Sydney Round 2 & Fraser Island

January 30th, 2015 by under Australia, Short-Term. No Comments.

By Brett Kohler

I was really excited to get back to Sydney. This time around we had a number of company visits with Maryland alumnus. The first was with Google Sydney, where Google Maps was created. The Google office was amazing; there were recreation rooms, an indoor garden, a music studio, high tech office space, and a beautiful view of Sydney over the water. The cafeteria was more like a 4 star restaurant. When we left Google there were plenty of people in our group who thought they had just found their dream job. Below is a picture of the entire group at Google.

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During our time (in Sydney we also met with the CEO of Quantas (Australia’s first airline), the Reserve Bank of Australia, coal sites, and a winery.
My two favorite experiences this time around were climbing the Sydney Bridge, and catching a show at the Sydney Opera house. We made the bridge climb at night, and the view of the city lit up was beautiful. The next night we saw “Club Swizzle” at the Opera House, and it was a really cool show. It was a combination of comedy with acrobatics.

A few days later we made our much awaited trip to the Fraser Island, a natural sand island with fresh water and breathtaking landscape. We spent the first night watching a storm roll over the island. The next day we went on an island tour in a suspension rigged bus that combed over the beaches and trails like an ATV. We learned the history of the island, saw firsthand the wildlife and crystal clear fresh water that cuts through the land, and took in some of the majestic views that Fraser Island had to offer. I’ve attached picture of two of my favorites: A group photo in front of a shipwreck, and a shot of the island after the storm.

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One last post coming soon! Thanks for reading!

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From Sydney to Melbourne

January 26th, 2015 by under Australia, Short-Term. No Comments.

 

 

By Brett Kohler

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(from left to right: View of the Sydney Downtown, Opera House, and Harbor Bridge)

Hey everyone,
This blog is going to cover the first half of the 2015 Australia winter trip. I flew out with a group of 10 to arrive in Sydney five days before the start of the trip. After 25 hours in the air with a layover in Dubai, we finally arrived. I learned my first lesson abroad right after stepping out of the airport: check taxi cab seats for anything that could have fallen out of your pocket. I lost my iPhone with no chance of recovery. After accepting that it was gone for good, I got my first taste of Australia: Starbucks. It turns out that the coffee industry was part of our lesson plan. Starbucks has had difficulty competing with Australia’s domestic coffee shops (generally small, unique stores that specialize in iced and frozen drinks.)
The first five days were a blast. We stayed in a tiny hostel room with ten people jammed in and no air conditioning. Despite that, we bonded over discovering a bit of the amazing atmosphere in Syndey. We wandered through beautiful botanical gardens, took beach days at Manly and Bondi, toured the harbors, and enjoyed delicious food. The city immediately strikes you as being clean, young, friendly, and welcoming.
One thing that really surprised me is how difficult it was to understand Australian accents. They obviously speak English, but they tend to drop their sentences off quickly. Here’s an example, an Australian would ask “how are you going?” in a greeting. But it sounds more like “heyougoin”
We met up with the rest of the study abroad group in Melbourne for the start of the trip. We checked out the famous Melbourne Cricket Grounds and made company visits with GE , the Australian Football League, the Carlton, and Circus Oz. I especially enjoyed the visit to Circus Oz. The performers taught our group trampoline jumping, acro-balance, and juggling to name a few.
My favorite sight so far was the Twelve Apostles (fun fact there are only 8!) I’ve attached a picture of me in front of the rock formations. The picture doesn’t nearly do it justice, but hopefully you can get an idea of how beautiful it really is.

Thanks for reading, my next post will be up shortly. Until then, cheers!

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There and Back Again

January 24th, 2015 by under Germany, Short-Term, Uncategorized. No Comments.

It’s over. After three of the most thrilling and captivating weeks of my life, I am writing this from the comforts of my own bed in Maryland. I experienced more than I thought possible on this trip, from Tubingen to Stuttgart to Munich to Freiburg to Berlin. Despite the astronomical amount of cultural differences I encountered, I think the bonds that I formed on this trip are what will stay with me the most. On our last night in Tubingen, the whole group went to our favorite restaurant (the Neckarmuller – highly recommended) and talked about how we didn’t want to leave. It was crazy how attached we had become to a place we were only in for 3 weeks. Similarly, it amazed me how close we had become as a group after starting the trip as basically total strangers. But I think that’s what the study abroad experience does to people: everyone’s so happy to be there that they can’t help but enjoy every single second. I know I did. With that, my blog is complete. Auf Wiedersehen!

 

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Ich Bin Ein Berliner

January 21st, 2015 by under Germany, Short-Term. No Comments.

I can officially say that I have experienced Berlin. It was a whirlwind of history, activity, and discovery. By the time we flew back to Stuttgart, I was thoroughly drained – but also completely satisfied with my time there. After living in the quiet little town of Tubingen, Berlin was quite a turnaround. In Tubingen, stores tend to close early and the nights are tranquil. In Berlin, the nightlife doesn’t even begin until around 2:00 in the morning, as many residents appear not to be familiar with the concept of sleep. Everything we did was absolutely packed – and we did quite a bit. Of course we spent time at the famous Museum Island as well as the DDR Museum and the Judisches Museum, and all of these exhibits were interesting. However, obviously, the main attraction was the Berlin Wall. I have learned about the struggles that went on here in history classes, but seeing it in person brings the past to life in a way that has to be experienced. We passed Checkpoint Charlie and viewed the so-called “Death Strip” where many hopeful escapees tried their luck. I believe the Wall is something that should be on everyone’s bucket list, and I’m glad I can check it off of mine. Other than that, we took a tour of the city, ascended the TV Tower, and did so many other things that would be impossible to recount in this space. There was always something to do around Berlin, and I ended up doing my best resident impression by barely cracking double digit hours of sleep during our five days there. Given the chance, I’d do everything the same way the next time.IMAG0226

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Returning home

January 20th, 2015 by under China, Short-Term. No Comments.

It’s been about a week since I’ve returned from China, but it feels like I just got back.

Things are definitely much different here, and I’ve had to spend some time adjusting: the weather’s 30 degrees colder than it was in Hong Kong (thankfully, we missed a huge snowstorm while abroad), the food’s pricier, and – most of all – the time difference has made me exhausted.

When I casually tell people “I went to China,” when they ask me what I’ve done with my break, it almost feels hard to believe. I was halfway across the globe just seven days ago.

When most people blog about a trip, they come up with key takeaways they’ll think about when they return to the states. Though I could draft a never-ending list, for the purpose of this blog, I wanted to share the most important thing I’ve learned while in China. I guess if I were to sum it up in one word, it would be “adaptability. ”

I had to be able to adapt when I ate cuisine or spoke with locals in the service industry. Ever since I was a little girl, my extended family and I would eat Cantonese banquet dinners for special occasions and went to dim sum every once in a while. Though the cuisine wasn’t very different in China, there were still things I had to learn how to adjust to. Many of the dinners I ate had some sort of bone marrow incorporated in it, for instance (i.e. bone marrow stew). I had only eaten cow marrow a few times before I left, and wasn’t too big of a fan of the food, but decided to try everything that was put in front of me at the dinner table. When in Rome, I guess.

Lunch at Sun Yat-Sen University

Lunch at Sun Yat-Sen University

Working in finance requires you to adapt. When we made financial visits to Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, many of the managers and directors mentioned the importance of being on an international schedule. Because conference calls with employees or clients in the U.S. or the U.K. occur pretty frequently, you have to be able to adjust to their timeline (like having to be on call on Friday nights). One manager during one of our business visits described how he got promoted. While this may not only apply to international companies, it’s important to be open-minded to different types of work. If an assignment gets put in front of you but you have little to no experience or interest in the subject area, you have to broaden your boundaries and completely apply yourself – no one wants to hire the guy who doesn’t want to work on a project, even if it may be tedious, different, or out of his scope.

You have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes if you want to make international friends. Okay, this may not be 100% true all of the time (or may still hold true if you want to make friends in the U.S). When I spoke to students at the University of Hong Kong, Sun Yat-Sen University, and the University of Macau, it seemed like having an open mind before engaging in conversation was essential. Many of their academics, familial practices, or activities contrasted with those in my life, so I had to understand where they were coming from to keep the conversation going. I’m happy to say that I’m Facebook friends with many of the university students I’ve met in China, and we’ve had some conversations since my departure.

Andy (center), a student I met at Sun Yat-Sen Univ.

Andy (center), a student I met at Sun Yat-Sen Univ.

If you’re reading my blog post and are interested in traveling abroad, I’d definitely recommend it – if you have the proper mindset to go. All of the experiences I was able to enjoy – the food, shopping, people, and learning lessons – would not have happened if it weren’t for coming with a clean, open slate. Many of the study abroad experiences this university offers seem so intriguing, however, they are only worth it if you have the willingness and desire to immerse yourself in a different culture and constantly try to learn something new.

 

 

 

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Overcoming cultural barriers

January 19th, 2015 by under China. No Comments.

After a two hour train ride, we arrived in Guangzhou. When I passed immigration and customs, something greeted me in the women’s restroom: a hole in the ground.

It’s strange how, though this city isn’t too far from Hong Kong, many of the customs and habits of the population are so different here. Though Guangzhou has experienced urbanization, increased trade and the creation of industrial zones over the past few decades, there are still stark differences between this city and the more westernized Hong Kong.

1. For example, the language barrier: Communicating with cab drivers, restaurant servers, and retail workers is extremely difficult if you don’t know basic words in Mandarin (or at least have a translation packet with you).

2. Being stared at: Speaking honestly, we were the only American crowd I saw in Guangzhou, and the locals realized this. Being spotted by passersby and having our photos taken were not an uncommon occurrence.

3. Plumbing: Many locations in Guangzhou didn’t have “western” toilets, and I had to get used to keeping my mouth shut while I showered (the tap water isn’t exactly potable).

4. Supporting beggars: Though there were beggars in Hong Kong, it was quite disheartening to see poverty in Guangzhou. Sadly, we had to learn the hard way not to donate much to them. One night, after I gave a small donation to a young girl holding flowers, a horde of other beggars followed my group for a few blocks.

Standing in front of Guangxiao Temple in Guangzhou.

Standing in front of Guangxiao Temple in Guangzhou.

I don’t mean for this list of barriers to sound like complaints. In a huge way, these barriers served as learning lessons – experiences that taught me how other populations perform day-to-day tasks. After all, the trip wouldn’t have felt like much of a “trip” to a foreign location if it weren’t for cultural differences. These differences are what makes the trip worthwhile; they’re what create the global experience.

I’m not saying traveling to Guangzhou suddenly turned me into an adaptable traveler who understands what it’s like to live in foreign countries: This city is still one of the most westernized in China, and there are plenty of places that live in extremely lower circumstances than those in the west. However, this trip was a small step in learning how to adjust to different customs. It gave me a taste of what it’s like to be a foreigner, and by the time I left Guangzhou, I couldn’t help myself from wanting more of these diverse experiences.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll travel to other countries some time soon. If anything, I hope to expand my understanding of how others in this unique world live.

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Good Bye, China.

January 19th, 2015 by under China, Uncategorized. No Comments.

I am writing this blog from the airport on my way out of China. I am sad to be leaving, especially since I am starting a 24-hour travelling odyssey from Guangzhou to Baltimore through Tokyo, Japan and Denver, Colorado.

I didn’t get a chance to blog about Guangzhou, and to my surprise it was quite different from Hong Kong. A US dollar goes a long way in Guangzhou, we could eat dinner for under 6 USD, buy souvenirs for next to nothing, and we got a legitimate 5-star hotel. The hotel was so nice. Guangzhou is a popular manufacturing city, whereas Hong Kong was not, so it was interesting to see manufacturing facilities and how they operate internationally. Also, there was much less English in Guangzhou. Most signs did not have an English translation and English speakers in Hong Kong were more popular and easier to understand than in Guangzhou. My favorite part of Guangzhou was the impressively cheap and enormous markets and the night we rented a karaoke room at a local bar.

This trip flew by, and I wish it were longer. I came into the trip not really knowing any students, not knowing much about international business, and never having been to another continent. I met so many new friends, both from College Park and China, that I hope to maintain a relationship with. I also learned a lot about the Chinese culture, particularly relating to business, customs, and behaviors. Finally, my experience as a visitor to another culture was eye-opening and very powerful. I have a newfound respect for immigrants and foreign visitors to the US and understand their perspective much better. I understand that there is so much you can learn from people that are different than you, and that is an important message to experience. I will carry and use what I learned in Hong Kong and Guangzhou throughout my entire life, and I look forward to taking the opportunity to get similar experiences in the future.

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A QUEST photo atop a mountain overlooking the beautiful city of Hong Kong. (Some Quest students were exploring elsewhere during the picture). I think we all can agree we had such a great time.

 

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A beautiful experience

January 13th, 2015 by under China. No Comments.

After taking the train to Ngong Ping (Lantau Island, Hong Kong), riding a gondola lift for a half an hour, and climbing a total of 218 steps, I was finally there – standing directly in front of the famous “Big Buddha” (also known as Tian Tan Buddha).

Before I left for Hong Kong, I remember having a discussion with some of my friends about some of the most beautiful things we’ve ever seen. Some talked about the Hagia Sophia. Others talked about the Eiffel Tower or the Grand Canyon. Scrambling through memories to find something to talk about, I came up with nothing.

As cheesy as this may sound, though I don’t travel much, I can now say seeing the Buddha is probably the most beautiful experience I have ever had. Everything seemed perfect – a small group of us enjoyed viewing the mountains and water beneath our feet as we were lifted to the bronze statue. The weather was not too hot, and we arrived just before a throng of Buddhist monks entered the Po Lin Monastery.

Big Buddha/Tian Tan Buddha in Lantau Island

Big Buddha/Tian Tan Buddha in Lantau Island

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Side view – Big Buddha

 

I’ve never been religious, but I like to use experiences like these to prove that you don’t need to be of a certain religion, ethnicity or background to enjoy beautiful structures based on religious ideals.

A staple of Hong Kong, the Big Buddha symbolizes the relationship between man and nature. Its left hand sits on its lap, representing the cultivation of generosity, and its right hand is raised in a position representing peace (or so the guide book tells me).

I may not be Buddhist, but visiting the Big Buddha was one of the most educational experiences I’ve had. Though it did show me how detailed and intricate Buddhist structures are, the principles it represented are universal. After my experience on Lantau Island, I realized that not only does the structure’s beauty draw in visitors from around the world, but also the ideas it represents.

View of the Po Lin Monastery from the Big Buddha

View of the Po Lin Monastery from the Big Buddha

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Halfway Around the World

January 13th, 2015 by under Singapore and Malaysia, Thailand. No Comments.

Riding an Elephant-Phuket, Thailand

Riding an Elephant-Phuket, Thailand

The reason I chose to study abroad was mainly for the travel aspect. My goal is to travel to every single continent and I figured that Southeast Asia was a great place to continue my journey. I am used to traveling to Portugal every couple summers because this is where my family resides and where my roots stem. Europe is familiar to me and so I am comfortable returning there. But, I haven’t been to any other continents besides North America and Europe.

I am not extremely nervous to go to Southeast Asia, rather I am very excited. Although I am unfamiliar with the area, I look forward to experiencing a culture and environment that is completely different than what I am used to. Another aspect of the trip that I am excited about is getting to eat all the different kinds of food they have. My goal by the end of this trip is to understand the culture and lifestyle of where I am going and to gain a greater understanding of why life is the way it is in this part of the world.

After what felt like the longest plane ride ever, I had arrived in Kuala Lumpur. Sitting down for almost 25 hours straight had really made me want to get up and move, so we did just that. Right after getting out of the airport, we went to the Batu Caves. We had to crawl in and out of the tightest places inside the watery and muddy cave shrouded by darkness and infested with cave dwelling animals. After coming out of the caves, everyone in my group seemed to feel accomplished and wanting to relax. Monkeys were crawling around everywhere outside the caves and we sat there with them enjoying their playfulness. They would come up to us and even tried to steal my bracelets.

Once everyone was done with the caves, we went to change our clothes in the public bathrooms. It was interesting because we could not enter the bathrooms unless we gave a little bit of money to these ladies outside. It seemed odd to me as to why we needed to pay to use the bathroom. Also, before we entered the caves, the ladies had to cover up their legs because we were passing by a temple. The Islamic tradition had been present and it was a new experience for me to see that the ladies were forced to cover up.

It seemed like the longest day ever. After the endless plane rides, lack of sleep, and wild caves adventure, my body was ready to pass out and refresh.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore City

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore City

Once I had traveled through Malaysia, Singapore was next, then Thailand. After returning to Singapore, I had my share of business visits and tourists attractions. The city of Singapore was so clean and organized. It is inspired by tourism and that is quite evident in all of its shops, buildings, and restaurants. I was surprised to see so many American restaurants here in Singapore and it was interesting to hear people speaking English as well. It almost felt like I was in America, but in Southeast Asia. The only difference was the temperature as well as the different races of people. Singapore is very in tune with everyone sharing their part in the success of the country and everyone has to put some sort of effort into maintaining the country. Everyone seems busy and very dedicated to their work especially with the long hours they put in everyday in their jobs.

Thailand and Malaysia on the other hand seemed more relaxed and not to worried about work. Everything was more lenient, so it seemed, in these two countries. In Singapore, I was forced to throw away my gum before entry because if not then I would be fined a large amount of money. In Thailand and Malaysia I could chew gum and not have to worry about what would happen if I spit it out. But, with these rules and strictness in Singapore, there is more safety. In Malaysia and Thailand, it did not seem as safe to walk outside at night like it would if I walked outside at night in Singapore. Also, in Thailand, if there was any mention of the King in any way that seemed disrespectful, I could get in deep trouble, so I still had to watch out in Thailand.

After, what seemed like the longest and most fulfilling trip in the shortest amount of time, I was ready to come back home. I had learned a lot about the different kinds of customs and traditions

practiced in these countries and I felt like I was able to understand the reasoning behind most of their practices. The trip was very insightful and it definitely gave me a different perspective on life. I am very grateful for this experience and I hope to continue learning more about the different cultures around the world.

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Macau – We hit the Jackpot!!

January 12th, 2015 by under China. No Comments.

After several business visit and cultural tours in Hong Kong but before we left for Guangzhou, we visited Macau, the gambling city of China. We fit A LOT into this one-day visit.

For the tour of the city, our tour guide took us to see the Ruin’s of St. Paul, a famous church that has been reduced to a single wall from fires and tsunamis but is preserved due to it’s architectural beauty and historical significance (see picture below). We then went to the Macau needle, which is one of the tallest needles anywhere in the world. The view was spectacular, but watching people bungee jump from the top may have been cooler.

We then met with people from the University of Macau. We ate in their dining hall, toured their dorms, and spoke with them about college life in China. Interestingly, their dining hall only serves one or two options for each meal and just like at Maryland, the students quickly grow tired of the food. Their dorms are surprisingly nice, much nicer than Maryland dorms. Other differences include gyms in each dorm, lack of large libraries, and many professors live on campus.

Finally, we toured one of the largest Casinos in Macau, the MGM, and it was my favorite business visit thus far. We heard a fantastic presentation from the CEO before touring the hotel, casino floor, and behind the scene areas of operations. The most interesting thing the CEO said, in my opinion, was that the average stay for visitors is 1.2 days, which tells them they need to diversify the products and services they offer their customers in hopes of replicating the success of Las Vegas rather than the lack of success of Atlantic City. He also discussed the process, motivation, and challenges of expanding and building their new hotel and casino.

This was a very long day, we left before 7 am and returned after 10 pm, but it was well worth it. We learned a lot through the cite visits and tours and we were lucky to have been able to fit it all in. We leave for Guangzhou in the morning, I can’t wait to see another part of China!

A photo from the Ruins of St. Paul! Only wall of the temple is still standing and sits above a beautiful stone wall and grassy bush hill. It was the perfect photo op.

 

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