When I first arrived to Vienna, Austria I first noticed how beautiful all the architecture was and how great the transportation system was to get from one place to another. The buddy program I signed up for through an EBN program helped significantly and made my move in process much more smoothly. After a couple of days I noticed culturally, the people here are much more laid back and are able to split their work versus relax time very well. After talking with a few European students I also found out their schooling system was much different. For example, it is mandatory for almost all students to take three languages, English, German, and another of their choice. This was something that I personally wish the United States also did.
The fashion capital of Europe, perhaps of the world as well. The financial powerhouse of Italy, hosting a controversial stock exchange with a peculiar piece of art in front of it. A city hosting a top European business institution, Milan is more than beautiful.
Located in Italy, Milan is a city full of culture, interesting people and places, and history. My initial impressions of the business program were a mix of excitement and fear, as I expected for the class environment and teaching styles to be completely different, but there are many similarities between classes in the US and Italy. I started my classes on September 6th, and the process was smooth and simple. The business program here is great. Professors are ready, have many credentials, and are super well connected. The business program at Bocconi is said to be among the best in Europe, and starting classes, I could see why. The professors and students are bright and are aiming to reach greatness and their personal goals, and that has created an environment where people motivate and help each other out.
Milan is beautiful. It is a very colorful city that has a wide range of food variety. Not only that, it has many spots to visit. It is a busy city, but not as busy as New York City. People are friendly and relaxed, and it is appreciated if you try to speak Italian to the locals. People love soccer, and the divide between who to support, Inter or AC Milan, is always present.
Italy is amazing. As you may know, it has many beautiful cities and sites. I have only visited Lake Cuomo as of right now, but in my next vlog I will update you on the other Italian cities I visited!
There are many differences between Italy and the US culture. For one, they are more relaxed. Life seems to be moving slow here, and no one seems to be in a hurry. They are also more social, and it is very common to see groups of people hanging out at every hour of the day. Not only that, but Italians walk a lot. In the US, and in our university, we walk. But here in Italy they WALK. The public transportation system is great as well.
I have been enjoying my time in Milan, and I look forward to the days that are coming up ahead. Until then!
I have officially completed one month in Spain! I arrived a few weeks early than my companions, Kira and Manu, to spend some time with family who live outside of the city. Not only am I happy I was able to see them, but spending ten days with them helped me immerse myself a little bit easier into the Spanish way of life. Things are definitely a lot slower around here, which has been the biggest adjustment, by far. As someone who is notoriously early and always on-the-go, I’ve had a bit of a hard time getting used to doing things at a leisurely pace.
We did just finish our first week of school. I think I am really going to like my classes and I love that my classes are intimate and small. I think my largest class has 35 people. Which is incredibly different than many of the large lectures we have at A&M. My schedule is incredibly flexible though, which gives me a lot of time to explore the city and surrounding areas. I keep having to remind myself that I live here now, and, therefore, don’t have to see everything all at once. Take things slow… maybe I am adjusting to the Spanish way of living better than I think. 😉
Below I’ll add some photos from my first few weeks. Good food. Great experiences. The BEST company.
Due to Covid, my original country of choice got canceled, within two months I planned everything to study in Maastricht. To be honest I did not know Maastricht even existed before deciding to study here because it is a small town about the size of College Station. Finding housing was quite difficult with the housing crisis in Maastricht, but I managed to find housing within a 10-minute bike ride to the business school. At A&M there is a decent amount of students who bike to campus, however in The Netherlands everyone bikes and it is the main type of transportation. Whether it is going to the grocery store, campus, the city center, or the park you go by bike. Riding a bike brings me to the part where the unexpected happened early on in my time here.
Long story short, I thought I bruised my tailbone from not being used to riding a bike, but it turns out I had a cyst that had to be surgically removed. My first week here, having only known a couple of people for a week now and I am in the hospital needing surgery on my first day of class. Thankfully 87% of people in the Netherlands speak English so there were no language barriers when the doctors had to explain the procedure to me. I have been recovering very quickly from the surgery and am even able to ride the bike again. I did have to miss the first week of class but was able to go on campus the next week.
One thing that is very different about Maastricht Univerisity and A&M is the learning structure of classes. In The Netherlands, they use a teaching style called Problem Based Learning (PBL). My classes consist of only 15 students with a Tutor that helps guide the conversation. The Professor may post lectures, but mainly you are responsible for coming to class prepared by doing the necessary readings. Students work in small groups to teach and facilitate. The time of each class is two hours long, however it goes by fast with everyone contributing to the discussion. One thing I love about Maastricht University is how international its campus is with students coming from countries all over the world. I have been able to meet students from Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Brazil, Vietnam, Georgia, Canada, Pakistan, Poland, Austria, Finland, Hungary, and so many other countries. I have been able to enhance my Global Mindset here being surrounded by people from all over the world.
Although, I did not have a culture shock because the culture in The Netherlands is much like southern hospitality in the US. The Dutch people are very nice and willing to help if you need to ask for directions (I know from personal experience). The weather is rainy and cold, but there are still sunny and 75 days here. I have enjoyed my first couple of weeks in the beautiful city of Maastricht and cannot wait to see what is to come.
On my first few days in Madrid, the first thing that shocked me the most is how much I walked. According to my watch, I took over 90,000 steps the past week. Also, coming from the state where everything is big, everything here seems small. From food portions to the size of cars and the size of the roads. Something else that I noticed was that the Spanish people seem to have a very different take on life. People are out on the streets walking around, sitting down to have a drink, and not worrying about the next day. It feels like they take a minute to just relax and appreciate what they have around them. Lastly, I would say that another cultural difference between the United States and Spain is that the public transportation system works almost without flaw. I don’t think that I have gotten in a car more than twice. I can go anywhere using the train, subway, and bus. I can’t wait to see what the next few months have in store for me.
To say the least, this semester was not what I expected. While covid restrictions altered what I thought my exchange would look like everything exceeded my highest hopes.
Maastricht was such a lovely city to call home and thanks to the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) at the University I found new friends to call family. If you go on an exchange, I highly recommend connecting with the Erasmus Student Network or another similar student organization to help you connect with people and find your way around.
Because of travel restrictions, my first excursion was a Dutch road trip. I went with a few other exchange students that I met through ESN and we spent the whole weekend exploring the Netherlands. We visited Rotterdam, The Hague, Delft, Utrecht, and the Keukenhof Garden. In Rotterdam we picnic’d on the beach, walked the pier, and saw the parliamentary buildings, but the best part of the whole trip had to be the Keukenhof Garden. The Keukenhof Garden is one of the most famous spots in the Netherlands to see Tulips and it is definitely worth it! Pro-tip, you have to pay to get inside the Keukenhof Garden, but there are plenty of fields outside that are free to explore.
In addition to the cute city and new friends that contributed to my positive experience, the learning system at Maastricht University was so different from A&M and really challenged me as a student and professional. The problem-based learning system at Maastricht puts a lot of the responsibility of learning on the students. Instead of sitting in a professor’s lecture and taking notes, students take turns leading their peers in discussions, problems, and case studies. I found that this method allowed me to take ownership of the material and gave me the confidence that I was learning and understood the course. From my time in Maastricht University, I can truly say that I gained more confidence in my major and presentation skills.
Maastricht University was a great choice for my semester exchange and I would recommend it to everyone!
Looking back to this past semester living in Madrid, I have mixed feelings about it all. It has without a doubt been the best experience I have lived. I moved to Madrid knowing it would give me so many things to take with me, but I did not think through how hard it would be for me to say goodbye.
There is something extremely special about Madrid- something that makes your time living there only a positive one. I still do not know if it is the people, the food, or the overall culture, but it is for sure something that made me exceedingly happy to say the least. The beginning of my semester included things like “toque de queda” which made it complicated to do things like travel, but as the semester continued things started opening up more giving us a chance to travel. The first opportunity I had was to go skiing with some friends which was definitely something I was dying to do when moving to Europe. I love skiing and the fact that I could have that experience abroad was a memorable one. Along with this trip came my other 2 favorites, which were Gran Canaria and Rome, where I was able to visit with some friends and do things like go to sand dunes, natural pool waters, visit the Colosseum and the Vatican, and so on.
Although I was able to travel during this crazy pandemic study abroad year, I had already fallen in love with Madrid and the people there that it made it hard to even want to leave for only a weekend. This is something that shocked me since I am a person who loves to travel and will do so as much as possible, but the fact that Madrid had that power to make me so happy and never want to leave was definitely a good feeling. I made lifelong friends, visited new places, learned so many new things about different cultures, and most importantly grew as a person.
Leaving Madrid was definitely an emotional rollercoaster for so many reasons, yet all good. But at the same time, although I was sad to leave a part of me knows that this is not the end of my story with Madrid, and I hope this is the case because living in Madrid was the most amazing opportunity and I am so grateful to have experienced it.
I hope whoever has a chance to study abroad I say get out of your comfort zone and do it because I promise you it will be worth it!
I recently returned to College Station after finishing my semester in Madrid. Business in Spain tends to be conducted differently than here in the US. However, there are a few similarities. I found that businesses in Spain have different expectations for employees. Employees that I met are typically given more paid time off and the concept of allotted sick days does not exist. Here, employees are used to logging all time off under a specific category or reason. There is definitely something to be said about the phrase “working to live, not living to work” and how it positively affects the quality of life in Spain. Experiencing this was a cultural shift compared to the American dream mentality of prioritizing work and financial security above all else. Businesses that would typically be regarded as customer service based in Madrid revolve much less around the customer than I was accustomed to in the United States. Instead of the mentality of the “customer is always right” or an employee being on the customer’s time, customers must ask for what they need and are usually subject to the employee’s schedule. Customer service in Spain though it is not bad, just different. At my host university, I took a course called International Business Management; I learned a great deal about how regions from all over the world differ in how they conduct business. Things like power distance, masculinity/femininity, and individualism vs. collectivism greatly impact how business is conducted and how consumers make purchasing decisions. It was cool to see examples of this when I compared my knowledge of how business in the US works vs. how it works in Spain.
My experience abroad was an incredible one full of new experiences, new relationships, and personal growth. I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to meet so many amazing people! I rode in a hot air balloon, traveled to the Grand Canary Islands, and spent a ton of time exploring the city I quickly grew to love. Living in Madrid helped me to realize my love for travelling and my desire to eventually become an Aggie expatriate.
It is a bittersweet moment to say goodbye to Prague. Prague has been my home for the past five months and it was one of the hardest goodbyes I have experienced. My time in Prague truly shaped me into the person I have always wanted to be. This experience of being able to study abroad has been the best decision of my life. I have made connections from all over the globe, learned about new cultures, and experienced immeasurable happiness despite the circumstances of this past semester. I was hesitant to follow through with my abroad semester since I had never been away from home for so long and to be so far, especially with the COVID-19 epidemic. It was scary, to say the least in the beginning. However, the memories and friendships I have made during this time made this experience the best time of my life. To my best friends that I met in Prague, I will miss our daily trips to Zizkov beer garden, our walks through the snow to Flora station, our late-night wine and movie nights, and most of all, being able to spend every day together. The people that came into my life while I was in Prague truly changed my life.
To anyone who is considering spending a semester abroad, do it. My time abroad was the best time of my life so far. I felt a new sense of identity that I was not able to find back home. Even though it may seem daunting to leave home and to be gone from your current life for a while, I promise that it is worth it. The experience is unlike any other.
note: I am very intentionally and knowingly completely going off-topic for this post because… you’ll see. There is a point.
I lied. Well, not technically. And definitely not in what really matters. I changed the nuances, which matters to me, though not much to anyone else.
To everyone I had to pitch ‘going to Denmark on an exchange’ to, I had said I needed it to further develop my career:
1. That it doesn’t help to have this one sided- America focused- viewpoint of business and not know anything about the rest of the world (do you spot the issue here? again, intentional. hint: my word choice. answer: “the rest of the world”. What does that even mean? It’s like looking at a map and seeing America vs. whatever those other countries are. I would never in a million years admit that’s the way I thought of business; I most definitely do NOT think like that when it comes to society and people and everything else I care about like food or art or literature or theatre, but as far as business goes, that is all I have ever known because it’s all I have ever been exposed to: America, China, and the “rest of the world”).
whoa, that was a long bullet point. sorry.
2. That when my frame of reference is America, which possesses more than half of the WORLD’S equity market value (in comparison to Japan as a distant second- 7.4% and China right below Japan at 5.4%), my understanding of finance is bound to be more biased than the rest of global finance looking in on Wall Street.
3. That going to Denmark would eliminate some of the bias because I’d start to see things from Scandinavia’s perspective. It’d never be my frame of reference unless I spent more time there, but I’d be learning infinitely more just by being there.
4. Denmark is the happiest country in the world. How? I need to find out! The curiosity was killing me.
I had to pitch it because it was in the middle of a global pandemic and my reasoning for it had better have more value than my life or I wasn’t going, period. Kidding. I meant it was hard for me to get the ‘go-ahead’ due to the nature of our circumstances at the time.
While all of my points were true, I had left out the part where I was looking to find inspiration. The part where I didn’t even want to think about my full time career while I was there because I needed the time to cultivate my creativity. I always wanted to do something creative. I never knew what that could be. I never thought I could devote too much time to it now, where I was still learning the basics of financial analysis. I knew I was bad at the numbers, but my reasoning was that, at 21, with decades of time left in my career, I have the liberty to spend a few years being bad at my job so I’d have the foundations to move on from there and eventually go into something I know that, with time, I’d get very good at, like international negotiations or M&A.
But Denmark opened my eyes to a whole new idea: I am a free woman. I can be doing what I want while I make money. There is no rat race I need to be caught up in because I am not a rat. It’s that simple, yet just as complicated as it is simple. Every way we were taught we had to live were preconceptions, patterns people created, fed to us to feed a capital economy that needed to be developed as fast as possible essentially due to the timing of our history. I can live in a van if that lifestyle is what I crave; I didn’t think I could do that before I believed I am a free woman. I can be a traveling author if it’s what I really want; before Denmark, I didn’t think that was possible the minute I stepped into business school. Things change. I can change. My point is that, none of my circumstances changed just because I went to Denmark and came back. Financial analysis still doesn’t come easily to me. Finance is still my major. I still can’t make the cut for Wall Street. I still want to be a consultant for big 4 but haven’t been doing anything about it in the past year. I still don’t think I have the credentials to get in just yet. But what made all the difference in the world was my perception that I am free.
With that, I started writing a book that will be published the end of this year (Cacophony). I started a podcast (Wei Back When). I started updating my blog more (rubywei.com). All because I believed I was free. Too many times I let responsibility (or what I thought was responsibility) and money get in the way of my art, stifling my creativity.
And that, right there, is precisely what absolutely stuns me about Danes: they believe they’re not constricted. They aspire to be happy, to be more average than to get ahead. In turn, that has gotten them “ahead” in many spectrums, with happiness the primary one. My initial perception was that this country values life- they’re happy, they turn out innovative solutions, they really have their work-life balance down. My constant impression was how reserved they are to strangers and how utterly rule-following they are. I mean, they follow rules down to the comma; they don’t ever bend them. During quarantine, when the law said no more than five people can gather together, five is EXACTLY the number they stuck by. Why five? If two people gather together and one of them have covid, it’d spread regardless. If six people gathered together and none of them have been exposed, it’s highly unlikely any of them would get it. Five is not some magic number. It made more sense to me to be responsible about mask-wearing for yourself, make sure you’re meeting people you trust are responsible, have everyone in the group get tested and then a few additional people wouldn’t matter. But no, they had to stick to five. Or four. Or whatever the number the government said was the law. This constant- follow the rules precisely- was what I repeatedly saw: group projects, assignments, biking, walking, booking Airbnbs (quick example: I tried to stay for one more day at an Airbnb I’ve bent the rules many times in in the states, but the host said I had to go in and manually book another day even though I was trying to pay her the same amount minus the money that would go to Airbnb), etc.
Ultimately I came back with more of a conundrum than insights: why is Denmark a leader in innovation when the culture encourages sticking inside the box? Am I making false assumptions? Is there gray area I didn’t see through? Something I’m doing right now like spend most of my post going off topic so I can make my point that this is something that wouldn’t be tried in a Danish classroom… would not be tried in a Danish classroom. And YET, the NATURE of the education system has ambiguity and thus the need for creativity built INTO it- perhaps this is the answer to my conundrum, but I don’t know. And I am perfectly okay with not knowing. We- America looped into one culture (largely simplified and untrue, I know; just let me go for the sake of ending this blog post)- are incredibly results oriented. We’re good at solving problems (just look at our covid response), though not as good at preventing them (again, covid). But what if we approached business-innovation-education as needing creativity to be built into the system instead of bending rules after the fact? I don’t know. What if it won’t work because of predetermined factors such as the status of our country? I think I’m getting somewhere grand, but there are too many factors I haven’t thought of, yet I am completely okay with not knowing… for now.