Here is a little insight to my life here in Barcelona, Spain as a exchange student! It has been an amazing time so far to say the least, I have met many new friends and have already seen quite a bit of Catalonia and the local culture here. Upon moving into my apartment, I was really nervous. Fresh off of 20+ hours of traveling, my house wasn’t what I was expecting, but its location 5 minutes from my university trumps any complaints I have. Getting acclimated to the city was tough, the first week I could not sleep longer than 3 hours and would often be awake until 3-4 am restless in bed. After awhile, I was able to get over my jet lag and actually get to start enjoying the city. Here at UPF, there is an organization that hosts a welcome orientation along with 2 weeks of welcome events for exchange students. Through this organization, I have seen so much of the city and have met many amazing friends from all over the world. From these people I’ve met, there is a group of about 20 that I have become very close with. We’ve traveled around the state of Catalonia and have seen two other cities, Girona and Tarragona, in addition to everything we’ve done around Barcelona. With all the fun and good things has also come with the downsides of living here. As most people have heard, pick-pocketing and mugging are rampant here in Spain, especially Barcelona. I have 4 friends who have been pick-pocketed and/or mugged by people here in the city. Just the other night, a friend and I were walking home and a group of guys attempted to pickpocket us. Luckily we were able to get away without get losing any belongings or getting hurt. It is a huge difference living in a city where you have to be conscious of your surroundings all the time. It is a weird experience that really makes you appreciate living in safe places like in College Station and Dallas. School here is also very different. I go to class Monday-Tuesday, 9-2, and Wednesday-Friday for only 1 hour. We also do not have exams throughout the semester but rather one final cumulative exam at the end. This is a lot different than how it is back home, and is taking some getting used to. Overall, school is great, the food is amazing, the friends are for a lifetime, and the sights are well worth being seen. I look forward to posting another post around the end of this month with the next things I have done! Until then, here are some amazing photos that will definitely cause you to want to come visit!
Staying in Strasbourg for an entire month through has probably been the healthiest thing I’ve done for myself since arriving.
My view from the tram stop on the way to class at EM!
What I mean is, I’ve learned more about myself and this city in this one month than I have in the few weeks I’ve had here in September and October between traveling to other cities/countries.
While I’m in love with traveling and exploring every new place I have the opportunity to discover, it’s almost been restorative to stay in one place and truly make it your home. I know in my last blog I said I was homesick for most of October, and now since the start of November, I’ve come to feel as though I truly belong here in every respect. Whether it be with friends, school, or just making my way around Strasbourg, I genuinely feel at home.
With that said, November has definitely been busy: all of my classes have culminated with presentations and reports due one right after the other, some of my classes have ended completely (yay!!), I went to see Flume in concert with practically EVERYONE in Erasmus, I had 1000 questions thrown at me about my thoughts on the election results, we put together and celebrated our own Thanksgiving, the Christmas Markets have officially opened!!, I had an awful fever in the midst of my busiest week, my friend group has changed a bit, I’ve gone out almost every weekend to keep having as much fun possible with the little time I have left, and like I mentioned earlier, I’ve learned more about myself than ever before.
Us girls before Flume!!
To talk about a few things specifically, let’s start with the election. Being American, obviously, my opinion was sought after by literalllllyyyy everyone. From professors to other European students, from the days leading up to the election to the moment I walked into class the day after the election results, I was met with the same concerned looks full of worry and pity. Like I mentioned in my last blog, Europeans are not very fond of Donald Trump. At all. So when they asked who I voted for and found out that I did not vote for him, they were more than relieved. So, in the days before the election, mostly everyone here was convinced that the majority of Americans would vote for Hillary Clinton. … How confident they were in their assumptions. Well, like we all know, things didn’t turn out the way I and most Europeans hoped they would and once I walked into my Experiential Marketing class after the elections results came out, all I heard all day was, “Carmen. I am so sorry. How could this happen?” Or other comments along those lines. Now, truthfully, I was disappointed and genuinely sad for my country and friends back home, so I was pretty down for most of that morning. “God Bless the USA” was on repeat for me all day, in fact. Because although I was disheartened by the results of the election, I still have faith in my country and the love that we have for it. I still have hope that things will be okay. Time will only tell, I guess.
On another note, now that most of my classes are over, I’ve comprised a list of tips to keep in mind for anyone who reads this and is interested in or preparing to study abroad:
1. Know how to manage your free time wisely. After speaking with friends who have studied abroad before, I came to France knowing that the courses offered to exchange students are much easier compared to what I’m used to at Texas A&M. And since classes are only for a few hours once a week with the entire course being graded on a few assignments or one exam and/or presentation, the weeks fly by in the blink of an eye, especially with all of the extra time you spend not studying every minute of every day for multiple rounds of tests, quizzes, essays, etc. So the general concept of this tip is pretty self explanatory. Fill your time enriching your life with friends, new experiences, getting to know the city you’re in, and a bit of Netflix from time to time if you’re feeling up to it. 😉 Which leads me to…
2. Do as much as you can!! Do something new and crazy. Go explore and discover. Try new foods. Listen to other points of view and learn about everything possible! Dance and sing your heart out in the middle of a busy street. Go paragliding. Learn a new language. Travel anywhere and everywhere. Don’t just say or plan, DO. Which also brings us to…
3. If you have the monetary means and time, travel as much as you can (but don’t forget to explore your own city/region/country!) Self explanatory.
4. Meet people from EVERYWHERE! My closest friends are Scottish, Czech, British, French Canadian, German, Brazilian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Italian, Danish, and American. And you know, Americans are cool and all, but you’re here to make friends from all over the world and be exposed to their unique cultures, customs, and languages – take advantage, expand your horizons!!
5. Everything is temporary. Now this one may sound like a downer, but it’s really not. Yes, your time abroad is limited, but keeping that in mind will only make you appreciate it that much more. Your time is precious with the incredible people you meet, so it’s important to make your time worthwhile with them. Get to know these people, get to know your city and truly make it yours, get to know what it feels like to change, get to know yourself, get to know what it’s like be okay with going out of your comfort zone. Just get to know everything and everyone you possibly can because this opportunity is worth every second you have abroad. This being said, also remember that the bad stuff is temporary too. While it’s important to work out grades, classes, issues back home, etc., dwelling on worry and fear is too time consuming to focus on. These things are temporary and will all turn out fine in the end, so spend your time doing things you love with the people you love and let go of that which is out of your control, holding you back, or distracting you from making the most of your time abroad.
Personally, in the face of confusion and conflict, especially in regards to friendships and working in group projects/presentations, I’ve noticed that I’m more resilient than ever before. Thinking back, in previous situations, I would have obsessed over “what I could’ve possibly done wrong” and “how do I fix this?” and “how do I make these people happy?” But being in Strasbourg and going through all of this, I’ve learned how to let things go. I’ve realized that the only person responsible for my happiness is me. And with this knowledge I’ve come to discover the most impactful things I’ve learned/gained from this experience:
A Sustainable Mindset
France’s measures to promote sustainability and a cleaner environment are remarkable. Now that I’ve become accustomed to taking reusable bags with me to the supermarket and recycling on a daily basis, it’s hard to imagine that I could ever go back to such a lax outlook on waste management and eco-friendliness. This is definitely something I intend to bring back with me to the states and hope to instill in my everyday life.
I knew from the beginning that being so far away from home for the first time with essentially zero travel experience, this exchange would be the biggest challenge of my life. The unknown scared me, my lack of “worldly knowledge” scared me, not having familiar faces with me in a foreign place for 4 months scared me, failure scared me. But despite all of that, I knew that if I could overcome this, I could overcome anything. And I am immensely proud to say that I have.
I only have 2 weeks left in Strasbourg (3 weeks left in Europe) and now I am dreading leaving the unpredictable, exciting, new life I’ve found and the people that have come with it. I have conquered some of the biggest fears I’ve ever had here, so now, I feel secure in myself and ready to take on my next big challenge.
I’ve lost friends and gained them. I’ve stumbled my way through a French conversation. I’ve figured out public transportation in multiple European cities. I’ve learned how to budget and save money in a responsible way. I’ve taken an 11 hour bus to and from Vienna on my own. I’ve given more presentations in one semester than I have in my entire college career. I’ve found my voice again just by singing “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz at a karaoke bar in front of a bunch of people I had never met before in my life.
If there’s anything that I’ve gained from being here, it’s definitely the confidence in myself to face whatever life throws at me. Even if I fail miserably, embarrass myself horribly, or fall completely flat on my face, I still manage to pick myself back up and find a way to succeed. This kind of confidence has taken me years to develop, and although I’m still nurturing it and learning from my mistakes, I am now more than sure that I am capable of confronting anything that comes my way.
With everything that has not gone “according to plan” or “the way I wanted it to”, I’ve never had so much patience for the world and people around me. Of course, this is easier said than done, but I genuinely feel as though I am able to adjust to unfamiliar situations and perspectives much more easily than I have in the past. I am more understanding and empathetic. I am more capable of keeping a level head in frustrating circumstances. I have the power now to maintain my faith in the fact that what’s meant to happen will happen, and what is meant for me will eventually come and guide me in the right direction.
Long story short, the time I’ve spent in Strasbourg, France has been eye-opening and just being here has been one of the most courageous things I’ve ever done. And I regret nothing. 🙂
November was my last full month here. It’s sincerely starting to feel and look like Christmas since it’s gotten so cold (lows in the mid to high 20s, highs in the 30s) and the Christmas markets have drawn thousands of tourists and visitors every week. I have 2 weeks left in Strasbourg (I leave Wednesday December 14th to travel around the UK for a week) and I have every intention to do everything I still haven’t done here and spend each day appreciating my time with my incredible friends.
Tree lighting ceremony to officially start the Marche de Noel de Strasbourg (aka Christmas Market)!
I’m thrilled to see what these last few weeks in Strasbourg have in store for us!!
– Carmen Pilarte
For any questions about my time abroad, Strasbourg, or studying abroad in general:
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.
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 (email@example.com) 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.
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!
It’s been nearly a month since I arrived in the city of Wien, Austria and I couldn’t be more in love. I am nearly accustomed to the Europeans use of military time and the metric system and it’s beginning to feel more of home than vacation. My university, Wirtschaftuniversitat (or WU for short), has a helpful exchange program called the Erasmus Buddy Network. My buddy, Thomas, picked me up from the airport as soon as I arrived and took me straight to my dorm. It was such a relief. The first day or so after arriving was not an easy adjustment. I had no data plan on my phone, no wifi in my dorm, and no idea where anything or who anyone was. However connecting with the other A&M students and taking full advantage of the programs the school offers were the two best things I did to begin to feel more comfortable.
The best part about the program here is the month long orientation. Before classes start it helps you make friends, travel throughout Austria, and immerse yourself better into the Viennese culture. We got to tour the Austrian parliament, city hall, Musikverein, the Belvedere and Schonbrunn palaces as well as travel outside of the city. So, while I haven’t been expected to hit the books until early March I’ve been able to meet most of my classmates and get accustomed to the location very quickly!
The three hardest adjustments have been:
1) The public transportation system! It is very extensive and complicated. But, when you figure it out every where you want to go is within reach and at most times of the day.
2) Store hours! Do not remember you need to pick up something from the store any time after 8pm because that is the absolute latest you will find something open and even that is much later than a lot of stores. On Sundays, everything shuts down. However I’ve noticed people are much less rushed and expected to get things done now as a result of this.
3) Interaction with strangers and speaking quietly. Americans are so loud and when you get a group of us together I am sure all of the locals wish they had earplugs. Also, smiling at strangers in the streets will get you looks and you won’t hear any sort of apology for being bumped into. People keep to themselves a lot. Plus, the language barrier. Yes – everyone knows English. No – not everyone wants to speak it. Plus, most menus, maps, instructions, ingredients, etc are completely in German. I’m learning quicker than I expected but do wish I came with a better knowledge of the language.
However the three easiest adjustments were:
1) How incredibly beautiful everything is. Imagine walking out of your dorm, down the street, and all of a sudden you are presented with a palace or castle-like building with history that dates back farther than America has even seen.
2) The food. Kebaps, Krapfens, Schnitzel, Sachertorte . For the most part it is also incredibly cheap!
3) How new and unique the culture is. I’ve enjoyed getting a taste of how to live differently than I ever have before and it’s taught me more than I could have imagined. It’s hard to explain exactly what is different but seeing how differently the locals live gives you a new sense of perspective.
Some of the things we’ve gotten to experience include day trips to the city of Linz, and my favorite, the gorgeous city of Graz. Both of these cities won Europe’s cultural capital sometime in the last decade. We got to climb to the top of a mountain coined “castle on the hill” and see where Arnold Schwarznegger’s favorite sausage stand was. We also visited a chocolate factory called Zotter where we were given the chance to sample every single kind of chocolate they made (I believe that was 160 varieties). It was a unique company – they also had a petting zoo out back.
I also got to experience a classic Viennese ball. Ball season ends around this time however we were lucky enough to find a masquerade at the Hofburg palace. This is an experience I would recommend for everyone staying in Vienna. There were several rooms with different music including a saxophone player, American music, classical music, and so much more! I got to see and experience a few of the traditional dances and ceremonies including a demasking at midnight (I got stuck in the middle of this one and I had no idea what to do – people were not amused).
However, hands-down the most fun thing we have gotten to experience is Night-Sledding. We actually sledded down a mountain and the views were breath taking.
I’ve already learned a lot living in Europe for this amount of time and have quickly realized studying here was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I still can’t believe I live in a city where cathedrals and palaces are just around the corner. In the city there is always something going on and I would go as far as to say I’ve forgotten what boredom feels like. It’s even more mind blowing that because of this location I can do things like buy a train ticket to Venice, Italy for the weekend or plan an Easter Break trip to 5 different countries.
I’ve been in Maastricht for a little over two months now. While I feel like I have caught my grove and have my schedule down, there are still plenty of new experiences. I’ve made much better friends with the other international students and have a couple Dutch friends as well. I am starting to understand more of the Dutch culture and can also pick up on where people are from in Europe based on their accents. My friends and the Dutch have also taught me a couple lessons that have made my experience much better.
Lesson: Take Time
Last weekend, I went to Amsterdam on a “Men’s Trip” with 9 of my international friends. My Italian friend Tommaso would remind us to “take time guys, take time” whenever someone would try to hurry us along. Many of the Dutch also seem to understand how to “take time” and enjoy the present moment without worrying where they have to be next. There is no need to be constantly entertained. The simple phrase take time has taught me to be present throughout my Netherlands trip.
Lesson: Nothing goes against my plan
Another small lesson I’ve learned is to not expect things to go my way. When I go to the grocery to buy more coffee, I don’t actually expect the store to have coffee. It would be nice if there were coffee to buy, but the trip to the store itself is fun enough to make it worth getting out of my room. When I first arrived in the Netherlands, I learned that things operate “differently” here. Stores close early and have a small selection of items, finding your way can be difficult, setting up a Dutch bank account takes 6 different trips to the bank, and many more “different” things. Although I have adapted, which decreases the amount of times I mess something up, my attitude is still to expect nothing. With no expectations, life is full of pleasant surprises.
Study Abroad: You won’t regret it
For those of you who are thinking of studying abroad, I can’t encourage you enough to do it. I’ve never heard of anyone who has regretted a study abroad experience, and I definitely understand why. One main reason to study abroad is to learn more how others live. In my opinion, American students are less “international” when compared with European students. Most of the European students I have met speak between two and four languages and know a lot about other countries’ cultures. I on the other hand only speak English and don’t know what language they speak in half of the European countries. However, I am learning.
Another benefit of studying abroad is learning different perspectives. For example, many students are not worried about having a plan after graduation. I stopped asking the seniors what job they wanted when they graduated because they thought it was a weird question. Many of the Dutch and other Europeans travel for a year or two after graduating. Then they might get a job or a Masters Degree or travel around the world some more. I think it is great that they are not worried about what job they will eventually apply for. It made me realize there are other paths besides attending college for four years, taking the summer off, and then going straight to work. Understanding how others live helps you better evaluate the way you want to live your life. While this may seem like a lesson any student studying abroad learns, it is particularly true for Maastricht. Living in the international dorm allows you to make friends from around the world and learn how they live. Maastricht is also considered the most culturally rich city in the Netherlands and was almost nominated as the cultural capital of Europe. Maastricht is the epitome of a cultural experience by offering both breadth and depth of cultural diversity.
Alcohol and Marijuana:
I’m sure many of you are curious about alcohol and marijuana use in the Netherlands. Although marijuana is legal, it is restricted to coffee shops and there is a new law that prohibits tourists from buying it in much of the country. While Amsterdam still offers weed to tourists in coffee shops, Maastricht has embraced the rule that marijuana cannot be sold to tourists. Marijuana use by locals is also pretty low when compared to other European countries. The Dutch don’t view smoking as the cool or rebellious thing to do and find that it is not necessary to have fun.
Alcohol is a different story. Alcohol is very common and the Dutch start drinking from an early age. It also seems that every social event has alcohol. During the first day of school we had welcome drinks in the business school. Also, my entrepreneurship class had free alcoholic beverages at its event. While drinking is common, the Dutch do not seem to get drunk often. They have learned how to drink in moderation quite well and look down on getting overly drunk. I hope this sheds some light on the “drug” aspect of the Netherlands.