Mays Business School, August 20th, 2023
Salut from Strasbourg!
Strasbourg, for those unaware just like I was, is a city in the Bas-Rhin sector of France located right along France’s eastern border with Germany. Looking at the pictures from previous students with CIBS, it is evident how gee-yorgeous Strasbourg’s city streets are. The Germanic, wooden houses lining cobbled streets is just as breathtaking in person as it is in pictures. The towering cathedral is simply stunning, and so, so much bigger in person. For four euros, you can climb winding, centuries-old stairs up to the top and look over the whole city!
I flew out December 31st for a January 9th semester start date; for my first week, I got familiar with the city. I got lunch from the local kebab shop and dangled my feet over the river as I let the sun warm my cheeks. I made unwise purchases from the trendy secondhand store (90 euros for a faux leather jacket…do not do this, friends). It was a perfect way to start my time in Strasbourg.
I admire France’s approach to groceries and food. I loveeee that baguettes are 65 cents, and everywhere, and delicious. Fluffy on the inside and crunchy and crackly on the outside…they are just like that scene in Ratatouille: “How do you tell how good bread is without tasting it? Not the smell, not the looks, but the sound of the crust.” Indeed!
Furthermore, life passes at a slower pace in France. The days stretch out, long and savored. I take my time choosing apples for breakfast. I am very silent; having little to no French language training, I master bonjour, s’il vous plait, and merci beaucoup quickly. I am very intentional at either using French or saying nothing at all—I do not want to be an entitled American asking locals to bend to my will and language when I’m the one visiting their home. However, this would be better if I had any French training. So I spend a lot of time silent, haha. This silence, so far, has been received without issue. It appears strangers are more reserved with one another than in the States, where I more readily spark conversation with passersby. Aside from other students or youths in my age group, with whom it is okay to be more casual, I wouldn’t say I feel comfortable complimenting the shopkeeper’s shoes, for example. Additionally, politeness and respect are heavily emphasized in French culture. I thought my manners were polished enough being from the South, but it is imperative, I am discovering, to use madam, monsieur, s’il vous plait, merci beaucoup, and bonjour with every interaction.
EM Strasbourg—short for Ecole de Management—is but one building! The nearby Universite de Strasbourg has a small campus with perhaps a dozen buildings, but this is not the case for the business school. It is an airy, breezy building with four stories, I believe—one ground floor, then three higher floors. (Oh, that’s another thing I’m getting used to—the ground floor is usually referred to as 0 instead of 1, with 1 being the first floor up instead of being the first floor of the building.) My professors are amicable and accented, but I’m just grateful for the English instruction. They are all very good at what they do. Sections are small; it feels much like high school, or how things are at my brother’s liberal arts college. I am taking the equivalents of FINC 341 and SCMT 364, here, as well as the very beginners’ French course and a class on the economy of the European Union—a field I am wholly unfamiliar with, so I am very excited to learn more. I can’t tell, but I think my professor for that class works or worked as a lawyer for the European Union? That is amazing! Makes one wonder what he’s doing teaching a bunch of undergrads.
Strasbourg is much bigger and livelier than I expected. I was expecting a very quiet, maybe provincial place, and was almost concerned about not having enough to do. But within my first two weeks, I’ve already visited a lively independent comics store, multiple secondhand shops, and attended a Pub Crawl hosted by my university’s International Students organization. I’ve hung out with the four other Aggies here with me—I sense that the five of us will become close :). Furthermore, I’ve come to realize that Strasbourg is the perfect size, actually! Small enough that getting anywhere is easy as pie and the streets are so peaceful at night, but big enough to have its own transport system and active nightlife. I love it here already. I feel so blessed to spend the next five months here!
Some considerations are still being made, however. Strasbourg is certainly different from College Station. First, I’m unsure about the cold. Living in Texas all my life has not prepared me well for suns that set at 4 pm—er, 16:00, most places use 24-hour time, here—and temperatures in the thirties—gah, sorry, 0-4 degrees. I really emphasized cold-weather clothes when I packed, so have wool sweaters, thermal undershirts and leggings, and cozy, durable socks for every day, plus a scarf, gloves, and huge Costco puffer jacket that my Canadian auntie also uses, but what if it’s not enough! Will keep everyone updated.
I’m also a little concerned about making friends. I’ve discovered that it takes me, like, three actual months before I feel comfortable with a group. I’m comfortable traveling solo, but it would be nice to have people to share destinations and memories with.
Finally, I’m not looking forward to the three-hour lectures! Whew! Sometimes I’m struggling in the seventy-five-minute sections here at Aggieland! Three hours? Three hours! Three! Three of them! Boy! I only have one class a day here, which is thrilling—on Wednesdays I don’t have class at all! Incredible!—but those classes are three hours long! Whew. Whew. Will keep you updated on this as well.
Till we see each other again,
Mays Business School, August 3rd, 2023
Coming back to the U.S. from the most incredible experience of my life has been bittersweet. On the one hand, I missed my family and friends a ton while I was away, and am so happy to have them so close, as opposed to being time zones and an ocean apart. On the other, I think about how just a few weeks ago I was living, what felt like, a whole different life… speaking Spanish everyday and traveling somewhere new just about every weekend. I saw and experienced some pretty amazing things, like paragliding through the sky above Interlaken, Switzerland or hiking several miles in between all 5 towns that make up Cinque Terre, Italy. But still, when I find myself being asked by people I haven’t seen in months, “what was your favorite part?,” I can’t help but immediately think of the friendships. Mariana and Anna were pretty much strangers to me in the fall of 2022. We all were marketing students at Mays Business School, but it wasn’t until signing up for this semester abroad, that we met. We were all set to go to Madrid, Spain and looking for roommates and a place to live.
We met for coffee at Sweet Eugene’s and decided right then and there that we would do this together! From that day on, I prayed for the 3 of us; that our friendship would be a blessing to us all. Over the course of our 5 months abroad, we practically lived on top of each other in a pretty little apartment located in the heart of the city, navigated foreign countries, language barriers, transportation, school, and our real, personal lives back in the U.S., and we became each others home away from home. It really didn’t take long for these ‘strangers’ to become some of my best friends. We laughed and cried and grew together. They were by far the best thing that happened to me while I was abroad and I know they will stick by my side for a long, long time, even now that we’re back home. I am forever changed for the better by my time abroad, but more so by the friendships that came with it.
Mays Business School, August 3rd, 2023
As I return to the states this week, I reflect on the past six months I spent in Vienna Austria. My experience was nothing short of amazing and exceeded all my expectations. Vienna is a beautiful city that brings together people from all different backgrounds and cultures, which enabled me to learn and make connections with other students and people from all over the world.
In my classes, I was able to experience a completely different class structure compared to A&M. All of my classes had an international focus and it was amazing to learn about the way businesses operate worldwide. Additionally, there were students in my classes from all over the world (Germany, Chile, Colombia, France, Hungary, China, New Zealand, to name a few), so it was incredible having discussions where we could compare and contrast how our own countries operate. In one of my classes, we took a field trip to Oracle’s office in Vienna and learned about the future of technology from the director of that branch. We also got to see the AirportCity Space and learn about the future innovations that were being experimented there. If I had not gone to Vienna, I would have never been able to experience that!
During my time abroad, I was able to visit 20 different countries, including 30 different cities, something I never thought I would have the opportunity to do. Vienna was such a centrally located area, allowing me to travel any direction I wanted to. With the friends I made in Vienna, along with my roommate, Annie (also an Aggie), we got to learn and explore so many different cultures by making it a priority to go to museums, take walking tours with locals, and experience life through the lens of whatever culture we were in.
Throughout all the weekends and holidays I traveled, I was always ready to get back to what felt like home, or Vienna. It’s just a city where you can easily walk around, learn about the history, and explore new places. In my free time, my friends and I would have picnics in city parks, explore new museums, go to cafes, go to the Prater (the amusement park in the city), drink wine at the evening wine stands, grab a hot dog at the many hot dog stands, and so much more. One thing I loved about Vienna was how lively it was. There was always something going on, whether it be celebrations or wine festivals, we always found something fun to go do. One of my favorite memories was attending a Viennese ball with my friends. Balls are a major part of Viennese culture, so getting to dress up with my friends, enjoy a Viennese waltz, and celebrate a part of Vienna’s culture was definitely a moment I will cherish forever.
Out of all the places I traveled to, Vienna is definitely my favorite. I am thankful for the six months I got to experience there, the people I met, the things I learned, and cannot wait to go back one day!
Mays Business School, July 18th, 2023
I just got home from my six months living in Barcelona and already miss it so much. Going on a semester exchange abroad is definitely the most impactful thing I have ever done for myself. Academically, the classes we took at UPF were very interesting. The class structure is very different from A&M as well as the culture that surrounds the topics. We worked on a lot of group projects and got to learn about the different markets/business cultures from all over the globe. It felt more valuable and hands-on to learn about global marketing from the other side of the world.
Before this semester, I was never able to call myself a traveler, nor had I ever been to Europe even though it had always interested me. Now I can say I have traveled 32,000+ miles in Europe alone in a six-month time span. Living in Barcelona made it so easy to see as much of the world as I was able to in such a short amount of time. I was able to visit 12 countries as well as multiple different cities across Spain. One of my favorite things about these excursions was how unique each country was from one another. My roommate/best friend/travel partner, Grace (another Aggie), and I always made a point to learn as much as we could on each of our trips whether it meant signing up for free walking tours, visiting lots of museums, or reading up on the incredible historical sites before traveling. The history that surrounds these places is absolutely amazing and are experience I will never forget.
Barcelona was also the perfect place to call home. Even after a perfect weekend spent exploring another European city, we were always so happy to come home to Barcelona and see what the city had in store for us that week. The city is so exciting and diverse as it has aspects of a large urban city along with close access to beautiful beaches and mountains. It seemed as though every week there were festivals and celebrations of Catalan culture happening in the streets. One of my favorite memories in Barcelona was Sant Jordi’s feast day which is dedicated to the patron saint of Catalonia and a celebration of love and culture sometimes known as “Catalonia’s Valentine’s Day”. The tradition on that day is you exchange a book for a red rose with the people you love so the streets are filled with books and roses to buy. I found that there was always something to do or a new area of the city to explore, so much so that I can’t wait to go back and try all of the experiences I wasn’t able to get to in my time there! These six months flew by and I am so grateful for my time spent abroad and so happy I was able to call Barcelona home for a short period of my life.
Mays Business School, July 6th, 2023
This past spring semester, I had the privilege to do a semester exchange in Milan, Italy and now that I’m back in the US and reflecting on my time abroad, I can confidently say that this was the best decision I have ever made in my life. However, I initially didn’t like Milan very much because I was expecting it to be very colorful like southern Italy and it wasn’t what I had imagined in terms of diversity of people or food either. Instead, it rained often, it was gloomy and dirty, it was dangerous at night, and strangers weren’t very friendly towards Americans/English speakers. Nevertheless, I tried my best to adapt with what I had and get out of my comfort zone.
Towards the end of the semester I started to appreciate it more, maybe because it was the one place that brought together so many wonderful people or maybe because it was where I was able to create some of the most memorable experiences of my life. This city was far from perfect but I wouldn’t have had it any other way because what I’ve experienced here taught me resilience, mental agility, and independence. So now I have a special love for Milan, where it all began. Throughout the semester, I discovered really yummy places to eat, places to quietly sit and reflect on life, and most of all a place to call my second home. Although I won’t be able to come back to Milan for a long long time, I will hold it in my heart as a place full of nostalgia, reminiscence, exploration, and youthful memories. Before going on exchange, each day I always worked so hard in school and at my job, leaving no time for my own enjoyment of hobbies or much quality alone time. This was a result of my upbringing in a Vietnamese American household so it was all I knew. But in Italy people don’t live to work, they work to live. They appreciate the slower moments of life by eating their meals fully and leisurely, they sit on their balconies people-watching while drinking coffee, and they take the time to walk to their destination, admiring the city views each and every day. They also take the time to get to know each other and build closer relationships whether it is for business purposes or not. Immersing myself in Italian culture meant I’d need to immerse myself in their lifestyle too. Slowly, my perspective on life changed. Although I once had the mentality of being a workaholic and constantly hustling towards a successful career, I learned to prioritize my personal life and goals to make the most out of my short time living in Europe. I learned to appreciate my family and close friends more and tried my best to spend every moment of the day exploring with and learning about them. I still struggle to not worry or overthink about my future sometimes but I am definitely making progress on focusing on the bigger picture of life – to enjoy it to the fullest by experiencing all that you can with the ones you love and to make a positive impact on others because our life is so short.
It’s been a whirlwind of a semester, but I’m so grateful for each and every person I’ve met on this exchange and each experience that has helped me grow and led me up to here. I can fully say that this exchange has shaped my character into someone I can be proud of. I’ve become better at adapting to challenging, dangerous, or unknown situations, making important decisions quicker, being a reliable and loving friend, planning out my next courses of action efficiently and productively, living for weeks with just a backpack, deepening my friendships even with our limited time together, managing my time to balance everything, and appreciating the smaller things in life. Each day, I look back on these memories and am so incredibly glad I took the chance to study abroad.
Mays Business School, July 3rd, 2023
These past 5 months have been incredible. I have visited 13 countries and 25 cities during my time in Europe. My exchange semester has been incredibly immersive. I have experienced the beautiful change of seasons and got to visit breathtaking places. Vienna has been an amazing city to live in and was perfectly located. Being central made it easy to travel between countries by train, bus, and plane. It is a city rich in history and I had an amazing time engaging in courses related to International Business with students from around the globe. Being able to learn from a global perspective made my studies engaging. I have made lifelong friends who I have shared many memories with. As I return to Texas, I remember the feelings I had when I started my semester. I was nervous about embarking on a new journey alone. I was also excited to experience new places and cultures. Eventually, Vienna started to feel at home. One of my favorite moments was getting to attend a traditional Viennese ball with other exchange students. I loved being able to meet different people from diverse backgrounds and exchange our cultures. I also met previous and future exchange students at Texas A&M from WU. These past few weeks, I have had many goodbyes. I am going to miss the historical architecture, cafe culture, picnics in the city, and the people. As I return for my last year at Texas A&M, I know these experiences will continue to shape and influence my perspective. I will treasure these memories and the connections I have made abroad. I am confident that I will continue to travel and build on my experiences. I aspire to work for a multinational corporation in the future and engage in an international business environment. I have gained important skills for my future and I will remember these months forever.
Mays Business School, June 23rd, 2023
Howdy! As I finish up my study abroad experience and in the midst of finals, I have been able to reflect on what these past four months have meant to me. Being abroad for these past four months has been one of the most incredible experiences I have had. Through my exchange I have been able to grow in so many ways professionally and personally. Growing up I have always had a global perspective as my family is from Mexico and I have grown up traveling with them to different parts of the world. What I did not come to realize is that having a global perspective does not mean you know everything, it only means you are open to continuous learning as every culture has a uniqueness of its own.
During my time abroad I met this one girl from Brazil who I grew to be very close with by the end of my time here. She had such a different upbringing than me but what stood out the most about my time with her is that we are still the same. Two 21 year olds in a foreign country constantly learning and growing. Moreover, the more places I went to, the more people I met and the more interactions I had. While these interactions ranged from all kinds of scenarios and conversations, the interest in each stayed the same. If one invests in trying to understand a person from a different place or even the way of life in a new culture, then one will. All it takes is to be interested and open and with that alone, you will be able to grow your perspective and understanding of the world we live in.
In my first impression, I found myself very focused on the details of this new culture. Trying to distinguish the big differences and the culture shocks but little did I know that it was the similarities that stuck out the most. While the lifestyle in Spain does seem to be at a slower pace, the themes in life don’t seem to be so different. My favorite activity in Madrid was simply to go to Parque de Retiro and observe people. My roommates and I kept this theme of going to parks almost everywhere we traveled to. From all these observations, I came to one conclusion, people around the world are all the same. They will walk through parks with their families, with their significant others, and with their friends. They will sit and enjoy the weather and the nature that surrounds them. Kids will run around a playground and play with curiosity. A park is still a park, no matter where we went, and all of them consisted of all types of people simply enjoying the moment.
My experience abroad truly taught me so much and it allowed me to appreciate the life I live so much more. As I go into my senior year at Texas A&M, I am ready to be fully present in every moment and enjoy every bit of it. For this, last year won’t last forever but change and growth will continue to come as I take on life outside College Station.
Mays Business School, June 6th, 2023
As I wrap up my final days abroad, I’m thinking about how awesome my time here in Barcelona and beyond has been. I knew coming into it that I would learn and grow in a lot of different ways but I didn’t exactly know how. It’s cool now to see how everything played out. Not every day was easy and fun but the whole adventure was incredible.
One of the coolest things in my classes here was the opportunity to work in 3 different teams out of my 4 classes. All multinational groups allowed me to work with and come to understand many diverse perspectives. It sure has had its challenges but bringing different backgrounds and thinking to the table always makes for a more well-rounded, valuable team. I’ve come to really appreciate the value of a different perspective than my own. I’ve also learned to communicate and lead more effectively with people, especially those who don’t speak English as a native language. Being understood definitely plays a big role in a team dynamic.
Something I didn’t realize was how easy it would be to speak English here. I mostly wanted to come to Spain because I’m learning Spanish but it turned out to be harder to learn naturally than I originally thought. All the international students can speak English and a lot of people know English wherever you go. So I had to really be intentional about learning and practicing. I have grown a lot in speaking and understanding Spanish but I’ve learned that the best way to learn is going somewhere where no one knows English.
All in all, this semester’s exchange has been such a blessing. So many great conversations, memories, and lessons learned. The one thing that I would encourage someone who is deciding to do a semester exchange is to do it to grow and learn and experience new things. Don’t just do it for the Instagram pics and so you can say you did it. If you’re considering doing a semester exchange even a little bit, do it.
Mays Business School, June 2nd, 2023
Attending the Introduction to Research Abroad Program (IRAP) in Mérida, Yucatán, MX was a surreal experience that I will cherish forever. It was truly an opportunity of a lifetime to be given the chance to work with universities like Universidad Politécnica de Yucatán, Universidad Marista de Mérida, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, and Universidad Anáhuac Mayab. My first initial impression of the opportunity was exciting because there aren’t a lot of study-abroad opportunities available for freshmen. I saw a chance and I am happy I took it. At first, when arriving, I was startled by the weather. It was astonishing to see the hardworking Yucatecans live their day-to-day life in such a heat. There was also a sense of bond in the community in the way people greeted each other and expressed care. The Aggies who attended the trip with me slowly became a family as well.
While conducting the research, I was overwhelmed because I didn’t see the business aspect to the labs. However, as time progressed I realized how much business is involved in everything no matter if it’s scientific, agricultural, etc. Seeing the way numbers from a spreadsheet come to be counted and collected gave me realization of physical inventory. It changed my perspective now when I read and create financial documents. As for working in a global environment, language wasn’t an issue for me because I am fluent in Spanish but the mannerisms were. Attending and informing myself about Yucatecans was beneficial because it helped me communicate with my team members. I’d recommend the IRAP trip to a fellow Mays student who wants to give a shot at what it’s like to be abroad. In two weeks you’d be surprised at how much of an impact you’d make on not only yourself but others.
Mays Business School, May 28th, 2023
I am so glad I was able to study abroad in Milan. I grew as a person because being on my own for a whole semester in Milan made me more independent and resourceful. I also learned so much about Italian culture and other cultures in Europe by visiting historical landmarks, museums, and by conversing with locals. Moreover, I came to appreciate the rich history and culture Milan and many places in Europe have going back over 1000 years. I forget how young of a country the United States is compared to some of these places in Europe.
Some of my assumptions about Milan have been right. Pretty much everyone I talked to was willing to help me out if I got lost or if I was looking for something. Also, throughout my time abroad not many people spoke English which surprised me because I thought English was taught to most students. Lastly, I was right about the lack of options for food. After a while, I got tired of eating Italian food, McDonald’s, and KFC. I was wrong about the size of the city. The city was much larger than I thought it was going to be and it took a while to get from one side of the city to the other side.
After being in Milan for a few months, I learned that Italians take their time to do things as they prioritize the work-life balance and are not always rushing from place to place like most Americans. For example, many Italian restaurants are closed in the middle of the day and lots of museums are closed on Monday. Also, I realized that when I emailed Professors or other Italians they wouldn’t respond as quickly as my professors at Texas A&M. Overall, however, conducting business in Italy is very similar to how it’s conducted in the United States.