Welcome to Strasbourg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intro to Ireland – My first few weeks adventuring in Ireland

As Grace Hutchinson starts her semester at Trinity College in Ireland, she shares her first adventures landing on the Irish island. From starting at her new school to traveling to amazing sites in Ireland.

For Fall Semester 2016 I decided to embark on the adventure on the Student Exchange Program. I chose Trinity College Dublin, located not surprisingly in Dublin, Ireland. I should tell you this is not my first visit to Ireland so I didn’t experience the usual culture shock (i.e. outlets must be switched on for them to work and driving on the other side of the road.) I actually have dual citizenship with the U.S. and Ireland as my father moved to the states for work, were in an adorable fashion he meet my mom. I have traveled to Ireland throughout my life visiting family, but I really wanted the chance to experience what normal long-term everyday life was like. You never really see the whole story of a city’s when you are a tourist. I was kind of shocked to find that a few students also studying abroad here were in the same situation as me, and had similar stories of visiting family throughout the years.

Croke Park: the national stadium where all GAA finals are or the All Irelands. GAA sports include Hurling and Gaelic football.

When I got my acceptance letter I started to worry about the logistics of finding classes and how to register for them, knowing that the European school system would be very different from what I am used to at OSU. How would I get to campus and navigate the paper-based registration system? I was directed by past exchange students to take a look at the Semester Startup Program (SSP) and would recommend it for anyone thinking of exchanging to Trinity. The SSP program helps international students not only get a good intro to Trinity, before the mass of students arrive, but also includes lectures that cover Ireland’s history, culture, and global connections. I have learned some things that even my dad didn’t know. For example, did you know that Ireland was one of the only countries in Europe to consistently have gender equal migration? We also visited some amazing sights including Croke Park, Trim castle and the Hill of Tara. Those are all must see places for anyone venturing to Ireland. (Croke Park: the national stadium where all GAA finals are or the All Irelands. GAA sports include Hurling and Gaelic football.)

Some of the work you will have to do in SSP is the graded assignments, three papers to be exact, as well as lectures every day. They haven’t been too overwhelming and I have to admit they have been a great introductory to U.K. spelling and Trinity’s Citation Policy as well as prepare me for school to start. My papers so far have been on W.B. Yeats and Robert Emmet, two people I really didn’t know about until this class. But don’t worry there has been plenty of time to explore and we have already wondered outside Dublin to the seaside town of Dalkey. We saw castles and boats but no dolphins. It also was not raining for our day of exploration which in Ireland is a very rare thing indeed.

Taught my new friends O-H-I-O, taken in the small town of Dalkey right outside Dublin

When I first saw Trinity as a kid I though it looked like a castle, I really couldn’t imagine it as a school. Now that I am here and classes are about to start I still can’t see how people stay focused when the campus is so pretty and historical. Trinity is a lot smaller than OSU and it is completely fenced in with about three ways in, so I am really looking forward to the day when I learn how to avoid the many tourists that come to Trinity daily. I must now accidently be in so many trip photos. As of now, though, I’m currently working on my final paper for SSP and trying not to worry about signing up for classes, which I can’t do until the week before they start.

What to Expect from 2017 SBGL

In preparation for his 2017 program, Dr. Neil Drobny reflects on his experience directing the 2016 Sustainable Business Global Lab in Denmark and The Netherlands.

The opportunity to develop and lead the Global Lab in sustainability is one of the highlights of my teaching career at Ohio State.  And the decision to concentrate the experience on sustainable business practices in Denmark and The Netherlands was icing on the cake.

I have known for many years that physical, cultural and other factors in Europe have intersected to create conditions ripe for innovation and development of sustainable business practice.  The Global Lab experience was an opportunity to validate and observe what I had come to know only through reading and second hand information.  Similarly it was an opportunity to reinforce with students information that I had presented in the classroom.

During their time in Rotterdam, 2016 SBGL students met with representatives of Unilever to discuss the implications of sustainability in new product development.

The mix of visits to diverse business and cultural sites worked well together in conveying that sustainable practices are well integrated into everyone’s work and non-work lives.  We learned for example from Unilever, whose world headquarters in Rotterdam we visited, that an early consideration of all new product development is what the sustainability benefits and footprint will be.   If a new product idea does not score well on sustainability metrics, it is not pursued.

In Amsterdam we saw the world’s first (experimental) solar road, a roadway with solar cells built into it.  At this point it carries only bicycles and very lightweight vehicles, but there is every reason to believe that the technology will someday be incorporated into major roadways.  It was like visiting with Thomas Edison in his lab as he worked on the first light bulb

In Copenhagen we saw the benefits of sustainability-driven thinking in city planning.  In the older part of the city building height was limited to five stories and streets were exceptionally wide. With a latitude comparable to southern Alaska, sunshine is limited.  The wide streets and limited building heights enhance the penetration of sunlight in the urban core which is well-established as a key ingredient to overall well-being and productivity.  Today the wide streets help with accommodating bicycles and street cars in addition to automobiles and pedestrians.

Interior of Pilgrim Fathers’ Church – a church in Rotterdam where passengers of the Speedwell departed for America in 1620.

Seeing the robust construction and results of careful maintenance of a 600-year old church in Rotterdam underscored that in the region things are “built to last” – a key element of sustainability.  Considerable interest was also added by the fact that the church was where the Pilgrims stayed the night before they “shoved off” for their voyage across the Atlantic.

For 2017 we will build on the success of the 2016 program by adding a visit to Lund University in Sweden and working with visit hosts to fine tune visits in coordination with course material in advance of the trip.

Design Like the Danes

In studying the successful sustainability of Denmark and The Netherlands, Robin Iritz got a lesson in design theory with FCOB’s Sustainable Business Global Lab.

A culture of thoughtfulness sits behind every feature in Copenhagen, Denmark. The same can be said for Rotterdam and Amsterdam in The Netherlands. I traveled these cities in May 2016 as one of 25 climate-conscious Buckeyes. We observed innovative design at each carefully planned city corner.

In the US, sustainability is still securing its legitimacy as an essential consideration in our evolving communities. In Northern Europe, it’s always been in the culture. Our group visited seven influential businesses and universities with the goal of understanding how Europe continuously tops the environmental and social well-being charts. Put simply, what makes these guys so good at solving complex public problems?

It’s all in the design.

2016 SBGL students at Nordic Food Lab testing a grasshopper-based soy sauce alternative.

It seems as though Danish and Dutch cultures are focused on doing things absolutely right. Everything right. Objects, traffic patterns, personal interactions, all of it is designed with a specific purpose and function. Our group understood this at the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen where the principles of sensory experience, functionality, and reflection were presented as important features of successful product-service experiences. This kind of design theory can be applied to any product, service, and professional interaction to create a meaningful experience. At Nordic Food Lab, it was applied to distilling grasshoppers into a nutrient rich soy sauce alternative.

We saw design again in the rapidly developing island Amager in Copenhagen where sustainable architecture is absorbing population growth and minimizing the environmental impact of greater population density. We saw design in incredible works of art throughout the many museums we toured in our free time. Design shined from the steel bridges crossing the river and canals in Rotterdam. The bridges are designed to look like the ships passing through Europe’s busiest port city.

2016 SBGL students tour facilities at Amager Ressource Center (ARC) in Copenhagen, Denmark.

My friends and I spent nights in hotel lobbies trying to figure out how to make sustainability as attractive in America as it was in our host cities. After tossing around ideas of flashy advertisement campaigns and political calls to action, we realized that nobody ever “sold” sustainability to the Scandinavians. Rather, it developed there out of geographical conditions, availability of natural resources, and a culture of collectivism. To instill such values quickly in Americans is a lofty endeavor. However, I think that our constraints are changing as a result of climate change and social and political pressure. The changing environment could catalyze innovative technology and community development in such a way that we develop our own brand of sustainability. What American Sustainability will look like is up to how we understand and adapt to our unique challenges.

Understanding the European’s approach to sustainable design has taught me how to deconstruct a problem and build the solution from its parts. Their responses to ever-changing limitations are at once inspired, effective, and efficient. My time in Europe was eye opening and a total blast. (Did I mention how well designed the nightlife is?) I couldn’t bring the culture of sustainability home but what I bring back to OSU this fall is a new point of view and a cool group of peers who know what it’s like to glimpse into the future.

The End in a Blink of an Eye

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

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

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

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


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

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

Thanks Europe for the time of my life.

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

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

Last day in Zanzibar

As our trip to Zanzibar came to an end, we spent the final day visiting historical sites and getting in some last minute beach time.  Stone Town is filled with interesting locales and the island itself is a crossroads of East African, European, Indian, and Arabic culture. This results in an interesting mix of architecture and a complex history.

Churches and Mosques mixed together in Stone Town
Churches and Mosques mixed together in Stone Town


The West side of the town is a maze a tiny streets that can be difficult to navigate, but exploring the city is well worth the effort.  Each turn reveals art stands, boutiques, corner cafes, historic sites, and locals willing to chat.  While the weather and scenery are beautiful, some of the cities more somber landmarks point to a checkered past.  We took a guided tour of the old slave market, and it was a sobering experience to understand how bad the conditions had been and learn about the huge volume of people who passed through the slave markets of Zanzibar.

Our guide shows how slaves were collared down in holding pits.  This room was meant for 75 women and children.
Our guide shows how slaves were collared down in holding pits. This room was meant for 75 women and children and there’s little to see of it outside this picture.
Monument outside the old market.
Monument outside the old market.
Anglican Church outside the market.  The British were instrumental in ending the slave trade in Zanzibar.
Anglican Church outside the market. The British were instrumental in ending the slave trade in Zanzibar.

After touring the town, we hired a local cab to take us to the East side of the island and Pongwe beach.  We found out the hard way that the tourist season hadn’t started yet, and most the hotels with beach access were still closed.  Luckily, our cab driver was willing to press on. After a drive through the town of Pongwe, we came across the Zanzibar Rock Resort.  We sat down to have lunch and were able to walk down to the water right from the resort’s sea side restaurant.  (I’m not a paid sponsor of the Zanzibar Rock Resort, but I would highly recommend staying there if you ever end up on the island.)

I would have taken more pictures but I was too busy enjoying the beach
I would have taken more pictures but I was too busy enjoying the beach

We were sad to say goodbye, but eventually we had to jump back in the taxi and head to the airport.  Visiting Zanzibar was a great time and the perfect way to wrap up the team’s last week in Africa.

Traveling Smart with Your Smartphone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing hugs and tears – Red Terror and the human spirit

This post was written by Javed Cheema

Javed and Ale
Javed and Ale

Ale and I went sightseeing on my last full day in Addis. Our guide whom we affectionately called Madame Mebrat accompanied us. We didn’t really have a plan except that we wanted to see the unseen Addis. Oh, what a great day it turned out to be.

First, we went to the Ethiopian version of the local convention center, which was set up in a few large tents in what seemed like an open garden. This was a total chance discovery. Only later was my initial surprise to be revealed of having been frisked lightly at the entrance of the garden. We heard a band playing in the distance and we headed towards it to see a small crowd of people lining up against a red carpet. There were dance troupes representing the welcoming party dressed in the different ethnic outfits of Ethiopia. Large 4x4s would come in every few minutes and well dressed people in suits would disembark and head towards another tent of suited people sitting in front of a make shift stage. Later we found out that these were actually ministers of the state and the whole wait was for the prime minister himself to show up! They were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the liberation from the brutal Derg regime of communists.

We milled around for a while and then headed out of the garden towards the Red Terror Museum. I didn’t know what to expect and was totally unprepared for the scenes and emotions which lay ahead. Right at the entrance was a statue of an old woman, flanked by 2 younger ones with anguished expressions and tears on their faces. The plate read “NEVER, EVER AGAIN!”.

never again
never again

At the entrance was a most touching quote from this same old woman whom we found out had 4 sons slaughtered by the Communists in their prime, on a single night! The haunting quote read, “As if I bore them all in one night, They slew them in a single night!” Being a father of 3 myself, I knew what this quote meant as a parent and shuddered at the words which were a reality for this old woman.

As we got further into this rather modest but well-curated museum, we were quite shocked by the sheer capacity for barbarity in man. We discovered how over 2.5 million Ethiopians perished in the Derg period – some from a callously managed famine and others slaughtered at the hands of the army and citizen thugs. We were shown how people kept hope alive in the midst of unimaginable misery. We discovered how the students and the intellectuals were specifically targeted for barbaric torture and inhumane conditions during confinement to break their spirits and those of their fellow citizens. The “lucky” ones found a quick death.

We were shown the favorite “harsh interrogation” (aka torture) techniques that the regime had mastered in a particularly harrowing display of a hands-on human model sculpture. Many a time during the tour we almost ended our visit. The museum was too much for not just us but was even more so for Mebrat. Every few minutes, she would slip into a corner sobbing, letting her tears flow and getting a hold of her emotions. I first thought that this petite woman had an especially sensitive heart. Later I was to discover that hers was the strongest heart of us all. She shared with us that the horrors we could only imagine in faded pictures and descriptive words were actually hers in real life. Her own husband had suffered the brutality first hand. She had lost many a smiling friend to the 17-year-long horror of the Derg regime.

Another particularly harrowing exhibit was that of several glass cabinets filled with the remains of mass graves – tattered blankets, clothes, shoes, watches, rings, etc were the personal belongings of the victims. Another room had cabinets filled with human remains – skulls, teeth and bones. We were told that these represented a tiny fraction of mass graves that actually existed. Our wise tour guide made a decision to tactfully steer Mebrat away from this room as it might have been just too horrific of a memory for her.

We left the museum and walked in solemn silence for a while. We hugged each other and thanked Madame for sharing her sorrow with us. We made a real connection of humanity amongst us. Our hearts felt heavy but our spirits felt strong. I felt the weight of the resolve from the powerful words of the statue: “NEVER, EVER, AGAIN!”

PS. the Derg were toppled with US help to the rebels in the early nineties. Our visit happened to mark the 20th anniversary of this. That is why the Prime Minister was visiting the garden earlier!

Entoto Maryam Church

Wednesday 5/21/14

On Wednesday morning we met with Dr. Hailu for our final presentation. He offered helpful suggestions for improvement, and we all felt satisfied by our work and his feedback.

In the afternoon, Dr. Hailu accompanied us to Entoto Maryam Church, a beautiful old building located up a winding forested road at the top of Addis. This is where original capital was, since it served as a strategic overlook, and where King Menelik II was crowned in the late 1800s. We saw many women carrying large bundles of firewood on their back up the hilly roads.

blue wall
blue wall
princes(s) entrance
princes(s) entrance
memorial wall
memorial wall
where to go?
where to go?

Afterwards, we did some shopping at the wholesale market Shiro Meda, where Danny and Niraj finally bought their Ethiopia soccer jerseys at a reasonable price.

Shiro Meda
Shiro Meda

We ate at the Lime Tree Cafe for dinner, a popular place with expats. We were excited by the sign reading that they wash their vegetables in bleach water, hurrah! Because then we could finally eat a salad, which we shared with gusto. It was the first time we’d eaten raw vegetables in almost three weeks. (Because the water they wash vegetables with is not safe for us to drink, we’ve been avoiding raw vegetables since arriving here.)

Finally we dropped Katie and Niraj off at the airport, who are leaving early for prior commitments. The trip is really beginning to wind down!

Lucy, and Looking Away

Sunday we worked for a few hours in the morning because our deliverable to the GAP office was due today. By the afternoon we felt ready for a break, so most of us went to the National Museum of Ethiopia, where the fossils of Lucy and other early hominds are kept. The Awash region of Ethiopia is home to many ancient fossil discoveries, and we were lucky to see some of them.

Katie + Ardi = BFF
Katie + Ardi = BFF

After the museum, a few of us went to a cafe across the street and ordered some coffee, tea and pastries. The doughnut was one of the best we’ve ever had!

Awesome doughnut!
Awesome doughnut!

After yesterday’s excursion to the textile shops, the guys wanted to do a little masculine shopping, so off to Churchill Avenue we went in search of some swords and wooden objects. We pulled up to a small stretch of vendors which had many poor people asking for money outside of them. Several of the people were tiny children. After two weeks here, I still can’t get used to that, and my heart goes out to every kid. They touch their hands to their lips, indicating, “Give me food,” and hold their palms open, ready for us to place something in it. But we don’t, because we don’t really have food with us, and if we give anything, we will immediately be swarmed.


And that’s exactly what happened. After about 45 minutes of shopping and haggling prices with the help of our local guide Mebrat, we got in the van and all the beggars pressed up against the sides of the vehicle, talking through the windows, asking for food, or to sell us one more item. I closed my eyes, I could not look at them. I had to look away.

We drove off to dinner, to a comfortable night in our lovely hotel, to a night full of dreams.