November, 2009

Stockholm

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

stockholm night 1Five days in Stockholm has taught me to appreciate the sun. It was fun (and cold and dark and depressing). Vance, a fellow Foster student in Milan, and his German classmate Michael were in Stockholm as well. We saw museums and several typical tourists sites. When we weren’t penny pinching, we powered up on hot dogs and a Thai buffet  (unfortunately, the Swedish Krona is valued even higher than the Euro). It’s amazing to be able to hop on a three-hour flight, and be in a place with a different language, different climate, and different way of living. Perhaps simply being close to the rest of Europe is the best reason to study in any European city.

On the other hand, traveling has its drawbacks. I only have two weeks left in Pamplona. I realized I have hardly been here. I have yet to see a game of Osasuna, the local soccer team, and I have not even been to the town’s market. Pamplona quickly became familiar to me, so I stopped exploring. And I realized, I live the same way in Seattle, never having to gone SIFF, the zoo, or anything else that makes our city unique. So, if living abroad has changed me in anyway, I hope this experience has inspired me to keep exploring.

stockholm group

Finding a home

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

A lot changes when you study abroad. For me, one of the most stressful things was to find housing in Milan. Based on previous students’ experience, I knew I did not want to live in the foreign students’ dorm. This meant turning to the internet to find housing in a country where I barely knew anything about the language. With a lot of searching and more luck, I eventually found a girl heading to the U.S. who needed a sub-letter for her room for fall semester. This sounded perfect to me. We exchanged a flurry of emails over the summer, and then I headed over to Milan in August to officially begin the living-abroad experience.

KWilsonI love my room. I love my Milanese apartment. It was remodeled two years ago, and the inside looks like an IKEA showroom (for good reason: the contractor refurbished the place with purchases from IKEA). Downstairs are the kitchen, bathroom, and lounge area, while the bedrooms are upstairs. Best of all though, I can live with my roommate.

I was really apprehensive about having an Italian roommate. I feared the worst. I don’t speak Italian well, and she doesn’t speak English- so how would we communicate? What if she threw loud parties every night? What if, what if, what if dominated a lot of my thoughts about my roommate before I met her. I never really thought about what she would be thinking before meeting me.

The day that my roommate moved in (I had been in Milan for three weeks by then, taking a language class), she showed up on the doorstep with her entire family- mom, dad, brothers, cousins, etc. The entire family even stayed the night in our tiny apartment (in all fairness, the cousin lived next door, so the extended family stayed over there). As nervous as I was about meeting my roommate, it turns out she was far more nervous to meet me, an American student from the UW.

Since that time, her family has gone home, and we’ve really gotten to know each other. True, communication can be an issue, but we can generally work it out. We have more language dictionaries floating around our apartment than the amount of languages we speak. If there are any problems, we’ve mastered the art of facing them head-on, rather than silently fuming about them. Mainly, our problems have been cultural and not really clashes of personality. I’ve really enjoyed living with her, and learning about Italians more. After all, I came to Italy to learn what it meant to be Italian and to learn what life was like in a different culture.

Still, with all my willingness to learn, it is extremely nice to have my own room. When life gets too overwhelming or too stressful, when I miss the UW or can’t figure out what I’m doing next quarter, I can retreat to my room, and enjoy that rare feeling in Italy of being alone.

Settling into life abroad

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Alice (1)Hey everyone, my name is Alice, and this semester/quarter I’ve been studying abroad at the University of Manchester in the UK. So far living in the UK has been great! I’ve met tons of people from all around the world, and we’ve had a lot of fun exploring Manchester and other cities around Europe and the UK together.

School has been alright so far, classrooms are about the same size and most professors tend to just lecture off of their PowerPoint slides. Some classes also have a seminar, which is similar to a quiz section but is usually led by the professor and is only held once every two weeks. Since most of the exchange students need to go home before the examination period, we get a special assessment which consists of an essay that makes up 100% of our grade instead of having to sit through an exam like the local students.Alice

The university itself is quite different from UW — instead of having just the school on campus grounds, they kind of placed most of the buildings along just one busy street called Oxford Road. It’s a bit annoying because you’re always in danger of being run over by a car or bus on your way to school but I only live 10-15 minutes away from the business school so it’s not too bad.

Manchester’s city center isn’t very far away from campus, either. It’s about a 20-30 minute walk to Arndale, which is Manchester’s main downtown shopping center. You can find anything you need there, which is very convenient. When I first got here this is where we all went to buy supplies and utensils. There are also a lot of places to eat, bars, clubs, and movie theaters in Manchester’s city center as well to keep us entertained.

Alice (2)If we ever do get bored, though, traveling is always another option. So far I’ve been to Liverpool, Edinburgh, London, Oxford, and Wales. Just a couple of weeks ago Kimi and I went to Italy together for our reading week, which is a week-long break we get in the middle of the semester. We traveled with two other friends, one who was also a business exchange student from Ohio State and another who was a drama major from Tennessee. Our trip around Italy consisted of visits to Venice, Rome, Naples, Pompeii, and Paula. Italy was absolutely gorgeous, and I’m definitely planning on going back someday! Next up are Dublin, Paris, Lincoln, and Madrid. I can’t wait!

Update from Rotterdam

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009
Me on the Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge)

Me on the Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge)

I have been done with classes for a week now and can’t believe it.  It is crazy how fast time has flown by.  It feels like I just went on the integration trip where I met everyone in the exchange program for the first time.  Although I will be traveling for the next month, many people are already going home or leaving on their own travel adventures.  It will be hard to say goodbye to everyone but I will have lots of places to stay all around the world!

I returned from Berlin yesterday.  We were there for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which was really exciting.  I leave for Stockholm this week and after that will be traveling to Bergen, Prague and southern Spain.  I also hope to have a chance to see more of the Netherlands.  There are a lot of amazing cities in the Netherlands and they are easy to travel to since the country is so small.  Two weekends ago I went to Utrecht, which is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands.  Utrecht is very beautiful and similar to Amsterdam, but without all the tourists.

If you visit the Netherlands you have to try Stroopwafels.  Stroopwafels are thin Dutch waffle cookies with a syrup filling.  You can buy them pretty much everywhere but nothing beats a freshly made one!

I am really going to miss everyone in my exchange program, as well as living abroad. Nothing can compare to the experiences and people I have met.  At least with the internet and facebook it will be easier to keep in touch with everyone.

International Group on my 21st Birthday

International Group on my 21st Birthday

“The More Things Change…”

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

I don’t know that I would call myself a runner. I can run, but I often don’t. Instead, I jog. Daily. During the past year at the UW, while balancing work and classes, this meant getting up at 5:00 am. I managed- and it’s become a daily ritual since (though not the super-early part). Every (almost) morning that I have been abroad, I have gotten up to go jogging.

The feelings I get from these experiences are indescribable. I have felt the wind and the rain coming off the North Sea as I’ve made my way over the cliffs around Scarborough. I’ve watched the sun rise over Venetian canals, pounding over eerily empty bridges at the near-dawn hour. In Budapest, I have yelled with Hungarian runners from the tallest hill in the city, celebrating our morning uphill run and our victory over the steep slope (that’s my translation of what we were yelling… everyone else was speaking Magyar, but still, the camaraderie was there). The Sonian Forest of Belgium was magical in the way that story tales are magical- for the first time since I was six, I believed in fairy tales again.

In Italy, especially in Milan, running doesn’t seem to be popular. In fact, most Italians think it’s strange. Still, some of my best Italian experiences have been while running. I’ve run with the Hash House Harriers, a group of ex-pats who refuse anything to do with competition. I struggled to fourth place with my classmates and professors through the Bocconi Run, an 8K race put on by the university (much like the Dawg Dash back home). My running community is amazing- and I don’t mean just the runners. The tabacchi shop near my house has an early-morning breakfast crowd, always ready to cheer me to my finish and often, to buy me a cup of espresso after.  I have been offered more rides home by well-meaning Italians (who fear I am only running from necessity) than I can count. In their generosity, when they realize I truly mean to continue jogging, I am often given a water bottle (or in one notable case, a beer) to help me on my way. At first strange, I have come to realize this generosity is just part of being Italian. I’ve learned to accept it, and return it when I can.

In a way, I feel like I’m back at home when I jog. It doesn’t matter that I often don’t speak the right language- all that’s needed are nods of acknowledgment, easily given smiles, and the ability to high-five anyone and everyone. The rules of running (or in my case, jogging) don’t change from country to country. The feeling of camaraderie is always there, the belonging. Some are more willing to accept me as a foreigner, some encourage me to run with them (as they insisted in Germany), but for the most part, these are passing relationships that start my day off right by reminding me that though I am far from home, I am never far from a friendly community that exists everywhere.

Next Sunday, I’ll be running my fifth marathon- though my first abroad. In Athens, it’ll trace the original route of Pheidippides, who ran from Marathon to Athens to declare the Greek victory in battle, and then died. I’m hoping to avoid the death part. Understandably, I’m nervous, but I know that I’ll be racing in a running community. Even though they speak Greek, the language of running won’t change that much.

Settling in

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Tori (1)So far it has been great in Nantes, a small, yet beautiful city 2 hours outside of Paris. I am attending Audencia Ecole de Management, a top ranked business school in France with numerous other exchange students! There are about 130 or so, 3 of which are from the US, a majority from other European countries, and then many from Korea, China, the Philippines, and there are about 10 students from Africa as well! As you can see it is quite a diverse population. For some reason I had imagined there being more students from the US, but I suppose it’s a blessing in disguise in the way that I am pushed to make friends with students from other countries. Having done so, I am having the time of my life! The exchange students and the regularly enrolled French students are all so friendly and eager to create friendships and the school has an “international connection team” that organizes many events for us inside and outside of school.

School here is very different in comparison to the UW. Students here are first required to take about 10 required classes of various business materials per semester before they can start specializing in any sort of concentration. Each week our class schedules change and we must check online to see what classes we will have, at what day and time, and the location. It’s it a bit annoying because it’s so unpredictable and prevents any planning you want to make for the future. However, this ever-changing schedule tends to leave us with three or four-day weekends which are quite nice! So I won’t complain too much.Tori

Class sessions include a lot of group work or in class work and less of a lecture type style. Some classes are up to four hours long! (And we thought our 2-hour blocks were bad) There is rarely any homework and only reading and case studies to prepare before coming to class. Most of our grade assessment will come from our final exams only. EEEK! I’m sure panic will arise as we approach December!!

Hope this provides a small feel for the education program at Audencia! More to come later.

Two Months In!

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Exchanges really are full of ups and downs and everything in between. My second month here in Manchester has truly been an experience. I feel as though I have spent more time planning plane tickets and hostel reservations for all of my trips than I have spent reading for any of my classes. A couple of weeks ago was a period called reading week, where we basically had no classes for a solid week. But, being exchange students, I chose to go to Italy instead of reading.

If you are given the opportunity to travel, I highly encourage you do to do it. You learn SO much about the culture, the people you are traveling with and yourself. You learn that things will never end up the way you originally planned them but that, in fact, will make you stronger. For example, during my time in Italy I 1) Got on a midnight train going South to Cecily instead of North to Rome 2) Lost my wallet on a train and 3) Almost got caught in a riot at the Naples train station after filing a police report for my wallet. If these aren’t life lessons learned abroad, then I don’t know what is. But although the week wasn’t exactly what I had had in mind, I’m so grateful that I was able to go and experience it first hand and learn from it. It’s so true that your exchange will provide you with some of your greatest memories of all times. Although losing my wallet did cause me some monetary problems and my British credit card still hasn’t come yet… I still had an amazing time.

After reading week, the last remaining glow of summer has been extinguished and the Manchester rain that we had been so lucky to avoid in the first month has finally caught up to us. My friends and I are finally realizing that we can no longer avoid putting off our massive amount of essays that we need to write and are finding it much harder to get together. We have decided that we are going to try and finish all of our essays early while the weather is bad so that maybe we can really enjoy the rest of our exchange.

This last weekend I went to Paris. Luckily I didn’t lose anything and the trip was amazing. I even managed to meet up with Tori (who is studying in Nantes) at the Louvre!

Next weekend I will be going to Madrid and then before you know it, it will be time to come home. Until then!