March 7th, 2014 by Smith Office of Global Programs under Italy, Semester. No Comments.
By Hayley Smith
On my first day in Milan, the task of getting from my dorm, Arcobaleno to Bocconi University seemed like a daunting task. While I was very tempted to cave in and pay the price of a taxi there, I figured I might as well give the public transportation a try first. I walked to the front desk, asked for directions, and took the mere 5-minute walk to the tram. Before boarding, I went to the nearby “Tabacchi” to buy a tram ticket for about 1.5 euro. After a 25 minute ride, I was just steps away from Bocconi!
In addition to the tram, there is also a fantastic metro and bus system. For the bargain price of 22 euro a month I get unlimited travel around the city using all three methods! The metro is very similar to the DC metro, except without the hassle of having to peg down a ticket price and paying an extra fee during rush hour. I definitely feared not knowing enough Italian to read signs and directions, but with Milan being such an international city, almost all signs are labeled in English and multiple other languages!
The map and transportation card I use to get around the city!
The metro extends all over the city, and is only a 5-minute tram ride from my dorm. The line extends to the central train station, which is super convenient for when I am making my trek out of the city for the weekend! The metro is also convenient for heading into the city center for some shopping and gelato. While I don’t frequently use the bus, it is a great way to get directly to a stop that may not be covered by the tram or metro.
For days when I want to get some exercise, I can get around easily on the walk and bike paths that go all around Milan. In the city center, there are almost no cars making it extremely safe for pedestrians. In place of cars are lovely streets with outdoor cafes and fun street performers!
Of course, Taxis are always readily available when I need to go somewhere not on the beaten path. Luckily, I only need them on rare occasions thanks to the reliable transport the city has! I will truly miss the convenience of having a tram take me right to class. Maybe one day UMD will have one too!
March 6th, 2014 by Smith Office of Global Programs under Hong Kong, Semester. No Comments.
By Michael Zhang
This past weekend, I got the opportunity to visit Macau with a tour group hosted by the University of Hong Kong. Before going to Macau, I really only knew about Macau as a gambling place, similar to that of Las Vegas. However, what attracted me to go on the tour was that I would be exposed to Macau’s history, culture, and politics.
During our tour, we visited museums, had a lecture given at University of Macau, and listened to a presentation given by one of the legislators of the Legislative Assembly of Macau and visited the New Macau Democratic Party headquarters.
Water Show in front of the Wynn Casinos. There are a lot of casinos in this strip of land and they attract a lot of big gamblers from around the world but especially China and other neighboring countries. The Casinos represent a huge portion of the economy of Macau.
It was interesting to see how China’s two SAR (special administrative regions) have very different political system as well as cultural influences. While Hong Kong was under British rule, Macau was under Portuguese rule. However, you can certainly still see more of the Portuguese influence on Macau (the architecture, language, and the food for example) than the British influence on Hong Kong.
At the Taipa House Museum, we were exposed to history of early settlement of the Portuguese in Macau. It was fascinating to see the influence of the Portuguese on the Macanese culture from attire to housing furnishings.
What was probably the most interesting part of the weekend was the talk about the political structure of Macau. We learned about how complex the selection of the legislative branch is as well as how the power of Macau is really rooted into a couple of families that own a lot of businesses in Macau and push for their family and friends into power. The selection of the legislative branch members is done by the people that are nominated by the different industries.
It was really interesting to compare and contrast Macau with Hong Kong. Both have high density in the central areas but the outskirts are not really fully used. Both have great transportation systems and cabs to take you everyone busses can’t at an affordable price.
To hear that most Macau residents were not born in Macau and even more important than that was that most Macau residents are apathetic towards politics or policies was very interesting. Macau residents are said to not be too politically active as a whole because of the low unemployment rate (1.9%), low crime, Because Macau is prospering from its entertainment or otherwise known as casino business, all Macau residents are entitled to a “cash handout” of MOP 7,000 for a total of MOP 4.12 billion dollars. While Macau is extremely wealthy to the point that it gives a cash handout, when visiting outside of the casino districts, it is apparent that there are things that need to be done to upkeep the city. However, it’s a lovely place to visit and a nice escape from Hong Kong. It’s amazing how close but yet how different Macau is to Hong Kong.
March 5th, 2014 by Smith Office of Global Programs under Quick Fire Tuesday. No Comments.
Have you run into any issues with suitcases while abroad, i.e. weight limits, number of suitcases allowed, etc?
Me wearing the small version of my backpack in Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Photo by Catherine Moore.
Lizzy Unger: I chose to backpack in Thailand and Cambodia before studying in Australia. Backpacking was great but it does present one major challenge: the backpack itself. In order to have traveling flexibility, I choose to only bring what could fit in my 60 mL backpack. At home I have a huge closet full of a colorful assortment of clothes and shoes but while I am down under I am stuck with a very minimalist wardrobe. I miss some of my belongings but I am so glad I made the sacrifice of leaving most of them behind. Living out of a backpack is a challenge but definitely worth it.
I managed to fit everything for the semester into these two bulky suitcases, plus my smaller carry-on suitcase that’s perfect for weekend trips!
Michelle Goliger: Before leaving for London, I had to buy a small rolling suitcase that I could use for my weekend trips to other countries. Unfortunately, airlines like EasyJet and RyanAir charge you when you want to check a bag, so my goal was to find one small enough to meet the size and weight restrictions of a carry-on. It took a few outings to find the right one, but I ended up purchasing one from the brand it, which is advertised as the world’s lightest suitcase!
Temple Street Market Place sells everything and almost anything. It’s a great place to pick up souvenirs, backpacks and just random things. Plus, shopping at night is always fun.
Michael Zhang: So far I haven’t had any problems with my suitcase. While I’m not usually a light packer, I’ve learned to pack light and to bring only the essential items that I know I will use during the trip. For weekend trips, I have been able to keep stuff down to a backpack. This saves time as I don’t have to check bags in and also saves having to worry about having to hull around heavy luggage. In addition, it saves money from not having to check in bags. I will be backpacking through Thailand and Malaysia later on this month and I hope to find a bigger backpack at the night markets so I can have everything I need in just one backpack.
March 5th, 2014 by Smith Office of Global Programs under China, Semester. No Comments.
By Allison Collins
Never have I known transportation to be so complicated and yet so easy as it is in China. Options sometimes seem endless and getting from one place to another in Beijing truly is a skillful art. Whether you walk, ride a bike or a scooter, drive a car, hail a taxi, take the subway, or catch a bus, each comes with a new and unique experience that leaves you feeling exhilarated.
Walking to class reminds me a bit of playing dodge ball. Sidewalks are packed and you quickly learn the art of weaving in between others who are doing the same, as well as bikers, parked cars, and hundreds of bicycles parked in rows that cut the wide sidewalks down to half their original width in some places. Rainy days add to the adventure as I dodge the crowd’s open and seemingly immovable umbrellas that whiz by me so closely the metal wires that hold their umbrellas open catch on my wet and now frizzy curls.
The view of a main intersection from the subway stop between the morning and afternoon rush hours.
On my way home I usually take a subway or bus which require similar skills to board. There is an odd art in catching just the right bus or subway as hundreds of people pack themselves into a space that does not seem like it should be able to hold everyone. While at the same time managing to stand your ground close enough to an exit as your destination arrives so that you do not miss getting off in the few seconds the doors are open. I cannot count the number of times I was sure not one more person would fit and how many times I was proven wrong.
Subways go from one stop to the next never interfering with other forms of transportation the way a bus does. Bus drivers here wind in and out of traffic with a skill that leaves me awed and very impressed. Taxis are great inexpensive options for when I am not sure of the exact location of my destination and they are always an adventure if I am not totally sure how to pronounce the address.
Intersections roll the excitement of all these into one as pedestrians attempt to cross the street as soon as possible. Cars and taxis are constantly turning right. Bikers and scooters make their way around vehicles, pedestrians, and weaving buses while everyone honks at everyone and no one listens. I have yet to figure out the rules of the road but whatever they are they seem to work. I have not yet seen so much as a dented vehicle which is actually quite amazing. Transportation is truly an art.
March 4th, 2014 by Smith Office of Global Programs under Italy, Semester. No Comments.
By Michele Correnti
Last week, my friend who graduated early from University of Maryland came to visit me in Rome. I was supposed to meet her at the train station by a specific time and accidentally arrived an hour late. Local transportation in Rome isn’t the most reliable, but it has been pretty easy to navigate ever since I got myself oriented. The trouble with this particular situation was that recently my tram stop’s tracks were torn up for repair. This means I have to walk fifteen minutes to the tram stop, catch a bus to the train station, and grab the tram there that takes me into Rome’s city center. On this particular morning, I overestimated her arrival time and underestimated my travel time. Thankfully she stayed calm and was fine upon my arrival!
Getting from point A to point B with the tram under construction is definitely inconvenient and makes it difficult to time when I should leave to get somewhere. Some days the bus will be there right on time, others I am left waiting for up to thirty minutes. Although, I have to admit that the transportation vehicles are very efficient. The tram is fast and has stops at every popular area in my district of Rome.
Fresh basil, mushrooms, and buffalo mozzarella from the market.
Besides public transportation, I can get almost anywhere just by walking. If I’m already in the city center, I can walk anywhere from the Vatican, the Pantheon, to even the Coliseum. It just depends how far I am willing to walk and if I know where I am going.
Even the grocery stores and vegetable markets are within walking distance. In Rome, the locals buy their groceries almost on a daily basis. This means walking to the separate markets in your area to pick up fresh meat, bread, fruits, and vegetables. Buying food fresh is ideal and can even come at a low cost, but the process takes hours out of the day. Yesterday I wanted to make a completely fresh meal and spent over two hours just getting the ingredients! Although it is enjoyable to really immerse myself in Italy’s culture and prepare meals the way the locals do, even if that means losing half my day to the streets of Rome.
February 28th, 2014 by Smith Office of Global Programs under Australia, Semester. No Comments.
By Lizzy Unger
There is nothing as exhilarating as a fresh start. I felt a surge of excitement the moment I stepped off the plane, felt the warm, dry Australian air and thought this is going to be my new home. Once I got through customs, I was given a warm welcome by the RMIT university airport pick up crew. A few other students and I headed through the airport and towards our drivers car. There wouldn’t be enough room for us all in the backseat and the driver suggested I sit in the front. Naturally, I approached the right side seat and was surprised to see the steering wheel there. I forgot that Australians, like the British, drive on the opposite side of the road. The driver laughed and asked if I wanted to drive us.
Once I arrived at my accommodation and unpacked, I was filled with a fresh wave of excitement. I forgot my exhaustion from an overnight flight stuck in the middle seat and immediately went out to explore the city. The first thing that struck me was how clean, spacious and orderly everything was. I have been backpacking in Southeast Asia and had gotten used to the utter mayhem of urban asian streets. Melbourne is a clean, orderly and modern city with wide sidewalks and organized bike lanes. Even though it’s Australia’s second largest city with over 4 million people, it does not feel crowded and chaotic like many American cities. I walked up to RMIT campus and was surprised by the beautiful buildings with zany, modern architecture. To me, the buildings seemed more like they belonged in an amusement park than a college campus. One of the main buildings looks like a colorful metal castle and another has a strange lime green design that resembles Nickelodeon slime.
Melbourne is a very young and vibrant city. There are an endless amount of cute cafes, chic restaurants, funky bars and art galleries. The majority of Australians I met while backpacking, no matter where they were from, said Melbourne is the best city in Australia because of it’s unique culture. Even though I have only been here a couple of days, I have already met many other international students and a few Aussies. I have only just arrived and I am already in love with this city!
February 27th, 2014 by Smith Office of Global Programs under Short-Term, Thailand. No Comments.
By Victoria Bowcutt
When you’re in a place like Bangkok, you simply must do all the things people recommend you to do. So that we did, along with all the other tourists who read up about the top attractions or got tips from their tour guide. We explored the Grand Palace and countless wats and temples, shopped in all the popular markets including the largest market in the world, and ate everywhere from a street cart to the Queen of Curry restaurant. But one of our tourist activities turned out to be not so touristy at all.
On our last full day in Bangkok, after we visited all the most popular sites, we decided to go to the Flower Market that someone had read was a must-see in Bangkok. We paid our 15 baht (less than 50 cents) to board the Chao Phraya riverboat just like any other day, but took it to a stop a little farther down from where we had normally gone. When we got off, we had no idea which direction to go, so we followed the flow of traffic and hoped for the best. Luckily enough, we soon reached a large ally way with a welcome sign labeled “Flower Market,” but we wouldn’t have been able to guess that based on our surroundings.
The entrance of the flower market, aka the only place we could snap a picture without getting in the way of busy shoppers. Downside: we had an audience of curious locals looking on.
The street was lined with locals who stared at us; we were the only “farangs” (foreigners) there. There was a large warehouse-looking building to our right, so we decided to search in there for all the supposed flowers. At first it looked like an indoor grocery market with more locals, all wondering what we were doing there. Then, we saw a flower. Then two. Then ten. Then an entire warehouse full! There were bags of flowers without stems or bags of petals, bouquets, gorgeous arrangements of all shapes and sizes. It was a sight indeed, unlike any I’ve ever seen- and we were the only tourists there to see it.
We ventured on through nearby side streets, all of which were still lined with flowers. At one point, we passed some little boys who excitedly tried out their English and chased us, giggling all the while. I had read before departing to Thailand that some Thais believe touching a white person is good luck. Before our trip to the flower market, we had never been the only western tourists around, so this cultural legend of sorts was never noticed. It was here, where complete strangers studied my every move, that I finally felt like I was a visitor to a different world. Not being in Kansas anymore (I hope you know what I’m referencing) was a refreshing wake-up call. You never know when you’ll find yourself in a situation where you the one who sticks out in a crowd. Luckily, since I found myself in this situation in Thailand, I flashed the Thai smile I had seen so often, and stopped to smell the roses.
February 26th, 2014 by Smith Office of Global Programs under Belgium, Semester. 1 Comment.
By Clara Huang
It’s 4:06pm on the first Tuesday of the semester and I’m sitting in a tiny, dark classroom with two of my fellow exchange students. The professor hasn’t shown up yet, and I wonder if I’m the only one thinking about the 15 minute rule we have back at UMD. Alas, the professor finally appears, only to express his disappointment at how few students there are in class. He doesn’t think he can teach the largely discussion and group-based class with only three of us. He will talk to the dean and see what his options are.
From what I’ve gathered of ULB’s policies, this scenario might not be uncommon. Registration (at least for Erasmus students) is done three weeks into the semester on paper, giving us time to attend several courses and choose after we have an idea of how the class will run. Unlike UMD and other American universities, ULB is quite unstructured. There are no such things as official class size limits at ULB, although some professors will limit their courses by themselves. The class schedules aren’t posted until a few weeks before the semester begins, and it is even possible that they will change. Most courses follow a regular schedule of once a week for two hours, though there are exceptions: some are condensed to anywhere from one week to three months, with each class being longer to compensate.
Left: a lecture hall at Solvay; check out the luxury. Right: what a desk in my French class looks like – notice the contrast between the two.
However, all of the business classes I’m taking are actually very similar to upper-level classes at Smith, so I definitely do not feel uncomfortable in class. One of my professors is even a UMD alum! Since I am in only graduate level courses (because of the incongruence between American and European university systems), classes are fairly small, with a mix of lectures, discussions, and group work.
Another similarity between ULB and UMD that I’ve noticed is the difference between business and humanities classrooms. The Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management is housed in a very nice, new building. Desks are big and spacious, the seats are pretty comfortable, and there’s technology in almost every room. When I go to my French language class though, I get to experience a decidedly older building with those small teensy little chair/desk things. You know, the ones with desks so small that to open your notebook, you need to balance half of it on your leg. One might say that the building is “run-down,” or that it’s “seen better days.” It’s exactly like the difference between Jimenez and Van Munching (though the Solvay building is definitely weirder than the Munch – Belgians like weird looking buildings). I guess even across an ocean and several countries, some things never change.
February 26th, 2014 by Smith Office of Global Programs under Austria, Semester. No Comments.
By Elaine Oves
The first couple of weeks in Vienna have certainly been eventful! I’ve settled into my communal apartment – my room is quite spacious, about the size of a double at UMD, but it’s all mine. And my two apartmentmates haven’t moved in yet. I’ve hardly spent any time in my room, I’ve been wandering the city, taking tours, and meeting other students. Many have moved into the building during the past couple weeks, and I’ve met students from the US, Canada, France, and Spain.
The city is so charming, full of beautiful and old architecture. All the main platzes are accessible via the U-Bahn (metro system here), and it’s very punctual. It seems like a train arrives no later than every six minutes during the day. Of course the first place I visited was Stephansplatz, the square in the center of Vienna. It is named after the famous Stephansdom, a cathedral and one of the tallest churches in the world. It is built in a Roman-Gothic style, and the roof is covered in beautiful multicolored tiles. The south side depicts a double-headed eagle that symbolizes the Habsburg dynasty. The north side boasts the coat of arms of the City of Vienna and the Republic of Austria.
After that, I went to check out the WU campus. I was definitely impressed – the campus is very modern, especially the library, which local students call “the spaceship.” Apparently it was just opened last semester! WU held a competition for architects to submit building design ideas and selected a handful of the top ideas. So every building on campus looks different and is designed by a different architect. WU is one of the first European universities to attempt creating a campus – generally European universities have academic buildings scattered across a city. WU has definitely created a cohesive campus, though much smaller than UMD, there is a library, several learning centers, a student center, a diner, and several cafes all in one area.
So far, one of my favorite places to wander is Museumsquartier, a very large area of museums and shops near the center of Vienna. It contains a couple large art museums (and I love art), like Leopold Museum and MUMOK, and a variety of architecture. At the end of each day, I return to my apartment, tired, thinking of all the wonderful sights and looking forward to what the next day will bring.
February 26th, 2014 by Smith Office of Global Programs under Semester, United Kingdom. No Comments.
By Michelle Goliger
Now that I’ve been in London for just over a month (which I’m still having a really hard time believing), I like to think that I have a pretty good grasp on the public transportation system. I have become quite accustomed to riding the Tube, London’s underground rail, all day every day. It pretty much goes without saying that I don’t have a car to drive here, but even if I did, I don’t know that I would feel comfortable attempting to drive on the other side of the road. Lucky for me, the Tube is fairly clean and efficient, and I live just a short ride from some of the most popular areas in the city!
This station is just a three minute walk from where I live, making the Tube a highly convenient transportation option.
Another common form of transportation in London is the bus. Although much more complicated to master, the nice thing about the buses is that they run very regularly, and for most hours of the day. The Tube, on the other hand, closes by midnight (even on the weekends), which can be quite inconvenient for those who need to return home late at night. Additionally, the Tube has its glitches. I live a couple of miles from school, which means that I generally prefer to take public transportation rather than walk all the way there and back each time. Even still, I have learned the importance of leaving myself plenty of time to get to class, because just like any other underground system, the Tube is not perfect.
A couple of weeks ago, the Tube workers went on strike for three days to protest talks about eliminating ticket office jobs. Although this isn’t exactly the norm in London, strikes are more common here than I would have thought! Naturally, this created a huge inconvenience for the entire city, as many of the lines were running much more infrequently, and the station closest to where I live was shut down altogether. Unfortunately, I hadn’t really planned ahead for this, and I ended up running behind schedule for one or two of those days. The good news is that the strike is long over, and since then, I really haven’t run into any problems with transportation!
All in all, I would say that the Tube is definitely the way to go during the day, while the buses are a better option when traveling at night.