December, 2009

Milano Exchange – Too Good To Be True

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

I really cannot sum up in words what a great experience exchange in Milano was.  I have created one of the most significant memories of my life through these past four months.  I had the opportunity to travel across Europe, meet interesting and odd people, and adapt and immerse myself into the Italian culture.  The earlier part of these last few months, I was fortunate enough to travel all around Spain, France, Hungary, and Sweden.  Each country had their own charm and crazy stories.

Vance (1)In Spain, I was traveling from Barcelona up to Pamplona to visit some fellow UW students studying abroad up there.  Upon my arrival to Pamplona, I found myself at a train station which my friend had no idea as to where I was.  At that point, I had to ask around and with my best Spanish I was able to hitchhike from the train station to my friend’s apartment in Pamplona.  “Perdon senor, mis amigos estudian en La Universidad de Navarra.  Puedo usar tu telefono y necesito a ride to mis amigos (I said this while performing hand motions of driving a car and pointing to the address of my friend’s apartment).”  Even though my Spanglish was horrible, it was sufficient enough to be able to get a ride with a very nice older couple who lived a few blocks away from where my friend lived.  On the way to my friend’s apartment, the older gentleman who was in the passenger seat whispered to me that it was his wife’s birthday and signaled over to his wife who was driving.  At that point, we proceeded to sing her Feliz Cumpleanos in the car, and I gave my best rendition of the song.  The randomness in Spain did not stop at the point though.  Once I got to my friend’s apartment, I settled in, and we went out to meet his friends.  That night I met a girl from Britain who was half Filipino and half British.  Since I am also Filipino, we had a lot to talk about so we exchanged contact information.  Later that night I found out that she was just visiting Pamplona, and was actually doing exchange in Madrid, which was my very next stop in my travels.  So while I was in Madrid, we had the chance to meet up and she introduced me to all her exchange friends there.  When I went out and met her friends that night in Madrid, I was fortunate to meet a French guy from Paris.  We got to talking for a while, and I told him that my next stop after Madrid was France.  At that point, he connected me with some of his friends that were in Paris so that they could show me around when I got there!  Random events, openness, and this type of hospitality and friendship is what exchange was all about for me.  My ability to put my guard down and to allow myself to meet, get to know, and build relationships with other students across the world is what made my experience amazing.

Vance (2)After Spain, I visited my German roommate from Milan in Lille, France where he was visiting his girlfriend for the mid-semester break.  This small French town that might be overlooked by many tourists was one of my favorite cities in Europe.  After that I was able to stay with my German roommate’s girlfriend’s best friend in Paris, as she had an apartment right in the center.  After Paris, I took a plane to Budapest, Hungary and toured the city, ate great food, and relaxed in their wonderful open air bathhouses.  After Budapest, my final trip out of Italy was to Stockholm, Sweden where I stayed in a boat, met up with a fellow UW student coming from Pamplona, and met two really nice random Italians from Milan who we ended up getting some drinks with and keeping in contact with up until now.

After I fulfilled my travel fix, I spent the latter part of the last two months developing friendships with the local Italians that I had met through classes at Bocconi.  Most notably, I was able to get really close to 4 Italian Bocconi students that were in my group for a marketing research project.  Even though we had a large communication barrier due to the fact that their English wasn’t that good, and my Italian is sad, we were still able to put together an amazing presentation.  We found ways via sign language, pictures, and simple sentences, to communicate, work, and delegate out tasks.  They were much more than just my fellow market research group members though, they were some of my closest friends in Milan.  Often times we went out after working on our project and they taught me some Italian, introduced me to other Italians, and showed me to places where all the locals eat and hang out.  We got so close that they are actually coming to visit Seattle in the summer now, and I can’t wait to show them around.  I also became good friends with a post-graduate from Bocconi who is from Naples.  I met him through my German roommate who had become friends with him through a previous exchange program in Shanghai.  Vance (3)He invited us many times to his apartment and cooked typical Italian food and showed us how to make it.  My all-time favorite is the pasta Carbonara he made for us.  One other friendship I was able to make was with a local Milanese girl who I met during my international business class.  I simply complimented her presentation after class one day, we got to talking, and I found out that she had done exchange in high school in Salem, OR and had been to Seattle a couple times.  After that, we would occasionally go out to dinner, and she would explain to me various things about the differences between the North and South of Italy, Italy’s business community, and political system.  Hanging out with the local Italians, learning from them, and just immersing myself in their culture were one of the most cherished experiences in my 4 month journey.

If I could give just one piece of advice to anyone going on exchange, I would tell them to simply be open.  Expect the unexpected, be cautious but get out of your comfort zone, and most importantly, build as many relationships as possible!  Simply being a positive, optimistic, and generally nice and caring person will take you far in exchange and in life in general.  I am so fortunate to be able to have friends across the globe.  I can go to Portugal, Brazil, Mexico, Germany, The Netherlands, France, Spain, Romania, etc., and not only have a person who can show me around, but a person that can also offer me a home to stay in.  It’s cliché to say that studying abroad broadens your perspectives, but I think it’s a cliché for a reason, because that is exactly what studying abroad does, and I encourage everyone to do it if possible.

Au revoir France!

Sunday, December 20th, 2009
Place Royale in Nantes

Place Royale in Nantes

Well I’m finishing up my very last days here in France and am so sleep deprived I’m half delirious. But I can sleep when I’m in the states! There’s just so much I still want to do and see before I leave, how can I waste this precious time sleeping?! This last week has really been something special! First of all, it was finals week – I said special not necessarily fun! And as international students were starting to return to their respective countries of origin, nearly every night of this last week there was a goodbye party for my new friends (hence the lack of sleep).  Also something very special happened Friday morning – it snowed in Nantes! Something I was told almost never happens. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me and it was mostly melted away by the time I got out of my final. That’s one or two monumental photo opportunities missed because I did not have my camera with me. The other? A Heineken beer truck back up to Audencia and off loading – priceless!

But I brought my camera with me for my last day trip to Paris where there was still snow on the ground in the parks – another first for me! That was amazing, because I

A picture of one of the last school-wide parties. In here, there are 13 people representing 8 countries (France, Germany, Finland, Spain, Turkey, Uruguay, the Czech Republic and the United States).

A picture of one of the last school-wide parties. In here, there are 13 people representing 8 countries (France, Germany, Finland, Spain, Turkey, Uruguay, the Czech Republic and the United States).

was running on only two hours of sleep but had enough energy to run around the city buying the last of my Christmas presents, return to Nantes and at exactly 12am today ventured forth to the last “last party” in Nantes. As I said, we had a lot of those that week.  I honestly don’t know how I did that! The rest of today has been spent packing as I leave tomorrow.

I have to admit I’m looking forward to returning to the US for Christmas, but am immensely jealous of the international students I know who are studying in Nantes for a whole year. After Christmas, I want to come back!

Looking back on my whole experience, if I could pin-point the single best reason to study abroad with this program, it would be for the people that you get to meet, French and foreign. You learn about so many other cultures! Talking about political perspectives with people from Russia and Turkey, discussing philosophy with a guy from Finland, gossiping with girls from Belgium and Germany, mocking international accents with Moroccans and telling jokes with the French (or more accurately trying to understand the jokes told). You learn something from every interaction.  And while I don’t regret a single mile I traveled in Europe and look forward to exploring more in the future, some of my fondest memories of my experience here consist simply of long conversations over a café au lait.

Snow in Paris

Snow in Paris

Last week at NCCU

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

MorgannaIt’s my last week at NCCU and Taipei, and I’m currently scrambling to get all of my papers, projects, and exams done early this week.  I’ll still have to write a 5-page term paper when I get home (since my professor hasn’t assigned the prompt yet), but other than that, everything’s almost done.

These past 4.5 months abroad has been an amazing eye-opening experience.  As my second time studying abroad, my experience in East Asia has really solidified some of the epiphanies I had during my abroad year in Spain, while also opening my eyes to brand new perspectives on myself, my priorities, and the world surrounding me.

Unlike my first experience, which gave me sights into a future I hadn’t really considered, my exchange at National Chengchi University gave me the opportunity to delve back into my past and take the much-need time to reflect on myself and the path I’ve taken.   I’ve reunited with old friends and made lasting relationships with new ones.  I’ve surpassed all of the expectations I had in coming here and have also ended up with more questions.

With everything I’ve learned, what will I do now and who will I become?

It doesn’t take much to realize that only time will answer these questions. However, with everything I’ve experienced here, at least I know I’ll have the heart and state-of-mind to accept whatever answers life decides to give me.

I’ll miss my friends and the little life I’ve built here, but it’s safe to say that…

I’m ready to go home.

Wrapping up in Rotterdam

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

EmilyMy time in Rotterdam is coming to a close, and I’ll be leaving this lovely city in one week.  It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here for almost four months now!  I feel so privileged for having had the opportunity to not only study in The Netherlands but to also travel to so many places in Europe.  I truly didn’t imagine I’d cover so much ground during my time here.

A word for those of you considering an exchange with RSM:

My overall experience at the school itself was pretty positive.  I took a minor called “E-Marketing” that was very fascinating, and I believe relevant for all business students.  The course focused on marketing in the “new economy,” and spent most of the time examining the importance for businesses to adapt how they do business as the internet becomes more and more integrated into society.  The course composition was much like any class at Foster and included lectures, class discussions, group work, a major paper and an exam.  If you are thinking of doing your exchange during autumn quarter you will have the opportunity to take a minor (which is worth 15 ECTS).  I suggest that if you chose to take a minor, you also chose at least one other course to take.  I only took the one minor and found that I had a lot of extra time on my hands.  It might not sound like such a bad thing until all the people you know are busy with school work.

If you are looking for a highly academic environment with a lot of extra seminars, lectures and workshops to participate in outside of the classroom, then I suggest you look at other universities.  While there are some academic events to participate in they are few and far between and always cost extra.  There is an “academic” club called STAR which organizes events throughout the year.   Unfortunately, in order to actively participate in the club you must be staying longer than a quarter because of project timeframes.  On the other hand, if you are looking to attend a lot of parties then RSM is for you.  There are always school sponsored parties (sometimes the school even provides drinks) and weekly social drinks.  There is rarely a night when someone isn’t having some sort of party.  The school also organizes several trips outside of Rotterdam so that you get to know other cities in The Netherlands.Emily (1)

The Dutch have a “do-it-yourself” mentality.  That makes some things very difficult to accomplish.  If you come to RSM you will notice immediately that there isn’t much coordination between RSM and the rest of Erasmus University.  For example, in order to print you need a “print card,” which inconveniently cannot be your student card, and you must have a separate print card for every building you wish to print in.  So if you only want to have one print card you may find yourself taking several trips across campus.

Erasmus also does not have dormitories.  You’ll need to conduct a housing search on your own.  Erasmus refers students to a company that offers dorm style housing.  You’ll need to figure out what is best for you.  If you chose to go through this company your accommodations will be akin to standard student dorms and cost more than if you found housing on your own.  The plus side is that you would be living with a lot of other students so making friends would be very easy.  I chose to find housing on my own and am very happy with my situation.  I posted a message on a Facebook page for RSM students and was offered to sublet an apartment from a student who was leaving Rotterdam to do her own exchange.  My apartment is further away from the school (about 15 minutes by bike) but located in the Center of Rotterdam which is close to shopping, outdoor markets, restaurants, bars and a multitude of clubs.  I also pay about 150-250 Euros less than what other students pay.

If you are planning to do a lot of traveling during your exchange then Rotterdam is a great place to be because of its central location.  Since you are basically in the center of Europe you can go pretty much anywhere by train or a quick flight on one of Europe’s budget airlines.  I’ve been to Germany, Belgium, France, Czech Republic, Italy and Spain.

I hope this information proves useful for you in choosing where you want to go on your exchange.  If you have any other questions about RSM I’d be happy to answer them for you.  I’ve had an incredible time and have learned so much about the World!  Good luck in your own travels!

Visiting a Japanese Onsen

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

A trip to Japan is not complete without a visit to a Japanese Onsen (hotspring). I had wanted to go to one, and I knew that I would kick myself if I didn’t have a chance to go. When I heard that a group of students were planning on going to Tazawako (Lake Tazawa), the deepest lake in Japan, I jumped on the opportunity. Due to Japan’s extensive rail system, it was even possible to get there by train. If you are planning on visiting anywhere in Japan, I suggest getting familiar with the train system, and buying a JR Rail-Pass for Golden or Silver Week.

It took 2 and a half hours to get to the lake. We took a bus for the last lag of the journey, and accidentally missed the stop for Tezawako. We decided to just head straight to the Onsen, as it was getting late anyways. No one was sure where the Onsens were, and we didn’t have any Japanese students with us. Someone asked the bus driver where to find the hot springs, and he pointed at a non-descript bus. We hesitantly got onto the bus, and joked about them taking us into the woods and abandoning us.

After a short drive on some of the narrowest roads I have seen, we came to an old looking Japanese building. It was an Onsen, and it only cost 700yen to use. The bus was complimentary. We all relaxed for about an hour, and the water was a nice milky color and smelled like sulfur…it was the real thing. This was a very traditional Onsen, as we got out we saw a woman getting in (she was wearing a towel). We didn’t realize that we were in the non-gender segregated Onsen, so if you think that would be a problem for you, make sure you are going in the right one!

We were going to stop by the lake afterwards, but it had started to rain and it was almost 4pm, so it was getting dark outside. We were all hungry, and Akita is famous for a dish called Kiritanpo, and we had 2 hours to kill before the train would take us back. We figured we could find a good restaurant in the city, and prepared to hike around looking for a restaurant. The search didn’t last long as there was a restaurant 40 yards from the bus stop. The food was delicious, and I got to try horse sashimi (raw horse meat) for the first time, knocking another “things-to-do” item off of my mental list. If only I could stay longer and make it to Hokaido for the snow festival.

While returning, we saw some other exchange students at the train station. We told them about our trip, and they said that they had traveled to a similar Onsen a couple weeks of before. After giving them more details, they were more certain that we had been to the same place. Apparently it was one of Japan’s most traditional, highly rated, and historical Onsens. I did a little research, and confirmed through pictures that the Onsen was called Tsurunoyu Onsen.  It has been around since the 17th century. Considering we didn’t know where we were going, I think we did pretty well.

The trip on a whole was very surreal. I never could have imagined going on such a crazy trip with people from all over the world, who I had just met a couple of months before. It’s one of the great things about studying abroad: getting a chance to meet and spend time with people from all over the world.

Looking back on a semester

Friday, December 4th, 2009
Sherrylyn Husky

A Husky abroad

I have one more month left at the Universita Bocconi in Milano, Italia. When I look at all the things I have learned from my travel experiences and from the school, I can honestly say that I have never been more challenged in my life. My greatest fear before I arrived in Milan was taking a taxi cab by myself. I didn’t know how to read a map and I have never used trains, metros, and airplanes on my own.

The challenges I faced and continue to face have forever changed who I am. I have grown so much from this experience that there is nothing I would change or would replace my time here with. I have constantly pushed myself beyond my fears and limits I had before I came to Bocconi. Even now, I still push myself further and further, and I amaze myself at my capabilities.

I arrived at 11 pm in Milan, and five hours later I flew to Barcelona. I traveled to Barcelona with two people who I met on facebook.  I fell in love with the architect Gaudi and attended my first football match at the FC Barcelona stadium. At the hostel, we met three guys from Norway and at 1 in the morning on our last night, all six of us took a five hour bus ride to Valencia, Espana to throw tomatoes at thousands of people at La Tomatina. At this event, I met a girl from Australia and we have continued to keep in touch.

After Spain, I flew to Berlin where I learned the incredible history of the Berlin Wall. I attended a Protestant Church service in German which is not too common since Catholicism is more widespread. I also stood on the very ground where Hitler committed suicide and had a sad day as I visited a concentration camp where hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. I will always remember the stones on the tombs left by present day Jewish families, and flags representing the different nations that were affected by World War II.

After Berlin, I celebrated a friend’s birthday in Venezia, Italia where I attended the 66th Annual Venice Film Festival. Here I almost touched Nicholas Cage but got Eva Mendez’s autograph. I also got to watch an interesting assortment of international films, and I was fortunate enough to sneak into the press area and listen in on the press conference.

At Firenze, Italia, my friends and I had drinks on the top of Michelangelo’s Hill after looking at David.

Firenze from Michelangelo's Hill

Firenze from Michelangelo's Hill

My friend Vance and I, visited our friend Annemarie in Poland. We met her through the Foster Global Business Case Competition since Vance and I were ambassadors; we told Annemarie we would love to visit her. Who would have thought that we would actually have the chance to?

On my way home from Poland, I had a seven hour layover in Prague. I hopped on a bus and went to the center of town. I didn’t have a map, and with my luggage in tow, Vance and I headed for a hill that had a castle on top. We probably saw at least half of the old town Prague that day and the castle on top of the hill was an actual castle; the Prague Castle.

One of the best things about being on an exchange is the people you get to meet. I have met a great group of friends, and all 10 of us took a trip down to Rome together. I made a wish at the Trevi Fountain, walked around the Coliseum, and also did too many museums I could count. We went to Vatican City, and here I was able to see the Sistine Chapel and enter into St. Peter’s and attend a mass.

I also went to Budapest. I didn’t realize I had gone on Uprising Memorial Day (October 23rd). Here I witnessed thousands of people gather to parliament for a protest.

Greece

Greece

In Vienna, Austria, I fell in love with the Swan Lake and saw an incredible opera: Lady Macbeth. The Swan Lake performance was unique: it was the 200th performance at the Vienna Opera House and instead of having three leads, the company brought in eight of the top performers in the world. I also went during Austrian day and got to meet the president of the national council in Austria’s parliament.

Paris was beautiful, absolutely breathtaking. No words can ever do justice on this magnificent city. The Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, Eiffel Tower, and of course the delicious pastries lining the cobblestone streets. This a city I have to constantly visit in my life for the people, the food, the energy, are so beautiful that it is something I crave now that I have experience Paris.

My last journey ended in Greece where I watched another UW student, Kathy Wilson, finish the original Athens Marathon. Greece, along with Paris, is indescribable. However, there is nothing like touching pillars that have been around for thousands of years or standing on the very ground the initiated democracy. In addition, I will never forget the anguish followed with joy that shined the faces of those who completed the marathon; I nearly cried when I saw a man in his 80’s finish the race, his face was beautiful and filled with self triumph of his accomplishment.

Budapest

Budapest

In order to have gotten to these amazing places, I took busses at 3 in the morning to take a 6 am flight. I took trains in the afternoon and walked for hours trying to find a hostel. I learned how to read a map since getting lost was too time consuming.

I am about to graduate, and I feel as though I am ending my time at Foster the best way possible. I have visited 10 countries and over 19 cities in the past three months. The people I have met are incredible and have attributed to my new ways of thinking and looking at the world. Bocconi is a great university, and this subject deserves its own blog as well. I strongly recommend doing this exchange program, it will open your eyes and you will have the most amazing time you have ever had in your life.

As much as I wish it, life is not always all roses when studying abroad

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

It’s unrealistic to expect that a study-abroad experience will go without a problem. Yet I expected studying in Italy to go exactly like that- without a single problem. For the most part, it has. However, things like missing American holidays, getting sick, and coordination of two lives do lead to unnecessary frustration.

Thanksgiving Day with my second family.

Thanksgiving Day with my second family.

American Holidays- I wasn’t too broken-hearted about missing Labor Day. Or Columbus Day. Or Halloween. Or even Veterans Day. However, when it came to Thanksgiving, I was determined not to miss it. Thanksgiving is such a family-oriented holiday, I got a little mopey just thinking about it. Luckily, my fellow Americans here in Milan pulled through for me. My friend Mike had his mom visiting the week of Thanksgiving, and she graciously agreed to cook a real Thanksgiving dinner for us- complete with turkey. As Mike didn’t have a stove, I ended up hosting six other American students (and Mike’s mom) for Thanksgiving.

Mike’s mom saved the day. She brought pumpkin pie all the way from the States (Milan doesn’t have a lot of traditional Thanksgiving food). She cooked turkey, sweet potatoes, gravy, and a whole host of other Thanksgiving food. Instead of spending an American holiday Italian style, I ended up celebrating with six of my closest American friends here who have truly become like my second family in this study abroad experience.

Getting Sick: shortly after Thanksgiving, I got sick. At first, I thought it was a cold. But then it got worse- I could barely breathe, my voice completely disappeared, and my head felt ready to explode. Feeling terrible, I went to Bocconi’s International Student Desk (ISD) to ask for advice. They were amazing. With one look at pathetic me, someone whisked me off to go visit an Italian doctor.

In Italy, you can get most medications at a pharmacy, where the pharmacist has the capability of prescribing medications. You can actually get a lot of strictly controlled medications in the US just by talking to a pharmacist free of charge. However, in my case, I was taken to the doctor for a more refined diagnosis. The ISD was afraid I had pneumonia. Thankfully, I only had bronchitis. I was sent home with a variety of antibiotics, cold medications, inhalers, and a stronger version of Sudafed. I was under strict orders to rest, drink plenty of fluids, and to make not developing pneumonia my new number one priority in life.

Getting sick abroad isn’t a whole lot of fun- not that it is back in the States either. After two days in bed, I was ready to die from the loneliness of it. My roommate, afraid I was contagious, was avoiding me like I had the plague. My friends, also fearing for their own health, did the same. I can’t say that I blame them- but it was really lonely there for a while. Especially because I couldn’t talk for several days because of inflammation in my throat, which meant not even phone conversations. I’m now well on my way to recovery- just a few more days of taking antibiotics and then I should be fine.

The third difficulty of being abroad that I mentioned was coordinating two separate lives. I live my Milan life right now- I have Milan friends, Milan classes to worry about, a Milan home (and all the associated worries/tasks), and all the associated things that go with being an Italian (Italian holidays, customs, etc). Then there’s my Seattle life. Trying to keep up with my Seattle friends, my actual family, and what’s going on back home is hard, especially with the nine hour time difference. On top of that, I have to coordinate things for leaving Italy and moving back to Seattle.

While abroad, I’ve found a place to live back in Seattle, missed my younger sister’s bridal shower, gotten an internship offer, filled out masters applications, struggled with the financial aid office, and registered for classes(and re-registered multiple times). I sometimes feel like I’m being pulled in two- and being forced to choose between two worlds. Then I take a deep breath, tell myself I can do this, and move forward. I think mastering the international juggling act is one of my biggest accomplishments while abroad. I can do this, I can do anything. Everybody has been really great and really tried to make this process easier (special thanks to Sharmon in the advising office- you have been fantastic!).

Please don’t get me wrong- I LOVE studying abroad. I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for anything. The things I have learned, the people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had- they all more than make up for the minor difficulties I’ve described. Life back home was a difficult balancing act, getting sick was no fun, and holidays were just as difficult to coordinate there. I would highly recommend studying abroad to anyone- just know you have to be motivated, and it’s easier if you have people to lean on.