I arrived in Prague, Czech Republic about three weeks ago and have been having the best time. The city is absolutely beautiful, Prague has been named one of the greenest large cities, and this is very true. My friends and I enjoy going to different parks almost daily where we can often see the entire city. I would highly recommend Prague to anyone who enjoys to walk outside and see nature, or just interesting landmarks. The city is also has very pretty architecture that you can just see for days and still be in love. Due to COVID-19, we cannot go into restaurants or shops. Even without these things, Prague is gorgeous to see and be in.

I began classes a little over a week ago, online of course, and they are currently pretty similar to classes at Texas A&M. The lectures are just like what you would expect at home, but much smaller classes. The thing that is notably different is the grades. There is just one exam in many classes, and some are even oral exams. I believe a few classes have projects and things such as that, but classes really like to focus on the final exam.

Something I completely love about VSE, is the fact that we are housed with international students (mainly in one building). This gives me the chance to make friends from every culture imaginable. I think this is a twist that I would have never expected, but could not be more grateful for. Not only am I now learning the Czech culture, I am also learning about so many other cultures.  I think this aspect of the trip, is what will cause me to be a completely different person upon arrival.

Needless to say, studying abroad is the best experience, but Prague is definitely a special place to do so.

Autumn Hambrick

Categories: 2021, Czech Republic, Reciprocal Exchange

Getting to my exchange in Maastricht, Netherlands, was months of planning and lots of last minute hoping that it would not be canceled due to the current pandemic. As Natsuki knows, since my first of many visits to her office, going on exchange was always part of my plan and there was no way I was going to let this opportunity slip me by. Although I must say that it was a lot of luck and help from others that allowed me to arrive safely in Maastricht. I count myself lucky that my program continued despite the pandemic, knowing that may others did not have the same outcome.

When I landed in the Schriphol airport in Amsterdam all the cheesy signage saying things like “Your journey starts here” and “Welcome to below sea level” made me beyond giddy. I knew that this exchange would be a different experience than what I originally expected, but I am still very excited for what may come of my time here.

First things first, quarantine. Unfortunately, I had to spend my first ten days in Europe in a private hotel room, but it did give me the time to purchase a sim card, set up a European bank account, read a book, and learn a few Dutch phrases. When you come to Maastricht it is essential right away to get a Dutch phone number and European bank account, to make life easier and avoid large fees from your US bank and phone carrier. I ended up getting a sim card from Lebara and setting up an online bank account with N26, although there are several other good options to choose from such as bunq and Knab. I would recommend any student coming to the Netherlands for an exchange to choose an online bank account, because the typically Dutch bank, ING, takes several weeks to get an appointment with and requires you to first register with the municipality and receive a BSN (social security number, issued upon registration with your local municipality), which takes quite some time. Whereas an online bank account only requires a European phone number and took just a few minutes to set up.

Once I got out of quarantine, I immediately went exploring. Maastricht has the charm and ease of a small town, while still feeling like a little city. After just a day or two you can figure out how to get anywhere in Maastricht, as everything is easily assessable by foot or bike and there are several landmarks that guide the way. As one of the oldest cities in Europe, Maastricht has many historical monuments, churches, parks, a fortress, and neighborhoods to explore. Just make sure to be in a waterproof coat as you never know when it will start raining or when the Dutch might be washing their windows.

Then reality set in and school started. Although classes are currently online, I must say I really have been enjoying the education system at Maastricht University (UM). The semesters here are broken into two periods, so you only take two classes at a time but at a much quicker pace. In one way it is really nice to be able to truly focus on your subjects, rather than being split between five classes like at A&M, but on the other hand the quick pace makes it easy to fall behind if you procrastinate or have trouble with a concept. Keeping up with the preparation and readings is key! What I enjoy most about UM is the problem based learning system, which means that class time is devoted to case studies, application, and discussion. We barely spend any time in lectures. I enjoy this method a lot for more qualitative classes, like my strategy course, but for more quantitative classes, such as my international financial management course, I wonder if more instructional time would be more beneficial.

Overall, I am so excited for the rest of my time living in Maastricht, studying with a new learning approach, and hopefully exploring more of Europe when the travel restrictions ease up.

Lights at the Vrijthof.


View of the Maas and the city. (P.S. Kaas croissants are the best!)


Arrived in Maastricht!


The town hall built during the 17th century.


Night view of the old bridge.


Belgium waffles with my friend, Carolin.


Tulips from the Markt and Flaming Hot Cheetos, the only necessities.

Categories: 2021, Reciprocal Exchange, The Netherlands

February 15th was the day on the calendar in which I had planned to go to France for my spring semester exchange. I attend ESSEC School of Business during my stay and currently reside in a small town in Cergy. Cergy is northwest of Paris by at least 50 minutes and you can take the train to go to Paris very easily.

Upon arrival in France, there were lots of quirks and differences that I didn’t account for in my semester exchange. When landing in the CDG Paris airport, I was taken aback by the sheer size of the airport but also how confusing it was given that lots of shops and services were closed due to COVID. I felt lost and anxious because I had a checklist of things I needed to accomplish while I was at the airport. I needed a sim card for reliable internet service, euros to be exchanged from my American dollars, a transportation pass, and finally a taxi to go to my apartment. After wandering around in a large and busy airport, I finally found all my necessities in one place. I was able to leave the airport and find a taxi to get home smoothly.

I arrive in my residence to an empty apartment with no food and welcomed with a special move-in kit that I ordered from the university which had plates, pots, and cups to make my transition in the residence much easier. For the first time in a long time, I had a blank slate to start my semester and this time it was in a completely new environment.

The city of Cergy isn’t very glamourous, to be quite honest, it’s basically College Station but with very few restaurants to go to. In the city center are the universities, the mall, and the metro station to get to downtown Paris. It is the most lively part of Cergy and where most people get their groceries done. Cergy is mainly filled with working-class people who commute to Paris to work and come back in the evening. It’s not a special place, but it is a home for many families.

Currently, COVID-19 in France is somewhat strict but there is a lot to look forward to. Depending on the size of the shop or public space, many places are still open for the public. You might not be able to go to the Louvre, but there are many small art galleries and small art installations you can visit. While the strict rules of France may seem a damper to larger tourist sites, it allows for smaller businesses to shine and be a resource to the public who wish to get a sliver of normalcy in their lives.

My classes do not start until March 1st, but I am excited to see what is ahead of me. Whether it’s going to meet new people or visiting hole-in-the-wall places in Paris, the opportunity is wide open.

Categories: 2021, France, Reciprocal Exchange

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