Fall 2021 | Semester Exchanges Blog

Almost everyone has heard the trope about finding yourself abroad. The truth is that the cliche comes from some truth. It is amazing to see how much your life can change at this age in a span of months. I’ve made lifelong friendships with people around the world who I still talk to on a regular basis, had a friend visit from Canada, landed my dream job, and my roommate became my best friend–all as a result of my semester abroad. All of which have been incredibly exciting. None, however, have been more revealing than two major lessons:

  1. Fulfillment comes from relationships.
  2. Seeing the world through the lens and experiences of others will be transformative in becoming a more well-rounded person.

For starters, I was nervous about studying abroad because I was afraid of being alone. Being surrounded by incredible friends was the single determinant to making the experience manageable and enjoyable. Having a network of support was so important that I urge anyone to make it a priority. It can be hard, but opening yourself up to opportunity means you may find that network in the most surprising places.

The bureaucratic experience of studying abroad is hard. I won’t lie. From course approval to opening a bank account in France, there seems like there are countless hoops to jump through. It may feel incredibly frustrating in the moment. The biggest advice I can give in these moments is to exercise empathy. The person on the other side of that French bank desk or school administrator does not know the long road you have taken to get here and we should not expect them to. After all, they have their own challenges to go through (like dealing with the back-end of exchange students or University bureaucracy). Taking this approach will allow you to focus on and internalize the good and lessons, rather than cutting the learning short because of something as futile as frustration.

Overall, the lessons of my study abroad extended beyond the beautiful scenery and language. They are ones that I will continue to exercise in every dimension of my life moving forward. They also made me prioritize travel … travel is really fun. 🙂

Good luck!

Categories: France

Semester Abroad Recap and Final Reflection

Last semester, in the Fall of 2021, I went participated in a reciprocal exchange program with the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU) in Vienna, Austria. It is a weird feeling to come back to Texas A&M after spending the past four and a half months abroad. For me, it is great to see my family, reconnect with friends and take comfort in the familiarities that I once remembered and longed for. However, my perspective on the world has seemed to change. My time in Europe will always be something that I remember for the rest of my life. Furthermore, the time I spent in Vienna and the experience that I made along the way will have a special place in my heart and will live with me forever.

Last day in Vienna, Austria.

Shared Experiences

One of the best things about going to a new place is meeting new people. At first, I was nervous to go abroad because only one other person from Mays Business School here at Texas A&M was doing the same exchange as I was. However, during the first week, thanks to the buddy program that the university has and the on-campus organizations, I met a really cool group of people right away. During the semester, we went on plenty of weekend trips, parties, and just miscellaneous adventures around the city. I can honestly say that the people you meet along the way make the adventure that much more fun. Reach out and make friends with someone new. You never know what will happen.

My friends and I standing on Tower Bridge in London, England.

Me, Ryan, and Joey enjoying the night scene in London.

Having a great time exploring the beautiful city of Budapest!

Reflection

I have learned a few things from my time in Vienna that I plan to incorporate into my life. Firstly, I plan to be more open to new experiences. You never know where something might lead to or what positive event will come from doing something new. In fact, one of the reasons I came to Vienna in the first place was to get out of my comfort zone. By doing what’s uncomfortable and exploring the unfamiliar, you can truly experience life and expand your way of thinking.

Another thing that I am trying to take back with me to Texas is to enjoy the smaller things more by being more in the moment. So much of your day-to-day is monotonous tasks where you are truly not even present. Being in a foreign country surrounded by a whole new culture has given me the opportunity to observe more. My education at WU wasn’t particularly challenging. My classes were once a week and they were pass/fail. Furthermore, I took classes that I found interesting. Altogether, this gave me ample time to explore the city and to take a lot of trips. By the end of the semester, I had gone to over eleven different countries! At each place, I tried to take some time to really try to be in the moment. It is different than being on a vacation. I did not feel rushed at all to get from one place to another. I had no obligations with school and I felt like I was not tied to the negative aspects of the world. Just then and there. One of the best trips I took was a hike in Interlaken, Switzerland. Interlaken is a small, quiet, alpine sporty town with nothing but good views of the surrounding Swiss Alps. A friend and I took a few trains up the mountain to the small town of Murren to then complete a small 3-hour hike of a trail called The Northface. We stopped multiple times to just take in the view and enjoy the world around us. Here are some pictures from that hike.

Sitting in a field in the middle of a small Swiss town.

Beautiful views while riding on a gondola.

Views while hiking up The Northface trail in Murren.

Gig’ em from Switzerland!

I feel like no one is always completely ready to participate in a semester exchange, or at least, you can never fully anticipate what will happen while you are there. Combined with Covid and Austria implementing relatively strict mandates, I can definitely get a little quiet sometimes. Compared to two-week excursions or small trips, in semester exchanges, you have so much more freedom. If you do not utilize this time, sometimes you may feel lost in what to do or see. For the first two or so months, I traveled to a new place every weekend and always did something new. However, around October, I slowed things down a little. My friends and I started to explore Vienna more and enjoy the local Austrian culture. In December, after going to London, a few of us got Covid, which messed up some plans. I did not have the chance to be able to go to Belgium for Christmas to see some family friends a second time. Even crazier, one of my friends missed his flight!

In the end, though, I wrapped up my semester with my family and girlfriend coming to see me in Austria. They came for around 10 days and spent New Year’s and a little bit of January with me. We traveled from Vienna to Prague and Budapest by train. I am so thankful that they had the chance to come and see me.

My girlfriend, Haeven, and I in front of the Gloriette in Schonbrunn.

My Mom and I enjoying views of Vienna!

My dad and Haeven enjoying a nice Kasekrainer (cheese hotdog of sorts) and a Gosser (my favorite local Austrian beer).

My mom taking in the sights of Salzburg, including the gate from A Sound of Music.

My parents and I enjoying the view from atop the Salzburg Castle.

My mom and Haeven on the Charles Bridge in Prague.

My brother Matthew and my dad and I in front of the House of Parliament in Budapest, Hungary.

Taking in the local attraction of Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest with my girlfriend and family.

Our group enjoying the sights and views of Prague on top of Prague Castle.

This was from my families’ last day in Vienna. Here we are in Belvedere Palace.

Altogether, my time in Vienna has come to an end. I am glad for everyone I had the pleasure of meeting while there and thankful for the experiences I made. I am ready to come back to College Station to finish out my college career. Thank you for reading my blog post!

A beautiful sunset from my first week back in College Station.

Categories: Austria

115 days full of interesting people, amazing experiences, and knowledge in Europe. Saying bye was difficult, but the aspiration to be back in Milan, and to see all my international friends again, made that sadness go away. 6 countries and 12 cities, during these past 115 days I learned so much about the world, society, and business.

We have heard dozens of times how business is different around the world. From the US to Brazil to France to China to Australia, each country has its own customs in conducting business. As I took time to collect my thoughts on conducting business in Italy (and with the people I met during my exchange), 2 trends kept popping up in my head: People love to talk about themselves, and people value when you are interested in learning about their culture.

My International Friends and I before Christmas (10 nationalities)

People love talking about themselves, and it gets them to be comfortable with one, as the human tendency to be accepted by another person helps in relationship building. It is within our capabilities to listen actively to others, and when conducting business, being a good listener will prove its worth.

People appreciate when you are curious about their culture, as they tend to jump on the role of being ambassadors of their culture and showing you what it is like. Not only that, one gets to learn many things and gets the opportunity to see things from a different perspective.

(Brussels, Belgium) Visiting cities around with people from different backgrounds opens your heart and eye

Of course, business is still conducted differently all around the world, but who conducts that business? People!! I think if we are able to listen, be curious, and be open-minded, our interpersonal skills will allow us to conduct business with any nationality, background, and mindset.

I believe Italians are as friendly as Texans. Very welcoming and affectionate, the people of Milan made me feel loved. Italians are known to be laid back and very social, and during my exchange, I was able to observe that. Not only that, but they are also driven, and even though they may take breaks more often than others, they are able to get to work and deliver results. A smile goes a long way and trying to speak Italian (in this case the host country’s language) helped in navigating the city and talking to strangers.

I now understand that even though we may have different flags, at the end of the day we are all people who probably have more in common than not. Not only that, I learned that we all tend to be more good than evil. Being abroad has expanded my horizon on how I see the world and how it is connected. I am now more understanding of various cultures that I had never been exposed to (like the ones from Ghana, Cost D’ Ivoire, France, Japan, Chile, China, and Thailand), and I am more tolerant of differences, as I see a learning opportunity in them and a chance to let my curiosity run free.

Being abroad made me a better person, businessman, and leader. It opened my eyes, expanded my dreams, and grew my passion for learning about the world and its beautiful landscapes, cities, and cultures.

Categories: 2021, Italy, Reciprocal Exchange

My semester abroad was very eye-opening to how the French conduct their daily lives. As a business major, it was shocking to see the difference in the work-life balance that the French had compared to Americans. In the United States, we are used to a very fast-paced environment where efficiency and money are the priority. From my observations, this is not the case in France. For instance, almost everything, including grocery stores, was closed on Sundays in Strasbourg. The locals took their Sundays very seriously as a day of rest, whereas for me and many people I know, Sundays are for meal prep, grocery store, and preparing for the week. I personally got used to having slow Sundays while I was in Strasbourg, and it is something that I became very satisfied with. Another example is the bank. I opened a French bank account, and the process took over 6 weeks from when I made an appointment to when I got my card working. That is a process that would have taken no longer than 3 business days in the United States. I then realized that the bank was closed on Mondays, and every day from 1-3 pm for lunch break! As a customer, that annoyed me because that was a convenient time for me to go. However, I admire how respectful corporations are of their workers’ time and work-life balance.

However, I also noticed that in France, customer service is not a priority for most businesses. Particularly in restaurants, waiters and waitresses became impatient very easily. The “customer is always right” culture is truly an American rule. Also, businesses would close whenever they pleased, even if their hours said otherwise. Some of this is due to the small-town culture that Strasbourg has, where there were many family-run businesses that could close when it was convenient for them. In my point of view, when I saw businesses randomly close for a couple of days I initially thought, “they’re losing money.” But when I got to meet the lady that ran the coffee shop next to my apartment, and learned that she was a single mother that had to take off work to be with her kid sometimes. Thus, I was reminded that businesses are run by people that have lives outside of work. 

As far as my initial impressions of France, I was both right and wrong. My initial prediction was that the French are very proud. That is true to a certain extent, but being proud does not mean that they are not nice people. They simply want you to respect their culture, and adapt to it, and that is something that makes perfect sense to me. Something that really surprised me is that France is the second leading economy in the European Union. The reason this surprised me is that I noticed so much inefficiency in stores, banks, restaurants, that I would not expect from a leading economy. This proved to me, though, that a country does not have to be working all the time for it to have economic success. Work-life balance is something that I was constantly witnessing in France, and I hope to continue to make this a priority of my life when I begin working full-time.

Categories: 2021, France, Reciprocal Exchange

My time abroad has come to an end. I could speak for hours about the places I traveled to, the people I met, and the memories I made. Looking back at my time in Europe, I learned relatively late the importance of fully embracing the culture of the locals. When I attempted to embrace the Italian culture and language, the locals were more willing to engage with me. Networking and building relationships became effortless when I introduced myself to others with an open mind and with the intention of learning more about their way of life. Without a doubt, my time abroad has changed my perspective on Italy. My initial interactions with Italians made me assume that Italians did not like to speak to foreigners. I no longer find that assumption accurate. I now believe Italians do not mind to speak to foreigners as long as they can see them putting in effort in learning about their culture. I also came to Italy thinking their restaurant timings are similar to the ones in the USA. That is not true! Besides the international restaurants, dining places are usually closed between 3PM to 7PM. This is usually their break/rest time. I also assumed I would only find Italian food in Milan. I was ready to eat pizza and pasta for 4 months straight! To my surprise, Milan is very culturally diverse. There were many poke places, all-you-can-eat sushi places, and Indian restaurants. In the end, I never expected to enjoy my time abroad as much as I did. It was a memorable experience that I will forever cherish.

Universitá Bocconi

My last day eating at Bao Bing. Bao Bing was my favorite Asian restaurant in Milan. It was a 5-minute walk from Bocconi.

Milan in the winter 🙂

Prada Museum with my roommate (who is also from Texas A&M)!

Categories: 2021, Italy, Reciprocal Exchange

After 3 and a half months in Vienna, I’ve learned that many of my peers have much different cultures and mannerisms than I do. Though I knew how different people could be, it was much more than I had expected coming from someone who has only lived in Texas all their life. Throughout my time here something I have learned was the importance of “small talk”. I personally never enjoyed it, but I know the importance of it when it comes to building your community and getting to know people.

In my initial post, I wrote about how I wished the US school system was more similar to that of Europe. Though I still think this due to several reasons, I do appreciate the extra curriculars that are ingrained in the schools in the US. I personally could not imagine going through middle and high school without joining all the clubs I had including tennis and my business organizations.

Categories: 2021, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

As expected, Bocconi is incomparable to Texas A&M University, College Station. Bocconi’s campus is much smaller and all my classes are in the same 1 building. This has made the first week of classes much less stressful for me. Furthermore, I love how welcoming the individuals at Bocconi and Milan are. A lot of people here surprisingly do not speak English; however, they still try to help. There are a lot of differences I have noticed between Italian and U.S. culture. Public transportation is used far more here, students are usually more dressed up, and almost everything is closed in Italy on Sundays. As of now, I am loving the Milan weather. I never sweat and it hardly rains. I definitely am not missing the College Station humidity but I do miss wearing t-shirts and shorts to class every day.

Categories: 2021, Italy, Reciprocal Exchange

My name is James Miller, and I am a Management Information Systems Major from Burleson, Texas. I am currently taking part in a study abroad with the Business school at the University of Nottingham. When first deciding to go to college I asked countless people about their advice for attending college. Almost every person I talked to said they wish they had taken the opportunity to study abroad, so I decided to make use of the opportunity the business school offers. I chose this specific program because I had never been outside the United States before, so to make that process easier, I decided to go to a country that spoke English. When I was finally enrolled, I was incredibly excited to take the opportunity to travel and learn a little bit more about the world.

I arrived in the United Kingdom on September 2nd. Before arriving I had messaged a former student from A&M, so I met up with her. Her name was Jennifer Smith, a former student from Texas A&M and Mays Business School. She offered to take my bags while I traveled around London, where I saw several historical sites. My favorite had to be the Tower of London, a fortification next to the river Thames with a rich history dating back to the 11th century. While walking around the city, I started to notice the differences between cultures. In big cities across the US there always seems to be a sense of urgency, but even in London, it seemed very relaxed. Another cultural difference was the pubs. After work, every day, people would leave work to immediately go to a pub to relax. Which is crazy to me as a college student. After running around London for the week, I decided to go and cross off a couple of items off my bucket list by visiting Stonehenge and the Roman baths. When I got to the city of Bath I met a German in one of the hostels. We traveled and talked extensively about politics and cultural differences. This opened up another perspective about the world that I had never thought about. After traveling to see these incredible sights, I went back to London to grab my bags and head to my home for the next semester. Upon arriving, I met another former student Matt Triggs. He took me around Nottingham and gave me a list of famous sights to visit. After I spent a couple of days in Nottingham, I decided to travel up to Edinburgh in Scotland before school started. When I arrived, I traveled to the local castle, where I learned about the incredible history that Scotland had to offer. After visiting locations around the UK, I headed back to Nottingham and moved into my dorm for the semester.

When I reached campus, I was welcomed with open arms by the University. It turned out that I was there a couple of days early, so I took the opportunity to explore campus and see where I am currently living. The University is different and offers a good amount of diversity between campuses. Recently I met some of the other international students, some of which are from South America and the Middle east. It was great to compare our life experiences and bond over being in a new place. Though we haven’t known each other for very long, we go daily to the University pub (which A&M would never have) to hang out. I am currently signed up for the Waterpolo team (which I’ve never played), and the Italian society (because Italian food is good). Classes haven’t started yet, but I’m excited to meet more students and see how they compare to Texas A&M.James Miller in Nottingham Stonehenge Roman Baths Edenborough Dog Statue In Edenborough

Categories: 2021, Reciprocal Exchange, United Kingdom

Howdy everyone,

I have been in the United Kingdom for about three weeks, and I can honestly say that I am loving my time here! I am currently staying in a dormitory at the University of Nottingham where I will be participating in a semester exchange program and even living here is so completely different than back in the states. From the food served (definitely miss my mom’s Mexican dishes and Taqueria El Sol in Bryan) to the slang used, it has been quite an experience being able to get accustomed to everything here.

I arrived in London, England around 3 weeks ago at Heathrow Airport on a Monday early morning and IMMEDIATELY decided to spend the day traveling and enjoying my time around the great city, even though I was experiencing serious jet lag and had not slept at all. The airport was around an hour bus ride to Central London (where I had booked an Airbnb) but it was so worth it, as I was able to see the transition of the great plains to busy roads the closer we got to London. As soon as I got to my Airbnb, I quickly showered and headed to Tower Bridge, where I had lunch at a famous diner near the Shakespeare’s Globe. I spent that day walking as much as I could in the 8 hours that I had, making sure I Facetimed my parents every once in a while to try and make them experience what I was doing.

Following day – UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DAY! For those that know me, know that I am a huge football fan, and one of the clubs that I support is Chelsea F.C., and I had the opportunity of attending the first Group-stage match against Zenit F.C. It was so odd to so many people that I spoke to in the stadium how I was able to get a ticket; I was sitting on the best section of Stamford Bridge next to fans that have access to Sport Passes for the last 30 years (there is a wait-list for people to purchase a Sports Pass of over 15 years, pretty crazy!) Chelsea won 1-0 that day, a memory that I truly will never forget.

That week I had the opportunity of visiting all of the great tourist sites in London, eating amazing food/falling in love with fish and chips, attended football stadium tours and British museums, and had a 1-day getaway trip to Oxford. To be honest I had no idea how big Oxford and its colleges are, and how gorgeous their architecture is.

Now that I am at the University of Nottingham, I am making sure to be able to explore the city as much as I can, meet new friends, and get ready for school. Our university gave us 2 weeks of “Howdy Week” which are meant for first-year students to get accustomed to the university and attend events to meet new people, and I took advantage of that. I have friends that are from many countries in Europe and Latin America, and I think that is one of the best things to have while studying abroad, even than traveling a lot. My friend-group likes to call ourselves, “The International Group”, because of how diverse we are – there’s an American, Mexican, Chilean, Peruvian, British/Spanish, and Italian.

University begins on October 4th here, which is so odd to me because I have been texting friends from back home and a lot of them had exams already, and I am barely starting next Monday. Overall I am having such a good time here, and I can’t wait to have way more experiences and create many memories.

Categories: 2021, Reciprocal Exchange, United Kingdom

The first two weeks in Prague have flown by but not without many surprises and adjustments along the way. About 16 hours of travel from Texas, I finally landed in the Czech Republic after months of anticipation. In preparation, I watched many YouTube videos, stalked various Instagram accounts, and joined multiple Facebook groups to better grasp what this new city would be like. While I tried to prepare myself, there is nothing quite like seeing and experiencing it for yourself. Coming to this city, I was captivated by the numerous spires and causal castles in the middle of the town. Each building was so beautifully built and each door held so many stories. I was reeled in by the rich culture that oozed out of every corner of this city. With its beauty, there were also a lot of surprises, mostly because I was setting up to live in an entirely new and different country.
My first surprise was that thankfully most everyone in the city center spoke English. While I had hoped to pick up some Czech language by the end of the stay, I am more than grateful that I could communicate with ease. Along with that, locals here were extremely nice and welcoming to tourists (and students). Everyone I came across was very friendly and willing to help with directions or recommendations. The city was catered towards tourists, but during this season of life, there weren’t many tourists there. When speaking with locals, we found that this is the first time in a while that Czech locals were able to come to the city and experience that life again. With the number of tourists being shockingly low, we also happened upon some of the best weather this fall. The first week I spent being a tourist and noticed how affordable this city was. The currency in the Czech Republic is called Koruna (or Crown for short) and one US dollar is worth about 21 Czech Korunas. This meant being a student in this city was more than ideal as we could explore without fear of overspending.
Now very different from the US, there were hardly any Big Box stores, and there were a lot of small markets or specialty stores. This created a struggle when looking for dorm essentials, and left me missing my not-so-local Target. There were plenty of restaurants and pubs however, and a huge variety of food. Coming to Prague, I was worried about how my diet would change but there were numerous options available. While dining at new places, I noticed that the Czech love their beer. They consume a hefty amount of beer and often have long lunches just eating and drinking. They have a lot of local breweries and many tourist destinations showcasing their glorious pilsners. Many of the orientation week activities from the university incorporated brewery and winery tours, highlighting this aspect of their culture.
When being a tourist came to an end, jumping into a new university began. My first impression of the university centered around its size. Coming from the mammoth of a campus that Texas A&M has, this university was much smaller and closer to the city. This also means classes are smaller which makes it easier for exchange students to meet one another. Again, everyone was extremely nice on campus and there were many orientation events set up for us to participate in. While I just jumped into my courses, they often include seminars that were new for me. Going from a lecture to a seminar and sitting in three hours of content is definitely a new adjustment. The program overall seems highly focused on furthering our real-world knowledge and our participation in the subjects themselves. The professors all seem passionate about the content they are teaching, and extremely engaging which helps with those long class hours. I am eager to soak up their knowledge and take in the new learning environment this university provides.
Overall, my two weeks in this country have been amazing and full of many happy surprises. I am excited to immerse myself in this new culture and experience lessons from across the world. See you in 3 months, College station!

A view of Prague from the Petřín Lookout Tower (the mini Eiffel tower of Prague)

Categories: 2021, Czech Republic, Reciprocal Exchange