2020 | Reciprocal Exchanges Blog

This week concluded my exams in Liege, Belgium. The amount of studying necessary to succeed was unlike anything I had ever done before. While TAMU has made me study and prepare in advance, it does not even compare to how much studying is necessary in Europe. I prepared weeks before exams to make sure I knew the material that was taught the entire semester. It was quite the challenge, but I felt prepared for each exam and believe I did well in all of them. I am happy to be starting my final semester online at TAMU this semester!

Over the months, Covid-19 restrictions have increased in many countries, including Belgium. There is now a curfew from 10pm to 6am with penalty of a fine. Many countries have been more drastic like France or the UK. I have traveled to some countries, but many would require a quarantine so I could not go to multiple countries. While this has been frustrating, I am still very thankful for the opportunity to study here. I have learned about marketing in a new country and how different life is in Europe. It has been an amazing experience to soak up all the culture and meet so many amazing people. Even with all the differences, I have connected with people from all around the world. I am thankful for this experience that has truly changed my life.

Categories: 2020, Czech Republic, Reciprocal Exchange

Coming to Europe without prior knowledge, the school system was quite shocking. HEC Management School was quite different from American schools when it came to the building itself. There is just one building right outside the city center. The most confusing thing was that the ground floor is technically the 1st floor in Europe. That was quite confusing at first! Classes were around 3 hours in person at first and then transitioned online. It was quite an adjustment to be in a classroom for such a long time at first. The teachers were all very intelligent and the lectures were very interesting. I enjoyed all the teachers, especially the ones related to marketing and learned a very different perspective. There were not really any assignments, just a few flipped classes that my team had to present at and a major research project. Every class I had there was a big project that was almost half the overall grade. I worked in teams of 4-6 depending on the class which really helped. All my teammates were very helpful and kind to me. They gave me advice and were always willing to help me if needed. I learned a lot in the classes and overall enjoyed them except one part. The finals at the end of the semester were stressful because they were so different from TAMU. I knew I would have to study for weeks to pass the exams and that worried me a lot. Also, in some exams I would be deducted additional points for guessing. My mindset when approaching exams had to be different than in America since I had to study a lot more material. Overall, the classes and teachers were amazing, and I enjoyed what I learned at HEC Liege.

Moving on to the city of Liege, it is a small city overall. It does have its charm to it though even with its size. There is a beautiful river that runs through the city. There are many museums, cathedrals, and parks to visit. There are a lot of restaurants and bars as well that were open for the first few months. The people are really kind here but overall, not many speak English. I had met a lot of friends through the school group called Erasmus. They had lots of events at the beginning of the semester to help people socialize. It helped me meet people from all over the world. I was able to explore the city with these new friends. There are some famous stairs here called Montagne de Bueren which I walked up way too many times when showing off the city! Also, the waffles here are famous for being so delicious! They have sugar on the outside that is crystallized and makes it a bit crunchy on the outside. They are my favorite sweet treat in Liege, besides the many chocolates. The city is safe, and the location I live in is very close to everything I want to go to. I really enjoy Liege when it is full of life and people out and about.

Before choosing Belgium to study in, I had no idea where the country even was located. Now upon being here and exploring a lot I have found Belgium enchanting. From Bruges to Dinant, there are many cute and stunning cities all with different attractions. I have explored many cathedrals, museums, and shops while in new places. Belgium is sectioned into Dutch, French, and German speaking areas so depending where I went people would speak different languages. I found in the Dutch speaking areas that people spoke English much more fluently than in the French parts. It was a bit difficult communicating in my first few weeks, but as time progressed, I learned the necessary phrases. Belgium is not very mountainous but there were some areas that had beautiful tree covered hills. My favorite places in the country are Bruges and Dinant. They are both very beautiful cities that have uniqueness about them. Belgium is also very to get around with in the trains. Also, Brussels is not far, and it is easy to take a plane out of there to travel more. Belgium also is close to France, Luxembourg, Germany, and the Netherlands which makes travel easy to these countries. Overall Belgium is a great place to study and to see new amazing things.

Atomium, Brussels

Dinant (photograph combination of places I have been to in Belgium)

Bruges, Belgium

Montagne de Bueren, Liege (taken by me)

Categories: 2020, Belgium, Reciprocal Exchange

I’ve known that I wanted to study abroad since I was a kid. I’ve always been interested in travelling, but the experience of living in a foreign country as a student is a once in a lifetime experience. I chose Prague due to its central location in Europe, making it quite easy to travel around the region. Also, because it is not in the eurozone, the Czech Republic is a more affordable country than other popular European countries. During my time in Prague, I was surrounded by other international students, allowing me to form strong connections with people that I would never have the opportunity of meeting if I weren’t here. Due to the global health crisis, there was a much smaller number of American students studying abroad, which really incentivized me to leave my comfort zone and involve myself in diverse, very international social circles. I am interested in working in an international business environment in the future; I am immensely grateful for the connections I have made during my time abroad, and look forward to strengthening them in both personal and professional realms.

There were a few unexpected changes in my semester abroad due to the unpredictable impacts of COVID. For example, three days before in-person classes were scheduled to commence, it was announced that classes would be moved to an online format for the semester. While I was not originally excited to hear this, I was able to travel for longer periods of time than I would have been able to had classes been in-person. I spent two weeks traveling around Austria and Poland, as well as 10 days under the warm sun in Croatia (a nice taste of the Texas heat that I was missing). With the extended travel time, I was able to immerse myself more deeply in these destinations and their unique cultural offerings.

As my time in Prague is nearing its end (for now), I am returning home with a greater motivation to enjoy the present moment. While I may wish some moments last forever, I realize now that the impermanence of every moment is the most beautiful part, each a fleeting treasure that makes life worth living.

– Carlos Riddle, ’21

Categories: 2020, Czech Republic, Reciprocal Exchange

There is something to be said about travelling abroad. When you live in a new country for an extended period of time, there is a sense of magic that cannot be explained, only experienced. Your world is open to a whole new set of opportunities when going abroad. I have learned countless things and grown in ways that I could have ever imagined. 

Even though I unfortunately had to come home a month and a half earlier than expected, I still made forever friends and unforgettable memories. I was able to travel all around Ireland to see the different beauty each place had to offer and immerse myself in the culture. From having tea and biscuits to taking the bus everywhere I went, I adjusted my routine to match the people around me. Things that people in Ireland take for granted I will miss dearly. I miss the daffodils, the rolling hills and rivers and the excitement of getting on a bus to whisk me away on a new adventure. 

Business is quite different in Ireland than in the States. It is significantly more laid back and casual. You are expected to arrive late to meetings and address professors and administration by their first name. Conversations with your professors are like you are speaking with your peers. Even when you email them you are on a first name basis. Don’t expect a response right away though, because chances are you won’t receive one for a week. This behavior stressed me out but also helped me be more patient and realize their value of relationships over promptness. 

Living with 7 other girls from all different places and creating friendships with people from all over the world has changed my perspective. I had roommates from different places in the States, France and China. I also made friends from Germany, Poland, Ireland and Holland. All their experiences and world views challenged me to see the world differently. Their lifestyles caused me to adjust my own and incorporate new habits.

Even though a lot of my plans got cancelled I still was able to travel and try new things. Austria and Holland were places I was able to travel to, but unfortunately my plans for Italy, France and a lot of other countries on my list were cancelled. In Ireland I took parachute packing classes to skydive and tried new foods like pigs blood and rashers. These were far outside my comfort zone, but I knew they would force me to grow so I challenged myself to try them.

Even though I am back I still think about my study abroad almost everyday. This week especially as my online classes end I think about how this experience has made me more adaptable and made me realize that we all are more similar than we think. 

Out of my entire experience, I think the waitress we had said it best. “Half the world is Irish and the other half is jealous.” I miss the Emerald Isle dearly and part of me will forever consider Ireland home.

 

Inch Beach, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

Vienna, Austria

Salzburg, Austria

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

All 7 of my roommates

Categories: 2020, Ireland, Reciprocal Exchange

Doing my reciprocal exchange in Strasbourg, France was an experience that I will forever cherish. This was probably my only chance to really get to travel the world on my own while simultaneously getting college credit. I made friends with people from all over the world from countries like Hungary, Germany, Slovenia, Australia, Canada, and that’s not something everyone gets to take out of their college experience. I will always remember the memories that I have with these people traveling to amazing places all over France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Czech Republic, and Austria.

Reflecting on my entire experience, though unfortunately it was cut short, I can say I learned so much about French culture and Europe as a whole. Strasbourg was overall a great international program, bringing all of the international students together in certain events as well as ensuring that we received our classes and credits. The school system was a bit unorganized compared to TAMU, but that was a common theme that we discovered throughout Europe. The expectations for undergrad classes were much lower than TAMU, but that allowed us to be able to travel and experience life in France freely without a lot of stress for academics.

Since Strasbourg was so close to the German border, I got to learn about German and French culture. Even the sheer differences between these two countries was crazy, from restaurant etiquette to language barriers. Since most of my time was spent during the week exploring around Strasbourg, visiting the old town and admiring cathedrals, enjoying a baguette and a glass of wine, taking day trips to other German cities was easy and enjoyable to change it up on the weekends. The fashion industry was impressive in France, shopping the different brands was fun to do as well. I ended up buying a nice winter coat from Zara, a huge European brand. Walking through Petite France, one could always enjoy live music being performed by local street artists playing a violin or saxophone, as well as a 50 cent baguette and 2 euro bottle of wine.

I lived in a tiny apartment close to the city center, and other students lived in dorms in Strasbourg. Living standards were quite minimal, but it was manageable for the time I spent there. Since you end up traveling so often, you don’t quite mind living in a smaller space while you’re in town. Also, the amount of studying was minimal, so there were no worries about trying to study too much while at home.

Your reciprocal exchange is what you make of it; it requires a lot of effort but, even though my exchange was cut short, it was definitely worth it. I had to get out of my comfort zone to learn French, take public transportation, plan trips efficiently, and most importantly—to make new friends. It’s hard at first, but you can’t be shy, especially if you’re going into this exchange alone with no friends. Be yourself, be outgoing, go up to people and start talking to them. Eventually, you will find the right group of people who you enjoy traveling, partying, and learning with. France is definitely not the easiest place to do exchange—the culture is so different from the US and there are often negative views toward Americans. As long as you are ready for this, and ready to embrace the culture differences, you will love your time in France. Strasbourg was very central in Europe, and this allowed easy travel to other countries which satisfied with my desire to explore Europe.

Categories: 2020, France, Reciprocal Exchange

Howdy! My name is Christina Boyes, and I want to tell you about my initial impressions from studying in Strasbourg, France. As I arrived, the weather was much colder than in Texas, and there were beautiful Christmas decorations and lighting hung all throughout the town. It was perfect to enjoy local foods and drinks such as French quiche, pain de chocolat, Alsace wine, and exquisite pasta dishes. The town was quaint yet beautiful; easy and enjoyable to walk through with small shops and restaurants, rivers, and cathedrals. What surprised me was how consistently quiet and peaceful the town was, even on weekends. It wasn’t as much of a party city, but the culture was prominent, and many people walked through town even late at night, instilling a nice sense of safety and security.

The international student involvement was quite high in Strasbourg; certain events organized by the school in the beginning aided in making friends easily. I did not expect there to be so many students in this program, about 120 exchange students I believe (as Strasbourg is not a huge city). The international students held the tradition every semester of going to a local club every Wednesday night, which was crazy to me at first, but made sense realizing how many exchange students tended to make travel plans to other cities on weekends. After a couple weeks, most everyone managed to solidify new friends within the exchange program.

Pertaining to culture shock, France is quite different than the States in many ways. Most businesses are closed on Sundays, allowing time for family. The French language is much more common than I expected. Though most locals understand at least some English, there is an assumed expectation to first try to speak some French to them. They value their culture and take pride in being different than other countries. Public transportation and tram systems are more common to use than cars, and the systems are quite modern and efficient.

What I did not realize before coming to Strasbourg was how insanely close the city is to the German border. The closest city, Kehl, Germany, is only about a 30 minute tram ride or 1 hour walk away. This makes it easy to make day trips to other small German cities, such as Freiburg and Heidelburg as me and some friends had already made within the first few weeks of being here.

After only a few weeks, I fell in love with Strasbourg and the exchange experience. I made friends easily and learned how to travel efficiently using different resources such as Airbnb and Flixbus.

Categories: 2020, France, Reciprocal Exchange

As I packed for my trip, I was quite nervous and filled with uncertainty. I would ask myself, “What lays ahead of me in Vienna, Austria?” However, all of my worry vanished as soon as I saw the beautiful city of Vienna. It’s one thing to see the city from pictures online (which I definitely Googled more than once), but once I was here in person, I could not be more happy to call this my new home.

I might be biased, but Vienna is the best city I have visited so far. I have gone on many trips already and have loved many other cities, but Vienna, with its great transportation system, beautiful churches, architecture, and a never ending supply of things to do, it definitely takes the top of my list. There is a certain way of life here that is just very relaxing and peaceful.

The university in Vienna is a big reason of why I wanted to come here. Its modern architecture is a contrast to the older buildings that make up most of Vienna. One step inside the library and you will think you are in a spaceship. Classes have just begun, but so far the academics here seems top notch and I am ready to challenge myself and learn how to confront problems with an international point of view.

The most important aspect of this trip has been the people I have met. The world seems so much bigger after meeting students from all parts of the globe, yet, at the same time, smaller because we are all like minded in wanting to create a better future for ourselves and others. It can be a little embarrassing, though, when I only know one language and everyone around me knows two or three. One of my favorite moments so far was when we began playing a game of Scrabble and someone asked, “What language are we playing in?” A tell tale tell sign that I was no longer in America.

This trip so far has been exactly what I needed: some time away from my comfort zone. I knew before I left that I would face challenges, take on new responsibilities, and even fail sometimes. But that is exactly why I am here. Growth comes from failure and experiencing new things, and while I have only been here a month, I feel more confident in myself and I am excited to see what experiences lie ahead.

Categories: 2020, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange


Billy Joel was right! It seems “Vienna [has been waiting] for me” my entire life. I listened to his song every day leading up to this trip in hopeful anticipation. Though my life had already begun, going abroad felt like a new beginning. I was about to spread my wings and waltz from my comfortable little nest into a life of spontaneity, discovery and well, lots of coffee. I was so excited! How could I not be? I was also equally nervous. While I didn’t have any expectations of what it would be like, the thought of moving to a country I’d never been to, not knowing German and planning how I’d balance school and traveling seemed both challenge and an opportunity for exponential growth.

The city of Vienna quickly become my home. I told my mom on day two that “I was a local” because I had figured out how to use the public transportation system; something I’ve never used before in the U.S. While Vienna is a large city, it welcomed me with a warm invitation and cozy cafes. It is easy to wander off on foot and spontaneously discover your new favorite coffee shop or kebab stand. The city takes your breath away with its beautiful architecture and historical stories. You really learn to appreciate beauty on a whole new level studying abroad, especially here in Vienna. What I love most is wandering around the city without a destination. Having no obligation to go or be anywhere is the most freeing thing I’ve experienced. Life as an Austrian involves taking time to be present and enjoy life. Spending Sunday strolling around the city and hopping around cafés till you are coffee-d out. To my surprise, Austrians walk unusually fast. Make sure to stand on the right side of the elevator or get out of the way when someone is exiting the subway. During my time here, I’ve learned how to speak a couple of phrases in German, navigate the city, throw together spontaneous travel trips real quick, be content with independence and silence and soak in all the gifts Europe continues to reveal each day. 

This past month, I’ve spent most of my time traveling and meeting people from around the world through an orientation and culture program offered through my university. It’s been so eye-opening and exciting to hear about the lives of other students. While so different, I felt a sense of unity between us and was excited to learn more about the rest of the world through students who were experiencing studying abroad as I was. Our campus, called “WU” houses the most modern buildings I’ve ever seen. I could study anywhere, but only at WU would I get an education on the set of something between The Hunger Games and Star Trek. Classes have only just begun and the workload seems heavier than I expected but nonetheless I am excited to work with my group project. We are all from a different country, how cool is that!!

This trip has been an opportunity of a lifetime, my greatest joy and everlasting memory! Don’t hesitate to live a full life. Buy that ticket, learn a new language and spread your wings – see where the wind takes you.

Our campus!

Learning to waltz with my orientation group!

Schönbrunn Palace

 

Exploring the city of Vienna and it’s history

If I could describe my experience so far through one photo, this would be it. 🙂

Friends from around the world!

Categories: 2020, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

My first month and a half in Europe has been quite the adventure so far. As my university in Prague did not start until the middle of February, I had the opportunity to travel around Central/Eastern Europe with my mom. Having not been to Europe since I was younger, being able to experience and adapt to such a different culture with someone by my side was quite helpful. We traveled to Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, and ended our trip exploring Prague. Each one of these places offered their own cultures and traditions and history but also had many similarities as well. These similarities and differences were a very eye-opening and well-needed experience for me. I feel that at home I was constantly always in a similar routine and always in my comfort zone and by getting out of that, I feel that I was able to grow as a person.

As Prague was the last leg of our journey, there were not any big shocks upon my arrival. There were some small differences that took some getting used to, however, the main thing I had to get used to was that this was going to be my home for the next 3 months! This was made easier by the fact that I am living in the exchange dorms for the semester. Being surrounded by students who are in a similar situation as you, and being able to talk and meet theses students from all around the world, is amazing to me. I have met people from the Netherlands, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and Finland. Being able to learn and connect with people who are so different, yet so similar has been one of my favorite things through my time here so far in Prague.

Prague has also lived up to all my expectations. It is beautiful, cheap, and right in the middle of Europe! Exploring the city is so easy and provides a new experience each time. You can get lost in the little cobblestone streets with endless amounts of cafes and pubs surrounding you, and then all the sudden stumble upon the Charles Bridge or Prague Castle. The city also has tremendous food and beer that is crazy cheap. This is great while you are in Prague, however, it does throw off your perception of prices when you travel; paying more than $8 for a meal with a beer now pains me! Travel is another great thing about Prague. Traveling has been so easy and has been another one of the great aspects of studying in Prague. Besides the trip I took at the beginning of the semester, I have been skiing in the Swiss Alps and have had fish and chips in London. I have another trip planned to Amsterdam and hope to visit Copenhagen and Poland in the near future. The start of this journey has definitely been one to remember and I can’t wait to see how the rest of my time here in Europe plays out.

Arsenal Game in London

Cheers in Czech

Skiing in Zermatt, Switzerland

Categories: 2020, Czech Republic, Reciprocal Exchange

I got to Vienna about a month ago and this past month has just flown by! I can’t believe I get to live in this beautiful city for about another four months. Vienna is definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Vienna is full of life at all hours of the day. There are always people socializing and enjoying their families. It is also much colder than Texas, so I was not as prepared for the wind and cold temperatures that Vienna had to offer. On the bright side, Vienna has excellent shopping!

I am living in one of the student apartments/dorms, and it was a great decision. My apartment is in a fantastic location. It is next to the subway, the train station, a mall, shopping, and tons of restaurants and grocery stores. I live about a block away from the entrance to the subway, which makes it incredibly easy to get around Vienna quickly. The beauty of the subway in Vienna is that it covers the vast majority of the city, and whatever area isn’t covered by the subway is covered by trams and buses. There is really no need for a car here in Vienna, which I find to be a great perk of choosing Vienna.

The Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU) campus is very unique! Almost every building has a different style of architecture. The campus is very easy to walk around. I have not started any classes yet; However, I am looking forward to my international classes so that I can meet students from many different countries.

Living in Vienna has made me become more resourceful, especially because I do not know German. It has been fun learning how to use google translate in the grocery store and almost everywhere else. Life in Vienna is very relaxed, in my opinion, which is very refreshing to the busy lifestyle in the United States. It has been great being able to fully embrace the Austrian culture, even if it has just been a month so far. I genuinely do love Vienna and would not be against ever living here in the future. For me, getting to know the locals and other international students has been the best part of this experience. I have been able to learn about different cultures and I have made new friends from all parts of the world.

Austria as a whole, is so beautiful! I have been able to visit Salzburg and Innsbruck, which are two breathtaking mountain towns! The mountains were covered in snow and very beautiful. Innsbruck was great because it was a smaller town than Salzburg, but very full of life. I had no idea there was a festival in the center of Innsbruck when I arrived, but it was just a couple of blocks away from my Airbnb. It was awesome to see so many people enjoying the mountains and life! Salzburg was just as beautiful. I am a huge Sound of Music fan, so being able to see spots from the movie has been a lifelong dream of mine!! It was everything I expected it would be and more!

Lastly, one more great perk about living in Vienna is how central it is within Europe. I have been able to go to Budapest, Brno, Graz, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Bratislava, and I will be going to Copenhagen and Prague this week! Flights, trains and buses all go out of Vienna in about every direction. Studying abroad in Vienna is a great choice if you are looking for a country that is easy to travel out of. I am really looking forward to the rest of this semester and for more adventures in Austria. Thanks for reading!

Stephanie Chavez

Categories: 2020, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange