CIBS | Semester Exchanges Blog

March 5, 2017

Howdy Ags! I can’t believe it’s March already. Please accept this blog post as a little snippet of my life in Copenhagen during February, along with my sincere apologies for the delay. I think at the very least you should know life has been SO great that I hardly noticed the months change a couple weeks back. Even though student life creates some routine in my day-to-day, there is still never a dull moment between lectures, making new friends, adventures in the city, and excursions beyond Denmark’s borders. We’ll get to those things later. But first, I have to talk about an overarching theme for the month of February….

Cold weather.

Now I realize that anything is cold compared to College Station, but having lived in South Bend, Indiana during undergrad and in Denver, Colorado before starting the Mays MBA, I certainly am familiar with “real” winter. That being said, the Copenhagen cold took me by surprise! I now realize there were a couple of factors at play. Firstly, the winter weather here is chaotic. Just when you’ve bundled yourself up for the cold, rain starts pouring down. And once you’ve gotten your umbrella, the rain turns into snow. This coupled with cloudy short days makes dressing for the weather, and staying chipper in the midst of it, kind of hard. Second, I’ve never been a pedestrian/bicycle commuter in a very cold place. In the absence of a car, everyone really is forced to carry on through all of the elements. Have you ever ridden a bike as fast as you can against wind? Against rain?? Against snow??? For your sake, I hope you never have to. But it certainly builds character! Jokes aside, I think the winter weather helps explains how the Danish concept of Hygge (pronounced “hoo-guh”) has carved out such a critical place in social culture.

Hygge explained: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-year-of-hygge-the-danish-obsession-with-getting-cozy

As an outsider, even I am still figuring out exactly what hygge is. However, if I had to put it simply, hygge is a combination of coziness, warmth, and intimacy created by nesting and retreating with your friends, family, or even alone. This takes on various forms depending on who you are, but it almost always includes candles, dim lighting, blankets and pillows, and whatever beverages and foods are your comfort. Even simpler put, hygge is getting out of the cold and into the warmth to find some simple personal contentment. When the alternative is being pelleted with unpredictable precipitation, I choose hygge too! Haha

My version of hygge

It wasn’t always so cold though. And when it wasn’t, my exchange friends and I took advantage. I’ve spent countless free days in Copenhagen’s museums and meandering along the waterways that cut through the city center. Also, pastries. Lots of Danish pastries. And as a student at CBS, I’ve also enjoyed just being a member of the university community. By attending on campus panels, playing pick-up soccer matches, and studying in the various cafes around campus, I’ve gotten to meet a variety of non-exchange CBS students. As in most cases, I’ve found the community to be smaller and less intimidating than it seems, with faces becoming more and more familiar. Most recently, a local Gymnasium (a Danish hybrid between high-school and associate’s degree) just north of the city requested an exchange student come speak with some students about cultural differences between Denmark and the outside world. I volunteered to speak with two Ordrup Gymnasium classes, and as it turns out, I actually benefited a lot from learning about their academic system and youth culture.

Ordrup Gymnasium talks

Ordrup Gymnasium talks

We talked about the perceived outgoing nature of Americans versus the more reserved Danes, Donald Trump, Taylor Swift vs. Drake, drinking culture (the legal purchasing age is 16 in Denmark!!), and everything in between. The students were curious and open, but most impressively, well informed. One of the key takeaways for me was that as a nation of 5.6 million, it is encouraged if not critical, that Danes know a lot about what is happening in the rest of the world. Much of what happens in America ripples (very quickly) into their lives. If I’m honest with myself, my worldview was nowhere near as perceptive at that age, so I left the school very impressed.

I’ll round things out by talking about one of the biggest perks of Europe – everything is relatively close. I’ve been able to get to France, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, and the UK on a student budget, and it’s been fun to compare those cultures not just to America, but to Denmark, which now feels a little like “home.” The gymnasium students I spoke with asked me what’s the biggest thing I’ve learned from all of my travels (both on this stint and other treks abroad). I told them this, which seems to ring louder and louder true – The more countries I visit and people I meet, the more I am convinced that more connects us as people than separates us. This is a core reason for my love of travel, and also one of the biggest benefits of being a traveler. It’s nice to feel that oceans away, things can still seem familiar and that people my age share similar ambitions and challenges, interests and passions. It creates a lot of optimism for what we as future professionals can accomplish back at home and across borders.

Bergen, Norway

Nice, France

 

Until next time…

Isabel

Categories: 2017, Denmark, Reciprocal Exchange

Copenhagen started feeling like home around the middle of October. That was when I truly understood the roads, the system of biking and walking and catching trains, shopping in small supermarkets, and overall I got the “hang of things.” It was also, October was the first time I ever truly saw the seasons change. In about two weeks Copenhagen burst into a gold wonderland of falling leaves, crisp air, and even pumpkins showed up everywhere. It was exciting to see the changes that so many associate with fall, yet we miss in South Texas. I grew up in San Antonio, and the leaves never really changed, not until they fell off in December. It was a kind of wonderland for me to see.

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Copenhagen city parks come alive in the Fall!

October was also a mid semester break at CBS! For many students this means a week of traveling, catching up on reading, or simply exploring. However, this break was consumed by an exam at CBS. Academics at CBS are based heavily on final exams, meaning there are no mid semester exams, assignments, or quizzes, but each class ends with a final assessment. CBS also has a system of quarters and semesters, meaning some classes end in October and other begin in October, while many last through December. I am enrolled in one quarter class, which had an exam in October, the last day of the mid semester break.

This exam was an oral exam for my maritime economics class.  The strucutre of an oral exam is actually quite nice, once you get over the fact that you could be asked a very few number of questions that could cover everything you learned in over 20 class sessions. I prepared for the exam simply by reviewing my notes and reading the summaries at the end of each chapter of the textbook. For oral exams, CBS has the course professor and one outside examiner, to make the grading more fair. It was great to finally take an exam (funny to say, but true). CBS has so few assessments in the courses, but they really are enjoyable classes that are taught in a different way than those at Texas A&M.

Another thing about this exam, and the courses at CBS in general, is the grading scale. Danish courses are graded on a 7 point scale, -2, 0, 2, 4 , 7,  9, and 12, where 2 is passing (however Texas A&M requires a 4).  This is a pretty basic scale, but still strange when compared to A, B, C, D, and F.

It is now getting very cold in Northern Europe, as one would expect. Copenhagen had snow a week ago, but has since started to warm up! The best part of the snow was experiencing it with my parents, who visited from the U.S. at the beginning of November. If anyone can visit you on your study abroad, welcome them! It is so fun to show off your new home to parents, friends, and even siblings. img_0187 de4b359e-6653-448a-8e4a-e2d9851e5bbe

Categories: 2016, Denmark, Reciprocal Exchange

It is definitely a breathtaking sight, Fall in Europe. It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of when thinking about what the season is supposed to be like – leaves changing into the most beautiful reds, oranges, and golds, then eventually falling to the ground and giving your daily walks an extra crunch to your step, the days are cool and crisp, the streets are festive with holiday decorations, and the people are all out enjoying every part of what the season has to offer. We don’t get this in Texas. At most we get a few fallen leaves, but summer just seems to blur into winter one day after some kind of cold front in mid-November.

Enjoying a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower!

Enjoying a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower!

Visit to Vienna to see my fellow Aggie Morgan Hampton!

Visit to Vienna to see my fellow Aggie Morgan Hampton!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Actually, there are a lot of things that I’ve observed this past month that make Strasbourg and College Station/Houston seem like they are worlds apart. Here are some examples to illustrate:

  • Having cash on hand is a MUST because a lot of restaurants or food stands only accept cash. Back in Texas, I would rarely ever have cash on me and just pay for everything with my debit card. Here, the only places you can really count on to have a card machine are American food chains, nicer, “sit-down” restaurants, most bars, and grocery stores.
  • Everyone smokes cigarettes. And when I mean everyone, I genuinely mean that most, if not all, of the people I’ve met smoke daily or on occasion, depending on the social setting.
  • The language barrier isn’t as much of an obstacle as I thought it would be. Strasbourg is actually a very “English-friendly” city. And if I come across someone who doesn’t speak any English, I have some wonderful friends who are always there to help me out or there is always someone within distance who speaks even a little bit of English who can help translate. For the most part, the French here are open to practicing their English with you. They may be a bit shy or self conscious about it, like how I feel when I try to speak in French, but with a welcoming attitude and some reassurance, we’ve always found a way to communicate and have interesting conversations!
  • In the U.S., it’s pretty much mandatory to keep dogs on their leashes at all times when they’re in public. So many of the dogs here are so trusted by their owners, that they are constantly off their leashes! Being an extreme dog-lover, it always warms my heart to see them walk so freely and loyally next to their owners. 🙂
  • Bicyclists and bicycle lanes are immensely respected. So much of every sidewalk is dedicated to bicyclists, sometimes leaving small, narrow walkways for other pedestrians. Also, both pedestrians and bicyclists are given priority when crossing the street, 99% of the time. Being from a country where everyone just wants to get to where they’re going as fast as possible at whatever the cost, it’s so unusual to see practically every driver give the right of way to a pedestrian, even if the pedestrian is in the wrong and it’s the driver’s turn to go.
  • The cars here, judging by what I’m used to seeing in Houston and College Station, seem to be stuck in the 90s/early 2000s, with the majority of them still being manual and using stick shift.
  • Air conditioning is basically non-existent throughout Europe, but radiators are everywhere. When I arrived in London and then in Strasbourg a week later at the end of August, this was my biggest issue to deal with because temperatures had reached record highs at that point, meaning that it was as hot here as it was in Texas. In August. With no A/C. When I was so used to having it every single day to cool off from the scorching summer heat back in TX. This was a huge adjustment, but luckily I bought my own fan and it got cooler soon after arriving, so I didn’t have to suffer for too long!
  • Baguettes are definitely everywhere. The French love their baguettes!!
  • Meals are seen as a social event, meaning that the French like to sit down, take their time, and really enjoy their food with the people around them. Meals can sometimes take hours, especially depending how much wine there is to drink!! So all of this basically implies that eating on-the-go is typically frowned upon and people can give you some judgmental looks. Trust me, I’ve learned from experience. But at the same time, if I am really in a hurry, really hungry, or really don’t care (which is most of the time), I will still occasionally eat my food while I’m walking around Strasbourg! Maybe it’s the American in me, maybe it’s because I love food too much. Either way, I’ve definitely learned to embrace this concept of meals being social events and I appreciate now the importance of taking your time to sincerely enjoy a meal and the company you’re with.
  • Obesity is rare. The French are considerably more active and eat healthier in comparison to the United States. Despite having a lot of bread and pastries incorporated into their diets, the opportunities for the French to gain a lot of weight is also extremely low here. With all of the bicycle lanes, lack of drive-thrus, limited options for fast food, and short distances between businesses, homes, etc., the French eat healthier foods, have healthier meal options, and walk/bike on a daily basis.
  • When travelling on French highways, traffic is nonexistent and the views are beautiful because of all the French countryside between major cities. The highways are also not bombarded by businesses, billboards, and lights right next to them, so at night, all you see is darkness around you, with the only lights coming from the few passing cars, distant light poles, and the stars above.
  • Besides being a paying customer at a restaurant or gas station, sometimes you have to pay to use public toilets… very annoying and inconvenient at times when you don’t have 50 or 70 cents and really have to go to the bathroom.
  • Class attendance is mandatory for all of my classes, all of which have a sign in sheet for the 20-30 students enrolled in the class – very different from the classes with 100+ students that I’ve taken at A&M, which are obviously very easy to skip if you’re not feeling up to going to class that day.
  • EVERYONE WANTS TO KNOW MY OPINION ON THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION AND WHO I VOTED FOR. They all are so in-the-know of everything that’s going on in the States, and a lot of them held watch parties for the presidential debates!! Also, very important note, every European I’ve come across hates Trump and breathes a sigh of relief when they find out that I did not vote for him… Interesting.
  • And last but not least, my very favorite: DOUBLE CHEEK KISSES. Being a Hispanic American, I’m used to a kiss on the cheek to greet other Spanish speakers. But for some reason, the double cheek kiss is so much more fun! 🙂 Any time I meet someone new, greet, or say goodbye to my friends (guys and girls), I always do the double cheek kiss and I secretly hope to bring this back with me to the U.S. after I’m done here. A girl can dream!!
Amsterdam!! :)

Amsterdam!! 🙂

Despite all of these differences, Strasbourg has finally started feeling like home. I don’t feel like a visitor anymore. I’ve claimed Strasbourg for my own and genuinely feel as though it is my city. Crosswalks and public transportation have become so familiar to me, getting around Strasbourg has become second nature. The people I see every day are so ingrained into my daily routine and life, I feel as though I’ve known them for years and that I will seem them every day for years to come. But, of course, this isn’t true – I have about a month and a half left in Europe and every day that goes by, this reality starts to hit me harder and harder. As much as I don’t want to leave and am trying to make the absolute most out of rest of my exchange, I can’t help but think about how excited I am to go home and see my family again. October has definitely been my homesick month. For some people, they are homesick for a couple of days, for a week, or maybe even less or more. But for me, it’s been this whole month. It was more prominent at the beginning of October, but each day that goes by, I keep thinking, “I’m one day closer to seeing my family and friends back home.” I feel pretty guilty about this on some days, just because I know that once I’m back to my “normal” routine in Texas, I’m just going to want to be here and I’ll miss France constantly. That’s why although I’m excited to see all of my loved ones back in Texas, I’ve been trying extra hard to enjoy the rest of my days here and continue to enrich my time/life in France with all of what Strasbourg has to offer. So, I’ve decided that November will be my “Strasbourg” month. I’m not travelling anywhere outside of France until after exams are over, so I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can about my city in the time I have left.

October has been a roller coaster month for me. It’s been unbelievable how much I’ve learned about myself in the face of adversity, frustration, and longing, especially in such a short period of time adjusting to a new home. It may seem as though I’m not enjoying myself, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I am truly happy. I’m happy with who I am, who I’m becoming, who I’ve surrounded myself with, what I’m learning, and how I’ve been spending my days here. Life just happens, you know? Adjusting to a new home takes a lot of time, effort, stress, worry, and improvisation. This “frustration stage” is typical of a lot of people who study abroad (we were warned about it in one of our pre-departure meetings before leaving). But I’m glad to say that this stage of my exchange (not the exchange itself!!) is coming to an end.

The phrase “The grass is always greener on the other side” keeps popping into my head these days. But so does the phrase “It’s greener where you water it.” I know right now I might want to be back in Texas, but I know once I’m there I’ll just want to be in France. So I’ve come to the decision that I’m going to make the most of my days here, however I decide to do that, and take in every moment I have with my friends so that I can leave with no regrets, only the fond memories of everything I’ve had the opportunity to do and the lasting relationships with the people I’ve had the honor of meeting here in France.

 

So, here’s to the last 2 months in Strasbourg, they’ve challenged me more than I can put into words,  but I wouldn’t trade them for anything! And here’s to the next month and half, let’s see what happens next! 🙂

Halloween in Strasbourg with Nicole!

Halloween in Strasbourg with Nicole!

Notre Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg!

Notre Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Au revoir!

– Carmen Pilarte

For any questions about my time abroad, Strasbourg, or studying abroad in general:

Facebook: Carmen Carolina Pilarte

Email: carmenpilarte@tamu.edu

Categories: 2016, France, Reciprocal Exchange

Bonjour from Strasbourg, France! My name is Carmen Pilarte, I am a little over a month in my exchange in Strasbourg at EM Strasbourg Business School, and I am at a loss for words to try and describe how much of an exciting adventure it has been living here… but I’ll give it a shot.

So, a little bit of background information: I am a Marketing student at Mays Business School at Texas A&M and the only person from A&M studying here in Strasbourg, I’m in my last year of college (A-WHOOP), and I chose Strasbourg mainly because I’ve always dreamed of learning the French language, its central location within Europe makes for easy travel, and EM was one of few schools in France that offered enough Marketing classes to transfer back to A&M. I never knew that these 3 reasons would lead me to the most challenging, yet rewarding month of my life so far.

When I first arrived, I was lucky enough to have my parents by my side as they wanted to make sure I got settled in and could adapt to my new life relatively easily since they knew that this would be my first time traveling/living alone in a new continent, let alone a new city (but I also think they might have used my exchange as an excuse for all of us to have a week-long vacation in London the week before 😉 ). We strolled around the city, got our first feel for the transportation system, and observed the French lifestyle together in those few days we were all here. And while I was at my orientation week at EM, they helped set my dorm up, told me where the best places to grocery shop were, and left me with the confidence that I was prepared to take on this challenge of living 5,625 miles away from them for the first time. Like I said, I was fortunate to have them with me those first couple of days, since this is not the case with a lot of other exchange students. And although they’ve adjusted and figured things out just fine, even some of my friends were jealous of the helpful knowledge and hands that come with experienced, loving parents. (THANK YOU MAMI + DADDY!)

So! Strasbourg is even more beautiful than I imagined and it looks just like the pictures, plus so much more! The city of Strasbourg is quite large, yet has the atmosphere of a small town/village (kind of like College Station!). It’s French, yet being right on the border of Germany, it has a lot of German influence to its architecture as well. There are tons of lovely little shops and cafes as far as the eye can see, bars and pubs to keep up with its lively student population (making for quite an impressive nightlife), parks and outdoor areas where lots of people visit all the time, and it is home to the European Parliament while also being the capital of the Alsace region of France. It’s biggest tourist attraction is its very own Notre-Dame Cathedral (which, to my amazement last night watching Netflix, makes a cameo in the film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows!!) and is surrounded by people almost 24/7, especially on Sundays, in awe of its Gothic beauty. There are still many places I have yet to discover, both in and out of the central part of the city, but I’m sure my friends and I will continue to learn more and more about every corner of our city as time goes on.

Speaking of my friends! EM Strasbourg has been extremely supportive in connecting all of us exchange students together since the summer. On top of that, my friend Marie started our main Facebook group, all of us were invited to the school’s exchange student Facebook group, and we all also started our very own What’s App group to talk more frequently. Through this What’s App group, I went out my first night in Strasbourg and as luck would have it, I met my wonderful group of friends right then and there! We all just clicked on the spot and kept wanting to find out more and more about each other to the point where I have been with them almost every day/night since we’ve met! It’s crazy now to think that I ever went a day without knowing them!! They’ve become my best friends, French teachers, and travel companions, and I can already tell our friendships will thrive even when we’re back in our respective countries, pursuing our own individual paths, years after our exchanges are finished. 🙂

Me and my friends having lunch in Strasbourg!

Me and my friends having lunch in Strasbourg!

Some of my friends are in my classes and know what I go through on a daily basis with each class, but ALL of us exchange students (even some of the French students we’ve talked to!) know the challenges this school system has generously welcomed us with from the first day of orientation. Although I had read many blogs and had heard about the noticeable differences between our school system and EM’s, I still wasn’t completely prepared for just how different the French seem to organize administrative tasks. But first, it’s best to know some general points about the French lifestyle, some of which can shed some light on why dealing with the administration was so challenging:

  • The French are very laid back and never seem to be in a rush, they take their time and “do things when they do them”, “get to places when they get there.”
  • Restaurant business hours, for example, are extremely varied. Some places, depending on their products, may open at 7 am, 11 am (whenever they feel like it really), stay open through lunch which usually ends at 2pm, and then close until dinner which is usually around 6:30 pm until 10:30-11 pm in some cases.
  • Most, NOT ALL like I was previously led to believe, shops, convenience/grocery stores, and restaurants are closed on Sundays.
  • Transportation workers go on strike randomly and without notice, so entire trams or bus routes may not run all day and people don’t realize this until they’re already late for work/school.

So to sum up, the French are not the most organized/efficient people. And this is reflected in how paperwork, appointments, class schedules, etc. are handled. Our class schedules, for example, were not solidified until after the first week of classes had already begun. Course registration itself was frustrating because you have to make sure that 1) 2 or more classes don’t clash, 2) you have the correct number of credits to transfer back to your university, 3) there is enough room in the classes you want to be able to get into it, 4) the class you want doesn’t get cancelled right before you try to register for it (it happened to me!!). Then, once registration time came for all of us exchange students, the server/website crashed and it was delayed for another 1-2 hours, with some lucky students actually getting through to the website after refreshing a million times and others having no luck at all until the server was fixed. During orientation week, we were all offered a “Culture Card” which gives us discounts to museums, plays, movies, shows, etc. but when my friends and I tried to get them, there was confusion between departments with no one knowing who was actually handling what. That in particular  is also very common here, people who don’t know within their own departments/workplaces who takes care of what and where. We would go up to one desk, ask them where to go/what to do, and they would tell us to go to so-and-so place but when we got there those people would tell us to go back to where we started or somewhere completely different!

Orientation/Registration week was very frustrating.

BUT, everyone I had spoken to said that this is the one and only frustrating thing about studying in Strasbourg. And rest assured, after all of that waiting, confusion, and frustration, like many people had told me before and like I told my friends afterward, “EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY AND EVERYTHING WILL TURN OUT FINE.” And it did, everyone eventually got into all of their classes and got every issue sorted out…. eventually. 🙂

Roadtrip on the Wine Route of Alsace!

Roadtrip on the Wine Route of Alsace!

My courses themselves are wildly different from those at A&M. Instead of going to each class 2-3 times a week every week for about 1 hour – 1 hour 15 minutes, I go to each one once a week for 3-4 hours MAYBE every week, maybe every other week, depending on what the professor decides. Each class also has a 15 minute “coffee break” where everyone goes to the bathroom, takes a walk around the building, and/or buys a quick, small cup of coffee. Instead of going to the same classroom for each class, professors have to reserve classrooms wherever they can and most of the time, I go to a different classroom each time I attend a session of that class. Classroom assignments can also change within 24 hours of the class session so you always have to refresh your email and sometimes adjust accordingly. Instead of beginning and ending each course at the beginning and end of the scheduled semester dates, some classes I’ve started 2 weeks after the semester had already started for everyone else (with one class that won’t start for me until Oct. 19th) and some classes will end weeks before the scheduled final exams week/end of semester. Instead of having 3-4 rounds of exams throughout the semester, a lot of my classes are mainly based on continuous individual and/or group work (with a lot of case studies!) with maybe one final exam and/or group presentation at the end of the semester. And instead of mostly sitting in lecture and taking notes, all of my classes are based on participation, discussions, and expressing our own opinions about the material. But the BIGGEST difference for me was the fact that it is totally normal and acceptable to talk about partying/drinking between the administration/faculty and the students! I’m guessing this is because the drinking age is 18 throughout most of Europe, but the fact that it almost seems encouraged by the administration/professors as a way for students to get involved and socialize with other students is BEYOND what I’m used to as an American student. I remember during orientation week, the student organization that helps integrate the French students and the exchange students gave a presentation and talked specifically about their parties, in front of the faculty, and they were totally okay with it!!! There’s even a bar IN THE SCHOOL that opens up in the evening for students to enjoy, and all of my European friends say that this is quite common at almost every university throughout Europe. I. WAS. STUNNED. This is so backwards to me because many universities throughout the U.S. only ever mention alcohol and partying in legal terms, when it comes to accident/binge prevention and awareness, or if they’re speaking about or to students who are over 21.

What a difference, man. What a difference both in and out of the classroom.

My dad recently asked me if these differences in the classroom made me like A&M or EM better, and it is hard to say. Although it feels like the course load is easier here, not having to study all the time for quizzes and tests, it still is challenging having to really know the material enough to discuss it in front of the class and to have a lot of groups to meet up with throughout the semester for various projects. This may intimidate a lot of people who are used to just getting by in a course by studying and “getting a good grade”, but it’s also satisfying and a relief to know that I have time to get things done since each class only meets once a week and that I’m challenging myself by adjusting to different learning environments and having more to say in an intellectual setting. I can’t even tell you how many times I was left dumbfounded by how much all of the other exchange students know about different topics and current events (especially in the U.S.!!) that I had NO idea about. These students have given me the motivation to know more about everything, to really pay attention in class, to truly appreciate my education, and to gain more knowledge about what’s going on in the world, especially in my own country.

Throughout all of these adventures and challenges, there’s still one thing that comes to mind when talking about studying abroad in general that my friend Ashley Crozier had mentioned in her blog this time last year: studying abroad comes with its ups and downs. It may seem as though from pictures and videos that everything is wonderful 100% of the time, but in reality, just like anywhere you live at any point in your life, there will be times where you may feel scared, lonely, bored, or upset. But the important thing to remember is that it’s okay to feel this way. There will be drama in your friend group, there will be disagreements, things may not always go “according to plan”, there will be times you don’t want to or are not able to travel, and there will be times where you just want to stay in bed and watch Netflix all day. And that is all okay. I know my biggest thing coming here was to “make sure I made the most of it always and said yes to everything and made sure I lived it up 24/7!!!” However, even just a month in, that hasn’t always been the case and to be completely honest, I’ve felt guilty about it. I’ve felt guilty about not making every second the most amazing second it could be because I’m in FRANCE and how dare I not make every second a whirlwind adventure??????? What I’ve come to realize is that it’s impossible. And that’s just the way life is. Don’t get me wrong, every day that I’m here I think of how grateful I am for this UNBELIEVABLE opportunity to experience the world and learn from it. But life throws itself at you in every direction and you have to deal with it, through all of the good and the bad. I think this is what a lot of people may forget to realize when all they see are all the pictures/videos of happy people in wondrous places, so this is just an important reminder that if you plan to study abroad, it’s okay to have your good days and your bad, and it’s okay to make every day count, the way YOU want to make it count in that moment, not the way you think is expected of you.

I am learning and growing, I am gaining perspective in a world outside of College Station, TX, and I could not be more thankful. Not a lot of people get the opportunity, so if you’re reading this and have given studying abroad some thought, DO IT. Make it happen, however you can. Even if there are obstacles, even if you have your doubts, I PROMISE that this experience, whatever the length of the trip, is more worth it than I can possibly put into words. You just have to experience it to find out for sure. Take it from me and all of those who came before me who have studied abroad. I mean I’ve only been here for a little over a month, but just know that this has already been more than a dream come true.

September was spectacular in Strasbourg and left in the blink of an eye. And these next 3 months are going to fly by I’m sure, but I AM THRILLED TO SEE WHAT’S TO COME, and if you’re interested enough, I HOPE YOU ARE TOO! Oh, and if you have any questions about my experience or studying abroad in general, PLEASE do not hesitate to contact me via email (carmenpilarte@tamu.edu) or adding me as a friend on Facebook (Carmen Carolina Pilarte)!

Until next time! Au revoir!

– Carmen Pilarte

Me PARAGLIDING in Interlaken, Switzerland :)

Me PARAGLIDING in Interlaken, Switzerland 🙂

 

P.S. I love lists, so here’s a quick list of things that I miss in the States:

  • Driving my car
  • Whataburger, and American fast food in general
  • Drive thrus at restaurants
  • Tex-Mex food
  • Country music, surprisingly
  • Texas sunsets
  • FTA Football Games and BTHOEveryone!!
  • The Aggie Spirit and Sawing Varsity’s Horns Off
  • My mom’s cooking
  • And of course my family, friends, and my pup Max

Categories: 2016, France, Reciprocal Exchange

Its so strange that I have less than a month left in Vienna. Classes are winding down and more friends are saying goodbye as they move back to all corners of the globe. This past month was filled with tests, presentations, and readings. I mainly stayed in Vienna and spent time with friends ticking off every item on our giant list. While I thought these last few weeks would be rough as great friends leave, I realized one thing. After only 5 months, I have friends all around the world! I can already see myself saying things like “My Dutch friends always say…” or “Brazilians love kebabs more than anybody” when I’m back in the states pestering my friends.

I miss the US so much…my dog, driving on long highways to name a few things. Nonetheless Vienna has felt more and more like a home with each passing day. Whether its walking through Karlsplatz after class, saying hallo to the the gelato vendor by Prater (who now knows me by name and knows my order, yikes), or even bumping into other exchange students in the merkur food market in Westbahnof. Everything is fitting into place and becoming comfortable.

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This semi assimilation over the past few months has proved something to me. I’m capable of moving anywhere, and with time and effort I can make friends, appreciate the local culture, and enjoy the small things. This fact really puts my mind at ease when I think about interviewers asking me which office I would see myself at. The anxiety of moving across the country doesn’t even come compare to this experience, because I know that by getting through the tough first few weeks of this exchange I can handle any move. I’m definitely not the same person.

Categories: 2015, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

It’s taken me a long time to sit down and write this. It’s so hard to believe that this semester flew by. I’ve been home for two weeks and I’m still waiting to go back, to pack my backpack and head back to the little dorm I called home for the last 5 months. I suppose the best thing I could do for the readers at this point could be to give you my opinions of the pros and the cons of Oslo. Let’s begin on a good note and start with pros.

Pros: -There are cafes everywhere and the coffee shops and baristas are awesome and the coffee is the best in the world (Really!). -The scenery is amazing and if you are a nature lover it will put you in a hypnotic trance, a state of adoration and comfort here-to-for never experienced. -Everyone is extremely friendly and most people speak English so getting around is quite easy.  -Brunost is awesome brown cheese that tastes like cheddar cheese and maple syrup. I prefer the one in the blue package made from goat’s cheese. It is just so awesome so if you are going there please, for me, try some. (It’s great on Vaffels.) -You will meet amazing people from everywhere and learn to drink cheap Danish beer together. -The people in Norway, not so much in Oslo but other places, have the same sense of trust in each other that us Aggies have.

Cons: -SIO housing is AWFUL! If I were to go back I would stay in BSN. They charge you for ridiculous things and its really expensive. I would have fought the charges they put against me if I wasn’t already in TX when I got them. -The prices are outrageous, but that is a given. -There is not a lot of selection for food unless you go to mega stores, and even those don’t have anything on H-E-B. You get used to eating the same 6-7 things over and over again. -Nothing is open on Sundays except a few cafes and those are extremely busy then. -It is really easy to get a little depressed during the winter months when you’re getting maybe  hours of sun a day. Make sure you are out in the sun a lot. -The University is completely different from TAMU… it was a little crazy for me to work my way around.

I honestly had a really great  experience and can not wait to take my SO and maybe even my children someday. I hope this blog has helped in some way.

p.s. sorry for no picture, I could not find one to do my last days justice….

 

Categories: 2015, Norway, Reciprocal Exchange

After my travels during spring break it was time for more courses; Marketing, Supply Chain, and Project Leadership. The professors continue to impress us with their careful attention to detail and positive attitude in the classroom. I’ve made sure to scope out some excellent study spots for typing papers while sipping traditional coffee in a spaceship like building (Learning Center, LC). Something that has been at the back of my mind for awhile now is who students from around the world study and how often they do so. Typically North American students take the “cram it all during the last week before the exam” approach, while many European students treat studying as a 9-5 job and use their time more evenly. I decided to alter my study habits to match my Austrian group members for the global marketing course and had a lot of positive experiences. It felt nice to not be in a library past sunset for once!

Coming back from my journey across the continent I also learned to appreciate Viennese culture more. It’s difficult to adequately describe this appreciation but I can say that how the Austrians treat each other, their business tasks, and how they go about their day make a lot more sense. For example, months ago my thought process throughout the day was “Whats the latest I can sleep in? Whats the quickest way to get from A to B? Why can’t I take this sandwich to-go??.” Now, its more like “I really feel like relaxing with some coffee for a few hours before class. I have 30 minutes before class starts lets walk through this park. Wow I can pronounce everything on this menu!” I was pleasantly surprised at this change of attitude to say the least. It only took a couple of American tourists mistaking me for a local for me to realize this.

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After a week or so of classes after the break I got the opportunity to show my parents around this great city. I really began to appreciate this study abroad trip once I began taking them to all of my favorite spots and describing to them how much I had learned. They could clearly see that this trip has had a great impact on how I view everyday life. Seeing their faces light up once they stepped into the LC Library or sitting with them for their first Viennese Opera was very special. My father really admires these opportunities given to Mays students and we spent a lot of time discussing how A&M and especially Mays have expanded their international reach since his graduation from A&M in 1983.

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Next month I’ll be wrapping up classes and finishing my Vienna bucket list!

 

 

Categories: 2015, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

Month 3 of studying abroad has definitely been a smoother sailing month. You have finally gotten over the hump of the entire time abroad and you really feel like you know your stuff. You know where to buy your groceries, how to work the public transportation, when and where all your classes are… things like these really do take longer than you would expect to figure out.

For me in Strasbourg I found the “Walmart” of France, Simply Market. To be honest it’s just groceries and a few necessary toiletry items. But it is only a 5 minute walk from my dorm so I am always sure to go on Saturday because everything in Strasbourg is closed on Sunday. I may have had to scavenge for food once or twice after making this rookie mistake. In France you have to bring your own shopping bags, the recyclable kind that we have back home, and bag your own groceries! You also have to weigh and tag your produce BEFORE checkout, they will not do it for you. Took a while to get used to that concept as well. For the first month or so a lot of us did our grocery shopping at a store in the mall, little did we know we were shopping at the HEB (more expensive) of the town instead of the Walmart/Kroger. Lessons learned for sure.

For transportation in Strasbourg I walk or take the tram. Tram C is my best friend and I am surprised I don’t know the drivers by name yet! (joking) The tram is NOT free, even though for the first two weeks we all thought it was. I go to an office at the city center and pay monthly, 25 euros a month to use all the trams and busses in town. One of the busses will even take us to Kehl Germany which is only about 15 minutes away. Some people choose to do their grocery shopping there because they find it to be cheaper, I personally don’t think it’s worth the hassle unless I really feel like getting out of town, just a personal preference. Also some trains are cheaper leaving from Kehl so this bus takes us directly to their train station. Once we were travelling on the weekend when the months changed and I got back, completely forgetting it was a new month, and my tram pass wouldn’t work! Thankfully the “tram police” were not patrolling that evening and I just went the next day to reload. They do randomly check to see if you paid, so it’s not worth the risk or ticket.

My classes became more constant during the month of March. Surprisingly I never had classes on Mondays or Fridays so I was able to take some longer trips towards the end of the month. I spent 5 days in Paris mid-March, 4 days in Amsterdam the end of March and 4 days in Nice at the beginning of April. (If you want details on any of those trips please feel free to send me a message!) Paris was an absolute dream come true trip for me! I was able to meet with an old friend from high school who is studying abroad there and she showed me all around the city, it was magnificent. Many people question if I even go to class, haha, I don’t blame them. But yes, I do. Usually classes are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and they block anywhere from 2-4 hours at a time. We just meet less frequently, but for longer at EM. Classes here are VERY different then Texas A&M. You basically go to class to take notes and that’s it. There are occasionally some in class group assignments, but no quizzes, no homework, no online exercises. It is really odd and a huge change of pace. Majority of our grades are comprised of 10% attendance/participation, 40% group project case study, 50% final exam. That’s all you get. Feedback on your assignments or a quick grade turn around does not exist. I honestly have no idea how my grades are right now, I know I am passing but I don’t know what my specific grades on assignments are. We don’t have eCampus that the professors update with your grades. You just kind of, hope for the best. You can try e-mailing the professor like I did to check in, but they don’t reply until about 1-2 weeks later and they don’t have office hours. You can imagine my frustration in this matter…

The months really do seem to fly by when you are abroad, which is crazy because when I first arrived it felt like each day dragged on and on. It is important to try to have patience and remember that things are hard in the beginning but really do get easier with time. I can’t remember when the “switch” flipped but all of a sudden I just knew what I was doing everywhere I went. It is a really great feeling! I am writing this third blog on my train ride back to Strasbourg from Nice. So I personally have about 25 days left in Europe. On April 30th I will be taking a train to Frankfurt to meet with my Aunt and then we will fly back to Houston that same afternoon. It is unreal to look back and think about all the amazing places I have been so fortunate enough to visit and learn about during my time abroad. I can honestly say I learned just as much if not more outside of the classroom than I did within. Now that the weather has finally turned to Spring I really do enjoy being here SO much more and leaving will be very, very hard. Strasbourg and Europe has officially become another “home away from home”. I do admit that having friends and family messaging me how much they miss me and can’t wait till I come home adds to my desire to return to the states. It’s hard to go through so many different experiences so far away from your loved ones, and sometimes skype just isn’t enough. Most of the other students all had family or a close friend come visit them, but that wasn’t an option for me because coming to Europe is ridiculously expensive and I could barely afford to get myself over here. With that being said, I am most looking forward to the airport hugs from my parents!  We already have plans to stop at the first Whataburger we see for dinner on the way home and then we are getting Mexican food for lunch the next day and some good ole Texas BBQ after that!  My list of “Food I Miss Back Home” is embarrassingly long!

Hope this helps those who are reading see what my daily life is really like in Europe! My next blog will be about ending the semester here and the “culture shock” of returning to the states in mid-May. Miss and love everyone back home! Can’t wait to be back and see everyone! <3

 

 

Categories: 2015, France, Reciprocal Exchange

Hello again from Vienna! This past month has been packed with traveling, classes, and the
crazy unexplainable! Classes started this month, and it feels like just yesterday I was landing in Austria. My schedule includes a marketing class, supply chain, project leadership, and a European Law class. There are a million differences between A&M classes and those in Vienna, so I’ll highlight the big ones.

First, my classes are condensed and scattered. What I mean by this is I can have a six hour
Euro Law lecture on one day, and not have a Euro law lecture for another two weeks! Because of this strange timing the material is condensed into 4 or 5 lectures followed by an exam. Second, all of the professors are full time professionals in their field. For example, one of my professors is one of the Directors in the Austrian Energy Council, which means office hours do not exist with many professors! Lastly, the atmosphere in the classroom is unlike anything I’ve seen in Wehner. Many times the lecturer will say “let’s have a coffee break!” and won’t give a time to return to our seats…so we end up walking across the hall to a cafe and coming back whenever we feel like it. This super relaxed attitude really threw the Americans in the class for a loop. Also, students in my classes always jump at the chance to weigh in on the topic being discussed. This really makes the material feel like a flowing conversation and less like a monologue.

Finding the real Vienna was another thing accomplished this month. After the touristy events had been checked off my list I got down to the knitty gritty Vienna. I set up a bank account, almost got mugged, gave directions to tourists, and even began picking up some German. While this month wasn’t all glamorous, I can say that I’m really glad I found myself in less than ideal situations. It made me realize that I can handle moving to a completely different place. Adjusting to this country has been tough, but fulfilling and fun. I think the biggest reason why this is true is because of my international friend base. It’s great to know that there’s 400 other students going through the same obstacles as you, and at the end of the day we laugh and have fun too!

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Lastly, March was the beginning of my travels! With my new friends and stuffed carry on bags, I ended up in Ireland for St Patrick’s Day. Those few days were really great. Not only were the views off of The Cliffs of Moher stunning, but the people were some of the nicest I’ve ever met. Their kindness actually made me homesick and missing Aggieland! We are now on ” Easter Break” and I am currently typing this blog from London, which I’ve spent the past three days exploring! I definitely recommend it. Next up my group and I will be traveling to Amsterdam,Brussels, Berlin, and Geneva! Then it’s back home in Vienna to continue class and figure out that city even more.

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That’s all for now, it’s off to the airport tomorrow to continue the journey!

Categories: 2015, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

Time flies…

Hello again from Strasbourg, France! It is completely impossible to grasp that I have already been in France for two and a half months! I swear the month of February literally went by in the blink of an eye! They weren’t lying at the beginning when they said to make the most of each moment while you are here because before you know it you will be heading back home!

February and the beginning of March have been more low key months in comparison to the January. In January I was constantly trying to figure things out such as the public transportation, where to buy food, how to pay all my student fees, I was running around like crazy. But with time all of those stressful tasks have become daily mundane tasks that I complete without even thinking about. Classes have been very steady. I go to about 3-4 classes each week. The difference with school here though is that so far all we really have to do is go to class and take notes. There are no quizzes, no homework, they barely even take attendance. It makes it difficult to actually do work when it is needed. EM Strasbourg focuses a lot on group projects I have had 2 so far and have 2 more this month. As frustrating as they can be, you do learn a lot, especially working with other Erasmus students from all over the world. I did have a few “mid-terms” at the end of February and those were also frustrating because the teachers here are very vague on what will be on the exams and barely even tell you how it is formatted (essay/multiple choice etc) so it makes it very difficult to know what to study. I am personally not impressed with the business school and really miss the quality and efficiency of Mays Business School back home. Last week we found out the offices completely messed up the dates of final exams and scheduled them during the week we were told was Spring Break, you can imagine the panic as we had all already made travelling plans.

Towards the end of February we got a week off of school for “winter break” and our group of merged Americans took a trip to Portugal and Spain. We flew to Porto, took a car to Lisbon, flew to Barcelona, flew to Paris, took a train back to Strasbourg. If I can give any advice it is to NOT go to so many different places in just one week’s time. We were all absolutely exhausted by the end of this trip and the travelling costs really did add up. Nonetheless, I did enjoy this trip very much! My favorite place was Portugal! Porto was such a cute small town where we were able to do a river cruise, shop the local flea markets and enjoy a pub crawl with the hostel we were staying in. Lisbon was absolutely beautiful! We went to visit a historic castle at the top of the city right around sunset and the view was breath taking! We also had a VERY good hostel here (Lost Inn Lisbon) for only 10 euros a night! Can’t beat that! Barcelona was personally my least favorite part of this trip. I think it is because of the part of town we were staying in as well as our horrible hostel. Note to self: don’t choose the 222 bed mixed gender room. The culture of Barcelona is VERY different! If you are walking up and down the main street during lunch time the restaurants will have a person out front who will literally block your path trying to convince you to eat there. I wasn’t even hungry, so this became very annoying.  Our hostel was apparently much more of a party hostel… the main floor turned into its own club around 10 pm but here is the real kicker… people did not LEAVE to go out to the clubs until 2 am! They returned about 7 am.  Given that Barcelona was at the end of the trip a few of us were exhausted and just wanted to stay and sleep, which was nearly impossible due to the odd hours of their nightlife. All in all, a very big learning experience. Barcelona had some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen in my life and the Sagrada Familia is a MUST SEE!

Porto, Portugal River Cruis

Porto, Portugal River Cruise

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Spain

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Spain

Lisbon Castle at Sunset

Lisbon Castle at Sunset

Caba de Roca, the most western point of Europe, Day trip from Lisbon

Caba de Roca, the most western point of Europe, Day trip from Lisbon

barcelona beach

Barcelona Beach

 

I would be lying if I said that at this point in my time abroad (months 2 and 3) that I have not been homesick. The beginning of this experience is such a stressful and hard period that you tend to wonder if things will ever get better. For me there were just so many things I was unaware of and people who never knew the answers to my questions. As time passes and you learn your town and the culture you will be spending the next few months in, IT DOES GET EASIER! There are several things that I miss back home and didn’t even realize I would. Such as: free refills, service in a restaurant, the Texas heat, a normal sized affordable cup of coffee, the convenience of having a TV, internet/wifi/texting everywhere I go. There are several more differences that I come across often but I have to remind myself “It’s just their culture Kelsey”. I am thankful to have skype and social media to keep in contact with my friends and family, but I have also found that talking with people back home can cure and cause homesickness. Be careful with how often you reach out to the states, it is easy to find yourself so wrapped up with the happenings there that you miss out on what is happening right in front of you in your new home country. I love when my friends reach out and tell me how much they miss me, but it also makes me wish I was there and not here so easily. Keep in mind you are abroad for a reason and that they will all be waiting for you when you get back, don’t rush the return.

Sorry for such a long post! There is just so much to share! It is currently the middle of March and I am trying my best to write a paper and work on two group projects ahead of time because the next three weekends I will be travelling! Paris, Amsterdam, and Southern France. Before coming abroad I thought I would get to see 2 or 3 countries, well it is looking like my final number will be 7! The travelling is the best part, so save your pennies to make it happen like I did!

Until next time!

Kelsey McLeland

Strasbourg, France

Categories: 2015, France, Reciprocal Exchange