Finals…and then some fun

December 18th, 2014 by under Australia, Semester. No Comments.

My finals took place in early November, and they lasted for about 3 weeks. The final exam period is one thing that is done differently at RMIT. First of all, they carry on for a lot longer because they are weighed for more of your final grade. This gives students more time to study. Also, students do not take finals at any of the university buildings. Instead, they are taken at a huge building called MSAC, which you have to take a tram to (don’t worry, you’ll learn!). They are administered as more of a standardized test than anything, and there are even exam supervisors. I felt like I was taking final exams at Hogwarts or something. Lucky for exchange students, we are on a pass/fail grading system so there isn’t as much pressure!

The exam period was the first major red flag that everything was coming to end. My friends and I all talked about our post exam plans and realized that most of us were going to be doing different things. My friend from England, Sian and I were planning our trip to New Zealand for after exams so we were really excited, but my other friends were going to travel down the east coast of Australia. The anticipation for my trip was the only thing getting me through the finals period! Before I left, my friends and I said our goodbyes, and promises to see each other again. I can’t wait to visit them all in Europe.

Sian and I visited South Islands, New Zealand. I had heard from several other people what a beautiful country it was, but words/pictures can’t even do it justice. I felt like I was trapped in a postcard. There is so much natural beauty in this country; waterfalls, crystal clear lakes, and mountains EVERYWHERE! We traveled with a tour group called Contiki (highly recommend it). Everyone on the tour was between the ages of 18 and 35 so we made a lot of friends, while getting to see all that the country offered us.

AHHH! Amazing experience, and loved my instructor!

AHHH! Amazing experience, and loved my instructor!

One of the highlights of my trip was skydiving, and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place to fulfill this bucket list item. We did in Queenstown, which is known for all its adventure activities like bungee jumping, canyon swinging, shotover jet…you know name it! I’ve learned how fun it can be to go out of your comfort zone. Next on my bucket list: bungee jumping. No stopping me!


Copenhagen Classroom Culture

December 3rd, 2014 by under Denmark, Semester, Uncategorized. No Comments.

Monica Lesar Blogging Photo (1) By: Monica Lesar

As I’m in the midst of the final exam frenzy, I can’t help but reflect on how things would be different if I were studying at the University of Maryland this semester instead of at Copenhagen Business School. The Danish way of doing things is certainly different from what I’m used to. In many ways, higher education in Denmark is the polar opposite of higher education in the United States.

One of the most striking differences between the two educational systems is the grading. At the University of Maryland, final exams typically count for 30-40% of your final grade and the rest is made up by the midterm exam, class participation, homework, etc. But at Copenhagen Business School (CBS) and other Danish universities, the final exam grade makes up the entirety of your final grade and the exams are cumulative. To American students, this may seem a bit daunting and anxiety-inducing, but fear not, CBS gives students three chances to pass their exams. Not only is the grading structure different, but the format of exams is different as well. Danes typically don’t use multiple choice exams but prefer written or oral exams, giving the student the chance to have some control over the subject and content of their exams.

Monica Lesar Copenhagen Business School Building

Modern architecture in Copenhagen Business School building Kilen

There are also more nuanced differences between the Danish way and the American way. In Denmark, students are expected to take a more active role in their own learning both in class and outside of class. The Danish teaching style is student-centered; discussion and debate between students and professors is encouraged and thus students become co-producers of their own education. I’ve found that the Danish system gives students a lot more freedom than the American system tends to. At CBS, as a matter of policy, students are not even required to go to class. In fact, according to one of my professors, it is expected that final exams should be created in a way that allows even the students who have not gone to any lectures to pass the exam, although it is doubtful whether they could pass with top marks. However, even if you do go to class, to ensure yourself a top grade at a Danish university, more independent study is required than would be necessary in the United States.

The biggest cultural difference I see between the Danish way and the American way is in the motivations behind learning, enforced through the university system. Danes dangle the carrot while Americans hold the stick. In America, if you don’t go to class or you don’t do the reading, the professor can punish you by taking points off of your grade. It seems to me that in Denmark there is a greater expectation that you should be learning for the sake of learning and not just because you want to receive a good grade. Grades are definitely still very important to Danish students but the way in which the grades are determined seems to be based more on actual knowledge. In the States, exams can be more like a regurgitation of facts than a true demonstration of understanding. Although to be fair, in the States learning can be demonstrated outside of final exams and still have an influence on the final grade, such as through class participation and group presentations.

I have experienced dynamic and engaging learning environments in both Danish and American classrooms. In each context, the most engaging classes were those that encouraged group work and discussion. Group work is a big part of the classroom culture at Copenhagen Business School. Every class I’ve had this semester has incorporated group work into the curriculum, either through in-class discussions or through work groups that must produce a final product of either a written paper or group presentation. In the situation that a group writes a paper, it then becomes the basis for an individual oral exam. Each student’s final grade is some combination of the written product and the results of the oral exam. In theory, I prefer this kind of exam because group work allows the sharing of ideas, collaboration and cooperation, all key components of success in the workplace. but the final grade given to each student is still based on their individual performance. In practice, I can’t say that I prefer this kind of exam because I tend to express my thoughts much better on paper when in a high-pressure situation.

Each system has pros and cons and neither way is necessarily the better way. It all really comes down to preferences and learning style, although preferences can be shaped by the system which you grew up with. Because I grew up within the American system, the Danish system has taken some getting used to. But I see it as another new experience during my semester abroad that will make me a better student and a more competitive job candidate who can adapt to different environments and circumstances.

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What’s Your Study Abroad Style

November 19th, 2014 by under Denmark, Semester. No Comments.

Monica Lesar Blogging Photo (1) By: Monica Lesar

One of the benefits of studying in Europe, especially as an American, is that it’s much easier to travel here once you’re already here. This is something you should  definitely take advantage of if you’re a student coming from outside of Europe. When else are you going to have the freedom to jump on a plane to some exciting  European city and spend a weekend there? For some, probably never again. But for me, I ask myself, when am I going to have another opportunity to live in a foreign  country? I’m not sure that I will and I want to take full advantage of it.

Many American students seem to turn studying abroad into a 4 month long vacation. It turns into a contest of who can visit the most cities and post the best Instagram pictures. But is that what study abroad should really be about? It all comes down to how you define your goal for your semester abroad. If your goal is to visit as many cities as possible during the semester, then that’s fine, that’s your prerogative. But if your goal is to experience living in another country and culture, then you will have very different priorities.

Monica Lesar blog selfie Danish castle

Selfie with Frederiksborg slot, a Danish castle.

After being here for a few weeks, the exchange students got into a frenzy of planning trips, buying plane tickets and choosing  travel buddies. I found it overwhelming and stressful to sit in class and see my classmates browsing for cheap flights and to see  my friends post on Facebook about their upcoming travel plans. Although I definitely wanted to travel, I was in no rush to plan  a trip for every weekend of my semester. I had a moment of panic, was I doing study abroad wrong?

I took some time to think over what I wanted to get out of my semester here. What I really want is to know what it’s like to live  in another country. It’s one thing to travel somewhere but it’s a whole other experience to live somewhere. At the end of my  semester here, I wouldn’t want to feel as though I spent the whole time as a tourist. And I know if I travel too much this  semester, I won’t feel like I really got to know Denmark and Copenhagen, something which is really important to me.

One thing I’ve learned this year is to not give into the fear of missing out, aka FOMO. Everything looks better on social media  so just enjoy your experiences and don’t worry about competing with your travel-crazed colleagues for the most “likes”. There’s  nothing wrong with wanting to get to know the place you’re supposedly living in but there’s also nothing wrong with traveling  a lot. Do what makes you happy and screw what everyone else is doing.


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Going Abroad While Being Abroad

November 13th, 2014 by under Australia, Semester. No Comments.

GuptaBy Aashima Gupta

In September, there came a time that every student was looking forward to: spring break. Yes, spring break in September! Doing an exchange program in Australia gives students the opportunity to travel to places they would not normally go to. For me, top on my bucket list was Bali, Indonesia, which is a five hour flight from Melbourne. This is been one of the highlights of my trip. Back in July, my five friends and I booked the trip and we were counting down since then. When it finally came the time to leave, it seemed unreal. It was the best vacation I’ve ever taken!

Cooked some delicious food at Gili Island's best cooking class!

Cooked some delicious food at Gili Island’s best cooking class!

We traveled to three places: Kuta, Gilli Island and Ubud. Kuta was touristy so we hung out at the beach and enjoyed the night life. Gilli Island was one of our favorites. We did a cooking class where we made traditional Indonesian food (so delicious!), went snorkeling, biked around the island, and beach bummed. Let’s just say it was a packed three days.

I’ve never been much of a hiking person but we decided to do sunrise volcano trekking in Ubud, which was indescribable. We woke up at 1 am, starting trekking at 2 am, and reached the peak at 6 am where we enjoyed watching the sunrise and some yummy brekky! Although I struggled a little bit, our guide was more than helpful and willing to lend a helping hand. Since this trekking adventure, I’ve gotten really into hiking during my stay. I tested out this little hobby even more in Tasmania, Australia and at the Grampians National Park.

Studying abroad is all about trying out new things and getting out of our comfort zone. If you think that you don’t like something, try it out anyway and then make up your mind. You can really surprise yourself at what you can accomplish. Seriously, my sister barely believed me when I told her that I enjoy hiking now.



The Fight for Rights

November 8th, 2014 by under Hong Kong, Semester. No Comments.

Chen photoBy Vania Chen

It’s all over the news. Students gathering on Civic Square, protesters being peppered sprayed by the police, and infighting amongst the protesters and non-protesters. It is a significant moment in history and it is amazing timing how I am able to be here to witness and experience it all. When the protests first began in September, a few friends and I actually decided to head down to the big city of Central to see what was going on. The days of Occupy Central were a big deal. It was all over the news. Posters and banners were placed all across campus. The television programs on campus also constantly broadcast news updates of the protests (although from a biased point of view, of course).


Banner on campus, painted by student protesters

Professors and TA’s even excused absences for students participating in the protesters. Attendance marks for class and for tutorial sessions were suspended for a week because students skipped class to join the march. Half of my Derivatives class was absent. My parents warned me to stay near campus where it was safe, but who would want to miss this? My friends and I went around 10:00pm. It was the night before the BIG protest of “Occupy Central with Love and Peace” on October 1st. People were preparing for the protest. There were blankets laid out for the long over-night stay, water bottles and packaged food passed around for the protesters. People were cutting out ponchos from garbage bags and opening umbrellas for two reasons: One, to protect themselves against the pepper spray and Two, to shield themselves from the impending rainstorm that would occur in a few hours.


Protesters on the eve of Occupy Central


I was so amazed by the dedication and commitment of these people. And I was also so inspired by the way the protesters conducted themselves. One night a police car was completely trashed and a protester left a note the next morning apologizing for the damage. It read, “Sorry, I don’t know who did this but we are not anarchists – we want democracy.” [Check out this article here for more.]

Never would you see something like this in America. While all this was going on in Hong Kong, I was reading about Flood Wall Street back at home in New York. What a difference. In almost every article, I read how Americans were physically fighting against the police force, trashing the streets, making a big ruckus, so on and so forth. Here, in Hong Kong, the protesters were simply occupying the streets and literally “taking a stand” against the Chinese government.

Unfortunately, the protests have become more and more violent over these past few weeks. Just now, I read how three men were arrested in Mong Kok for obstructing police officers. That was rather disappointing. I’ve also seen videos on YouTube showing fighting between Hong Kong locals themselves. Non-protesters are angry that the protesters are still blocking the roads and causing disturbance. I’m actually a little annoyed too…Yesterday, I was trying to meet a friend for dinner in Causeway Bay but on the way there, the bus suddenly stopped and the driver told everyone to get off. I had no idea where I was and asked a random lady for directions, only to find out that I was literally only ONE stop away from where I was supposed to be. Close enough to see where I had to go but far enough that I still had to pay extra and take the MTR. It didn’t help that it was raining and I didn’t have an umbrella with me.

One very interesting update that I am rather curious to see how it will turn out is the most recent news that the protesters are threatening to bring the protest to mainland China. According to this WSJ article, “Members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students have threatened to bring their protest to Beijing during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, as a way to gain publicity for their demand that China allow free elections in Hong Kong.”

Very curious to see what will happen next!


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Uni Life

November 6th, 2014 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

GuptaBy Aashima Gupta

Like I mentioned before, a lot of words are shortened here. Of course, the word “university” is far too long so everyone calls it “uni.” I started referring to UMD as “uni” as well, and I must say that I love it. A common question from my friends back home is whether the classes are a lot different at RMIT than they are at University of Maryland. In some respects, yes it’s a little bit different. But I like it! The major difference is that the final exams hold more weight here. We don’t have midterms or weekly homework like I’m used to. Students have to stay on top of their work by their own discipline, which means there is more free time during the semester but the exam period is tougher and longer. There is also a greater emphasis on group projects. I’m taking 4 courses this semester, and I had 3 group projects going on simultaneously. All of them were worth about 30% of my overall grade. My first exam is on October 30th…the date really crept up fast.

RMIT Business School- Building 80. Colorful walls and funky architecture.

RMIT Business School- Building 80. Colorful walls and funky architecture.

I’m taking the same courses that I would be taking at home. The cool part about coming on exchange is that the exchange university will most likely be compatible with your home institution so your credits will transfer over. I haven’t fallen behind on my four year plan at all, which is great because that was something that I was worried about prior to coming here. And I’m also on pass/fail for the semester! Through some of my classes, I befriended locals, which is cool because they can give me insight into their lives in Melbourne.

Also, building 80, which is the business school is beautiful! It’s modern and colorful. I’m lucky that most of my classes were here. And the muffins on the 7th floor are delicious! We’re in the exam period right now, and it still feels surreal that I don’t have classes anymore because it’s still October! It just reminds me how fast time is flying and that I need to take advantage of every moment here.



Taking The Road Less Traveled

November 5th, 2014 by under Denmark, Semester. No Comments.

Monica Lesar Blogging PhotoBy: Monica Lesar

When you make the decision to study abroad, there are usually two options to choose from. You can either do an exchange or a formal program organized by your home university. The University of Maryland offers both “Maryland-In” programs and exchanges. The way an exchange works is you pay your usual tuition fees to your home university while attending a university abroad. Theoretically, this allows someone from your host university to study on exchange at your home university. In addition, an exchange allows you to assimilate further into your host culture by putting you in classes with people of your host country and even giving you the option of living with a host family.

I personally chose to do an exchange. I’m currently studying at Copenhagen Business School (CBS) in Copenhagen, Denmark and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. I’m the only student from UMD studying at CBS, although I’m not the only UMD student in Copenhagen. It can be quite scary at first to think that you’ll be alone in another country. But you won’t really be alone because there are always other exchange students that also need to make new friends and navigate their way through a new environment. At CBS this semester there are over 700 exchange students from all over the world. There is even a student organization run by Danish students that exists to help the exchange students transition into living in Denmark. Although an exchange doesn’t provide the same security as a Maryland-In program, once you’re settled in you’ll feel right at home.

Monica Lesar Blog Post

Copenhagen Business School semester start party.

I’m a big proponent for exchange programs rather than Maryland-In programs or other such formal programs. I truly believe an exchange is the best way to get the most authentic cultural experience out of your semester abroad. Any study abroad experience will be valuable and eye-opening but an exchange will give you a much more culturally diverse experience. You’ll make friends with and study with not only people from your host country but also people from all over the world. Although not everyone takes full advantage of the cultural diversity of being on an exchange. There is always the option of going on exchange with friends from your host university and also making friends with exchange students from your home country. But overall an exchange is the best choice if your goal is to learn about other cultures.

Being on an exchange almost feels like freshman year again. You go to events for exchange students, hoping to make new friends. You bond with your hall mates, you get lost in the city together, you form lifelong bonds and connections. So go ahead and take the road less traveled by going on an exchange for your semester abroad.

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City Life

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

GuptaBy Aashima Gupta

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.

GuptaBy Aashima Gupta

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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