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!

November Photos in Austria

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

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

Christmas Market at Rathausplatz

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

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

Travel to Italy

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

The Museumquarter 

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

End of Term Classes

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

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

Professional Interactions in Vienna

In travels to Vienna, Austria during the fall of 2017 on the Student Exchange Program, senior Peyton Bykowski discovers the importance of understanding business etiquette and professional interactions on a global scale.

The United States has very strict and regulated guidelines on how we conduct business and how businessmen and women interact on a professional level. Austria, based on research and experience, has similar, preset guidelines and standards that are to be met. If anything, there are firmer guidelines in how a student interacts with his or her lecturer, how to act and dress in business situations, and how Vienna itself provides resources for its students to find jobs and careers.

In the classroom at WU (Wirtschaftuniversitat – Vienna University of Economics and Business), it is fairly informal, surprisingly, in terms of business conduct at a business school. During presentations it is not required to dress business formal or business casual as it is at Ohio State. Presentations occur weekly for many classes, so having to consistently dress business professionally can be tedious, so it is not required or even asked of the students to dress up. However, there is more respect in terms of the student-teacher relationship. Students address the lecturer as “Professor” unless told otherwise. At the end of the class, the students knock on the table as a respectful notion to the Professor to thank him/her for teaching them today.

Many students also use the professors as a networking opportunity. As this is a small university, the students often have the same Professors multiple times for different classes. And since the classes are never larger than about 40 people, they tend to get to know them well. Similarly to Ohio State and the U.S., Professors allow insight for students on the business world and potential opportunities or careers to pursue. Many students often keep in contact with their university professors as a means of networking as well.

In terms of career events, Vienna has several for the city, but rarely are they specific to WU students. WU does have an online career and job portal similar to Fisher’s, but for large career fairs Vienna has two main events: Meet Your Job, which requires 1 application submitted to a student who is then matched with different company’s for short interviews at the fair, and Career Calling, which is a large company expo similar to the Fall and Spring Career Fairs at Ohio State. However, these fairs and events are much more relied on in Vienna than they are at Ohio State. Many students need them in order to find their work experience, as connections in the business world are not as utilized in Vienna. In the U.S. it is an unspoken rule that business students need internship experience before graduation, and then need professional work experience before attending grad school. In Austria, and most of Europe, it is not as necessary for students to have undergraduate work experience as they transition directly to grad school post university graduation. This was an interesting difference, as I can see value to both courses of education.

In regards to business etiquette and interactions in Vienna, there are not many differences than the U.S. I think the largest difference is in regard to the blunt nature of Austrians. Professors tend to interrupt during student presentations to offer feedback and thoughts; whereas in the U.S. and at Ohio State, it is more typical for a professor to hear the presentation through before offering feedback. Similarly to the U.S. though, Austrians greatly value punctuality and seriousness. This then relates to the importance of first impressions. First impressions weigh heavily on Austrians and so it is important to know the proper professional interactions before meeting with the individual(s). This would include the proper dress codes, not only for professional interactions but for dinners, the dress codes of certain facilities (i.e. Opera), etc. Overall, Austrians are conservative in terms of business etiquette and in nature when received by others.

Researching and experiencing different business etiquette practices has been really important to my understanding of global business. Understanding different practices and actually practicing them are completely different. I have always known how important it is to do your homework on the people, company, and culture of individuals I am meeting with, whether it be for a collaborative assignment, job interview, etc. However, remembering my homework on Vienna’s professional etiquette has helped me to understand what it is actually like while here. WU offers a lot of incredible resources to aid its students from all over the globe further their careers. Whether that’s the EBN group or Career Fairs for Viennese students, WU students are extremely successful and help new students to a new country learn quickly.

WU Career Fair Exhibit

Introducing Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (WU) in Vienna, Austria

On her very first time outside of the U.S. traveling to Vienna, Austria, senior student Peyton Bykowski finds out that WU is worlds away from Ohio State. She shares her exciting times on the Students Exchange Program attendning Vienna University of Economics and Business Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (WU) during fall semester of 2017, and the cultural differences she has discovered so far.

I have never traveled outside of the United States before hopping on a massive plain to Vienna for 4 months. Was I nervous? Absolutely. No matter how much reassurance I had received from research and personal stories, I was still scared to fly across the ocean in to an unknown experience. I was nervous I would get lost and lose my way. I was worried about the language barrier, since I do not speak German. I was also scared of traveling alone, as I had never done so for a long journey or period of time. But, I had done my research on Vienna and the university, WU, and had a basic idea of its layout and modern feel as well as what the city would be like. In regards to WU, the new WU campus was built in 2013, but the Vienna University of Economics and Business was founded in 1898. The campus contains only 6 main buildings in 25 acres and is only 10 minutes walking distance from one end to the other. In total, the WU campus is about the same size as the Fisher College of Business alone (WU is a bit bigger in terms of ground covered but not by much). Considering that Ohio State is one of the largest universities in the U.S., WU’s size in total was a bit of a change.

As mentioned, the new campus was built in 2013, so it is extremely new and up to date (pictures below). The campus had many architects, but was primarily designed by the famous modern architects Zaha Hadid and Laura Spinadel. As a result, the campus is extremely innovative; with a spaceship-looking library, a rainbow building, and other edgy buildings. It is extremely clean with a lot of coffee shops and eateries for those gaps between classes. However, because it is so small and tuition is free in Europe due to high taxes, the campus doesn’t contain the kinds of facilities expected in the U.S. For example, the campus does not have a free gym, so you must make your accommodations elsewhere (i.e. McFit). To make up for it, the campus is extremely friendly and easy to navigate. It has all of the latest technology and is truly meant to foster educational experiences, not just facilitate lectures.

There are also some different practices I have noticed on campus before my arrival and during my stay here. At Ohio State we have regulated schedules, with your week looking pretty much the same as the week prior and the week to come. At WU, that is not the case. Classes tend to be longer (2-4 hours on average) with classroom changes every week and irregular times. Some classes will be regulated (same time, same day every week) but classrooms may change weekly. It is vital to check every week to ensure you have an understanding of which rooms you are to be in, at what time, and for which classes. Going through the syllabus early for each class is important, as it can help prepare you for your stay here in Vienna and allow you to make proper travel arrangements.

Another noticed difference is the typical dress code, not only at WU, but in most of Europe. While there is no actual “dress code,” students tend to have a more dressed-up wardrobe when attending classes. This can be from jeans and a sweater to a skirt and blazer. I have never seen sweatpants or athletic-wear on campus, as you do not come to class to lounge or work out later on campus. It can be seen as disrespectful to professors to dress poorly, so knowing that “looking good” was a quick tip I was glad to learn early. There is also no “school spirit.” I rarely see students sporting WU apparel, which is the opposite at Ohio State.

Leather and Jean jackets are common among all. Boots/booties are a staple, some women will wear skirts and blazers while most wear jeans and a nice top. Men dress similarly with nice jeans, shoes, and sweaters in general. Vienna is very fashion forward. Here is an article on “dressing like Europeans”:

Some other practices and administrative differences are in the grading scale and post-lecture ritual. The grading scale at WU is 1-5, with 1 being an A and a 5 an F. In regards to post-lecture ritual, is it customary to knock on the table once the class is finished. This is seen as a “thank you” and is a sign of respect to the lecturer. In my first class the knocking occurred and I wasn’t sure what was happening. It wasn’t until my German language course later that week that I learned about the knocking after our class went over classroom customs.

Being on another part of the world has being a new, and exciting, experience for me. In some regards I knew what to expect, and in many others I didn’t know. Overall, while there are a lot of differences between Ohio State and WU, I am thrilled to have chosen Vienna. While the campus and classes are extremely different to what I am accustomed to, WU was the perfect campus to have that experience of something completely different. The professors are kind and helpful. They are extremely accommodating and, most importantly, want you to enjoy your time here and will help in whatever ways they can. This is a very international school, and the professors understand the challenges of being either from another country or being an exchange student. The students themselves were extremely inviting and aided in getting me situated around the campus and in my classes. The campus is friendly, fresh, and a wonderful place to be. When coming to a new continent, let alone a new country, WU- Vienna was the perfect choice in finding the right combination of a new experience mixed with a place I could easily call home.

Campus Pictures:

WU Library
TC Building – Main Building for Undergrad Classes
D3 Building – Main Building for Graduate and Finance/Accounting Classes & Anker Coffee House
Main Walkway and WU Library and Other Buildings
WU Campus Main Walkway with TC Building and Other Academic Buildings

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:



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!

From a Broken Phone to Having an Audience With The King of Spain: Part II

Grant Buehrer, participating in the Student Exchange Program in Spain, shared his story meeting with the King of Spain! Tasked with a gift and the first question to the king, he puts what he learned at Ohio State to the test as he steps into the room that the king awaits.

This is a continued story for my previous blog post here, and I am excited to share the story of meeting the King of Spain!

The time had come for me to join the group of students set to be a part of the annual private audience with the King of Spain. As we waited outside the university – in formal suit and tie – for the bus that would take us to Palacio Zarzuela, the official residence of the Spanish royal family. I had the chance to strike up a great conversation with a group of outstanding students at ICADE, they were interested to hear about business culture in the U.S.A. and we had a short, yet passionate, debate regarding the role of the United States in the world. At this point my Spanish was starting to sound quite coherent and I was proud of my progress in the first 2 months of the exchange semester.

Once on the bus Marta – the person who aided me in getting my replacement phone out of customs – began to address the group of around 20-30 students. We had known that our meeting would be a casual-style Q&A, but none of us were expecting Marta to ask us to be the first to ask a question. After a few moments of silence following her request for an initial question, Marta called on me to ask a question first. I became tense, but remembered all the great preparation I had received from my time at Ohio State to be ready in this moment. I felt that there was a necessary need to bring a gift for the King, know that he was an active man, I decided to bring a new Ohio State Nike dry-fit hat; it seemed fitting considering I was a long way from home. With question and a hat in hand, I got off the bus and went towards the palace.

The palace was a beautiful place, incredibly regal with fine accents. For a building for nation leader, it was right in line with my expectations in terms of its exquisiteness. As we were waiting for our appointment with the King, we waited in an anteroom and were prepped as to what the proceedings for the meeting would be. I handed my gift over to an assistant to the king, and we began to make a line for our entrance and formal handshake.

After a wonderful procession into the room, we were there. King Felipe VI was very gracious and received us regally. With a firm handshake and a slight bow, I greeted the king with a formal Su Majestad (Your Majesty), it was an incredible experience. Once the proceedings began, time seemed to rapidly pass by. After speeches from the Rector of my exchange university, King Felipe VI, and a single student representative the Q&A had commenced. Without fail, the entire room was looking to me as I stretched my Spanish skills to its maximum. After a minute long speech in Spanish I politely asked the King if I could ask my question in English, I did not want to ask a complex question and receive a response in a language I didn’t have total mastery of yet! He graciously accepted, and provided an incredibly thorough response, I was incredibly impressed by his breadth of knowledge.

He did the same for the rest of the students, each response was carefully crafted and expertly explained. what was most interesting for me was his diplomatic demeanor. One could tell that he was a person who had spent much time in front of the citizens of Spain, and in negotiations with international leaders. There was a lot to learn from having the honor to observe such a well-polished individual.

I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to have met King Felipe VI, and would not have been able to have such an experience without the existence of the Fisher Semester Exchange program. I have much gratitude to both Universidad Pontificia Comillas and The Ohio State University for their partnership. Get out there and go beyond the classroom with a semester exchange!

Go, Experience, Live Abroad!

A message from Anastasia Cook to future student who are considering a semester abroad on the Student Exchange Program: Go, Experience, Live! She shares her heart filling memories and the reasons why you should go abroad to Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi in Italy.

GO. If you are considering it, but not sure if you will feel home sick, if you will make friends, you won’t like the location, or whatever reason: YOU WILL BE FINE! Exchange was seriously the BEST 5 months of my entire life. I never wanted it to end. No, this is not because I choose a blow off course load, and just partied the whole time. I went to “the Harvard of Europe” AKA Bocconi, a program only available through Fisher. This was so much better than a regular program because it was useful classes, and the professors are world recognized lecturers whom have a deep passion for their subject.

I decided to take Corporate Finance, even though it is a known “difficult” class even for full time Bocconi Students. After about a week, I found myself reading the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times in my free time, not only because it helped me during our open discussions in class, but also because I was shocked that I could actually fully understand what the articles were saying. Not only this, but we were given two case studies throughout the semester that were from Harvard and Stanford. These studies also brought real life situations into the classroom, thus showing us the applicability of finance in everyday business life. Some classes were harder than others, but now this is a school I am going to apply to, for my MBA; pretty cool.

Besides the school, THE PEOPLE. All I can say is: my best friends are Swedish, Norwegian, German, and Italian after this short time period. I have already booked a flight back to Europe during the summer to visit my friends that I have made. When you combine many people from all over the world, its not a lonely feeling. People are so keen on meeting as many people as they can, and genuinely want to get to know you. We started out attending international student events that Italian students held, to throwing our own events that the Italians then came to. It was so cool to see how you find your “group”. Trust me, you will never be alone.

I have to mention the Erasmus student group here, because they truly got me out of my shell. I went to speed dating, social nights, and weekend trips to Tuscany with this group. From this, I ended up planning a 2 week long spring break in the South of Italy with some of the people I had meet through this group. My favorite memory that I had from one of my trips was going to Morocco, four wheeling in the Sahara Desert and then spending the night at a desert camp.

If you couldn’t tell already, I studied in Italy. Milan to be exact. Many people at first were shocked that this was not “so quaint” and filled with cobble stone streets, but it was SO MUCH MORE. One of the least touristy cities in Italy, thus filled with actual Italian culture, and hidden secrets that one would only know of if they actually went to school there. I HIGHLY recommend this city and this program. I took friends from home around to some of my new favorite places and although it was not the Colosseum, I swear they liked it way better than the tourist traps.

I am tearing up writing this, because I would give anything in the world to go back even just for one more week. GO, EXPERIENCE, LIVE!!! It goes by so fast, so really try to soak up every single moment…. You’ll never get a chance like this again.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!”


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!

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.21.05 PM

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.
Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.20.10 PM