Copenhagen started feeling like home around the middle of October. That was when I truly understood the roads, the system of biking and walking and catching trains, shopping in small supermarkets, and overall I got the “hang of things.” It was also, October was the first time I ever truly saw the seasons change. In about two weeks Copenhagen burst into a gold wonderland of falling leaves, crisp air, and even pumpkins showed up everywhere. It was exciting to see the changes that so many associate with fall, yet we miss in South Texas. I grew up in San Antonio, and the leaves never really changed, not until they fell off in December. It was a kind of wonderland for me to see.
Copenhagen city parks come alive in the Fall!
October was also a mid semester break at CBS! For many students this means a week of traveling, catching up on reading, or simply exploring. However, this break was consumed by an exam at CBS. Academics at CBS are based heavily on final exams, meaning there are no mid semester exams, assignments, or quizzes, but each class ends with a final assessment. CBS also has a system of quarters and semesters, meaning some classes end in October and other begin in October, while many last through December. I am enrolled in one quarter class, which had an exam in October, the last day of the mid semester break.
This exam was an oral exam for my maritime economics class. The strucutre of an oral exam is actually quite nice, once you get over the fact that you could be asked a very few number of questions that could cover everything you learned in over 20 class sessions. I prepared for the exam simply by reviewing my notes and reading the summaries at the end of each chapter of the textbook. For oral exams, CBS has the course professor and one outside examiner, to make the grading more fair. It was great to finally take an exam (funny to say, but true). CBS has so few assessments in the courses, but they really are enjoyable classes that are taught in a different way than those at Texas A&M.
Another thing about this exam, and the courses at CBS in general, is the grading scale. Danish courses are graded on a 7 point scale, -2, 0, 2, 4 , 7, 9, and 12, where 2 is passing (however Texas A&M requires a 4). This is a pretty basic scale, but still strange when compared to A, B, C, D, and F.
It is now getting very cold in Northern Europe, as one would expect. Copenhagen had snow a week ago, but has since started to warm up! The best part of the snow was experiencing it with my parents, who visited from the U.S. at the beginning of November. If anyone can visit you on your study abroad, welcome them! It is so fun to show off your new home to parents, friends, and even siblings.
This month started off with a great German trips by visiting Koblenz which is 10 minutes on bus from Vallendar. This is the city where the two rivers, the Rhein and the Mosel meet. We walked around and took the cable car to a old fortress that is on the other side of the Rhein in the highest point where you can get the best view of Koblenz and the surrounding Rheinland-Phlaz area.
This is the view from the fortress.
These weeks were a little bit more calm after the crazy Oktoberfest experience and I went hiking near Koblenz to visit a castle called the Dragon’s castle.
After some studying and a bit more relaxing weekend we made our way up to Holland to visit Amsterdam! It was a blast and we rented an Airbnb between 15 people that came along for the fun.
Great time with some great people.
After Amsterdam’s fun times we had to study for about a week to prepare for exams. If you come to the university of WHU you will soon realize that the semester is split into quarters. Therefor we had final exams this week where we in Tamu would have mid-semesters exams.
After exams we were able to relax a little bit and we took a day trip to Trier and Luxembourg City. It was a great way to enjoy the beautiful colors of fall.
The picture on the left is the Porta Negra in Trier that was one of the 4 doorways to the ancient city.
The most anticipated event of the year for the Vallendar community took place the first weekend of November and it is called Euromasters. Many different Business Universities from all over Europe come and participate in sports events ranging from rowing, soccer, basketball to cheerleading. The events started on Friday and ended on Saturday, but from Thursday night to Saturday night there were full on parties with the many students from all over Europe. I am living in a fraternity house that hosted 50 students from France and Belgium and I was able to meet a lot of cool people. Also I hosted 3 of my good friends from Stuttgart, one being the guy I met in Texas A&M when he came to study abroad. The parties had so many people that they had to be hosted in an airplane hangar! The weekend was a success and this past weekend I took a relaxing trip to visit some old family friends in Saarland, which is the smallest Bundesland(State) in Germany on the border with France and Luxemburg. I was glad to see them and we had a fun weekend visiting the region and on Sunday watching the local soccer team win 6-4 in the regional league.
This was in the gym where they hosted the sports events. When the picture was taken, there was a mascot battle taking place between the universities.
Stay tuned for the next month. Today we are going to head to Copenhagen, next week Milan, and the first weekend of December is London!
It is definitely a breathtaking sight, Fall in Europe. It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of when thinking about what the season is supposed to be like – leaves changing into the most beautiful reds, oranges, and golds, then eventually falling to the ground and giving your daily walks an extra crunch to your step, the days are cool and crisp, the streets are festive with holiday decorations, and the people are all out enjoying every part of what the season has to offer. We don’t get this in Texas. At most we get a few fallen leaves, but summer just seems to blur into winter one day after some kind of cold front in mid-November.
Enjoying a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower!
Visit to Vienna to see my fellow Aggie Morgan Hampton!
Actually, there are a lot of things that I’ve observed this past month that make Strasbourg and College Station/Houston seem like they are worlds apart. Here are some examples to illustrate:
Having cash on hand is a MUST because a lot of restaurants or food stands only accept cash. Back in Texas, I would rarely ever have cash on me and just pay for everything with my debit card. Here, the only places you can really count on to have a card machine are American food chains, nicer, “sit-down” restaurants, most bars, and grocery stores.
Everyone smokes cigarettes. And when I mean everyone, I genuinely mean that most, if not all, of the people I’ve met smoke daily or on occasion, depending on the social setting.
The language barrier isn’t as much of an obstacle as I thought it would be. Strasbourg is actually a very “English-friendly” city. And if I come across someone who doesn’t speak any English, I have some wonderful friends who are always there to help me out or there is always someone within distance who speaks even a little bit of English who can help translate. For the most part, the French here are open to practicing their English with you. They may be a bit shy or self conscious about it, like how I feel when I try to speak in French, but with a welcoming attitude and some reassurance, we’ve always found a way to communicate and have interesting conversations!
In the U.S., it’s pretty much mandatory to keep dogs on their leashes at all times when they’re in public. So many of the dogs here are so trusted by their owners, that they are constantly off their leashes! Being an extreme dog-lover, it always warms my heart to see them walk so freely and loyally next to their owners. 🙂
Bicyclists and bicycle lanes are immensely respected. So much of every sidewalk is dedicated to bicyclists, sometimes leaving small, narrow walkways for other pedestrians. Also, both pedestrians and bicyclists are given priority when crossing the street, 99% of the time. Being from a country where everyone just wants to get to where they’re going as fast as possible at whatever the cost, it’s so unusual to see practically every driver give the right of way to a pedestrian, even if the pedestrian is in the wrong and it’s the driver’s turn to go.
The cars here, judging by what I’m used to seeing in Houston and College Station, seem to be stuck in the 90s/early 2000s, with the majority of them still being manual and using stick shift.
Air conditioning is basically non-existent throughout Europe, but radiators are everywhere. When I arrived in London and then in Strasbourg a week later at the end of August, this was my biggest issue to deal with because temperatures had reached record highs at that point, meaning that it was as hot here as it was in Texas. In August. With no A/C. When I was so used to having it every single day to cool off from the scorching summer heat back in TX. This was a huge adjustment, but luckily I bought my own fan and it got cooler soon after arriving, so I didn’t have to suffer for too long!
Baguettes are definitely everywhere. The French love their baguettes!!
Meals are seen as a social event, meaning that the French like to sit down, take their time, and really enjoy their food with the people around them. Meals can sometimes take hours, especially depending how much wine there is to drink!! So all of this basically implies that eating on-the-go is typically frowned upon and people can give you some judgmental looks. Trust me, I’ve learned from experience. But at the same time, if I am really in a hurry, really hungry, or really don’t care (which is most of the time), I will still occasionally eat my food while I’m walking around Strasbourg! Maybe it’s the American in me, maybe it’s because I love food too much. Either way, I’ve definitely learned to embrace this concept of meals being social events and I appreciate now the importance of taking your time to sincerely enjoy a meal and the company you’re with.
Obesity is rare. The French are considerably more active and eat healthier in comparison to the United States. Despite having a lot of bread and pastries incorporated into their diets, the opportunities for the French to gain a lot of weight is also extremely low here. With all of the bicycle lanes, lack of drive-thrus, limited options for fast food, and short distances between businesses, homes, etc., the French eat healthier foods, have healthier meal options, and walk/bike on a daily basis.
When travelling on French highways, traffic is nonexistent and the views are beautiful because of all the French countryside between major cities. The highways are also not bombarded by businesses, billboards, and lights right next to them, so at night, all you see is darkness around you, with the only lights coming from the few passing cars, distant light poles, and the stars above.
Besides being a paying customer at a restaurant or gas station, sometimes you have to pay to use public toilets… very annoying and inconvenient at times when you don’t have 50 or 70 cents and really have to go to the bathroom.
Class attendance is mandatory for all of my classes, all of which have a sign in sheet for the 20-30 students enrolled in the class – very different from the classes with 100+ students that I’ve taken at A&M, which are obviously very easy to skip if you’re not feeling up to going to class that day.
EVERYONE WANTS TO KNOW MY OPINION ON THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION AND WHO I VOTED FOR. They all are so in-the-know of everything that’s going on in the States, and a lot of them held watch parties for the presidential debates!! Also, very important note, every European I’ve come across hates Trump and breathes a sigh of relief when they find out that I did not vote for him… Interesting.
And last but not least, my very favorite: DOUBLE CHEEK KISSES. Being a Hispanic American, I’m used to a kiss on the cheek to greet other Spanish speakers. But for some reason, the double cheek kiss is so much more fun! 🙂 Any time I meet someone new, greet, or say goodbye to my friends (guys and girls), I always do the double cheek kiss and I secretly hope to bring this back with me to the U.S. after I’m done here. A girl can dream!!
Despite all of these differences, Strasbourg has finally started feeling like home. I don’t feel like a visitor anymore. I’ve claimed Strasbourg for my own and genuinely feel as though it is my city. Crosswalks and public transportation have become so familiar to me, getting around Strasbourg has become second nature. The people I see every day are so ingrained into my daily routine and life, I feel as though I’ve known them for years and that I will seem them every day for years to come. But, of course, this isn’t true – I have about a month and a half left in Europe and every day that goes by, this reality starts to hit me harder and harder. As much as I don’t want to leave and am trying to make the absolute most out of rest of my exchange, I can’t help but think about how excited I am to go home and see my family again. October has definitely been my homesick month. For some people, they are homesick for a couple of days, for a week, or maybe even less or more. But for me, it’s been this whole month. It was more prominent at the beginning of October, but each day that goes by, I keep thinking, “I’m one day closer to seeing my family and friends back home.” I feel pretty guilty about this on some days, just because I know that once I’m back to my “normal” routine in Texas, I’m just going to want to be here and I’ll miss France constantly. That’s why although I’m excited to see all of my loved ones back in Texas, I’ve been trying extra hard to enjoy the rest of my days here and continue to enrich my time/life in France with all of what Strasbourg has to offer. So, I’ve decided that November will be my “Strasbourg” month. I’m not travelling anywhere outside of France until after exams are over, so I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can about my city in the time I have left.
October has been a roller coaster month for me. It’s been unbelievable how much I’ve learned about myself in the face of adversity, frustration, and longing, especially in such a short period of time adjusting to a new home. It may seem as though I’m not enjoying myself, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I am truly happy. I’m happy with who I am, who I’m becoming, who I’ve surrounded myself with, what I’m learning, and how I’ve been spending my days here. Life just happens, you know? Adjusting to a new home takes a lot of time, effort, stress, worry, and improvisation. This “frustration stage” is typical of a lot of people who study abroad (we were warned about it in one of our pre-departure meetings before leaving). But I’m glad to say that this stage of my exchange (not the exchange itself!!) is coming to an end.
The phrase “The grass is always greener on the other side” keeps popping into my head these days. But so does the phrase “It’s greener where you water it.” I know right now I might want to be back in Texas, but I know once I’m there I’ll just want to be in France. So I’ve come to the decision that I’m going to make the most of my days here, however I decide to do that, and take in every moment I have with my friends so that I can leave with no regrets, only the fond memories of everything I’ve had the opportunity to do and the lasting relationships with the people I’ve had the honor of meeting here in France.
So, here’s to the last 2 months in Strasbourg, they’ve challenged me more than I can put into words, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything! And here’s to the next month and half, let’s see what happens next! 🙂
Halloween in Strasbourg with Nicole!
Notre Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg!
– Carmen Pilarte
For any questions about my time abroad, Strasbourg, or studying abroad in general:
It is now nearing the end of October in Vienna, Austria. The leaves have changed colors, the sun has hidden behind a seemingly constant covering of clouds, and I can sincerely say that I have no idea where the last month has gone. My time here has officially exceeded its halfway mark, and with that comes a strange feeling that can best be described as a combination of sadness and comfort. I am missing my loved ones more and more with each coming day, but the thought of leaving this place that has become my home in less than two short months is too much to bear. Many changes and new adventures have come about since my last entry. I wish I could discuss all of these adventures in great depth, but that would require a lot of time on my part (and a lot of patience on yours), so for the purpose of this blog, I will spare you the details and simply discuss what I have learned over the course of the past few weeks.
LESSON #1: FEAR NOT
Throughout my life, I have always lived more on the cautious side. As much as I hate to admit it, I have never been the person that fears nothing and throws caution to the wind. That being said, embarking on this whole study abroad adventure was a pretty big deal for me, especially considering everything that has been going on in Europe as of late. My parents certainly weren’t exactly thrilled with the thought of me frolicking all around Europe, and I certainly don’t blame them. Before I left the States, I had several people telling me to be safe and reconsider taking so many side trips. I also had several telling me that letting the current situation keep me from doing the things I wanted to do would be idiotic. Honestly, I found myself somewhere in the middle of these two viewpoints- wanting to “throw caution to the wind” but also wanting to keep caution in my back pocket.
There were several places that I had always wanted to go but that my parents didn’t feel comfortable with me going right now. Upon my arrival in Europe, I had pretty much decided on only traveling to the “safe places”- the ones untouched by conflict, but after being here for a little while, that began to change. I want to let you in on a not-so-secret secret- the media tends to make everything look worse than it actually is, which in turn strikes a lot of unnecessary fear into a lot of people. I’m not trying to downplay the situation and say that everything in the world today is perfectly dandy, or that you shouldn’t be careful and watch your surroundings. However, I do hope to ease a few worries, whether you are a future traveler or a parent of one. I have done quite a bit of traveling in the past couple months and plan to do quite a bit more. I have taken trips with only one other girl friend, and I have flown by myself, and I can honestly say that I have yet to feel unsafe anywhere I have gone. I have friends who have traveled all over, and I have yet to hear of anyone feeling like they were in an unsafe environment either. On a whim, I decided to join a friend in London, a place I had originally crossed off my list, and if I had let fear keep me from going, I would have missed out on experiencing a city that completely stole my heart.
So, if there is a place that you have always dreamed of going, don’t let fear stop you! Obviously, you should use your best judgement and avoid putting yourself in a situation that is clearly dangerous, but spending a semester abroad is the perfect opportunity to see the things you have always dreamed of seeing. Chances are you won’t have the opportunity to do so again for a while, so I challenge you to throw caution to the wind (but also keep a little bit in your back pocket), and I promise you will have an incredibly rewarding semester!
LESSON #2: MAKE IT YOUR OWN
It’s probably not news to you that everyone is different. We all have different personalities, different passions, different priorities, etc. I think it’s incredibly important to keep this in mind during your semester abroad. Studying abroad is a big decision that everyone makes for their own reasons. Some do it to learn about a different culture, to learn a different language, to be independent, to pursue their goals of a career in international business, or even just to spend a semester partying (yes, there are those people). I would encourage everyone to think about why they are choosing to embark on this journey before they leave, and keep it in the back of their mind throughout their time overseas. As for me, I wanted the ability to explore places I’ve never been and experience different perspectives. However, upon my arrival I found that a large majority of exchange students here just wanted to go out to clubs every night and sleep all day. At first I felt guilty every time I didn’t want to go out because I wanted to wake up early and do something the next day, but then I remembered the reason I came here. I had to remember that this is MY semester abroad and that I should do what’s right for me in order to make the most out of it.
Do the things that make you happy. Travel to the places you want to travel. Spend time with the people you enjoy spending time with. Don’t be afraid to do your own thing, even if it’s not what everyone else is doing. Own your time abroad. It’s the chance of a lifetime to go out and do the things you’ve always wanted to do, so make the most of it and make it your own.
LESSON #3: GET TO KNOW YOURSELF
There is truly no better way to get to know yourself than leaving behind everything familiar and moving to a foreign country. At times it can be scary and oftentimes difficult to leave behind the life you knew and trade it in for a new one for a few months so to speak. In College Station, having time for myself wasn’t really a thing. I was always either in class, studying, at a meeting, at dance practice, spending time with friends or the boyfriend, never really finding myself wondering, “Well what the heck am I going to do today?”. Coming here, this was a strange thing to experience. With no organizations to join and a much lighter course load, it’s something you experience quite frequently. At first, I kind of despised it. I’ve always liked being busy and often feel guilty having a day all to myself, but I recently learned that having time to myself, for myself, by myself is a pretty amazing thing. I absolutely adore spending time with the people I’ve met here, and I cherish the trips I’ve taken with friends, but I’ve also learned to cherish those moments when nothing is going on and I have free time for myself. Today I went to a really cool coffee shop where I wrote in my journal and began typing this blog post, and then I went and strolled through a park with hot chocolate in hand. By myself. And loved it.
Before coming here, I never really thought about studying abroad as a chance to get to know yourself, but it’s turned out to be one of my favorite aspects of this semester. So as silly as it might sound, I would encourage everyone studying abroad to hang out with yourself every once in a while. Go explore the city on your own, or even take a solo trip if you’re up for it! It’s an awesome chance to reflect on everything you’ve done and learned and to appreciate your surroundings from your point of view.
I am so excited for all of the exciting things I get to experience in the coming month including:
Taking a trip with an old friend who is studying in Denmark
Hosting my mom
Celebrating Thanksgiving with friends
I can’t wait to share more in a month! Until then, Auf Wiedersehen!
After my second month of living in Hong Kong and exploring Asia, I have to say that I’ve made quite a lot of memories with great friends. I’m currently writing this while I’m visiting Seoul, South Korea and it’s so amazing here. I’m honestly always amazed how in Asia, they have such great, amazing food yet still stay skinny and fit! Also, the people here are just so friendly and nice to visitors and locals have always welcomed us. It’s been an eventful week, but its not quite done for me yet. Two days after I go back from this trip, I’m going to Tokyo, Japan for five days as well. As much as I’ve been surprised and grown to love Seoul, I’m most excited about Japan. I can’t wait to see what’s in store.
Other than my travels, since my last blog I’ve been able to explore more of Hong Kong as well. Around mid October, my parents came for my birthday week to visit me. I was more than happy to see them, but it was a bitter sweet time because it was the same week as my mid terms. Despite that, I was able to show my parents all the ins and outs of the city. We also even booked a tour to visit places that are not even known to most locals. My Birthday fell on a Friday and we ended up going to Macau, China for my 21st birthday. Macau is pretty much the Las Vegas of Asia. It was loads of fun and never would I have thought that I would be spending my 21st birthday in Macau.
On the flip side of things, I’ve actually been focusing more on my studies here. The exams here aren’t a walk in the park. Sure you only need a C to get credit, but HKUST isn’t one of the best university’s in the world because its easy. Sometimes I think I actually study as much as I do back home! Even with this new realization, I just make sure to make sure to enjoy my time here in this amazing part of the world.
Ciao from Milano! It’s hard to believe that today is will mark the 63rd day since I departed from the good ole’ US of A. If you are reading this blog because you are considering studying abroad, do it! Take the plunge. By no means is it always easy (or else everyone would be doing it), but so far it has proved to be one of the most rewarding and awe-inspiring experiences of my life.
If you have already decided to commit to a semester abroad, and are simply perusing this post to see if Bocconi University in Milan is the correct place for you, keep reading. It is my goal to structure my posts in a way that communicate to you a clear and realistic description of the various aspects one should consider when choosing their host university and city.
Milan is a thriving, bustling metropolitan city. In my opinion, the feel is similar to a smaller and less sprawling New York City but with more Italian charm. That being said, urban Milan is a completely different feel from many of the other Italian cities that you most likely will visit during your stay here. Compared to the rest of Italy, Milan is much more fast-paced and cosmopolitan. The fact that Milan is the fashion capital of the world is apparent the very moment one hopes off the plane. The level to which the average individual dresses themselves is shown in an astounding display of street fashion. If you do come to Milan, leave your Nike shorts and Comfort Color T-shirts at home.
Although it is a polar opposite of College Station, it did not take me long to adapt to the ambiance of Milan. At first, the level of graffiti is shocking, and things might seem “dirtier” or more crowded than what you are used too (especially if this is your first time in Europe), but you will adapt. The day I moved in, I remember being completely underwhelmed with my apartment and neighborhood, but now I have grown to love it!
Milan boasts an excellent public transportation system. To get around you can use the underground subway or the above ground trams (unlimited pass for students for 22 euros per month, or 1.50 per ride), participate in the “bike share” program, or take an occasional taxi (especially if you are coming back very late after a night out on the town). Walking sometimes proves to be the most efficient means of transportation, and I would recommend trying to condition yourself back at home before your departure (I’m not joking)!
As far as what to occupy your time with in Milan, there is more to do than you will have time and money for. The two major touristy sights are The Duomo and The Last Supper. The former you can see anytime and all the time, but the latter is usually reserved at least a month in advance, so be sure to plan ahead.
The nightlife in Milan is incredible. During your first few weeks, I would recommend seeking out the Erasmus Student Network, which is an association for exchange students (primarily European Union ones, but everyone can participate) that will host various mixers and events almost every night of the first few weeks. This is a entertaining and surprisingly economical way to meet your fellow exchange students while everyone is still looking for friends, and you get to visit many of the nightlife hotspots in Milan.
Aperitivo is the Milanese “happy hour”, which I’m sure you will become familiar with. Usually for 9-12 euros you get a drink and access to the open buffet. Although the food usually isn’t the Italian food you dreamed of, it’s decent enough to make a solid dinner. My favorite aperitivo is at a restaurant called Maya in Navigli. Erasmus will also host these and “10 euro” nights at various clubs (or only 1 euro if you do not wish to drink), with these you will get 2 drinks and entrance into the venue. Go! It’s fun!
The Milanese have a reputation for being quicker paced and less friendly than Italians from southern Italy. While in some aspects this stereotype has been true, this has not always proved to be the case. Milan is a business-oriented city, and most people on the streets are trying to get somewhere quickly. Although I have had a few unfortunate run-ins with rude Milanese, the majority of people are friendly and helpful.
Bocconi is one of the most prestigious business schools in Europe, therefore your classes will require some effort. Ironically, I am taking all 4 of my electives in one semester so it is possible that level of my courses are slightly less challenging than the norm. Choose your courses strategically, and begin getting as many approved for transfer credit with TAMU as early as possible. Spend the time thoroughly completing this process the correct way, and you will thank yourself at registration. At Bocconi, as is true for most of Europe, the majority of your grade will come from one final exam in December. It is up to you to study during the progression of the course and be prepared to succeed on the final exam.
Since you will most likely be taking your courses in English, there will be loads of other exchange students in your courses. I love this aspect, because it has allowed me to meet people from all corners of the world. However, there will probably be very few Italian students in your classes, and although in personal conversations they are nice and polite I find that the large majority of the local students have very little interest in forming friendships with the exchange students. Don’t take this personally because Bocconi hosts about 900 exchange students each semester.
Accommodations and Everyday Life
For living arrangements, my friend and I decided to forgo the student housing in exchange for a private apartment. Personally, we are pleased with this decision. Although it requires more research before your departure we pay less than rent for the student housing for better accommodation. Our one room loft is small but conveniently situated right along the larger Navigli canal. This area (Google it) is the center of most nightlife, and we have really enjoyed living here.
I would recommend purchasing an Italian phone plan while you are here. They are much more affordable than our American plans, and trust me, you are going to want the data. You can use Whatsapp and Skype to talk to your family and close friends, and with a data plan you don’t have to wait for wifi to post your snapchats and instagram pics! ? More importantly, you won’t be as lost in all the cities you may choose to visit.
Simple things like going to the grocery store and doing laundry are different here, but you will grow accustomed to your new lifestyle. For example, you have to bag your own groceries at the supermarket and then carry them home. We have a large reusable bag that we utilize. Once you have to carry your own heavy groceries home, you learn to start purchasing less and begin to make more frequent trips to the local supermarket. I will write more later in a different post about some of my tips for surviving your “chores” in Milan;)
Since Milan is located in the north portion of Italy, it offers convenient and cheap access into other countries. Airfare is more reasonable in Europe, especially if you plan ahead accordingly. I would recommend trying to plan your major trips about one month in advance. Keeping up with everything is hard, but push yourself to be organized and in the long run you will save time and money. The Centrale Train Station in Milan also offers many trains to all parts of Italy (usually with Trenitalia).
I signed up for something offered by Trenitalia called the “cartafreccia”, which allows you to purchase tickets at half price. Since I have purchased probably 15 train tickets, this decision has really paid off. In order to complete the online form you will need an Italian Tax code called a “codice fiscale”. To receive this you will have to go the appropriate government office and wait for your turn in the bureaucratic process. Slightly annoying, but worth it!
If your parents either won’t or are not able to pay for everything: get a job and work hard now, apply for as many scholarships as possible, and save save save save your money. Because when you are here, I promise you are going to want to spend it having back to back once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Usually, the biggest expense of study abroad students are their travels. Planning ahead can help you save money, so try your very best to be organized. If you are trying to travel as cheaply as possible, it’s time to let go of some of the luxuries you are used to. Traveling cheaply means you won’t always get to take the fastest means of transportation, or always eat out every night. You may have to stay in some Hostels that are less than ideal, but it’s ok. You will survive.
If you are looking for the most immersive and cost effective (and I believe fun) study abroad option, then an REEP exchange is the program for you! Milan is an enjoyable city, and Italy is a beautiful country. I have also genuinely have appreciated my time at Bocconi.
November first marks two months that I’ve been in Vienna and the exact halfway point of my time here. The initial shock has subsided and I have settled into my new home and new routine. But, while my original expectations are still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share with you the things I didn’t expect about studying abroad.
Traveling is really hard on your body. Planes, trains and busses are all riddled with germs and bacteria left by travelers from all over the world. This paired with sleepless nights and less than desirable eating habits (read “doner kebap for the third time this week”) can leave you feeling sluggish and worn down. I personally have been sick a couple of times this semester and everyone I know has caught a bug at least once. Definitely not ideal. I have a few tips below for how you can avoid being stuck in bed.
Bring ALL of your medicine. Really, if you’ve used it in the last year, bring it. There is almost a 100% chance that where you are going they will not have your favorite brand or maybe even have it at all.
Emergen-C is your best friend. Have it with breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Don’t be afraid to call a doctor. The CISI insurance you have to buy will cover any medical expenses. Just be sure to call the number on your insurance card to set up an appointment. They are extremely helpful! When I had the flu, they sent a doctor to my apartment within an hour at 11 o’clock at night!
Know that you may not end up visiting your dream place and that is okay!
When I was planning for study abroad my number one travel destination was Amsterdam. After trying and trying to plan a trip and almost buying a plane ticket that was way too expensive I finally accepted that it just may not work out this time. Instead, I searched for any flight from Vienna and picked one of the cheapest. In a few days, I leave for Bucharest, Romania, which I can assure you was never on my top destination list. But what other time is there to travel to Romania and explore Transylvania. So, plan and do all of your dreaming, but when it comes time to go, keep an open mind. Don’t be afraid to go off of the beaten path. It may turn into the adventure of a lifetime!
Doing things alone and loving it
I love meeting new people and spending time with friends, but there are few things more rewarding that doing something totally on your own. In fact, when it comes to spending a day at the museum or wandering through a park, I have come to find that I prefer to be alone. I would definitely challenge everyone studying abroad to be a lone wolf for a day!
Missing my hobbies
In College Station I am in dance and poetry organizations and spend the rest of my free time playing music or reading. I found it a little difficult to pack the things I would need to continue practicing those things abroad. One of my biggest pieces of advice would be to leave a little room in your suitcase to bring the things that make you happy. If I could reassess some of my packing choices, I would’ve brought a few more books and maybe tried to squeeze an instrument in!
Another option is to learn a new hobby! Without my usual arsenal of artistic outlets, I have taken to running or visiting museums in my free time. Again, just keep an open mind and roll with the punches.
Mental health care is so so important while studying abroad. I think a semester abroad kind of gets this reputation for being a semester-long vacation, but it truly is one of the most challenging semesters of your college experience. It is often difficult to cope with being so far away from everything that is familiar. You will sometimes feel alienated and alone. Your usual support system is thousands of miles away, and while they offer encouragement and love it is really important to realize that almost 100% of your support and self-care has to come from you. I am currently working on putting together a guide to self-care while abroad. When I complete it, I will post a link in the comments!
There is this idea that international students party all the time. At the beginning of my time here I would feel guilty if I didn’t go out every time there was a party or outing. I felt as if I was somehow missing this quintessential experience that every international student should share. But that is crap. Believe me, there will be plenty of parties and you will go to a lot of them. Just realize that going out in Europe is expensive. Drink specials are almost non-existent in Europe and every club has a minimum 10-20 euro entrance fee. By the end of the night you could easily end up spending 50 euros. Think about the things you could do with 50 euros!
This experience is whatever you want it to be
Don’t stick to the status quo. Be intentional about planning your time here. Some students are just here for the party, and that is great for them. But just because people around you are going out every night doesn’t mean that that is the recipe for a successful semester abroad. Spend some time and think about what you really want out of this experience. What could you do here that you will remember for the rest of your life? What could you do that will challenge you? Get to the root of why you chose to do this. Really be intentional about the things on which you chose to spend your time and money. This is your experience and your time. When people ask you what you did during your semester abroad, just be sure you have a story that you are excited to tell.
Now, because I must: A photo gallery
Roaming the city center at night
The Belvedere Winter Palace. One of the smaller galleries, but certainly one of my favorites.
Today marks the end of my fifth week studying abroad in Milan, Italy, and I could not love it more! I can truly say I have had the best few weeks of my life. The experience has been an unforgettable one. For anyone in doubt of studying abroad, I know it may seem a bit scary at first. Yes, you will be over 5,000 miles away from home, seven hours ahead, living in a completely different culture, and listening to a language you may not understand, but believe me, every part of that is definitely worth the adventure! In only these past five weeks, I have adapted to this new lifestyle and absolutely love it.
…I mean, what’s there not to love about pizza and gelato every day? ?
La vita come una studentessa Italiana (Life as an Italian Student):
Bocconi University is a great and prestigious school. Classes are challenging and quite different from back home. Most of the classes here are structured by only a final exam, therefore, that comprises your semester grade. Although this is extremely helpful during the semester for traveling, you must know how to micromanage your time. Even though there are no exams, studying throughout the semester is very important because trying to cram everything a few days before the exam will not suffice. However, not all classes are structured this way. In fact, in my case, only one of my classes is as such. In my other classes, I have midterms, group projects, and finals. My professors are all very nice and understanding. As well as my classmates, so making friends in class is easy. Oh, but lectures here are very, very long! Classes may be only once a week, in turn causing lecture to be three hours long. However, I have found all my classes interesting and sitting through lecture has not been an issue at all. (And we get a 15-minute break?)
I live in one of Bocconi’s dorms, Residenza Isonzo, and have found it a very comfortable and convenient home. I was not expecting that since I had never lived in a dorm before and wasn’t sure I could get accustomed. Yet, the rooms are quite big with good closet space and a large desk. Everyone is very friendly. The doormen greet me with a smile every time. I have made many great friends here, actually, my closest friends whom I hang out with most of the time. Which also makes it very convenient because we can walk to class together or back home after a night out. I was paired with an amazing roommate whom has become my best friend here. We each have our own room, which is very opportune because she goes to sleep early and I go to sleep late. Isonzo is the newest residence built, therefore it is very nice, clean, has wifi, a mini fridge/freezer per room, AC and heater, and a gym. So for anyone considering living in the dorms, I would definitely recommend to try to get this one. You do have to register as soon as registration opens though because Isonzo fills up very quickly.
La vita come una Milanese (Life as a Milanese):
Life in Italy has been splendid! It has been my favorite European country and I would not want to live elsewhere. Italian people are extremely friendly. They are very warm and welcoming and have made me feel at home. I am always greeted with a smile and a “Ciao, bella!” I have not felt such a warm, friendly vibe as Italy’s in other European countries I’ve visited. As for culture shock, it really has not been bad at all. I have actually found Italian culture to be very similar to mine back in Mexico. Which I think is a huge factor as to why I have not become home sick.
At my favorite pizzeria: Piz!
As expected, the food here is amazing. Being a huge fan of pizza, you can imagine that living in Italy has truly been a dream come true!?I have had the best pizza of my life, some extremely good pasta, and delicious panzerotti. Panzerotti are deep fried calzones, filled with your choice of cold cuts. Milan is a beautiful city full of surprises. Even though I have been living here for 5 weeks already, I always find myself in new, beautiful areas. I love just walking around, with no set destination, and exploring. Today, my morning class was canceled, so, as I was walking back home in the rainy, cold weather, I decided to enter this cozy, warm café I spotted. “Perfect spot to write my blog,” I thought.
Translation: While everyone in Texas is still in shorts
The weather here changes very drastically, something we’re actually a bit used to in College Station. Mornings are cold, afternoons are warm, nights are somewhere in between. For the most part, September was warm, around 75 degrees. Yet, from one day to the other, it dropped to around 55 degrees. This cold doesn’t stop Italians from dressing very nicely though. Which, I guess, could have been foreseen as Milan is the fashion capital. Nonetheless, we are not accustomed to seeing girls in dresses and heels for class back in the States.
As for transportation, Milan has a great and easy to understand system. There are metros, trams, and buses all around the city. I purchased a metro card, which works for all three and is only twenty-two euros per month. With the help of our beloved friend, Google Maps, you exactly what to take, where, and at what time, to get to and from destinations. I do walk a lot here though. A lot. So, be prepared to get in a little cardio while living here. But hey, after all that pasta, those extra miles come in handy!
Overall, I have enjoyed every single day of this journey. Whether it consists of studying and doing homework at a cute café, or hopping on a train to explore Italy, every day has truly been an adventure. In my next blog I will talk about my travels and the perfect destinations to explore near Milan.
Some more pictures of Milan:
Because it’s not all pizzas & pastas that Italy’s good at.
Milan’s streets during Fashion Week
Arco della Pace Fun Fact: If you walk directly straight for many, many miles from here, you will reach Paris’s Arc de Triomphe.
In Sweden, the semester is divided into two quarters. Today, I sit quite pleased with myself, because I have finished the first quarter classes. Here are a few of the things I learned.
Dead days, or the glorious reprieve of classes before finals, are not universal.
Everything, including actual test taking, is done in an orderly manner in Sweden.
The standard question to gauge success is ‘do you think you passed?’
It’s amazing to me that passing is considered a success in Sweden. However, the stress of international members in group projects, unfamiliarity with Swedish professor’s standards, and 8 weeks of an intense pace curriculum have helped me understand this passing mentality
One week we were in first quarter classes, the next we were taking finals and the following week we will start new classes. I’m not used to the successive progression of academic events. America has conditioned me to think of finals as the end all be all, necessitating a month long break after successful completion.
Here’s how my first quarter classes went:
Entrepreneuring. This course completely pushed me out of my comfort zone. The whole course investigated the process of entrepreneurship. So accordingly my classmates and I had to create a venture idea, interview a Swedish entrepreneur, and create lectures to cover various entrepreneuring topics.
Industrial Distribution and Retailing. Supply chain management with a dash of marketing. We looked at how to evaluate a supply chain’s efficiency and understand channel member’s perspectives. Highlight: guest lecturer from IKEA.
Consumer Behavior. This was my favorite class. We examined the motivations for consumer choices in the marketplace. That means we looked at everything from classical conditioning, theories of planned behavior and tons of advertisements.
These were not the traditional classes I would have taken if I had completed my final semester at A&M. However, I appreciate the fact that every day I had the chance to see a world beyond my perspective.
Barcelona is special. Ever since I stepped foot in Barcelona, I knew that amazing memories were going to be made. So far I have had so much fun and met amazing people. I find myself falling in love with the city more and more as the days pass by. It definitely does not bother me to walk to class everyday. I live in the city center in a section in Barcelona called Gracia. It is a section full of life during the day and night. About two weeks ago I attended a FC Barcelona football game. It was such an amazing experience and definitely a dream come true.
On the other side, school has been a bit confusing. It is definitely not like Texas A&M University at UPF. They are not as organized and signing up for classes was a bit more difficult. At UPF we have seminars, therefore, we had to plan accordingly because they overlapped with classes. Thankfully, I am now three weeks in my classes. I have had an immense amount of fun and learned many things as well.
One of my favorite parts so far is meeting people from all over the world. I am shy, therefore, starting conversations at first it was uncomfortable. It took a huge amount of courage from me to just say hello. I am happy with my progress. This studying abroad experience has really brought the best in me.
Barcelona never stops surprising me. I been visiting all the touristic and local places, and there is still a huge amount of things to do left. I can truly imagine myself living here. Before coming, I knew that I was going to like this amazing city, but I never expected for me to fall in love with it so quickly. I am beyond excited to see what the remaining of this trimester holds!