17 Things I Noticed During My First Month Abroad

While her semester in Spain on the Student Exchange Program, Michaela Santalucia shares the differences she observed in Spanish culture and U.S. Culture, from eating habits, social norms, and daily expectations!

In my first few weeks in Madrid, I noticed some interesting differences between Spanish culture and U.S. Culture. Rather than writing paragraphs, I decided to make it a list so that everyone can reference it easily. All of these are in no particular order of importance or relevance.

  1. Mayonnaise– The mayonnaise in Spain and most of Europe is much different compared to what we have in the United States. Also, Europeans put it on a lot more stuff (for example, many people dip their fries in mayo and ketchup which if you have not tried is magical). At one of the first events of the semester, I watched many Spaniards pass around bottles of ketchup and mayo instead of ketchup and mustard and I knew something was up. I was hoping to be able to bring some Spanish mayo back to the U.S., but my suitcase was already full, so I do not get to keep this delicacy around. However, I think it is better than what we have in the U.S., so I am exploring import options for the good of everyone.
  2. Phones are older– Spaniards are not constantly buying the newest smartphones. While I was there, there was still a decent amount of advertisements for the iPhone 7, and a majority of available cases were for the 6,7 and 8. My guess is that because Spain’s economy is not the strongest, their first priority is not buying the newest smartphones, but it was still an interesting comparison to the United States.
  3. Hiring/firing practices– From my understanding, it is incredibly difficult to get both hired and fired and Spain. This is because the firing process is nearly impossible, so they have to make sure early on that you are not a risk.
  4. Grocery store styles– There are stores every 2-3 blocks that fit different needs. The traditional grocery stores are incredibly small and carry 1-2 brands of every product. However, there are tons of specific stores also. There are an equal number of fresh produce, fish, meat, and bakery stores interspersed between the grocery stores. Spaniards generally shop more frequently than we do in the U.S. because their kitchens have less storage space and they place a higher value on fresh goods.
  5. Pharmacies– There are literally pharmacies on every corner, and medicine is relatively easy to get. However, they give you an entire package of medication instead of just a few pills so that can seem overwhelming.
  6. Spanish Hours– In Madrid, the days start later and go a lot slower than in the U.S. On a Saturday, you won’t see anyone outside walking, or even on a metro until like 10 a.m. Why does that happen you may ask? In Spain, bars and clubs are open until 6 a.m. and many people will stay up that late hanging out with friends no matter their age.
  7. Old people living their best lives– There are more elderly people out and about it Spain than in the U.S. There are entire restaurants, clubs, bars, and parks where the elderly are known to congregate and hang out together. This is just something we don’t see as much in the U.S.
  8. Trash/recycling things– In Madrid since everyone lives in apartments, the trash is done in larger groupings. Every night, the landlord of each building wheels out trash bins for organic waste and normal waste. Then, between the hours of 11 p.m.- 2 a.m. every night (except Saturdays), municipal workers come to collect it. Recycling is done with large dumpster-like containers, generally one per square block, and is separated into glass, paper/cardboard, and metal/aluminum. These are generally also picked up every night.
  9. Always cleaning the streets– Due to the number of people in Madrid on any given day, Madrid has a team of workers who are always cleaning the streets. They walk around with brooms, shovels, and trash cans and clean the streets constantly to ensure that leaves, cigarettes, and other assorted trash does not build up.
  10. American music– When I first came to Madrid, I was hoping to increase my knowledge of Spanish by hopefully learning lots of Spanish pop music. However, the majority of music played is American, which can sometimes be disappointing.
  11. No screens– None of the windows, doors, or any other pathway to the outdoors has a screen to protect you from bugs. There are basically no bugs which makes the lack of screens sensible, but it is still difficult to adjust to.
  12. No air conditioning– I never saw a house or apartment that had air conditioning, and considering it was still upper 80s into October, I could have used air conditioning.
  13. Money is different sizes and different colors– Euros are fun to adjust to.
  14. Taking a two-hour break in the middle of school every day– Most of my classes had a two-hour break in the afternoon so the professors could eat lunch and run home. Which was nice so I could also eat lunch.
  15. Lunch as the biggest meal of the day– In Spain, lunch is the biggest meal of the day. This means they prioritize eating good food at this time of the day. Also, this means they invented my favorite thing about Spain: the menu del dia. It is essentially a meal with a first course, second course, dessert, and drink all for a convenient price (usually around 10-15 euros, however, there are more expensive options available). I wish I could have brought the menu del dia back to the states with me because I got to try so many different restaurants.
  16. Ham, ham, ham– There is more ham in Spain than I ever expected. As a vegetarian, it could be a little annoying, but it was cool to see actual butcher’s processing meat.
  17. No dryers– Due to Madrid’s dry climate, most people do not feel the need to have a dryer. This means once you take your clothes out of the washing machine, you get to set it on a drying rack and let it dry for anywhere between a few hours to two days. In my opinion, this is really inconvenient because I was not responsible enough to make time for my laundry to dry.

My Global Mindset Journey So Far… and Where to Next!

After going abroad on Student Exchange and participating in the Global Option in Business program, Katelyn Mistele reflects on what she gained and what she recommends/advise to future students who aspires to have a global mindset. She also shares a glimpse of what she plans next to continue to go global!

Over the past year I have experienced so much and reflected a lot on my experiences. I have grown as an individual and in my global mindset. The purpose of this blog post is to reflect on my best experiences and ones I suggest you take, as well as determine where I am going next before I officially sign off!

A beautiful view from my trip to Killarney, Ireland!

The best experience in my personal growth and global mindset growth hands down was studying abroad for a semester on the Student Exchange Program. I became a more open-minded person and self aware. Being immersed in a whole new culture and being the minority, forces you to become open-minded and also immediately makes you more self aware. Studying abroad changed my perspective about a lot of things and I would go back and do it again in a heart beat if I could.

A photo from cross country skiing in Helsinki, Finland!

If you have the opportunity to go abroad for a month, summer, semester, or a year I suggest you do it! Fisher has great programs through Student Exchange. Additionally, I never did it but I heard the Global Internships are a great way to get exposed to other cultures as well. If your budget or schedule doesn’t permit education abroad, I would suggest you take a trip and truly immerse yourself in a culture. Stay at Airbnb’s and interact with your host, ask for suggestions, see the sight seeing stuff, but then go to a local restaurant and chat with locals to get an authentic experience (check out my blog post about this if interested). Even if any of these ideas push you out of your comfort zone, I suggest you do it. I was nervous and scared before heading over to Denmark, but it was hands down the best experience I have ever had! Also from an employer standpoint, companies love it if you have this experience. I have talked about my experience in multiple interviews. Companies love to see that you can adapt and immerse yourself into other cultures because that’s what they want to you to do with their company culture at the end of the day.

Picture from my home for five months. I miss it everyday! @Copenhagen, Denmark.

Another great opportunity I suggest everyone doing is get involved in a global club. Ohio State has SO many and I wish I got involved sooner. I am involved in the Exchange Partner Program at Ohio State. Basically I am a mentor and point of contact for an exchange student who is coming to Ohio State for a semester. I have been fortunate enough to provide mentorship to students from Italy and Japan over the past two years. I have learned so much about their cultures and even more about what other cultures think of the United States (I always ask for what their thoughts on Americans are and how these have changed since they’ve been here). I wish I would have gotten involved in more because there is so much that Ohio State offers and everyone is so willing to share their culture with us!

Check out Global Option in Business, if any of the above interests you. It is a certification program through Ohio State that helps foster your global mindset. I am in the process of finishing it out right now. It requires you to take part in a education abroad experience, global club and activities, as well as global courses. So the best of all worlds and you get a certificate to show employers that you have made efforts and have grown in your global mindset.

Berlin Cathedral, in Berlin Germany.

From here I am graduating in May. I am not going into a career that is global right away as I will be working for an American company that has some degree of “globality” to it but I am not going to be sent on global assignments all the time. I am hoping some day that I will find myself traveling globally for work, and even maybe working in a different country! I am going to keep traveling and culture seeking (planning my next trip right now)! I am still keeping in contact and growing my global network. I am hoping that all I have learned and my growth does not plateau after I graduate, but instead increases exponentially as I can apply what I learned through Fisher and Global Option in the real world. I am going to stay “hungry for culture” and I can’t thank Fisher and Ohio State enough for revealing and harvesting one of my new found true passions!

Enjoying sweet treats in Tallinn, Estonia!

Networking…. Globally!

Network, network, network… Katelyn Mistele has heard this at OSU, but felt the need and benefits of networking abroad even more as she was on the Student Exchange Program in Denmark! Read her advise on what she did and wished she have done while abroad on networking with peers and professionals.

“Today it’s all about who you know not what you know.”

“Network, network, network.”

We hear it all the time, and I’ve even experienced it but networking is an essential and integral part of today’s business environment.  I personally have experienced the impacts of networking, and challenged myself when I was abroad to network on a global scale. During my time in Denmark I was able to begin to create my network of global individuals, but there is still a lot of room to grow. In this post I talk about networking on a global scale, and tips for things I didn’t do during my time in Denmark, but wish I did.

Networking with Peers

When studying at a large business university, networking happens naturally. If you get 500 plus exchange students at a university that is 20,000 plus students from all over the world there to solely study business networking occurs naturally. A lot of times I found myself sharing stories about my previous internships with other students and they would do the same. At the end of the day I left Denmark with a lot of new LinkedIn connections, and a new network of individuals who I could potentially connect with again in the future.

I personally have found a lot of my job opportunities through networking. I always ask individuals what they do for a living and share my aspirations and experiences with them at the end of the conversation too. I have found that people love talking about their careers and/or goals, and if you act curious it could result in a connection that could benefit you in the future. This is what I did with a lot of my peers abroad. While the relationships might not benefit me right now in the future, if I decide to make a career change I now have a large network of individuals from all over the world who could possibly assist in this.

A photo of some of my abroad peers.  Students from Michigan, Boston, South Carolina, and Canada!

 

Networking with Professors/Professionals

I wish I would have taken my networking skills to the next level and connected with my professors at my university. At the time I didn’t have aspirations to work abroad but now when I am searching out a full time career this is something that is on my radar that wasn’t before. A lot of the professors at Copenhagen Business School were from all over the world and were expatriates too, so they would have been able to help me navigate if a global career is for me and how to navigate the legalities of making this reality. I suggest to anyone studying abroad to connect with your professors! They could be a powerful resource in the future.

Social Benefits of Networking

Apart from networking from a career standpoint there is a lot of benefits of socially networking as well. I was able to connect with people from all over the world even prior to leaving for Denmark. I also make an effort to get individuals contact information who I meet. I was able to leverage these individuals I met for not only suggestions and recommendations, but potentially to stay with them if I travel to their home country. Prior to leaving for Denmark I met exchange students at Ohio State from the Netherlands and Italy and while I didn’t end up connecting with them in person while I was in Europe, they were able to provide me with travel suggestions and tips for when I visited their country. At the end of the day culture sharing is so important and a part of daily life in Europe, so these individuals want to connect with you (I wrote a post on culture sharing earlier feel free to look for it if you’re interested!). One of my connections I met from the Netherlands even invited me to her home to dine with her family. While I didn’t end up being able to take advantage of this opportunity, it was a powerful feeling knowing that I had made a connection that was this ingrained. All of these connections I made was simply by being curious!

If studying abroad or even just traveling I urge you to network, network, network! Whether socially or professionally, both of these types of relationships can help you in the future. Even if it’s not on your radar yet! So go network abroad and at home!!

A photo from students from schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota!

Hygge – The Danish Way!

While in Denmark on the Student Exchange Program, Katelyn Mistele discovered a “hygge” way of life, and still carries this with her as she returns from abroad! She attempts to share this feeling of “hygge” in three parts: light and mood, relationships, and the way of life.

The most fundamentally unique and beautiful aspect of the Danish culture is “hygge”. Hygge cannot be translated into English, but it has been attempted, and most simply it translates to English as “cozy”, but hygge is much more than that. The concept of hygge has stuck with me long after my time in Denmark, and has influenced the way I live my life. I will attempt to describe the feeling of hygge in three parts: light and mood, relationships, and the way of life.

Hygge is commonly describe in Denmark by the lighting and mood of a place. Hygge spaces are dimly lit with tons of candles. Spaces are designed for close seating with your friends and family. Copenhagen is known for its coffee shop scene and many of these coffee shops had a hygge feel to them. This feeling of the space makes it feel extremely cozy and homey which at the end of the day the Danes would describe as hygge. Also when in these spaces it is not common to see the Danes engrossed in their cell phones. Instead you will see groups of people having coffee for upwards of two hours and just taking the time to be present with each other. I had the opportunity to get coffee with a few individuals from Denmark and this was my experience with all of them.

Even some of the Danish cuisine at restaurants had the hygge feel to them. There’s nothing more cozy than eating eggs out of a teacup! Kalaset restaurant Copenhagen, Denmark.
My favorite coffee shop chain in Scandanvia: Coffee Industry Sweden! This coffee shop really sums up the feeling and lighting of hygge for me!

The other part of hygge that is extremely important is the importance of friends and families in ones life. A lot of times Danes and people will describe hygge as spending time with friends and family. The Danish culture places a strong emphasis on the importance of close relationships. This is why at first the Danes can appear cold and not open. Danes would prefer to have a close knit group of friends as opposed to a large network as we commonly see here in the United States. At the end of the day a dinner party with lots of candles and ones family would be a perfect example of hygge.

Lastly hygge at the end of the day is a way of life. The emphasis on creating a cozy environment for one to live in with their close friends and family is a way of life for the Danish people. It is a life that is rooted in the simplicity and act of just being present in the environment with those around you. It is truly hard to explain the way of Danish culture and hygge in words.

Even drinking free coffee samples in the streets of downtown Copenhagen can feel hygge!

For me personally I took all the aspects of hygge I learned and lived and internalized it. There is nothing quiet like this concept anywhere else in the world. Hygge has its core concepts but the part that makes it unique is that it isn’t “translatable” it is at the end of the day a feeling that you can interpret and live any way you want. Personally, I found hygge in placing a close emphasis on relationships but instead of being trapped inside with my candles I found the same feeling when I was in Denmark at one of the many parks in the city. Just taking the time to be in an environment with my close friends made me feel hygge.

A photo my friend captured during our 3 hour coffee stop! Very hygge!

Back in the United State it is hard to find this hygge. I have become a lot more self aware in my personal relationships with my friends and family and placed importance on all of these relationships. Also I do find myself lighting a lot more candles! To me hygge is all about taking time to realize what’s important and blocking out what is not. To you hygge might be something completely different but at the end of the day just remember that hygge should make you feel at home and cozy! Go find your hygge!

To show you all how much I loved and appreciated this aspect of the Danish culture I’ll show you all a photo of a tattoo I received in Denmark. This symbol is from the Danish coin, the korona. To me this symbol means hygge and I want to carry this piece of Danish culture and the Danish way with me always! It’s a powerful thing!!

Reverse Culture Shock… It’s Real!

Reflecting on her return back to the U.S. after her Student Exchange Program to Denmark, Katelyn Mistele, shares her insights in experiencing reverse culture shock – culture shock you feel coming back home.

It has been officially five months since I have been back from my exchange experience in Denmark, and it still crosses my mind every day. My love for traveling, culture, and Denmark was solidified in a way I never thought was possible, and it still effects me everyday. We were all warned about the potential impacts of culture shock and reverse culture shock, but my self personally never gave much thought to the latter. I thought I would be itching to get back to normality and Ohio State, but instead leaving Denmark I was not looking forward to getting back to reality I was dragging my feet in every way possible to hold onto the five months I spent in Europe.

Beautiful cobblestone streets of downtown Copenhagen!

It’s interesting I never really went through a huge culture shock when I arrived in Denmark. I wasn’t really anticipating anything out of the ordinary when I arrived. I went in with a very open mind. Slight nuances in the Danish culture surprised me. For example, I wasn’t anticipating everyone to be speaking Danish all of the time there was little English present. I never would categorize any part of the culture as a shock though. I was open to new experiences and a new way of life and I suggest everyone who goes abroad to try to do this. There isn’t really a way you can prepare for it to successfully be open-minded but I found success in simply being aware of the differences and asking the Danes when I wanted to know why.

Culture sharing in Europe is more prominent than it is here. Individuals love to share their culture and learn more about yours. I had a few Danish friends who were so interested in America and satisfied my hunger for the “why” for aspects of their culture. For example I got coffee with a Danish friend for almost two hours and we discussed the differences in Danish and American culture. We chatted about everything from the different methods of grocery shopping to politics! I also had the opportunity to go into a Danish high school and learn more about their culture (see my blog post on this if you’re interested)! Culture sharing is so powerful and present in Europe, so take advantage of it! This also helps mitigate culture shock if you view it as a learning experience rather than throwing yourself into a new culture and trying to live.

A common street sight that you will experience from anywhere in downtown Copenhagen!

At the other end of this “culture sharing” is the return to home and the culture shock that comes along with it. Pieces in the American culture that used to be so normal, now seems obscure. For example, everywhere in Europe charged you for grocery bags. It was expected for everyone to be environmental and sustainable and bring their own bags. Also I feel as if the American culture isn’t open to new ideas. I mentioned this to people, the bag policy, they often scoffed and said that’s a hassle or they might say it’s a good idea but they were never going to take the time and effort to do it. I don’t want to stereotype the American culture as being close minded or “bad”, but my personal interactions with this idea is that the American culture is often very “near sighted” and think the American way is always the best.

In Europe individuals are curious about our cultures and practices, whereas American’s in general seem to be rooted in our own ways and not open to “culture sharing” and change. I personally fell into this stereotype of American’s that I held too, prior to going to Europe. I always thought we did it best here. In a way the reverse culture shock to me has helped me grow as an individual. The experience of my exchange program helped me become more self aware and open minded but the reverse culture shock has solidified these aspects.

One of the quieter canals in Copenhagen!

So yes, reverse culture shock is real! It’s not necessarily bad however. Dealing with it now I am urging myself to embrace it just as I did for culture shock abroad and use it to my advantage to help myself solidify by new found self-awareness and open-mindedness. I am finding myself craving traveling and planning new trips, but however I am also finding myself craving new experiences. I am a part of a group on campus that connects foreign exchange students with a mentor on campus. I am currently a mentor to a Japanese student who is here for a year and this helps with the reverse culture shock as I still find myself being exposed to new ideas and participating in this constant conversation of culture sharing. I am also pursuing a degree in international business in addition to my operations management degree so I find myself fully engaged in these courses too because at the end of the day they are all rooted in culture sharing and the discussion of different business practices all over the world.

Hamlet’s Castle in Denmark. This castle is what Shakespeare based the location of Hamlet off of!

Tips for overcoming reverse culture shock:

  1. Plan your next trip! — get excited about trying to experience other cultures, and invite your family and friends to join you! However this isn’t always feasible so see the other tips below…
  2. Find a cultural group — There are many groups on campus that all have a different culture to them and can help continue to foster the new sense of open-mindedness you might have gained from being abroad. Even groups that aren’t necessarily full of exchange students, but a group that is focus on heritage of a different culture can help in decreasing your reverse culture shock!
  3. Use your peers — Your peers that went abroad that is. My friends will honestly probably say they get tired of my abroad stories but the people that don’t are my friends from abroad or my other peers within the Fisher Exchange Program. Use these people and chat about your experiences it can help alleviate the reverse culture shock.
  4. Embrace it — Experience a different culture and way of life is a powerful thing. Don’t look at reverse culture shock negatively instead look at it as a learning experience and help break down some of the stereotypes that exist saying that “American’s are close minded people who think their way is the best”. Use your experience to your advantage!

 

My Experiences in a Global Work Environment

Katelyn Mistele shares her experience working for a global company and how being culturally aware led to her success in her job. From working in a diverse team to working across borders, she says that being open-minded and receptive to different communication styles is critical to gain the respect of co-workers, to build your credibility, and to become a desired team member within the company!

With globalization impacting nearly ever industry and a lot of the companies that operate in a global environment it is inevitable that at one point in your career you will be a part of a global team or a team that does business with individuals from all across the globe. I have been fortunate enough to have had professional experience working both with global teams and on a global team myself and the communication style and dynamic is truly different and extremely important in facilitating project success.

The past two summers I worked at Rockwell Automation which is a large multinational corporation headquartered out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Rockwell operates in the industrial automation industry producing equipment and software that is used to automate manufacturing lines. Two summers ago I worked on a culturally diverse team within the inside sales department, and this past summer I worked in the logistics department and had a boss from Europe and high levels of interaction with logistics teams all across the world. Both of these experiences have taught me a great deal of how to work and communicate effectively with global teams.

My first summer with Rockwell placed me on a culturally diverse team. My boss was Indian by heritage raised in a household by immigrant parents. I had a team member from Russia, and also a team member who was raised in a traditional Mexican environment as his parents were immigrants as well. This added to a lot of diverse cultures, all operating towards the common goal of the team. I had high degrees of interaction with my boss and my coworker from Russia and I learned a lot about interacting with individuals from other cultures.

For starters the conversations with my boss were a lot more of a teaching style than what I have encountered in the past. My boss never was extremely direct in saying yes or no. After doing some research on the Indian’s communication culture the word “no” is considered very direct and hostile. Instead in the Indian culture individuals tend to have open discussions with each other and respect and place value in opinions that might oppose their own. I truly did see this when reflecting on my experience at Rockwell. My boss, even though I was completely new to the team and industry, always valued my ideas and wanted our dialog to be open in nature.

On the other hand, I experienced a dramatically different communication style with my team member from Russia. She was extremely direct and to the point and wouldn’t waver in telling me if a process I was using was wrong. This was helpful as she was training me on the customer relationship management platform, so we were able to accomplish a lot in a short period of time, but it did take some adjusting to the “directness” of her communication style. This summer my experience was great in exposing me to these differences that exist within teams and how they communicate. It was great exposure that allowed me to be successful in my second internship with Rockwell.

My second summer allowed me to have high degrees of interactions with teams from all over the world. Specifically, I had to contact teams in Brazil, Netherlands, and China and for each of these teams I approached these conversations very differently. I used the awareness I developed in my previous summer in order to be successful.

The very high level project I was working on required me to reach out to teams spanning the global and get data from them from their logistics departments. I knew that I had to be cognizant of the cultures I was dealing with due to my prior experiences with globally diverse teams. When approaching individuals in Europe I would explain high level why I needed the data because otherwise I found it common that they would ask why before providing what was needed. It was important to explain yourself whereas in the United States my team members would never explain themselves they would just expect it to get done. For the teams in the Asia Pacific region I had to reach out to it was important for me to be extremely clear in what metrics I needed since I found out quickly they had a different way of collecting data in their region. For example in the United States we were using $/lb, Europe was $/kg, and China had a metric cpk which was their own way of collecting data that they had to interpret for me. Finally, for those team members in Latin America I had to be more friendly and open to their family experiences. For example, one individual I was working with had to leave work at 2:00pm every day for her children and so our meetings had to be prior to this time. The Latin American working culture and family culture are much more intertwined in Brazil as opposed to the United States, so I had to be aware of this.

Additionally, another thing I had to take into consideration was the time difference. We communicated a lot via email, but these conversations would span over a few days when if they had taken place within the US the conversations would have lasted a  day or two. Additionally, I had to have calls with those in Europe at 8am my time, so they could call in before leaving the office for the day.

The main take away from this post and my experience is to be open-minded and receptive to communication styles. They truly do differ from country to country, and it doesn’t take much time on our end to adjust our style and be adaptable to others we are working with. At the end of the day by showing effort of doing this will gain the respect of those you are working with. Also, it not only facilitates project success, but also builds up your credibility and desirability as a working employee of a global workforce. I personally love working in diverse environments because it is challenging and I always learn a lot not only about other cultures but also about myself, so I am hoping that I will be able to continue this in my future career.

Below are some photos from my time in Europe on Fisher’s Student Exchange Program, since I know this post was text heavy. I have the cultural differences I realized regarding communication in my captions to further emphasize just how difference this piece is in difference regions of the world!

Photo from London, England. While we often think London is super similar to the United States it’s interesting to see small every day words having different meanings. The most obvious is “chips” meaning french fries in England as opposed to actual french fries like we think in the United States. In addition a “lift” is an elevator in Britain.
A photo from Burano, Italy which is off the coast of Venice, Italy. The Italian culture is very family oriented. I often found myself in family owned restaurants and stores, and being greeted in a warm fashion. Additionally, Italians are very passionate and boisterous and this leads to a different type of communication style.

 

Denmark, and Scandinavian cultures, had a very different culture when it came to communication than what we experience here in the United States. For starters from an outsiders perspective they come off very cold, but at the end of the day the Danes just value close relationships and it is tough to gain that level of trust with them. I would often find myself at the grocery store asking the clerk how they were and they would laugh in response. I finally asked someone and they said it was because they viewed my question as impersonal as I am not within their close knit circle of friends and family.

Life and Study in Strasbourg

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

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

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

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

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

French Social/Business Etiquettes

On the Students Exchange Program in Strasbourg, France, Ling Shao shares some of the social and business etiquettes she learned which you might want to be aware of if you are going to France!

I live downtown in Strasbourg and I love shopping. So you know what happened to me. I went out shopping every free day. Since I have been experiencing different shopping experiences in different countries, there are some differences that I found when people are out shopping.

People here value appearance heavily and is part of the country’s social etiquettes. This does not mean that you have to be “good-looking” but how you dress and present yourself. They value people being appropriately dressed. It is really important to bring business suits or dresses to survive in events in France and you can always buy it here. There are also a lot of dressing codes here in a lot of restaurants and bars. So if you want to enjoy and feel the real French life, be prepared for the dress code.

For formal restaurants and bars, the dress code could be at least nice shirts and trousers for boys and dresses for girls (like the dress below I am in). It is better to use a clutch or leather bag instead of canvas bags or backpacks. No sneakers, no jeans or sports pants. Overall business casual is good. There is no dress code for attending school classes. Dress codes for events are different for different events.

“La bise” is also a really important culture in France. People kiss each others’ cheek when they meet, especially for people who you already have a good relationship with. This is not only for friends though, but you might also need to do it when you had a really good business partner.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trying to be a local in Strasbourg, France

Starting life in Strasbourg on the Student Exchange Program, Ling Shao shares how she tries to live like a local in her new city in France! Get her insight on her housing, shopping, and commute in the city.

After adjusting my jet-lag, landing in Starsbourg, France, I started an “adventure” in my neighborhood. I live in downtown Strasbourg and I found it through “housing anywhere”. Accommodation on this website might be a little expensive but acceptable compared to US housing prices. If you know someone who is good at understanding French, it may be better to look for accommodation through “leboncoin”. The places I have is a really cozy and good loft and I really enjoy it. Except that you will not have dryers, only drying stands for your laundry. However, if you really need to wash large stuff, you can go to the public laundry spots which might cost you about 7-8 euros depending on your quantity and sizes.

The architecture here combine French and German styles which is exactly what you might imagine how Europe would look like. There are so many fashion shops and restaurants near me and they all close really late, almost after 12 am, which is really different from the US. It is so convenient to live here except for Sundays. Nearly all of the shops and restaurants close on Sundays! So, Grocery shop should be done before or after Sundays. Popular Grocery brands are “Auchan”, “U express” and “Carrefour city”. They usually have many branches all over the city. Just google search the closet one. The outside marché is usually held on Tuesdays at the Station “Brogile” or Station “Homme de fer” area or just next to the universities academic buildings.

The major transportation of the city is the “tram” which you can get to a lot of places within 20 minutes. It is about 25 euros/per month to get a transportation card and you can access trams and buses.  You can get your tram card after you get a student card, so  you can enjoy the student discounts. You can get your transportation card from CTS commercial agency (I bought mine at the one located in downtown just next to the F Tram stop named “alt winmarik”) or you can buy the tickets at the stops. It is the major transportation for me to go to schools every day. Here is a photo I got from the tram station. Do not forget to swipe your card before you get on the train, because it is possible that CTS employee wants you to show them your card or ticket.

Strasbourg is a really safe city. But still be careful of your personal belongings. It is really easy to lose things in Europe!