From a Broken Phone to Having an Audience With The King Of Spain: Part I

Grant Buehrer, participating in the Student Exchange Program in Spain, tells his story of how a broken phone turned into a meeting with the King of Spain! He shares the strategies and learned lessons from leveraging the most good out of a bad situation while abroad.

Students and staff from the the exchange university delegation to meet the King of Spain listen to a speech prior to engaging in a Q&A Discussion with the King. From Left: Universidad Pontificia Comillas Rector Julio Luis Martínez. King of Spain Felipe VI De Bourbon y Grecia, Universidad Pontificia Comillas Staff and Students with Exchange Student Grant Buehrer center with navy suit and blue tie.

I was just two weeks fresh into my semester exchange in Madrid, Spain at Universidad Pontificia Comillas and I woke up to some concerning news. My communication lifeline, a Samsung Galaxy 7 smartphone, had died while I was sleeping. Although this might seem as a first-world complaint, when one finds themselves in an unfamiliar and foreign country the GPS and Maps capability of a smartphone alone are priceless. As the price of purchasing a new phone while I was in a foreign country was too high, I was relieved to hear from my U.S. based cell-phone insurance company that there was no problem in having a replacement phone shipped internationally. Excitedly I waited till the next week for delivery, anxiously checking the tracking information daily as the package traveled over land and ocean. On the day of expected arrival one of the worst sentences one can hear when shipping internationally flashed across my internet browser, your package has been held in customs.

As I quickly learned, living abroad requires one to quickly adapt to a given situation. As the news came in I raced to the internet to research what I would have to do – after nearly 10 days without a functioning phone – to retrieve the package. Over the course of the next seven days, I visited 3 separate government agencies on 5 total occasions while spending 10 hours of my life in mind-numbing government queues. I had made no progress whatsoever.

When living abroad, there are times when you realize that you are in over your head and need the support and advocacy of a trusted party, requiring you to think critically and accordingly as to who that might be. As such, I turned immediately to my exchange university academic advisor for help. After pointing me towards an International Relations office housed within my exchange university, I had a dream-team of two of the nicest and caring Spanish women I think I have met in all of my 6 months in the country helping me. Through broken Spanish we began to discuss what the issue was and began the process of correctly retrieving the necessary government documents to get my phone back.

A critical point must be made here, my ability to make it this far into the process of retrieving my phone falls back on one huge factor, learning Spanish prior to coming to Spain to a high enough level, so that I could communicate through these events albeit at the level of a fourth-grader. One of the worst attributes of the ugly American tourist stereotype is the inability to understand that not everyone speaks English in the world. That is okay, in fact citizens in foreign countries have every right to speak exclusively in their native tongue and you have to adjust accordingly to this reality rather than letting it bog you down.

As the next week passed I paid daily visits to my government-bureaucracy savior, Marta. This rekindled how much I have realized the importance of building relationships are, during this time I learned about Marta’s family amongst other things as I shared photos of my dog back home and stories. Not only from hearing others experiences can you learn lessons about the world that you wouldn’t have experienced otherwise, but it also opens dialogue between yourself and another that allows you to share your dreams, interests and goals with others.

This part is critical, as it is the bridge to the rest of the story and why I have found myself in some incredible experiences on the Student Exchange Program, and in life. At some point in our many interactions and through my intermediate Spanish, I shared my interested in the developing world and that I had previously visited Washington D.C. due to interests in International Finance. Marta immediately lit up, from what I could understand from our conversation in Spanish she had a friend that worked in D.C. that would be coming back to Madrid very soon and that I should meet him.

More time passes and I forget about the prior conversation we had regarding Marta’s D.C. connection. With luck, 21 days after my phone dying I had finally gotten my replacement phone out of customs. In my own eyes I realized that words of gratitude would not be sufficient for Marta and the other woman that had helped me. Sometimes another’s action is great enough that it requires a gift. I opted for flowers.

Thanks to the gift of gratitude I found myself once again in the International Relations office. After expressing my gratitude deeply, I remembered the conversation that I had with Marta and asked her about her D.C. connection. To my surprise he wasn’t a friend of her’s, he was actually the manager of a study/work abroad program at the University and was back in Madrid just an office away.

We immediately hit it off, as it turned out Jose was not only a long-time resident of the U.S.A. but his study abroad programs were incredibly successful at the university. As we continued to discuss U.S. politics and global affairs, Jose informed me of a few events and conferences that he was coordinating at the university. After learning a little more about me he asked if I might be able to speak at a few of the conferences regarding the U.S.A. and its culture.

I really credit the time that I spent at Ohio State for preparing me for this request. Thanks to the many opportunities I have had to present in front of professionals and fellow students through student organizations, I was prepared. Over the next couple weeks I spoke on several occasions at his scheduled events.

This is where things come full circle, as I have found through the many opportunities that I have had in my life the old adage “luck is where opportunity meets preparation.” After my final speaking engagement, Jose shocked me with the information that he was requesting that I be allowed to join a delegation from the university to meet with His Majesty King Felipe VI of Spain. The delegation visits the King annually as a sign of support from the Royal Family towards globally-minded university programs. After a decade of visiting delegations to King Felipe VI, Jose said it was time for a foreign-exchange student to join the delegation, and thanks to my rapid involvement on campus he believed I was a good fit.

Forward-thinking really came in handy when preparing for Spain, I thought that I might find myself wanting to attend a formal event while in Spain. Therefore I made the effort to make enough room in my luggage for my suit, tie and dress shoes. Never did I know that I would be using my suit to meet the King of Spain!

With the event a week away, I decided to take a step back and prepare myself for meeting with the King of Spain. I had been honored to have been blessed with the possibility.

Want to know how it went meeting the King? Stay tuned for my next blog post about the meeting with the King!

Returning Home: It’s Not the Country That’s Changed, It’s Me

Now finished with her time studying for a semester at WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management on the Student Exchange Program, Colleen Sauer reflects on her last weeks abroad. From her last European adventures, bittersweet partings with friends made abroad, reverse culture shock in the U.S., to the discovery of how much she has grown and changed from her experiences going abroad. She shares her message to students considering going global: “Just do it!”

When I planned to spend the semester in Germany and realized that I would be there for seventeen weeks it seemed like the time would pass slowly, and I would be so ready to return to the States at the end.  Well, if you talk to anyone who’s been abroad for an extended period of time, I’m sure they’ll agree that the time flies by, and before you know it’s time to leave.  During my last weeks I had countless fun, bittersweet moments with my friends and started to notice how much I’d learned and grown.

I am now officially back at OSU in the States, and it’s been so fun reflecting about my time and reminiscing to willing parties!  I definitely underestimated the existence of reverse culture shock though, I can now say that it is in fact quite a real thing! As strange as it may sound, given I can usually only understand portions of what’s said in German, I miss hearing German spoken around me.  Everything also felt oddly different, it was a bit odd.  I soon realized that the US hadn’t changed–I had.  But in my first few weeks when I’ve found myself surrounded by my family and friends and having as much fun as old times, I’m reminded how much I missed them and why I came back to the US! (Granted, I had already purchased my plane ticket and my German residency permit expired the day that I left.)

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The Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, France

I’ll talk a bit more about my recent post-abroad reflections later of this post. For now, I’d like to catch you up on the fun experiences I had in Germany since I last posted! My last major trip after London was to Paris over Thanksgiving weekend. It was a bit odd to not be with my family but from previous years of being with them as we excitedly called a family member that wasn’t able to attend, it was fun to be on the receiving end of that as the phone was passed around the table allowing everyone to talk to me.  My favorite part of Paris was visiting The Louvre and the Sainte-Chappelle, a highlight of those two events was spotting the Winged Victory statue at The Louvre.  An interesting fact that I often tell prospective students on my tour (I’m a university Ambassador at Ohio State, so I give tours of the university to high school students and their parents) is that what originally prompted me to visit Ohio State was the fact that they had a replica of Winged Victory at their library, and here I was a little less than four years later seeing the real thing!  That moment was so surreal.

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I nearly started hyperventilate when I spotted Winged Victory…

Another day trip I went on was to Heidelberg, Germany where I met up with my friend Troy Weider (find his exchange blog posts here!).  Troy was actually studying in Strasbourg, France at the same time that I was in Germany and we were both on exchange through the Fisher Student Exchange Program.  Two weeks before he left Europe to return home we realized that for how close we were to each other, we never met up while in Europe, so since Heidelberg was a midpoint destination we both wanted to explore we decided to take advantage of a free day and meet there.  It was much more of an exotic location for catching up than at the Union Market at OSU!  That was a fun day because not only were we able to see a beautiful town, but also relate to each other in so many ways about our adventures in Europe.

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Visiting with Troy in Heidelberg, Germany

In the final weeks of my time in Germany I stuck around Vallendar, partly due to the fact that I needed to study for exams, but also to make sure I was taking advantage of the time I had left with the friends I met at WHU.  I realized that I could come back and see Austria, Italy, and the other places on my list that I didn’t make it to, but it would be much more of a rare occasion to have all my friends from my time abroad together again.  Therefore my friends and I planned game nights complete with mini-golf courses organized around my Swedish friend John’s flat, trips to the nearby city of Koblenz to enjoy the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) there, and plenty of meals together at our favorite restaurant in Vallendar called the Goldene Ente.

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Game night with some of my closes friends

It was so hard to leave Germany, especially not knowing which of my friends I’d see again.  I’d say being the only Ohio State student at WHU was such a wonderfully independent experience, but I soon realized that no one would be returning with me to Ohio!  But of course as the tauschies said their final goodbyes we all  invited each other to our various countries, so I now have people to visit and places to stay when I come back to Europe.

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The gang during our last Dancing@WHU Dance Class

When I came back to the States I had plenty of time to reflect on my time abroad, between making a photo book for myself of my semester and telling people about my time there.  Two big takeaways from my time abroad came from these reflections, the first of them was realizing how much I coddled myself when I first arrived, and how this could have potentially hindered my experience the first few weeks.  Before even arriving to Germany I imagined myself completely freaked out the first few weeks, and to combat that I told myself that I probably won’t feel comfortable travelling until the third weekend, and that it was perfectly fine not to.  Then here I was my first Friday in Germany, being invited to join a trip to Frankfurt the following day.  Looking back going to Frankfurt for a day isn’t at all intimidating, but going would essentially be taking away that comfort blanket of the “third weekend rule” I’d previously given myself.  With encouragement from my friends I eventually decided to go and had a great time.  If I hadn’t gone, I have no idea if I would have had the courage to leave Germany for Luxembourg the following weekend, or travel alone to Marburg to visit my friend Nora during my third weekend.  In all this, I learned to appreciate the value of having people around you to push you past your comfort zone, and the importance of being able to put aside “your plan” when a better idea presents itself.

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Köln, Germany

Secondly, I can remember a point during my first week when I was having a hard day in Germany and thought about my life at Ohio State.  I wondered what I was thinking leaving OSU, where I had lots of friends, was involved on campus, and generally felt comfortable. This is a point that I strived and longed for as a first year student.  Meanwhile, here I was in Germany not knowing anyone, not being proficient in German, and generally not fully understanding how things worked here.  Later in the semester I realized how much I had grown, learned, and faced my fears.  I started to think critically about how I had previously described my life at Ohio State as “comfortable”.  As a college student, I’m at a point in my life where I should be growing, making mistakes, anything but comfortable!  If I could impart any advice to someone after what I’ve learned last semester, I’d say they should face their fears, try something new, have an adventure, be challenged, just be anything but stagnant.

Somehow living abroad changes you in so many aspects, makes you think critically about your home country and life there, and teaches you in countless ways.  When talking with students who are thinking about studying abroad I am now a huge supporter of long-term study abroad programs, because I believe that the degree of independence and submersion into a different culture is where real growth and change of perspective occurs.  In the wise words of Shia Lebeouf’s hilarious motivational speech, “Just do it!”

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Reflections on My Semester Abroad in France

After a month back from the Student Exchange Program, Troy Weider reflects on his incredible semester abroad in Strasbourg, France. He shares some of the things that he already misses about leaving Europe, the return culture shock he felt coming back to the U.S., and his message to students considering (or on the fence) to go abroad.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.17.41 PMScreen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.20.24 PMScreen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.19.26 PMWow… I can hardly believe that it has already been a month since I arrived back to Perrysburg, Ohio, after four months of exploring some of the most beautiful places in Europe. I catch myself daydreaming about being back in the Alps, being back in a Parisian café, or being back in Strasbourg, surrounded by fairy-tale architecture, Christmas markets and all the new friends I so quickly had to leave behind.

Studying abroad was a life-changing experience, and I would recommend it to any college student who has ever had even Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.18.20 PMthe faintest interest. Ever since I was a little kid, the outside world, with its diverse people’s and cultures has always fascinated me. In elementary school, I would pour over children’s atlases and history books, dreaming of what it would be like to be in another country, exploring a corner of the world that was previously unknown to me. I finally got to know what that experience felt like in these last few months. Living in a place that’s very different, yet at the same time comfortable and unintimidating.

Things are very different now that I’m back at home. I no longer plan weekend trips to London or Slovenia, I’ve got a lot more schoolwork that I have to do, and for whatever reason, no one is speaking French! On a more serious note, it is great to be back again to see everyone who I was missing during this last semester, and after not really being in Columbus for the last eight months, it feels nice to be back on Ohio State’s campus again. Near the top of my list of things that I missed while in France, was being able to watch football (well at least so called “American football”, and luckily I arrived back just in time to watch the college football bowl season and the NFL playoffs! While at the game I was most looking forward to, did not really go as planned, it was nice to be back watching football with friends and family.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.19.04 PMDespite all the bittersweet happiness of being back home, the first few weeks back showed me that reverse culture shock really does exist. I can remember just realizing how big everything really is here: from the portion sizes to the cars to the buildings. People speak much quieter in public in France than they do in the United States, and right when I started getting use to that back in Strasbourg, I left to come back. Something that I did not really miss though was that the air feels much cleaner in the United States without the constant smell of everyone smoking cigarettes. But one of the things that I was most excited about being back was being able to have large amounts of mediocre American coffee again! I’m a big coffee drinker, and while I love the French café culture, it’s hard to find cheap coffee that is anywhere near the same size as its American counterpart, instead it’s stronger and much smaller. There is a plethora of differences between France and the United States, but these differences are really what made my trip so exciting in the first place!

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Last Travels

I love being able to reflect on my experiences during the last few months, so I figured I’d also give you all a brief recap of what’s been going on since my last blog post.

After starting classes near the end of September, I came into October with a full schedule of trips planned. My first one, and one of the highlights of my whole experience, was a trip with four of my friends to Slovenia. This is one of the most beautiful, but sadly overlooked countries of Europe. Slovenia had everything: beautiful Alps and lakes in the northwest, beautiful castles and villages, a very quaint yet cosmopolitan capital city, some of the largest caves in the whole world, and a small but beautiful Adriatic coastline. Slovenia was an amazing trip, and luckily the next weekend I got to go on a long weekend trip with my friend Julie, who happens to go to BGSU and was on the Slovenia trip as well. Julie and I spent three full days seeing the best of London! We saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and tons of free museums along the way. London is an incredible city with all its history and diversity, and I was very lucky to cross that one off my bucket list. Then the following week, the University of Strasbourg had its Fall Break and I got to go on the trip of a lifetime, a 10-day trip through Europe with my dad. While my dad and I had always loved to travel together, he had never been to Europe before, and this was a great opportunity to show him around my “temporary home”. We met up in Paris for a few days before taking the TGV high-speed train to Strasbourg. Once there I gave him a 36-hour “best of Strasbourg” tour, with stops at the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the European Parliament, Petite-France, the European Parliament, Orangerie Park, lots of sauerkraut and tarte flambées along the way. Then the next morning the two of us rented a little French car, a black Renault Twingo, and started a 6-day road trip through the heart of Europe. Starting first in Ribeauvillé, a small medieval town along the Alsatian Wine Route, we visited my French friend Hakim, who gave us a day-long tour of his hometown and the castles and villages that surrounded it. Hakim was one of my closest friends who I met in Strasbourg, and we luckily met during my first week in the city when I was lost trying to find the laundry room. I asked this random student in the main building where to do my laundry, and after showing me the way there, we ended up talking for an hour or so in both French and English, and then we started hanging out a few days later. Getting to see this region with a local made the experience much more unique, and since Hakim had several friends and family members working at the local wineries, we ended our day with a few tastings and cellar tours. From here, we spent the next day in the Swiss Alps, making a four-hour stop in my favorite Swiss city, Lucerne, before driving the high mountain Klausen Pass through the heart of the Alps. After several hours of the most breathtaking scenery, we made it to the micro-country of Liechtenstein, where we saw the main castle, got a “VIP tour” of the nation’s parliament, and ate at what seemed like Vaduz’s most happening restaurant. Then we left the Alps behind us and made it to Munich, where we spent the next day biking between parks and beer gardens past old reconstructed churches and palaces. Munich was amazing, but I was most excited about the final leg of our trip, the Czech Republic. I had made a lot of friends from this country during my time in Strasbourg, and Prague was always at the top of my bucket list of places to see. During our short two-day stay we drove to Plzen, where my friend Petra gave us a list of cool breweries and sites to visit in her hometown, then we visited the imposing Karlstejn castle en route to Prague in time to catch the sunset. Prague lived up to my expectations and was one of the most beautiful cities that I visited in Europe. Between the Prague Castle, the Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, and all the local pubs, restaurants, and hidden spots that I was told to visit by my Czech friends, Prague proved to be a memorable stop. The last day of our trip, we drove back through the Czech Republic and Germany, before I sadly had to say goodbye to my dad the next morning, but while his European vacation was over, my adventure continued.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.19.39 PMIn the last half of my stay I went on several day trips with my “host family”, was interviewed by French radio about the American presidential elections, continued spending time with my new friends, and went on several more weekend trips to Colmar, the Alsatian Wine Route, Heidelberg and Nancy. The biggest trip of this last leg was a spontaneous trip to Amsterdam with a French club at the university, where we biked along the canals, ate tons of local delicacies, and took in the nightlife. Also one of the biggest highlights of the last month in Strasbourg was getting to see the cities world famous Christmas market. Over the last few years this 500-year market with 300+ stalls selling everything from hot wine and local foods to ornaments, has been named Europe’s best Christmas market. The city was beautiful festooned with lights and decorations, and during December more than a million tourists packed the city center and added a different energy to Strasbourg. After an extremely busy last few weeks of exams, traveling, and saying goodbye to friends, I left Strasbourg for Paris on December 18th. After a whirlwind 24-hour stay in Paris, which I now feel I know better than almost any other city after 5 trips there, I boarded my plane to head back to Chicago to once again see all my friends and family back home.

I know that was a very brief recap of months worth of adventures in Strasbourg, but it definitely helps to illustrate all the fun that you can have exploring a new country and culture. Besides the enjoyment of just being over there, my semester abroad gave me a greater appreciation of different cultures, an amazing opportunity to improve my French, and the ability to exchange beliefs and ideas with new friends from all over the world. I’m very grateful for my time spent in Strasbourg, and I’m already looking at opportunities to return there again.
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Intro to Ireland – Brexit

As Grainne Hutchinson studies in Ireland on the Student Exchange Program, she enjoys her involvement with the University Philological Society. From seeing the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, and talking about Brexit and the affect on Ireland, she shares her experience of the wonderful events held at Trinity College.

I know I have mentioned the great things you can do when you join societies, but I had the awesome opportunity through the University Philological Society to see the first Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon speak, and I feel like I should stress it again. The Hist (College Historical Society) and the Phil (University Philosophical Society) are both debating societies within Trinity, and I highly recommend joining one as they host some great speakers every term.

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Nicola Sturgeon was being presented an honorary membership in the society and answered questions first from the head of the Phil and then from the audience. She was, of course, asked about Scottish Independence, as there was a referendum in September of 2014 where the Scottish people voted to decide if Scotland would remain part of the United Kingdom or become an independent country. She gave her opinion that she would love to see Scotland as an independent country and she also said she feels it could happen in her lifetime.

Nicola

She was then asked how the first ministers of Scotland felt about Brexit. For anyone who doesn’t know Brexit is, it was another referendum that took place in the United Kingdom asking the people to vote on whether they want to remain the European Union (EU). They voted to leave, but the logistics for how and when they will leave has yet to be decided. She expressed her opinion that she would like to see the parliaments of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales have a say in the logistics of the departure from the EU. She also stated when asked if she thinks Brexit will lead to another referendum in Scotland, and she said that she is aware that the vote in Scotland was in favor of staying in the EU and doesn’t want the people of Scotland to be forced into something they don’t want, but she is also aware that more people may want to stay in the UK than in EU.

Before I came to Ireland I didn’t now what Brexit would affect, but through discussions in class, my visit to the dial and Nicola Sturgeon I have learned a lot. As the logistics are still being worked out, no one knows what it will affect. There are many factors that will need to be worked out between the EU and the UK, so everyone is waiting on the UK government to decide a few things. In Irish opinion, there are opportunities and fears surrounding Brexit. One huge opportunity for the economy is that business that needs headquarters in the EU and is currently headquartered the UK may move to Ireland to stay in the EU as it is the only other English speaking nation. A big fear is that, as immigration was a big issue in the discussion leading up to the referendum, Irish citizens might have a harder time getting visas and working in the UK, as before there was freedom of movement and they didn’t need a visa. There is also concern over if current EU citizens that are living in the UK will be expected to apply for visas to stay.

Mostly it’s a waiting game to see what Brexit will do, but Ireland will be just affected as the UK when it does happen. It’s a bit scary and anxious to think about as there is no way to really prepare. We will just have to wait and see what happens. I still don’t know enough about international relations and trade to predict how it will affect the US but I imagine there will be ripples that will reach us even across the pond.

Intro to Ireland – Travel suggestions

Want to know some travel tips to Dublin, Ireland and London, UK? Grainne Hutchinson, studying on the Student Exchange Program to Trinity College-Ireland, shares her favorite places in these cities!

Over the week of Thanksgiving, my brother came to visit me in Ireland as he could take time off and didn’t have to pay for accommodation. We then took two days and flew over to London, my favorite city in the world! Not that Dublin isn’t great but London has so much history and culture and a little bit of everything for everyone. So I thought I would dedicate this post to two things, the main things to do if you ever visit Dublin and all the great things there are to experience in London if you visit there as well. Even if you study someplace else in Europe, I would highly encourage you to visit these magnificent cities.

The first thing is a list of thing to do in Dublin and why. Defiantly look into the Guinness Storehouse Tour, it’s a bit touristy but very informative. Plus where you end your tour has a great areal view of Dublin that’s perfect for pictures. There is also the Viking Splash tour, which I highly recommend. It takes you through the city and gives you great insights into Dublin’s history and culture. But it’s not just any tour you’re in an old “duck,” a car that can also be a boat, and your tour guide is a Viking as are you (complete with a hat). If you’re ever walking through the streets of Dublin and a weird looking car full of people wearing Viking hat’s roar at you, you’ve encountered the Viking Splash tour. The last thing you have to see is, of course, Trinity College Dublin! It is one of the most beautiful campuses around and is home to the Book of Kells and the long room.

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Now on to London! There are so many great things to do in London, and it may depend on your time and what kind of things you like to do. Some of the greatest museums are in London; my favorite is the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). The V&A is basically just a giant collection of things from jewelry to keys. The British Museum is better if you’re only in the city for a few days, it has the Rosetta Stone, parathion marbles, and an Easter Island statue among many other things. Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and the London Eye are all kinds of tourist but in my opinion not worth missing. The changing of the guard in front of Buckingham Palace can be missed, though; it’s also impossible to see with all the tourists and it takes about an hour. One last thing I would suggest is the Cutty Sark in Greenwich. It’s a tall ship that has been transformed into a museum, so you can go inside and all through the ship. It is on land now, but it is still impressive, though I love boats.

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There are a lot more great things to do in Dublin and London, but these are the ones you can do if you are pressed for time and things average tourists don’t think of.

Intro to Ireland – Reading week

Have you ever hear of Reading Week? Grainne Hutchinson explains this system at Trinity College, as she studies on the Student Exchange Program in Ireland. Also sharing her tips and advice on how to take good use of the Reading Week.

One surprising difference between the Irish and the American University systems is the Reading week. Essentially every semester half way through there is a week where no classes take place. Students are encouraged to “re-read” through the class notes and readings but mainly the week is a chance to decompress from school. I know we have Thanksgiving break and fall break but there not quite the same as a reading week. I strongly prefer the reading week style of Semester but with Thanksgiving as late in the year as it is I can’t see the U.S. ever switching over. That being said, allow me to plead my case for reading week.

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So this is kind of implied, but it’s a full week, basically spring break in fall and spring! Two days for fall break and three for Thanksgiving are short and hard to fit relaxing things into like travel and family. In a way, its not enough time to shut your brain off school mode as lots of teachers still gives assignments over break. A week, though, as with Spring break, is plenty of time to travel home, with friends or just have time to do other activities. It also gives time to distress, and returns to school with the same motivated mindset may students lose half way through the semester. It is kind of a weird system we have if you think about it, why do we only get a week in the Spring? Are we not just as stressed in the Fall?

Another point in its favor is the fact that it splits the year up into four equal parts. I have noticed, in my classes at least, that teachers use them as mini-semesters and they sort of wrap up what you should know and what you will be learning next. The week gives students a time to make sure they don’t fall behind or can catch up if they did fall behind. If you feel you don’t understand something its hard to dedicate time to it if you still need to be learning something new every week. A stop in course work can give them that time for further study, to be better prepared for the next half of the class.

Norway

I used my reading week as a time to travel (Went to Norway!) and work on schoolwork (Finished an essay!). A lot of the students here balance their time throughout the reading week, unlike a lot of people in the US including me. I think with the breaks so evenly spaced the year doesn’t feel as confining as our system, so students don’t feel the pressure to relax. I know personally I always want to get away on Spring break, as there seems to be pressure to make it count and by the time is comes around its much needed. Those are just my thoughts on the systems differences, though, and I would highly encourage students who exchange to Trinity to review class work at least once as teachers expect you to have a better grasp on the knowledge after the break and be prepared to build off what you learned.

Studying Abroad: More Than Just a Resume Booster

Passing the halfway point of her time studying for a semester at the WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management on the Student Exchange Program, Colleen Sauer reflects on some of the career focused events at WHU and how she has expanded her connections as well as developed herself professionally.

These days, it seems that every company that recruits at Ohio State is looking for some sort of international experience.  Through the Fisher Student Exchange Program I have not only gained that point on my 14513694_1413319905349229_300643295_oresume, but have been inspired by both the company presence on-campus and the diverse group of business students.

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My favorite trip so far was to Prague, Czech Republic

Though before I go into my topic for today, I wanted to give a quick update on my travels and life here.  The latter part of the first quarter was extremely fun for me, partly due to the fact that I began to meet and spend time with the German students here at WHU.

For me this made a huge difference, as I now feel much more integrated here.  There have even been situations, from figuring out my mail to needing to call Deutsche Bahn (German train company) using German, where I was able to recruit some of my kind German friends to help me.  And besides some of my technical difficulties, I have also had some fun opportunities for cultural exchange through food.  A month ago I was able to share my love of Cincinnati Skyline Chili by making a batch for some friends (it was the consequence of losing a bet in kicker, aka Football, but definitely a fun one at that!), and later I was invited to make crepes with a few other students.

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The Paulaner tent at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany

I have had so many more wonderful adventures since when I last posted!  I have been fortunate enough to experience Euromasters (a huge sporting event with business schools across Europe) here at WHU and travel to Prague, Munich for Oktoberfest, Amsterdam, and London with my fellow tauschies.  A few weeks ago, my parents came and visited me at WHU, and at the end of the week I met them in Bacharach to accompany them during the rest of their trip.  We have several friends here in Germany so we were able to visit them in Stuttgart, Dresden, and Berlin.  Along the way we also stopped by Rothenburg and Nürnberg.  The timing of my parents’ visit worked out perfectly, due to the fact that in their second week here I actually had a break in classes.

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Big Ben in London, England

Alright, now that you’re all caught up I can move to the main point of my entry for today. Thus far, you have heard a lot about the awesome friends and travels here in Germany.  But WHU is a highly esteemed business school as well, so I have also had some awesome class experiences and opportunities for professional development!

A unique aspect of WHU that I have been able to take part in here at WHU are company presentations.  Just about every week a different company comes and offers a presentation and networking dinner.  Many of these presentations are in German, but I was able to attend the Oliver Wyman (a consulting firm) company presentation which was in English.  During the networking dinner I had conversations with representatives from the company (many of them being graduates of WHU) and I enjoyed how casual and honest the conversations seemed.  Often times I find these sort of networking encounters to be quite scripted, but when it comes to events at WHU it’s not at all the case.

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During my parents’ visit we spent time with our friends the Schröders in Stuttgart, Germany

To be honest, consulting was not something I seriously considered before coming to WHU.  I didn’t completely understand what that profession even looked like.  But due to the fact that a large percentage of WHU students enter that sector after graduation, there is a huge consulting firm presence on campus and I have been able to learn so much more about the field.  Through talking to firms at both company presentations and the career fair I started to realize that it might be a great fit for me.  I enjoy fast-paced environments, finding solutions for others, networking, and am an extremely curious person when it comes to both people and industries.  I’m now quite excited about the idea, and it’s amazing to think that had I not gone abroad for a semester at WHU, I may not have explored this option.  It may be due to the fact that I’ve stepped back a bit from my normal life in the US allowing more space to think about what I actually want after graduation, or simply because there’s a huge push towards consulting here, but either way I’m very pleased about this! Even though I’m away from Ohio State, I still interviewed and was accepted to the Fisher Emerging Consultants class next semester, and am excited to continue exploring this option.

Beyond the university-sanctioned events, attending an exclusively business institution also has its benefits.  I thoroughly enjoy the fact that Ohio State has a plethora of majors available, with that comes such a diverse student population in terms of talents and perspectives.  But there’s also something to be said for WHU, where you can talk about business internships, aspirations, and issues with everyone you meet.  There’s certainly a unique drive and ambitious character to WHU students when it comes to business.  Never before had I been in a room with 4 other young college students, speculating over dinner about the future of the labor market as digitization improves.  To be around these students is truly inspiring! Additionally, the tauschie population is comprised of business students from top-notched schools around the globe, so there’s such a diverse set of backgrounds and business perspectives represented.  It’s safe to say that my network has become much larger and more international while abroad!

I’ve definitely been able to travel and have a ton of fun while abroad.  That’s to be expected, but my time here is becoming much more valuable than simply bragging rights due to places I’ve traveled and something to stick on my resume, hoping that companies will see that I have an “international perspective”. I’ve become a better leader, much more flexible, open-minded, yet confident in expressing my own opinions. I truly have learned so much so far, both personally and professionally!

Intro to Ireland – The Government

Join Grainne Hutchinson as she explores the political world of Ireland while on the Student Exchange Program. Hear what she has experienced visiting the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish parliament, and her observations on how networking is done in Ireland. She also shares some advice on how to get involved at Trinity!

Dia dhuit! (Hello!)

This week I got the exciting and rare experience to visit the Dáil Éireann! The Dáil Éireann is the lower house of the Irish parliament. The Houses of Oireachtas, the Irish Congress, has two houses the Dáil Éireann (House of Deputies) and the Seanad Éireann (Senate). The two houses function somewhat the same as their American counterparts. One huge difference, though, would be that instead of the Prime Minister of Ireland being directly elected as our president is, he is nominated by the Dáil Éireann and to stay in power must keep the majority support of the Dáil. That’s a big difference between the US and is made even clearer to me as this is an election year. It would be like if we voted in our state representatives and then they chose the president out of all the candidates the parties put forth.

Picture of the Dáil. Photo from the Independent. Phelan, Shane. "Dail Bars Forced to Chase 11 TDs and Senators over Their Unpaid Tabs." Independent.ie. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.
Picture of the Dáil. Photo from the Independent. Phelan, Shane. “Dail Bars Forced to Chase 11 TDs and Senators over Their Unpaid Tabs.” Independent.ie. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.

Membership to the Dáil works a lot like membership to the House of Representatives in the US. The “Teachta Dála”, in English “deputies to the Dáil” usually just called TD’s, are elected in by their constituency. The constituencies are determined by population, and there must be a member the represents every 20,000 to 30,000 people. At the current moment there 158 members and 40 constituencies. 

I was invited as part of a Society I joined at Trinity, as it was a political society it’s going to remain anonymous. We were addressed by current TD’s and given a short speech on Brexit, as it will affect Ireland quite a bit as well. Then we were shown one of the two bars that are located inside the Dáil (because it’s Ireland) and a had a drink while we mingled with other students and current TD’s. Networking in Ireland is about the same as in the US. In this case, there were about three TD and 30+ students but every TD tried to say hello to each of the students there while I find in the states they usually let the students come to them.

I would strongly recommend students going abroad to join societies and make the most out of them! They can help you make friends as well as give you once in a lifetime opportunity. Definitely join the ones you have an interest, but consider some country specific groups as well. For a trinity example, there are always sports clubs to join but do consider clubs like The Hist or the College Historical Society. The Hist which I joined is mainly a debating society that everyone is welcome to, whether you debate or not. They are one of the oldest societies and host famous guests from time to time. This experience might be the only time in your life you can experience the culture like a local so join clubs that focus on local things like hiking or food. Or if you’re still feeling adventurous after agreeing to live in a foreign country for 4 months join a sports club you never could back home, in Trinity’s case Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) clubs like Gaelic football and Hurling. I would also suggest looking at the international student club! At Trinity, the club arranges travel weekends all around Ireland and connects you to full-time students from your home country that you can go to for advice or questions. Thats all for this time!

Sláinte! (Cheers!)

Intro to Ireland – Experience the Culture

As Grace Hutchinson continues her studies at Trinity College Dublin on the Student Exchange Program, she explores more of the culture and Island of Ireland. Hear about the Dublin Zoo to the Blarney Stone to the Ladies Gaelic Football All Ireland game, as well as her observations on Irish education.

Dia dhuit! (Hello) My first few weeks at Trinity have been great, though it is only the third week of class, so the course work is still on the small side. The rain has reduced to once a week, which makes it feel more like spring than fall. All the students have returned to campus, and the library is always packed with people as the course work over here is very dependent on readings. That’s not the only difference, as the courses here are also almost all graded on one essay or test at the end of the year, which makes me slightly terrified. As I am only here for one semester I won’t be here for the end of year exams, so my teachers come up with separate assignments, usually essays, to be graded on at the end of the semester. The Irish students I have talked to have advised me to keep the readings and familiarize myself with the Library for the essays.

School here is pretty similar in other aspects. For example, though Trinity is smaller than OSU there are still recitations or tutorials as there called here were TA’s or assistant professors give deeper insights and allows student discussion. I expected fewer people classes, especially coming from OSU, but it’s great that there are still non-lecture environments where you get to voice your questions. My advice to students coming to Trinity for exchange would be to pick classes you have a genuine interest in. As one assignment will determine your grade, and it usually involves a lot of outside research as well as applying what you learned in lecture, it can be frustrating and easy to procrastinate if you’re not interested in the subject.

On the less academic side of things, I took a trip to the Dublin Zoo! It was neat to see, but for someone who has grown up in Columbus with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and even volunteered there, it was a bit smaller than what I am used too. They did have a lot of different animals I never thought I would see on the small island of Ireland, including seven giraffes. Dublin is a City with limited space, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the smaller amount of space the animals had in their enclosures. It also made me realize and appreciate how great the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is!

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Taken at the Dublin Zoo by the entrance to remind people where they are incase they forgot.

I also took a trip down to Cork (a city on the west coast of Ireland) and of course Blarney Castle where, for those who don’t know, is the home of the Blarney Stone. After climbing a very scary tight spiral staircase my friends and I admired the view of the many gardens, and after some peer pressure, I decided that if I climbed all those steps with a cold, I might as well kiss the Blarney Stone. By doing this, it is said that you will receive the gift of better speech. It’s not a graceful process to do this. You have to lay down on your back and stretch out over a hole that you can see the ground through and kiss the stone. I don’t feel the effects of the stone now, but I will keep you guys updated. I do know that who ever kissed it after me might, unfortunately, receive the gift of my cold.

I also got the great experience of attending the Ladies Gaelic Football All Ireland (Finals). It took place in Croke Park where they host all All Ireland for all Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA ) sports (i.e. Gaelic Football, Hurling). The game of Gaelic Football is a weird mixture of Soccer, Rugby a bit of basketball and American Football. The All Ireland was between Dublin and Cork, as every county in Ireland has a team who play a sort of bracket to make to the All Ireland. Being in Dublin, there was a great turnout for them, but surprisingly there were just as many people who were there supporting Cork, who won out in the end. The President of Ireland, Micheal Higgens, even attended the match and shook each player’s hand before the match.

The Ladies All Ireland in Croke Park.

That’s all I have done so far, but don’t worry there are more adventures to come! I am also starting to get a bit homesick, missing my kittens. I’m looking forward to my classes and other travel excursions, hopefully, during the reading week when we don’t have classes! See you all real soon and love from Ireland! Sláinte! (cheers)

 

Welcome to Strasbourg

After three weeks at Ecole de Management Strasbourg on the Student Exchange Program, Troy Weider talks about his journey to this new university and his first experiences in Strasbourg, France. A UNESCO World Heritage site, a home of the EU Parliament, a historically unique city, in the heart of Western Europe. 

Since a very young age, studying abroad in France has always been a dream of mine. I began taking French language courses over seven years ago, and was I fortunate enough to travel to this beautiful country twice previously. Upon beginning my studies at Ohio State two years ago, I knew I wanted to combine my interests and I therefore chose to double major in Finance and French. Fortunately, I had the opportunity through the Fisher College of Business to spend this semester studying at EM Strasbourg Business School on the Student Exchange Program. After only a few weeks here, I’m already getting assimilated to the French culture and loving every minute of my journey.

I started my European adventure on August 24th when I departed from Chicago O’Hare Airport for Reykjavik, Iceland. I did not need to be in Strasbourg until the 30th of the month, so I decided to use the time beforehand to explore two very different travel destinations, Reykjavik and Paris. Iceland was a country that had always fascinated me due to its Viking roots and rugged, beautiful landscapes, and since it was a natural stopover point to Europe, I spent three full days there. My time there was absolutely incredible, and I got to explore the country’s famous waterfalls, mountains, and geysers, while staying in its quaint capital city. Iceland  was the most unique place that I have ever visited before. The country is home to only 330,000 inhabitants, whose Viking ancestors settled here over a thousand years ago on an uninhabited and inhospitable volcanic island. These resourceful locals made the most of what little this barren land had to offer, and Icelanders are thus a result of their environment. The temperature never left the 50’s, but the weather actually felt great here because the Icelandic air is so clean and the sun was generally shining during their long summer days. I got to learn a ton of interesting things about Icelandic history and culture, because I bought the Reykjavik City Card (which you should buy if you ever visit) and it gave me free access to all the museums, pools, and public transportation. Iceland is a very old country, but for most of its history the country had been one of Europe’s poorest, but during the 20th century Iceland emerged to become one of the world’s most progressive and prosperous. After winning independence from Denmark during the Second World War, the country became strategic for the Allied powers due to its location and the United States built a massive base there. Money from the Marshall Plan and major technological advancement allowed the economy to emerge from that of subsistence, and they became a world leader in fishing, services, banking and tourism. In 1980, Vigdis Finnbogadottir became the world’s first female president after winning the Icelandic elections, and then even more recently Johanna Sigurdardottir became the first openly lesbian head of state in the world. So basically for such a tiny country, Iceland has a very interesting history and I would recommend it to all of you to put on your bucket lists.

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View of Tjörnin Pond and the City Hall in Central Reykjavik
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Icelandic Horses roaming through the countryside
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View from Reykjavik Harbor of Videy Island and Mt. Esja
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Gullfoss Waterfall: my favorite sight in Iceland

Then before reaching Strasbourg, I had a whirlwind 24-hour layover in Paris, where I took in as much Parisian culture, history, and food as possible. This was my third time in Paris, but it was the first time that I was there all by myself. I had an ideal day in the city, and I got to experience a city that is very different from my other destinations. Paris is one the world’s greatest cities, and is completely packed with famous monuments,  which means this city is insanely beautiful but also very hectic. Therefore I avoided the usual must-sees like the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, and the Sacre-Coeur, and instead focused on historic neighborhoods and great restaurants.  After several crazy days of traveling, I finally reached Strasbourg in the evening of August 29th, and that’s when my immersive experience truly began.

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The obligatory selfie with Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris
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Beautiful Sunset in a Beautiful City, Paris

Strasbourg is a city with a very unique history, which is due to its strategic location on the border with Germany. Over the last several centuries, countless wars have been fought between these two European powers, and the winner always won the region of Alsace and its capital of Strasbourg. As a result the city is a Franco-German cultural and architectural mix. In Alsace, many locals have German last names; beer and sauerkraut appear on most menus; and street signs also are written in the local Alsatian language, a variant of German. Actually, Strasbourg’s library from which I’m writing this blog post, was built by the Germans in the 1880’s in an area of Strasbourg that looks more like Berlin than Paris. Strasbourg’s central location between the European Union’s most powerful nations, helped secure it as the home of the EU Parliament, and some of Europe’s most important decisions are made in this city. This status as a regional powerhouse attracts a lot of visitors to the city, including the Dalai Lama, who is in town for the week.

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View onto the Ponts Couverts, Petite-France, and Strasbourg Cathedral
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Myself atop my favorite building in the world, Strasbourg Cathedral

Despite having a unique history all its own, Strasbourg today is firmly French, and the city feels a long way culturally from Columbus, Ohio. Strasbourg is filled with smoke filled cafés and restaurant, where locals enjoy their long lunches and vacations. Working hours here are quite different, and during the month of August many businesses shut down. Strikes are common here as well, and today for example the city’s tram workers went on strike, so a lot of the lines got closed down. Also some places close down on Sundays, Mondays, evenings, and during lunch breaks, so I had to adjust to this new pace. Another major difference was that it is pretty uncommon to find public restrooms and especially drinking fountains anywhere, so foreigners expecting this might be very surprised. A final obvious difference that I noticed was that most of the buildings here are not air-conditioned, so going to class in 86-degree weather was a rude awakening.

While these were all things that were very foreign to me, adaptability is a very important part of living abroad. To anyone else going to France, you just have to understand that things are different in another part of the world, and the French do numerous things that are different from the United States. You must remember though that you’re not the only one who is adjusting, and many other exchange students are dealing with the same things. Even if it seems foreign to you, try to adapt to the local way, rather than focusing on the difference. And contrary to popular belief, I’ve found the French to be really open and friendly, so the locals are usually willing to help if you’re having trouble understanding something. Another thing to be aware of though, is that a lot of French people do not speak as much English as they do in most other parts of Western Europe, and the locals have a lot of pride in the French language. Luckily, I’ve been studying French since junior high school, so I prefer just speaking to local people in the French language. Even if you don’t speak any French, I strongly recommend learning at least a few basic expressions before coming to the country. It’s considered pretty rude here to just come into a shop or restaurant and immediately start in English without at least a “Bonjour Monsieur/Madame” (Hello Sir/Ma’am) or “parlez-vous anglais?” (Do you speak English). If they don’t speak any English, which is common especially outside Paris, try your best to speak slowly and use the expressions “je voudrais” (I would like…), “s’il vous plaît” (please), “merci” (thanks), and “bonne journée/au revoir” (Have a great day/Goodbye) when applicable. Being polite and respectful is very important in France, and understanding social norms here can really help you adapt to the local culture.

While I do miss my friends, family and home university, I am so happy to be able to study abroad in Strasbourg, France. This city is absolutely incredible, and sometimes it is hard to believe that I am actually living in another country. As I look out my dorm bedroom window every morning I have an incredible view of Strasbourg’s Notre-Dame Cathedral, which serves as a good reminder if I ever forget where I am. This cathedral was the tallest building in the world between 1647 and 1874, and it truly is the most awe-inspiring building that I have ever seen. The Cathedral has a unique color, a pain-staking amount of detail, and an iconic tower that can be seen from all across the region. The most historic part of the city, including the cathedral, is situated on a large island formed by the Ill River, and this is the area where I try to spend the most of my time. This is definitely the most beautiful part of the city, and although I live about a 12-15 minute walk from the center, the public transportation here is quite good and I can get anywhere by tram or bus. In about the same amount of time as it takes to get downtown, I could also cross the Rhine River and go to Germany, which is pretty crazy to comprehend. The advantages of this central location are enormous, and as a result many other international students are also drawn to study in this city. Luckily, since arriving in Strasbourg, I have made so many amazing friends and had the opportunity to travel all around the surrounding regions. I could talk endlessly about all these incredible experiences, so I will save them for my next blog. I am hoping to write another post very soon, and until then I’ll keep traveling and learning in this beautiful corner of the world. Thanks for reading.

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View from my friend’s apartment, which I’m very jealous of…
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View from my room, still a great view of Strasbourg Cathedral

About the Author: Troy Weider, Junior, Finance and French