Double the New Year, Double the Fun

After 2 months of being in Singapore, I have come to realize what a truly multicultural country it is. Everything from the people to the food to the holidays embody that. This year I was fortunate enough to experience two New Year’s celebrations.

I started off my New Year in Singapore at Marina Bay and it was absolutely spectacular. The view of the city and Marina Bay Sands were picture perfect. New Year's 2015 in Singapore

 

I thought I would have to settle for an average New Year’s Eve because I knew that Chinese New Year’s was also big in Singapore but the celebrations were anything but average. I got to ring in the New Year with some local Singaporeans and my roommates who are fellow exchange students at SMU. As you can see, the city at night is full of lights.

New Year's with locals and exchange students

I can’t think of any other country where the Gregorian New Year (January 1st) celebrations are just as big as the celebrations for Chinese New Year (February 19th)! Chinese New Year in Singapore was just as fun and colorful with a cultural twist.

Chinese New Year Singapore

 

Even after I leave Singapore, I think my new tradition will be to celebrate two New Year’s, every year.

 

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)

Duolingo
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.

Kitestring
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!

Collaboration/Networking

Any student at the University of Manchester will agree that the school is incredibly international.  In comparison to OSU, Manchester seems to emphasize group work and collaboration between students not just for presentations, but for essays as well.  In just one of my classes, our group consisted of two British students, two Americans including myself, a French classmate, and two students from Ukraine.  Several of my classes emphasized not just learning how to work in a group, but also learning how to learn from each other.  The typical weekly assignments or quizzes that is often present at OSU, did not seem to have a strong presence.  I believe that this situation is an accurate reflection of the diverse backgrounds that will occur in the workforce, and business students who do not have some sort of international collaboration training are woefully under prepared.

One of the greatest advantages to studying abroad is the opportunity to network with your peers from around the world.  Life long friendships were made and I truly appreciate the opportunity to have been able to study abroad.  For example, I had the privilege of spending Christmas at the home of a friend of mine in Strasbourg, France. Very few people will ever have the chance to not just travel to another country, but form global friendships and experience a different culture not as a simple tourist.

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Natale a Milano

 

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Natale a Milano (or “Christmas in Milan” for those not versed in Italian) is a very beautiful and busy time of year. Being the fashion capital of the world, Milan is known for its high-end stores and extravagant shopping experience. During the holiday season, this is especially noticeable from the crowds of people from all over Italy and the world.

Since I had already finished most of my shopping for gifts/souvenirs throughout the semester, I was able to enjoy the surroundings and decorations without the stress of checking things off my list. The city-center has a very large and well-decorated tree that looks beautiful next to the Duomo, and all the stores are festively decorated with trees and lights as well. There is also a Christmas market in the main square that’s full of fresh chocolates, nuts, fruits, and Christmas-themed gifts and trinkets from local producers in Milan. Thankfully it is not too cold here to keep people inside, because the large crowds and outdoor environment was a very nice experience for me :)

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Reflecting on Italy

It is hard to believe that my four and a half months in Italy has come to a close. While there were many ups and downs this past semester has been an incredible experience. I will never forget the people I have met, the friends I have made, the things I have learned or the places I have visited. As I think back on this experience it amazes me all I was able to do and experience in such a short period of time. I have done things I have only dreamed about doing and its hard to bring that experience to a close. Italy brought me some amazing memories and helped me to develop a new perspective. I traveled to some amazing cities and learned so much about so many different cultures.

I cannot believe I have just wrapped up my finals and have concluded my fall semester of studies. Schooling was very different in Milan than it is here in the states and that was something that was hard to get used to! My classes in particular had no homeowrk assignments, no quizes or tests and many of them came down to a final and a project at the end of the year. This made preparing for my finals very difficult, but I am happy I got through them!

While I have learned there is no place like home I know I am going to miss Milan and all my friends there so much. This experience gave me the opportunity to meet and make friends from all over the world includeing places like Colombia and Chile. I am so thankful for these opportunities. Saying goodbye last week to an incredible city and incredible friends was much harder than I expected. However, I am happy to be home and this isnt goodbye, it’s until next time Italy! Ciao!!

Goodbye, Dublin

Finishing up my semester at Trinity College, Dublin brings with it some bittersweet feelings. Having a few moments between layovers on my flight home I now have a chance to reflect on the last couple of months and the experiences I have had. The last few weeks here have been quite busy with finals, saying farewell to friends, and of course some holiday shopping and in that time I have tried to revisit some of my favorite locations one last time. The city has been in Christmas lights since Halloween; no Thanksgiving means the Christmas season starts early. The lights put up on Grafton Street, one of the main shopping destinations, are dazzling and a lovely Christmas market has been set up near St. Stephens Green with local vendors peddling Christmas goods, cookies, and mulled wine. A lit tree has been set up on campus and provides the front square with some Christmas cheer at night. It’s a shame I won’t be able to be there for the actual Christmas celebrations.

Among all the Christmas cheer, I of course had to find time to finish up my courses and complete my finals requirements. All finals at Trinity are completed at year-end in May, including those classes that only run for the first semester. I of course am on my way back to the US as I write this and will not be able to sit my finals in May. Trinity therefore makes exceptions for this case and I had final project/essay requirements instead. This was different from many finals weeks I have had in the past. In all I had six essays and two final projects to complete in the last two and a half weeks. Most of the final assignments made nearly 100% of the grade in that class with not many other assignments through out the semester. Needless to say I was in the library for most of my days.

In particular, one of my classes had a focus on entrepreneurship and building a new business. For the class, I worked with a group to establish a business idea, build the framework, and write a proposal to potential investors. The class was set up as a competition with 65 teams presenting their idea. The winning group would receive further mentorship from our professor as well as 20% of the investment so the group could actually put the idea to work. Unfortunately our group was not one of the finalists. Outside of class, another group member and I joined another competition hosted by Trinity’s Entrepreneurial Society. The competition was set up much like the show Shark Tank. We joined hoping to get some feedback on our business proposal and obviously to try and win. Unfortunately our proposal was a bit underdeveloped at that point to move on in the competition but the experience gave us some exposure to presenting a business to investors and feedback from the panel of entrepreneurs. It’s to bad we couldn’t continue.

I have said it before and I will say it again, I am so glad that I had the opportunity to participate in OSU’s Student Exchange Program. It will for sure be one of the defining experiences in my college careers. Before leaving we were told to think of the things we would miss most while abroad and I of course said my friends and family. After this semester I can’t believe I was worried at all. I met some fantastic people at Trinity and they served as my family during Thanksgiving and I couldn’t have been happier. Dublin was a perfect city for me to live and I would definitely live there again if the opportunity came up. I am looking forward to being home for the holiday season and getting back to OSU next semester but I know that I will miss the people and city that I’ve grown to love.

‘Tis the Season

One of the best parts about the Holiday Season in Europe is the Christmas Markets, or the Weihnachtsmarkt as they are called in Germany.  You may be wondering what exactly a Christmas Market is.  Well it is all of the joy of the holiday season, thousands of people, great holiday shopping, delicious food, and historic towns all rolled into one.  Since these markets are so irresistible I’ve visited the ones in Koblenz, Strassbourg, Offenburg, Rothenburg od der Tauber, and Nuremberg.  Living in Germany for this past semester has obviously made me partial to  the authentic German Christmas experience so this past weekend I made my final travel destination the markets of Rothenburg and Nuremberg.

Rothenburg was my favorite town in Germany that I’ve visited so far because of all the great history that comes with it.  It’s the best preserved Medieval town in Germany and it certainly looks the part.  Wandering through the lanes of houses and around the historic wall that dates back to the town’s founding and is still standing one can forget for a moment what century they are really in.  When I visited I even went on a tour of the city with a Nightwatchman who told us all about the city’s long and interesting background.  And while their Christmas market certainly isn’t the largest I’ve seen, it’s definitely the most adorable and authentically German.

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Nuremberg also had a great market, it’s heralded as one of the most authentically German as the town has very strict rules about stall decorations and merchandise to try and keep the market as traditional as possible.  While I was in Nuremberg I also got to participate in a local myth, there’s a fountain in the main square that has a gold ring on the gate.  It’s rumored that if you spin the ring twice and make a wish, it will come true!

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The Christmas Markets have been a great conclusion to my semester in Germany but they, among a plethora of other factors, are going to make it so hard to leave in just a few short days!

A Separation

Our group had the distinct opportunity of being in the United Kingdom at a time when the vote for Scottish independence was taking place. After visiting Scotland, I continue to be amazed by the large cultural differences that exist between said country and England. Despite being only approximately three hours away by train, Scotland still maintains a large sense of cultural independence.

Though the general feeling at the time in England was that Scotland was not going to vote in favor of independence, it was still surprising that the vote was even taking place. The potential results at the time weren’t being discussed as much as the actions that led to the vote itself.  Some felt that England had been a overbearing older sibling that was finally getting pushed back.  I believe this entire situation highlights the complex social and political relationships of England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.  If hypothetically Scotland did vote in favor of independence, the implications would be massive.  The most readily obvious one may be the fact that Scotland wouldn’t be able to use the British pound as its main currency.  They would either have to create their own, or more likely utilize the Euro.

When doing business in the UK, it is important to respect the relationships these separate entities have with each other, as well as recognize the sensitivity of some of these issues.  Regardless, it’s hard to beat the view.

Overlooking Scotland from Arthur's Seat

Overlooking Scotland from Arthur’s Seat

Spike Lee at Bocconi

One of the great things about attending a prestigious business school is the opportunity to hear from prominent figures in the world. This extends beyond the typical C-suite faces, and today at Bocconi we had the privilege to welcome renowned director Spike Lee. He spoke first about his work in sports documentaries, and how sports can transcend boundaries in the classroom, community, and various cultures. Sporting events form a common bond for people who otherwise would have none, and their influence on our lives goes beyond the stadium or TV screen.

Lee also went on to discuss some of the prominent events in the United States right now revolving racial issues. His insight on these topics most importantly focused on the actions of young people, and the struggles and determination we have to resolve these issues. He said how inspired he is by the youth of America, and his words really seemed to move the crowd, particularly those unaware of some of the realities we are facing right now in the United States and how important our actions will be on the future of the country. Truly an inspirational and moving experience.

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A cultural experience

It is hard to believe I have already been abroad for almost 100 days. Though the semester has flown by it seems like Welcome Week and September were days ago. I feel now is a great time to reflect on my time abroad so far before writing one final post to conclude my experience! While I have learned I am not meant to live abroad for the long-term, I would not trade this experience for anything. I absolutely loved learning about a country that not only is rich in culture and tradition, but is also where my family is from. For me, this was my favorite part of studying abroad- learning and experiencing new food, new people, and new traditions. The first new cultural experience for me was Fashion week all the way back in September- a must do for anyone coming to Milan in the fall, what an experience! The experiences have only continued from there. I learned about aperitivo and how to properly order off a menu at a restaurant without looking like a tourist! I loved learning about all the ins and outs of the city and enjoyed eating at local restaurants but most of all I loved traveling through Italy. I got to visit the lake district, Venice, Rome, and Florence and this taught me so much about Italian culture. I cannot beleive my time is winding down here and I will have to say goodbye to such a culturally rich country!