Advice on Traveling While Abroad

Nikki Matz, studying in Spain on the Student Exchange Program, shares her advice and tips on how to go about traveling while abroad for a semester. Check out her list of helpful Apps and webpages, as well as ways to get discounts!

One of the most exciting parts of studying abroad is the ability to travel around the area you are in and see a different part of the world. Being in Europe makes it quite convenient to visit a lot of countries very inexpensively. One of the best things to do when booking weekend trips is to do it early. I was able to get several flights under 100 USD just because I booked them early, and when I booked trips later I had to pay much more. For my school, I didn’t schedule my classes until December, so I wasn’t able to book very many trips early. It is important to think of other costs associated with booking trips, sometimes a flight may be cheaper but you may have to pay more for other things. For example, my monthly metro pass takes me to the airport for free, but the metro is closed from 2-6am, so if I have a flight early in the morning, I have to pay for a taxi. The cost savings on flights sometimes aren’t worth the hassle.

Some helpful tools and websites to use when booking trips:

  • Google flights: Make sure to open an incognito window, but it lets you see many cities at once and their prices, and you can track prices for different flights. Sometimes I would open two tabs to purchase 2 one way tickets.
  • Rome2Rio: once you are in a country, you need to get from the airport to your accommodation, and you also may want to move around the country. Rome2rio shows you all the ways you can get from point a to point b, with prices include. It is very useful to see the time it will take for different methods of transportation and their costs.
  • Bookings.com: I used this many times to book accommodations, they list hostels, B&Bs, and hotels at very discounted prices. It is always worth checking because you can find steeply discounted prices for very nice accommodations.
  • Hostelworld: Hostels are a staple for youth travelers, and if your goal is to save money you’ve got to use them. Hostelworld shows you how far places are from the city center, ratings, pictures, and other information. It makes comparing hostels very easy and is very easy to book through it. (Bring a padlock with you for hostels just in case they don’t have them, and I would also recommend a quick-drying towel and refillable toiletry bottles.)
  • Skyscanner: Skyscanner is another flight search engine, a lot of students utilize this to find the cheapest flights. I personally have used google flights more, but Skyscanner is very popular as well.

These are a few of the tools I found most useful, there are also often discounts for students such as the European youth card or ISIC that give you discounts on airlines such as RyanAir. It is good to be aware early that you can purchase a youth card for a few euros and get discounts on travel.  Traveling on the weekends is an integral part of studying abroad, it is exciting and exhausting at the same time. Being prepared makes everything more enjoyable and less stressful.

Pro tip: Try not to schedule classes at 8 am on Monday mornings (speaking from experience) best case scenario is ending class early on Thursday, no class Friday, and late class Monday.

Tétouan, Morocco

Copenhagen, Denmark

A Weekend In Morocco

From seeing the blue city to enjoying camel rides, join Samantha Ludes on her adventure to Morocco, while she studies at Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid, Spain on the Student Exchange Program.

If you hadn’t planned on visiting Morocco while abroad, then you need to read this and I hope you change your mind. I suggest traveling with a group, especially as a student. The cultural differences and language barriers make it a challenging trip to do on your own. I am not normally a fan of group trips; I hate being on a strict schedule, I always feel exhausted, and I never see everything I wanted to see. However, this group trip was unlike any I had been on. I went through a group called BeMadrid (but I booked it through UniTrips) and I cannot recommend it enough. While it was a long weekend, it was really a great one.

The trip that we chose to do was not necessarily the easiest transportation wise, but I swear it was not as bad as it may sound. We met late Thursday night and took a 7 hour bus ride to Tarifa, Spain. From there, we took an hour ferry ride to Tangier, Morocco. If a longer travel day is not for you, there are trips where you can fly into Morocco and meet them, but the bus was nice enough that we were all able to sleep and honestly not that bad.

In Tangier, we met up with our tour guide Mohammed and hopped on a bus to start off our day. While on our way to see Cap Spartel and Hercules Caves, Mohammed would tell us anything ranging from funny stories about his life to facts about their culture. Having a local guide allowed us to get by much better since there was no language barrier or questions about where something was. Cap Spartel is a famous lighthouse overlooking the ocean just a quick drive from Tangier. We stopped here and got out to take some pictures, as well as pet a donkey and buy some beautiful little gifts that none of us actually needed.  After, we visited Hercules Caves which are a few minutes from Cap Spartel. The story behind these caves is that Hercules is said to have rested here during one of his journeys. The caves have two openings, one to the sea and one to the land, with the opening to the sea in the shape of Africa. If you go to Tangier, these are two touristy sites you must see.

And if you want to ride camels, you can do so only a short drive from Hercules Caves. I’m not sure if you have ever been on a camel but it is like riding a very unstable horse. While you may feel like you are going to fall off at any moment, it is one of those activities that you cannot miss when in Morocco (and this was included in the trip I went on).

We also went to Chefchaouen and Tétouan. If you have ever looked at pictures of Morocco, you most likely have seen either Marrakech (on my list of places to visit) or Chefchauoen, aka the blue city. We walked through the narrow streets of the blue city, each street painted blue and covered with a  range of colors. If I had more space in my backpack I would have bought a lot more than I did, everything is so beautiful. My lunch in Chefchauoen was my favorite meal of the trip. For the equivalent of 5 euros, we were able to get more food than our stomachs could keep up with. I left this beautiful city with lots of argan oil (Morocco is famous for it) and a few other goods I probably did not need. For those of you who love skincare, argan oil is great for hydration of your skin, without being too oily, as well as for your hair. Buy it for yourself, your mom, your sister, and everyone will be happy. Next on our tour was Tétouan, one of Morocco’s major ports famous for their seafood markets. We only spent an hour or so here but I was happy we did because we were able to see a much less touristy city but a gem nonetheless.

Back in Tangier, we had an “authentic” Moroccan dinner (bread, chicken, soup, potatoes, and their delicious mint green tea) while we watched a performance by a few locals. It was a great end to our trip and fun to get to meet a wide variety of people. Our group of 100 people (& 40 different nationalities) were led by students and a few adult advisors. Even though we only had 2 full days in Morocco, I think that our leaders did such an efficient job in organizing the trip that I felt like I had seen everything.

Now, there are a few things to remember when traveling here. What you wear has become less of a focus, however, you should still dress on the conservative side to draw less attention. In Morocco, most people speak French (and Arabic of course) but if you don’t know French, try Spanish or even German before you try English. My weekend consisted of lots of pointing and using the only two French words I know; toilet and pan. And speaking of toilet, do not forget to bring a roll of toilet paper because the bathrooms in restaurants and public places most likely won’t have any. Also, never pay whatever price they’re asking for (except at restaurants), ALWAYS barter and don’t be afraid to walk away if you feel like you’re paying too much. Do not forget to buy lots of bottled water and just be cautious about where you are getting your fruit from. I personally had no problems with the food but I know other people did. Overall everything is very cheap there, so you should expect to pay less and get more (finally an exchange rate that is totally in your favor).

I am so happy that I decided to go on this trip. It is an amazing experience unlike anything I had done before and the weather is beautiful. So if you are studying abroad, add Morocco to a weekend trip because you definitely will not regret it.

 

Guide for Attending a Spanish University

From how to dress, how you take your in-between-class breaks, to the best gelato place to go after class, Samantha Ludes guides you how to navigate a Spanish university, as she attends the Universidad Pontificia Comillas for a semester on the Student Exchange Program.

I wish there had been a “How To” guide to attending a university in Spain, but since there is not, I decided to make my own. Everything from the clothes you wear to using graph paper instead of lined paper, there is a laundry list of differences.

I am studying at Universidad Pontificia Comillas ICADE, a business school in the heart of Madrid, Spain on Fisher’s Student Exchange Program. The school itself is beautiful. The Church inside the school and the tiled blue walls make me feel as if I am not at school at all.

I take classes ranging from Planificación y Gestión de Marketing (Marketing Planning and Management) to Spanish Culture Through Visual Arts. Most of my classes are primarily international students except for my Marketing course. It has been very beneficial to take classes with Spanish students since I have learned so much about the culture, the slang, and what university is like in Spain.

The first thing I learned is that students do not eat in classes, that is considered very rude. They do, however, talk during class. At least in my experience, students will talk to friends and be very casual in front of the teachers. Professors here are also more informal, talking about what good places students should go to, and not minding when students show up 20 minutes late to class, especially on Mondays.

Coffee breaks are apart of everyone’s everyday schedule. Before or after class, we will often go grab a coffee at a local cafe near school. My personal favorite is to go to UVEPAN because all of the staff are so friendly and love when I practice my Spanish with them. PRO TIP: If it is Monday then go to McDonald’s (which are a lot nicer in Spain) and get FREE coffee. All you have to do is ask for it!

People stand outside the building and catch up for a while after class with friends. Standing on those steps I have planned weekend trips, dinner plans, and laughed about stories from the previous week. I have met with group project members to discuss our assignments and scheduled our next meetings. In the states, I tend to go to class and then straight to whatever I had planned next. Here they take their time, plan a lot less, and chat a lot more. In my attempt to blend in, I have had to adjust how I present myself in class. I went from dressing very casually, typically in my workout clothes and my backpack, to wearing jeans, a sweater, and boots or sneakers with my purse. People dress as if they are going out to dinner but instead it is just for class. To my surprise, I have actually enjoyed getting ready like that everyday (probably because the shopping is so great here) but nonetheless, it has been an adjustment.

Going to a university in Spain may be very different from going to Ohio State, but different is not always bad. Getting lost in this small (but VERY confusing) building has led me to meet Spanish students who studied at Ohio State for their abroad experience. I approached a group of students in the cafe and asked if one of them could show me where the bookstore was. A few of them offered to walk me there and were telling me about where they studied in the US. It was the craziest coincidence when one of the students told me he studied at Ohio State. We talked about our business classes and football (of course) and how we missed the deep love for all things OSU. Talking with him about being a Buckeye made this new place feel a little more like home.

Another perk of going to Comillas is the gelato shop La Romana right down the street. If you like gelato, you will LOVE this.  The people at the counter will let you try almost every flavor, ranging from the classic Pistachio to Biscotto. I get a new flavor almost every time I go because they’re all so delicious that I can’t even pick a favorite! You must go in there and ask for a “muestra” (sample) and you will understand what I am talking about.

As always, Go Bucks!

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!

Visiting Team: Differences Between Madrid and the States

Read the observation Danny Rodgers shares as he spends his semester at Universidad Pontificia Comillas on the Student Exchange Program! He touches on the difference in the classroom, sports, to the daily life in Spain.

One of the coolest parts about living abroad is seeing how daily life works in another country. Some differences are minimal, whereas others are quite drastic. Over the past couple of months here in Madrid, I have diligently taken note of key differences and put together this blog featuring some of the more interesting differences between life back home and here in Madrid. With that, let’s dive in!

Daily Routine

Although three days of my school week beginning at 8:00 am, the typical Spanish day starts later than in the US. This became apparent to me rather quickly as I was the only one in the neighborhood awake, walking in darkness to class at 7:30 in the morning; traffic doesn’t really pick up until about 9:00 in the morning when Madrid is commuting to work. Another major difference in regards to the mornings is what is served for breakfast. Here, breakfast consists of strong coffee and maybe a small pastry, usually served and eaten quickly at one of Madrid’s plentiful coffee bars. Given the later start to the day, the rest of the day’s meals also occur at different times. The lunch hour starts around 2:00pm and is the heaviest meal of the day. Many shops and businesses shut down during lunch and people head home to eat with family. The result is a sort of 2-part work day that ends later than the typical US workday. For example, the relocation service I used when searching for accommodation followed office hours of 10:00am-2:00pm and 3:00pm to 7:00pm. Wrapping up the day around 9:00 pm is dinner, a lighter meal in comparison to lunch. At a full 3-4 hours later than the typical US dinner hour, this late meal is arguably one of the biggest adjustments to make when living in Spain.

In regards to studying in Madrid, Ohio State and my university here could not be more different. Here at Comillas, all my classes are under the same roof. The classes are about 20 – 40 students in size and I have multiple classes with the same classmates. Compare this to Ohio State where a brisk 20 minute walk across campus in between classes is not uncommon and a first year economics lecture brings out a crowd that can rival a small concert venue. Here at Comillas, the structure of the classes differs significantly as well. For example, a typical final exam at Ohio State usually accounts for about 20 percent of the final grade whereas here, my final exams currently looming on the horizon are worth a humble 50 percent of my final grade. As is with most aspects of studying abroad, adjusting to a different way of doing things is the norm. Add on a positive outlook and even the most daunting of tasks seem doable.

The Big Game

I am a huge sports fan, so a goal of mine going into the semester was to attend a match at Santiago Bernabéu, home of one of Spain’s top football clubs, Real Madrid. After a stressful morning of ticket shopping, I managed to snag a single ticket to a Champion’s League match between Real Madrid and Tottenham, an English football club. Champions league matches feature two high level international clubs, so I knew I was in for a good game. It felt great to be back in a packed stadium for a prime time game as I didn’t have the usual Buckeye game days throughout the semester.

The differences between Madrid’s marquee sporting event and a comparable event in the US were very interesting. For instance, the entire match was played in under 2 hours. The trade off to a shorter event, however, is that those 2 hours were filled with constant action. Compare this to a typical Sunday NFL game with all its commercial breaks and stoppage of play and you can see why some non-Americans find American football rather boring. Another interesting aspect of the Real Madrid match was how the moment halftime hit, everyone pulled out their pre-packed sandwiches from home to enjoy during the break. Quite the nice alternative to the typical $13.00 hotdog and soda found in US stadiums. Finally, and probably the most impressive difference, would have to be how the fans engaged in the game. From pregame to the final whistle, fans on both sides chanted and sang the entirety of the match. Their dedication to cheering was incredibly impressive and created a high energy atmosphere the whole game. Coming into the match knowing next to nothing about European football (very American of me, I know), the skill of the players, passion of the fans and the overall experience gave me a new appreciation for the sport.

City Life

When considering where I would spend a semester abroad, I only had two requirements. I had studied Spanish for 8 years and am currently working towards a Spanish minor, so studying in a Spanish speaking country was a must. Secondly, I grew up in Naperville, Illinois, so Chicago was always a quick train ride away. Heading to Chicago year after year, I developed a love for exploring cities. With these two desires, Madrid, Spain seemed like the perfect choice. Now several months into the semester, I can say Madrid is exactly where I am supposed to be. Trading towering skyscrapers and our beloved cars for royal palaces and public transportation, the experience of living in a European metropolis has been an incredible experience.

As a capital city with over 3 million people, Madrid is an exciting place to live. Here, one can find everything from maze-like neighborhoods hailing from the 17th century to streets like Gran Vía, bustling with activity 24 hours a day. Madrid is also a city of neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character and impressive lineup of restaurants, night life, and shops. Outside of main thoroughfares, chain restaurants and businesses are not very common. This allows local businesses to take center stage, each providing a completely unique experience to the next. I’ve often wondered how so many of these little shops can stay in business, and I think it speaks volumes to the benefits of high density, walkable neighborhoods. This is a far cry from the car-centric towns we have in the US—outside of a select few urban areas. Only having to walk 5 minutes or less for fresh baked bread, a grocery store or coffee shop will be something I miss dearly.

Madrid has also provided the perfect setting for practicing Spanish. In these aforementioned coffee bars and little restaurants, English is hardly common. It is with this real world practice that I now feel more confident than ever in my language abilities. I can only image how proud my high school Spanish teachers would be, knowing I can successfully fight my way to the counter of a packed tapas bar and order without issues; this is why I studied Spanish. But in all seriousness, I have thoroughly enjoyed living in a city where I must speak Spanish daily. I strongly suggest to anyone studying a language to pursue an exchange in a country that speaks the language you are studying. It is far and away the best way to develop confidence in using the language, which is something that cannot be easily gained in a class that only meets twice a week. While it was certainly a challenge learning the ins and outs of new city, Madrid has become a place I’ve grown to love.

Although my semester abroad is coming to a close, there are still more stories to tell! Check back next time to hear about a global business experience I had here in Madrid. Later on, look out for my advice for outgoing study abroad students as the next semester rolls around.

As always thanks for reading!

Moments of Fluency, Moments Quite Touristy

Just off the flight arriving in Madrid, Spain, Danny Rodgers shares his first interaction with his host country, which welcomed him with a fellow Buckeye alum from 1976! He describes his first month on the Students Exchange Program, attending Universidad Pontificia Comillas, and putting his language skills to the test.

The adventures of moving to another country.

Welcome to Madrid

Stepping off the plane in Madrid, it still had not registered with me just how far I had traveled. Bleary-eyed and rather tired from my 3 flight jaunt from Chicago to Boston to Frankfurt to Madrid (things we do for a good deal) I set off for baggage claim. We had just spent the last hour or so circling over the Spanish countryside due to heavy storms, so I was quite happy to finally be on my feet and walking. Fortunately, airport processes are rather universal, so collecting my bags and heading for the taxis was a rather straight forward task. This would prove to be where my travel expertise ended as from that point on, I was in uncharted waters. I felt a mix of excitement, curiosity and uncertainty heading out of the airport since this was my first time ever traveling to Europe.

After a couple of tense minutes waiting, my bag to finally showed itself and I set off for the taxis. I walked out of baggage claim expecting to pass through customs but before I knew it, I was curbside. Later did I realize that the passport control I went through half asleep at 6:30 am in Frankfurt was where I was stamped in to the European Union. Lufthansa did a great job getting me this far, but now it was my turn to take over the reigns. First up was finding a wifi connection. The beauty of traveling in the 21st century is that we are equipped with the world’s greatest travel companion: the smartphone. When I’m traveling, the number one must have app I would recommend is Google Maps. I use Google Maps nearly everyday for directions, checking train times, or even reading restaurant reviews. That being said, the smartphone is pretty much just a fancy calculator without an internet connection. Struggling to find any sort of connection, I began walking to other parts of the airport. Not having any luck connecting, I got on an escalator hoping the upper levels may have a stronger signal. On the escalator there was a man a bit ahead of me who was looking in my direction. Did he recognize me? Was he on my flight? I wasn’t sure, but it didn’t take long to find out when he looked at me again:

“O-H!”

“I-O!”

Smiling through the jetlag from our long haul flights

7 minutes into my semester abroad and I run into a fellow buckeye. This is why every buckeye should travel in an OSU sweatshirt; the community of 500,000 living alumni is no joke. I’m a firm believer in good omens, and right then I knew I was in for a great semester. John was a 1976 graduate of the OSU dentistry program and was in Madrid for a conference. We had a great conversation about all things OSU and took a picture to send to John’s friend, a Michigan grad, to prove to her how buckeyes are everywhere.

It’s been just over a month now and Madrid is starting to feel like another home. I have settled into my classes, become acquainted with the neighborhood and feel more confident speaking Spanish. It really did take about a month, as there are many more dynamics at play upon starting a semester here compared to OSU. Whether that be shopping for a Spanish SIM card or adjusting to eating dinner at 9:30 pm, these extra differences made settling in a bit more challenging. Switching to a Spanish SIM card was one of the first challenges I faced. As I mentioned earlier, the smartphone is the essential tool for traveling. Because of this, I needed to set up my SIM card as soon as possible. I started researching my options and narrowed-in on a plan I felt would work best. Now it was time for the fun part. When I walked into the store, I began to worry: What if they don’t understand me? How do you say gigabite in Spanish? Fortunately, I quickly realized I was more than capable of completing the transaction. I left the store with more than just a SIM card, but rather a boost in confidence. These challenges became significantly easier to overcome once I changed my perspective. Instead of looking at them as tasks that are a burden, I viewed them as opportunities to practice Spanish or a chance to put my problem solving skills to the test. That made all the difference.

As I look ahead to the next 3 months of the semester, I know that time is going to fly. With all the logistics of moving abroad behind me, I can now truly begin to make the most of every single day. My number one goal for this semester is to truly step outside of my comfort zone in regards to speaking Spanish. I aspire to use Spanish in my career, and the only way to improve fluency is to practice. Thankfully, every day provides opportunities to use the language, so I believe it is a very realistic goal. Studying abroad is a grand opportunity that has been a dream of mine ever since I set foot in the Study Abroad Expo my freshman year. I’m excited to go into detail in my next entries about everyday life here and how very different it has been.

Thank you for reading and as always, OH!

From a Broken Phone to Having an Audience With The King of Spain: Part II

Grant Buehrer, participating in the Student Exchange Program in Spain, shared his story meeting with the King of Spain! Tasked with a gift and the first question to the king, he puts what he learned at Ohio State to the test as he steps into the room that the king awaits.

This is a continued story for my previous blog post here, and I am excited to share the story of meeting the King of Spain!

The time had come for me to join the group of students set to be a part of the annual private audience with the King of Spain. As we waited outside the university – in formal suit and tie – for the bus that would take us to Palacio Zarzuela, the official residence of the Spanish royal family. I had the chance to strike up a great conversation with a group of outstanding students at ICADE, they were interested to hear about business culture in the U.S.A. and we had a short, yet passionate, debate regarding the role of the United States in the world. At this point my Spanish was starting to sound quite coherent and I was proud of my progress in the first 2 months of the exchange semester.

Once on the bus Marta – the person who aided me in getting my replacement phone out of customs – began to address the group of around 20-30 students. We had known that our meeting would be a casual-style Q&A, but none of us were expecting Marta to ask us to be the first to ask a question. After a few moments of silence following her request for an initial question, Marta called on me to ask a question first. I became tense, but remembered all the great preparation I had received from my time at Ohio State to be ready in this moment. I felt that there was a necessary need to bring a gift for the King, know that he was an active man, I decided to bring a new Ohio State Nike dry-fit hat; it seemed fitting considering I was a long way from home. With question and a hat in hand, I got off the bus and went towards the palace.

The palace was a beautiful place, incredibly regal with fine accents. For a building for nation leader, it was right in line with my expectations in terms of its exquisiteness. As we were waiting for our appointment with the King, we waited in an anteroom and were prepped as to what the proceedings for the meeting would be. I handed my gift over to an assistant to the king, and we began to make a line for our entrance and formal handshake.

After a wonderful procession into the room, we were there. King Felipe VI was very gracious and received us regally. With a firm handshake and a slight bow, I greeted the king with a formal Su Majestad (Your Majesty), it was an incredible experience. Once the proceedings began, time seemed to rapidly pass by. After speeches from the Rector of my exchange university, King Felipe VI, and a single student representative the Q&A had commenced. Without fail, the entire room was looking to me as I stretched my Spanish skills to its maximum. After a minute long speech in Spanish I politely asked the King if I could ask my question in English, I did not want to ask a complex question and receive a response in a language I didn’t have total mastery of yet! He graciously accepted, and provided an incredibly thorough response, I was incredibly impressed by his breadth of knowledge.

He did the same for the rest of the students, each response was carefully crafted and expertly explained. what was most interesting for me was his diplomatic demeanor. One could tell that he was a person who had spent much time in front of the citizens of Spain, and in negotiations with international leaders. There was a lot to learn from having the honor to observe such a well-polished individual.

I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to have met King Felipe VI, and would not have been able to have such an experience without the existence of the Fisher Semester Exchange program. I have much gratitude to both Universidad Pontificia Comillas and The Ohio State University for their partnership. Get out there and go beyond the classroom with a semester exchange!

From a Broken Phone to Having an Audience With The King Of Spain: Part I

Grant Buehrer, participating in the Student Exchange Program in Spain, tells his story of how a broken phone turned into a meeting with the King of Spain! He shares the strategies and learned lessons from leveraging the most good out of a bad situation while abroad.

Students and staff from the the exchange university delegation to meet the King of Spain listen to a speech prior to engaging in a Q&A Discussion with the King. From Left: Universidad Pontificia Comillas Rector Julio Luis Martínez. King of Spain Felipe VI De Bourbon y Grecia, Universidad Pontificia Comillas Staff and Students with Exchange Student Grant Buehrer center with navy suit and blue tie.

I was just two weeks fresh into my semester exchange in Madrid, Spain at Universidad Pontificia Comillas and I woke up to some concerning news. My communication lifeline, a Samsung Galaxy 7 smartphone, had died while I was sleeping. Although this might seem as a first-world complaint, when one finds themselves in an unfamiliar and foreign country the GPS and Maps capability of a smartphone alone are priceless. As the price of purchasing a new phone while I was in a foreign country was too high, I was relieved to hear from my U.S. based cell-phone insurance company that there was no problem in having a replacement phone shipped internationally. Excitedly I waited till the next week for delivery, anxiously checking the tracking information daily as the package traveled over land and ocean. On the day of expected arrival one of the worst sentences one can hear when shipping internationally flashed across my internet browser, your package has been held in customs.

As I quickly learned, living abroad requires one to quickly adapt to a given situation. As the news came in I raced to the internet to research what I would have to do – after nearly 10 days without a functioning phone – to retrieve the package. Over the course of the next seven days, I visited 3 separate government agencies on 5 total occasions while spending 10 hours of my life in mind-numbing government queues. I had made no progress whatsoever.

When living abroad, there are times when you realize that you are in over your head and need the support and advocacy of a trusted party, requiring you to think critically and accordingly as to who that might be. As such, I turned immediately to my exchange university academic advisor for help. After pointing me towards an International Relations office housed within my exchange university, I had a dream-team of two of the nicest and caring Spanish women I think I have met in all of my 6 months in the country helping me. Through broken Spanish we began to discuss what the issue was and began the process of correctly retrieving the necessary government documents to get my phone back.

A critical point must be made here, my ability to make it this far into the process of retrieving my phone falls back on one huge factor, learning Spanish prior to coming to Spain to a high enough level, so that I could communicate through these events albeit at the level of a fourth-grader. One of the worst attributes of the ugly American tourist stereotype is the inability to understand that not everyone speaks English in the world. That is okay, in fact citizens in foreign countries have every right to speak exclusively in their native tongue and you have to adjust accordingly to this reality rather than letting it bog you down.

As the next week passed I paid daily visits to my government-bureaucracy savior, Marta. This rekindled how much I have realized the importance of building relationships are, during this time I learned about Marta’s family amongst other things as I shared photos of my dog back home and stories. Not only from hearing others experiences can you learn lessons about the world that you wouldn’t have experienced otherwise, but it also opens dialogue between yourself and another that allows you to share your dreams, interests and goals with others.

This part is critical, as it is the bridge to the rest of the story and why I have found myself in some incredible experiences on the Student Exchange Program, and in life. At some point in our many interactions and through my intermediate Spanish, I shared my interested in the developing world and that I had previously visited Washington D.C. due to interests in International Finance. Marta immediately lit up, from what I could understand from our conversation in Spanish she had a friend that worked in D.C. that would be coming back to Madrid very soon and that I should meet him.

More time passes and I forget about the prior conversation we had regarding Marta’s D.C. connection. With luck, 21 days after my phone dying I had finally gotten my replacement phone out of customs. In my own eyes I realized that words of gratitude would not be sufficient for Marta and the other woman that had helped me. Sometimes another’s action is great enough that it requires a gift. I opted for flowers.

Thanks to the gift of gratitude I found myself once again in the International Relations office. After expressing my gratitude deeply, I remembered the conversation that I had with Marta and asked her about her D.C. connection. To my surprise he wasn’t a friend of her’s, he was actually the manager of a study/work abroad program at the University and was back in Madrid just an office away.

We immediately hit it off, as it turned out Jose was not only a long-time resident of the U.S.A. but his study abroad programs were incredibly successful at the university. As we continued to discuss U.S. politics and global affairs, Jose informed me of a few events and conferences that he was coordinating at the university. After learning a little more about me he asked if I might be able to speak at a few of the conferences regarding the U.S.A. and its culture.

I really credit the time that I spent at Ohio State for preparing me for this request. Thanks to the many opportunities I have had to present in front of professionals and fellow students through student organizations, I was prepared. Over the next couple weeks I spoke on several occasions at his scheduled events.

This is where things come full circle, as I have found through the many opportunities that I have had in my life the old adage “luck is where opportunity meets preparation.” After my final speaking engagement, Jose shocked me with the information that he was requesting that I be allowed to join a delegation from the university to meet with His Majesty King Felipe VI of Spain. The delegation visits the King annually as a sign of support from the Royal Family towards globally-minded university programs. After a decade of visiting delegations to King Felipe VI, Jose said it was time for a foreign-exchange student to join the delegation, and thanks to my rapid involvement on campus he believed I was a good fit.

Forward-thinking really came in handy when preparing for Spain, I thought that I might find myself wanting to attend a formal event while in Spain. Therefore I made the effort to make enough room in my luggage for my suit, tie and dress shoes. Never did I know that I would be using my suit to meet the King of Spain!

With the event a week away, I decided to take a step back and prepare myself for meeting with the King of Spain. I had been honored to have been blessed with the possibility.

Want to know how it went meeting the King? Stay tuned for my next blog post about the meeting with the King!

A Weekend of Bliss

This weekend I traveled to Barcelona, Spain and it was such a great adventure.  I traveled with a good friend of mine and when traveling with a great partner, it makes the whole journey that much better.

On top of traveling with a great friend, I loved Barcelona because of the food and the sea.  I grew up loving lakes and oceans, and to see this city surrounded by beautiful beaches and the great expanse of the sea was so calming and peaceful for me.

My beautiful feet! Oh and I guess there’s the ocean too

In addition, the food everywhere was cheap, fresh, and delicious.  Seafood is a large part of Barcelona’s cuisine since the sea surrounds this city, and the seafood was so fresh.  There is a huge difference in the taste and texture of seafood in Cleveland, Ohio as opposed to that in Barcelona for obvious reasons.  There was also a huge bustling food market where they sold all sorts of fruits, meats, sweets, and more.  It was very lively and incredibly fun, and although everyone says that Barcelona is dangerous and full of pick-pocketers, as long as you keep an eye on your belongings, then you should be fine.

My friend and I at the fresh food market!

I would love to go back to Barcelona someday!