My last month in Madrid was as bittersweet as can be…
The month of May asked me to study a lot more than I was accustomed to from this semester but was still amazing. The first half of the month we still played since finals weren’t for a few more weeks. The Aggie girls took an unbelievable weekend trip around Greece on a sailboat. We rented a boat out of athens for 4 days and 3 nights and bought grocery store food to save money on expenses on the boat. We saw the most beautiful islands and even got in some natural springs! However, as per usual: I was so ready to be back in Madrid. My love for this incredible city has only deepened more and more as the semester has gone on. I love coming home here, and I have accumulated an extremely long list of recommendations for others and things I wanted to repeat just onnneee more time before I left. Since I needed to study a lot the second half of the month, I got in the amazing habit of waking up early to study, eating lunch at the usual 2 PM with a gourmet 10 euro “Menu del Día” (3 course phenomenal spanish meal), back for more study, and then finishing off with a drink with all of the aggies. What a rhythm! As simple as it sounds, it was amazing because it was all in Spain. The last weekend before I left, I went to Barcelona to visit my friend there one last time. I brought my friend Abigiail from Purdue that we aggies had all gotten pretty close to, and we just flew in for the usual weekend excursion. My best day of study abroad happened the Saturday before I left:
-woke up in Pierre Pescador (north of Barcelona) at our friends lakehouse
-bought drinks and salads and hummus to fill a cooler
-took everything onto Marc (our friend from Barcelona)’s boat
-set off for a stunning bay where we anchored
-spent the entire day anchored here swimming, napping, singing to Abigail’s ukelele
THIS IS WHAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF
Every moment of that last month, my heart was torn between absolutely LOVING my current stage of life and HATING that life was about the ask me to leave it. This semester was the dream. People keep asking me that inevitable question: “how was Spain?” My answer holds true to the same: “It was so good in fact that I could absolutely convince myself that it never happened; it was too good to be true; I must have been dreaming for a week straight… But luckily I took photos and journaled and blogged so that I KNOW it reallly actually happened.” As I have been home the past few weeks processing it and missing it and listening to nothing but Reggaetón music, it hits me more and more how sweet this semester truly was. Adios españa… Nunca voy a olvidarte.
^Our little yacht for Greece girls trip!
^My favorite group of people forever! Love these spanish aggies so much
^dreaming of these view in Greece!
Our group of friends at our one really fancy night out in Madrid! From left to right: Lydia (me), Kelsey, Mikel, Mita, Alexis, and Abigail
Last week, my best friend from the states came to see me! It was crazy feeling like I was welcoming her into my town. I love hosting people normally, and this was no different! We managed to see all my favorite things around Madrid (Including a day trip to Toledo!) while she was here; I was in my element with the opportunity to show someone around! She took this picture on our day trip to Toledo.
There were definitely some crazy things that I noticed while my friend Sarah was here. Most prominently, I noticed that there are many novel things here in Spain which I now take for granted. For example, Iberian ham and paellas are so commonplace to me now! When did that happen? It took me by surprise every time Sarah needed an explanation of Spanish foods. Before she came, I had never considered how many foods I must have learned about when I first arrived! Another thing that stuck out to me while she was here was that I have a list of things that are important to me about Madrid. I insisted that we see all of my favorites while she was here… It was a pretty long list! The Prado Art Museum, Retiro Park, Malasaña, the Royal Palace, and Toledo were some things included. Here is a picture of us on boats at Retiro:
Sarah and I also made friends with the sweet flower lady Nancy at El Rastro, the weekly flea market!
Also, I can add a new favorite now! We went to a Real Madrid fútbol game, it was SO FUN! I have never felt so much a part of the Spanish people than I did at that game. This is a bad picture, but it was an intense game!
Something else that has been on my mind a lot as I reflect on February is the amount that I miss Madrid when I am gone. My friends and I often travel on the weekends, but I love Madrid so much! We have decided that our friend Mikel is going to have the best semester by far because he stays in Madrid on the weekends. Spain is a very special place, why would I leave? Every moment I have here is my favorite, undoubtedly. Let the traveling end and the more thorough enjoyment of MADRID begin! I love everything about this city and this culture and these people. In fact, I love it more every time I leave. I am thrilled to have the rest of the semester here, I will enjoy every moment so sincerely! I am confident that I picked the best city to study in; I miss it like it’s actually home.
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.
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.
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!
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!!
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!
Notre Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg!
– Carmen Pilarte
For any questions about my time abroad, Strasbourg, or studying abroad in general:
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!
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!
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or adding me as a friend on Facebook (Carmen Carolina Pilarte)!
Until next time! Au revoir!
– Carmen Pilarte
Me PARAGLIDING in Interlaken, Switzerland 🙂
P.S. I love lists, so here’s a quick list of things that I miss in the States:
As of today, its been three weeks since I landed in Houston. I am so excited to finally be able to see my family and friends after such a long and exciting time in Vienna.
I knew that reverse culture shock was to be expected, and I was actually looking forward to it! As soon as I got home I started my car and dusted off my driving skills, stalling out at stop signs along the way. After that I took a trip to HEB and gawked at the aisle sizes, cereal choices, and most importantly mourned Blue Bell. I didn’t expect myself to marvel at free ice water at restaurants, but I did.
What also hit me was the sadness of leaving behind great friends and places. Now, Facebook helps me watch their lives continue in every corner of the globe, some even found jobs and relationships to keep them in Vienna. The most important thing that I can always tell myself is how I am able to adapt to any city I move to.
Moving long distances or hearing different languages every hour of every day no longer gives me anxiety but instead gives me excitement because I know that there are so many opportunities to make connections with people. I’m even looking into job opportunities in the UK.
I hope you found some useful insight out of these sporadic posts… and if you’re ever in Vienna, please swing by Travel Shack and start a conversation. It was the best choice I’ve ever made.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next month I’ll be wrapping up classes and finishing my Vienna bucket list!
Well as I said on my last blog post I would talk about the closing out of a semester abroad in Strasbourg France and also touch on the return to the United States.
April was a weird month because for the first two weeks I only had class once a week. Most of my classes ended the last week of March actually. So for Easter weekend a group of us traveled to the south of France to Nice and Monaco. It was absolutely beautiful and I highly suggest visiting here when it is warm! After finishing my last real classes we had one week off for spring break before our “Finals Week” began. For Spring Break I took a solo trip to Cork and Dublin Ireland. As scary and intimidating as that may sound, Cork was probably one of my most favorite visited places all semester. It was absolutely beautiful and I really enjoyed my time alone to explore and reflect on the semester I have had.
Returning from Spring Break I began to study for the two finals I had left later that week. In total I had 5 finals I believe. But my 3 business finals were honestly quite easy, two of them being 10 multiple choice questions and a short answer. My 2 french language finals were the hardest, but even then definitely manageable. Once finals were completed I had about a week left before leaving to return to Texas so a lot of exploring was done. It is crazy how I lived in Strasbourg for four months yet there were still so many places I had not visited or seen. I strongly suggest taking the time to become an expert in your own hometown and focus a little less on all the extravagant adventures. I was able to do all my gift shopping for friends and family, climb to the top of the cathedral and enjoy one last gelato cone at our favorite spot. Saying good bye to friends and Strasbourg was definitely hard, but I try to see it as a “Till next time” instead.
Returning to the states was actually A LOT easier than what I was lead on to believe. My biggest fear was driving my car again but it really is like riding a bike. Walmart seems SO SO big in comparison to Simply in France, but it is nice to have everything you need all in one place. I also managed to remember to tip my server the first restaurant I went to; which is mainly what my past week at home has consisted of: visiting friends and eating well missed food.
This experience is one I am beyond grateful for and so glad that I did. I was able to learn so much more than I ever imagined in and outside of the classroom, as well as learn a lot about myself and where I want to go with my life. I hope everyone seizes the opportunity to study abroad!
Thanks for following along this semester and best of luck in your future adventures, whatever they may be!
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