March, 2012

A Norwegian Christmas

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

By:  Patrick Dion, Foster Undergraduate

I made a really good friend when I was studying abroad in Spain and she invited me back to Norway to spend Christmas with her family. While I love the holidays in the US with my family, having the change to spending Christmas in a different culture was something I couldn’t pass up. She lives in the capital city of Oslo and I got the full Norwegian Christmas experience as well as a tour of the city. Its interesting the differences and similarities that their traditions share with ours. I imagine this is because we have lots of Scandinavian people in the US, but there are some big differences in the way they celebrate Christmas. Santa Clause, for instance doesn’t live in the NorthPpole, he lives in your barn and everyone has one. Each family has either their own barn or a barn in the family where their Santa lives all year and makes the presents and toys for the children. He still sneaks out at night and puts the presents under the Christmas tree but he does it a day early. They open presents on Christmas Eve like lots of other European countries, but open them after dinner, even though the presents have been under the tree all day. The kids have to wait all day until the adults have finished eating and cleared the table before they can get to unwrapping. I think if they tried that here you’d have some very unhappy and anxious kids. Norway is famous
for its reindeer, but because Santa doesn’t live in the North Pole, he doesn’t need them. Instead, they serve them for dinner. I felt a little bad eating Rudolf around Christmas time but the meat was really delicious. The city of
Oslo is a great place to visit even if you don’t know anyone to show you around. The transportation system is great and they have day passes available to get into the museums and ride the transit with one pass. Because it was
winter, the sun never really rose very high in the sky. I’ve never been to Alaska so having a day long sunrise/sunset was pretty unique. If you ever get a chance to go I would recommend seeing all that you can and maybe trying some
reindeer if you have the stomach for it.

A Week in Italy

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

By: Tiffany Sung, Foster Undergraduate

Hi everyone, it’s Tiffany again, and here’s the post on Italy that I promised! During reading week, I went to Italy with two of my friends who are also on exchange, Yolanda and Karen. We started our journey in Venice, slowly made our way down south to Pisa and Rome, and had a wonderful time!

Venice

We arrived in Venice around noon, had a quick lunch (amazing pizza and gelato!), and decided to follow our travel guide’s suggestion: wander around the island map-less. Turned out, that might have been the best
suggestion we could ever get. Since the main island is very small and has literally no cars, we were able to leisurely explore the city, hop on any waterbus, and get lost in the beautiful scenery.

After two days in Venice, we bid the lovely city farewell, took the train, and travelled towards our next destination—Pisa!

Pisa

We made a special four-hour stop at Pisa to see one of the seven wonders of medieval world—the Leaning Tower of Pisa. And I must say making this extra stop was decision well-made! After all, not only has the tower managed to stand in a leaning position for hundreds of years, but it is also where Galileo conducted his experiment on acceleration. Bell towers do not get any more awesome than this.

Rome

We spent the last three days of our trip in Rome visiting the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and Vatican City. We also followed Audrey Hepburn’s footsteps in the movie Roman Holiday and visited the Trevi Fountain, ate gelato on the Spanish Steps, and put our hands in the Mouth of Truth. Rome is such a convenient city for travelling—all the tourist attractions are closely located, the metro is surprisingly cheap, and there is so much to explore!

After our trip to Italy, here are some travelling tips that I think would be useful when planning for your reading
week:

- Invest in a money belt (the really thin ones that can be hidden underneath your clothes). This might sound kind of
silly, but after hearing a lot of pickpocketing stories that happened in Rome, I decided to get one just in case. It definitely made me feel much safer when I stood in the incredibly crowded Roman metro while carrying all my Euros and passport with me.

- Plan ahead of time and you’ll find so many great deals on flight/train tickets and hotels!

- Bring a travel guide with you—especially if the people in the country you are going to might not understand English. It really helps when you have pictures and words to point at while communicating with the locals.

-Take advantage of your time in England, do some research, and plan out amazing trips to the places in Europe
that you’ve always wanted to visit!

Un Bocconiano per Sempre- My Study Abroad Experience at Universitá Bocconi

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

By: Camillo Moreno-Salamanca, Foster Undergraduate

The best stories are those that you can recall detail by detail, despite the fact that it may have occurred months, or years ago. Now, I got back from my study abroad trip about two-and-a-half months ago, but this experience feels like one of those stories.

It also makes for a great excuse for having postponed posting my experience for so long. Last time I wrote on this blog, I gushed about the great things in Italy. At this point in time, the feeling is the same. But now, I believe I can provide an objective and comparative review of my study abroad experience, so that you can benefit fully from all those times I traveled, went out to dinner with friends, learned Italian, consumed wine—and went to class.

I’ll break it down into what I loved, what I didn’t love, and some reflections and mindsets, which I hope are as useful to you, as they were to me. I’ll start with what I loved about Italy:

The Food

I’ll start with an universal truth popularized by Julia Roberts in “Eat, Love, and Pray” (Yes, I watched it. But I watched it in Italian to learn the language so I didn’t lose any “bro” points).  The food in Italy is amazing. Actually, glorious is a more fitting word. If there is something you need to know about me is that I am by no means a foodie.
To my mother’s chagrin, my diet has revolved around the plainest, no-frill foods you can think of.  I call them the
BRiC (Bread, Rice, and Chicken).

However, I gave myself an opportunity to expand my palate and truly embrace everything Italian food had to offer. Well, it was tremendously worth it. While Italian food is relatively simple; in its simplicity lies its beauty and its flavor. Pizza, pasta, gnocchi, risotto—you name the Italian dish, and I probably tried it (with the exception of Sicilian cuisine…too far from Milan). To this day I have flashbacks of the Lasagna alla Bolognese that I had—in Bologna. Or, the time I finally perfected making spaghetti alla carbonara and basked in my accomplishment by emptying the box of barilla and promptly enduring a joyous food coma.

My point is this: The food is fantastic and in enjoying it you will actually learn lots about Italian culture. You will learn that food tastes best when it is genuine, simple, warm, and working in ensemble with other ingredients—much like Italian culture.

The Crisis and the Classes

The second thing I loved were actually a couple of my classes, and what I was lucky enough to witness in Italian history during my time at Bocconi. I’ll start with a warning about the classes: Find out if your class has an oral exam. If it does, I would strongly suggest avoiding it. Typically, I do great in high-pressure/interview situations (What up, Boeing!).  However, in oral exams 100% of your grade is riding on what you say, how well you say it, and whether the professor likes you or not. I’ll rather hedge the risk of having one terrible exam by having assignments and projects peppered in, than having it ride all in a 10-minute session.

With that said, there are two classes I recommend, not only because these were the first classes I 4.0’d in college (who says you can’t do well academically in study abroad programs), but because they were pretty fun,
interesting classes. The first class I loved was Public Management. It was a very engaging discussion based class where you learn the management philosophy in the public sector, and how much more complex it is than the private sector. Also, through this class you get to compare how different societies operate in the public sector and you are able to trace how certain flaws in public sector management (like in Italy) can have profound consequences in economic development. My instructors were Valentina Mele and Aleksandra Torbica.

The second class was Management of Fashion and Luxury Companies. Despite the fact that I am naturally interested in fashion, this is a fantastic class that dives deep into the way different brands, markets, and
industries position themselves in the marketplace, how they develop their strategies, and what their best practices are. Plus, you are in freaking Milan! What better place to take a fashion class than in the fashion capital of the
world? For our project, we had to evaluate a brand. We chose Diesel, and had the amazing opportunity to visit their flagship store in Milan. It doesn’t get much cooler than that folks.

Certainly, these are not the only awesome classes Bocconi has to offer, but they were my favorites. On a brief side note, Bocconi also has pretty cool student clubs (they don’t have the support or impact that Foster RSOs have, but they have a radio station, a TV station, sports clubs, and a variety of other cool clubs. Definitely check them out!).

Oh yeah, the big political event that I had to witness. For those of you that were in tune with the world news in the fall of 2011, you knew that the European Union was—well, doing its best Titanic impression. One of the captains of this shipwreck was Italy itself, as it found itself in not as deep of a financial trouble as Greece, but with overleveraged banks, had a high risk of submerging Europe and the world, into another worldwide crisis. At the helm of this crisis, we had Milan’s favorite son, Mr. Silvio Berlusconi. A charming, cynical, astute politician that had been able to dominate Italian politics (and media), for over two decades while presenting itself as the man Italians
couldn’t hate because all Italians have a little Silvio in them. Fortunately, this crisis brought a call to sanity, and a change of guard. Silvio Berlusconi found himself unable to solve the economic crisis in Italy and was forced to
step down. His replacement? None other than Bocconi’s very own president Mr. Mario Monti (otherwise known as Super Mario).

It was very interesting reading the newspapers, talking with Italians, and just feeling the winds of change. Oh, and did I mention two days Mr.Monti assumed power thousands of public school students marched through Milan and vowed to “siege Bocconi” and were stopped a couple of streets away from the University by the police? Well, that happened. See, something you have to know about Bocconi is that your typical Italian isn’t very too fond of Bocconi, as it is a bit elitist. Think of it as the Yale of Italy. While this is not the preferred image by Bocconiani everywhere, and not fully true, there is a sound logic behind that perception, and part of your exchange experience will be understanding that you are going to the best (and probably most hated) university in Italy; more on this later.

The European Lifestyle

Finally, I loved interacting with a variety of people from around the world. This was my absolutely favorite part. From Brazil to Russia, from Taiwan to New Zealand, and of course pretty much every country in Europe; I had the amazing blessing of interacting and becoming friends with people from all different countries. They taught me about life in ways that books or National Geographic documentaries couldn’t quite communicate to you. This is why you travel.  From small things like the reason why you look at somebody in the eyes while you toast (to avoid seven years of bad sex; there is your excuse), or the not so small things like the fact that in many European countries healthcare is a right, just allowed me to engage in wonderful discussions and learning experiences. Needless to say, this exchange experience makes you form a certain bond with people that is cemented by the unique experience you are living together; and sure, while now we have Facebook, Skype, and Whatsapp to keep in contact with them, it’s not quite the same. But the fact that you developed these memories with people from different corners of the world really puts in perspective how lucky you truly are. It also makes for a ton of inside jokes that once you are back in the US, don’t seem quite as funny.

Finally, I’ll end my ramble by giving you three quick tips to make sure your study abroad experience is successful:

1) Get out there and learn the language: It frustrates me when I see tourists or even other exchange students not speaking the native language. Especially when some of them took a crash course on Italian. Sure, I had it easier than a lot of people since I already knew Spanish, but I arrived into Italy with a dictionary and a phrasebook. Nothing else. I pushed my boundaries and took baby steps. Whenever I would go my neighborhood pizza store and buy lunch I would do it all in Italian, even if I butchered the words.  It took me about 2 weeks to figure out that “mangia qui?” meant “for here”, but once I figured it out, I was pretty proud. So get lost, ask a lot of questions, don’t be so self-conscious, and just know that even if you speak it “funny” people will appreciate and respect the fact that you are trying.

2) Meet people you wouldn’t usually meet: Another thing that frustrated me was seeing students (mostly American students) hang out with other American students, or with Canadian, Australian or English students (Long live the queen!). It’s totally fine to bond with people you have cultural similarities to. In my case, it was pretty easy to bond with the Spaniards and South Americans in my exchange class. However, make sure you are meeting people from backgrounds you wouldn’t experience at home. I met more Swedish, German, Dutch, French, Swiss, and Italian people that I had ever met in my life.  Learning about our similarities and differences was the biggest takeaway from this experience. Forging a friendship with them? Priceless.

3) If you are getting homesick, you aren’t busy enough: Yes, you will get homesick in your exchange. It happens. But when it happened to me, I focused on the fact that my family was proud of me for living this experience and that the best way to honor them would be to take advantage of the opportunity and stay busy, always learning, and always enjoying.  What good does it do that you miss your family/friends so much and you sit in your room sulking and looking over Facebook photos? None. What will you tell them about your experience? Will you
tell them that you mostly missed them? Is that the type of answer you think they want to hear?

Alas, this is the end of my not-so-short summary of my study abroad experience. Magari mia esperienza sará utile per voi. Buon viaggio, e ricorda: Mangia, vive, impara, e ama.

Homecoming Reflections on Manchester

Monday, March 26th, 2012

By: Amanda Pressly, Foster Undergrad

When you last heard from me I was just beginning classes at the University of Manchester after a crazy first week. The entirety of the semester over there was amazing; my classes were all interesting (with the exception of corporate governance, the equivalent of MGMT 320), my professors were brilliant, my classmates were super interesting and inviting, and the friends I made are not only numerous but also some of the most amazing people in the world (quite literally from all over the world)!  It is amazing to know you will never feel lonely or sad in Manchester due to the fantastic people all around!

I have never felt more welcomed and at home than when I was in Manchester, but that did not stop me from leaving to see more of the UK and Europe on weekends and holidays. Take advantage of the cheap airlines and other means of travelling; I was able to go all over Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales, London, Liverpool, Berlin, and Prague for very reasonable prices. For the days when I did want to stay in Manchester there was never a shortage of things to do, there are several parks, all the museums are free and absolutely incredible, the shopping center provides various retailers you cannot find in the US, and of course Manchester is home to the two best soccer/football teams in the world: Manchester United and Manchester City! If you are not an early riser (which you probably won’t be in Manchester) there are plenty of things to do at night as well; clubs, pubs, events, school sponsored beer-fests, it is endless and for the most part cheap, even with the exchange rate!

By the time I had to leave I felt like I had an extended family of people from all over the world and the US. I did not want to leave, but knew I had to get home for the holidays and of course, winter quarter at UW. The first month back was the hardest, I could not bear the thought of not knowing the next time I would see some of them or what I would even do without them to hang out with every day. In the months following my return I made sure to keep in contact with all of the friends I made and plan to see them all in the future, for example my friends from Arizona State University are coming to Washington for spring break!

Again, I will sum up with a list of things to bear in mind in the UK:

  • Even if there is a rocky start, hold out, it will get infinitely better
  • Be open to meeting new people, if someone invites you to hang out, take the opportunity to make a new friend
  • Act as though you are there permanently and you will feel at home
  • Take advantage of the inexpensive travelling
  • Explore the city, take advantage of all the free attractions
  • SEE A FOOTBALL MATCH!!!
  • Go out as much as possible
  • Make hundreds of friends
  • Eat at Gemini on Oxford Road, it has the best food and the nicest guy who gives you free food if you are a frequent customer
  • Most importantly, remember that it is not impossible to retain friendships, even if they are long distance.

Ich liebe Deutschland

Monday, March 26th, 2012

By: Cassandra Bass, Foster Undergraduate

Wow, it’s impossible to believe that it’s already December. In about 2 weeks I’ll be back in America and the only thing I can think is that I never want to leave Germany. A fair warning to anyone traveling to Germany during the winter; bring extremely warm clothes! Luckily, Mannheim is one of the warmest cities in Germany but even so, it’s been below freezing for some time now. Right now is finals time in Mannheim, so the students are pretty much on study lockdown. Even so, they still manage to get out every week to do something fun. Germans are incredible at multi-tasking :)

 On the studying note, I had to do a couple presentations this semester for some of my classes. I did some in German and some in English and I have to say that my German presentation partners were amazing. They are extremely on top of their work. I was especially impressed with the Germans in my English literature class. I swear that some of them can speak better English than me. The teachers here are also really flexible when it comes to exchange students. One of my teachers changed all the deadlines for my final paper for me, so I could turn it in early and she is correcting it quickly so I can take it home.

 Right now is Christmas season in Germany, which is a big deal. There are Christmas Markets in every town, where you can buy crafts and German food and most especially, Glühwein. It’s basically like stepping into a children’s Christmas picture book right now in Mannheim. If you are in Mannheim definitely make it over to Heidelberg, a town 20 minutes away by train. It’s an old, picturesque town with more tourists than Mannheim, but also with some really cool concerts in random places all the time. Germans love having concerts and parties in abandoned factories…so expect to end up partying in a random warehouse at some point in time if you ever study abroad here.

On that note, I have to say that everyone who goes to Europe should really check out Berlin. I went there for a long weekend and fell in love with the city. Everywhere you look there is something crazy going on: a protest here, an abandoned apartment building full of squatting artists there, and the history of the town is amazing. Berlin really never sleeps. People generally stay out until around 7am at least and there are some clubs that don’t even open until 8am so that you can go there to keep dancing after the other clubs close.

I’ve done a fair bit of traveling since being in Germany and I found that I really enjoyed all my travels into Eastern Europe. I went to Prague with a group of people and was amazed by how beautiful the city was. Most cities usually have a pretty old town and then a more modern, less attractive industrial part of town, but Prague was gorgeous everywhere. I couldn’t put my camera down. I also went into the countryside in the Czech Republic to a smaller town where they have natural mineral water springs. I would really encourage people to go into the smaller, less touristy towns when traveling around. You really get a better grasp of the people.

I also went to Krakow, Poland in November. Again, I was so impressed with how historic and pretty the city was. My hostel was right on the main market square where you could hear the street performers singing opera or watch fire dancers on the streets through your window. I went to see Auschwitz, which was extremely intense, but also an important thing to see I think. It was insane to realize how recent Poland’s history is. One polish lady was telling me all about the communist era and how it really wasn’t all that long ago and everyone was still feeling the effects. Here I went to a small town in the mountains near the border of Slovakia and saw the most beautiful wooden houses. The architecture of the mountain people in Poland was amazing.

So, I would definitely recommend traveling to some countries that might not be the first thing you think of when in Europe. Paris was nice, but I would go back to Eastern Europe in a heartbeat.