Social Life and Traveling in Nantes and Europe

Hello everyone!

In this post, I will discuss the social life living in Nantes, as well as the travel I have been able to do living in Europe. Before departing for Nantes for the Student Exchange Program, one of my main concerns was leaving my friends back in the US and having to meet all new people from different countries when I arrived here. I am a very social person and looked forward to being around all new people, but it was definitely nerve racking.

However, the social life I have had here in Nantes has been absolutely incredible. I have met and become close friends with people from over 30 countries, and I will have these relationships for the rest of my life. Just on my floor in the residence, I have friends from Ireland, England, Belgium, US, Spain, Finland, Mexico, and Argentina. This group, along with about 50 other international students and 10 friends from the basketball team I joined at Audencia, travel, hang out, and pretty much do everything together. This was a big adjustment, as at Ohio State you only see 5-10 people every day, and the rest maybe once or twice a week. It really allows you to become close very quickly, and everyone has truly become a family. It is so cool how everyone has a different background and culture, but are all here for the same reasons and connect right away.

Outside of the social life, traveling has been another great thing about being in Nantes. Nantes has both a main airport and main train station, making it very easy to get anywhere around Europe for a low cost. So far, I have traveled to Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, and roughly 6 cities around France. I still have plans to be in Portugal, Spain, and 6 more cities in France before returning home, and I cannot wait! There are several websites and travel methods that can be used to get around Europe, and through searching all the options it can be done at a very low cost! The trips I have been on have shown me many different cultures and ways of life, and have truly allowed me to have a better view on life. I will never forget the people I have met here and the travel I have done, and am so thankful to have had the opportunity.

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!

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 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!

Continuing Adventures in Ireland

Since my last post about my stay here at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland I have had so many new experiences worth talking about it’s hard to pick just one. In my last post, Irish students had just moved in, school activities were just starting, and classes were getting underway. My courses are not so different from my experience in the states; I have lectures and tutorials (smaller group recitations) each week for classes. The biggest difference is in the actual work for each course. In many of them the workload is focused into a few heavily weighted assignments, which is unlike my experience in the states where I have many more assignments that help alleviate weight on the final. Most of the time the only grade is a final exam (all of which are taken in May) and possibly a smaller assignment in the first term. Students only staying for the fall term have a substitute assignment, usually an essay, due just before term break. I should be starting my essays soon.

Somewhere between my classes I found some time to do some traveling in Ireland and do something special that I don’t think many people get to experience. First off, one of the reasons I chose Ireland to study was because my family is predominantly Irish. I knew my family history back to my maternal great grandmother who was the first to come to the US from Ireland in the early 1900’s. When my grandfather heard where I was going he jumped at the opportunity to visit me on the condition that we try and meet our relatives. We did some research and found his cousin living in the south of Dublin outside of county Cork in a small town called Rosscarbery. She said she would be happy for us to visit and said she would let the family know we were coming. So when my parents and grandparents got to Ireland we traveled south not knowing exactly what to expect when we got there.

Arriving in Rosscarbery we got a picturesque view of the town across the bay. We met my grandfathers cousin and she led us to O’Driscoll’s, a pub my family still owns and runs. There we were greeted with an unexpectedly large number of family members, some of which were meeting each other for the first time as well. One of the first people we met was my grandfather’s 94-year-old step uncle. It was really incredible seeing these two men (pictured below, my grandfather is on the right) meet for the first time and talk like they had been friends for years. I had never seen my grandfather so excited. While there we discussed our family history and when all the heads were put together we were able to fill in the family tree as well as extended it an additional four generations back from my grandfather.

On a cultural note, I said before that we were in O’Driscoll’s, my family’s pub. Today, a pub is synonymous with a rustic bar, but the word is actually short for public house, which is more than a place to get a pint. They were used as community centers for rural towns where people of all ages were welcome. O’Driscoll’s is reminiscent of this original style of pub. We were there on a Saturday and in the evening local families started to wander in. Mothers sat around and chatted, children played games in the corner, and fathers and older sons played darts and rings with surprising talent. I tried my hand at both and found the matches were uneven considering our opponents were the local champs. This was truly a pub in the original sense; it was a social center for the largely rural community. The place felt more like a home then a bar. The community feel reminded me of my own town where families would meet on porches on the weekend to socialize. Being able to go there with my grandfather and experience my own personal history was incredible and be in an original pub was one of the highlights of my trip so far and something I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to do. IMG_4518  IMG_0657_copy (1)

Exploring Italy

One of the greatest parts about a semester abroad is the opportunity to see the world. Fortunately, the exchange student network (ESN) at Bocconi makes it easy to do so.

The first weekend of the school year we took a day trip from Milan to Lake Como. I had not even heard of Lake Como prior to this, but was immediately blown away by the beauty of it all. From walking through the quaint streets surrounding the lake to riding a “funicolare” up the mountain for amazing views, it was all very well organized and included in the trip.

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This past weekend, we took a trip to the Tuscany region. Four cities (Siena, Florence, San Gimignano, and Pisa) over 3 days, and it was a cultural and historical dream. Tuscany is known for the finest wine in the world, as well as the birthplace of the Renaissance. It was amazing to get a guided tour through each city from ESN members from that area, and walking through the neighborhood Michelangelo lived and worked in was a great experience. I know that it would have been very challenging to fit so much into a weekend without the benefits of ESN, and am glad that these types of trips are made available exclusively for exchange students. More travels to come.

O-H!

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The (Not So) Hidden Benefits of Studying Abroad

It’s no secret that when you study abroad you get to see a different part of the world and experience so many new things that you never expected. What I didn’t realize was just how much I would get to see when I left Ohio at the end of August.  Not only have I gotten the opportunity to explore Germany and the area around where WHU is located, I have been able to travel to places that I’ve always wanted to visit.

This past weekend I travelled to Amsterdam and was able to see the Anne Frank house, something that I’ve wanted to do since I was in 3rd grade. I’ve also been able to hike in the Swiss Alps, see where the Sound of Music was filmed, visit Oktoberfest in Munich, the Berlin wall, Westminster Abbey, castles in Cardiff and so much more!  I never dreamed of being able to visit so many cities in such a short amount of time or see things that I’ve been reading about for years. Next stop is a tour of Italy where I get to hike to the top of Mount Vesuvius!

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At the East Side Gallery in Berlin

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In the mountains of Engelberg, Switzerland

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Castle in Cardiff, Wales

Yet another benefit that I didn’t realize before I studied abroad was how much these experiences are helping me prepare for future jobs and interviews. Just the other day there was a huge train strike in Germany and I couldn’t get home from where I was travelling and ended up having to find an alternate route home. I used this experience as a positive example of how I could adapt to change and respond under pressure in a skype interview a few days later; the recruiters loved that I had such unique experience and that I was able to incorporate seeing different pieces of the world into my education.

The people you meet while travelling have also been so interesting and something that was completely unexpected. There is such a variety of people in the accommodations I used at all these different places, from people in their mid-20s who quit their jobs to travel Europe for 9 months, to fellow study abroad students, to people from half-way around the world. The diversity is endless and such a wonderfully unexpected part of study abroad because you get to hear the world views of so many people.

There are many more benefits waiting to be discovered and I can’t wait to find every one of them!

When in Milan

It is crazy to think I have already been in Milan for a month! Time has been flying and I have gotten to know so much about the city, the culture and Bocconi. It has been an uphill battle adapting to the European lifestyle and specifically the Italian style of life ( which is super laid back and slow paced). I am going to share 5 tips I wish I would have known before coming to Italy that would have made my life a whole lot easier upon arrival.

1. Bring your patience. I know from past experience that Europeans do things much slower than us in the United States but I was extremely unprepared for the Italian Bureaucracy. To do anything here you need about 3 hours of your time and most likely will have to go to 4 different offices. Make sure you leave plenty of time between appointments/ activities as I guarantee it will take you much longer than you anticipated to accomplish anything!

2. Bring lots and lots of photocopies of everything. I made multiple copies of my passport and visa as well as health insurance card. However I would advise you to make photocopies of all the documents you will need for your permit of stay (such as your proof of financial means and your acceptance letter). You will need to present many copies and it is much easier if you just bring them with you.

3. Do research on things to do in the area/ trips you plan on taking ahead of time. I did some research on Milan and destinations I wanted to visit while in Italy but am coming to realize I did not do enough! I can guarantee that the first few weeks you are here you will be stressing to plan trips with your new friends for your weekends and it is much easier if you research ahead of time. You will cause yourself less stress and that is so much better in the long run.

4. Learn basic Italian. Though many people say Milan is the most English-friendly city in Italy I would have to disagree. I know very little Italian and most people here know very little English making it quite hard to communicate. Usually if you know a little bit of Italian, the people will work with you but you need to make the honest effort. My advice would be to buy an English to Italian dictionary and look over key words and phrases.

5. Don’t forget to see Milan while studying here. I think most people are so focused on planning weekend trips and getting to Munich or Barcelona that they forget to take time to actually get acclimated to Milan. I advise that when here you get to know the city and experience everything it has to offer. Go to local restaurants and visit downtown as much as possible. There are so many amazing restaurants and activities right in Milan that always get overlooked because you are so worried about leaving! Make time to see the city!

First Impressions of Dublin

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Céad míle fáilte! A hundred thousand welcomes! This semester I have the privilege of representing Fisher Exchange and Ohio State at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. So far my impressions of the college as well as the country have been wildly positive even though things here are run very differently then one would expect in the states. I arrived in Dublin on 23 August to start a program called Semester Start Up- Understanding Ireland.

The class is designed to introduce international students from outside the EU to the history, art, and culture of Ireland by listening to lectures, attending discussions, and making trips to sites of historical and cultural significance. We visited the castles Trim and Dublin, the spiritual hills of Tara, and Croke Park the football stadium where Bloody Sunday occurred in 1920.

An interesting point for me was the amount of history of Ireland. We learned of the history from before the arrival of St. Patrick in 450AD to the works of James Joyce and beyond in the twentieth century. In the United States, events from the 1700’s are considered old but here that is considered modern history. The sheer age of some of the buildings is staggering. I ate in a pub that was founded in 1198, almost 600 years before the US constitution was ratified! In short, there is a lot of history to learn.

Outside of the program I have been exploring all the things Ireland has to offer. A group of students and I got out of the city to the quaint fishing villages of Howth and Dun Laoghaire at the points of Dublin harbor, spent a day hiking in the Wicklow Mountains, and watched Dublin play Donegal in the semifinals of Gaelic Football, the national sport. The finals are this weekend and I can’t wait to see another match of this intense sport.

At the moment we are in the middle of Freshers Week, an infamous kickoff to the start of the year in which the societies vie for students participation. At Trinity, the societies are the basis of college life out of the classroom similar to clubs at OSU. Imagine the student involvement fair at OSU for twelve plus hours a day for a whole week. There are concerts, social events, free food, and a lot more people now that many of the students have moved in. The biggest difference that I have seen between OSU and Trinity is the urgency with which things get done. I am in the process of scheduling my classes this week! At OSU I would have had that done months ago. It is a bit scary but all the professors assure us this is normal procedure.

Living in Dublin has been great so far and I don’t anticipate that changing anytime soon. The locals are friendly, the city is beautiful, and the weather has been surprisingly sunny. I’m so excited that I was able to do the Exchange Program and can’t wait to share more about my experiences here.