January, 2009

Exploring Spain

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Hola!   My name is Benjamin and I recently studied abroad in Madrid, Spain at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid.  I am a third year junior, and I study Entrepreneurship at the Foster School.

My upbringing in the San Francisco Bay Area, which included an exposure to different cultures, a love for learning Spanish, and above all, wonderful food, is partly responsible for why I decided to spend a semester abroad in Madrid for Fall 2008.  My reasons to study abroad were (and still are!) many, which included a desire to meet interesting new people from all over the world, improve my Spanish proficiency, travel, and a yearning for the opportunity to plain and simply “live it up”.  Moreover, the change of scenery that comes with studying abroad for me was a true breath of fresh air and a chance to really discover myself.

My stay in Spain lasted from September 1 to December 22.  Intermittently, I did some traveling to places such as Lisbon, Paris, Mallorca, and Cairo.  Recognizing the importance of not traveling every weekend as some of my classmates did, I made a strong effort during the first half of my trip to limit my travels and stay in Madrid as much as possible.  This way, I was able to truly take in the Spanish culture of my host city, really better my Spanish, and more importantly, I invested more time and energy in friendships with fellow Spaniards (and other foreigners), whom I plan to stay in touch with regularly.

At the university my classes were taught in Spanish by Spanish professors, however I took classes with fellow Americans from all over—all of the UC’s, Harvard, Washington University in St. Louis, etc.  They were challenging, yet very interesting.  The professors were down to earth and made every effort to ensure that we learned and felt welcome in their country.  Out of the four classes I took—Medio Ambiente (environment), Español para el uso profesional (Professional Spanish), literatura Espanola (Spanish literature), and lengua Espanola-nivel superior (superior level Spanish language)—Medio Ambiente was my favorite.  Taught by two male professors, class was very entertaining as the teachers always poked fun at each other.  Also, we went on three field trips (Segovia, and two in Madrid), and learned all about the environment in Spain.

In my next posts, I will touch on such topics as the incredible nightlife in Madrid, the cutting-edge food, and my living situation.

Benjamin Zuercher
Foster School- Entrepreneurship
Program on the Environment
Spanish Minor

One month left

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

With a little less than a month left in Kobe, I’ve decided to think back at what I have conquered during my experience in Japan. One of the greatest highlights of my time in Japan in actually being able to work part-time at a Japanese style izakaya, which are drinking/dining establishments typical in Japan. I have worked at restaurants as a server in Seattle, but I was shocked to experience that working in Japan is completely different. First of all, there are the numerous routine greetings that each worker must memorize, and must use when encountering customers. Starting from the normal “welcome”, irrashaimase, to “thank you”, arigatou gozaimasu, there are numerous others such as restaurant specific “one moment please”, “I will be there shortly”, and so on. In America, I am used to my own serving style, sometimes even casually communicating with customers, so getting used to the Japanese system was shocking at first.

Another different aspect of Japanese dining institutions is that servers must go outside of the restaurant, literally outside into the city, to promote the restaurant and try to get customers to come in. Being a short-term worker, I had to go outside to promote the restaurant numerous times, and this was sometimes easier than actually serving inside, but right now it is the middle of winter and standing outside for 3-4 hours is physically difficult. Nevertheless, the experience was new to me, and I tried to enjoy every aspect of it by actively communicating with customers. One last thing that surprised me is that since the izakaya that I worked at is owned by a larger corporation that manages various other establishments, servers are forced to rotate around and help other locations, even if the other establishments serve a different menu. This may be easier in Japan, since the cities are so close to each other and these establishments are located fairly close. However, first I was super confused at this system, and had a hard time getting used to it. Everything is different, except for the greetings of course, so we have to adapt to the place right away and just try our best I guess. Very unique system, but I guess it is better for flexibly acquiring workers at any time.

I am glad that I was actually able to find a part-time job during my stay in Japan, because you would be surprised how money flies during your time here. The room and board is fairly cheap since we are all staying at the university’s international residence, but everything else costs A LOT of money. Starting from commuting expenses, food costs, super high cell-phone bills, insurance, and of course eating out and shopping, my bank balance is constantly at the limit until payday. But I guess managing daily life is one of the highlights of my experience in Japan also.

It is sad that I have to leave Kobe now that I have actually got used to life here, but I’ve been a little homesick recently, so I can’t wait to go back to Seattle and get to share my experiences with my friends and family once I return home.

Returning Home

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

apartment-view-2.JPGSo I just returned home last week from Rotterdam. It was hard to leave all the people that I’d meet while abroad, but once they started leaving to go home I started feeling ready to go. It made me realize that the people I met and the time I had with them, although for only a few months, were the best part of my time abroad.

paris-079.JPGI was also able to travel quite a bit after I was done with classes, which was the main reason I wanted to study in Europe. Everything is so close to each other that you can take a plane or train anywhere for a relatively cheap price. I traveled with a couple people I’d met in my exchange group the two weeks prior to coming home. We went to Edinburgh which was a really cool, old looking city with a castle right in the middle. Then on to Paris and London. We spent almost a week in London and still weren’t able to do everything that we wanted to. There are so many things to do and see. I would also recommend purchasing the London pass to anyone who is traveling to London next semester. It was about 50pounds, and it gets you admission paris-091.JPGinto a lot of different things around London (Tower of London, London Bridge, Globe Theatre, Unlimited subway ticket, and lots more) we easily got our money’s worth. I think out of the places I went to and visited, London and Amsterdam were my favorite.

paris-009.JPGAs far as Rotterdam, it started feeling like home after a while and was a great place to live. I think before I left I was wishing that maybe the program would be based in Amsterdam because it would be a better experience to live there, but in the end I’m glad I was in Rotterdam. There are still a lot of things to do there; it’s not as touristy and less crowded. Amsterdam is still only 50 minutes away, and it seemed like a lot of people still came down to Rotterdam for their bars and clubs.

These pictures are: view from my apartment room in Rotterdam, us outside of Notre Dame Cathedral, in front of the Arc de Triumph at night, and the campus at Erasmus University.

I would totally recommend some sort of study abroad program to anyone wanting a new experience, a change, and a challenge.