Life and Study in Strasbourg

Ling Shao shares her life in Strasbourg, France, from what she recommends seeing in the city to how the education system is different, as she studies abroad on the Student Exchange Program.

Strasbourg is a really safe and quiet city close to Germany and Switzerland. You can always take a train to go anywhere you want outside of France. If you live downtown, you can go anywhere that might interests you by walking. There is a really famous Cathedral named “Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg”.

You can see the whole view of the city at the top of the cathedral. It has the same name as Paris’ famous cathedral but it is much bigger and less touristy than the Paris one. I am not able to see the famous light show, but if you come in August or Early September, you can enjoy the light show in the evening.  It is really nice.

Other than the Notre Dame Cathedrale, you can also enjoy the biggest Christmas Fair in Strasbourg. It is still November, but normal trees are ready to become Christmas trees.

The study here is really different than that in the US. We only have 5 or 6 classes per week, however, classes here are more intense. One period class might take about 3-4 hrs and in some special cases, you might have to take an 8 hr class on Saturday with breaks. So bring some snacks and water for the classes and check your schedules before you arrange some trips on weekends. There is less homework which also means the grades heavily depend on the exams. I suggest that listening to the classes on a daily bases will help, so  you will not be so stressed during finals. I haven’t experienced an exam yet, but I am pretty sure that there will be a really intense reviewing week before the exam.

Planning my Next Trip… From sight seeing to culture seeking!

Katelyn Mistele shares her experience from being a “sightseer” to a “culture seeker” while abroad on the Student Exchange Program in Denmark. She also gives tips on how to be a “culture seeker” and encourage you to be one too!

I officially caught the travel bug when I was abroad last spring on the Students Exchange Program. My home base was Copenhagen, Denmark, but no one would have known that if I didn’t tell them. I was gone every weekend seeing every major sight Europe had to offer and spending my whole bank account. I am so fortunate to have had this experience through Fisher, but now my outlook on travel has changed. I have changed form a “sight seer” to a “culture seeker”.

Nyhaven, Copenhagen, Denmark. The picturesque canal in the city!

When I arrived in Europe I was in awe. I have never been to Europe before and my only abroad experience was my family trips growing up to the Caribbean or Mexico. I was lucky enough to arrive two weeks prior to my program and my family and I decided to use that time to travel. We went on one of those excursions with a travel company that took us through the European highlights. We traveled from London to Paris, through Switzerland, and down Italy stopping at every major tourist spot along the way. From someone who has only dreamed about seeing the Eifel Tower or Big Ben this was amazing to see everything in person. From nights of little sleep to days spent on our feet walking from sight to sight and driving from place to place we never really took a second to stop and embrace the culture.

Me and my sisters from our trip. Lot’s of sight seeing in Paris, France.

Over the duration of my six months in Europe I traveled to 19 different countries and over 30 cities. There’s not many things I didn’t check off my to do list, but at the end of the day all I can say is that I saw the sights. I never actually truly experienced the culture.  Did I regret traveling how I did? Absolutely not! My goal was to see Europe and I definitely did, but from now on I am officially no longer “sight seeing” but instead “culture seeking”.

There were moments in time when I experienced this in Europe. When I arrived in Malta my Airbnb host picked us up from the airport and took us around the island showing us its history and telling us about his life. He told us all about the history of the island and how they were just recently free from British rule so that’s why there’s so much British influence still. Additionally, he told us about growing up where his children were going to school and how he was a teacher at a local elementary school. When I was in Spain I chose the local restaurants where we dined with locals. These experiences were so much different than dining at tourist heavy restaurants as menus were all in Spanish and dishes were more traditional in nature. When I was in Denmark I tried to meet as many of the locals as I could and learn about their culture. I learned a lot of things about how the Danish culture is more reserved in nature and the high value they place on close relationships.  All of these things led to my new outlook on traveling.

View in Valletta, Malta.
Views of the famous narrow fjords north of Bergen, Norway.

I am in the midst of planning my next trip to Asia. I am motivated to head there next because I feel as if I have seen most of the things I want to see in Europe. Also, I am really interesting in experience a culture that is dramatically different from the culture we have here in the United States as sometimes in Europe I noticed a lot of similarities. My goal while traveling Asia is to experience as much of the culture as I can and try not to fall into the “sight seeing trap”. I have gotten so many suggestions and am still trying to narrow down my list but I have decided that I will not be staying in any five star hotels. I am not going to be doing everything trip advisor rates as a “must see in Thailand.” Instead I am leveraging my network here at home to see what my friends who have traveled to this region suggest. I am also going to reach out to my network to see if anyone knows anyone who will be in the region at the time to get a more unique and original experience (I am in the midst of writing a blog most on leveraging your global network as well so stay tuned!). I am also going to plan for down time to get out in the cities I am in and live amongst the locals and embrace everything their culture has to offer. Right now the following countries are on my radar but I still have a lot of planning and research to do: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Japan.

My tips for anyone who wants to join me in culture seeking are as follows:

  •  Avoid mainstream resorts, embrace hostel dwelling! Hostels are a great opportunity to meet other young travelers but also to experience the culture of the country you are visiting. A lot of hostels are family owned and they sponsor events that introduce you to their culture.
  • See a few main sights and snap a few pictures, but at the end of the day get lost (safely)! Wander, explore, and go to the restaurant that isn’t the five-star trip advisor suggested option. Ask your waiter for suggestions. People want to share!
  • Go to the places you wouldn’t expect to enjoy. Some of my favorite trips were to places I wasn’t even planning on going to! I went to Finland, Estonia, Malta, and Norway and honestly I didn’t even know Estonia and Malta were countries! Get out and see the world every part is unique in its own way and has its own hidden gems.
  • Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions. People want to share their culture and they want to learn about yours so take advantage of this.
Beautiful Russian influenced church located in Tallinn, Estonia.
Photo from cross country skiing in a national park north of Helsinki, Finland!

My six months in Europe were life changing and I saw amazing things and met amazing people, but I am looking forward to culture seeking from here on out. So let’s get out and embrace travel, see the sights, but experience the culture and grow interpersonally. And if anyone has Asia suggestions comment below!

In Bruges, Belgium

Sydney Lapin shares her adventures in Belgium, meeting the locals in Brussles and Bruges. Family dinners, an amazing hot chocolate, and a picturesque towns welcomed her to the country as she studies on the Student Exchange Program in Strasbourg, France.

Today I was thinking back to one of my first trips in January, Belgium. I had taken an overnight bus to Brussels with a few friends, and we arrived around 7:30 am. Anna, my friend from Finland, has a home is Brussels! Her parents work with the EU, and they move there every few years from what it sounds like. We were warmly welcomed into their home, and her mom had even prepared a lovely European breakfast for us! There were croissant, hard boiled eggs, yogurt and muesli, and juice. Anna’s mother spoke great English, and I was so appreciative to be around a parent again! It was like being at home a bit.

Anna showing us around Brussels!

We had a wonderful day of Anna showing us around Brussels. We took the long way to the city center, so that we could see the Parc de la Cinquentenare, (the park with the large gate that looks like the Brandenburg gate), the European Parliament, the Royal Palace, and a stunning view of Brussels near the Fine Arts Museum. We made our way toward Grand Place, where the buildings are gorgeously trimmed with gold decals. It was absolutely stunning. I think in the square alone there were four chocolate stores! Safe to say I was not dieting on this trip. But first, street waffles.

The group roaming Brussels!

We were on the hunt for the perfect street waffle. I ordered one with caramel, Belgian chocolate, and bananas. It took until I had about two bites left for me to realize it was landing like a pound of rocks in my stomach…but the taste was SO worth it!

Carly, Haley and I with our Belgian Waffles!

We walked around a bit more, and had planned to go home and relax and then head back out for dinner somewhere. When we arrived at Anna’s however, her mom had cooked a traditional Finnish meal for us! We all had drinks and discussed things about America and Finland, and each of us wrote a little note in the guest book that Anna’s family keeps.

In the morning, my friends had planned to go to Cologne, Germany but I was a little more interested in seeing Bruges, a more Northern town in Belgium, so I booked a night in a hostel just outside of the town and jumped on a train to Bruges! The train took about an hour, and when I arrived I had to take the public buses over to the area that the hostel was located. As I was sitting on the bus, I was a little unsure of what stop I was getting off at. An old man next to me noticed, and started speaking something in Flemmish. When he realized I had no idea what he was saying, the guy across from us laughed and translated. In Belgium, they speak Flemmish and French, so the man who spoke English and I had a nice conversation about speaking French, his friends in the states who live in New Mexico, and about the canal tours.

After dropping off my things, I headed out with my camera into the extremely picturesque streets of Bruges. I went on the canal tour, which was really cool and showed the entire city from a different perspective.

View from the water.

I had done some research on where I wanted to spend time in Bruges, besides just walking around, and so I headed to ‘The Old Chocolate House’ for hot chocolate! It was AMAZING. I sat in the restaurant upstairs, and ordered Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, and an assortment of 10 pralines (mystery chocolates!). When the hot coco arrived, it was a mug of steamed milk, and then a cup filled with your ingredients that you are supposed to dump in and stir. Even the cup was made of chocolate! It was so delicious, I went back a second time while being in the town.

The Old Chocolate House style Hot Coco!

The thing about Europe I noticed, especially in these smaller towns, is that so much closes around 6/7 pm. So I walked around a little, and bought my friends some assortments of chocolates, but then just sat in this little restaurant I found for a while until I felt hungry enough to eat again! I had to eat dinner, because there was a dish I was told I needed to try called “Waterzooi”. I ordered a drink, and the traditional dish, and wrote in my journal about my travel day. The restaurant was called “Brugge-Link”, and the dish was so amazing. It was almost like a cream of potato base with chicken and vegetables, and came with mashed potatoes on the side. Totally worth being overly full!

As I was walking back to the hostel, I ran into some sort of fire festival being held behind the Basilica of the Holy Blood. There were stands for food and drinks, a band playing music, and entertainers playing with fire! It was such a cool thing to run into!

In the morning, I got up before the sun rose to pack up my things and walk around the town while it was quiet. I was happy that the hostel was situated a little outside of the town, because the streets and alleys were just stunning. I was happy to be with my camera.


The rest of the day I explored. I roamed the town, went into the Basilica of the Holy Blood church, climbed the Belfry (the town tower in the center), walked around the ‘Lake of Love’, and then found a place called ‘Wijngaerde Beguinage’ which was a home for women, religious women, and widows who wished to live an “independent but committed life outside the recognized orders with their vows of fidelity and poverty”. It was considered a “city of peace”, and was a really beautiful area.

Swans in the “Lake of Love”
City of Peace

After strolling around some more, sending a couple postcards, and of course eating more chocolate, I took the train back to Brussels where I was catching another overnight bus back to Strasbourg. On the train I got to reflect on my time in Bruges, and my love of travel. Sometimes it’s just good to get away for a little and let yourself explore new things. I learned that I enjoy my own company, and that’s something that is really important in life! I hope to one day take my parents to Bruges and show them around, because it was such a lovely and picturesque little town.

Bruges City Center

Kakehashi Project 8: Sunday Scaries

While counting down the hours of leaving Japan on their last day, they share their visit to mall and Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. Then off to Narita airport for final goodbyes to the country and people of Japan.

We woke up on the last day with a growing reluctance inside of us; we had a thrilling time this week immersing in a new culture and making new friends, and we were not ready to return to class. Most people know the ‘sunday scaries’ – anxiety and dread that starts on Sunday afternoon brought on by the thought of the upcoming week (and all of the responsibilities that come with school and work). Not only was the greatest spring break we had ever experienced coming to an end, but we were being thrown into the back-half of spring semester (which is tough enough already). This Sunday would be 37 hours long for us with the time change between Japan and the United States, so we had plenty of time ahead of us to endure the sunday scaries.

Our bus took us from the hotel to Narita, a town about an hour outside of Tokyo where the international airport is located. Our first stop in Narita was a large mall. This was our third mall visit of the trip, so most people were just interested in walking around, getting food, and finding WiFi. Dennis was glad to find a McDonalds in the food court, saying that his body had been going through fast food withdrawal. Casey couldn’t get over how cute the children in the mall were.

View from inside the mall

After the mall, we went to the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, a Buddhist temple built in 940 AD. In terms of structure and architecture, this was very similar to the Sensoji Temple we had seen the day before in Asakusa, but due to how far we were outside of the city, there was just a fraction of the foot traffic, which really allowed us to explore freely.

Pat taking it all in
The program coordinator, Kozue, told us that the ‘peace’ sign is common in Japan; Casey was sure to use it

Evan and Jacob purify themselves in the waters of the temple. A visiting etiquette when going to temples in Japan.

After leaving Shinshoji Temple, we went to the airport. Most of us had to check a bag on the way back since we had bought so many souvenirs to take home with us. After we dropped our bags with the airline, we regrouped to say goodbye to Miho.

Miho had meshed really well with our group. She was young and she wasn’t overly serious, always conversing with us and treating us as equals, so it felt like she was more of an older sister than a tour guide. She had gone to university in Great Britain, so we thought it was funny to hear a slight British accent come through when she spoke English, her second language. Most importantly, it became increasingly apparent over the course of our time in Japan that she really liked us and cared about us. She made several comments about how much she was dreading us leaving, as she did not want to part from us. One of our group members had their birthday on the last day of the trip, and Miho bought them a birthday gift at the Narita mall. Miho was just as important to our group as any one of us was, and we were going to miss her immensely. When it was finally time to split apart, there were several tears. We gave her three or four gift bags to show our appreciation for everything she had done for us. We made sure to say ittekimasu; we will go and, someday, we’ll come back.

Miho Sato — the best guide to Japan that we could have ever asked for!
Alex and Miho just before airport security

We went through security and enjoyed our last moments in Japan before our long journey back to the United States. Over the course of our time in Japan, we had grown together, going from being near strangers to good friends, and it would be tough to split apart once we went home. Everything had been a group activity from the moment we got to the Columbus airport on the first day, to when we left the Columbus airport on the last day. Our group started to connect before our plane touched down in Tokyo, so the experiences we had further catalyzed the bonds that developed between us. We had made so many memories together ranging from the incredible, unforgettable experiences of the Beppu Onsen and our home stays, to the very ordinary experiences of hotel breakfasts and being on the bus together. Even after the structured events had ended each day, we would still gather in each other’s hotel rooms just because we liked being together so much. Like the tea master taught us back in Oita, ichi-go ichi-e; this was our one time to come together as this group, and we will all treasure these memories forever.

Ittekimasu!!!

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 9: Repatriation

Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day

Kakehashi Project 7: Big Day Out in Tokyo

A full day in Tokyo, Japan was dedicated to exploring the city! From Asakusa Temple, Harajyuku shopping district, to an observation tower overlooking Tokyo city, the students dive into the unique and interesting capital of Japan.

The sixth day started with Austin eating all of the eggs at the breakfast buffet, as usual. However, this day would be unusual as we would be traveling to different sites around Tokyo and given time to explore. First, we went to Asakusa to visit Sensoji Temple and Nakamise Street. The Sensoji Temple is an ancient Buddhist Temple built in 7th century AD. It was very interesting to see the structure of the different buildings on the larger complex as well as the large crowd we were walking through. We saw many women dressed in yukatas (a summer kimono) taking pictures in front of the different structures. It seemed like this was popular, as some of the shops we passed offered yukata rentals. Just outside of the temple area was Nakamise Street, a large area of street vendors and shops. Some people decided to keep exploring around and made it out to the Sumida river.

Sensoji Temple

Looking out from the Temple, many shops and vendors are set up in the street
Dennis at the Sumida river with the Tokyo Skytree in the distance

The original Pokemon video games (developed in Japan) included a part of the game where players could enter a large department store with many stories and specific groupings of items being sold on each floor. Growing up in the United States, this did not make a lot of sense, but upon visiting Akihbara, it started to make sense. Akihabara’s two main attraction points were a mall and bookstore. The mall was seven floors, with the lower floors resembling technology and department stores and the upper floors having current popular culture branded items (such as Pokemon, Star Wars, and Super Mario). The book store was nine floors tall with different types of manga books on each, though it was very tough for us to decipher the difference between types of manga books because we couldn’t read the language. There were also some sections dedicated to hobbies such as trains and automobiles.

Going up the escalator at the bookstore in Akihabara. This section has books on computers and coding.

We then went to Meiji-jingu Shrine & Harajuku; the Shrine was part of a larger park where many tourists and locals were walking and enjoying the scenery. Meiji-jingu is a Shinto Shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji, who reigned from 1867 – 1912. The shrine was built in 1920.

Entrance to the path leading to Meiji-jingu Shrine

Across the main road next to the park was a small St. Patrick’s day festival (as our big day out in Tokyo happened to be March 17th). Many people living in Columbus have visited the Dublin Irish Festival – the core concept is that a group of first, second, and third generation Irish living in America put on a large cultural festival, complete with Irish dancing, traditional folk music, exhibits, a lot of food, and games like Gaelic football. The festival here in Japan that we stumbled upon was much smaller than the festival in Columbus, but still had much of the same types of stands and presentations; there was a street rugby game, a live band, and some typical Irish food. The most interesting part of this festival, however, was that it was put on by Japanese people (as opposed to Irish immigrants and descendants); everyone in the live band playing the Irish folk music was Japanese. One of the contacts from Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) told us that they did not know about St. Patrick’s day in Japan until recent years, so it is small but growing as a celebration.

Japanese celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Harajuku

Harajuku was an extremely crowded shopping district. With the sheer number of people walking around, it felt like being in New York City, but the streets were extremely quiet and peaceful with no shouting, horns honking, litter, or unpleasant smells. One thing that really stuck out was the customer service we encountered. In America, we’re used to retail workers being indifferent (more or less) to their jobs, and it quickly became clear that Japanese retail workers will bend over backwards for customers, requested or not, which was interesting to see. For example, Dennis had finished trying on some shirts in Adidas and went to see some of the shirts back to their racks. Even though he was only about 20 feet away from the rack, an employee quickly ran up with a smile, took the shirts, and put them back. Similarly, Jacob was looking at shirts and a store employee would not let him fold the shirts back up himself, insisting that he let her fold them.

Harajuku street corner overlooking the crowd

After Harajuku, we returned to our hotel to relax and get ready for the big travel day ahead of us. Before going to bed, Ethan led a group down the block to a mall that had a 60th floor observation deck looking out over Tokyo. It only cost ¥900 (about $9), and the views were amazing.

No caption necessary!

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 8: Sunday Scaries

Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day

Kakehashi Project 2: The Undergrads and The PhDs

The first day of adventures in Japan! The group met with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to learn more about the Japanese economy and the countries characteristics. After a tasty lunch they visited the Imperial Palace and ended up with a great photo shot!

The first day started with a continental breakfast in the basement of our hotel. Austin arrived as soon as they opened, determined to try as much as possible and fill up for the day. The rest of the group was still either getting ready or sleeping, so he made friends with a group of students from Rutgers that was also participating in the Kakehashi Project.

After checking out of the hotel, we left for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). During our ride in, we finally got a chance to see the city during the daytime. We arrived at MOFA and were quickly ushered up to a large conference room. Our group from Fisher as well as students from Rutgers, University of Kentucky, and UNC Chapel Hill all gathered to be addressed by the ambassadors from Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) on the nature of the program and what to expect. Immediately following the orientation, Mr. Ogiwara Hiroshi, an economist from MOFA, gave a presentation on the Japanese economy. He highlighted the current state of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) as well as the trade relationship between the United States and Japan. Some of the PhD students from University of Kentucky asked him very insightful questions to promote a good discussion.

Sitting in our orientation session at MOFA

We departed MOFA to eat lunch at a local Tokyo restaurant. There were two long parallel tables for our group, and without any sort of direction or conversation, all of the males sat at one table and all of the females sat at the other, not unlike a middle-school dance. We were extremely impressed with the quality of the meal; Pat from OSU liked the Edamame beans so much that he ate them whole – shells included!

Ahmed and Pat getting ready to enjoy our first restaurant meal in Tokyo

After lunch, we attended a lecture from Professor Taniguchi Tomohiko, a professor at the Keio University Graduate School of System Design and Management (SDM), teaching international political economy and Japanese diplomacy, as well as a Special Adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet. This presentation was by far the most impactful on many of us.

As he tried to summarize Japan in 23 PowerPoint slides, what resonated with us was the way in which he divided Japan’s identity into three pillars: resilience, continuity, and maritime identity. As an example of Japan’s historical resilience, Professor Taniguchi alluded to the 2011 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan and the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since modern record keeping. This devastating natural disaster caused 15,895 casualties, left 6,156 injured, and 2,539 missing. According to the MOFA, 116 countries and 28 international organizations offered assistance, including the United States. Despite the damage, Japan persevered through the tragedy and carried on as a stronger nation.  Today, Japan remembers the date of the Tsunami, March 11th, in remembrance and in honor of those suffered.

Professor Taniguchi Tomohiko speaking on Japanese resilience, continuity, and maritime identity

The second pillar was continuity. Japan is well-known for bridging the gap between tradition and innovation. This is best exemplified by how Japan has the world’s two most longstanding operating hotels, the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan and Hoshi Ryokan, which were founded in 705 and 718, respectively. In addition, Japan is home to the world’s oldest sake brewery, Sudo Honke, and the world’s oldest family business, Kongo Gumi, which has been building temples for 14 centuries. And yet, Japan has been on the forefront of innovation in major industries such as the technology and the automotive industry. Still, traditional Japanese culture has been passed on through generations and remains important to people in the modern day, such as their tea ceremonies (which we got to experience later in our trip, so keep reading our blogs).

The third pillar of maritime identity has shaped Japan’s economic positioning in the world. As it pertains to global trade, Japan’s importing and exporting operations are shaped by Japan’s maritime positioning. Furthermore, much of Japan’s most well known dietary delights are facilitated through Japan’s oceanic proximity.

We walked out of the presentation really starting to wrap our heads around what Japan really is. As Americans, we grapple with what America is and what it means to be an American; the lecture from Professor Taniguchi Tomohiko gave us a significant amount of insight into what Japan is and what it means to be Japanese. Fittingly, the next stop on our trip was the Imperial Palace. The landscape reminded us a lot of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as there was open gravel walking space in the middle of the city. Most of the group stayed in front of the entrance and saw the guards changing out, and a small group of us walked around the park area.

Chandler thought that it would be a perfect photo opportunity with the sun at dusk and the city in the distance, so we quickly posed; the picture ended up looking like an early 2000s boy band album cover, which we were all extremely pleased with.

From left to right: Joe, Austin, Judson, Dennis, Evan, and Jacob

Miho rushed us off to the Tokyo airport for a domestic flight to Oita, a seaside prefecture on Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island. We were told that dinner would be on our own in the airport, and we were handed ¥2000 each (the whole idea of the exchange rate hadn’t fully set in yet, so we initially thought we were rich. It was about $20). Erica decided to use her money to get a haircut in the airport, using Kevin as a translator. The flight to Oita was roughly 90 minutes, but it went very quickly as we all slept through it. After a quick bus ride to our hotel, we again went right to bed, beat from the day.

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 3: Operations, Onsens, and Aesthetics

Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day

A Weekend In Morocco

From seeing the blue city to enjoying camel rides, join Samantha Ludes on her adventure to Morocco, while she studies at Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid, Spain on the Student Exchange Program.

If you hadn’t planned on visiting Morocco while abroad, then you need to read this and I hope you change your mind. I suggest traveling with a group, especially as a student. The cultural differences and language barriers make it a challenging trip to do on your own. I am not normally a fan of group trips; I hate being on a strict schedule, I always feel exhausted, and I never see everything I wanted to see. However, this group trip was unlike any I had been on. I went through a group called BeMadrid (but I booked it through UniTrips) and I cannot recommend it enough. While it was a long weekend, it was really a great one.

The trip that we chose to do was not necessarily the easiest transportation wise, but I swear it was not as bad as it may sound. We met late Thursday night and took a 7 hour bus ride to Tarifa, Spain. From there, we took an hour ferry ride to Tangier, Morocco. If a longer travel day is not for you, there are trips where you can fly into Morocco and meet them, but the bus was nice enough that we were all able to sleep and honestly not that bad.

In Tangier, we met up with our tour guide Mohammed and hopped on a bus to start off our day. While on our way to see Cap Spartel and Hercules Caves, Mohammed would tell us anything ranging from funny stories about his life to facts about their culture. Having a local guide allowed us to get by much better since there was no language barrier or questions about where something was. Cap Spartel is a famous lighthouse overlooking the ocean just a quick drive from Tangier. We stopped here and got out to take some pictures, as well as pet a donkey and buy some beautiful little gifts that none of us actually needed.  After, we visited Hercules Caves which are a few minutes from Cap Spartel. The story behind these caves is that Hercules is said to have rested here during one of his journeys. The caves have two openings, one to the sea and one to the land, with the opening to the sea in the shape of Africa. If you go to Tangier, these are two touristy sites you must see.

And if you want to ride camels, you can do so only a short drive from Hercules Caves. I’m not sure if you have ever been on a camel but it is like riding a very unstable horse. While you may feel like you are going to fall off at any moment, it is one of those activities that you cannot miss when in Morocco (and this was included in the trip I went on).

We also went to Chefchaouen and Tétouan. If you have ever looked at pictures of Morocco, you most likely have seen either Marrakech (on my list of places to visit) or Chefchauoen, aka the blue city. We walked through the narrow streets of the blue city, each street painted blue and covered with a  range of colors. If I had more space in my backpack I would have bought a lot more than I did, everything is so beautiful. My lunch in Chefchauoen was my favorite meal of the trip. For the equivalent of 5 euros, we were able to get more food than our stomachs could keep up with. I left this beautiful city with lots of argan oil (Morocco is famous for it) and a few other goods I probably did not need. For those of you who love skincare, argan oil is great for hydration of your skin, without being too oily, as well as for your hair. Buy it for yourself, your mom, your sister, and everyone will be happy. Next on our tour was Tétouan, one of Morocco’s major ports famous for their seafood markets. We only spent an hour or so here but I was happy we did because we were able to see a much less touristy city but a gem nonetheless.

Back in Tangier, we had an “authentic” Moroccan dinner (bread, chicken, soup, potatoes, and their delicious mint green tea) while we watched a performance by a few locals. It was a great end to our trip and fun to get to meet a wide variety of people. Our group of 100 people (& 40 different nationalities) were led by students and a few adult advisors. Even though we only had 2 full days in Morocco, I think that our leaders did such an efficient job in organizing the trip that I felt like I had seen everything.

Now, there are a few things to remember when traveling here. What you wear has become less of a focus, however, you should still dress on the conservative side to draw less attention. In Morocco, most people speak French (and Arabic of course) but if you don’t know French, try Spanish or even German before you try English. My weekend consisted of lots of pointing and using the only two French words I know; toilet and pan. And speaking of toilet, do not forget to bring a roll of toilet paper because the bathrooms in restaurants and public places most likely won’t have any. Also, never pay whatever price they’re asking for (except at restaurants), ALWAYS barter and don’t be afraid to walk away if you feel like you’re paying too much. Do not forget to buy lots of bottled water and just be cautious about where you are getting your fruit from. I personally had no problems with the food but I know other people did. Overall everything is very cheap there, so you should expect to pay less and get more (finally an exchange rate that is totally in your favor).

I am so happy that I decided to go on this trip. It is an amazing experience unlike anything I had done before and the weather is beautiful. So if you are studying abroad, add Morocco to a weekend trip because you definitely will not regret it.

 

Vienna: Cultural Events, Holiday Spirit, and More

On the Student Exchange Program to Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (WU) in Austria, Peyton Bykowski talks about the cultural life in Vienna, including events, holidays and festivals. She has been exposed to Vienna Fashion Week, Halloween in Vienna, Christmas Markets, and the must see Viennese Opera!

These last several months in Vienna have been beyond incredible. With a city so full of culture, history, and things to do, there was certainly never a dull moment. Vienna has had plenty of cultural events and festive holiday spirit. In this blog post I will talk about some my favorite events in Vienna, and share pictures from this last month, my final month, here. (pictures below)

One of the first events I went to in September was the MQ Vienna Fashion Week. Vienna Fashion Week was a huge event attended by several thousand per day, where there were constant runway shows by new and established designers, displays, and interactive stands. Attendees were given the runway experience with a makeover and samplers from different cosmetic companies, in which the attendees then walked a red carpet area for a photo-op. The shows were limiting (first come first serve seating basis) and varied greatly in terms of clothing and runway styles. Vienna Fashion Week was certainly more of an expression of art than anything else. It was certainly a fun, enlightening, and entertaining week! Here is a link!

MQ Vienna Fashion Week

As important and festive as Halloween is in the U.S., it is, not surprisingly, very celebrated in Europe. However, many stores, classrooms, and social settings had decorations or themed items of Halloween and the week leading up to it. While it is not an official holiday for the Viennese, it was still enjoyable to see large shopping streets participating and getting into the spirit of Halloween. In Vienna there is an English cinema called the Haydn Kino Theater, which did a special showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show and other American Halloween classics. Going to these showings was extremely fun to do with both American and other European friends who are not as familiar with these Halloween classics and was a great way to share some American culture with natives. While all people find the movie to be extremely odd, all of my friends found it to be really fun. They could see why it was considered a “cult classic” and enjoyed seeing a quirky side to American culture.

Rocky Horror Picture Show MQ Vienna
Rocky Horror Picture Show MQ Vienna

Since Austrians do not celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas markets start setting up in early to mid November. Austria is extremely festive during the “holidays”, even though it is not a particularly religious country. Viennese Christmas markets are unlike any other holiday experience. They are filled with local stands, lots of food and classic hot drinks, festive mugs, and handmade items like ornaments, gloves, hats, and many other gift-inspiring items. They are the epitome of “Christmas-time” and are loved by all. Vienna has an extraordinary amount of Christmas markets, with the largest being at Rathaus. All attendees at the markets are in good spirits, and they are a great place to go with friends any day of the week. They have been a staple of social life during December. The Christmas markets of Vienna are certainly the largest cultural event(s) and festival during the year. More information on their webpage!

Other cultural events include the Opera and Volkstheater, which offers many and a wide variety of theater experiences. The Viennese Opera is one of the best in the world, and is an absolute must while you stay in Vienna. You can purchase seated tickets, which are more expensive and come with a dress code, or there is an option to purchase standing tickets for only a few Euros and have a much less strict dress code. Most WU and Viennese students opt for the standing tickets, as it is a more cost and dress code effective option. Likewise, Volkstheater is an extremely established theater in Vienna and is also a great cultural experience. Vienna is a city of art in many forms, and the events and showcases are certainly worth taking advantage of as there is truly no comparison. Find more theater information here and here.

My experiences have allowed me to grow a lot while abroad. Some of the events, like the Rocky Horror showing, allowed me to get to know Viennese culture more while also getting to share mine. Events like the the Fashion Week and and touring/seeing shows at the Opera and Volkstheater really allowed me to understand Viennese culture even further. The Opera and Volkstheater are cultural icons of not only the city, but the entire country. Visiting and immersing myself into their culture really allowed me to appreciate how different my culture is to Viennese culture and allowed me to connect more with the locals of the city. Also, visiting and experiencing these cultural events allowed for a great conversation starter for my networking on campus with my peers and my academic advisors. Most of these events and sights were recommendations from them and other peers alike. Getting to experience them and then report back my reactions was a great way to further develop my network and deepen my connections with others.

Vienna Opera
Vienna Opera
Volkstheater

 

Last Reflection of Chile

Phil Koch debriefs his experience with time in Chile and S. America and how it compares with the U.S. at the conclusion of Autumn 17.

Without a doubt, South America is a vastly different region when compared with the United States and North America. Although each are part of the Americas, they each go about life in a very distinct way. South America tends to be much more laid back and almost fatalistic as a whole while the U.S. is undeniably focused on forward economic progress. As an American, I found it extremely interesting and a true privilege to experience a culture whose outlook on life is fatalistic (Chile) as US culture is based upon the idea that you directly control your life and what happens, the exact opposite of fatalistic cultures.

I would venture to guess almost everyone has had some experience with “Latin American Time”. Whether that be directly through a Latin American friend, a local experience in Latin America or indirectly through the grapevine, it is a common stereotype that Latin Americans are more often than not, considered late by North American standards. During my time in Chile I did find this to be true. Social events and even class could easily begin thirty minutes, forty minutes even up to one hour “late” due to the way Chileans and other Latin Americans view time. Before coming to Chile, I did not know the origins of the Latin American outlook on time or why people would/could be this late habitually. As alluded to above, this differing standard about “acceptable lateness” comes from a very different outlook on an approach to life (internal vs. external). Before my classes in Chile I had no idea this distinction existed or what may have caused the divide so I find the reasoning behind it quite fascinating.

My classes explained that North Americans derive much of their culture and work values from Protestant ideals, such as “work is noble” and “you live to work” among other associated ideas/sayings. On the other hand, Latin Americans derive much of their culture and work values which indirectly translate into their ideas about time from Catholicism with beliefs such as “work is not noble” and “you work to live” etc. These origins are quite insightful and help derive some context to the highly different views on time between North and South American cultures. Unlike in the United States, the idea of being “late” in South America is not seen as a horrible thing because time does not equal money. Life is meant to be enjoyed and work is merely an avenue to some level of comfortable sustenance. Since time does not equal money and work is not the end all be all of Latin American life, time is very flexible as it is meant to be enjoyed. If someone is late to a social gathering, class or meeting and they do not communicate that they will be late, it is not seen as a sign of disrespect as it often is in the U.S.

Having the opportunity to live for an extended period in a fatalistic culture that does not equate time with money has been an awesome experience for me. I found the roots of the time differences very interesting and honestly enjoyed experiencing the dichotomies between living in a fatalistic and internal control society. As someone who is always looking for the next opportunity, maximizes their time and someone who is almost always early, adapting to the Chilean way of life (concept of time) was difficult at first. However, after the first two to three weeks my time in Chile and adoption of the Chilean time concept has made me a fuller person. I was able to partially embrace the Latin American concept of time and truly enjoy most of my time in Chile without constantly planning, working and analyzing options for my future. I took the time to engage with other students and travel to different places around South America including, Argentina, Peru & Machu Picchu and various parts of Chile. Taking some time to truly enjoy life, the Latin American way instead of always working for the next thing and worrying about the future is liberating. Going forward I will be able to more evenly balance my business, schoolwork and social life based on some of the Latin American time principles I have adopted into my life. As a firm believer that you directly control what happens to you and someone who always prioritized work over other aspects of life, I highly recommend a semester abroad in Chile as it will make you a more complete person and show you that there is a whole lot more to enjoying life than simply getting ahead and excelling at work.

On the Inca Trail
Machu Picchu

November Photos in Austria

Ohio State Senior Peyton Bykowsk shares some of her favorite moments while abroad on the Student Exchange Program in Vienna this November. Including Christmas Markets, travel to Italy, visiting the Museumquarter, and end of term classes at Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (WU).

Greetings from Vienna! This November has been one to remember. Classes have been busy and full of fun projects, Museumquartier has opened some amazing exhibits, the legendary Christmas Markets have opened, and a trip to Italy topped it all off! Here are some photos of the month.

Christmas Market at Rathausplatz

Friends and I at the Rathausplatz Christmas Market just a few days ago. Christmas markets are my absolute favorite, this is just one of many in Vienna! They are incredibly festive, fun, and full of great gifts and treats.

Rathaus is is the City Hall building of Vienna and it is one of the most spectacular buildings in the city (especially when lit up with Christmas lights). For more information regarding the different Viennese Christmas markets, here is a link.

Travel to Italy

This November I traveled to Italy where I spent 2 days in Rome, 2 days in Florence, and 1 day in Milan. The trip was incredible, filled with good food, amazing history and incredible beauty. Below are a few pictures from Rome and Florence.

The Museumquarter 

Museumquarter is one of the most interesting parts of Vienna with several large museums in the area, and it is directly across from Hofburg Palace. They have some incredible exhibits, and you could last for hours in just one of the massive museums in the platz. Here is a glimpse inside the Fine Arts museum, its incredible interior, and a link to their webpage!

End of Term Classes

As the semester is nearing towards the last month, classes are certainly  busier. Here is a picture of a typical classroom set up at WU. This day was a study session for an exam where many peers got together to study and quiz one another in preparation.

Vienna has  been a spectacular choice for my study abroad experience. It is hard to believe I am nearing on my last month in this amazing country. From the interesting history, incredible beauty, amazing people and peers, and all of the fun culture that I got to dive into, Vienna was certainly the best choice for what I wanted to gain from the entirety of this experience. I look forward to a December filled with more Christmas Markets, continuing to build relationships with peers, and, most importantly, one of a kind experiences.