City Life

October 28th, 2014 by under Australia, Semester. No Comments.

I’ve never lived in a big city before. And I must say that I love it! I am constantly surrounded by diversity, culture and of course, any variety of food I could ask for. Melbourne gives me the feeling of being in a big city without being overwhelming. It’s also the cleanest city I’ve ever been in, which is hard to believe because over 4 million people live here. RMIT University has a lot of international students, too. I’ve met people from all around the world just from my classes alone.  They say, no matter how long you have lived in Melbourne, you can always uncover hidden gems around the city. Having been here for over 3 months, I know why Melbourne is one of the most livable cities in the world!

Yes, Melbourne is actually this beautiful. This is at the Eureka Tower, which allows you to see the city from 88 floors up!

Yes, Melbourne is actually this beautiful. This is at the Eureka Tower on one of the RMIT trips, which allows you to see the city from 88 floors up!

In general, Australians are laid back. Even small talk won’t end at just the basic “how are you?” When I went shopping at Melbourne Central, which is huge 4 story mall, I ended up chatting with the store employees wherever I went. It felt like I was out shopping with my friends! Some of the “lingo” they use here is a bit different than in the states too. Australians like to abbreviate everything, like the word “breakfast” to “brekky” and “university” to “uni.” I have to admit though, it’s quite catchy and I won’t be surprised if I keep using this short hand when I go home.

Apart from city life, there is also a lot to do in the state of Victoria. RMIT has a program called Trips and Tours, which takes students to famous places around Victoria. All of the trips are reasonably priced and we get discounted entry to most places, too. There are about 30 different tours to choose from and I’ve been on 5 so far. Each tour includes transportation to and from the site, lunch and morning tea, and a tour guide. These trips have given me the opportunity to visit several places and meet even more international students and easily visit places in just a short period of time.


Freshman Year Throwback

October 28th, 2014 by under Australia, Semester. No Comments.

During an exchange, the orientation is where it all begins! It’s where you make friends, learn about your new university, and find resources to help you settle in. The RMIT orientation took place over two days from July 14th-16th. There were over 100 students there from all over the world! It felt just like freshman year because we were all trying to meet as many people as possible in a short amount of time. Of course this number always goes down over time and then you figure out who your core group of friends is. If you go abroad, you realize that it’s easy to connect with the other students because they are going through the same roller coaster of emotions as you are. Not to mention, they are the type of students willing to go out of their comfort zones to travel and explore so you can relate to them easily.

About to set off on your travels to Bali! This was the trip that we all became close friends on.

About to set off on your travels to Bali, Indonesia! This was the trip that we all became close friends on.

It’s funny how things always happen to you when you least expect them to. On a Friday, I had shown up at RMIT because I thought there was a BBQ for international students. It turns out that it was cancelled but there was a scavenger hunt going on instead. I didn’t really want to join but one of the study abroad advisors sort of led me into a group. I am so grateful to that advisor because the girls in this group are now my close friends here. The best part is that all of us are from different places: Germany, Ireland, England, and of course myself, from the USA.

It has now been almost three months since I met them and they’re my core friend group here. We travel, laugh, eat and talk endlessly together. And now that we all have the travel bug, we are determined to visit each other when we go back home. You can stay friends with people that you meet on exchange for life, and it’s really cool to be “wired” into different parts of the world!


Happy Mid-Autumn Festival

October 25th, 2014 by under Hong Kong, Semester. No Comments.

Chen photoBy Vania Chen

This is a little belated post, seeing as Mid-Autumn Festival was back in September. However, this was the first Chinese holiday I experienced in Hong Kong and one I truly enjoyed. One thing that I LOVE about studying in Asia is the fact that I get to fully experience Chinese holidays in its complete organic element. Back in America, Mid-Autumn Festival is simply a holiday acknowledged by the Asian Americans. If you’re Chinese, then you’ll probably go home to celebrate a nice dinner with your family and enjoy a moon cake dessert afterwards. Even back at school in Maryland, I never really celebrated it because 1) I am unfortunately a pitiful Asian who never really knows when it’s Mid-Autumn Festival until someone brings it to my attention and 2) My family lives all the way in NJ so I found little reason to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival alone.

But here in Hong Kong, I got to FULLY experience it – all of it. Mid-Autumn Festival is a huge deal here. It is a national holiday not only acknowledged but celebrated. What does that mean? Well, for one, since it is a national holiday, nobody goes to work and more importantly, nobody goes to school. School is canceled. (God bless Hong Kong and all these beautiful Chinese holidays.) I woke up to find a moon cake left on my desk and it was such a pleasant surprise! To be honest, I never really liked moon cake. It’s very rich and very sweet. However, I decided to try it again 0 and I’m not sure if it is because I was in Hong Kong – but eating it felt different this time around. I enjoyed it and I appreciated it.


Traditional mooncake


Egg-yolk filling inside mooncake

I went to the MAF event in Victoria Park at Causeway Bay later that night.  There were so many people. The police had to block one of the roads and direct traffic for people to walk across to get to the other side. There were lanterns everywhere – big, small, bright. All throughout the park, there were various displays. Many of them consisted of dinosaurs. One of the pictures I took below was one of a tyrannosaurus, and there was also another one of triceratops.


Victoria Park Mid-Autumn Lantern Festival

Aside from the unbearable stench of sweat, heat, and humidity, it was otherwise a beautiful way to celebrate Mid Autumn Festival. At the very end of the night, there was a special Dragon Dance performance. Unfortunately, I was too short to see above the crowd and also much too scared to try to push past the huge crowds of locals to the front. I’ve seen several dragon dances before, especially since I used to go to Chinese school when I was younger. Most dragon dances are performers who hold poles and raise and lower the Dragon in a certain fashion (the “dance”). However, this dragon dance was very different. For one, the dragon was not a costume; it was entirely made of wood. In fact, from the smell, I am pretty sure the dragon was made of burning incense. The dance did not follow a set timed performance as it usually does, but instead went on until the incense-dragon completely burned out. It was such an interesting performance!

To be honest, I had no intention of going to the event at first but I am so glad I decided to go in the end. It was a great experience and gave me the opportunity to experience a Chinese holiday in a very authentic and traditional manner. Even as a proud Chinese-American, I have never really understood the importance of such events but coming to Hong Kong, I have been able to see it and live it up close and personal – and it is such a gratifying experience :)

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Birthday Flyout

October 22nd, 2014 by under Australia, Semester. No Comments.

GuptaBy Aashima Gupta

I left for Melbourne, Australia on July 10th, which is also my birthday! As you can imagine, it was a bittersweet day. Australia runs on a different school year than America does. At my exchange university, which is RMIT, school starts on July 21st and ends on October 17th. Following this, there is a three-week exam period so I will be completely done with the semester in mid November. I plan on staying for about a month after exams so I can travel around.

My family came to the airport to drop me off on my birthday. I finished up some last minute packing in the morning, we cut the cake and before I knew it I was saying goodbye to them for the next few months.

My family came to the airport to drop me off on my birthday. I finished up some last minute packing in the morning, we cut the cake and before I knew it I was saying goodbye to them for the next few months.

For most of the summer leading up to July 10th, it still hadn’t hit me that I would be leaving for five months. I made an effort to see my close friends and spend time with my family before I left so I think some part of me could feel it approaching, but the other part of me felt like it was going to be just like any other semester. Packing was hard because I had to take all of my winter clothes with me since the seasons are opposite. I had just returned from vacation in Florida where it was almost 90 degrees, and the next thing I knew I was in 40 degree weather. I didn’t mind though, because I was so fascinated with the beautiful city that was now my home.

Following my arrival at the Melbourne airport, I was greeted by the RMIT pick up service representative who took me to my accommodation. My friend had just done an exchange semester in Melbourne so I decided to stay in her old room this semester. I live in a shared house with 10 people on my floor. We share a kitchen (all appliances are provided) and bathrooms. The cool part is that we all have our own rooms. My accommodation is only a 3 minute walk to my classes and it is in the heart of the city. Not to mention, I’m 2 minutes away from the Queen Victoria Market, which sells fresh fruits, vegetables and meat regularly. They also have delicious hot food so I’m a frequent customer!

Orientation is on July 14th, which is where I’ll meet the other exchange students. I’m a little nervous, but excited to get my adventures started.




Why Denmark?

October 22nd, 2014 by under Denmark, Semester. No Comments.

Monica Lesar Blogging Photo (1)By Monica Lesar

Countless Danes as well as American friends and family have asked me why I chose Denmark, of all places, for my semester abroad. The truth is that I don’t really have a rational reason for it. I’ve never had the opportunity to travel anywhere before so I had no way of truly knowing what city would be the right choice. I landed on Copenhagen using my intuition and a gut feeling.

I knew that I wanted to do an exchange because I think it’s the best way to get the most authentic cultural experience. I wanted to do a business exchange specifically so that I could continue my business studies and graduate on time. The Smith School offers business exchanges in Europe, Asia, and Australia. Europe appealed to me the most but that still meant deciding between Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK.

Many of my friends have done a semester abroad and they’ve all come back with their own unique stories and experiences. More than anything, I wanted my own unique stories and experiences to share with family, friends, and classmates (and the internet!). I wanted to do my own thing and go somewhere to have my own adventure. I had a feeling that Denmark was the place for me to do that.

Hygge-ing it up with friends at NOHO in the Meatpacking District.

Hygge-ing it up with friends at NOHO in the Meatpacking District.

Moving to a new country is scary stuff! I was downright homesick the first few days I was here. But after making friends and getting to know the city, I couldn’t feel more at home in Copenhagen. Studying abroad is all about appreciating another culture and really living it. I love the way Danes live. Danish culture can be exemplified through the Danish word “hygge” (pronounced “hoo-guh”). It is difficult to translate directly but can be roughly translated to mean creating a warm and cozy atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. Hygge can be anything from an evening out with friends to a Christmas dinner at home with family.

Although I’ve done my best to soak up everything there is to know about Danish culture, there is still so much I don’t know about the world and so many places that I want to see. Denmark is the starting point to what I hope is a life full of travel and cultural exploration. If you want to study abroad, just go with whatever country or city is calling your name. You don’t need a rational reason because no matter where you go, you’ll discover new things about the world and about yourself.

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English Culture in the most unsuspecting of places

September 24th, 2014 by under Summer Break. No Comments.

By Ryan Wilkinson

In London on our agenda was an excursion to see the Tate + Lyle sugar factory. While I began this tour thinking it would strictly be a business meeting, to my surprise, I left the factory enriched with a great cultural experience.

We started with a tour and learned about their refinement processes as well as their history. We learned that Tate + Lyle was one of the first sugar refineries and that they set the standards for the purification percentages, we still use to this day. One thing that stuck out to me was how much of an emphasis they put on how pure the sugar had to be. They were very careful to always make sure that when they said the sugar was purified to a certain level that it was purified to no less than 99.95% pure sugar. The sugar had to be bright white with no brown in it. If it was ever any less they said they would dump it back in the stacks of semi refined sugar in their storage towers to be refined again. With such high standards and low margins for error we all got a feel for how serious they were about making their sugar exactly the way they wanted it. Furthering that point if they refined an entire batch to 99.94% pure they would entirely redo it without any concern for money. While brownish sugar is perfectly edible and most people do choose to eat it or use it to sweeten their food the brownish sugar has additional flavors that come with the impurities.

Tate + Lyle workers.

Tate + Lyle workers.

Where this came full circle for me and where it is so anchored in England’s culture is with their tea. English people care more about tea than most Americans care about food or their local baseball team. Their tea is a part of their heritage and preparing it and preserving the timeless traditions that go into the drink are family secrets that they won’t ever allow to be changed. Ensuring the exact standards that their great grandparents did is a family affair that to this day are carried out by their lineage.  As I personally spoke with the business representative John from Tate + Lyle we spoke about his experience with sweetening his tea. When we got to him sweetening his tea with brown sugar, a whole slew of nasty words describing how “ghastly” it was or that it was complete “rubbish” came pouring out.  It was fascinating to see how much he despised and loathed the taste of the brown sugar sweetened tea because the flavor of the tea was changed as was the tradition. It was no longer his family’s tea but more an oddly flavored tea that he clearly wanted nothing to do with.

Personally I don’t think I know of anything that I’m that particular about food wise, but, to see an English man so passionate about his tea really showed me a little bit of England’s history and culture. I see how they give a salute to their elders almost every day with their tea preparations and how much they respect the true unabashed flavors or tea.


Free Day in Munich

September 24th, 2014 by under Summer Break. No Comments.

By Ryan Wilkinson

As I traveled I kept a journal. I logged everything I did, and did my best to include every little detail. As I plan out my blogs I want to blog about my favorite moments from the trip, and it’s hard with all the amazing memories I made. However, one excursion stands out to me. There was one thing I did that was by far the most amazing and rewarding experience from the trip and it was during my first free day in Munich. My small group and I decided to take a two hour train out of the city to see the Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavarian mountains. We went there because we heard about the beautiful countryside as well as the great castle of King Ludwig II. The trip included a two hour train ride there and back, a hike up a mountain, and incredible sight-seeing.


The beautiful Neuschwanstein Castle in the background.

The beautiful Neuschwanstein Castle in the background.

We began our day in Munich’s City Center where we boarded our train. Almost immediately after departure we were in the beautiful countryside of Munich where we saw little town’s all with their own unique character connected only by little gravel roads. Soon after that, we started to see the Bavarian Mountains which in many ways are just like the Alps. We saw the mountains rise up and block in the valley like giant walls with how large they were. As we got closer to our destination and as the mountains got larger we began to see the Neuschwanstein Castle. Perched up on the side of the largest mountain, contrasting abruptly with the dark rocky mountains the pristine white castle looked as if nothing had changed throughout the years. With all its glory in our sights we got off our train and hiked up the mountain towards it. We hiked for an hour, working up a nice sweat that was soothed with the most heavenly breeze coming down from the white tops of the mountains. As we got to the top of the mountain and could see the views from the castle we all stopped and felt an appreciation for where we were. Purely from the natural beauty of Munich we all fell in love with Germany. We looked out and saw hilly green fields with bright blue lakes at the bottom. Little towns with earthy orange shingled roofs and rolling fields that seemed to go on forever, which I hoped they did. Everything came together to make it one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. My love for Germany’s countryside has made this a country I will come back to. The natural scenery combined with the vivid colors of the landscape come together to make up what I feel is a genuine utopia.


We hadn’t planned to do this but we stayed and just looked out over the valley below us for the rest of the day and not a single person had a problem with it.


Italy in Photos

September 24th, 2014 by under Italy, Semester. No Comments.

By Hayley Smith


Hello from China!

September 24th, 2014 by under China, Semester. No Comments.

By Allison Collins



Amazon Munich Is About Innovation in the Cloud

September 24th, 2014 by under Summer Break. No Comments.

By Roel Petri

Munich is a beautiful city, with parks everywhere, some of the largest located in the city. It also offers activities for everyone, so whether you want to relax at a beer garden, like my favorite Hofbräuhaus (mmm beer), or go surfing, yes you heard it right, surfing, it is the city to be in. It is also the city housing the offices of some of the most important companies in Germany, Europe and US.

Surfing on Eisbach River in Munich.

Surfing on Eisbach River in Munich.

When you hear names like Siemens, BMW and SAP something rings a bell, right? We see, touch or otherwise are affected by these companies’ products every day. They are some of the oldest and most successful businesses in Germany and they are doing well, even during the recent economic downturn. Part of their success comes from the German business culture, which is described as reserved, punctual, precise, disciplined, plan-oriented, perfectionist and organized. Yet these same values are getting in the way of one think, innovation. That is not the case for one particular company though, which caught our attention during the visit at their office.

Meet Amazon, Munich – although part of the parent company, their focus is geared towards the local market, which means they must be sharing similar values described above. Not so much says, Jochen Walter, our presenter at the company. Amazons focus is completely geared towards the customer, and in order to accomplish that you have to change the way you do business. That has allowed for faster growth, compared to traditional businesses, and in particular areas more than 200%.

One of those areas is the Cloud business, in which Amazon is a leader. It was an area of growth bringing in steady revenue. Yet the boom came not from their traditional business, but instead through innovating, by utilizing what they were not using. In a nutshell, Amazon offers reliable Cloud service to its clients, guaranteeing performance during peak times, and in order to do that has server centers that can accommodate the increased traffic. That happens 4-5 times a year only, and for short periods of time, let’s say Christmas week or Black Friday. The rest of the year all this power is idle. That is no longer the case, since all that unused power is being offered at lower/auction prices to start ups or businesses, that otherwise could not afford it regularly. It helps the revenue stream of Amazon and promotes new businesses and their ideas. Brilliant, isn’t it?