Intro to Ireland – Experience the Culture

As Grace Hutchinson continues her studies at Trinity College Dublin on the Student Exchange Program, she explores more of the culture and Island of Ireland. Hear about the Dublin Zoo to the Blarney Stone to the Ladies Gaelic Football All Ireland game, as well as her observations on Irish education.

Dia dhuit! (Hello) My first few weeks at Trinity have been great, though it is only the third week of class, so the course work is still on the small side. The rain has reduced to once a week, which makes it feel more like spring than fall. All the students have returned to campus, and the library is always packed with people as the course work over here is very dependent on readings. That’s not the only difference, as the courses here are also almost all graded on one essay or test at the end of the year, which makes me slightly terrified. As I am only here for one semester I won’t be here for the end of year exams, so my teachers come up with separate assignments, usually essays, to be graded on at the end of the semester. The Irish students I have talked to have advised me to keep the readings and familiarize myself with the Library for the essays.

School here is pretty similar in other aspects. For example, though Trinity is smaller than OSU there are still recitations or tutorials as there called here were TA’s or assistant professors give deeper insights and allows student discussion. I expected fewer people classes, especially coming from OSU, but it’s great that there are still non-lecture environments where you get to voice your questions. My advice to students coming to Trinity for exchange would be to pick classes you have a genuine interest in. As one assignment will determine your grade, and it usually involves a lot of outside research as well as applying what you learned in lecture, it can be frustrating and easy to procrastinate if you’re not interested in the subject.

On the less academic side of things, I took a trip to the Dublin Zoo! It was neat to see, but for someone who has grown up in Columbus with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and even volunteered there, it was a bit smaller than what I am used too. They did have a lot of different animals I never thought I would see on the small island of Ireland, including seven giraffes. Dublin is a City with limited space, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the smaller amount of space the animals had in their enclosures. It also made me realize and appreciate how great the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is!

Taken at the Dublin Zoo by the entrance to remind people where they are incase they forgot.

I also took a trip down to Cork (a city on the west coast of Ireland) and of course Blarney Castle where, for those who don’t know, is the home of the Blarney Stone. After climbing a very scary tight spiral staircase my friends and I admired the view of the many gardens, and after some peer pressure, I decided that if I climbed all those steps with a cold, I might as well kiss the Blarney Stone. By doing this, it is said that you will receive the gift of better speech. It’s not a graceful process to do this. You have to lay down on your back and stretch out over a hole that you can see the ground through and kiss the stone. I don’t feel the effects of the stone now, but I will keep you guys updated. I do know that who ever kissed it after me might, unfortunately, receive the gift of my cold.

I also got the great experience of attending the Ladies Gaelic Football All Ireland (Finals). It took place in Croke Park where they host all All Ireland for all Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA ) sports (i.e. Gaelic Football, Hurling). The game of Gaelic Football is a weird mixture of Soccer, Rugby a bit of basketball and American Football. The All Ireland was between Dublin and Cork, as every county in Ireland has a team who play a sort of bracket to make to the All Ireland. Being in Dublin, there was a great turnout for them, but surprisingly there were just as many people who were there supporting Cork, who won out in the end. The President of Ireland, Micheal Higgens, even attended the match and shook each player’s hand before the match.

The Ladies All Ireland in Croke Park.

That’s all I have done so far, but don’t worry there are more adventures to come! I am also starting to get a bit homesick, missing my kittens. I’m looking forward to my classes and other travel excursions, hopefully, during the reading week when we don’t have classes! See you all real soon and love from Ireland! Sláinte! (cheers)


Alsatian Adventures

A month has passed in Strasbourg, France, as Troy Weider has been lucky enough to explore the beautiful French region of Alsace, Germany, and Switzerland. Along the way he has met tons of new friends from all over the world and settled in to his life at the Ecole de Management Strasbourg.

Wow time really flies by! It feels like just yesterday that I boarded the plane in Chicago to start my adventure of a lifetime on the Student Exchange Program. I’m actually starting this post after being in Europe for exactly one month, and so far I have been lucky enough to take a few trips outside of the Strasbourg area.

After just a few days in the city, I got a group of friends together to go to Europa Park in Rust, Germany, which was only about 40 minutes away by bus. Europa Park is the 2nd largest theme park on the continent, and each area in the park is themed after a different European country. The park was beautiful and it contained some of Europe’s largest roller coasters, so my trip there was definitely a highlight. Amusement parks are not as common in Europe  as in the United States, and I was telling all my new friends in the group about parks that I go to back home: Cedar Point and Kings Island. My European friends were so surprised to hear about how many huge roller coasters that there are in Ohio, and Cedar Point was generally something I mentioned when describing my state in general. Even though I’m used to amusement parks, my day at Europa Park was one of the best of the trip. I got to spend time with a great group of people that I had just met three days ago, and thrill rides have a great way of bringing people from all backgrounds together. On top of that, Europa Park is really fun and we were lucky enough to go on a day when the weather was beautiful and there were hardly any lines for the attractions. The highlights of the day for me were definitely the two biggest rides at the park, Silver Star (reminiscent of Diamondback at Kings Island) and Blue Fire (a unique launched coaster that was Iceland themed), as well as the beautiful theming and landscaping of the park, which differentiated it from amusement parks back home. So overall, this was the first of many fun day trips.

The next weekend I was asked to go on a trip to Switzerland by two friends who had been on the Europa Park trip. There were nine of us in a van that we drove throughout the country, and we basically did the Grand Tour of Switzerland in three days. Along the way we visited the 5 largest Swiss cities (Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Bern, and Lausanne), the beautiful lakeside town of Lucerne, Switzerland’s iconic Chateau de Chillon, and the breath-taking Berner Oberland region. While I knew that Switzerland was going to be beautiful, the country really exceeded my expectations. Switzerland is packed with beautiful scenery, and it is very different from the other places that I’ve visited so far. All of the Swiss towns and cities that we saw were pretty similar, they were quaint and very clean, they were situated on a lake or river and generally both, they were surrounded by mountains, and they had pretty old town centers. As nice as these cities were, most of them were fine to see for just a couple hours because there were not all that many sights. My favorite part though about Switzerland was all the landscapes that we were surrounded by. We saw dozens of lakes, mountains, waterfalls, and villages, and everything really was overwhelmingly beautiful, but a couple of the places really stood out. My favorite town that we passed through was definitely Lucerne, and although we only really had 30 minutes in the city, it was enough to make me want to come back. Lucerne was the quintessential Swiss city, situated on a lake at the mouth of a river, surrounded by the Alps, and the city had the prettiest old town with a fancy old wooden bridge that spanned the river. The most beautiful scenery though, was in the Bernese Oberland, which is in the center of the country and surrounds the town of Interlaken. We stayed in the perfect Swiss village of Iseltwald, and our hostel gave us the most incredible view, and we even got to try the local fondue the next day. Everywhere we went in the Bernese Oberland was beautiful, so much so that in fact we decided to chose the word “époustouflant” (‘breathtaking’ in French) as our “word of the day”. In all we spent three days discovering Switzerland, and it was an awesome way to spend the weekend.

Our Switzerland group at the Lake Lodge Hostel in Iseltwald

This last weekend I had the opportunity to go on two more short trips, and this time I went to Stuttgart and Freiburg in Germany. Like I said before, Strasbourg is right on the German border, and I only need 10 minutes on the tram and bus to get to Kehl, Germany. Most locals in Strasbourg go to Kehl to buy there groceries, so I’ve actually been to Germany four times this week between the shopping and the day trips.

Last Saturday I went with a group of friends to the big Oktoberfest celebration in Stuttgart. While it isn’t the original festival that is in Munich, it is the second biggest celebration of its kind in the world, and its much cheaper and closer than Munich. A word of advice, when traveling in Germany, you can buy a group pass for each region of the country which gives you 24 hours of unlimited train travel for a low price. For example, since I live right on the border of the German state of Baden-Wurttemburg (which Stuttgart is the capital of), our group bought a 5-person group ticket for 38 euros total, so we could take a bus across the border and then take unlimited train trips while paying only 7.50. Other ways to save money while traveling are by looking into budget airlines (Ryanair, Easyjet), taking bus services (Flixbus!, a German company that serves most of surrounding areas) or looking into discount passes for the train companies. I saw on the French website for SNCF (the national railroad company) that they were having a deal on their Carte Jeune, a discount card that saves around 30% per train, where they were only 25 euros instead of 30, and within two trips I already recovered the 25 that I spent. Surprisingly, though, this deal was not displayed on the English language site, which is a very French thing to do, so look out for better deals on the French language site.

Getting back to my trip, I can say that Oktoberfest was even more fun than I expected it to be, and it felt like a huge state fair on steroids. There were several massive festival tents filled with people who were all dressed up in local costumes to dance, sing, eat and drink together. Every tent had a band that played music for the festival, including a few traditional drinking songs that they repeated every 15-20 minutes. Besides this, there were roller coasters, bumper cars and huge rides everywhere, so I had a really fun day in Stuttgart. After returning back to Strasbourg that night, I came back to Germany the next day with a different group to visit Freiburg, the main city in the Black Forest. The famous Black Forest is a large area of mountains and dark, thick forests that line the German border with France, and the area is filled with interesting old towns. Freiburg is a historic university town, that is reputed to have the best weather in all of Germany. We spent the day exploring the towns famous cathedral, old town center, and hiking the hills that overlooked the city. As expected, I had an awesome day with everyone in Freiburg, and it was great to be able to explore another interesting city.

The guys atop Schlossberg hill overlooking Freiburg and the Black Forest

The biggest highlight so far though, was all the amazing people that I’ve been able to meet at my host university. When I arrived in Strasbourg, I was the only student here from Fisher and I did not know anyone in the whole country. Luckily though, within my first few hours of being here I got to make new friends from all over the world. I have always loved studying about Europe and all its different cultures and peoples, but it was cool to finally have the opportunity to be exposed to this interesting part of the world. I have met French people, Danes, Czechs, Slovaks, Spaniards, Portuguese, Italians, Germans, Colombians, Brazilians, and many other nationalities that I would have never had as much contact with in the United States. Everyone here has been so open to meeting new people, and it really feels like freshman year all over again, except that everything is in French and there’s better food. I love being able to meet people from all over the world and everyone who I’ve met here has had different life experiences from myself, but what has stood out, is how much we all have in common. That is why it is so important when you travel abroad to get out of your comfort zone. Everyone here is so eager to meet new people and all you have to do is introduce yourself and embrace the challenge of meeting new people.

These new, exciting experiences are what I live for, and I am so fortunate that my first few weeks in Europe have been this enjoyable. Whether its ordering lunch in a local restaurant, sipping coffee on the café terrace, buying a French phone plan, meeting people from other countries, or even mountain biking in the Vosges mountains with a guide that speaks only French, these are all memorable experiences that studying abroad has afforded me. I hope to update you all soon on my further adventures, and until then I’ll keep travelling and learning in this beautiful corner of the world. Thanks for reading.

Representing Germany, France, and the United States in Isenfluh, SUI

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

Deutschland: A Fascinating Transition

Taking the step to study abroad for the entire 2016 autumn semester at the WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management, Colleen Sauer talks about her preparations and initial transition to her time in Germany.

When I used to picture myself studying abroad on the Student Exchange Program, I anticipated that I would eventually adjust and have wonderful adventures, but only a few weeks of a lot of fear and culture shock. Yes, I had a bit of that the first few weeks that I’ve been here, but I can now tell you that starting my time here has been so exciting and full of growth.

For today’s post, I want to start by talking a little bit about my preparations before arriving and how I’ve navigated so far. The first lesson I learned was to use my network, and to not be afraid to ask for help. Months leading up to my departure, I started reaching out to friends who either live in Germany currently or spent some time there, even if I hadn’t spoken to them in some time. After some digging I even found out that my friend Dominic who was an exchange student at my high school currently attends WHU (Crazy coincidence!). In other cases, I had friends who heard I was going to Germany and contacted me. Talking to people with experience was the best preparation I could have had, from learning more about WHU, to simple things like how to navigate the grocery store. Plus, it was amazing to hear their stories! It made me so excited to come to Germany.

One thing that has made my transition much easier was being able to meet all of the other “tauschies” (the term they use at WHU to refer to an exchange student here), early on through events put on by WHU. It’s amazing to now have friends from all over the world, who have the same excitement for Germany and to meeting new people! At the International Dinner tauschie event last week, we were able to share our cultures through food, where we introduced ourselves and presented a typical food from our country—I made mac and cheese. A few German students also come to our tauschie events, so it’s also been really nice to get to know the locals and feel more integrated within the WHU community.


The International Dinner took place in WHU’s vaulted cellar

Aside from talking about normal life here, I’ve also traveled every weekend thus far! Before coming here I pictured myself not feeling comfortable enough to travel until the third weekend or so, but with the help of my adventurous tauschie friends I proved myself wrong. The first weekend I went for a day trip to Frankfurt, Germany, which was a really neat city and a great way to make new friends. On Monday I returned from Luxembourg (And no, I didn’t have class that day) which was so beautiful!

Day trip to Frankfurt, Germany the first weekend.
A beautiful view of Luxembourg city

I’m excited to continue to add to the list of countries I’ve visited. This transition into life in Germany has had its set of challenges, from the language barrier to learning the transportation system, but through the support of WHU, my friends and family, I’ve had a much easier time adjusting than I anticipated. I expect I’ll have many more adventures to write about in the future, as I explore the Deutsches Eck (the German Corner—aka Koblenz) and the surrounding cities and countries. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more posts!

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.

HKUST Takeaways

Diving deeper into the university community, David Drummond shares his insight to his Student Exchange Program location, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Learn about the university, classes, community, and how he has managed to assimilate.

My time at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has given me a fuller impression of Hong Kongers and the international community, a rich curriculum taught by very experienced professors, and opportunities to learn and interact outside my normal studies.

Campus itself is on Kowloon and to the east a bit on the coast of Port Shelter. In good weather, there is no better place to be studying in Hong Kong. Next to the water the dorms and academic facilities climb up a steep hill and provide beautiful views of blue water, islands, and plenty of sails. The downside to this location is also the weather. During my time here in the spring, most days are cloudy, grey, and foggy/misty if not rainy. I hear the humidity is something awful in the summer. However, waking up to a sunny day on a Friday feels amazing and motivates you to get outside and take advantage of it.

I have had different impressions of the local students here. By taking introductory business courses, like MGMT and MARK, I am in class with first and second year students. The biggest difference was that a lot of them come late to class, which surprised me and didn’t seem like it fit with my preconceptions about Asian studiousness. They also have a tendency to talk to each other in Cantonese while the professor is talking. I think I would attribute this mostly to their inexperience rather than culture, because the older students I know don’t behave as much like this. Still, it is definitely something to expect when taking these kinds of courses. Also, the cultural differences are clear in terms of participation. Local students are less open to participate in class, even more so than Mainland students! It’s common for professors to make an effort to not continue calling just on exchange students.

Because HKUST is a little further from the city, exchange students often form groups to go explore the parks on a hike or go out for dinner or to an event. For us, it has been super helpful to have a Facebook group just for our exchange students to post what they are doing and to find others who want to tag along. The university makes it easy to connect with other exchange students by giving us a book of names, emails, and a picture of each that we can reference. Extremely helpful when you forget someone! As someone who does not generally invite themselves into other groups I had to figure out how I was going to meet and hang out with new people once I got here. I’ve had plenty of opportunities through the Facebook group to meet other exchange students from Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America, and most of my best memories are with these groups. For me, it was easier to set myself on something I wanted to do and invite other people along, but in my experience this group of multinationals loves getting to know one another and building friendships. This network is especially helpful for travel!


The courses I am taking have definitely exceeded my expectations in terms of quality of instruction. While my introductory courses are not the liveliest, the professors have had extensive experience and genuinely care about helping the students learn and understand the material and concepts. The business school is definitely feels like a top world program. Taking a global business course on Deal making in Asia and Emerging Markets has exposed me to some of the school’s top undergraduate and MBA professors in a unique model. Years of experience in forming deals and doing negotiations in Asia and other emerging markets comes together in this course which focuses on case studies and group negotiations. As my professor experienced negotiating in China, the other party will often keep asking the same questions over and over making a frustrating time for a westerner who just wants to get the deal done. However, after enduring the long drawn-out negotiation process my professor was told that he “ate bitterness well” and this was a sign of his trustworthy character. This is the type of information you are lucky to have access to.

HKUST also offers a plethora of involvement opportunities and ways to go beyond your normal studies. I have been taking an International Relations course taught by a professor with over forty years experience studying Chinese politics. This has given me the historical context to live and study in Southeast Asia and the unique application of my studies in a simulation game of an international conflict in the South China Sea. Just last week I went to interview a special correspondent for Reuters, through my professor’s contacts, who follows the current events of the crisis. Since Hong Kong is such a financial and trade hub, I was able to get information about the current state of affairs between countries in Asia directly from someone who actively studies it and was approachable. There are also lots of student organizations covering academics and social networking, however when I first arrived they were promoting them over a couple weeks with ‘chantings’. I still haven’t figured out how this works, but it seems like they just stand in groups of their organization next to all the others and yell chants for hours. I’ve been living in Hall IX, one of the newest, which has its advantages but not a lot going on. Some of the halls have learning communities that organize events and activities that can really get you involved with local students. There is also an international students’ association that plans trips and events around Hong Kong like kayaking, hiking, and cultural discovery. However it is all up to luck since you cannot request your hall placement.


In my first few weeks here, I planned a lot on going into the city alone to explore and get my bearings. I didn’t yet feel comfortable enough of the other exchange students and wanted a way to feel independent in this new home. I think this gave me the confidence to explore more of Hong Kong. The first bar I went to, I happened to meet the President of the OSU Hong Kong Alumni Association, and I’ve made similar contacts going to watch the super bowl or other events. His advice was that the best way to make connections is to actually, with no pretext, get to know someone, and that’s often hard to do when you’re with a big group of students. Most of my connections were developed through the exchange student group on facebook, but when you’re out in the city and meet some fellow expats it is always a good idea to ask them about how they got to Hong Kong, getting an idea about what opportunities there are outside the U.S. Since then I’ve made great friends here but being far enough away from the city it’s easy to get sheltered here on campus. I found my strength in a new place by making sure I could rely on myself first to have good time and then invite new friends along to enjoy it with.

About the Author: David Drummond, SP 2015, Student Exchange Program- Hong Kong

I Promise I Study During my Study Abroad

Want to know what the university experience is like at Thammasat University in Thailand? Learn from Melanie March’s point of view as she enjoys her time as a full-time student there on the Student Exchange Program in the “Land of Smiles”.

Just to clarify, I really do go to class here in Thailand! My parents confirmed this last week when they dropped me off for class at Thammasat University. I am taking a variety of classes here that includes International Marketing, Marketing Analysis, Operations Management as well as Beginner’s Thai.


These classes have been interesting and very different than my classes back at Ohio State. One of the biggest changes has been wearing a uniform to school every day. This has been very convenient in the mornings where you wake up and don’t have the energy to decide what to wear for the day. It also means that I have to wash it every day that I wear it because I sweat through it just walking to class. It’s about a 30 minute commute by foot and I get to take a ferry in order to cross the river to Thammasat.

Once we get to class we have fifteen minutes once class has started to sign in. Most teachers don’t start the class until after this sign-in period and then we have a 15 minute break in the middle of class to break up the three hour time frame. I wasn’t so sure about the break at first but it is a great time to stretch our legs or get some coffee. There is also an hour break in between classes that gives students plenty of time to get lunch at the pier or in the cafeteria on campus.


My favorite part about studying at Thammasat University in Bangkok has been the students that I have met here. They are some of the kindest people I have ever met and are very willing to get to know you. Exchange students are welcomed with open arms and staff and students alike are very helpful with any problems that we have had settling into Thailand. Most of the students have gone to international schools when they were in elementary school so they have been speaking English for many years. A majority of students also study abroad at some point in their high school or college career that allows them to have been in our shoes so they know what it’s like to be in a classroom and know very few people.

In the classroom, Thai students are extremely bright and some of the most motivated students. Many participate in international business case competitions that has taken them all over the world. They also go above and beyond on every task that is assigned which has shocked me because so many people only do the bare minimum in order to get by. Thammasat students are quick thinkers and only want to succeed and work hard to do so. It is motivating to see students my age doing so much and becoming the next generation of business leaders in Thailand.
12573709_1241511272532629_1163249868574369464_nIf any person decides to study abroad, I highly recommend taking a language course. It really gives you the chance to learn the language as well as learning about the culture that you will be living in. It’s crazy to think there are people who lived here years without ever feeling the need to learn the language when I can see the usefulness in my everyday life. We just started learning the Thai alphabet which has been really exciting but also challenging. Thai is a tonal language which means that a word can have many different meanings if you say it with the wrong tone. As Americans we tend to have a rising tone when we are phrasing a sentence as a question which can be a hindrance since many times people will not understand you because it sounds like you are saying a different word than you are trying to say. I was trying to ask a taxi driver to take me to Thammasat but I kept phrasing it as a question using a high tone. When I say it with a mid-tone that does not fluctuate, taxi drivers will immediately know what I’m talking about.

Thammasat University is a school that has immediately made me feel at home. Although frustrating at times, I am so happy that I chose to study in Thailand where the people are welcoming and kind. It really is the “Land of Smiles.”


About the Author: Melanie March, Junior, Marketing. Student Exchange Program- Thailand.

Read more of her experiences in Thailand on her original blog!

Hong Kong: One Student, Two Schools

David Drummond shares his highlights in Hong Kong, as he studies there for a semester on the Student Exchange Program. From the mixed culture, accessibility, and the many ways to spend your free time, he points out what makes Hong Kong a special place to live in.


Hong Kong really is one of the must-see places in Asia. The tourism board touts it as “Asia’s World City” because of how many different cultures can be represented in one city. It is also one of the safest, and I think by far, the most accessible cities in the world. It has to be the easiest of cities in Asia for westerners to integrate into because of how much English is both spoken and seen. Since my arrival, here are the major highlights so far that have helped form my picture of Hong Kong:

  1. Highly accessible. Hong Kong’s transport system is extremely easy to get to know and get used to. The MTR (subway) service stretches across most of both Hong Kong island in the south and Kowloon in the north. It is easy and cheap, especially with a student discount, to travel anywhere in the city. If you cannot get somewhere by MTR you can find a double-decker or minibus to take you closer. All of these options usually cost less than 10 HKD (about 1.3 USD) and take the Octopus card, the most effective tool of mass transit EVER! You can put cash on this card just about anywhere through 7-11’s or McDonald’s or at any station and can even use it to buy food at many restaurants. If you’re in a hurry you can take a cab, which only takes cash, but still are fairly cheap compared to big cities in the U.S. and you only have to worry about them understanding you (Often speak no English). For such a big city, over 7 million, it hardly feels very crowded.
  2. Take advantage of good weather. In Hong Kong it rains a lot or the fog rolls in and you can’t see much. I’ve been told that the summer can get very hot and humid. But when you get, every other week or so, a stretch of sunny days there’s so much that you can do! From beautiful views over the city in high rises or the peak, to hiking the many trails and hills of the island and country parks, Hong Kong has much more than a city can offer. Around 70% of the land in Hong Kong is outside the city and much of it is easy to get to by bus. Spectacular views await as you hike on down to the sandy beaches in the southern reaches of Hong Kong Island and spend the afternoon eating Thai food and drinks! I’ve climbed mountains, met monkeys, and traveled to far away fishing villages all within a short trip away from downtown or campus. Campus is only about 45 min away from downtown and less than one to two hours away from the best beaches, hikes, and scenery it has to offer.
  3. Vibrant nightlife. Like any major city, Hong Kong has its nightlife district. Lang Kwai Fong is where people young and old congregate around a few blocks to enjoy the night, but head on up to SOHO and you find streets lined with unique restaurants with every taste you could be looking for. This is much more for the expats and young professionals where you can find any kind of cuisine of your choice. There’s always a new place to explore. The food scene is incredible. With so little space to work with, there is a huge variety of unique restaurants with food from all around the world. If you love to eat you’ll fall in love with the city. I have yet to get really into any music scene here but I have seen a few jazz clubs about.
  4. Cultural crossroads. With the English no longer in control, Chinese culture may be becoming more dominant, but there are sizeable western expat communities and Hong Kong will always try to be the place to bridge East and West. British is no longer the upper-class standard, but you can find the influence still. I’m reminded of this when I see signs in English and walk past elegant western-style facades. There are definite pockets of the city which cater more aesthetically and culinarily to expats. However, when you walk through the markets with hanging fish and roasted ducks, see people chatting over a bowl of hotpot outside of a small dai pai dong, or walk through the crowds of Filipino domestic workers relaxing on their day off in Statue Square, you are reminded of the unique Asian cultures here. The little things also stand out, like having your card handed back to you with two hands or occasional subpar customer service (tipping is not very common). It’s harder to feel out of your comfort zone here, but you experience enough of the local and mainland Chinese culture to keep you interested to ask questions.
  5. Shop till you drop. And you thought consumerism in America was the world standard? There are literally malls EVERYWHERE in Hong Kong, attached to the MTR and major buildings. Markets, with street food, abound. It’s definitely fun to wander through the malls and down the back alley stalls and wonder, who all buys this stuff? It is a city that only exists because the British wanted to sell things, mostly opium, to the Chinese. In Tsim Sha Tsui, the downtown of Kowloon you’ll find a lot of premier shopping and lots of mostly Indian men looking to advertise watches, suits, shirts, coats, bags, etc. I am really curious how many people respond well to being followed and touched by these guys asking if you like nice watches over and over! Shopping is definitely in the culture here. I heard from my roommate that a local girl mentioned that her usual holiday was going to a mall and just spending the day walking around and getting little bites to eat at lots of vendors. She didn’t understand why he would go on vacation and go windsurfing or water skiing!

Hong Kong offers a beautiful and vibrant experience where safety, accessibility, and comfort bring you back, but from where you can travel to a wide swath of nations in Asia with ease. Over my first two months here, I have experienced a beautiful and unique city which bridges East and West. In some ways it is struggling to hold onto its Western identity as China tries to gain influence, but I have gained a great appreciation for how the two cultures can work together in interesting ways. It is the perfect place for anyone wanting to learn about a multicultural Asian city with many of the comforts of home. It really is a the perfect location as a home base to see the diverse nations in the region. Asia is your oyster, and Hong Kong is the pearl.

About the Author: David Drummond, SP 2015, Student Exchange Program- Hong Kong

A Love Letter to South East Asia

More than the beautiful buildings and the breathtaking landscapes, Melanie March says that the highlight of her time in Thailand is the people she met while on the Student Exchange Program. Find out what is so special about the people in Thailand, South East Asia, and how it has become a life-changing experience for her.

I have been many places since coming to Thailand. I have been to Cambodia where I was taught that the problems I face daily are nothing compared to what others face everywhere in the world. I have been to Khao Yai that has shown the natural beauty of Thailand as well as the destruction that humans have caused. I have also spent hours in waters more clear and beautiful than I could have ever imagined. I have been in the mountains of Laos that are slowly being taken over by tourists and backpackers but have also given me some of the best views of places untouched by foreigners.

What has really amazed me most here are the people.

The people that you meet in Southeast Asia are some of the greatest that you may ever have the opportunity to meet. Every person has their own story to tell and their own reasons for traveling here. Some are soul-searching and trying to figure out what to do in life and others just need a change of pace. I’ve met people who “just felt like doing something new” and other that weren’t happy with where their life was going so they decided to take a break and throw themselves into Southeast Asia.

I can hardly express my gratitude to these people and what they have taught me. From the exchange students who all have their own unique background to the Thai students who have been more welcoming than I could ever have imagined when I left months ago.

I have met people during my two months here that have changed my perspective about this world. These people have shown me kindness that is often unseen in the world nowadays and I believe the friendships I have made here will last me much longer than the trip.

So what I am trying to say that this experience has been life-changing. Asia will humble a person and remind them that there is more to life than just collecting objects. There are people out there to meet, conversations to have, and memories to be. It is just a waking reminder to live each day to the fullest so you can look back on life without regret.

About the Author: Melanie March, Junior, Marketing. Student Exchange Program- Thailand.

Read more of her experiences in Thailand on her original blog!

It’s totally worth it! – Go Abroad

Ending her studies in Japan on the Student Exchange Program, Phuong Tran shares her final thoughts living and studying in Tokyo. The challenges, the struggles, but also the new unforeseen opportunities that these brought and the better experiences she gained as a result.

I have just returned home and have some time to reflect on my experiences in Japan, I realize that I have failed to accomplish about half of the things I had planned. Am I disappointed? Only a little, because I have gained something else, which is even greater.

My student exchange, of courses, did not include only pleasant experiences. The first upsetting thing occurred to me even before I left the U.S. I was told that the dorm was full, and I had to find accommodation somewhere else. Finding another apartment was not that hard, but the total cost was almost doubled. More importantly, it had made it hard to communicate and hang out with other students who were staying at the dorm. There were times when I could not go to some events because the time and location were not convenient for me. I really wished that I had been accepted into the dorm so that I could have built a stronger bond with other international students.

My second disappointment was about school. When I did my interview for the program, the interviewer asked me what I would do if I could not take all the classes I had planned to take. I said I had another list of classes to substitute. However, that was easier being said that done. During the school orientation, I was kind of panic when being told I could not sign up for the two most-looking-forwarded-to classes, Business Communicating and Business Project, because of the schedule conflicts, my early-return request, and the class’s capacity. I pulled out my substitute list, but again, most of them could not fit into my schedule or not being offered this semester. I ended up taking two random business courses in order to fulfill the credit requirement.

With all those being said, I felt clueless and frustrated in the beginning of the program. Now that I think back, my problem was that I got fixated on a few objectives. Actually, after school started I soon realized I should not have been too worried. I did not have to look hard, new opportunities to learn and adventure came to me one after another. And all of these unforeseen invitations were what made my exchange’s experiences so wonderful.

As I mentioned earlier, I failed to get into my preferred business courses and thought that I could not be able to learn the “business culture” anywhere else. Fortunately, the other courses I got into also emphasized on group work and interactions between cultures. I appreciated that my professors assigned students into groups that had both international and Japanese students. We could not choose to work only with friends, but also new people, especially the ones from completely different cultures. Also, I was able to got a part-time job at school, which taught me the basic Japanese business etiquettes. Furthermore, there were many career events offered to international students either on or off campus. My most favorite one was the visit to Oak Lawn Marketing’s office, during which I could see an actual workplace and even participate in creating the marketing plan for a new product.

My Japanese teacher and classmate. We came from all around the world (France, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, America, etc)
My Japanese teacher and classmates. We came from all around the world (France, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, America, etc)

I had to admit that sometimes I felt lonely for staying in an apartment apart from others. However, I have met people whom I want to befriend for life. Also, the International Office at Rikkyo did a wonderful job on keeping us busy. They offered us many opportunities to experience tea ceremony, Ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement), Christmas parties, city tours, etc. After experiencing all of these exciting activities together, it was hard not becoming friends. When I first came to Japan, it took me a long time to get to my apartment carrying a big suitcase by myself, but when I left, my new friends helped me carry my luggage, which had been doubled in size, up to the gate. Just thinking of that made me feel so happy.

A trip to Asakusa with other international students. (The trip was organized by Rikkyo's COBBY group)
A trip to Asakusa with other international students. (The trip was organized by Rikkyo’s COBBY group)

Beside that, staying in an apartment has not only taught me many things about living in Japan but also helped me improve my language skills. In fact, except at school, I only communicated with people in Japanese. If I had stayed at the dorm, there should have been someone I could ask for help, but living alone, I had to deal with all issues by myself. Actually, Rikkyo’s International Office provided many resources to support my life there. However, they were not always available and it took time to arrange a Japanese student to assist me. Thus, I had to go to the city office, bank, etc. by myself to complete all necessary paperwork. My thought was “Lets go see if I can handle this. If I can’t get things done, then I will ask for help later.” I was so worried at first but then I gained more and more confidence in using Japanese. Also, never once I felt I was treated unfairly for not speaking Japanese well. Japanese people are very very friendly and helpful, I can assure you that!

I still think having a clear objective for going abroad is a good thing, but now I believe that keeping an adventurous spirit and being open-minded is more important. In the end, we cannot predict our days in a foreign environment as accurate as when we are home. No need to be obsessed with the plan. My stay in Japan has taught me so, and now I appreciate all the experiences I had over in Japan, even for the unpleasant ones. If I had to talk about the study aboard experiences in only a few words, I would say, “It’s totally worth it.”

About the Author: Phuong Tran, Senior, Accounting and Japanese. Student Exchange Program- Japan.