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.

Final Post: What We Learned

We all did a writing exercise about what we gained from our experience here in Ethiopia, and what we will leave behind. The following are our anonymous responses.

tapestry

tapestry

  • What I gained: Accepting that I don’t always want to be adventurous; sometimes I need to relax and be comfortable.
  • What I will leave: Expectation of how I “should” be; the idea that another aspect is better than how I really am.
  • Leaving in Ethiopia my ignorance of the poverty that I thought only existed on TV.
  • Taking with me the understanding of what “being present” really means.
  • Gained friendships and new ops frameworks.
  • Leaving behind impatience and beautiful landscapes.
  • Taking away: Many new friends, new experiences, and a greater appreciation for life.
  • Leaving behind: Timidity within a group and not trusting my instincts.
  • I am taking with me a much better understanding of real difficulty, hardship and poverty.
  • I am leaving behind inflexibility, impatience and selfishness.
  • I’m leaving behind my short fuse and tendency to make small things into a big deal.
  • I’m taking an ability to be resilient and more humble.
  • Taking with me:
    Hope that people from different beliefs CAN get along and this world CAN BE a better place. Belief that poverty is NOT an impediment to generosity and hospitality.
  • Leaving behind a body of work that may serve to save an unknown child’s life on some unknown day.

Ayzo

“Ayzo” is an Amharic word we learned in the middle of our stay here. It was described to us as something you would say to a person who has fallen down, to encourage them to get up, to soothe them that it would get better, and to empathize that you have fallen down before too. I look at it as the Amharic version of “Keep your head up.” It was a useful word to know for Saturday.

scaffolding

scaffolding

Saturday, May 24th was our last day in Ethiopia. The plan was to finish up the final touches of our paper for the client, visit a local coffee shop, and perhaps get some spa treatments. Low-key, relaxed and minimal planning so we could pack up and get to the airport in time for our 10pm flight back. But as the saying goes, “Man plans, God laughs.”

doors

doors

rocks

rocks

Carla woke up painfully sick. The rest of us decided to call the HTH Insurance plan which covered us during our travel, determine which local health clinic or doctor we could use, and then go visit. But unfortunately, that wasn’t so easy. Internet was still out (since Addis had been experiencing ongoing blackouts since Monday) and we had limited phone credit to call the international hotline.

corn seller

corn seller

While Alejandra and Danny went to the local internet cafe to research doctors within network, our guide (and really, guardian angel) Tigist came to the rescue, calling friends to get information and eventually picking us up from the hotel and driving us to first one, then another medical center that would treat our sick friend without demanding extraneous paperwork. Due to distance and hideous Addis traffic we were in the car for hours, but eventually Carla was able to see a doctor who could treat her and prescribe her some helpful medicine.

printing shop

printing shop

We are so thankful that Carla was able to get treated and we were all able to get on the plane back home. We are also immensely grateful for our extraordinarily hospitable hosts, and for the opportunity to explore such a different and vibrant culture these past three weeks.

purple house

purple house

I’m including here pictures from street scenes in Addis, taken from the car as we were driving around on Saturday.

Pakistani pop, country music and our commonalities

This post was written by Javed Cheema

Thursday 5/22 was an interesting day. Niraj and Katie had already left the day before and it was my last night with the gang as I was leaving the next afternoon. It had been the desire of several of us to check out a Korean restaurant that had come highly recommended to us. After Ale and I came back from the Red Terror Museum, we really wanted to share a cup of coffee with our driver, Tikelun and Madame Mebrat. Protocol was such that all of our previous attempts at invitations had failed. Tikelun was the hardest to crack. This time, we asked him 3 times but then gave them no choice as we opened the driver’s door and forced the invitation. We were so happy to share the warm sips of coffee with our hosts and knew we made a connection when the driver refused the hotel-made pastry and accepted to partake from Danny’s stash of kollo – the genuine local article!

We set out a little after 5 for dinner and so began a 2.5 hour search for the Korean restaurant Rainbow. Earlier Carla had pulled out a rough sketch from Google maps and our hosts had politely informed us that they knew what the map was pointing to. Either the map was outdated, or way out of scale, or our hosts misjudged. Either way, thus began an interesting and somewhat comical search for Rainbow. We must have stopped in 3 different neighborhoods and taken several u-turns. We stopped policemen, people on the street, and even rival restaurants for directions. Each one was wrong and we almost gave up the search were it not for the finding of another Korean restaurant and discovering that the same owners owned Rainbow as well. We finally reached the address only to find a closed gated with inside lights turned off! Hoping against hope, Danielle got out and rung the doorbell. A person off the street confirmed what we suspected by now.

Disappointment

Disappointment

What a treat this turned out to be! We had spotted the Armenian restaurant, Aladdin, a few turns back and knowing it was recommended in the guidebook, set out for it.

Food was great. No question one of the best meals we had in Ethiopia. But even greater was what happened during the meal; we really broke the ice with the former soldier in Tikelun. We found out that he was really into action movies – especially Rambo and other Stallone/Schwarzenegger flicks. Just then a familiar tune hit my ears and a few moments later, a startled me started telling the group that this was a pop song from Pakistan – the 1st one to introduce the genre to that country! Mebrat told me that it (Nazia Hasan’s “aap jaisa koi”) was still a popular song in Ethiopia. An obscure song from the 1970s from a country thousands of miles away… what are the chances of that?? Thus began a sharing of commonalities. We asked our hosts of what music they listened to and the movies they liked. A group of us broke into choruses to several songs that they would hint at and we would get nods of approval if the mark was right. The song “Jolene” and other country westerns were definitely in. Michael Jackson was a veritable African son whose death was mourned greatly in Ethiopia. We were the only table singing, clapping and laughing ourselves silly with abandon.

What a way to end the trip!

Dropping Javed off at the (wrong) airport terminal. Oops!

Dropping Javed off at the (wrong) airport terminal. Oops!

Find a Snickers, Find a friend — Find BinYamin

[This post is written by Javed Cheema]

 

Danny and I went out to get some phone credit in Addis after having had a rather long day with client meetings and some sightseeing. We were requested to also bring back a piece of home if we could find some … Snickers!

It was dark outside and our part of town had been suffering from a constant electric and internet blackout for the last 4 days straight. Thankfully, we were on backup generator power and didn’t have issues inside the hotel. However, outside the hotel it was a little different story. We couldn’t find the revered chocolate bar on our first 2 stops. However, we found something much more important – kindness and generosity! We found BinYamin.

BinYamin was the owner of a small beverage shack, but an owner of a VERY big heart. After pondering for a little while which way to send the lost foreigners in the dark night of a blacked-out Addis, he finally said, “Come with me.” We were taken aback by this and we insisted that this was not that important and he shouldn’t leave his business to help us find a 12-ounce bar. BinYamin didn’t take no for an answer. We followed him for several city blocks during which he made sure that he protected us from the unruly traffic crossings and open holes in the side walk that could have made for a sewage laden mess at a minimum. We had great conversations in his broken English and our very broken Amharic. We tried our best to communicate with each other with words, gestures and facial expressions and shared a few laughs. We felt at home with this unknown person we had just met 20 minutes ago! However, the best was yet to come!

After reaching another small but well stocked shop, we discovered the Snickers bar we wanted, but we also found out that neither Danny nor I had any cash on us!!! We laughed at the silliness of our situation and tried to figure out the most polite way to break the news to our host as well as the shop keeper. Strange things started to happen. First, BinYamin’s determination that we get the bar and second, him emptying his pockets in search of cash – cash for us! However, his pockets came out just as empty as ours. But, this was not to deter a determined Ethiopian bent on kindness. He had been holding 2 phones (the old Nokia types). He put one of the phones on the counter and we finally realized what he was doing – he was putting security down in exchange for the bar and promising the shopkeeper to return with cash!!!

Here we are in Ethiopia and this unknown stranger wants to part with one of his few precious belongings to help some strange foreigners!! Oh, how overwhelmed we were with the feeling!

After some trying, we finally convinced BinYamin that we didn’t really need the bar that bad and he took his phone back. His kindness extended all the way back until he brought us back almost to the footsteps of our hotel, making sure that we got a safe escort back in the still dark night.

Forget the Snickers. We found something much more precious. We found BinYamin . There is hope for a better world because there are people like BinYamin in it!

 

Entoto Maryam Church

Wednesday 5/21/14

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

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

blue wall

blue wall

church

church

princes(s) entrance

princes(s) entrance

memorial wall

memorial wall

where to go?

where to go?

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

Shiro Meda

Shiro Meda

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

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

Blackout, Day 2

The power outage continues on Tuesday. Internet is still out, phones seem to be working, and the hotel is still powered by the generator. This morning there’s no hot water, however, since apparently the water is heated by electrical power.

Javed and Niraj went to client meetings while the rest of the team sought out internet to let our family, friends, faculty advisor and GAP leaders know of our situation. The hotel kindly provided a shuttle to take us to the nearest internet cafe, but only two minutes after our arrival, the power cut out there too. I asked the young man next to me how long the outage might last. He said it could return almost immediately, or it could take quite a long time. We waited several minutes, everyone else left the place, and then we did too. The kind proprietress didn’t charge us for our time there.

Greetings from the internet cafe!

Greetings from the internet cafe!

We decided to go to the Sheraton Hotel to use the internet there. Again, the hotel driver took us down the winding road to what might be another world. As we entered the gleaming gates of the hotel, I couldn’t believe something like this existed in Addis. We went through a security check and metal detector, and entered perhaps the most luxurious hotel I’ve ever seen in my life. A gurgling fountain greeted us in the front lobby, while sumptuous brocade-covered couches and arm chairs filled the wide lobby and cafe seating area. Coffee and cakes at American prices were for sale from a sparkling clean glass case, while diplomats wearing pressed suits and speaking many different languages spoke with each other at the cafe tables.

Roses in front of the Sheraton

Roses in front of the Sheraton

Rooms cost $700/night. Considering that the average Ethiopian earns $400/year, this is where the 0.0001% of Addis resides. It was a strange slice of reality to experience, however briefly.

View from the Sheraton balcony

View from the Sheraton balcony