The Difference in University Culture in Italy

Although questioning if he wanted to leave his comfort zone in the U.S., Chandler Ross took the leap to go abroad for a semester. Now, one month at Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi on the Student Exchange Program, he shares what it was like starting in a new country and the differences he sees in university culture in Milan,Italy.

So, it’s officially been one month since I started school here at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy. Before departing on this trip, I’m going to be honest and say that I was very worried and had doubts how this whole experience was going to be. There was comfort in being a third year at OSU, with all my friends and loved ones around me. Why leave that comfort behind for something very unknown? I thought about this for a long time, but I realized that’s exactly why I decided to leave for a semester abroad. The unknown of what this journey would bring, who I would meet, or the new culture I would get to see. I’ve always been adventurous, but have my moments of just playing it safe and going the easy route. Overall, I put aside all of that and went into this journey with an open mind.

When I got to Italy, after a two full days of traveling and some very serious jet lag, it of course felt surreal and yet very scary. I was fully on my own, away from my friends and family in a brand new country. The first week was a mix of being a little homesick, but excitement of exploring a new city with new friends. Milan is a very interesting city. It’s a very metropolitan city filled with TONS of shopping, but turn a corner and you can get transported to an old Italian town, with small streets and beautiful buildings. Some of my favorite parts in town would be Navigli, which has some great apertivo spots, with a very young crowd in the area. Another thing I discovered about Milan is that it’s not a huge touristy town. Before I came here, I thought it would have been tourist after tourist in the city, but Milan’s majority of people here are just people who live here. It makes this city feel more authentic, as you’re meeting real Italians living and working here.

When school started at Bocconi, I honestly had no idea how it was going to be. After one month, it’s very interesting to see the comparisons between a school like Bocconi and OSU. First, Bocconi has this policy called “non-attending student” for classes. This simply means you can tell your professor that you will not be coming to class and that you will just take the final for that class based on the professor’s textbook. That was such a foreign concept due to the fact that you can be upfront about your schedule and decide to still be in the class. I didn’t really like this because I didn’t want only ONE exam to decide whether or not I passed the class. However, another difference is that most classes I’m taking have no midterm. Your grade is simply determined by a final and a group project.

Bocconi’s culture is of course VERY different from OSU. Smoke breaks are very popular here and you can guarantee to see a good amount of Bocconi students outside the buildings chatting and having a cigarette. This is uncommon for OSU, as the campus promotes students to not smoke and be tobacco-free. I had an idea that this was maybe common, I just didn’t understand it was this common where a good portion of the students partake in it. The school itself is really only comprised of a few buildings. My classes are only in 2 buildings, which is of course different from OSU, due to the fact that we have such a huge campus. Bocconi is on the south side of Milan located within the city, so it’s very much a city school.

A huge difference between Bocconi and OSU has to be the clothing between the students. At OSU, a typical student might wear sweatpants or leggings to class and this is just the norm. At Bocconi, you don’t really see anyone wearing sweatpants or leggings. School could be compared to a fashion show with people dressing to impress. Girls in long, luxurious coats and guys in nice shoes is what you see here on campus. It’s an interesting difference because one day I wore sweatpants to class and did get some interesting looks from the students.

Expanding upon Milan, I’ve been fortunate enough to get to travel to new cities. I’ve been able to see Venice, Switzerland and Germany. Each brought their different aspects about what makes them so great. Venice had this high energy spirit for their Carnival celebration. Switzerland had this mountain charm, with a bit of a price tag as it is an expensive country. Germany had this rich history of its town with some great food.

Knowing what I know now, if I had to say anything to myself before I came on this trip, I would say that just truly everything does work out. No matter what the reservations you have or how scary it might be, everything really does work out in the end. I’m just getting started in this journey, but so far it’s been an incredible experience and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Not Your Typical Group

With some struggles, Sydney Lapin shares her success expanding her network at Strasbourg, France, as she attends Ecole de Management Strasbourg on the Student Exchange Program. Now she has made friends from Canada, Hungary, Finland, Czech Republic, Columbia, France, Germany, Norway, Ireland, and the U.S!

Bonjour!

My Finnish friends, Anna and Emilia, and I at the East Side Gallery in Berlin, Germany.

My name is Sydney Lapin, and I am in the Fisher College of Business studying Marketing and minoring in Fashion Retail Studies. Currently, I am  spending my Junior year second semester abroad in Strasbourg, France on the Student Exchange Program! I am taking classes through EM Strasbourg, the business school here.

I have been in Strasbourg for one month, and while I haven’t been too active on blogging yet, I have kept a journal of most of my days here. So far I have had bad days and good days, but overall I am always grateful for this opportunity. Not many people can have the chance to study abroad, and I would like to thank Ohio State and my family for being supportive of my decision to be here.

I’ll start with a bit of background. Ever since I was young, I knew I wanted to study abroad. My mom studied at Miami, Ohio, and went abroad to their school in Luxembourg. My parents are probably the people who gave me the travel bug, and I will be thanking them the rest of my life. There is nothing more amazing than traveling to a brand new place and exploring the different things it has to offer: a new culture, a new way of doing things, new foods, the list goes on. I have a lot of friends from other schools around the states who have also planned on studying abroad. However, when it came down to it, our programs are, for the most part, quite different. Fisher’s Office of Global Business made sure that those of us who chose to go through the business school knew that this is a very independent program. While they offered assistance when we came to them with issues, most of getting here and being here is all on us. Luckily for me, another student from Ohio State, Brad, decided to come to Strasbourg last minute as well, making my transition a little bit easier.

Most of the friends I know are on these Student Exchange group trips through their school or other schools. For them, they were placed in Facebook groups, given contacts for roommates, and are dropped in a different country with a support group of what sounds like 50 other Americans. Brad and I arrived in Strasbourg, and had our “group” of two. On the second night we were here, someone posted in the Facebook group (that we were added to about five days before arriving) about meeting up somewhere. When Brad and I arrived, we sat down to a table of three Canadians, two Finnish girls, a girl from Turkey, a girl from Norway, a girl from Estonia, and a girl from Argentina. It was really cool to meet these people from around the world, and to have Business in common.

After the first week and a half of meeting people from all over the world, I was a little lonely. It was hard to create friendships, there seemed to be some cultural barriers and miscommunication. I was feeling bitter towards other Student Exchange Programs, because they were with all Americans and able to make friends and connect with others in an instant. I was on the phone with a friend, helping her pack for her Student Exchange, and she was telling me all about her roommates (that she hadn’t even met yet) and how they already have four trips planned out together. She asked: “So tell me what the first day was like!” And I responded, “First day? Brad and I were alone the first day, what do you mean?” She expected me to say that we were immersed into this huge group of people to meet and make connections and become best friends with. Well, we did have orientation the week after we arrived, and I can tell you it was nothing like an orientation you would expect in America. No “ice breakers” no name games, just sitting in a room for half an hour at a time and then being released. We did not meet many people at orientation, so we really had to reach out to the Facebook group and see if anyone was making any plans.

Now, I look back on these past few weeks, and forward at the next three months, realizing that I have been given the best opportunity of all. How many people get to not only study abroad, but to create friendships with such culturally different people? I am so grateful that I am on this program, and while it has had its hard days, I finally feel like I am starting to make good friends. These friends are from the United States, from Canada, from Hungary, from Finland, and from Czech Republic. They’re from Columbia, France, and Germany. I have a friend from Norway, friends from Ireland. Yes, it was and is harder to create close friendships with people who aren’t from the same place as us, but it has been a growing experience and it has taught me that sometimes it just takes a little extra time to get to know someone, and get them to open up to you and your culture, just like you have to open up to them and their culture.

I would not trade this experience for any other, and I look forward to more challenges that I can grow from and overcome.

 

Initial Observations of Spain

Read some observations from Nikki Matz, who is studying in Madrid, Spain for a semester on the Student Exchange Program. She describes the difference between U.S. and Spain on eye contact, greetings, grocery stores, and more.

I have now been living in Madrid for about 3 weeks, and I have found many differences between this city and any place I have lived in the U.S. One thing that is very interesting is how much people stare in Spain. In the US, if you catch a person staring at you they will quickly look away knowing that they have been caught; however, here people do not look away. In my first few days, I was on edge because of this cultural difference, but I soon realized that it was not something to be scared of.

View from my balcony, Calle Mayor

Another interesting concept that I have discovered is the greeting of 2 kisses. I knew it existed but I wasn’t quite sure how often it was used. I was recently at a Spanish person’s house where there was a large group of Spanish people, and upon introduction, I indeed kissed 15 people’s cheeks. It is difficult to get used to because my natural inclination is to shake hands with someone. There is also additional confusion when I meet other international students from around Europe or South America because they also have different greeting norms. In Chile for example, a greeting of one kiss on the cheek is staple; however, in Italy they also do two kisses, but they begin on the opposite cheek of Spaniards. I am hoping that by the end of the semester I will be able to catch on greet anyone like a pro!

Palacio Real
Sabatini Gardens

My final observations come from the grocery stores or “supermercados”. I live on Calle Mayor, which is right in the center of Madrid. The options for groceries around me are mostly express shops, very tiny grocery stores with the essentials. If I want anything more I have to go to a different neighborhood of Madrid. A very surprising discovery that I made was that Spanish supermarkets do not refrigerate their eggs or their milk. I’m still not quite sure how that works, but it is nice to be able to stock up on those things without worrying about them spoiling.

Palacio de Cristal
Templo de Debod

I look forward to spending more time as a Madrileño and getting the opportunity to practice Spanish daily. Madrid has a lot to offer as well as the rest of Spain, and I can’t wait to explore!

December Photos and Adventures in Austria

Peyton Bykowski, living in Vienna, Austria, describes her latest December adventures and shares pictures from the month. As she ends her semester abroad on the Students Exchange Program, she shares what she appreciates about her experience abroad.

This December I have remained in Austria, enjoying the Christmas-time cheer and holiday spirit, as well as attending an extreme amount of Christmas markets.

In the beginning of December, EBN (Erasmus Buddy Network) hosted a Ski Trip to Zell Am See, Austria. Zell Am See is an extremely small skiing town in the Austrian state of Salzburg. While I did not participate in skiing, it was an extremely fun several days spent with friends, relaxing at the hotel spa, studying for exams, and exploring the town located in the Austrian Alps. The Alps were an incredible sight, and I absolutely loved walking along the lake in Zell Am See which was encircled by the mountains. The town of Zell am See was extremely small but full of charm. I got to further see what life in Austria is like; this time, from a small town in the middle of the Austrian Alps. The small town had plenty of little shops to browse through and lots of coffee shops to enjoy. Even still, my favorite day was when my friends and I bused over to the small town to look around and then walked all the way back along that gorgeous lake.

As mentioned in other posts, the Christmas Markets are a spectacle. They are absolutely amazing- filled with great food, drinks, and everything is incredibly authentic. Going to these Christmas Markets with my friends was one of the highlights of my time abroad. Below are some pictures of Zell Am See as well as more pictures of Christmas-market-fun  in Vienna.

To conclude my time here in Austria, I can sum up my experience as one of the best times in my life. Not only did I grow as a person, I grew as a professional and expanded my network to people all over the world. I learned German (at least more than I knew before I left), I traveled through a great part of Europe, I made amazing friends, and the lessons I learned are invaluable. Studying abroad with Fisher was one of the best decisions I ever made. The process was easy, affordable, and allowed me to develop in my personal and professional life more than I ever could have imagined. I got to experience the ins and outs of Austrian culture, become a local, and understand the world from different points of view. Learning how to take a back seat and soak in all of the different cultures I experienced and then learning the reasons behind cultural practices and traditions was the biggest lesson I took from my trip. I am now able to meet people from their point of views and perspectives, which will be essential in my career to come in business and in my life.

Christmas pastries (large donuts)
Schonbrunn Palace Christmas Market
Museum Quartier Christmas Market Mugs ft. Hot Apple Cider
Zell Am See Ski Lift
The Grand Hotel in Zell Am See
Austrian Alps from the Lake

Last Reflection of Chile

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

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

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

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

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

On the Inca Trail
Machu Picchu

Life in Bangkok – A Typical Week

Live through a typical week in Bangkok, Thailand with Talia Bhaiji, as she shares her week as a student at Thammasat University on the Student Exchange Program.

There’s no typical week in Bangkok, but I’ll do my best to try and describe what I do here, and how a week here goes.

Monday: I usually head to the school library or the cafe next to Amarin to get some work done. I prefer to get my work done early in the week, so that I can have the opportunity to enjoy my weekends with my friends or on a trip. Sometimes, if I am on a trip, I’ll fly home/take a bus home this morning, so that I can have a full day before school; lots of my friends have class on Mondays, so it’s cool for me to go shopping or go to a museum I missed out on earlier.

Tuesday: Class 9-12, Class 1-4. I’ll stay on campus all day, breakfast at 7/11, and lunch at the canteen. At the end of the day, I’ll usually head home, get a quick nap in (the heat takes it out of your body) and usually do some homework at night or spend time with my friends.

Wednesday: Class 9-12. Sometimes I’ll stay on campus and get lunch at the canteen (it’s so cheap, food is on average 30 baht=$0.90) and maybe go to the library for some work. Sometimes we’ll go do something after school, a couple days ago we went and did laser tag after class which was so much fun! At night, we usually all hang out on the rooftop or play cards in someone’s room. Sometimes we’ll go check out a live band, or hang around at an event around Bangkok; there’s always lots of concerts and lots to do in the area. If you have a Facebook, start RSVPing to a bunch of events and you’ll see the hundreds of things to do in Bangkok all the time.

Thursday: Class 9-12, and after class I usually always head home after an exhausting week of class and take a nap. If we’re going on a trip, we usually always leave at night, or if my friends have already gone, I’ll usually leave right after my class and head out. If not, we’ll enjoy a nice night in Bangkok, maybe staying in and watching a movie or walking around a nice new neighborhood.

Friday: If I’m not on a trip, I’m spending a lot of time with my friends. Since the majority of people have class Monday-Thursday, Fridays are usually off for everyone. We usually go somewhere and do something fun, or take the time to explore somewhere new in Bangkok. There’s so many places to get lost in the city and so much to do, minus the pricey taxi rides.

Saturday: We’ve used Saturdays as a day to start exploring new restaurants all around Bangkok. Unfortunately there’s almost no restaurants around Amarin, so we’re usually forced to go outside of our neighborhood, but there’s a ton of nice restaurants in Khao San. If you’re on the road, check out Ethos Vegetarian Restaurant, May Kaidee, and Taste of India! Even Burger King, their veggie burger is absolute amazing. They’re some of my favorites that I’ve been able to find just by wandering around and exploring.

Sunday: Many times Sunday is the day we’re getting back from a trip so it’s filled with lots of laundry, cleaning, and showers. I know that doesn’t sound glamorous but not all of Student Exchange is. If we’re not traveling I’m usually still doing homework and getting ahead for the weeks that I am traveling since it’s nearly impossible to get homework done while you’re backpacking. We also go to Yimsoo Cafe and hang out and do homework!

I hope you enjoyed a week in Bangkok!

November Photos in Austria

Ohio State Senior Peyton Bykowsk shares some of her favorite moments while abroad on the Student Exchange Program in Vienna this November. Including Christmas Markets, travel to Italy, visiting the Museumquarter, and end of term classes at Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (WU).

Greetings from Vienna! This November has been one to remember. Classes have been busy and full of fun projects, Museumquartier has opened some amazing exhibits, the legendary Christmas Markets have opened, and a trip to Italy topped it all off! Here are some photos of the month.

Christmas Market at Rathausplatz

Friends and I at the Rathausplatz Christmas Market just a few days ago. Christmas markets are my absolute favorite, this is just one of many in Vienna! They are incredibly festive, fun, and full of great gifts and treats.

Rathaus is is the City Hall building of Vienna and it is one of the most spectacular buildings in the city (especially when lit up with Christmas lights). For more information regarding the different Viennese Christmas markets, here is a link.

Travel to Italy

This November I traveled to Italy where I spent 2 days in Rome, 2 days in Florence, and 1 day in Milan. The trip was incredible, filled with good food, amazing history and incredible beauty. Below are a few pictures from Rome and Florence.

The Museumquarter 

Museumquarter is one of the most interesting parts of Vienna with several large museums in the area, and it is directly across from Hofburg Palace. They have some incredible exhibits, and you could last for hours in just one of the massive museums in the platz. Here is a glimpse inside the Fine Arts museum, its incredible interior, and a link to their webpage!

End of Term Classes

As the semester is nearing towards the last month, classes are certainly  busier. Here is a picture of a typical classroom set up at WU. This day was a study session for an exam where many peers got together to study and quiz one another in preparation.

Vienna has  been a spectacular choice for my study abroad experience. It is hard to believe I am nearing on my last month in this amazing country. From the interesting history, incredible beauty, amazing people and peers, and all of the fun culture that I got to dive into, Vienna was certainly the best choice for what I wanted to gain from the entirety of this experience. I look forward to a December filled with more Christmas Markets, continuing to build relationships with peers, and, most importantly, one of a kind experiences.

Operations Global Lab – 中国站,14日小结

2017年5月俄亥俄州立大学三年级的学生孔钰参与了Operations Global Lab 项目,并深入感受了中国商业文化。

如果你和我一样,在美国学习但又希望在不久的将来回到自己的家乡工作,那么Operations Global Lab应该会是你的不二选择。在这个项目里,我们来到中国各地,例如香港,上海;我们还会参观各式各样的公司和工厂,也有和政府深入对话的机会。我们看到了那些出现在我们课堂里的概念和策略,其结合了中国特色的文化,生动的在这里展现。

我们首先去了香港。在香港,我们穿梭在各个高楼大厦之间,参观不同领域的公司;也来到港口,感受这个国际大都市是如何操作它的每天货物流通;我们还去了美国驻香港领事馆,了解美国与香港在商业操作上的差异与相似之处。

让我印象最深刻的是TAL公司。TAL是一家服装生产公司,今年刚好是他们成立的70周年。他们热情得接待了我们,并且邀请各个部门的领导,用一天的时间给我们讲解他们的战略策略和操作理念。我在学校也辅修了服装零售专业,并且希望能够将我在这两个领域学习到的知识很好的运用到我之后的工作中。TAL员工们传递给我们的信息弥足珍贵,是无法仅仅通过课堂或实习能得到的。

之后我们又花了一天的时间,跨过海峡,来到对岸的深圳,参观了俄州大校友王先生的工厂。作为一个供应链管理专业的学生,这是我第一次参观车间,第一次切实看到在课堂上被反复提及的5s, Kanban等操作在实际工作场合上的应用。

结束香港的行程后,我们又来到了中国江浙一带:上海,杭州和苏州。在这些地方,我又有感受到了与香港不一样的体验。相较于香港,这些城市里的公司或工厂显得比较没有那么快节奏了。尤其是参观到太太乐,这个中国本土品牌的时,这些对比变得更加明显。太太乐是一个在中国家喻户晓的品牌。我们参观了其在上海的工厂,并与它的总裁共通参加一个亲密的座谈会。在座谈会上,我们了解到虽然太太乐被雀巢收购,但它依旧有一个独立的自我操作系统。而且在座谈会上,总裁也一直谈起“一带一路”政策对公司的影响。这一点是我们在之前的公司里没有听到过的。

这个项目对我而言受益匪浅。在这个项目里,我认识了很多来自不同专业的同学。我们虽然有着不同的文化背景,但却都被这个国际化的经济社会所吸引。在这14天的旅程中,我们相互交流,相互学习。而且,在参观完这些公司后,我更加坚定了学习供应链管理的决心。

Backpacking Around Vietnam

While attending Thammasat University in Thailand on the Student Exchange Program, Talia Bhaiji was also able to visit Vietnam. Join her journey visiting the cities Ninh Binh, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, and Sapa.

This semester has afforded me a lot of time to travel due to the schedule in Thailand. Unfortunately, the King of Thailand passed away in October last year and the country went into mourning for a full year. The king’s cremation was a week and a half ago, and since Thammasat University is near the Royal Palace, we were awarded a week off from school. During this time, my friends and I decided to travel to Vietnam for 11 days. That’s hardly enough time, and I was only able to see 4 cities and only one region of the country. I know 11 days sounds like a lot, but there are people that travel Vietnam for 2.5 months and say that they still weren’t sure they had enough time. Either way, I had an incredible time and highly recommend Vietnam.

Vietnam was unlike any other country that I’ve seen before. I flew into Hanoi and spent the night there before taking a bus in the morning to the city of Ninh Binh, home of beautiful archipelagos and apparently the filming location for one of the King Kong movies. I traveled here alone and made some friends who I spent my time in Ninh Binh with. It was a small, chill little town and I was able to relax a bit and enjoy my time.

I did a boat tour of Tam Coc, which is one of the main attractions in Ninh Binh, and was absolutely in awe with all of the beauty on the water. Unfortunately, since I was not there in April or May I didn’t get to see the yellow blooming rice fields, but nonetheless it was still breathtaking. After my time in Ninh Binh, I took a train back to Hanoi and met my friends there.

Hanoi was absolutely breathtaking. It was a huge mix of French architecture and tons of French cafes. I didn’t realize how much of Southeast Asia the French owned. They had so many territories and it’s still so present today. Hanoi also had a huge blend of Western and Vietnamese food. I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of vegetarian food there. My first day I walked around, accidentally stumbled upon a local market, ate some authentic Vietnamese pho, and went to a rooftop cafe. We were able to look out over the entire city and witness a really cool festival going on.

Afterwards, we went down and joined in on the fair and it was so magical. The streets were filled with people, music was playing everywhere, snacks were being sold on the street, and everywhere I turned people were dancing and having a good time.  The weather in Vietnam was much more mild than in Thailand, so it was really pleasant to be outside. We sat down with some locals and enjoyed some drinks as well as we people-watched.

The next day we went to the Temple of Literature, which is Vietnam’s first university, and it is one of the universities dedicated to Confucius. I also hadn’t realized the influence that China had over Vietnam, so this really opened my eyes to that as well. It was also really exciting to learn about how education had started in Vietnam and how the principles of their society had been built around this university.

After the temple, we made our way over to a cafe and hung around the city. We then walked over to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and tried to go to the Ho Chi Minh Museum, except it was closed. (If you are in Hanoi, please go, I’ve heard it’s well worth it!) Afterwards, we booked our tour for Ha Long Bay and were on our way!

I only spent one day in Ha Long Bay, and I’m not really a beach/boat person, so it wasn’t my favorite thing to do, and it also cost me $30 for a day tour, which I thought was a rip off, but you can’t travel there on your own. The town around Ha Long Bay has nothing to do, and you have to pay to get out on the water. Ha Long Bay was absolutely stunning though and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The archipelagos here are also absolutely stunning, and we got to kayak around them which was an absolutely amazing experience. Afterwards, we ate on the boat, and headed back to Hanoi for our overnight bus to Sapa.

The sleeper buses in Vietnam are really nice and we were able to recline and enjoy the night. Unfortunately the drivers in Vietnam are a bit more reckless than in the U.S. and the roads are bumpy. Also the differences on the buses in Asia is that they will  stop and pick up people in the middle of nowhere. I’ve had buses stop on the side of the highway and randomly pick up people, who then slept on the floor. Asia is so different!

Sapa is a small mountain town known for trekking, and it was absolutely breathtaking; it may be one of my favorite places I’ve visited in all of Asia. It was also 48 degrees Fahrenheit, so be prepared for it to be very cold. We got off the night bus at 5:30am and got some really good pancakes for breakfast; Vietnam is really into pancakes for breakfast. Afterwards, we headed over to our homestay and stayed with local people in the city. The first day, after a quick nap, we did some trekking around the town up to the Hua Thao Village. Maps.me saved my life here! We were able to follow the path on the map and trek. Unfortunately, it had rained a lot and it was quite slippery. I really worried about falling (and I definitely did a lot) but it was very cool to learn that the treks were made for the village people not for tourists to trek. It made the experience feel more authentic and it was so cool to meet the local people from the villages along the way. We got to stop into a couple houses and seeing how people lived was amazing. Of course, they all have phones, but they’re very self-sufficient in how they live. They produce all their own food, manage their own animals, and provide for themselves. It’s amazing! After a couple hours, we finally made it to the top of the mountain and it was breathtaking!

We went to sleep that night in our mosquito nets in our homestay overlooking the mountains. In the morning, we woke up to the sounds of roosters and crying babies (the homestay family had a new baby) and went down to get some pancakes with honey and chocolate and condensed milk. Afterwards, we met our tour guide, who was a local girl in the Lao Cai village and was 20 years old, which was the same age as me and my friend Hannah. She talked to us about her life in the village and it was very different from ours. She is 20, with two children, and told us how common it is for people in her village to marry at 15 and have children shortly after. She told me about how they don’t have electricity and how different their lives are. She has never traveled outside of her village as well. It’s so crazy! We started our trek in the morning and along the way 3 village women decided to join us. It was a scary trek  so it was nice to have 4 guides helping us around. I truly think they carried me up the mountain. All my clothes were super muddy but it was so much fun. When we made it to the top, we got to see and trek through the rice fields, and the trip was truly breathtaking, probably one of my favorite activities throughout this entire trip. We came back, hung out with our new friends at the hostel and had a good night sleep.

Afterwards, we had a nice day off, so I was able to catch up on my pictures and do some homework (yes I’m in school!) and the next day we headed out and went back to Hanoi. While we were in the town center of Sapa, we were able to visit an old cathedral, hang out in some of the cafes, and spend some time relaxing under the Christmas lights. It was absolutely amazing.

 

I ended my time in Hanoi and was able to pick up some really cool souvenirs for my friends and family. Vietnam was beautiful and I will never forget it.

Moving Around Myanmar

Abroad on the Student Exchange Program to Thailand, Talia Bhaiji shares her travels to Myanmar and her favorite places she has visited!

After my weekend in Cambodia, I took a 2 week break from traveling and then made my way back out of Thailand to Myanmar! I was surprised how much I loved Myanmar and would highly recommend it to anyone who is in Southeast Asia.

There was almost a point where I was considering scrapping my trip to Myanmar and it’s because of the current issue with the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims. In the far west of Myanmar near the Bangladesh border, the Rohingya Muslims have been persecuted for nearly 20 years now. The world didn’t learn about it until the military regime left Myanmar, but the persecution had been going on for years before. Basically, Myanmar is very Buddhist and very traditional, and with the Rohingya Muslims coming in, it caused a huge religious clash. Because of this, the Rohingya people are not recognized as real people and have little to no rights in the region. I knew about this and felt I’d be personally liable if I participated in tourism for the country while ignoring the intense humanitarian problems going on. A friend of mine had already gone, and after doing my research (as well as with his advice), I read that if you don’t go, you are not helping the local people, rather you’re hurting them and it’s incorrectly directed anger. When you travel to Myanmar you should avoid funding government activities, rather look into being a sustainable tourist and helping the local people. It’s not fair to the local people to not travel to Myanmar because of the government’s actions; either way they’re hurt by this. With this in mind, I decided to do my research and head to Myanmar.

Our first stop was in Yangon, the capital city, and I think I fell in love here. Our hostel was 200 meters away from the Sule Pagoda, the center of Yangon and a beautiful landmark seen all throughout the city.

We were right in the heart of everything and got to experience so much. There was so much Indian food in Myanmar, due to the influences from India and Bangladesh, and it was also mixed with Thai food, so I loved getting to eat food there. There’s a lot of ethnic populations in Yangon and the food is so authentic. We took some time doing a walking tour around the city and got to see the train station, a park, a famous cathedral, and a really cool market. Our first night there we also accidentally stumbled upon a fair for the Lighting Festival of Myanmar. During this time, many Burmese people get off work and are free to travel around, so the city was completely packed. It was so amazing to see everyone all together.

After our time in Yangon, we tried to book some bus tickets to the ancient city of Bagan, but since so many Burmese people were on holiday, everything was booked. This was one time where I wish I would have done some more planning, which is usually the opposite in Asia. Although there are different travel styles, what I head on the way to backpack well in Asia is to book your ticket into the country, get your visa, and book one night in a hostel. The rest of your planning (buses, hostels, tours) you should do while you’re in the country and with locals and tourists who have already done the activities. Unfortunately, we didn’t do our research to see that everything was so busy that week, so we struggled during the whole trip to plan things well. Plus, my companions were a lot more laid back than me, and I struggled with that too. I’m a planner by nature, and when things go awry I tend to panic. Finally, after wandering the streets, we found a travel agency and were able to book a bus to Inle Lake.

Inle Lake was one of the most beautiful places I’ve been. We all rented a boat for the day and it was $5 a person, which was amazing. I was taken to an authentic silver shop, a handmade cigar shop, and a bunch of other places with traditional Burmese handcrafts. It was absolutely amazing and something I highly recommend. There’s actually a village in the water and the people get around by using boats everywhere. It’s reminiscent of Venice but so so different. They also have limited access to technology and to the outside world; it was quite refreshing to see how they get by and how their lives are so different.

After we went to Inle Lake, we took a day van to get to Bagan. The driver sped through the mountains and swerved on the edge of the road.  It may have been one of the scariest car rides of my life. Either way, we made it safely to Bagan and were able to enjoy the beauty of the ancient city. Bagan is known for having nearly 2000 pagodas and they’re all very close by. There used to be around 10,000 but so many of them got destroyed by nature. It’s really sad but there’s still so much beauty in the city. We spent the whole day in Bagan and had a nice picnic at one of the pagodas.

Finally, we finished our touring in Bagan and made our way back to Yangon. Here I finished all my shopping and was able to get some really good Burmese noodles in a nearby shopping mall. We also went on the local Yangon Circular Train and enjoyed the sights of the city.

Myanmar was surely somewhere not to be missed and I’m so happy I could go. I did have my concerns with the Rohingya crisis going on, but after learning about the situation more and deeming it appropriate to travel there, I ended up going and don’t regret it. As a country that was largely oppressed and hidden from the world, I think it was so important for me to go and see it.  It was also very budget friendly and I found myself spending way less money than expected! Overall, Myanmar is definitely less touristy than both Thailand and Vietnam, which I definitely enjoyed, and I really found myself so much more immersed in the culture than before. My unpreparedness made me a little bit uncomfortable, but I definitely learned to be adaptable and more flexible when things didn’t go right, which was super helpful in the future when I was trying to adapt to Thai Time in Thailand.