In Bruges, Belgium

Sydney Lapin shares her adventures in Belgium, meeting the locals in Brussles and Bruges. Family dinners, an amazing hot chocolate, and a picturesque towns welcomed her to the country as she studies on the Student Exchange Program in Strasbourg, France.

Today I was thinking back to one of my first trips in January, Belgium. I had taken an overnight bus to Brussels with a few friends, and we arrived around 7:30 am. Anna, my friend from Finland, has a home is Brussels! Her parents work with the EU, and they move there every few years from what it sounds like. We were warmly welcomed into their home, and her mom had even prepared a lovely European breakfast for us! There were croissant, hard boiled eggs, yogurt and muesli, and juice. Anna’s mother spoke great English, and I was so appreciative to be around a parent again! It was like being at home a bit.

Anna showing us around Brussels!

We had a wonderful day of Anna showing us around Brussels. We took the long way to the city center, so that we could see the Parc de la Cinquentenare, (the park with the large gate that looks like the Brandenburg gate), the European Parliament, the Royal Palace, and a stunning view of Brussels near the Fine Arts Museum. We made our way toward Grand Place, where the buildings are gorgeously trimmed with gold decals. It was absolutely stunning. I think in the square alone there were four chocolate stores! Safe to say I was not dieting on this trip. But first, street waffles.

The group roaming Brussels!

We were on the hunt for the perfect street waffle. I ordered one with caramel, Belgian chocolate, and bananas. It took until I had about two bites left for me to realize it was landing like a pound of rocks in my stomach…but the taste was SO worth it!

Carly, Haley and I with our Belgian Waffles!

We walked around a bit more, and had planned to go home and relax and then head back out for dinner somewhere. When we arrived at Anna’s however, her mom had cooked a traditional Finnish meal for us! We all had drinks and discussed things about America and Finland, and each of us wrote a little note in the guest book that Anna’s family keeps.

In the morning, my friends had planned to go to Cologne, Germany but I was a little more interested in seeing Bruges, a more Northern town in Belgium, so I booked a night in a hostel just outside of the town and jumped on a train to Bruges! The train took about an hour, and when I arrived I had to take the public buses over to the area that the hostel was located. As I was sitting on the bus, I was a little unsure of what stop I was getting off at. An old man next to me noticed, and started speaking something in Flemmish. When he realized I had no idea what he was saying, the guy across from us laughed and translated. In Belgium, they speak Flemmish and French, so the man who spoke English and I had a nice conversation about speaking French, his friends in the states who live in New Mexico, and about the canal tours.

After dropping off my things, I headed out with my camera into the extremely picturesque streets of Bruges. I went on the canal tour, which was really cool and showed the entire city from a different perspective.

View from the water.

I had done some research on where I wanted to spend time in Bruges, besides just walking around, and so I headed to ‘The Old Chocolate House’ for hot chocolate! It was AMAZING. I sat in the restaurant upstairs, and ordered Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, and an assortment of 10 pralines (mystery chocolates!). When the hot coco arrived, it was a mug of steamed milk, and then a cup filled with your ingredients that you are supposed to dump in and stir. Even the cup was made of chocolate! It was so delicious, I went back a second time while being in the town.

The Old Chocolate House style Hot Coco!

The thing about Europe I noticed, especially in these smaller towns, is that so much closes around 6/7 pm. So I walked around a little, and bought my friends some assortments of chocolates, but then just sat in this little restaurant I found for a while until I felt hungry enough to eat again! I had to eat dinner, because there was a dish I was told I needed to try called “Waterzooi”. I ordered a drink, and the traditional dish, and wrote in my journal about my travel day. The restaurant was called “Brugge-Link”, and the dish was so amazing. It was almost like a cream of potato base with chicken and vegetables, and came with mashed potatoes on the side. Totally worth being overly full!

As I was walking back to the hostel, I ran into some sort of fire festival being held behind the Basilica of the Holy Blood. There were stands for food and drinks, a band playing music, and entertainers playing with fire! It was such a cool thing to run into!

In the morning, I got up before the sun rose to pack up my things and walk around the town while it was quiet. I was happy that the hostel was situated a little outside of the town, because the streets and alleys were just stunning. I was happy to be with my camera.


The rest of the day I explored. I roamed the town, went into the Basilica of the Holy Blood church, climbed the Belfry (the town tower in the center), walked around the ‘Lake of Love’, and then found a place called ‘Wijngaerde Beguinage’ which was a home for women, religious women, and widows who wished to live an “independent but committed life outside the recognized orders with their vows of fidelity and poverty”. It was considered a “city of peace”, and was a really beautiful area.

Swans in the “Lake of Love”
City of Peace

After strolling around some more, sending a couple postcards, and of course eating more chocolate, I took the train back to Brussels where I was catching another overnight bus back to Strasbourg. On the train I got to reflect on my time in Bruges, and my love of travel. Sometimes it’s just good to get away for a little and let yourself explore new things. I learned that I enjoy my own company, and that’s something that is really important in life! I hope to one day take my parents to Bruges and show them around, because it was such a lovely and picturesque little town.

Bruges City Center

Kakehashi Project 8: Sunday Scaries

While counting down the hours of leaving Japan on their last day, they share their visit to mall and Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. Then off to Narita airport for final goodbyes to the country and people of Japan.

We woke up on the last day with a growing reluctance inside of us; we had a thrilling time this week immersing in a new culture and making new friends, and we were not ready to return to class. Most people know the ‘sunday scaries’ – anxiety and dread that starts on Sunday afternoon brought on by the thought of the upcoming week (and all of the responsibilities that come with school and work). Not only was the greatest spring break we had ever experienced coming to an end, but we were being thrown into the back-half of spring semester (which is tough enough already). This Sunday would be 37 hours long for us with the time change between Japan and the United States, so we had plenty of time ahead of us to endure the sunday scaries.

Our bus took us from the hotel to Narita, a town about an hour outside of Tokyo where the international airport is located. Our first stop in Narita was a large mall. This was our third mall visit of the trip, so most people were just interested in walking around, getting food, and finding WiFi. Dennis was glad to find a McDonalds in the food court, saying that his body had been going through fast food withdrawal. Casey couldn’t get over how cute the children in the mall were.

View from inside the mall

After the mall, we went to the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, a Buddhist temple built in 940 AD. In terms of structure and architecture, this was very similar to the Sensoji Temple we had seen the day before in Asakusa, but due to how far we were outside of the city, there was just a fraction of the foot traffic, which really allowed us to explore freely.

Pat taking it all in
The program coordinator, Kozue, told us that the ‘peace’ sign is common in Japan; Casey was sure to use it

Evan and Jacob purify themselves in the waters of the temple. A visiting etiquette when going to temples in Japan.

After leaving Shinshoji Temple, we went to the airport. Most of us had to check a bag on the way back since we had bought so many souvenirs to take home with us. After we dropped our bags with the airline, we regrouped to say goodbye to Miho.

Miho had meshed really well with our group. She was young and she wasn’t overly serious, always conversing with us and treating us as equals, so it felt like she was more of an older sister than a tour guide. She had gone to university in Great Britain, so we thought it was funny to hear a slight British accent come through when she spoke English, her second language. Most importantly, it became increasingly apparent over the course of our time in Japan that she really liked us and cared about us. She made several comments about how much she was dreading us leaving, as she did not want to part from us. One of our group members had their birthday on the last day of the trip, and Miho bought them a birthday gift at the Narita mall. Miho was just as important to our group as any one of us was, and we were going to miss her immensely. When it was finally time to split apart, there were several tears. We gave her three or four gift bags to show our appreciation for everything she had done for us. We made sure to say ittekimasu; we will go and, someday, we’ll come back.

Miho Sato — the best guide to Japan that we could have ever asked for!
Alex and Miho just before airport security

We went through security and enjoyed our last moments in Japan before our long journey back to the United States. Over the course of our time in Japan, we had grown together, going from being near strangers to good friends, and it would be tough to split apart once we went home. Everything had been a group activity from the moment we got to the Columbus airport on the first day, to when we left the Columbus airport on the last day. Our group started to connect before our plane touched down in Tokyo, so the experiences we had further catalyzed the bonds that developed between us. We had made so many memories together ranging from the incredible, unforgettable experiences of the Beppu Onsen and our home stays, to the very ordinary experiences of hotel breakfasts and being on the bus together. Even after the structured events had ended each day, we would still gather in each other’s hotel rooms just because we liked being together so much. Like the tea master taught us back in Oita, ichi-go ichi-e; this was our one time to come together as this group, and we will all treasure these memories forever.

Ittekimasu!!!

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 9: Repatriation

Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day

Kakehashi Project 7: Big Day Out in Tokyo

A full day in Tokyo, Japan was dedicated to exploring the city! From Asakusa Temple, Harajyuku shopping district, to an observation tower overlooking Tokyo city, the students dive into the unique and interesting capital of Japan.

The sixth day started with Austin eating all of the eggs at the breakfast buffet, as usual. However, this day would be unusual as we would be traveling to different sites around Tokyo and given time to explore. First, we went to Asakusa to visit Sensoji Temple and Nakamise Street. The Sensoji Temple is an ancient Buddhist Temple built in 7th century AD. It was very interesting to see the structure of the different buildings on the larger complex as well as the large crowd we were walking through. We saw many women dressed in yukatas (a summer kimono) taking pictures in front of the different structures. It seemed like this was popular, as some of the shops we passed offered yukata rentals. Just outside of the temple area was Nakamise Street, a large area of street vendors and shops. Some people decided to keep exploring around and made it out to the Sumida river.

Sensoji Temple

Looking out from the Temple, many shops and vendors are set up in the street
Dennis at the Sumida river with the Tokyo Skytree in the distance

The original Pokemon video games (developed in Japan) included a part of the game where players could enter a large department store with many stories and specific groupings of items being sold on each floor. Growing up in the United States, this did not make a lot of sense, but upon visiting Akihbara, it started to make sense. Akihabara’s two main attraction points were a mall and bookstore. The mall was seven floors, with the lower floors resembling technology and department stores and the upper floors having current popular culture branded items (such as Pokemon, Star Wars, and Super Mario). The book store was nine floors tall with different types of manga books on each, though it was very tough for us to decipher the difference between types of manga books because we couldn’t read the language. There were also some sections dedicated to hobbies such as trains and automobiles.

Going up the escalator at the bookstore in Akihabara. This section has books on computers and coding.

We then went to Meiji-jingu Shrine & Harajuku; the Shrine was part of a larger park where many tourists and locals were walking and enjoying the scenery. Meiji-jingu is a Shinto Shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji, who reigned from 1867 – 1912. The shrine was built in 1920.

Entrance to the path leading to Meiji-jingu Shrine

Across the main road next to the park was a small St. Patrick’s day festival (as our big day out in Tokyo happened to be March 17th). Many people living in Columbus have visited the Dublin Irish Festival – the core concept is that a group of first, second, and third generation Irish living in America put on a large cultural festival, complete with Irish dancing, traditional folk music, exhibits, a lot of food, and games like Gaelic football. The festival here in Japan that we stumbled upon was much smaller than the festival in Columbus, but still had much of the same types of stands and presentations; there was a street rugby game, a live band, and some typical Irish food. The most interesting part of this festival, however, was that it was put on by Japanese people (as opposed to Irish immigrants and descendants); everyone in the live band playing the Irish folk music was Japanese. One of the contacts from Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) told us that they did not know about St. Patrick’s day in Japan until recent years, so it is small but growing as a celebration.

Japanese celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Harajuku

Harajuku was an extremely crowded shopping district. With the sheer number of people walking around, it felt like being in New York City, but the streets were extremely quiet and peaceful with no shouting, horns honking, litter, or unpleasant smells. One thing that really stuck out was the customer service we encountered. In America, we’re used to retail workers being indifferent (more or less) to their jobs, and it quickly became clear that Japanese retail workers will bend over backwards for customers, requested or not, which was interesting to see. For example, Dennis had finished trying on some shirts in Adidas and went to see some of the shirts back to their racks. Even though he was only about 20 feet away from the rack, an employee quickly ran up with a smile, took the shirts, and put them back. Similarly, Jacob was looking at shirts and a store employee would not let him fold the shirts back up himself, insisting that he let her fold them.

Harajuku street corner overlooking the crowd

After Harajuku, we returned to our hotel to relax and get ready for the big travel day ahead of us. Before going to bed, Ethan led a group down the block to a mall that had a 60th floor observation deck looking out over Tokyo. It only cost ¥900 (about $9), and the views were amazing.

No caption necessary!

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 8: Sunday Scaries

Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day

Kakehashi Project 2: The Undergrads and The PhDs

The first day of adventures in Japan! The group met with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to learn more about the Japanese economy and the countries characteristics. After a tasty lunch they visited the Imperial Palace and ended up with a great photo shot!

The first day started with a continental breakfast in the basement of our hotel. Austin arrived as soon as they opened, determined to try as much as possible and fill up for the day. The rest of the group was still either getting ready or sleeping, so he made friends with a group of students from Rutgers that was also participating in the Kakehashi Project.

After checking out of the hotel, we left for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). During our ride in, we finally got a chance to see the city during the daytime. We arrived at MOFA and were quickly ushered up to a large conference room. Our group from Fisher as well as students from Rutgers, University of Kentucky, and UNC Chapel Hill all gathered to be addressed by the ambassadors from Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) on the nature of the program and what to expect. Immediately following the orientation, Mr. Ogiwara Hiroshi, an economist from MOFA, gave a presentation on the Japanese economy. He highlighted the current state of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) as well as the trade relationship between the United States and Japan. Some of the PhD students from University of Kentucky asked him very insightful questions to promote a good discussion.

Sitting in our orientation session at MOFA

We departed MOFA to eat lunch at a local Tokyo restaurant. There were two long parallel tables for our group, and without any sort of direction or conversation, all of the males sat at one table and all of the females sat at the other, not unlike a middle-school dance. We were extremely impressed with the quality of the meal; Pat from OSU liked the Edamame beans so much that he ate them whole – shells included!

Ahmed and Pat getting ready to enjoy our first restaurant meal in Tokyo

After lunch, we attended a lecture from Professor Taniguchi Tomohiko, a professor at the Keio University Graduate School of System Design and Management (SDM), teaching international political economy and Japanese diplomacy, as well as a Special Adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet. This presentation was by far the most impactful on many of us.

As he tried to summarize Japan in 23 PowerPoint slides, what resonated with us was the way in which he divided Japan’s identity into three pillars: resilience, continuity, and maritime identity. As an example of Japan’s historical resilience, Professor Taniguchi alluded to the 2011 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan and the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since modern record keeping. This devastating natural disaster caused 15,895 casualties, left 6,156 injured, and 2,539 missing. According to the MOFA, 116 countries and 28 international organizations offered assistance, including the United States. Despite the damage, Japan persevered through the tragedy and carried on as a stronger nation.  Today, Japan remembers the date of the Tsunami, March 11th, in remembrance and in honor of those suffered.

Professor Taniguchi Tomohiko speaking on Japanese resilience, continuity, and maritime identity

The second pillar was continuity. Japan is well-known for bridging the gap between tradition and innovation. This is best exemplified by how Japan has the world’s two most longstanding operating hotels, the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan and Hoshi Ryokan, which were founded in 705 and 718, respectively. In addition, Japan is home to the world’s oldest sake brewery, Sudo Honke, and the world’s oldest family business, Kongo Gumi, which has been building temples for 14 centuries. And yet, Japan has been on the forefront of innovation in major industries such as the technology and the automotive industry. Still, traditional Japanese culture has been passed on through generations and remains important to people in the modern day, such as their tea ceremonies (which we got to experience later in our trip, so keep reading our blogs).

The third pillar of maritime identity has shaped Japan’s economic positioning in the world. As it pertains to global trade, Japan’s importing and exporting operations are shaped by Japan’s maritime positioning. Furthermore, much of Japan’s most well known dietary delights are facilitated through Japan’s oceanic proximity.

We walked out of the presentation really starting to wrap our heads around what Japan really is. As Americans, we grapple with what America is and what it means to be an American; the lecture from Professor Taniguchi Tomohiko gave us a significant amount of insight into what Japan is and what it means to be Japanese. Fittingly, the next stop on our trip was the Imperial Palace. The landscape reminded us a lot of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as there was open gravel walking space in the middle of the city. Most of the group stayed in front of the entrance and saw the guards changing out, and a small group of us walked around the park area.

Chandler thought that it would be a perfect photo opportunity with the sun at dusk and the city in the distance, so we quickly posed; the picture ended up looking like an early 2000s boy band album cover, which we were all extremely pleased with.

From left to right: Joe, Austin, Judson, Dennis, Evan, and Jacob

Miho rushed us off to the Tokyo airport for a domestic flight to Oita, a seaside prefecture on Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island. We were told that dinner would be on our own in the airport, and we were handed ¥2000 each (the whole idea of the exchange rate hadn’t fully set in yet, so we initially thought we were rich. It was about $20). Erica decided to use her money to get a haircut in the airport, using Kevin as a translator. The flight to Oita was roughly 90 minutes, but it went very quickly as we all slept through it. After a quick bus ride to our hotel, we again went right to bed, beat from the day.

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 3: Operations, Onsens, and Aesthetics

Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day

A Weekend In Morocco

From seeing the blue city to enjoying camel rides, join Samantha Ludes on her adventure to Morocco, while she studies at Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid, Spain on the Student Exchange Program.

If you hadn’t planned on visiting Morocco while abroad, then you need to read this and I hope you change your mind. I suggest traveling with a group, especially as a student. The cultural differences and language barriers make it a challenging trip to do on your own. I am not normally a fan of group trips; I hate being on a strict schedule, I always feel exhausted, and I never see everything I wanted to see. However, this group trip was unlike any I had been on. I went through a group called BeMadrid (but I booked it through UniTrips) and I cannot recommend it enough. While it was a long weekend, it was really a great one.

The trip that we chose to do was not necessarily the easiest transportation wise, but I swear it was not as bad as it may sound. We met late Thursday night and took a 7 hour bus ride to Tarifa, Spain. From there, we took an hour ferry ride to Tangier, Morocco. If a longer travel day is not for you, there are trips where you can fly into Morocco and meet them, but the bus was nice enough that we were all able to sleep and honestly not that bad.

In Tangier, we met up with our tour guide Mohammed and hopped on a bus to start off our day. While on our way to see Cap Spartel and Hercules Caves, Mohammed would tell us anything ranging from funny stories about his life to facts about their culture. Having a local guide allowed us to get by much better since there was no language barrier or questions about where something was. Cap Spartel is a famous lighthouse overlooking the ocean just a quick drive from Tangier. We stopped here and got out to take some pictures, as well as pet a donkey and buy some beautiful little gifts that none of us actually needed.  After, we visited Hercules Caves which are a few minutes from Cap Spartel. The story behind these caves is that Hercules is said to have rested here during one of his journeys. The caves have two openings, one to the sea and one to the land, with the opening to the sea in the shape of Africa. If you go to Tangier, these are two touristy sites you must see.

And if you want to ride camels, you can do so only a short drive from Hercules Caves. I’m not sure if you have ever been on a camel but it is like riding a very unstable horse. While you may feel like you are going to fall off at any moment, it is one of those activities that you cannot miss when in Morocco (and this was included in the trip I went on).

We also went to Chefchaouen and Tétouan. If you have ever looked at pictures of Morocco, you most likely have seen either Marrakech (on my list of places to visit) or Chefchauoen, aka the blue city. We walked through the narrow streets of the blue city, each street painted blue and covered with a  range of colors. If I had more space in my backpack I would have bought a lot more than I did, everything is so beautiful. My lunch in Chefchauoen was my favorite meal of the trip. For the equivalent of 5 euros, we were able to get more food than our stomachs could keep up with. I left this beautiful city with lots of argan oil (Morocco is famous for it) and a few other goods I probably did not need. For those of you who love skincare, argan oil is great for hydration of your skin, without being too oily, as well as for your hair. Buy it for yourself, your mom, your sister, and everyone will be happy. Next on our tour was Tétouan, one of Morocco’s major ports famous for their seafood markets. We only spent an hour or so here but I was happy we did because we were able to see a much less touristy city but a gem nonetheless.

Back in Tangier, we had an “authentic” Moroccan dinner (bread, chicken, soup, potatoes, and their delicious mint green tea) while we watched a performance by a few locals. It was a great end to our trip and fun to get to meet a wide variety of people. Our group of 100 people (& 40 different nationalities) were led by students and a few adult advisors. Even though we only had 2 full days in Morocco, I think that our leaders did such an efficient job in organizing the trip that I felt like I had seen everything.

Now, there are a few things to remember when traveling here. What you wear has become less of a focus, however, you should still dress on the conservative side to draw less attention. In Morocco, most people speak French (and Arabic of course) but if you don’t know French, try Spanish or even German before you try English. My weekend consisted of lots of pointing and using the only two French words I know; toilet and pan. And speaking of toilet, do not forget to bring a roll of toilet paper because the bathrooms in restaurants and public places most likely won’t have any. Also, never pay whatever price they’re asking for (except at restaurants), ALWAYS barter and don’t be afraid to walk away if you feel like you’re paying too much. Do not forget to buy lots of bottled water and just be cautious about where you are getting your fruit from. I personally had no problems with the food but I know other people did. Overall everything is very cheap there, so you should expect to pay less and get more (finally an exchange rate that is totally in your favor).

I am so happy that I decided to go on this trip. It is an amazing experience unlike anything I had done before and the weather is beautiful. So if you are studying abroad, add Morocco to a weekend trip because you definitely will not regret it.

 

Vienna: Cultural Events, Holiday Spirit, and More

On the Student Exchange Program to Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (WU) in Austria, Peyton Bykowski talks about the cultural life in Vienna, including events, holidays and festivals. She has been exposed to Vienna Fashion Week, Halloween in Vienna, Christmas Markets, and the must see Viennese Opera!

These last several months in Vienna have been beyond incredible. With a city so full of culture, history, and things to do, there was certainly never a dull moment. Vienna has had plenty of cultural events and festive holiday spirit. In this blog post I will talk about some my favorite events in Vienna, and share pictures from this last month, my final month, here. (pictures below)

One of the first events I went to in September was the MQ Vienna Fashion Week. Vienna Fashion Week was a huge event attended by several thousand per day, where there were constant runway shows by new and established designers, displays, and interactive stands. Attendees were given the runway experience with a makeover and samplers from different cosmetic companies, in which the attendees then walked a red carpet area for a photo-op. The shows were limiting (first come first serve seating basis) and varied greatly in terms of clothing and runway styles. Vienna Fashion Week was certainly more of an expression of art than anything else. It was certainly a fun, enlightening, and entertaining week! Here is a link!

MQ Vienna Fashion Week

As important and festive as Halloween is in the U.S., it is, not surprisingly, very celebrated in Europe. However, many stores, classrooms, and social settings had decorations or themed items of Halloween and the week leading up to it. While it is not an official holiday for the Viennese, it was still enjoyable to see large shopping streets participating and getting into the spirit of Halloween. In Vienna there is an English cinema called the Haydn Kino Theater, which did a special showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show and other American Halloween classics. Going to these showings was extremely fun to do with both American and other European friends who are not as familiar with these Halloween classics and was a great way to share some American culture with natives. While all people find the movie to be extremely odd, all of my friends found it to be really fun. They could see why it was considered a “cult classic” and enjoyed seeing a quirky side to American culture.

Rocky Horror Picture Show MQ Vienna
Rocky Horror Picture Show MQ Vienna

Since Austrians do not celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas markets start setting up in early to mid November. Austria is extremely festive during the “holidays”, even though it is not a particularly religious country. Viennese Christmas markets are unlike any other holiday experience. They are filled with local stands, lots of food and classic hot drinks, festive mugs, and handmade items like ornaments, gloves, hats, and many other gift-inspiring items. They are the epitome of “Christmas-time” and are loved by all. Vienna has an extraordinary amount of Christmas markets, with the largest being at Rathaus. All attendees at the markets are in good spirits, and they are a great place to go with friends any day of the week. They have been a staple of social life during December. The Christmas markets of Vienna are certainly the largest cultural event(s) and festival during the year. More information on their webpage!

Other cultural events include the Opera and Volkstheater, which offers many and a wide variety of theater experiences. The Viennese Opera is one of the best in the world, and is an absolute must while you stay in Vienna. You can purchase seated tickets, which are more expensive and come with a dress code, or there is an option to purchase standing tickets for only a few Euros and have a much less strict dress code. Most WU and Viennese students opt for the standing tickets, as it is a more cost and dress code effective option. Likewise, Volkstheater is an extremely established theater in Vienna and is also a great cultural experience. Vienna is a city of art in many forms, and the events and showcases are certainly worth taking advantage of as there is truly no comparison. Find more theater information here and here.

My experiences have allowed me to grow a lot while abroad. Some of the events, like the Rocky Horror showing, allowed me to get to know Viennese culture more while also getting to share mine. Events like the the Fashion Week and and touring/seeing shows at the Opera and Volkstheater really allowed me to understand Viennese culture even further. The Opera and Volkstheater are cultural icons of not only the city, but the entire country. Visiting and immersing myself into their culture really allowed me to appreciate how different my culture is to Viennese culture and allowed me to connect more with the locals of the city. Also, visiting and experiencing these cultural events allowed for a great conversation starter for my networking on campus with my peers and my academic advisors. Most of these events and sights were recommendations from them and other peers alike. Getting to experience them and then report back my reactions was a great way to further develop my network and deepen my connections with others.

Vienna Opera
Vienna Opera
Volkstheater

 

Last Reflection of Chile

Phil Koch debriefs his experience with time in Chile and S. America and how it compares with the U.S. at the conclusion of Autumn 17.

Without a doubt, South America is a vastly different region when compared with the United States and North America. Although each are part of the Americas, they each go about life in a very distinct way. South America tends to be much more laid back and almost fatalistic as a whole while the U.S. is undeniably focused on forward economic progress. As an American, I found it extremely interesting and a true privilege to experience a culture whose outlook on life is fatalistic (Chile) as US culture is based upon the idea that you directly control your life and what happens, the exact opposite of fatalistic cultures.

I would venture to guess almost everyone has had some experience with “Latin American Time”. Whether that be directly through a Latin American friend, a local experience in Latin America or indirectly through the grapevine, it is a common stereotype that Latin Americans are more often than not, considered late by North American standards. During my time in Chile I did find this to be true. Social events and even class could easily begin thirty minutes, forty minutes even up to one hour “late” due to the way Chileans and other Latin Americans view time. Before coming to Chile, I did not know the origins of the Latin American outlook on time or why people would/could be this late habitually. As alluded to above, this differing standard about “acceptable lateness” comes from a very different outlook on an approach to life (internal vs. external). Before my classes in Chile I had no idea this distinction existed or what may have caused the divide so I find the reasoning behind it quite fascinating.

My classes explained that North Americans derive much of their culture and work values from Protestant ideals, such as “work is noble” and “you live to work” among other associated ideas/sayings. On the other hand, Latin Americans derive much of their culture and work values which indirectly translate into their ideas about time from Catholicism with beliefs such as “work is not noble” and “you work to live” etc. These origins are quite insightful and help derive some context to the highly different views on time between North and South American cultures. Unlike in the United States, the idea of being “late” in South America is not seen as a horrible thing because time does not equal money. Life is meant to be enjoyed and work is merely an avenue to some level of comfortable sustenance. Since time does not equal money and work is not the end all be all of Latin American life, time is very flexible as it is meant to be enjoyed. If someone is late to a social gathering, class or meeting and they do not communicate that they will be late, it is not seen as a sign of disrespect as it often is in the U.S.

Having the opportunity to live for an extended period in a fatalistic culture that does not equate time with money has been an awesome experience for me. I found the roots of the time differences very interesting and honestly enjoyed experiencing the dichotomies between living in a fatalistic and internal control society. As someone who is always looking for the next opportunity, maximizes their time and someone who is almost always early, adapting to the Chilean way of life (concept of time) was difficult at first. However, after the first two to three weeks my time in Chile and adoption of the Chilean time concept has made me a fuller person. I was able to partially embrace the Latin American concept of time and truly enjoy most of my time in Chile without constantly planning, working and analyzing options for my future. I took the time to engage with other students and travel to different places around South America including, Argentina, Peru & Machu Picchu and various parts of Chile. Taking some time to truly enjoy life, the Latin American way instead of always working for the next thing and worrying about the future is liberating. Going forward I will be able to more evenly balance my business, schoolwork and social life based on some of the Latin American time principles I have adopted into my life. As a firm believer that you directly control what happens to you and someone who always prioritized work over other aspects of life, I highly recommend a semester abroad in Chile as it will make you a more complete person and show you that there is a whole lot more to enjoying life than simply getting ahead and excelling at work.

On the Inca Trail
Machu Picchu

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.

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

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

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

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

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The Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, France

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

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I nearly started hyperventilate when I spotted Winged Victory…

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

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Visiting with Troy in Heidelberg, Germany

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

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Game night with some of my closes friends

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

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The gang during our last Dancing@WHU Dance Class

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

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Köln, Germany

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

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

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Reflections on My Semester Abroad in France

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

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

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

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

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

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Last Travels

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

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

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

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