A few cultural differences

March 4th, 2015 by under Germany. No Comments.

Let me get this out there: Germans love carbonated drinks! Actually, I’ve noticed a majority of countries in Europe love having carbonation in their drinks, whether it’s soda, alcohol, or water. In fact, in WHU, when you dispense water at the gym, you have the option of choosing from normal water, chilled water, or sparkling water! I personally do not like the taste of sparkling water, but as the semester goes on, it’s getting to me. Also, when you go to a restaurant, they usually don’t have tap water, so water isn’t free (and can sometimes be more expensive than beer!)

Living in Germany, I haven’t had a huge cultural shock with anything, but there are some differences that I believe is helpful to know. Water is just one of a few things that I’m getting adjusted too so far. Continuing with restaurant etiquette, it’s frowned upon to take home leftover food, and restaurants usually don’t have take home boxes either (the one time I did ask, I was given aluminum foil). Unlike the United States, most waiters/waitresses are paid normal wages, so tipping is not as common here. Additionally, although a few places do accept credit cards, it’s a good idea to carry cash (Popular grocery stores like Lidl and Aldi only take cash!). One of the things I like about Germany is that since sales tax is already included, you actually pay the price you see. 

One of the biggest differences that have surprised me the most, however, is the fact that free public restrooms are unheard of. You can find them in shopping malls or train stations, but you have to pay to use them. Even the one’s in McDonald’s or Starbucks aren’t free! Another big shock is the opening hours of restaurants and shops in Germany. Unlike the U.S.A where stores open 24/7, over here most stores close by 8pm, and virtually no shops are open on Sundays (like literally nothing but Doner shops!) I’ve also noticed that when Germans shop, they usually only purchase a bag or two worth of groceries but go more often. The cashiers don’t give out plastic bags and will not pack your items for you either. 

Although these distinctions might seem extraordinary, after a few weeks, you will get used to it quickly! You’ll take advantage of the free toilets on the trains, you’ll learn to be environmentally friendly as you carry around your reusable bags, and last but not least, you’ll grow in to drinking sparkling water!

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Traveling with the Deutche Bahn

March 2nd, 2015 by under Germany, Semester. No Comments.

One thing I will definitely miss back in the States is the public transportation in Europe, particularly in Germany. The Deutche Bahn, or DB, is fast, clean, and reliable for the most part. So far, I have used DB to travel to Köln, Luxembourg, Trier, Frankfurt, Brussels, and Paris, and have several other trips planned all with DB. I prefer taking the train to flying because it is usually cheaper and easier to access from Vallendar – not having to go through security is an additional plus! (I decided to use Megabus to travel to Amsterdam, and missed the comfort and timeliness of DB.)

There are three different speeds of trains associated with DB, listed from slowest to fastest:

  • RE (Regional)
  • IC/EC (Intercity and Eurocity, in Germany and within Europe, respectively)
  • ICE (Intercity Express)

Most people typically take the RE train to bigger connecting cities where they then transfer to an ICE train. Transfers are painless: you usually have about 20 minutes to switch from one platform to another and grab a baked good from the many concession stands located in the station. Sometimes, you might only have 5 minutes to switch, but in those circumstances you just hop off one train and into another on a neighboring platform.

I also signed up for a trial BahnCard, which is similar to a membership card. For a mere 15 euros, my BahnCard 25 has saved me at least 25% off of the standard fare, and has more than paid for itself. I opted to ride only second-class, but I don’t miss the complimentary snacks, drinks, and paper of first-class travelers (not that I can read German!)

The earlier the ticket is booked, the cheaper it is. Roundtrip tickets to most of the neighboring countries (France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, etc) will run between 50-100 euros with the Bahn 25 if they are booked ahead of time, and sometimes group discounts render the tickets even cheaper. There are also special deals, but those are to specific cities on certain days, so it is a little harder to plan around them.

The only downside to DB is that if you miss a train, you will also likely miss all the connecting trains afterwards. However, if the delay is because of a technical difficulty, you can take the next train free of charge. This past week, our train suddenly broke down halfway to Saarbrücken, where our connecting train to Paris was. Though we weren’t sure where we were, we took a train to Trier, then another to Saarbrücken, then Metz, and finally to Paris. The DB office was able to print us new tickets and new seat reservations, and everything was fine though we arrived a couple hours later than anticipated.

Other than that, I did have a slight run-in with the law! About a month ago, a good friend of mine was visiting and we accidentally bought a regional pass within Offenbach instead of a pass from Offenbach to Frankfurt. When the conductor checked our tickets, he pulled us off the train and sternly issued us a fine. Fifteen minutes and forty euros poorer, we hopped back on the train shaking our heads that a simple mix-up warranted a threat to take us to jail if we didn’t pay.

 

 

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Milan-Take 3

March 2nd, 2015 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

It’s been wonderful here thus far: Cute dogs in sweaters. Fulfilling my daily cappuccino quota. Pasta pasta pasta. But I think I hit my limit this week with Italian food. I gave in….my upbringing followed me, i hate to admit it….

My mother was right.

There is only so long I can go without needing to eat home cooked Indian food. So this week I ventured out to “Krishna Indian Bazaar” in Porta Venezia, a 20 minute tram ride from my house. I walked in to the shining face of an old indian woman, inhaled the smell of spices and my face lit up. I can honestly say I didn’t even bother to look at the price tags and bought a nice supply of herbal facial scrubs, spicy noodles, tamarind, cumin and pickle. You can’t fight genetics.

Whether I was able to successfully cook anything at home other than the noodles, is another question.

However, I also couldn’t fight my half american upbringing and payed 6 euros for smooth peanut butter….I’m about positive i could get 6 times the amount of crunchy peanut butter at Costco for the same price.

(I would insert a photo here of the pathetic jar of Skippy (we all know JIF is far superior) but apparently the RHSmith blog has reached it’s space quota)

Apart from food, I’ve realized that  business school is about the same everywhere; I keep hearing the same buzz words in class that I hear at Smith in my “E-marketing and E-commerce” course…the things we have to push through to get those real world jobs. I’m particularly enjoying my technology and innovation management course. Although we don’t have homework in any of our classes, we do have the option to go to class as “attending” vs “non-attending” students. Given, if you’re attending you have to do group projects and there is less material on the final exam, vs with non-attending they add about 3 chapters of material and make the exam mostly written. (Makes it a little hard for exchange students to slack off!)

I’ve chosen to be an “attending student” for all of my classes and can still miss a fair amount of class. Next weekend, I’m off to Dublin for St.Patricks day celebrations, but I’ll check back in 2 weeks! :)

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The Conclusion of the First Quarter

March 2nd, 2015 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Since the last time I have posted a blog, much has happened. I celebrated a huge regional holiday in Germany’s southwestern region called “Karneval.” We had a parade here in our small town of Vallendar on Sunday February 22nd and soon after that, on Monday the 23rd, the exchange students (including myself), along with some of the German students, went by train to Cologne where there is the biggest annual Karneval parade in Germany. Unfortunately we had exams the following week so many of the German students opted not to come along because they tended to take a significantly greater number of classes than the exchange students and were busy studying during the holiday. The parade was a pretty cool and fun experience. It kind of reminded me of Halloween, only in this case everyone dresses up and the adults take off work and go crazy for it. There were parade floats constantly passing by with people on-board throwing immense amounts of candy onto the street. I feel as if I now have enough candy to last me throughout the rest of the year. It made me wonder how much the total expenditure costed the city and the companies that sponsored the parade. At both parades in Vallendar and Cologne, I met some of the local German students which was really great.

As mentioned before, the following week we had our exams for the quarter. I had just two exams in Financial Statement Analysis and International Accounting. As it was my first and only quarter here at WHU for my undergraduate program, I felt as if I did not know what to expect. We had never had exams before and I thought it interesting that students were expected to take a class for 2 months and have a single exam determining their whole grade. I was fairly nervous going into them because I felt that I had not adequately prepared for them over the course of the quarter and I had no idea what to expect. I ended up taking both exams last Wednesday and Thursday and I thought I would at least pass. There was a sizeable amount of content I was unfortunately unable to answer for the Financial statement analysis exam but I thought International Accounting was quite straightforward. What I am actually really nervous about now is the 40 minute presentation I have to give tomorrow in my class Seminar in Financial Accounting on the effects of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) on financial comparability. Fortunately though, I get to look forward to taking a trip that I have

Marketing myself with Jose for Karneval in Cologne

Marketing myself with Jose for Karneval in Cologne

planned for Prague after the presentation.

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The U.S could learn a little from London

March 2nd, 2015 by under England, United Kingdom. No Comments.

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By: Yvonne Do 

 

From being in school for a little over a month now, I can say that I really enjoy and prefer the way London structures their classes! School is very different here. I had to adjust to a new classroom setting with different standards. To pass school  you only need a 40% (U.S C- equivalent) I was at first baffled by this. But they later explained that getting an 80% is highly unlikely because that is equivalent to a 100% in the U.S. So there is not a lot of pressure to get good grades and as a result, more time to focus on learning!

Self-motivation is key to succeed in school here. That is something I really like about attending Cass Business School. Teachers here do not assign tedious work or have assignments for us due every week like in the U.S. So we have to stay on top of the material ourselves at our discretionary pace! We are expected to devote about 120 hours of individual time for each class but having the freedom to choose when to study has really made me become more focused. I know that sounds a little hard to believe but I am more focused on learning the material than just nearly trying to get through the course. I feel as if for some courses in the U.S I am completing work just for the sake of it.

This is my Alternative Investment Management course. My professor is in the front and next week an employee from Bloomberg is coming in to demonstrate the functions of Bloomberg Terminal! A great example of how school here is very practical!

This is my Alternative Investment Management course. My professor is in the front and next week an employee from Bloomberg is coming in to demonstrate the functions of Bloomberg Terminal! A great example of how school here is very practical!

Another thing I enjoy is every class is heavily group based and application oriented. What I mean by that is group projects are based on real life work scenarios. I am taking an investment class where my group and I are trading 1 million pounds of virtual money through an online system and we get to choose what to trade and invest in! I am also taking a visual basic class where before each class, I am given an exercise with constraints and goals for a client that is revolved around financial planning. Class time is allotted for completing the exercise on Excel. These classes have helped me learn so much better because I have the opportunity to apply my knowledge into a scenario I could potentially receive at a real job. Applications help me remember things better than strictly memorizing processes. I can see myself transitioning into the workforce after graduation more easily now because of the critical thinking and analytical skills I have gained from classes here!

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Traveling Italy on a College Budget

March 2nd, 2015 by under Italy, Semester. No Comments.

blog photo by Alyssa Lesho

Traveling around Italy and Europe can be very expensive. Whether you take a plane or a train (I recommend the train if you’re staying in Italy), the cost of having new experiences can be high.  It gets worse when you’re restricted to traveling on the weekends when you don’t have classes. Weekend prices can be more than 50% more expensive than traveling mid-week.

There are ways to save money. Booking far in advance, especially for long-distance trips, helps. Airline prices are usually cheaper on Monday and Tuesday. Websites like Skyscanner can help you find the best prices. Hostelworld can help you find the cheapest hostel in the city and you can use their deals to book longer stays for less.

Munich, from the top of a bell tower. First international trip!

Munich, from the top of a bell tower. First international trip!

Another tip is that not every meal needs to be a sit-down affair. The best food I’ve come across I ate standing outside in the cold. Figure out where the locals are eating and follow suit – you’ll skip the added “costs” of being a tourist, as well as service charges for using a table. Having your own reusable water bottle allows you to skip paying for water (which you will have to do everywhere).

Eventually though, you’re going to realize that it’s not as easy or as cheap to travel around Europe as you thought it would be. You’ll have to reevaluate your travel plans and decide if €150 is too much for a weekend in Budapest or if it’s a good investment. Because that is what your semester abroad is about – investing in a life experience. I’m not saying that this is the chance of a lifetime, but you should treat it as though it is!

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First trip to Mainland China

February 22nd, 2015 by under China, Hong Kong. No Comments.

isaac  By: Isaac Appel

Before this semester started I didn’t expect or even think about the differences there might be between Hong Kong and Mainland China. Prior to being here I definitely lumped the two together in terms of culture and stereotypes. Last weekend I went on a trip to Shenzhen (a city in Mainland China) for three days and it completely shattered my ignorance. Shenzhen is very accessible to get to from Hong Kong – you can get there by metro. It took around two hours to get there including walking through immigration. It was amazing that traveling only two hours away revealed so many differences.

toilets in china

Public restroom in China; their version of the “toilet”

The second we exited the MTR (metro) it was fairly apparent we were somewhere different. I was immediately welcomed by a noticeably different smell in the air, dirtier streets, and people who stopped to stare at us – which hardly ever happens in Hong Kong. Other differences that quickly became apparent were the toilets, or lack thereof, and that english was no longer a common language. I definitely realized how privileged I was to be in Hong Kong where language barriers were of so little concern because mostly everyone knows english. Throughout the weekend less obvious differences started appearing. People stopped and asked to take pictures with some of us which we were told might happen simply because we are white.

In Hong Kong when people are walking, especially in the MTR, there is order and a systematic way of doing things. For instance, people generally enter on the left and exit on the right, wait for people to exit the metro first before getting on, stand to one side of the escalator to make room for those who want to walk up, and it is common to give up ones seat for the elderly, pregnant women, disabled, and young children. However in China almost all of these “rules” were not followed. There was no correct side to walk on, everyone just walked in a hurried fashion in all directions. Everyone simultaneously rushes to exit and get on the metro at the same time which definitely gets hectic. Theres too many people on the escalator so people just stand on both sides and you can’t walk up it even if you are in a hurry. Getting a seat is on a first come first serve basis and no one shares it.

It really took a while for it to sink in that there could be so many differences in life styles just across a border that is literally two hours away. TWO HOURS! And just to for more emphasis I will repeat myself.. we only took the metro to get here. It’s really crazy to think about that..

window of the world

Window of the World

 

Aside from the cultural shock we went to a really cool place called Window of the World. It had small versions of well known architecture throughout the world. You can see in the picture to the left, the replica of the Eiffel Tower behind all of us. Shenzhen is also known for its shopping/markets because this is where you can get all the fake brands. I ended up buying a fake Calvin Klein belt for less than $5 US.

I am definitely seeing the world differently, and I am enjoying every minute of it.

 

 

 

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Typical Tauschie Food Experience

February 18th, 2015 by under Germany, Semester. No Comments.

10887312_10205444976463278_8330649179681652655_o-150x150    By: Nicole Mize

A huge part of any culture is of course, the food! Coming into Germany, the extent of my food knowledge was that they had something here called schnitzel and obviously all of the sausages you could ever imagine. That first impression that I had happened to be a pretty good one! I have definitely had my share of schnitzels and brotwurst. Schnitzel is a fried meat, usually pork, which is often served with fries on the side. It’s absolutely delicious. And brotwurst is the German version of a sausage hot dog, usually served on a bun with mustard or sauerkraut.

Pork schnitzel, fries, sauerkraut and mayo from the meat shop.  Best place for your local schnitzel!

Pork schnitzel, fries, sauerkraut and mayo from the meat shop. Best place for your local schnitzel!

WHU took the Tauschies (German nickname for exchange students) on a regional tour that ended in the greatest German feast that we could have ever imagined. The attached picture shows the three foot diameter plate that about six people shared. It included pork schnitzels, brotwurst, chicken fried steak, steak, corn, potatoes, tomatoes and mozzarella, fries, and more! These foods are all German specialties, but on the daily basis we don’t find ourselves indulging in a buffet of meat.

The German feast that we were treated to by the University after a fun tour of the region!

The German feast that we were treated to by the University after a fun tour of the region!

In Vallendar, students mostly visit the local grocery store and cook their own meals because it’s a lot cheaper, and the groceries are so fresh in Germany! When we do eat out locally, there are a lot of different places nearby to grab some good food. On just about every corner, there is a café that has various sandwiches and even some little desserts for the sweet tooth. One of my personal favorites is called Altun’s and I usually get a donner there, which is kind of like a kabob sandwich with shaved meat and your choice of toppings. It’s really affordable, too! Even though Vallendar is small, there is also one Chinese restaurant that is usually very busy, and the duck there is so good it melts in your mouth! So, although the German specialties are extremely delicious, there is a great variety right in town for the food lover!

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Home Sweet Home

February 17th, 2015 by under Germany, Semester. No Comments.

Vel_pictureBy Vel Lian

Studying abroad in Germany, I have been able to visit many of it’s surrounding countries and explore their cities. However, at the end of the weekend, there is nothing greater than the comfort and relief of having your own place to crash into. My new home is called the InPraxi Haus (not to be confused with the InPraxi alumni building of WHU). It is located on Goethestraße 8a, an inclined street, but not as far up of a walk up as Humboldthöhe. The apartment style complex has about 48 single units over three floors and is mostly rented by exchange students, including master students.

The room itself is quite decent, and comfortable for one person to live in. My favorite parts of the room are the windows! They are multifaceted in the way they open, and the shades are rolling so you can easily make your room into night time whenever. It is fully furnished with a “completely” equipped kitchenette including basic cooking equipment’s, dishes, bed linen, and even towels. (I put quotations on “completely” because I’m lacking a few items on the kitchenette checklist, but nothing that I can’t live without). It has it’s own separate bathroom and if you’re wondering whether to bring a lamp- don’t, there are two lamps! One of the perks of living in InPraxi is that the landlord offers you an option to install a router for a deposit, whereas in other buildings you would have to go out and buy one yourself. (And yes, the Wi-Fi is pretty good).

Didn't turn on the lights, but here's a peek.

Didn’t turn on the lights, but here’s a peek.

As there are mostly exchange students here, it is easy to make friends and even have cooking sessions with your neighbors. There is also a common room in the basement where you can chill out with some people or meet there before a party. The building is located no more than 8 minutes walking distance from WHU campus (which includes a gym, so no excuse for not going there!). The laundry price is the pretty cheap in InPraxi, but It is not the most efficient by any means. The machines usually run out of time, and your clothes never dry fully. However, you’ll get used to finding how to work it. One last thing, the landlord doesn’t live in the apartment so you will not see him often. But it is not difficult to contact him (I had a power outage for a day, and he was able to come fix it by night-time).

Overall, I love my apartment and not having to share the room for the first time in 3 years!

The kitchen side.

The kitchen side.

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Milan 2.0

February 17th, 2015 by under Italy, Semester. No Comments.

megBy Meghna Balakumar

 

 

It’s been an incredible couple weeks in Milan. Classes just started last week and I’m slowly trying to get back into the groove of things after a 2 month vacation! The weather here is still relatively dreary and cold, but the food makes it all worth it.

I lived in the Language House program during the majority of time at the University of Maryland, in the Italian cluster. Last week I was able to reunite with my Italian mentor, Marta Rossini. She recently graduated from Politecnico and came into Milan to relax after a long day of work. It was so great to see her again after we had a sad parting in DC a little more than a year ago.

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Marta and I dancing at Alcatraz!

Apart from all the obvious partying us exchange students do here, I’ve been able to really throw myself in the culture a bit, especially in the kitchen! I’ve been making wonderful dishes like eggplant with pasta and pesto spaghetti. (Okay, I’ll admit, I haven’t gotten too far.) But being a vegetarian here, I’m living off carbs and dairy, and loving it. I’ve actually managed to find some very good vegetarian meatballs at the local super market so i’ve been trying to incorporate that in.

But eventually the homesickness kicks in, you’re eating Nutella on toast but all you’re dreaming about is JIF crunchy peanut butter.

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Sadly staring at my breakfast.

 

Another thing that makes you slightly homesick is not being able to leave the house in a hoodie and sweatpants, or even your favorite zebra print pajamas. Walk out in a Maryland hoodie and sweats and all the Milanese people will stare at you like a homeless person. The dogs dress better than us here. IMG_1159

I’m off to tackle round 2 of classes at Bocconi, will check in soon!

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