Life and Study in Strasbourg

Ling Shao shares her life in Strasbourg, France, from what she recommends seeing in the city to how the education system is different, as she studies abroad on the Student Exchange Program.

Strasbourg is a really safe and quiet city close to Germany and Switzerland. You can always take a train to go anywhere you want outside of France. If you live downtown, you can go anywhere that might interests you by walking. There is a really famous Cathedral named “Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg”.

You can see the whole view of the city at the top of the cathedral. It has the same name as Paris’ famous cathedral but it is much bigger and less touristy than the Paris one. I am not able to see the famous light show, but if you come in August or Early September, you can enjoy the light show in the evening.  It is really nice.

Other than the Notre Dame Cathedrale, you can also enjoy the biggest Christmas Fair in Strasbourg. It is still November, but normal trees are ready to become Christmas trees.

The study here is really different than that in the US. We only have 5 or 6 classes per week, however, classes here are more intense. One period class might take about 3-4 hrs and in some special cases, you might have to take an 8 hr class on Saturday with breaks. So bring some snacks and water for the classes and check your schedules before you arrange some trips on weekends. There is less homework which also means the grades heavily depend on the exams. I suggest that listening to the classes on a daily bases will help, so  you will not be so stressed during finals. I haven’t experienced an exam yet, but I am pretty sure that there will be a really intense reviewing week before the exam.

French Social/Business Etiquettes

On the Students Exchange Program in Strasbourg, France, Ling Shao shares some of the social and business etiquettes she learned which you might want to be aware of if you are going to France!

I live downtown in Strasbourg and I love shopping. So you know what happened to me. I went out shopping every free day. Since I have been experiencing different shopping experiences in different countries, there are some differences that I found when people are out shopping.

People here value appearance heavily and is part of the country’s social etiquettes. This does not mean that you have to be “good-looking” but how you dress and present yourself. They value people being appropriately dressed. It is really important to bring business suits or dresses to survive in events in France and you can always buy it here. There are also a lot of dressing codes here in a lot of restaurants and bars. So if you want to enjoy and feel the real French life, be prepared for the dress code.

For formal restaurants and bars, the dress code could be at least nice shirts and trousers for boys and dresses for girls (like the dress below I am in). It is better to use a clutch or leather bag instead of canvas bags or backpacks. No sneakers, no jeans or sports pants. Overall business casual is good. There is no dress code for attending school classes. Dress codes for events are different for different events.

“La bise” is also a really important culture in France. People kiss each others’ cheek when they meet, especially for people who you already have a good relationship with. This is not only for friends though, but you might also need to do it when you had a really good business partner.

 

Trying to be a local in Strasbourg, France

Starting life in Strasbourg on the Student Exchange Program, Ling Shao shares how she tries to live like a local in her new city in France! Get her insight on her housing, shopping, and commute in the city.

After adjusting my jet-lag, landing in Starsbourg, France, I started an “adventure” in my neighborhood. I live in downtown Strasbourg and I found it through “housing anywhere”. Accommodation on this website might be a little expensive but acceptable compared to US housing prices. If you know someone who is good at understanding French, it may be better to look for accommodation through “leboncoin”. The places I have is a really cozy and good loft and I really enjoy it. Except that you will not have dryers, only drying stands for your laundry. However, if you really need to wash large stuff, you can go to the public laundry spots which might cost you about 7-8 euros depending on your quantity and sizes.

The architecture here combine French and German styles which is exactly what you might imagine how Europe would look like. There are so many fashion shops and restaurants near me and they all close really late, almost after 12 am, which is really different from the US. It is so convenient to live here except for Sundays. Nearly all of the shops and restaurants close on Sundays! So, Grocery shop should be done before or after Sundays. Popular Grocery brands are “Auchan”, “U express” and “Carrefour city”. They usually have many branches all over the city. Just google search the closet one. The outside marché is usually held on Tuesdays at the Station “Brogile” or Station “Homme de fer” area or just next to the universities academic buildings.

The major transportation of the city is the “tram” which you can get to a lot of places within 20 minutes. It is about 25 euros/per month to get a transportation card and you can access trams and buses.  You can get your tram card after you get a student card, so  you can enjoy the student discounts. You can get your transportation card from CTS commercial agency (I bought mine at the one located in downtown just next to the F Tram stop named “alt winmarik”) or you can buy the tickets at the stops. It is the major transportation for me to go to schools every day. Here is a photo I got from the tram station. Do not forget to swipe your card before you get on the train, because it is possible that CTS employee wants you to show them your card or ticket.

Strasbourg is a really safe city. But still be careful of your personal belongings. It is really easy to lose things in Europe!

Tips Before Arriving in Strasbourg

Ling Shao shares her tips and advise on pre-departure preparations for studying abroad on the Student Exchange Program to France. Covering topic on accommodation search, to visa process, to traveling!

This is not my first-time studying abroad but the only difference is that I am doing this independently this time. I used to go abroad with a friend and or have somebody picking me up at the destination, so I had concern and had to plan for all the circumstances that I might confront ahead of time. I have had two biggest challenges:

Finding Accommodations

Preparing the accommodation is very complex. Luckily, I was able to find my accommodation through the website my host institution gave me. For France, there are several websites that you can use: leboncoin / housing anywhere / airbnb. If you really cannot find a place before you arrive, an option may be to find a cheap hostel and try to communicate with your host institution. Strasbourg is a really safe place comparing to other places in Europe, but still be careful of the location of the hostels, and definitely do some researches on the destination that you are going to!

Visa Process

My visa process was really challenging and tough. I am an international student and I had to transfer my academic status from the US to my home country to get a French Student Visa. However, after all of the challenges that I dealt through this application, I now feel confident that I am able to deal with any visa application in the future. Just to start early and do not hesitate to ask questions to the embassy in your country.

Traveling 

I googled and searched a lot of tips about traveling to Europe (useful website can be TripAdvisor and youtube videos, and there is a channel that I really love named “DamonandJo”), but the one I stress is: PACK LESS! You can buy everything you need in Europe, especially in Strasbourg.

Safety

BE SMART! Just be aware of your surrounding and avoid going to higher risk places in the cities you visit. Ask! Most people in Europe can speak English, even if you cannot communicate with them in the local language.

Learning Cultural Intelligence (CQ) – Core vs. Flex

“‘Everyone assumes that Cultural Intelligence (CQ) comes from understanding other people’s cultures, but you really have to understand your own’ (Middleton). Julia is so right about this point.” says Sydney Lapin studying abroad on the Student Exchange Program at Ecole de Management Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France. Read more on what she learned about CQ and how it related to her experience abroad, as well as how being abroad has helped her learn about her own culture and about herself.

Friends from all over Europe getting together for Valentine’s Day

The other day in my International Marketing Strategy class, we watched a Ted Talk that really spoke out to me. It was called “Cultural Intelligence: The Competitive Edge for Leaders” spoken by Julia Middleton. In the beginning, Julia defines cultural intelligence as “the ability to cross borders and boundaries between different cultures,  and actually thrive in doing so and love doing it and never want to not do it”. Julia grew up in the time where IQ meant everything, where it was considered crucial. Then, EQ (Emotional Intelligence) came around and people realized that it would be good for leaders to have this trait as well. However, people who are “good with people”, may really just be good with people who are like them. That is where CQ (Cultural Intelligence) comes into play: “the ability to work with people, and lead people, who are not like you”.

Julia went around the world, studying and interviewing people who she thought to have a good amount of cultural intelligence. Through her conversations, she found one large thing in common: “They had sort of figured out which bits of them was core, and which bits of them was flex”. By core “bits”, Julia means the behaviors, values and beliefs that are absolutely crucial to you being who you are, and a part of you that you are not willing to change. By flex bits, Julia means everything else that you are willing to compromise, or be flexible about. She states, “The more core you are, the more people trust you. The more flex you are, the more people trust you”. By this I believe she means that one needs to find a good balance, and that balance is what people who obtain cultural intelligence have found. For example, a salesperson is extremely flexible, and you lose all parts of your core and no one trusts you. And then, as Julia mentions, you have people like your grandparents, who are so set in their core that they refuse to be the least bit flexible.

Julia stated that cultural intelligence is found on the line between one’s core and one’s flex, and it moves from learning new things, gaining new experiences, and meeting new people. This video really got me thinking about which parts of me are core, and which parts are flex. I thought about my life, and my culture, and I tried and am still trying to figure it out. I think it will take a long time, if not forever, for someone to truly figure out where they stand because like Julia says, the line is always moving based on the things you learn and the people you meet.

Being abroad, I completely see how this video connects with my life. I have met people from all over the world, and not only met them but have held conversations, been involved in group projects, and traveled with these people of different backgrounds. There are parts of me I have and still need to adapt in order to get things to go smoothly when I work with people from other cultures.

With that, I am talking about the part of the video where Julia mentions knots in the core. We all have knots: parts of our supposed core that are based on PRE-judgement, rather than judgement. These are things we should push at and work on changing about ourselves. They might not be pretty, but I feel like that’s the point. For example, something I know I need to work on is my emotional resilience. When coming abroad, I thought that I had a pretty good grip on the things that would be difficult: the language barrier, the bureaucracy, the new school system. However, I did not think about preparing myself for how to react when difficult things are occurring. This is emotional resilience, the ability to bounce back and be okay when something is extremely frustrating and difficult. I have bounced back, but there are situations that I know I could have been more flexible and less reactive about.

An important part of the Ted Talk was where CQ comes from: “Everyone assumes that CQ comes from understanding other people’s cultures, but you really have to understand your own” (Middleton). Julia is so right about this point. She talks about the need to understand how your culture helps you versus hinders you, how it could open doors or close them, when your culture causes other people problems, and when your culture causes you to miss opportunities. To quote myself from my application, I thought one of the most important things was for me to “experience new cultures, learn about different backgrounds, and immerse myself in these cultures”. However, I now realize that the most important thing I am doing here, aside from learning about other cultures (which of course is still important), is learning who I am and how my culture, my core and my flex, affect my life and the people around me.

It is actually extremely complex, because when I think about the many things that I thought I was flexible on, it turns out that in some situations here I have found these things as “knots” in my core: they are things I want and aim to be flexible about, but I am currently not there yet, like my emotional resilience for example. It also turns out that when thinking deeper, things that I thought were in my core are actually things that I am quite flexible on. The biggest example of that I can think of is my Judaism. Being Jewish has always been one of the most important parts of me. I grew up in Cleveland, in an amazing Jewish community, that gave me so many opportunities I am grateful for. While being Jewish is something I hold very close, this video has made me think about the fact that yes, I am Jewish. Yes, this is important to me, and a part of me that I will not change. But, Judaism is actually one of the most flexible religions in the world. For instance, I personally do not think I believe in God, or in a lot of the things that supposedly happened back then, but Judaism still accepts me as a Jew. I am flexible to new opinions that go along with Judaism, and my thoughts and beliefs about it are always changing. So while being Jewish is something in my core, something that makes me who I am, I am still quite flexible about my beliefs through my religion.

I am beyond grateful to have seen this video while being abroad, and to be able to relate it to my everyday life here in Strasbourg, France. I feel as though I am much more aware of my personal strengths and weaknesses, and what I need to work on in order to become more culturally aware and to gain cultural intelligence. I know that the journey to having cultural intelligence is not easy, and will take a long time, but I think it is so important to be open to changing things about yourself, while also realizing what you are not willing to change in order to be who you are.

A trip to the Black Forest in Germany

In Bruges, Belgium

Sydney Lapin shares her adventures in Belgium, meeting the locals in Brussles and Bruges. Family dinners, an amazing hot chocolate, and a picturesque towns welcomed her to the country as she studies on the Student Exchange Program in Strasbourg, France.

Today I was thinking back to one of my first trips in January, Belgium. I had taken an overnight bus to Brussels with a few friends, and we arrived around 7:30 am. Anna, my friend from Finland, has a home is Brussels! Her parents work with the EU, and they move there every few years from what it sounds like. We were warmly welcomed into their home, and her mom had even prepared a lovely European breakfast for us! There were croissant, hard boiled eggs, yogurt and muesli, and juice. Anna’s mother spoke great English, and I was so appreciative to be around a parent again! It was like being at home a bit.

Anna showing us around Brussels!

We had a wonderful day of Anna showing us around Brussels. We took the long way to the city center, so that we could see the Parc de la Cinquentenare, (the park with the large gate that looks like the Brandenburg gate), the European Parliament, the Royal Palace, and a stunning view of Brussels near the Fine Arts Museum. We made our way toward Grand Place, where the buildings are gorgeously trimmed with gold decals. It was absolutely stunning. I think in the square alone there were four chocolate stores! Safe to say I was not dieting on this trip. But first, street waffles.

The group roaming Brussels!

We were on the hunt for the perfect street waffle. I ordered one with caramel, Belgian chocolate, and bananas. It took until I had about two bites left for me to realize it was landing like a pound of rocks in my stomach…but the taste was SO worth it!

Carly, Haley and I with our Belgian Waffles!

We walked around a bit more, and had planned to go home and relax and then head back out for dinner somewhere. When we arrived at Anna’s however, her mom had cooked a traditional Finnish meal for us! We all had drinks and discussed things about America and Finland, and each of us wrote a little note in the guest book that Anna’s family keeps.

In the morning, my friends had planned to go to Cologne, Germany but I was a little more interested in seeing Bruges, a more Northern town in Belgium, so I booked a night in a hostel just outside of the town and jumped on a train to Bruges! The train took about an hour, and when I arrived I had to take the public buses over to the area that the hostel was located. As I was sitting on the bus, I was a little unsure of what stop I was getting off at. An old man next to me noticed, and started speaking something in Flemmish. When he realized I had no idea what he was saying, the guy across from us laughed and translated. In Belgium, they speak Flemmish and French, so the man who spoke English and I had a nice conversation about speaking French, his friends in the states who live in New Mexico, and about the canal tours.

After dropping off my things, I headed out with my camera into the extremely picturesque streets of Bruges. I went on the canal tour, which was really cool and showed the entire city from a different perspective.

View from the water.

I had done some research on where I wanted to spend time in Bruges, besides just walking around, and so I headed to ‘The Old Chocolate House’ for hot chocolate! It was AMAZING. I sat in the restaurant upstairs, and ordered Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, and an assortment of 10 pralines (mystery chocolates!). When the hot coco arrived, it was a mug of steamed milk, and then a cup filled with your ingredients that you are supposed to dump in and stir. Even the cup was made of chocolate! It was so delicious, I went back a second time while being in the town.

The Old Chocolate House style Hot Coco!

The thing about Europe I noticed, especially in these smaller towns, is that so much closes around 6/7 pm. So I walked around a little, and bought my friends some assortments of chocolates, but then just sat in this little restaurant I found for a while until I felt hungry enough to eat again! I had to eat dinner, because there was a dish I was told I needed to try called “Waterzooi”. I ordered a drink, and the traditional dish, and wrote in my journal about my travel day. The restaurant was called “Brugge-Link”, and the dish was so amazing. It was almost like a cream of potato base with chicken and vegetables, and came with mashed potatoes on the side. Totally worth being overly full!

As I was walking back to the hostel, I ran into some sort of fire festival being held behind the Basilica of the Holy Blood. There were stands for food and drinks, a band playing music, and entertainers playing with fire! It was such a cool thing to run into!

In the morning, I got up before the sun rose to pack up my things and walk around the town while it was quiet. I was happy that the hostel was situated a little outside of the town, because the streets and alleys were just stunning. I was happy to be with my camera.


The rest of the day I explored. I roamed the town, went into the Basilica of the Holy Blood church, climbed the Belfry (the town tower in the center), walked around the ‘Lake of Love’, and then found a place called ‘Wijngaerde Beguinage’ which was a home for women, religious women, and widows who wished to live an “independent but committed life outside the recognized orders with their vows of fidelity and poverty”. It was considered a “city of peace”, and was a really beautiful area.

Swans in the “Lake of Love”
City of Peace

After strolling around some more, sending a couple postcards, and of course eating more chocolate, I took the train back to Brussels where I was catching another overnight bus back to Strasbourg. On the train I got to reflect on my time in Bruges, and my love of travel. Sometimes it’s just good to get away for a little and let yourself explore new things. I learned that I enjoy my own company, and that’s something that is really important in life! I hope to one day take my parents to Bruges and show them around, because it was such a lovely and picturesque little town.

Bruges City Center

Reflection of Study Abroad

Bradley Herndon reflects on his semester abroad on the Student Exchange Program at Ecole de Management Strasbourg, France. He shares some of the things he have learned through the people he have met and the classes he has taken, to take steps to be a better global citizen and global business leader.

These days I often find it difficult to close my eyes, because right now, I am living in my dream. Since I was a kid in elementary school I knew I wanted to study abroad; it is an opportunity to explore new cultures, places, and ideas. I recognize I am a product of my environment and opportunities – I would not be writing this today in Strasbourg, France, if not for my family, friends, mentors, and teachers. These individuals have supported me in my endeavors, challenged me to work harder, and inspire me to pursue my passions. Only around 1.6% of U.S. students enrolled in higher education study abroad each year; for most students, studying abroad is simply infeasible. These four months in France are truly a gift, and I owe it to the people who helped get me here, to be cognizant and reflective. I believe it is my responsibility to think critically and share some of the insights I have derived from my first two months of studying abroad.

I am by no means an expert on understanding cultural differences, I am far from being a truly immersed, global citizen, and these insights have no doubt been written about before. This essay is partially a platform for me to understand where I have gained value from my experience; but, maybe it will also be a platform for me to distribute value to others. Perhaps it will shed new light on the importance of learning from different cultures and appreciating the world we inhabit. Although minute, perhaps I will be doing my part to bridge the cultural divide and connect this world even more. I hope you enjoy.

Listen:

These past two months I’ve had the privilege of meeting people from all over the world and it is the most inspiring aspect of studying abroad. I’ve met and made friends with people from Australia, Singapore, Ireland, Spain, France, Kazakhstan, Finland, Czech Republic, Hungary, U.S., Canada, Mexico, Colombia, and more; each person has a story and perspective that varies vastly from the next. Most of the time I just sit in awe and listen to people speak about their cultures, the hardships they’ve endured, and the passions they grip fervently. I want to share two stories that have influenced my perspective.

When I first met Mariana, what struck me most was how proud she is to say she is from Colombia. It was this passion which prompted me to learn more about her story. When people first learn she is from Colombia, overwhelmingly, their first response is to ask about drugs and crime. The Colombia that many people know, is the Colombia depicted in Narcos – Pablo Escobar, cocaine, drug-trafficking, guerillas, and violence. To be frank, those issues have plagued Colombia in the past. The guerillas were founded in the 1960’s as a communist-inspired army. Much of their operations were funded by drug-trafficking and ransom payments, leading to violence for a long period of time. However, the past is the past, and a lot of the violence and corruption has eased. Narcos, while portraying true issues, undermines the tremendous progress that Colombia has made to create peace. Colombia is more than just Pablo Escobar, and it is more than its past.

Mariana recognizes there is progress to be made, but she chooses to view her country in a positive light and focuses on the aspects that make Colombia unique and beautiful. For starters, it is a cultural hub having been a home to writers like Gabriel García Márquez, artists like Juanes and Shakira, painters like Fernando Botero, and athletes like James Rodríquez.

“I wish everyone was able to see Colombia through my eyes.”

It was through those eyes that she grew up watching the Carnaval de Barranquilla, filled with adults and children dancing, celebrating their culture. Those eyes that would watch people cheer madly for the Colombian National Football Team; those eyes that witnessed the beauty in the beaches, mountains, and cities that comprise the land; and those eyes that have consistently seen energetic, warm, and loving people, fight through adversity and remain strong. That is the Colombia that Mariana knows and holds so dearly. As an aspiring journalist, her experiences have shaped her passion to one day open a media company that focuses on positive news stories in Colombia. It is her dream to inspire hope and compassion in the people, and to share the Colombia she sees through her eyes.

Besides experiencing joy while listening to her speak about her country, Mariana taught me to look beneath the surface of a situation; it is a reminder to seek the truth and the light within the world, a country, or a person.

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The next story is about my friend Bernat from Barcelona, who has experienced Catalonia’s plight for independence from Spain. His story is complicated and I will attempt to give a brief synopsis; Catalonia is a region of 7.5 million people in the northeast corner of Spain, notable for being the region of Barcelona. Catalans have their own language, their own culture, their own parliament, and their own history. On multiple occasions, the Spanish government has tried to suppress Catalan identity, including the period after the siege of Barcelona in 1714 during the War of Spanish Succession, and also during the reign of the military dictator Francisco Franco from 1939 – 1975. Catalonia, accounting for 16% of Spain’s population, is a wealthy region accounting for 19% of GDP and 25% of industrial production. Recently, the country has seen Madrid take large sums of taxes from their region, and distribute the benefits to areas outside of Catalonia. This history has created cultural, political, and economic motives for the Catalan population to claim the right of self-determination, and it lead to the events that took place on October 1, 2017.

Since 2012, the Catalan Parliament has been calling on the Spanish government to hold a  referendum, to let the people decide the future of their small nation. However, after twenty formal demands and consequential denials, the Catalan government led by Carles Puigdemont scheduled a referendum to vote for independence without consent from Madrid. After the announcement, “The government of the conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called on residents to stay home. With the help of Spanish courts and the police, it confiscated paper ballots and closed referendum-related websites.” (New York Times) When the Catalan’s took to the streets to demonstrate peacefully and exercise their right to vote, the Spanish government sent police forces and the violence used on citizens is truly shocking. When talking to Bernat, who associates himself as a Catalan and is on the pro-independence side, he said, “It’s no longer a nationalist issue, it’s an issue of democracy. Catalans deserve the right to decide on independence and to have their voices heard.”

These are his people; you can see in his eyes the deep connection and love he has for Catalonia, and the hurt he feels while describing the violence. There are two sides of every story; Bernat has encouraged me to research and understand the motives from the Catalan and Spanish perspective. One thing is evident – the actions taken by the Spanish Government to inhibit the vote, violated human rights and clearly undermines the value of democracy. To understand more of the situation I encourage you to watch the video on youtube: “Help Catalonia. Save Europe.”

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I could go on to share multiple stories like these two which have impacted the way I think and view the world. Studying abroad has pushed me to be cognizant and opened my eyes to situations and hardships that I knew little or nothing about. I’ve realized I am passionate about connecting people; sharing stories so we realize we are more alike than we are different. When you listen to people’s stories, you empathize and learn how you can advocate for them.

Observe – Interpret – Value:

I recently attended a lecture on French Culture, delivered by a professor who has experience working with schools from all around the world. Dr. Mac Gabhann implored that we should be curious about the toughest issues of the day, both business and social, and that we should be garnering a European perspective to assist in decision making. One of his main points resonated with me: it is not satisfactory to exclusively observe French behaviors, you have to interpret those behaviors using historical and societal context, in order to value the French culture.

Personally, I do not know the French language and, most of the time, I have absolutely no idea what people are saying around me. However, I am still actively attempting to immerse myself in the culture, so I have been researching French history as an avenue to relate to French students and interpret their behaviors. One of my observations is that the French appear to be slightly less welcome to speaking other languages, and prefer for you to attempt to speak in French. My interpretation is that France is a very proud country; their language represents their rich history of Enlightenment thinkers, innovation and diplomacy. They have also seen the English language infiltrate their society and it has upended some of the French influence around the world. These changes have made the French more protective of their language, and hence, on average, slightly less welcome to speaking different languages. I have learned to value the pride they have in their country, and it has motivated me to learn more of the language, culture, and history.

I stated before that I am not yet an immersed global citizen, but I do have aspirations to one day work with people across borders. I am excited to be exposed to many different cultures and it is necessary to value their differences in order to collaborate and optimize performance. I believe this framework, observe – interpret – value, is an important reminder to abandon preconceptions, and learn how to view cultural differences in a positive light.

Appreciate:

I love reflecting on moments. There is something incredibly satisfying about narrowing your scope, and understanding exactly what specific events brought you happiness. Time is fleeting; you are forced to pay attention to the details to prevent sources of happiness from slipping away. Traveling produces a heightened sense of emotion. Time after time, these past two months I have experienced moments where I just feel happy and alive and inspired. Everywhere I go, I am surrounded by beauty. Beauty in the streets of Vienna, captured from my early morning stroll in the snow; beauty in the alleyways of Strasbourg, on Sunday mornings when the quaint apartments and their iron railings have still yet to be woken; beauty in the sunsets, enveloping the Côte d’Azur, Paris, and Florence in their own distinct shade of red and orange; beauty in the thousands of years of French history, rich with the Enlightenment, kings, queens, revolutions, art, fashion, and cuisine; and finally, beauty in the friends I have met, each one with a tale from another part of the world. This world has destinations to explore, cultures to learn from, ideas waiting to be tapped, and beauty to be discovered; what a privilege it is to play our own role.

Life will likely not always be this lively, where I seemingly have the freedom to travel to another country every weekend. So while I am holding onto this time dearly, I am also not afraid of when it will pass. Whether I am spending hours studying or relaxing with friends, hanging out in Ohio or traveling the world, I control my mindset and can always work to derive happiness from the simplest moments. Life is short, and I know for many it is characterized by hardship, inequality, and constant struggle. But try to focus on what brings you happiness, what you are grateful for, and what inspires you. Optimism only strengthens your ability to enact positive change. For me, studying abroad has reaffirmed the importance of appreciating the individuals and opportunities which have shaped me, and also taught me to pause and reflect. There is a lot of beauty in this world, we just have to open our eyes and look.

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Read more of his experiences in France on Brad Herndon’s original blog here!

About the Author: Brad Herndon, Sophomore, Finance. Student Exchange Program- France.

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.

 

Reflections on My Semester Abroad in France

After a month back from the Student Exchange Program, Troy Weider reflects on his incredible semester abroad in Strasbourg, France. He shares some of the things that he already misses about leaving Europe, the return culture shock he felt coming back to the U.S., and his message to students considering (or on the fence) to go abroad.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.17.41 PMScreen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.20.24 PMScreen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.19.26 PMWow… I can hardly believe that it has already been a month since I arrived back to Perrysburg, Ohio, after four months of exploring some of the most beautiful places in Europe. I catch myself daydreaming about being back in the Alps, being back in a Parisian café, or being back in Strasbourg, surrounded by fairy-tale architecture, Christmas markets and all the new friends I so quickly had to leave behind.

Studying abroad was a life-changing experience, and I would recommend it to any college student who has ever had even Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.18.20 PMthe faintest interest. Ever since I was a little kid, the outside world, with its diverse people’s and cultures has always fascinated me. In elementary school, I would pour over children’s atlases and history books, dreaming of what it would be like to be in another country, exploring a corner of the world that was previously unknown to me. I finally got to know what that experience felt like in these last few months. Living in a place that’s very different, yet at the same time comfortable and unintimidating.

Things are very different now that I’m back at home. I no longer plan weekend trips to London or Slovenia, I’ve got a lot more schoolwork that I have to do, and for whatever reason, no one is speaking French! On a more serious note, it is great to be back again to see everyone who I was missing during this last semester, and after not really being in Columbus for the last eight months, it feels nice to be back on Ohio State’s campus again. Near the top of my list of things that I missed while in France, was being able to watch football (well at least so called “American football”, and luckily I arrived back just in time to watch the college football bowl season and the NFL playoffs! While at the game I was most looking forward to, did not really go as planned, it was nice to be back watching football with friends and family.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.19.04 PMDespite all the bittersweet happiness of being back home, the first few weeks back showed me that reverse culture shock really does exist. I can remember just realizing how big everything really is here: from the portion sizes to the cars to the buildings. People speak much quieter in public in France than they do in the United States, and right when I started getting use to that back in Strasbourg, I left to come back. Something that I did not really miss though was that the air feels much cleaner in the United States without the constant smell of everyone smoking cigarettes. But one of the things that I was most excited about being back was being able to have large amounts of mediocre American coffee again! I’m a big coffee drinker, and while I love the French café culture, it’s hard to find cheap coffee that is anywhere near the same size as its American counterpart, instead it’s stronger and much smaller. There is a plethora of differences between France and the United States, but these differences are really what made my trip so exciting in the first place!

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Last Travels

I love being able to reflect on my experiences during the last few months, so I figured I’d also give you all a brief recap of what’s been going on since my last blog post.

After starting classes near the end of September, I came into October with a full schedule of trips planned. My first one, and one of the highlights of my whole experience, was a trip with four of my friends to Slovenia. This is one of the most beautiful, but sadly overlooked countries of Europe. Slovenia had everything: beautiful Alps and lakes in the northwest, beautiful castles and villages, a very quaint yet cosmopolitan capital city, some of the largest caves in the whole world, and a small but beautiful Adriatic coastline. Slovenia was an amazing trip, and luckily the next weekend I got to go on a long weekend trip with my friend Julie, who happens to go to BGSU and was on the Slovenia trip as well. Julie and I spent three full days seeing the best of London! We saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and tons of free museums along the way. London is an incredible city with all its history and diversity, and I was very lucky to cross that one off my bucket list. Then the following week, the University of Strasbourg had its Fall Break and I got to go on the trip of a lifetime, a 10-day trip through Europe with my dad. While my dad and I had always loved to travel together, he had never been to Europe before, and this was a great opportunity to show him around my “temporary home”. We met up in Paris for a few days before taking the TGV high-speed train to Strasbourg. Once there I gave him a 36-hour “best of Strasbourg” tour, with stops at the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the European Parliament, Petite-France, the European Parliament, Orangerie Park, lots of sauerkraut and tarte flambées along the way. Then the next morning the two of us rented a little French car, a black Renault Twingo, and started a 6-day road trip through the heart of Europe. Starting first in Ribeauvillé, a small medieval town along the Alsatian Wine Route, we visited my French friend Hakim, who gave us a day-long tour of his hometown and the castles and villages that surrounded it. Hakim was one of my closest friends who I met in Strasbourg, and we luckily met during my first week in the city when I was lost trying to find the laundry room. I asked this random student in the main building where to do my laundry, and after showing me the way there, we ended up talking for an hour or so in both French and English, and then we started hanging out a few days later. Getting to see this region with a local made the experience much more unique, and since Hakim had several friends and family members working at the local wineries, we ended our day with a few tastings and cellar tours. From here, we spent the next day in the Swiss Alps, making a four-hour stop in my favorite Swiss city, Lucerne, before driving the high mountain Klausen Pass through the heart of the Alps. After several hours of the most breathtaking scenery, we made it to the micro-country of Liechtenstein, where we saw the main castle, got a “VIP tour” of the nation’s parliament, and ate at what seemed like Vaduz’s most happening restaurant. Then we left the Alps behind us and made it to Munich, where we spent the next day biking between parks and beer gardens past old reconstructed churches and palaces. Munich was amazing, but I was most excited about the final leg of our trip, the Czech Republic. I had made a lot of friends from this country during my time in Strasbourg, and Prague was always at the top of my bucket list of places to see. During our short two-day stay we drove to Plzen, where my friend Petra gave us a list of cool breweries and sites to visit in her hometown, then we visited the imposing Karlstejn castle en route to Prague in time to catch the sunset. Prague lived up to my expectations and was one of the most beautiful cities that I visited in Europe. Between the Prague Castle, the Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, and all the local pubs, restaurants, and hidden spots that I was told to visit by my Czech friends, Prague proved to be a memorable stop. The last day of our trip, we drove back through the Czech Republic and Germany, before I sadly had to say goodbye to my dad the next morning, but while his European vacation was over, my adventure continued.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.19.39 PMIn the last half of my stay I went on several day trips with my “host family”, was interviewed by French radio about the American presidential elections, continued spending time with my new friends, and went on several more weekend trips to Colmar, the Alsatian Wine Route, Heidelberg and Nancy. The biggest trip of this last leg was a spontaneous trip to Amsterdam with a French club at the university, where we biked along the canals, ate tons of local delicacies, and took in the nightlife. Also one of the biggest highlights of the last month in Strasbourg was getting to see the cities world famous Christmas market. Over the last few years this 500-year market with 300+ stalls selling everything from hot wine and local foods to ornaments, has been named Europe’s best Christmas market. The city was beautiful festooned with lights and decorations, and during December more than a million tourists packed the city center and added a different energy to Strasbourg. After an extremely busy last few weeks of exams, traveling, and saying goodbye to friends, I left Strasbourg for Paris on December 18th. After a whirlwind 24-hour stay in Paris, which I now feel I know better than almost any other city after 5 trips there, I boarded my plane to head back to Chicago to once again see all my friends and family back home.

I know that was a very brief recap of months worth of adventures in Strasbourg, but it definitely helps to illustrate all the fun that you can have exploring a new country and culture. Besides the enjoyment of just being over there, my semester abroad gave me a greater appreciation of different cultures, an amazing opportunity to improve my French, and the ability to exchange beliefs and ideas with new friends from all over the world. I’m very grateful for my time spent in Strasbourg, and I’m already looking at opportunities to return there again.
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Alsatian Adventures

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

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

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

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

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Our Switzerland group at the Lake Lodge Hostel in Iseltwald

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

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

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

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The guys atop Schlossberg hill overlooking Freiburg and the Black Forest

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

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

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