European Destinations

If my last post was written in a state of culture shock induced delirium, this second post is written in a state of culture awe and relish. In the past two weeks, I have had the joy of visiting some of the world’s most famous and attractive cities: Paris, Dublin, London, and Amsterdam.

I was wowed by the utter difference among all the cities; the history, the people, the art, the architecture, the food, the landscapes, everything.

Paris

Paris is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. I wrote this sentence before seeing the other three cities, and I must say now it is debatable, though Paris is certainly stunning. Everywhere you look, every street you wander down, every building you gaze up at, is striking. Of course the chocolate, pastries, and bread are to die for (and I would, if I lived there to have them every day). The city is so French; not comprable to any other city in any other country. I am struggling to find words to describe it: charming, but at the same time elusive; hurried, but slow; uptight but relaxed; old, set in its ways, but so much young, vibrancy. I would love to go back and explore it more.

 

Dublin

The skies. Dublin skies are the biggest, most-blue, most enveloping skies. The clouds are streamy, stringy, yet fluffy white caps on blue waves that are the crisp, clean, skies. The Dublin people are exceptional. They are welcoming, funny, carefree, and a joy to be around. They’ll thank you after every interaction even when you are the one who should do the thanking. Their self-effacing humor is charming, and, needless to say, the accents are delightful. Also, the food in Dublin is amazing. No, they do not consume only potatoes and other bland anomalies. We feasted on delicious lamb stews, soda bread, garlic burgers, Spanish food, butternut squash soup, and chicken pâté paired with apple compote (surprisingly good).

We were also able to visit a village just outside Dublin called Howth. It is one of the most endearing seaside villages. I want to retire there. We climbed to the peak and wandered down the hill that is the town, seaside views all-encompasing. In the distance was one a magical-looking isle before I’d only seen in movies. It was an enchanting afternoon.

London

I loved London. It reminded me most of the US (which I did not mind, as being away for 3 months will most certainly make the heart grow fonder). It is reminiscent of New York City, but concurrently nothing like it all. Again, the people are lovely. Even the metro system announcers are incredibly polite, letting passengers know to, “Please, mind the gap” when disembarking, and also making announcements just for the sake of letting people know all trains are in good service. It was interesting to see that a lot of Londoners are in fact not British. I heard many languages, accents, and the like, where I expected to be surrounded by posh “Dear boy”’s and “Cheerio”’s. The British ones, though, call everyone “Love” and wish you a “Cheers” on the constant.

It was lovely to be in London during the first signs of Spring. We were able to go to their gorgeous parks and see the first flowers blooming and (much to our terror) birds taking flight.

We paid a visit to the queen outside her castle. By visit, of course, I mean we (and hundreds of others) gathered at a safe distance outside her gates and took pictures of her accommodations completely unbeknownst to her majesty.

I would love to go back to the UK. We had to take hour-long bus rides to and from the airport through the country. The countryside is phenomenal. There actually are sheep grazing on rolling green hills and thatched-roof houses, like something out of a storybook.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam was our “wildcard” city, if you will. We were originally not supposed to visit, but we messed up our ticketing to London, and had a few days to spare: why not Holland?

I am so glad we did.

Amsterdam is the Venice of Western Europe. 60 miles of canals weave throughout. There are over 1200 bridges and some 600,000 bicycles. It is, for lack of a better word: incredible. Someone else on the internet wrote:
“It may sound like a generic word to describe a place, but Amsterdam epitomizes what Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines as ‘too extraordinary and improbable to be believed.’”.

And it’s true.

Amsterdam is like a fairytale. The architecture is remarkably charming: townhouses, each one unique as the last, packed next to each other line bicycle-filled streets following meandering canals throughout.

Upside Down and Backwards: My First Week in France

Wow. I live in France now. This place is crazy. Not crazy like “OMG this is cah-rayyy-zayyy”, but crazy like EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT.

I don’t know why this took me aback so. I mean, I was more than prepared to deal with culture shock, and of course, I understood I would. But this week has been intense. I have created a list of all the differences (some, opposites) between my home country/state (the US/Ohio) and my host country.

1. The weather is the same here every. single. day. Wake up: cold, dark, probably rain. Lunch time: sunny, warm. Night: cold, dark, rain. This is not Ohio where Tuesday you’re laying out and Saturday wearing your parka.

2. There are no baggers at the grocery store. The clerk and all the people behind you literally watch you bag your items and you wonder why you bought so much. (AKA efficiency is not prized)

3. Oh! Another grocery thing: they have NO plastic grocery bags. You either bring your own or buy their reusable ones, so now I have 4 grocery bags . . . (My city, Nantes, prides itself on being one of the greenest cities in France).

4. THEY DO NOT EAT PEANUT BUTTER HERE. IT IS NOT A PRIORITY, AND I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THIS. You have to pay roughly 8 USD for a tiny jar of Skippy (the only brand they have). Where the PB should be in the grocery, all you see are shelves packed with Nutella and cookie butter.

5. This leads me to: everything is sweet! They put chocolate in everything, and I am 100% okay with it. I have become obsessed with this amazing dark chocolate chunk granola. It is really difficult to find a cereal without some kind of chocolate component. They have chocolate chip bread right there with the sandwich slices. They have chocolate yogurt, rows and rows of every kind of cookie/chocolate combination imaginable, and a truly sinful treat: chocolate stuffed croissants, or, pain au chocolat.

6. Their sandwich bread has no end pieces. So what does that mean? Do they make super long loaves of bread and just sell us sections of a loaf? Or do they throw away every loaf’s end pieces?? These are the things keeping me up at night . . .

7. Another food thing: the largest pack of lunch meat I can find has 4 slices. 4. What am I supposed to do, buy lunch meat every 2 days? What do they eat for lunch?? BAGUETTES. The stereotype is SO TRUE. People literally walk down the street eating baguettes. I did it. It was fun and yummy.

8. Their coffee is amazing. If you order a small black coffee. They give you the teensiest cup of espresso and a wafer. It literally woke my jet-lagged butt UP. It was also incredibly delicious, and I’d drink it every day if I was sure it wouldn’t give me a heart attack.

9. They sell their milk warm. It sits on the shelf like any other beverage. I’ve seen this before in other countries, but I just think it’s so weird.

10. They have pink toilet paper. (Yeah, I bought it)

11. Nothing is open past 7pm during the week or at all on Sundays. There is literally NOTHING to do on Sundays. Even our university closes.

12. They take 2 hour lunch breaks.

13. The people are quiet in public. It’s so quiet here. People rarely talk on trains or sidewalks. They dress in all dark colors and neither smile at you nor excuse themselves when obstructing another’s path. In class though, the students talk over the professor while he’s lecturing, and over each other when we present projects. It’s an odd juxtaposition.

 

That is what I’ve noticed so far. Mostly food/grocery related things. Oops.

 

Keep checking up on this blog; I will try to post weekly/biweekly depending on how many exciting things I have to tell you! Thanks for reading et au revoir!

Winter Wonderland Annual Cultural Event in Milan

In Milan, every year around Christmas time, the city transforms itself into a winter wonderland.  The busiest centers of the city are decorated in beautiful Christmas lights of all colors and shapes.  Also in the central plaza of the city by the famous cathedral, an enormous Christmas tree is placed in the center.  The tree is several stories tall and glittering in lights.

Gigantic Christmas Tree! “Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree…”

In addition to all the decorations, there are annual Christmas markets set up all over the city.  These Christmas markets open in the beginning of December and have hundreds of different vendors either selling food, trinkets, or other holiday gifts and products.  It definitely gives me a warm feeling as if I am living in a winter wonderland inside a large snow-globe.  I really wish that Christmas markets like the ones in Milan existed back in Ohio.

Christmas lights decor, and Christmas Market

Since Italy is one of the central locations for the birth of Catholicism, and Christianity, it makes sense that Christmas is highly important to Milan, and that it is widely celebrated throughout the city.

Cultural Festival In Milan

Today, I went to a cultural festival in Milan.  It was a huge event where countries from all over the world came together in a large convention center to showcase the highlights of their countries.  There was an incredibly large amount of people, probably thousands upon thousands of people, at this festival enjoying the amazing mix of cultures from around the world.

There was plenty of food being served from all the different countries and the booth owners were also selling different merchandise from their respective countries.  It was a fun experience to be in the midst of a large crowd looking at hundreds of booths with thousands of products.  It was also very lively and loud since the vendors were open to bargaining for prices with customers.

seafood paella from Argentina! yum yum!

When I was roaming around this festival, I felt like I was not in Italy anymore but rather in one of the famous street markets in India, or Asia that are always portrayed in movies.  Also it was interesting to come across the United States section of the festival, because they were selling many stereotypical American Western merchandise such as cowboy hats, cattle boots, cow hide, fancy old style rifles, etc.  They were also playing a lot of country music in the North American section.  It was amusing for me to see how the world outside of America portrayed our culture.

Stand selling dolls

This festival kind of reminded me of Taste of OSU, except about one-hundred times larger.  I loved this experience and I hope that I will be able to go to a similar festival in America.

Business Culture in Italy

Business etiquette and culture are different all around the world, and it’s these subtle nuances that make a huge difference.  In Italy, they would much rather have face-to-face communication rather than meetings via email, or video-chat.  This is because, Italians want to know one another and trust one another before doing any business with you.   An example would be Luxottica Retail.  It is an international company Headquartered in Milan Italy as well as in America.  However, employees’ desks set up in Italy does not have cubicle walls whereas the ones in America do.

Also, Italians are not as time oriented as Americans.  If a meeting is scheduled for a certain time, it is not uncommon to expect the meeting to actually begin about twenty to thirty minutes after the scheduled time.

In addition, Italians put a large emphasis on their personal appearances.  If you want to be successful in Italy, you have to dress the part and act the part.  It is only common to see professionals go to work in designer suits, and elegant dresses.  Nothing but the best is acceptable when it comes to attire and appearance.  This is somewhat different from American culture where Americans don’t put as much emphasis on clothing and appearances but rather on one’s determination and hard work, which embodies the ideal picture of the American Dream.

These are just a few of the differences in the business cultures between America and Italy.

A Weekend of Bliss

This weekend I traveled to Barcelona, Spain and it was such a great adventure.  I traveled with a good friend of mine and when traveling with a great partner, it makes the whole journey that much better.

On top of traveling with a great friend, I loved Barcelona because of the food and the sea.  I grew up loving lakes and oceans, and to see this city surrounded by beautiful beaches and the great expanse of the sea was so calming and peaceful for me.

My beautiful feet! Oh and I guess there’s the ocean too

In addition, the food everywhere was cheap, fresh, and delicious.  Seafood is a large part of Barcelona’s cuisine since the sea surrounds this city, and the seafood was so fresh.  There is a huge difference in the taste and texture of seafood in Cleveland, Ohio as opposed to that in Barcelona for obvious reasons.  There was also a huge bustling food market where they sold all sorts of fruits, meats, sweets, and more.  It was very lively and incredibly fun, and although everyone says that Barcelona is dangerous and full of pick-pocketers, as long as you keep an eye on your belongings, then you should be fine.

My friend and I at the fresh food market!

I would love to go back to Barcelona someday!

Academic Culture at Bocconi University

The academic culture at Bocconi University is a little different to that of Ohio State University.  Bocconi University is ranked as one of the top Economics and Finance Institutions throughout all of Europe, and by the content and difficulty of their coursework, I would have to say they live up to their standards.  I am enrolled in classes they specifically assign for their exchange students, so my classes are taught in English and they are filled with students from around the world.  It is interesting to have students from so many different backgrounds all in one room.

Although this is a business school in Italy, we study how the financial markets and institutions work in the United States of America.  I think it is interesting that such a prestigious university from across the world studies the financial markets of America, and not so much of their own country.  I am thinking that this has to do with America’s dominant central role in the world economy.

Something else I thought was interesting was how Bocconi sets up their class structure.  As an exchange student, we have an option to either be an “attending student” or a “non-attending student”.  As an attending student, you have group assignments, and homework that count towards your final grade in addition to your final, and mid-term exams.  As a non-attending student, you are only graded on the final exam, and that is 100% of your grade.  You have no homework, group assignments, or anything.  The exam is just based on the textbook.

Overall, I am enjoying my experience as a student at Bocconi, because they have a very efficient office set up for exchange students to help them get around, and answer any questions exchange students may have.  Thus, because of them I had a very smooth admission process into the university.  In addition, the courses that I am studying are taught with professors who are genuinely interested in seeing their students succeed, so that makes learning much more fun and enjoyable.

Travel Lessons

Over the past two weeks during Bocconi University’s fall break, I have travelled to five different cities in 14 days.  I travelled to Paris France, Dublin Ireland, London Britain, Berlin Germany, and Rome Italy.  It has been quite an adventure, exploring different cities, beautiful architectures, delicious foods, and of course we can’t forget, figuring out public transportation.

Over the course of my traveling I have learned two very important lessons about traveling.  First lesson; it is the journey that matters, not the destination.  I travelled with a friend of mine, and we really got along well and we realized that it was more enjoyable to travel and spend time with each other than it was to reach the final destination point or tourist location.  The second lesson I learned was that it is okay to trust people, and share some laughter with strangers (but of course you have to be smart about it).  The world is usually not out to get you, so have fun with life as it passes you by.  Time is precious so laugh, live, and love.

Ireland, Land of Lush Green Pastures!

Recently I made a trip to Ireland, and it was absolutely beautiful.  At this point, I have traveled to France, London, Italy, and Berlin all of which had beautiful architecture and great food.  However from my personal experiences, buildings begin to look the same after some time, but there is something about nature that never gets old.  I think that is one of the two reasons I loved Ireland the most.  I traveled throughout Ireland’s beautiful countryside and it was as picturesque as Hollywood portrays.

Countryside of Ireland!

The landscape was incredibly green and had pastures of sheep and cows grazing on green grass.  There were ruins of medieval fortresses all over Ireland, which made this country seem like a land from fairy-tales.

Ancient Tombstone in Ireland built around 3000 BC

Medival Fortress built 3000 years ago

The other reason I loved Ireland was the community of strangers.  Although I did not know anyone there, the people were incredibly nice to me, and were genuinely interested in engaging me in conversation.  I made friends with guitarists at bars, and I was told traditional Irish folklore from strangers.  From my experiences Ireland is full of lush green landscapes, and friendly, cheerful folks!

District of Food and Shops in Ireland

“Unforgettable” Food in France…

These past few days, I travelled to France for the first time!  Everything in France is as beautiful as they say, the Eiffel Tower, and Versailles Palace just to name a few.  However, I had a very bad experience at the first restaurant my friend and I decided to go to.  There were quite a few people at the restaurant so we thought that it would be a good choice.  We sat down, ordered food, and ate every delicious bite.  The food came with a huge bowl of six different sauces, and as we almost finished our food, we noticed something we wished we hadn’t.

We sat right next to the cashier’s counter, so we noticed that every time the waitress returned a bowl of sauce, they did not throw the rest of the leftover sauce out.  Instead, they just added more sauce to the bowl, then handed it to the next customer.  My friend and I were rather grossed out, because if others ate as we did, then that meant they would have double dipped, as well as used their own spoons to scoop out the sauce.

In addition, I was told that drinks (juices and sodas) were free, however when I went up to pay for my meal, they charged me extra.  I was very frustrated because, I could not properly complain due to the language barrier, and I could not properly tell them my dissatisfaction with how they reused leftover sauces. I ended up paying what they wanted, and left angry.  I realized that as long as I have a language barrier, I would be more likely targeted for unpleasant things such as being ripped off, getting pick-pocketed, or even violence, just because it would be easier for them to get away with it.