Visiting Team: Differences Between Madrid and the States

Read the observation Danny Rodgers shares as he spends his semester at Universidad Pontificia Comillas on the Student Exchange Program! He touches on the difference in the classroom, sports, to the daily life in Spain.

One of the coolest parts about living abroad is seeing how daily life works in another country. Some differences are minimal, whereas others are quite drastic. Over the past couple of months here in Madrid, I have diligently taken note of key differences and put together this blog featuring some of the more interesting differences between life back home and here in Madrid. With that, let’s dive in!

Daily Routine

Although three days of my school week beginning at 8:00 am, the typical Spanish day starts later than in the US. This became apparent to me rather quickly as I was the only one in the neighborhood awake, walking in darkness to class at 7:30 in the morning; traffic doesn’t really pick up until about 9:00 in the morning when Madrid is commuting to work. Another major difference in regards to the mornings is what is served for breakfast. Here, breakfast consists of strong coffee and maybe a small pastry, usually served and eaten quickly at one of Madrid’s plentiful coffee bars. Given the later start to the day, the rest of the day’s meals also occur at different times. The lunch hour starts around 2:00pm and is the heaviest meal of the day. Many shops and businesses shut down during lunch and people head home to eat with family. The result is a sort of 2-part work day that ends later than the typical US workday. For example, the relocation service I used when searching for accommodation followed office hours of 10:00am-2:00pm and 3:00pm to 7:00pm. Wrapping up the day around 9:00 pm is dinner, a lighter meal in comparison to lunch. At a full 3-4 hours later than the typical US dinner hour, this late meal is arguably one of the biggest adjustments to make when living in Spain.

In regards to studying in Madrid, Ohio State and my university here could not be more different. Here at Comillas, all my classes are under the same roof. The classes are about 20 – 40 students in size and I have multiple classes with the same classmates. Compare this to Ohio State where a brisk 20 minute walk across campus in between classes is not uncommon and a first year economics lecture brings out a crowd that can rival a small concert venue. Here at Comillas, the structure of the classes differs significantly as well. For example, a typical final exam at Ohio State usually accounts for about 20 percent of the final grade whereas here, my final exams currently looming on the horizon are worth a humble 50 percent of my final grade. As is with most aspects of studying abroad, adjusting to a different way of doing things is the norm. Add on a positive outlook and even the most daunting of tasks seem doable.

The Big Game

I am a huge sports fan, so a goal of mine going into the semester was to attend a match at Santiago Bernabéu, home of one of Spain’s top football clubs, Real Madrid. After a stressful morning of ticket shopping, I managed to snag a single ticket to a Champion’s League match between Real Madrid and Tottenham, an English football club. Champions league matches feature two high level international clubs, so I knew I was in for a good game. It felt great to be back in a packed stadium for a prime time game as I didn’t have the usual Buckeye game days throughout the semester.

The differences between Madrid’s marquee sporting event and a comparable event in the US were very interesting. For instance, the entire match was played in under 2 hours. The trade off to a shorter event, however, is that those 2 hours were filled with constant action. Compare this to a typical Sunday NFL game with all its commercial breaks and stoppage of play and you can see why some non-Americans find American football rather boring. Another interesting aspect of the Real Madrid match was how the moment halftime hit, everyone pulled out their pre-packed sandwiches from home to enjoy during the break. Quite the nice alternative to the typical $13.00 hotdog and soda found in US stadiums. Finally, and probably the most impressive difference, would have to be how the fans engaged in the game. From pregame to the final whistle, fans on both sides chanted and sang the entirety of the match. Their dedication to cheering was incredibly impressive and created a high energy atmosphere the whole game. Coming into the match knowing next to nothing about European football (very American of me, I know), the skill of the players, passion of the fans and the overall experience gave me a new appreciation for the sport.

City Life

When considering where I would spend a semester abroad, I only had two requirements. I had studied Spanish for 8 years and am currently working towards a Spanish minor, so studying in a Spanish speaking country was a must. Secondly, I grew up in Naperville, Illinois, so Chicago was always a quick train ride away. Heading to Chicago year after year, I developed a love for exploring cities. With these two desires, Madrid, Spain seemed like the perfect choice. Now several months into the semester, I can say Madrid is exactly where I am supposed to be. Trading towering skyscrapers and our beloved cars for royal palaces and public transportation, the experience of living in a European metropolis has been an incredible experience.

As a capital city with over 3 million people, Madrid is an exciting place to live. Here, one can find everything from maze-like neighborhoods hailing from the 17th century to streets like Gran Vía, bustling with activity 24 hours a day. Madrid is also a city of neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character and impressive lineup of restaurants, night life, and shops. Outside of main thoroughfares, chain restaurants and businesses are not very common. This allows local businesses to take center stage, each providing a completely unique experience to the next. I’ve often wondered how so many of these little shops can stay in business, and I think it speaks volumes to the benefits of high density, walkable neighborhoods. This is a far cry from the car-centric towns we have in the US—outside of a select few urban areas. Only having to walk 5 minutes or less for fresh baked bread, a grocery store or coffee shop will be something I miss dearly.

Madrid has also provided the perfect setting for practicing Spanish. In these aforementioned coffee bars and little restaurants, English is hardly common. It is with this real world practice that I now feel more confident than ever in my language abilities. I can only image how proud my high school Spanish teachers would be, knowing I can successfully fight my way to the counter of a packed tapas bar and order without issues; this is why I studied Spanish. But in all seriousness, I have thoroughly enjoyed living in a city where I must speak Spanish daily. I strongly suggest to anyone studying a language to pursue an exchange in a country that speaks the language you are studying. It is far and away the best way to develop confidence in using the language, which is something that cannot be easily gained in a class that only meets twice a week. While it was certainly a challenge learning the ins and outs of new city, Madrid has become a place I’ve grown to love.

Although my semester abroad is coming to a close, there are still more stories to tell! Check back next time to hear about a global business experience I had here in Madrid. Later on, look out for my advice for outgoing study abroad students as the next semester rolls around.

As always thanks for reading!

Moments of Fluency, Moments Quite Touristy

Just off the flight arriving in Madrid, Spain, Danny Rodgers shares his first interaction with his host country, which welcomed him with a fellow Buckeye alum from 1976! He describes his first month on the Students Exchange Program, attending Universidad Pontificia Comillas, and putting his language skills to the test.

The adventures of moving to another country.

Welcome to Madrid

Stepping off the plane in Madrid, it still had not registered with me just how far I had traveled. Bleary-eyed and rather tired from my 3 flight jaunt from Chicago to Boston to Frankfurt to Madrid (things we do for a good deal) I set off for baggage claim. We had just spent the last hour or so circling over the Spanish countryside due to heavy storms, so I was quite happy to finally be on my feet and walking. Fortunately, airport processes are rather universal, so collecting my bags and heading for the taxis was a rather straight forward task. This would prove to be where my travel expertise ended as from that point on, I was in uncharted waters. I felt a mix of excitement, curiosity and uncertainty heading out of the airport since this was my first time ever traveling to Europe.

After a couple of tense minutes waiting, my bag to finally showed itself and I set off for the taxis. I walked out of baggage claim expecting to pass through customs but before I knew it, I was curbside. Later did I realize that the passport control I went through half asleep at 6:30 am in Frankfurt was where I was stamped in to the European Union. Lufthansa did a great job getting me this far, but now it was my turn to take over the reigns. First up was finding a wifi connection. The beauty of traveling in the 21st century is that we are equipped with the world’s greatest travel companion: the smartphone. When I’m traveling, the number one must have app I would recommend is Google Maps. I use Google Maps nearly everyday for directions, checking train times, or even reading restaurant reviews. That being said, the smartphone is pretty much just a fancy calculator without an internet connection. Struggling to find any sort of connection, I began walking to other parts of the airport. Not having any luck connecting, I got on an escalator hoping the upper levels may have a stronger signal. On the escalator there was a man a bit ahead of me who was looking in my direction. Did he recognize me? Was he on my flight? I wasn’t sure, but it didn’t take long to find out when he looked at me again:

“O-H!”

“I-O!”

Smiling through the jetlag from our long haul flights

7 minutes into my semester abroad and I run into a fellow buckeye. This is why every buckeye should travel in an OSU sweatshirt; the community of 500,000 living alumni is no joke. I’m a firm believer in good omens, and right then I knew I was in for a great semester. John was a 1976 graduate of the OSU dentistry program and was in Madrid for a conference. We had a great conversation about all things OSU and took a picture to send to John’s friend, a Michigan grad, to prove to her how buckeyes are everywhere.

It’s been just over a month now and Madrid is starting to feel like another home. I have settled into my classes, become acquainted with the neighborhood and feel more confident speaking Spanish. It really did take about a month, as there are many more dynamics at play upon starting a semester here compared to OSU. Whether that be shopping for a Spanish SIM card or adjusting to eating dinner at 9:30 pm, these extra differences made settling in a bit more challenging. Switching to a Spanish SIM card was one of the first challenges I faced. As I mentioned earlier, the smartphone is the essential tool for traveling. Because of this, I needed to set up my SIM card as soon as possible. I started researching my options and narrowed-in on a plan I felt would work best. Now it was time for the fun part. When I walked into the store, I began to worry: What if they don’t understand me? How do you say gigabite in Spanish? Fortunately, I quickly realized I was more than capable of completing the transaction. I left the store with more than just a SIM card, but rather a boost in confidence. These challenges became significantly easier to overcome once I changed my perspective. Instead of looking at them as tasks that are a burden, I viewed them as opportunities to practice Spanish or a chance to put my problem solving skills to the test. That made all the difference.

As I look ahead to the next 3 months of the semester, I know that time is going to fly. With all the logistics of moving abroad behind me, I can now truly begin to make the most of every single day. My number one goal for this semester is to truly step outside of my comfort zone in regards to speaking Spanish. I aspire to use Spanish in my career, and the only way to improve fluency is to practice. Thankfully, every day provides opportunities to use the language, so I believe it is a very realistic goal. Studying abroad is a grand opportunity that has been a dream of mine ever since I set foot in the Study Abroad Expo my freshman year. I’m excited to go into detail in my next entries about everyday life here and how very different it has been.

Thank you for reading and as always, OH!

It’s totally worth it! – Go Abroad

Ending her studies in Japan on the Student Exchange Program, Phuong Tran shares her final thoughts living and studying in Tokyo. The challenges, the struggles, but also the new unforeseen opportunities that these brought and the better experiences she gained as a result.

I have just returned home and have some time to reflect on my experiences in Japan, I realize that I have failed to accomplish about half of the things I had planned. Am I disappointed? Only a little, because I have gained something else, which is even greater.

My student exchange, of courses, did not include only pleasant experiences. The first upsetting thing occurred to me even before I left the U.S. I was told that the dorm was full, and I had to find accommodation somewhere else. Finding another apartment was not that hard, but the total cost was almost doubled. More importantly, it had made it hard to communicate and hang out with other students who were staying at the dorm. There were times when I could not go to some events because the time and location were not convenient for me. I really wished that I had been accepted into the dorm so that I could have built a stronger bond with other international students.

My second disappointment was about school. When I did my interview for the program, the interviewer asked me what I would do if I could not take all the classes I had planned to take. I said I had another list of classes to substitute. However, that was easier being said that done. During the school orientation, I was kind of panic when being told I could not sign up for the two most-looking-forwarded-to classes, Business Communicating and Business Project, because of the schedule conflicts, my early-return request, and the class’s capacity. I pulled out my substitute list, but again, most of them could not fit into my schedule or not being offered this semester. I ended up taking two random business courses in order to fulfill the credit requirement.

With all those being said, I felt clueless and frustrated in the beginning of the program. Now that I think back, my problem was that I got fixated on a few objectives. Actually, after school started I soon realized I should not have been too worried. I did not have to look hard, new opportunities to learn and adventure came to me one after another. And all of these unforeseen invitations were what made my exchange’s experiences so wonderful.

As I mentioned earlier, I failed to get into my preferred business courses and thought that I could not be able to learn the “business culture” anywhere else. Fortunately, the other courses I got into also emphasized on group work and interactions between cultures. I appreciated that my professors assigned students into groups that had both international and Japanese students. We could not choose to work only with friends, but also new people, especially the ones from completely different cultures. Also, I was able to got a part-time job at school, which taught me the basic Japanese business etiquettes. Furthermore, there were many career events offered to international students either on or off campus. My most favorite one was the visit to Oak Lawn Marketing’s office, during which I could see an actual workplace and even participate in creating the marketing plan for a new product.

My Japanese teacher and classmate. We came from all around the world (France, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, America, etc)
My Japanese teacher and classmates. We came from all around the world (France, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, America, etc)

I had to admit that sometimes I felt lonely for staying in an apartment apart from others. However, I have met people whom I want to befriend for life. Also, the International Office at Rikkyo did a wonderful job on keeping us busy. They offered us many opportunities to experience tea ceremony, Ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement), Christmas parties, city tours, etc. After experiencing all of these exciting activities together, it was hard not becoming friends. When I first came to Japan, it took me a long time to get to my apartment carrying a big suitcase by myself, but when I left, my new friends helped me carry my luggage, which had been doubled in size, up to the gate. Just thinking of that made me feel so happy.

A trip to Asakusa with other international students. (The trip was organized by Rikkyo's COBBY group)
A trip to Asakusa with other international students. (The trip was organized by Rikkyo’s COBBY group)

Beside that, staying in an apartment has not only taught me many things about living in Japan but also helped me improve my language skills. In fact, except at school, I only communicated with people in Japanese. If I had stayed at the dorm, there should have been someone I could ask for help, but living alone, I had to deal with all issues by myself. Actually, Rikkyo’s International Office provided many resources to support my life there. However, they were not always available and it took time to arrange a Japanese student to assist me. Thus, I had to go to the city office, bank, etc. by myself to complete all necessary paperwork. My thought was “Lets go see if I can handle this. If I can’t get things done, then I will ask for help later.” I was so worried at first but then I gained more and more confidence in using Japanese. Also, never once I felt I was treated unfairly for not speaking Japanese well. Japanese people are very very friendly and helpful, I can assure you that!

I still think having a clear objective for going abroad is a good thing, but now I believe that keeping an adventurous spirit and being open-minded is more important. In the end, we cannot predict our days in a foreign environment as accurate as when we are home. No need to be obsessed with the plan. My stay in Japan has taught me so, and now I appreciate all the experiences I had over in Japan, even for the unpleasant ones. If I had to talk about the study aboard experiences in only a few words, I would say, “It’s totally worth it.”

About the Author: Phuong Tran, Senior, Accounting and Japanese. Student Exchange Program- Japan.

The End in a Blink of an Eye

Brad Schulze reflects back on the wonderful four months in Italy on the Students Exchange Program. It was challenging, inspiring, eye-opening, adventurous, but a life changing experience that he learned more about himself then ever before. 

They say time flies when your having fun and that couldn’t be more true than this past semester. Here I am, sitting in the Baltimore airport, eating Chipotle for the first time in quite some time, waiting for one more connecting flight to head home. Finals are over, the packing is done but it still hasn’t hit me that it has come to an end. It is weird to think that exactly four months ago I sat in the same airport but headed in the opposite direction with a sense of uncertainty on what to expect. What would Italy be like? Would I make new friends? Would I have fun? Well now I can say I sit here with nothing but certainty. Certainty that I had the best four months of my life. Certainty that I have made friends for life. Certainty I learned more about myself in four months than in 21 years of life and certainty that Italy and Europe treated me well and that I certainly will be back.

If you had asked me about a year ago from today where I saw myself in a year; the answer would have been finishing up finals at OSU and headed home for the holidays. Instead, in reality I was headed home from an experience of a lifetime. I had spent four months in a foreign continent traveling and experiencing different cultures, gaining worldwide friends, learning from teachers across the globe and learning more about myself than ever before.

How many 21 years old are lucky enough to experience the things that I did?  I got to bike across the Netherlands countryside, biked through Barcelona, ate Belgian waffles in Brussels, sipped on a few Guinesse’s and listened to live local bands in Dublin, took a trip back to the Roman Empire and visited the colleseum, visited two of the worlds most famous churches, La Sagrada Familia and Milan Duomo and of enjoy a nice Roman sunset. During the week I got to go to dinner and hang out with kids from around the world. Learn some deutch, spanish and italian. Plan a thanksgiving potluck for 30 people and have a Turkey Bowl. I got to pick up a job tutoring two young Italian kids in English and grab coffee once a week with my italian language partner. The list goes on and on and on.

Netherlands
Netherlands

An experience like this really put things in perspective and teaches you so much. Really makes you realize just how big the world is and just how many awesome places and awesome people there are. Makes you realize just how small, in reality, Ohio State is. Made me realize that while living in a foreign country is a scary thought, it is quite possible. Hard to describe but being alone in a country, planning classes, studying for exams, requesting Airbnb’s and just being on your own really is an accomplished feeling. Makes other daunting tasks not seem so hard. Really just teaches you that the world is big and the opportunities are out there, and with some motivation, are very doable.

It felt like a blink of an eye and was very hard to say good bye to my “temporary” life in Milan and hard to say good bye to all the great people I met. So many thanks to go around to so many people for such a great four months. To all my friends; especially my parents for all their support and of course The Fisher Student Exchange Program. Studying abroad had to be the best experience of my life up until this point and I hope an opportunity to return presents itself in the very near future. I never would have thought the experience would have been this great. It fullfilled and surpassed every expectation I had. From traveling to making new friends and learning a new language it was an A++. Made friendships that will last a lifetime and a part of me will always be in Milan, Italy. To a great four months and until next time.

Thanks Europe for the time of my life.

Barcelona Beach Chilling
Barcelona Beach Chilling
Florence with the Italians and Spanish
Florence with the Italians and Spanish
Rome Sunset
Rome Sunset

About the Author: Brad Schulze, Senior, Finance, Student Exchange Program- Italy

Business Exposure in Japan at the OLM DAY 2015 Event

Phuong Tran shares her experience, attending the OLMDay2015 event in Tokyo, while she studies in Japan on the Student Exchange Program. She expanded professional networks and got insight of Japanese business, all thanks to being awarded one of Japans’ Bridging Scholarships.

I considered myself lucky for being one of the recipients of the Bridging Scholarships, which was funded by various private foundations and major U.S. corporations. The best thing about receiving this scholarship was that I received not only financial aids but also opportunities to attend professional events during my time in Japan. Back in December 2015, I was invited to participate in the OLMDAY2015 event at Oak Lawn Marketing’s office in Toranomon, Tokyo. The OLMDay2015 event was sponsored by Oak Lawn Marketing Inc., and offered to American students who received an OLM scholarship through the United States-Japan Bridging Foundation for studying in Japan.

During the event, me and three other students were given an introduction presentation on the company’s background and business, a tour around their office, and had hand-on experience through a marketing workshop, and then a meeting with President Hill.

I was really thankful for this opportunity because this was my first time to visit a Japanese company and talk to the employees who were actually working there. I also appreciated the fact that some of the staffs were from other countries, so they were able to give me an insight on what kind of jobs that foreigners (like myself) could do in Japan, and how they fit in the company’s culture.

The marketing workshop was very fun and exciting. After being introduced to the company’s marketing philosophy “Before After After,” we were divided into groups to create a marketing plan for a “product that is not available on the Japanese market yet” under the guidance of the OLM staffs. We had only about 20 minutes to prepare, which made me very nervous, but the OLM staffs were very friendly and helpful. Everyone in the team had a chance to express our ideas and was willing to do that. We collaborated very well even though we did not know each other before.  Then we presented our plan to the marketing director and received feedback from him.

The experience that had the most impact on me was the meeting with Mr. Hill, a very passionate businessman from America. I asked him about the company’s participation in the post-disaster recovery because the incident was one of many things that had ignited my interest in Japan. Back in 2011, I watched news about the situation in Japan and was impressed on how Japanese citizens got together in order to overcome the disaster. However, I was impressed at how the president addressed the issue from the viewpoint of a businessman. According to him, one of OLM’s significant contributions in reviving the economy in the area was continuing their business and creating jobs. I agreed with Mr. Hill that businesses should aim for profit even in such situation, and by doing that they could benefit the whole community.

The visit was very helpful for me as well as other students since we were all interested in working in Japan in the future. The staff was very friendly and answered all of our concerns about working in Japan, such as over-time work and how to communicate with other Japanese co-workers. From my observation, Oak Lawn had a diverse and American-like culture, especially in their Sales and Marketing branches, which was understandable since the company was founded and directed by an American. I sometimes felt concerned about whether or not I could actually work in a Japanese company, but after this visit, I felt like I had an idea about what to look for in a company in the future.

On the other hand, I feel that we were busy with many things to do in such a short amount of time. I wish we had more time to sit down and have conversations with the OLM staffs. Nevertheless, OLMDAY2015 was a wonderful experience, and I appreciated the company for providing me this opportunity to learn about business in Japan.

OLMDAY2015
OLM’s office and my team during the marketing workshop.

The event was also reported on the company’s website here.

About the Author: Phuong Tran, Senior, Accounting and Japanese. Student Exchange Program- Japan.

Student Life at Rikkyo University

Peak into Phuong Tran’s student life at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, Japan. Join her as she dives into the unique and fascinating culture of Japan as she studies there for the semester.

My name is Phuong Tran, and I am currently an exchange student in Tokyo at Rikkyo University. I share in this post of my first month here in Japan on the Student Exchange Program.

This is my first time in Tokyo, and every day I find myself enjoying new and exciting experiences. My days have been unexpectedly busy with school, but there are still many thing I want to participate in but do not have enough time to do.

Currently, I am taking 8 courses at Rikkyo, including 2 business courses, 2 Culture and Literature courses, and 4 Japanese language courses. Each class worth 1.5-2 credits, and  there is only 1 class (1.5 hour) per week for each courses. So far, I enjoy the two Culture and Literature courses the most because of the fun activities we do in class. For example, last week we were divided into groups of two students and performed a short “manzai” (a Japanese traditional style of stand-up comedy) in Kansai dialect.  We wrote the script in Japanese by ourselves first, then the instructor helped us with making the conversation sound more natural in Japanese. Then we performed the script in both Japanese and English in front of the class.

I personally did not think I was very good at doing comedy but it was a very interesting experience. We had people coming from different countries in my class, and I realized we all have different ideas about what makes a comedy “funny.” For examples, my teacher explains that in Japanese “manzai,” the jokes revolve around mutual misunderstandings, double talks, etc. This may be hard for foreigners to understand because we do not know much about the background. However, my European friends created a normal daily conversation script, which did not have any puns at all. I did not think it would be funny at all when I read it on the paper, but the way they performed, it made us all laugh.

I also enjoy the two business courses in a different way. The two classes are offered in English, and the content is not very difficult comparing to a typical course at OSU. However, doing group-work with Japanese students has taught me many things about their culture. For example, the international students are very active during class discussion, while the Japanese students tend to remain silent event when being asked. I find it hard to discuss case problem with them at first, because they keep saying “yes,” “maybe,” or “I think so, too.” However, after we became friends and more open to each other, working in group was a breeze. A tip, I think, is to talk with them about things other than the course work, become friends, then go back to work. It seems to me that my Japanese teammates did not want to share their ideas with people they do not know well. But after they feel comfortable with sharing their opinions, they work very hard and contributed a lot to our project.

The four Japanese language courses are the most time-consuming ones. I am placed in level 5 (out of 8) based on the result of my placement test. Each of the four focuses in a specific skill, including Reading, Grammar, Writing, and Speaking & Listening. The hardest part for me is Kanji, Chinese characters in Japanese. Even though I have finished 4 years of Japanese back at OSU, I only know about 5-600 Kanji, so it takes me a lot of time to do the reading assignments. Since there is no class for Kanji, I applied for the Language Center’s Kanji test at the end of this month and was given extra assignments in order to study for the test. The test is optional and won’t affect my grades, but I have to study really hard for it.

However, I love Japanese language and this is one of the main reason I am here at Rikkyo, so I am trying my best every day. I love the Japanese pronunciation, and being in Japan is ideal for improving my pronunciation. Recently, I find myself often “eavesdropping” on other peoples’ conversations on the train. It is really hard to follow the conversations between native speakers but I hope I would be able to understand more in the end of my stay here.

Every day, I leave home around 9am and won’t return until after 9pm. Even though most of my classes are in the afternoon, I still want to stay at school in order to join other students at Rikkyo’s Global Lounge, which is a wonderful place to make new friends, either Japanese or international students. The Global Lounge is basically a free space with many tables, where Japanese and international students are welcomed to come and leave at any time. Occasionally, we have special intercultural events such as Study Abroad Fair, students’s presentations on their home countries, oversea experiences, and job opportunities after studying abroad, etc.

Global Lounge at Rikkyo University
The Global Lounge at Rikkyo University

Personally, I feel it’s easier to make friend with Japanese students at the Global Lounge than at any other place at school because they are more open and willing to talk to foreigners. At first, I brought my homework with me to the Global Lounge, but then I realized that talking to new friends is more worthwhile there. I applied to be an discussion leader at Global Lounge’s English table and now I am looking forward to my first day doing this job next week.

In general, I find classes are not very hard, but the amount of homework is more than I had expected. However, between the 8 courses I am taking, I find time to join my friends in their course field activities such as a trip to some oldest temples in Tokyo. I feel very comfortable at school and do not feel much pressure about grades. The only thing that makes me upset is that I have to return early in December so I won’t be able to celebrate the end of this semester with my new friends. I have also applied for some extracurricular activities at school (such as taking a Japanese class with a volunteer from Rikkyo Women’s Alumni Association). I am excited for these upcoming events and hoping to share in my next post! 

About the Author: Phuong Tran, Senior, Accounting and Japanese. Student Exchange Program- Japan.

Ready, Set, Bike!

Listen to Kelley Jiang’s advice as she starts her life in Copenhagen, Denmark and experience her first steps in the city studying and living abroad on the Student Exchange Program. 

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Kelley Jiang and I will be starting off my third year fall semester studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark at Copenhagen Business School (CBS) on the Student Exchange Program.

My highly anticipated European experience began before stepping foot on European soil. As soon as I boarded the Norwegian airplane, I immediately felt like a foreigner. I was no longer in a cramped and uncomfortable Delta or United Airlines plane, but flying in a seat that I could actually fall (almost) comfortably asleep in and with a ceiling that was so high I could not reach it with my arm fully extended.

My biggest fear upon landing in Copenhagen was that all the signs would be in Danish and I would have no idea where to go. Although I have traveled to Europe before, it was one of those trips you sign up with 70 of your closest friends (and chaperones) through an international touring company, in my case we booked through EF Tours. Anyways, as my “Buddy” assigned to me from CBS picked me up and took me to my housing accommodation via the Metro my first thoughts can be summarized in 3 words: Pretty, quiet, and bikes. The Scandinavian people are breathtakingly gorgeous—but they all look very similar—, the city was very quiet/quaint for a city, and there are so many bikes that the city has a separate raised lane and traffic lights to direct bike traffic. There is even “bike rush hour”.

In just my first days exploring some of Copenhagen I have learned a lot. First and most importantly, everyone bikes. Although everyone here might be able to speak English well, everything is written in Danish. After successfully ordering my first meal here I thought, “This isn’t so hard! Everyone speaks English. No problem”. But going to the grocery store is a different story. I should have known things would be different when my roommate accidently bought yogurt instead of milk on the first day because it came in a carton identical to what milk comes in. Although I didn’t mix up any foods on my first trip, I didn’t realize after checking out with several items that in most stores you have to pay for a grocery bag. After my items were scanned I stood at the end of the cashier table for a good minute while looking for the grocery bags and then finally realized that people had brought bags with them to put their items in. Just when I thought I had got away with no one trying to speak Danish to me or noticing that I was a complete foreigner, I not only drew attention to myself by having to get back in line to purchase the grocery bag but I also had to speak up in English to ask the cashier about the bags. Instant perspiration inducing moment. My next few trips to the grocery store were definitely still very rocky. The trips take me triple the time it would normally take in America because I have to carefully decipher what the item is by its context clues (there are no English translations on the food labels). And even after I am confident I have chosen what I wanted, I will open a fruit smoothie juice to find the oddest tasting fruit flavor ever or pop a piece of chocolate in my mouth and find out that I had bought chocolate covered licorice (EW).

The biggest immediate struggle so far is definitely finding foods that I like and that are affordable. After several trips to the grocery store and I have learned that it’s worth swallowing your pride and asking someone for help if you need finding something or translating a label. Also, you must learn to accept the fact that there will be many things you purchase in the beginning that you absolutely hate and mistakingly bought thinking it was something else. You will lose some money to buying then immediately tossing grocery items, but it will happen to every exchange student. Other than that the people, I have noticed, are also different but not in a way that would make it hard for someone visiting to fit in. People are nice and don’t treat you like a tourist when they find out you can’t speak Danish. The weather, despite many warnings, has been gorgeous every day so far. The city center is breathtaking and definitely worth many visits.

Some other observations after 2 and a half weeks are:

Official procedures: One of the first things you have to do as an exchange student is register for your CPR number. This stands for “Det Centrale Personregister” in Danish and is the American equivalent to a social security number and how you receive all the free services provided by the socialistic Danish government like free healthcare. If I were in America I could easily look up a straightforward set up directions with details on how to do this. But in Denmark everything and everyone is extremely vague. One person will tell you one thing and another person will tell you another. The website that has the instructions is in Danish and there is not much help provided, so you will have to be ready to attack it trial and error style.

Fashion: Black, black, and more black. Scandinavians are minimalistic—wearing mostly neutrals. Instead of wearing stylish shoes to match a great outfit they seem to wear sneakers with everything, even when getting dressed up. Also, leather is definitely in.

Buildings: Reflects the fashion here, minimalistic as well.

First Impressions: The stereotype is that Scandinavians are known to be cold and without feelings. But the reason why Scandinavians might come off this way at first is because most of them are brutally honest and therefore do not do fake interest in someone like some Americans are known to do when they are actually disinterested in meeting someone. Although they might not make the first move to begin a conversation, once you break the silence (and my own fears of judgement) and begin talking to a Scandinavian they are actually quite friendly. Don’t be afraid to start up conversations with locals! Especially in Denmark where almost everyone can speak English.

America: A place where everything is super-sized. My perspective of America while living in Copenhagen has been realigned. Everything here is smaller. The buildings, the roads, the cars, meal portions, grocery stores, etc. At first I thought that everything in Copenhagen is just smaller, but now I am beginning to feel like everything in America is enlarged.

Well, that’s it for now. I hope you got a little taste of Copenhagen!

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Selfie with one of many bike racks.
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Nyhavn, Copenhagen. Typical touristy area.

About the Author: Kelley Jiang, Junior, Marketing, Student Exchange Program- Denmark

Traveling Smart with Your Smartphone

I have publicly rebelled against having a smartphone since high school, when all of my friends made the transition. I did not believe they were worth the expense, but when I decided to spend a semester abroad, I realized there could be some advantages. Most notably, having a smartphone gives you access to a GPS which is extremely helpful when you’re lost. Additionally, there are many moments when you’ll need to look up things you wouldn’t have expected, such as the opening hours of a restaurant or store. Internet isn’t as widespread in Europe as I was used to it being in the States, so having a data plan was essential for me to manage my time effectively. I found my data plan to be cheaper than the one in the States, however I did have less data, which required me to be selective with my access. I recommend getting the proper simcard and plan in your host country as soon as possible. This will also be good when you meet new friends at orientation and in your classes, as you can swap numbers right away!

There are also a lot of very helpful apps. Here are a few that I used while abroad:

Word Lens
Worried about getting to a restaurant and not knowing how to order in another language? This app translates the words of any picture you provide, offline. It’s extremely effective when you want to translate a whole paragraph instead of having to type each word individually, and also a lifesaver when you don’t have internet access. I would also recommend getting another translator app with audio, if your phone doesn’t already come with one.

Google Voice/Whatsapp
By now, most people know about Whatsapp. It is a free messaging app for anyone with a smartphone to connect. There is also an app called Google Voice, which works a bit differently. Google Voice actually gives you a vacant US number (if you set it up while you’re still in the States) and then allows you to call and text via this number to US and Canada numbers for free. Neither of my parents have smart phones, and a lot of my friends in the US didn’t have Whatsapp, so I used Google voice to text them. Once you set up the number, you can download the app and text them like you would normally, as long as you have access to internet. Then, you can call them via Hangouts which is directly connected to Google Voice. (Technically, you can call them via Google Voice as well, however if it is connected to your US # it will not work when you get a new simcard)

Duolingo
Instead of dropping hundreds of dollars on Rosetta Stone or an extra language class, Duolingo is a free website and app that allows you to practice a language in an easy and fun way. The app focuses on language you would actually use (for the most part, one exception was when it taught me how to say “I am a butterfly” in French), and goes at whatever pace you are comfortable. I would argue it’s not necessarily sufficient to learn the language totally, but as a beginner or someone trying to refresh their memory, it is a great tool.

CityMaps 2 Go
This app downloads maps of major cities (you get 4 free!) that you can access offline. It is perfect for traveling, and easily highlights tourist hotspots to visit. It’s much easier than carrying a map everywhere, and you can put a thumbnail on key locations (such as your hostel) on it as well, incase you get lost.

Kitestring
At the risk of sounding motherly, I strongly advice you to get this app for safety reasons. If you are going to a hostel by yourself, or on a date with someone you just met, or any other situation you are wary about, you can sign up for this app to check in on you at a designated time. If you don’t respond, it will alert your friends or other emergency contacts. Even if you don’t have a smartphone, you can sign up for this free service online.

Lastly, if there is some sort of Kill Switch you can download on your phone (Android and iPhone both have it), I recommend getting it. Europe is notorious for pickpockets, and I had the unfortunate experience of having my phone stolen. I called my parents immediately, and my phone provider got me a new phone within 6 days, making the process as painless as possible. Another friend of mine was not as lucky, and had to buy a basic phone to use for the rest of the trip. In the beginning of the trip, I found I was very vigilant over my belongings, but as time passed, I became more relaxed. My phone was taken when there was only a month left in my program. On a positive note, as I had personal information on my phone (from Venmo to Amazon), I was extremely thankful I could delete all of this information after my phone was taken.

Remember, the most important thing when you’re traveling is to be smart and safe. With the right Apps, your smartphone can make your travel experience that much easier and more enjoyable!

A Numbers Game

The last Portuguese Language Lab was held tonight and it went over a useful topic: numbers. I began the class like any other and went over a scenario in which student would be shopping in Manaus and would need to greet the shop owner to ask him/her how much something costs.

Going over the conversation and telling the class what everything means.
Going over the conversation and telling the class what everything means.

I thought is would be a bit dry to teach students the numbers 0 to 100 by just writing them on the board, so I incorporated two Youtube videos which had a native speaker slowly enunciates each number while students repeated after her. In the first video for example, the speaker went over 0-20 which is usually the most challenging for learners because you need this base in order to say bigger numbers.

Youtube video detailing Portuguese numbers.
Youtube video detailing Portuguese numbers.

In order to encourage retention, I had my peers turn around from the board while they randomly tell me Portuguese numbers. Most of the time they found it easy to recite the numbers due to the similarities with Spanish (most students took Spanish in high school), but at times the pronunciation did confuse them. For example, the numbers três, quatro, cinco, and seis (three, four, five and six) have basically the same pronunciation as Spanish since they are both Romance languages, but there are some differences such as with sete, oito, nove and dez (seven, eight, nine, and ten).

Students practicing numbers as we go around the room.
Students practicing numbers as we go around the room.

The second video went over how to count from 20-100. It was simple because students only have to know the tens (20, 30, 40, 50, etc.) and the base numbers from 1 to 9 in order to form numbers. We practiced this by counting around the table from 0 to 100 as each person said one number. A number like 43 would be translated as “40 and three” or “quarenta e três“. After each video students were then able to go back to the conversation and practice saying something costing seventeen reals or “dezesete reais”.

After watching the video, I would go back to insert a random number and have volunteers practice using it at the "market".
After watching the video, I would go back to insert a random number and have volunteers practice using it at the “market”.

All in all, my experience as a Language Tutor was very beneficial. Not only was I helping to plan lessons and teach students what I knew, but I was able to review some concepts for myself. Those who were able to attend even one class were able to learn something that they would have otherwise never learned if they had not taken this Emerging Markets Lab course to Brazil.

A final treat of buckeyes as  students commemorate the last language lab.
A final treat of buckeyes as students commemorate the last language lab.

Team Voldemort & Team Dumbledore

A major improvement can definitely be seen among students in the fourth Portuguese class. I began the class like any other night with a conversation, but instead of moving on to a new topic, I reviewed the previous half of the hypothetical restaurant conversation so we could practice the entire dialogue thoroughly.

Leading the vocabulary review
Leading the vocabulary review

Though attendance was lower than usual, it allowed for more individual attention among students. In fact, all students were at one point able to come up to the front of the class and pronounce all the phrases written on the board while I interrupted once in a while to correct errors.

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I spiced things up with a game in which two teams formed to put together words on pieces of paper to form the phrases we have been learning the past month. I would switch up between English and Portuguese so that students would have to try thinking in each language. For example, if I said “Where is the bathroom?”, they would have to find the words “Onde“, “Fica“, “O”, and “Banheiro” and then raise their hands before the other team.

"Team Voldemort" looks for their complete phrase during a round of the game.
“Team Voldemort” looks for their complete phrase during a round of the game.

Teams became quite competitive and it made language learning fun because if one person was not sure of the answer, they would work together to form the sentence structure. The game ended in a tie and afterwards I felt that combining words already available to people may be more effective than asking for rote memorization. Perhaps students would have an idea about what phrases “looked familiar”, but not necessarily remember them from memory. I believe just that familiarization is important for beginning language learners.

"Team Dumbledore" in discussion
“Team Dumbledore” in discussion