week it was due. Don’t do this no matter how easy it is. Because more than likely your exams will be really close to your departure date. If you can submit your papers well before then, do it! The last days should be cherished.
4. My last exam was a mix of the oral exam from maritime economics and the research paper from social media management. For fashion entrepreneurship and business development I was to write a paper and present it in an oral exam. The paper was due about two weeks before the oral exam. Something different about this exam was that I wrote and presented the paper with a partner. I enjoyed writing this with a partner, because it allowed me to see another side of the world. My partner was from the U.K. and studies in London. We wrote the paper in British English, which was slightly difficult for me, but she carried a lot of weight in that account. The oral exam for this exam was simple, we introduced our paper for about five minutes and then heard questions about our research, our stance, and got to justify some aspects of how we wrote the paper.

These exam styles were really great, because they allowed me to feel like I was actually going to school. It sounds a little silly, but studying abroad feels like a big cultural experience, rather than going to class at Texas A&M everyday. I only had classes two days a week, which gave me so much free time. Most students in Denmark get student jobs for this free time, working as assistants at banks, government ministries, and other businesses. But I was able to experience life and every day joys of Copenhagen and Denmark.

It was cold, it was busy, and it was amazing.

Categories: 2016, Denmark, Reciprocal Exchange

So this is it, my last night here in Hong Kong. I have to say, its been quite a trip, but I’m more than ready to go back home. I miss my family, my girlfriend, and my friends. I’ve never been they type of person to miss anyone or get home sick. My home city being seven hours away from college station proves that, but this was different. Being on complete other side of the world has this psychological effect on you where you know you’re far from home, and you know there’s no way that you can get to family or the things you hold dear fast enough. This may seem kind of extreme, however you do learn a lot about yourself. You’re horizons expand past that of the “American Bubble” we built for ourselves. You see that the world is not all a big, and bad scary place away from the safe comfort of your home. When you travel, you get this high, and excitement that you have never felt before. You’re doing it alone, meeting new people, exploring new worlds you’ve only seen on TV, experiencing different cultures. That is what this experience is all about. That’s why going to a country that is extremely different will help you see the world at a different angle. If you’re reading this to determine if you want to do a REEP program here, I say take the leap. What are you waiting for?img_9817

Categories: 2016, China, Hong Kong, Reciprocal Exchange

I am getting to the end of my first exchange semester in Vallendar, Germany and I have had a blast. I have met so many new people that I will never forget and it will be very hard for me to say goodbye to all of them. This last month I finally put my traveling pants on and was leaving almost every weekend with a group of 3. The group was made up of a spaniard named Ismael that is in his masters, but we have been close ever since I got here in Germany naturally becoming friends because of the language of spanish that we both have as our native, but mostly because he is also a Real Madrid fan from Madrid. The other two components of the group are two italian girls (Debora and Eleonora) that we have become fond of because of the good times we have with them. The first weekend of this month we went to Copenhagen where I was also able to see my cousin that lives there and she was able to go out with us the 2 nights we were there.

img_0532 Copenhagen

We took a break the following weekend and took a day trip to Heidelberg that has a great castel with a view and a beutiful town where you can spend the whole day walking. That day I was also invited to the anual party organized by the Quischies, which are the incoming Freshmen. The party was held in the basement of the university and it was a great party with of course free beer.

img_0565Heidelberg

The next weekend I was lucky to be invited to Italy by Debora to the city where she studies at which is Milan. We had a blast and the best was that I was able to meet her friends and enjoy the city with people that are from there. I even go the chance to celebrate the graduation of one of Debora’s friends that graduated from Bocconi and we were invited to the after party. The weekend was great and then we had to get ready for the work in the week.

img_0593Milan Train Station

This last weekend I was lucky to go to London with the usual group and we did all the typical sight seeing including the Big Ben, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, but also a few alternative places like Camden town and the Tate modern that I recommend a lot! I love traveling with this group and I know we will continue to be in contact in the years to come. Now we have been back for the past week studying because we have exams coming up this week and the following. Unfortunately we have a test on the 22nd of December, but I will leave the 23rd for Berlin and spend Christmas with my aunt and uncle that are from my mothers side because my grandpa is fully German.

Until next time,

Diego Malagamba

Categories: 2016, Germany, Reciprocal Exchange

Staying in Strasbourg for an entire month through has probably been the healthiest thing I’ve done for myself since arriving.

My view from the tram stop on the way to class at EM!

My view from the tram stop on the way to class at EM!

What I mean is, I’ve learned more about myself and this city in this one month than I have in the few weeks I’ve had here in September and October between traveling to other cities/countries.

While I’m in love with traveling and exploring every new place I have the opportunity to discover, it’s almost been restorative to stay in one place and truly make it your home. I know in my last blog I said I was homesick for most of October, and now since the start of November, I’ve come to feel as though I truly belong here in every respect. Whether it be with friends, school, or just making my way around Strasbourg, I genuinely feel at home.

With that said, November has definitely been busy: all of my classes have culminated with presentations and reports due one right after the other, some of my classes have ended completely (yay!!), I went to see Flume in concert with practically EVERYONE in Erasmus, I had 1000 questions thrown at me about my thoughts on the election results, we put together and celebrated our own Thanksgiving, the Christmas Markets have officially opened!!, I had an awful fever in the midst of my busiest week, my friend group has changed a bit, I’ve gone out almost every weekend to keep having as much fun possible with the little time I have left, and like I mentioned earlier, I’ve learned more about myself than ever before.

 

Us girls before Flume!!

Us girls before Flume!!

ERASMUS Thanksgiving!!

ERASMUS Thanksgiving!!

FLUME

FLUME

To talk about a few things specifically, let’s start with the election. Being American, obviously, my opinion was sought after by literalllllyyyy everyone. From professors to other European students, from the days leading up to the election to the moment I walked into class the day after the election results, I was met with the same concerned looks full of worry and pity. Like I mentioned in my last blog, Europeans are not very fond of Donald Trump. At all. So when they asked who I voted for and found out that I did not vote for him, they were more than relieved. So, in the days before the election, mostly everyone here was convinced that the majority of Americans would vote for Hillary Clinton. … How confident they were in their assumptions. Well, like we all know, things didn’t turn out the way I and most Europeans hoped they would and once I walked into my Experiential Marketing class after the elections results came out, all I heard all day was, “Carmen. I am so sorry. How could this happen?” Or other comments along those lines. Now, truthfully, I was disappointed and genuinely sad for my country and friends back home, so I was pretty down for most of that morning. “God Bless the USA” was on repeat for me all day, in fact. Because although I was disheartened by the results of the election, I still have faith in my country and the love that we have for it. I still have hope that things will be okay. Time will only tell, I guess.

On another note, now that most of my classes are over, I’ve comprised a list of tips to keep in mind for anyone who reads this and is interested in or preparing to study abroad:

1. Know how to manage your free time wisely. After speaking with friends who have studied abroad before, I came to France knowing that the courses offered to exchange students are much easier compared to what I’m used to at Texas A&M. And since classes are only for a few hours once a week with the entire course being graded on a few assignments or one exam and/or presentation, the weeks fly by in the blink of an eye, especially with all of the extra time you spend not studying every minute of every day for multiple rounds of tests, quizzes, essays, etc. So the general concept of this tip is pretty self explanatory. Fill your time enriching your life with friends, new experiences, getting to know the city you’re in, and a bit of Netflix from time to time if you’re feeling up to it. 😉 Which leads me to… 

2. Do as much as you can!! Do something new and crazy. Go explore and discover. Try new foods. Listen to other points of view and learn about everything possible! Dance and sing your heart out in the middle of a busy street. Go paragliding. Learn a new language. Travel anywhere and everywhere. Don’t just say or plan, DO. Which also brings us to…

3. If you have the monetary means and time, travel as much as you can (but don’t forget to explore your own city/region/country!) Self explanatory.

4. Meet people from EVERYWHERE! My closest friends are Scottish, Czech, British, French Canadian, German, Brazilian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Italian, Danish, and American. And you know, Americans are cool and all, but you’re here to make friends from all over the world and be exposed to their unique cultures, customs, and languages – take advantage, expand your horizons!!

And finally…

5. Everything is temporary. Now this one may sound like a downer, but it’s really not. Yes, your time abroad is limited, but keeping that in mind will only make you appreciate it that much more. Your time is precious with the incredible people you meet, so it’s important to make your time worthwhile with them. Get to know these people, get to know your city and truly make it yours, get to know what it feels like to change, get to know yourself, get to know what it’s like be okay with going out of your comfort zone. Just get to know everything and everyone you possibly can because this opportunity is worth every second you have abroad. This being said, also remember that the bad stuff is temporary too. While it’s important to work out grades, classes, issues back home, etc., dwelling on worry and fear is too time consuming to focus on. These things are temporary and will all turn out fine in the end, so spend your time doing things you love with the people you love and let go of that which is out of your control, holding you back, or distracting you from making the most of your time abroad.

Personally, in the face of confusion and conflict, especially in regards to friendships and working in group projects/presentations, I’ve noticed that I’m more resilient than ever before. Thinking back, in previous situations, I would have obsessed over “what I could’ve possibly done wrong” and “how do I fix this?” and “how do I make these people happy?” But being in Strasbourg and going through all of this, I’ve learned how to let things go. I’ve realized that the only person responsible for my happiness is me. And with this knowledge I’ve come to discover the most impactful things I’ve learned/gained from this experience:

A Sustainable Mindset

France’s measures to promote sustainability and a cleaner environment are remarkable. Now that I’ve become accustomed to taking reusable bags with me to the supermarket and recycling on a daily basis, it’s hard to imagine that I could ever go back to such a lax outlook on waste management and eco-friendliness. This is definitely something I intend to bring back with me to the states and hope to instill in my everyday life.

Overcoming Fear

I knew from the beginning that being so far away from home for the first time with essentially zero travel experience, this exchange would be the biggest challenge of my life. The unknown scared me, my lack of “worldly knowledge” scared me, not having familiar faces with me in a foreign place for 4 months scared me, failure scared me. But despite all of that, I knew that if I could overcome this, I could overcome anything. And I am immensely proud to say that I have.

I only have 2 weeks left in Strasbourg (3 weeks left in Europe) and now I am dreading leaving the unpredictable, exciting, new life I’ve found and the people that have come with it. I have conquered some of the biggest fears I’ve ever had here, so now, I feel secure in myself and ready to take on my next big challenge.

Confidence

I’ve lost friends and gained them. I’ve stumbled my way through a French conversation. I’ve figured out public transportation in multiple European cities. I’ve learned how to budget and save money in a responsible way. I’ve taken an 11 hour bus to and from Vienna on my own. I’ve given more presentations in one semester than I have in my entire college career. I’ve found my voice again just by singing “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz at a karaoke bar in front of a bunch of people I had never met before in my life.

If there’s anything that I’ve gained from being here, it’s definitely the confidence in myself to face whatever life throws at me. Even if I fail miserably, embarrass myself horribly, or fall completely flat on my face, I still manage to pick myself back up and find a way to succeed. This kind of confidence has taken me years to develop, and although I’m still nurturing it and learning from my mistakes, I am now more than sure that I am capable of confronting anything that comes my way.

Patience 

With everything that has not gone “according to plan” or “the way I wanted it to”, I’ve never had so much patience for the world and people around me. Of course, this is easier said than done, but I genuinely feel as though I am able to adjust to unfamiliar situations and perspectives much more easily than I have in the past. I am more understanding and empathetic. I am more capable of keeping a level head in frustrating circumstances. I have the power now to maintain my faith in the fact that what’s meant to happen will happen, and what is meant for me will eventually come and guide me in the right direction.

 

Long story short, the time I’ve spent in Strasbourg, France has been eye-opening and just being here has been one of the most courageous things I’ve ever done. And I regret nothing. 🙂

 

November was my last full month here. It’s sincerely starting to feel and look like Christmas since it’s gotten so cold (lows in the mid to high 20s, highs in the 30s) and the Christmas markets have drawn thousands of tourists and visitors every week. I have 2 weeks left in Strasbourg (I leave Wednesday December 14th to travel around the UK for a week) and I have every intention to do everything I still haven’t done here and spend each day appreciating my time with my incredible friends.

Tree lighting ceremony to officially start the Marche de Noel de Strasbourg (aka Christmas Market)!

Tree lighting ceremony to officially start the Marche de Noel de Strasbourg (aka Christmas Market)!

I’m thrilled to see what these last few weeks in Strasbourg have in store for us!!

– Carmen Pilarte

For any questions about my time abroad, Strasbourg, or studying abroad in general:

FB: Carmen Carolina Pilarte

Email: carmenpilarte@tamu.edu

 

Categories: 2016, France, Reciprocal Exchange

As December approaches, my heart grows heavy. This semester is the most I have grown and learned about myself in my entire life. I have made some of the best friends I could have asked for and will leave with memories that I will never forget. To be perfectly honest, I’m nervous to go back to the same old town and the same old routine I have repeated for so long. Traveling has become the constant in my life and although I’m excited to see my family and friends again, I’ve grown to love the rootless lifestyle I have been exposed to. I had a taste and am now poisoned with the ache to see the world.

November in Norway brought my two favorite seasons. I often walked the parks, passing couples hand in hand enjoying the fall breeze and listening to children scream with joy as they buried each other in leaves. However, the fall leaves were covered by the first snow sooner than most expected. I’ll never forget the way my friends and I slipped down the icy hill to class and the snowball fights outside of my apartment window. Buildings are strung with festive lights and the Christmas market in town is bustling no matter how cold it gets, because there is always enough gluhwein to warm your insides.

snapchat-8402629070283520203                                                                christmas-market

My best advice is to experience the place you go for all that it is worth. School isn’t nearly as demanding here than at A&M, so while in Scandinavia I did everything I could to see what Scandinavia had to offer. Among all of the places I have been, I fell in love with the north in Svalbard chasing the Northern lights and dog sledding through the arctic of Norway. I had no knowledge about how to cope with the perpetual darkness of the polar night, yet I was immediately captivated by the clear air and far horizons. The darkness of the snowy mountains. The sheer power of the ice. I learned to observe in quiet moments; staring at blue shadows, straining to hear the faint cry of an arctic fox, embracing the chill of the wind whirling snowflakes around me.

20161112_112632                                                    northern-lights

I came here to learn about life and I found exactly what I was looking for. However, finals are beginning to loom over me and your entire grade is weighted on either an exam or a final paper so it’s important to manage your time wisely and buckle down when it matters. There were no assignments throughout the semester to balance out a bad grade on the final which weighs as 100% of the grade, so I would recommend keeping up with classes consistently to avoid destructive stress.

Yes, this has been the time of my life. However, I can’t deny that it comes with challenges. Your life may be moving fast, but that means everyone else’s life continues moving as well when your gone. A friend died in my absence, I lost a pet, missed an important time of my newly engaged sister’s life, and struggled communicating with my boyfriend until I doubted everything. Long distance relationships are hard and a few may crumble under the pressure. What I have learned is that complete independence is a time of growth and growth isn’t supposed to be easy. Every pain in your heart makes you more of who you are and that is beautiful. The people who matter will be there for you when you get back, so trust things will work out and don’t let the amazing opportunities you’re presented with get away from you because this is a once in a lifetime chance to take them.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

-H. Jackson Brown Jr.

img_20160929_192947                                     dog-sled

 

Categories: 2016, Norway, Reciprocal Exchange

So at the end of my third month here in Hong Kong, classes are starting to come to a close. Today is actually my last day of classes before we get a full week to study before final exams. After that, I fly home.

Last week, my girlfriend came during our thanksgiving break. It was honestly something we both needed given how far apart we’ve been from each other. She was lucky and daring enough to come across the world for a week to be with me and experience the culture I have described to you in previous blogs. I took here to pretty much all the main spots here in Hong Kong, and some different. I took her to Ten Thousand Buddha, Big Buddha, and we even went to Hong Kong Disney! Every bit of it was just extremely enjoyable and memorable. If there is one thing you need to try, its traveling with one other person your care deeply about. Her one week here was probably the most fun that I’ve had during my whole time here.

Even though I’ve had fun and made a lot of memory’s here in Hong Kong, I am ready to go back home. Because I’m doing my exchange during the fall, I didn’t plan any more travels after the semester is over so I can be back in time for Christmas. If it weren’t for that, I would probably have something else to look forward to and not be so home sick already. In any case, I only have 3 weeks left here, so I’m going to make them count!

Categories: 2016, China, Hong Kong, Reciprocal Exchange

Disclaimer: it is going to be difficult getting through this post without getting a tad teary-eyed, because this is the last post you will see from me until after I return from the beautiful Wien. Therefore, please excuse my mush.

The month of November has been filled with much excitement. With the absence of Thanksgiving, the Christmas season in Vienna actually begins in mid-November with the opening of Christmas markets throughout the city. Ornate Christmas lights line the streets, and the smell of Gluhwein (a popular mulled wine drink) fills the air. The Christmas markets consist of cute little stands, each selling a different assortment of Christmas-related knick-knacks and tasty treats. There are so many markets, it is difficult to go through the city without accidentally walking through one. It sometimes feels like I am living in the North Pole (minus the snow, which doesn’t really appear until January). The Christmas market madness is definitely something I will miss most about Vienna!

christmasmarket

Christmas Market at Rathaus

christmasmarket3

Christmas Market at Karlskirche

Walkin' in a winter wonderland

Walkin’ in a winter wonderland

With the end of the semester drawing near, much of my time has been overtaken with studying for exams, group meetings, and preparing for presentations. Believe it or not, study abroad does actually entail some studying. It is, however, still much less strenuous than classes at Texas A&M (although my German course isn’t exactly a walk in the park…). I was enrolled in four classes this semester- International Marketing, International Tourism, Global Branding, and German

I have enjoyed my classes for the most part. It has been interesting to learn about Marketing from a different and more global perspective.

Most classes here only meet once a week and consist of two or three major grades (midterm exam, group presentation, final exam) with very few assignments in between. This has allowed for ample travel opportunities, excluding the few weekends when my International Tourism class was scheduled to meet. Overall, I have not had to worry about school too much throughout the semester. However, it is important to spend time studying for the few exams you do have to take since they are weighted so heavily! Most of these major exams/assignments don’t take place until the end of the semester. In the next three weeks I have two final presentations and three finals exams. My last exam is the night of December 19th, and my flight home leaves the morning of December 20th.

Took a study break for a Friendsgiving feast!

Took a study break for a Friendsgiving feast!

In exactly three weeks I will be back “home”, a concept I can hardly grasp. After all, this place has sort of become my home away from home. I have found that one of the strangest outcomes of studying abroad is this very vague sense of “home“. One might think that being away from it for four months would have the opposite effect. In many ways, leaving for such a long period of time truly has made me appreciate many things about Texas that I might have taken for granted before (eg.: Tex Mex, pie pans, kolaches, Target, the English language, people saying “excuse me”, etc.). However, there is something about living on a different continent for four months and traveling to so many different places that turns your life upside down (in the best way possible). I know that when I finally board the plane towards Houston, I will be leaving a little piece of my heart here. They say home is where the heart is, so that must mean that part of my “home” will remain here as well.

 

art

Subway station art

The Albertina Museum

The Albertina Museum

State Opera House

State Opera House

ferris-wheel

View from the Wiener Riesenrad

So much self-growth occurs when you study abroad. It’s not just about the studying or the traveling. It’s a collection of experiences which serve as your own personal building blocks, and you don’t realize how much you’ve grown until it’s all said and done. I can distinctly remember the panic attack I had while going through security in the Chicago airport when it finally hit me that I was actually doing this. At that moment, I couldn’t imagine the fear subsiding, but walking through the beautiful streets of Vienna, taking the subway, shopping at Christmas markets and studying in Viennese cafes now feels like something I’ve always done. I can honestly say this semester has been the most rewarding, growing, adventure-filled, fast-flying, and unforgettable time of my life.

There is so much beyond our own borders worth exploring. I’m so thankful I’ve gotten to explore some of it. I hope you do, too.

Categories: 2016, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

Ciao!

The leaves are falling and the temperature is dropping. November has arrived and I cannot believe it. October has come and passed all too quickly. This could be considered the half-point of my journey here, however, to this day, I have already spent more time here than I have remaining. Even though I do miss my family and friends very much, I do not feel ready to leave. There is so much more I want to see, learn, and explore, and I feel like I am running out of time! However, I have been able to cross out a lot of items from my bucket list, so I cannot complain. ?

For instance, like Gelato for breakfast?

For instance, Gelato for breakfast?

Classes are becoming more difficult. I had a round of tests at the beginning of October, midterms during mid-month, another round of tests last week, and several writing assignments throughout. So we can say that October was a stressful month. Now is the times for projects. I have group projects for nearly all my classes and deadlines for those are approaching. It can be stressful to plan your travels around all of the schoolwork, however, it is do-able. Most of my teams are formed of exchange students, like me, who wish to travel on weekends. Therefore, working during the week is in everyone’s best interest. This past month, I didn’t have much time to wander around Milan as much as the first weeks. My weekdays mostly consisted of classes, studying or working on assignments, and, why lie, during my free times, Netflix. (BTW, Italian Netflix has Modern Family!)
Bocconi’s campus isn’t nearly a fourth of A&M’s. It is very small and, therefore, can make it very difficult to find a place to study. Italian cafes are not like Starbucks, where you can go and work for a couple of hours. Here you are to go in, drink your coffee, and leave. And no, Italians are not shy to tell you to leave if you’re working on your laptop and they need your table. Yet, just last week, I discovered an “American experience” café. It is called Arnold’s Coffee and here they do have many sofas, chairs, and tables, like Starbucks, where you can go and work for many hours. It is about a 15-minute tram ride from Bocconi, but I will definitely be going there a lot now.

Italy is geographically perfectly situated. It is very close to many other countries and makes it so easy to travel! My first weeks here, I traveled to Switzerland and Austria by train. Traveling by train is so, so, so much easier than airplane! You don’t have to worry about liquid limitations in your luggage, there is no need to arrive an hour before departure, and it is a lot more comfortable. When it comes to traveling by airplane, Milan has three airports. The ones where most flights depart from are Malpensa and Bergamo. These are about an hour away from the city and taxis charge 95 euros to take you there! Fortunat

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

ely, there are many buses that run every thirty minutes for only 8 euros. The third airport is Linate, and that one is in the city and can be reached through public transportation. Yet, I am not sure which flights arrive there as I have never had a flight depart or land in Linate. Through plane I have flown to Munich, Budapest, Prague, and this weekend I will be flying to Brussels and Amsterdam. In Italy, I have been to Venice, Lago di Como, Cinque Terre, and Bologna. The benefit of traveling through train is that you can easily make day trips out of cities that only require a day to explore. My friends and I traveled to Venice early on a Saturday morning and returned at night. We had more than enough time to see all the beauties of this city and, of course, do a gondola ride.

 

Cinque Terre has been one of my favorite trips so far! Cinque Terre, meaning five lands, is exactly as its name describes. It is made up of five small villages, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, that lie on the Italian Riviera coastline. You must do a hike of about an hour/an hour and a half to get to and from each of these villages. Well, there are 5-minute trains that run between them as well, but that’s no fun. Each of these villages has beautiful scenery and is composed of small, cute, very colorful houses. I recommend this place to anyone coming to Italy. It is beautiful and a lot of fun. I would suggest coming while it is hot so you can jump in the ocean, which is very cold.

Manarola

Manarola

Overall, October was a bit stressful month, nonetheless, I was still able to efficiently manage my time and travel a lot. Oh, and I did already experience my first cold. I got sick mid-month. However, thankfully it wasn’t anything too bad and was gone after a week.

Now, time to go get some pizza!?

W/ my roomie, Sydney. (Yes, you will find a pic of pizza on all my blogs?)

W/ my roomie, Sydney. (Yes, you will find a pic of pizza on all my blogs?)

 

Arrivederci, a dopo!

 

Andrea Valdes

TAMU ‘17

 

10 Novembre, 2016

 

 

Categories: 2016, Italy, Reciprocal Exchange