Reciprocal Exchanges Blog - Part 2

Howdy! My name is Curt Leland, and I am studying right now in Strasbourg, France! This is my first time in Europe, so moving here seemed pretty dramatic at first. Although it has been amazing to see and learn so much every day and so far, culture shock has only been sprinkled into moments and is not overwhelming.
Firstly, let’s talk about the country as a whole. France is a place that seems to have it all. Mountains, coastline, fields, huge cities, and random lakes all around as well. I am looking forward to exploring the vast differences simply of the landscape of this country. People here are also very proud of who they are and their language. This was something that intimated me at first because I hardly know any French, but I am pleasantly surprised by those who have been helping me along the way. One time I was confused at a grocery market, and the cashier did not speak English but searched around to find someone who did so they could help me. This was a wild experience because, being in Mays business school, I am used to wanting to step up and fill in communication gaps. I had become that gap which was humbling. At the moment, though, most of my experience is still just with the city of Strasbourg.
The city of Strasbourg is unique because of its location. It is so close to the border of Germany that our public transit goes over the border as well. Strasbourg has been in German and French territory multiple times over its history, so the building and culture are a mesh of both. The region this city is in even has its own dialect, a mix of French and German. I have loved this because the town is beautiful with not only different centuries influence, but also different country’s as well. The city is very busy all over, yet slow at the same time. People are always outside being active, yet somehow resting at the same time. This culture seems to define work-life balance vastly different than the United States, and I am thrilled to submerge myself and learn the same hopefully. Also, kids are everywhere. In college station, I seem to go weeks without seeing a single child, but not here. I love seeing kids being able to walk home from school by themselves or playing around in parks. The city seems to have the same feel as a safer small town which I love. Lastly, about this city, there are hardly any chains or big brands. The streets are filled with local shops and markets to the point where there is no way I could try everything even if I went somewhere different every day. This is nothing like I am used to seeing.
To continue zooming in a little closer, I want to share some of the University of Strasbourg. I am in the Ecole de Management school here, which is their business school. My program is for all foreign exchange students with the common language of English. Our classes are in English as well as socials and informationals. The first week of orientation was confusing and not organized well, but I also think I was viewing things through an American perspective of over communication and preparation. Being able to speak English here is such a blessing. It allows me also a group of students to practice French with who are in a similar language level. I have not started classes yet, but they will only be with foreign exchange students, which is a great opportunity to learn to work with those outside my culture. It does separate me somewhat from the French culture, but for one semester, I am so thankful to be able to be exposed to so many different perspectives.

 

Best,

Curt Leland

Categories: 2021, France, Reciprocal Exchange

My name is Kylie Hofmeister and I am doing a semester exchange in Strasbourg, France! I have always loved traveling and learning about cultures different than mine, and have been dreaming about studying abroad since high school. I can’t believe I am finally here, it feels surreal! I’ve been here for about two full weeks now and had orientation last week. It’s been a whirlwind! Today is actually my first day of class at EM Strasbourg Business School, so I am feeling quite excited and interested in seeing how my courses here compare and contrast with those I have taken at Mays.

Arriving in Strasbourg went smoothly, even with the pandemic and restrictions associated with it. Here in France, we are required to wear masks at all times while indoors and on public transportation and must receive a “health pass” from the French government in order to patronize most businesses and restaurants, which shows either proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test. Otherwise, Strasbourg has felt quite open and welcoming, and I’m glad that I didn’t allow the conditions of the pandemic to inhibit me from taking this opportunity to study abroad! It has been great so far, although I definitely experienced some culture shock during my first few days. I don’t speak French, and while many in Strasbourg know some English, the French are very proud of their language and aren’t quick to use English. It was difficult to do small things at first, such as ordering a coffee or checking out at the grocery store, but already in the past two weeks, I’ve been able to pick up simple phrases that have helped me get around! The language barrier was overwhelming and stressful at first, but I have now grown to embrace it and am excited to see myself learn and improve in my French over the semester! I have already enjoyed immersing myself in French culture through trying different foods, practicing the language, and familiarizing myself with the history of Strasbourg. The school also offers many different sports that we can sign up for weekly, and I have already taken two that have been taught entirely in French! I was able to follow along visually, and actually found the challenge to be quite fun!

The international advisors and Dean of EM were very excited to welcome us at our first orientation meeting, and it helped everyone to feel more comfortable and better prepared to begin the semester. Each course here occurs just once a week but lasts three hours, which may take some getting used to. Something that feels different about France and Europe in general is the degree of emphasis on exchange programs and immersing yourself in other cultures. Many international students whom I’ve met can speak 3+ languages almost fluently and are highly encouraged, if not required, to do Erasmus, which is an exchange within the EU. While I was required to take 2 years of a foreign language in high school, I wish schools in the U.S. would require much more. It also just isn’t very common among my friends back home to participate in a semester-long exchange, and I wish that it would be more normalized and pushed back home. Regardless, I am so thankful that I have been given this opportunity through TAMU, and I think that the courses will be great! I am very excited to learn and grow an international perspective and in conducting business throughout the semester. Not only will I learn about my host culture, but also so many others through the other international students that I meet! I can’t wait to share more about my adventures, experiences, and courses in France. Until then, Au Revoir!

(enjoy these photos of beautiful Strasbourg!)

Petite France Views of Cathedral River views!

me

Categories: 2021, France, Reciprocal Exchange

It is officially the first week of classes for the exchange students at EM Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France. Although it may be a few weeks later than Texas A&M, it certainly feels like I have already learned a semester’s worth of cultural and historical knowledge.

 

This semester, I am studying abroad in France in an effort to become closer to fluent in French, travel, and learn more about European history. Three other Aggies are doing the same program with me so we decided to room together. Though we did not know each other before, it has been a grounding and helpful way to have a familiar community amidst a lot of chaos. One of my roommates and I decided to arrive two weeks early in order to travel. We timed our flights to arrive in Paris at similar times in order to take the train to Strasbourg together. Let’s just say that was a good idea because lifting a semester’s worth of luggage onto a train is something I never want to do alone. It was blatantly clear from those moments running through the airport and arriving at the train station that everything was different here. 

 

We settled into our apartment and left the next day for Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. In those first two days, I felt a bit of culture shock and homesickness. Though I expected most changes, it was little things like not knowing what to buy at the grocery store, cleaning a leftover mess in our apartment, and trying to navigate around the city that left me feeling overwhelmed. We had still not been introduced to the students or anyone else in Strasbourg. It really felt like all I had was my roommate! Luckily, our trip was a lovely experience that really got me accustomed to European norms through immersion. This is why travel is something I highly recommend — in addition to bringing my roommate and me closer!

 

Upon return to Strasbourg, international student programs and school information started to pick. We started to meet friends and quickly find our way around the city. It was like everyone was back to freshman year trying to make friends — this time with better food! The people in Strasbourg have been very welcoming, as is typical of Alsacean people. 

 

After a confusing week of orientation, classes began. There was a distinct feeling of lack of organization and communication about the exchange program from many of the international students we spoke to. However, when classes started, the professors were great and excited. An especially cool opportunity of the school is the sports programs that they offer. We can take classes from Acrobatic Yoga to Rock Climbing virtually for free. These classes have been a great opportunity to get outside of the international student bubble and immerse ourselves in more French. I look forward to continuing to do this as well as joining some student clubs. Otherwise, it can be very easy to remain in the English-speaking international student bubble.

 

I cannot wait to see what more Strasbourg has in store! From the medieval streets to the vintage stores and fresh bakeries, there is plenty to explore.

The River The Cathedral

Categories: 2021, France, Reciprocal Exchange

My first weeks in Strasbourg have been exceptional. The city is the perfect size to walk everywhere, but also offers efficient forms of transportation such as the tram and the bus (something we are not used to using in College Station). So far, I have noticed that many of the locals do not speak English. The locals that do speak English, however, oftentimes prefer when you attempt to speak French because you are in their country. This makes Strasbourg a great place to learn the French language. Depending on which area of Strasbourg you are in, it can either feel like you are in France or in Germany due to the fact that Strasbourg has belonged to both countries several times. Kehl, Germany is only a 15 minute tram ride away, and the students at Strasbourg often go there to get cheaper groceries!

The business program has a very diverse group of people. I expected for there to be more students from the United States, but most of the students are from countries across Europe. This has allowed me to learn a lot about other countries in a short amount of time. The business program is really great in that all of the classes are no more than 30 people. The classes also only meet once per week for three hours, which is very different from that I’m used to at Texas A&M. Although our orientation was a bit unorganized, the professors so far have been very helpful and offer very diverse insights when they teach.

Categories: 2021, France, Reciprocal Exchange

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.

Categories: 2021, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

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!

Categories: 2021, Italy, Reciprocal Exchange

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.

Categories: 2021, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

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.

Categories: 2021, Reciprocal Exchange, The Netherlands

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.

Categories: 2021, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

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!

Categories: 2021, Reciprocal Exchange, The Netherlands