One thing I have grown to love during my time in the Netherlands is the cheese sandwiches.
That admittedly doesn’t sound like a huge feat of cultural adaptation. However, on a broader scale I think the sandwich represents a lot about the culture here and how it differs from life in the US.
You see, when I say “cheese sandwich”, I mean literally, bread and cheese and maybe some arugula on top. That’s all – no condiments, no tomatoes or pickles, no meat. If you did want a meat, you could get it – but that would probably mean a tradeoff, meat instead of cheese.
Up until the past weekend, my large travels have consisted of Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris. Each one beautiful in its own unique way. Each one part of a developed economy.
So many students choose Europe to study abroad for the ample and cheap travel opportunities. We all form a bucket list of the major cities we need to see before we leave, forgetting the likelihood that we will return to Europe again in our lifetime. Each major European city has a unique culture and landscape, but when you look deeper, these cities are not all that different from their US counterparts. All have tall, skyscrapers where large companies reside. Most have some sort of river running through the middle. Each has large parks, specialty food, and big shopping brands.
I love living in Barcelona! I feel so comfortable here, navigating the city via metro, walking when the weather is nice, visiting my regular restaurant and bakery. People are friendly, the area is safe, and I learn something new about Barcelona and myself every day. I have developed a routine and I feel comfortable sticking with it, but I also enjoy changing plans last minute, trying out new sites, restaurants, etc. I still have to pinch myself sometimes to avoid getting too comfortable because my time here is limited. But I think the finality of my semester inspires me to take advantage of everyday.
We made our first real adventure into China this weekend: Shanghai.
May 1st is Labor Day in China, so we decided to take advantage of the break from school to travel up into the mainland and see this city that we had heard so much about. Shanghai is everything and more than whatever you have heard/read/seen. The huge metropolis is the largest municipality in the PRC, and it certainly feels like it. Shanghai is a crazy combination of old colonial and huge modern China, which led to it’s nickname “Paris of the East.”
How is the food? The most common question I get when I tell people I am studying abroad in Beijing. When asked, I like to break the answer into two topics, the first being taste, and the second being sanitation.
One of the most fun and interesting parts about studying abroad in Asia is connecting with ex-pats from around the world. In a continent of such racial homogeneity, it is easy to pick out the foreigners even though they come in all shapes and sizes. Some are here for business, others for pleasure, but all are here for a sense of adventure. In the West, Asia still holds an illusion of the Great Unknown. The cultural,ethnic, and governmental differences on this side of the world contain a bit of mystery for many of us in West. All these factors, coupled with the sheer sizeand scale of Asia creates a sense of awe and intrigue.
As my semester comes close to the end, I have been reflecting a lot about my classes. My core class here is called “European Business Strategy” and the main focus and goals of the class revolve around understanding how business works in the European Union and both the opportunities and challenges this type of environment present. At the beginning of the course, I felt like I was learning a lot of things that I had learned or could expect to learn at my home university at UVA (such as Porter’s five forces, industry analysis, situational analysis, etc). I made the assumption that business in the US and Europe was quite similar and I was not going to learn anything differently here than back at UVA. Boy was I wrong! Once the semester got rolling, we were learning more and more about the EU including the commission, parliament, EU regulations, monetary policy, etc. Most of these are things that go overlooked in the US. Take monetary policy for example. In Europe, most companies will have to face the consideration of monetary policy due to the fact that the Euro is not used by all countries in the EU even, let alone in all of Europe. Companies must constantly take into consideration how to handle these differences in currencies and also the differences in economic health and strength of each individual country. In the US, most states are considered quite similar, at least in terms of economies, government and social structure. This is quite different in Europe and I have really enjoyed learning just how complex Europe is. It made business in Europe seem slightly intimidating but I also gained an appreciation of the complexity of business here. Each country presents a whole new market and opportunity for growth and expansion for companies. By learning about how to manage businesses in such a diverse continent, companies can grow so much and reach a great deal of success. Another one of my classes, International Marketing and Branding, also has helped me gain a greater understanding of the similarities and differences between the US and Europe. Again, I learned many of the same things that were familiar to me from the US, such as creating a marketing plan, SWOT, competitor anaylsis and the like. At the same time, I also learned about all the barriers that companies face when trying to advertise throughout Europe. Language is one of the most common barriers that is different from the US and something that we take for granted in the US. In Europe, if you are trying to develop a marketing strategy or advertisements for a product or company, you can only usually target 1 country at a time and make specific and customized strategies and messages to each respective country. I am really lucky to have gotten the opportunity to learn about the European business environment in Europe and taught by professors that have based their careers around it. I think I would not have gotten as much out of these classes had they been taught in the US by American professors because by being in Europe, I am seeing firsthand the things I am learning. I can’t wait to be able to take back this knowledge and use it in the years to come when I seek out my career/profession.
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Spring in Hong Kong is a lot like Spring in Charlottesville; the weather starts getting warm and you find yourself looking around asking, “Where have all these beautiful people been hiding all Winter?”
I managed to survive the first week of classes after a two week spring break. While the work has started to pile up as the semester comes to an end, I am thrilled to be back in Copenhagen. I spent most of this week coordinating with groups about meetings, drafting memos, and creating powerpoints. I was happy once the weekend arrived as it relieved me of some of the stress and allowed me to enjoy Copenhagen. The weather was beautiful on Friday, so some friends and I explored Christiania, which is the “free” town in Copenhagen. While we were walking, my friend Lauren, who had taken a tour of Christiania, told me some interesting facts about this small town I knew very little about. The atmosphere in Christiania is much like the rest of Denmark; filled with laid-back, easy-going people who know how to enjoy the simple things in life. Just to give an example, the people of Christiania invented a bicycle with a small carriage attached to the front for children to ride in. Rather than patent the idea and make a lot of money, the people said they would rather everyone enjoy the bike and did not want to prevent innovation. This surprised me, and I could not imagine a similar thing happening back home in the states. Another interesting quirk about Christiania is they only recently installed a plumbing system. Prior to this, every resident bathed in a communal bath house in the center of the town. In fact, some people still choose to wash here.
STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING, PACK YOUR BAGS, ANDBOOK A FLIGHT TO MYANMAR. NOW!
For spring break I was fortunate enough to travel through the amazing country of Myanmar. From start to finish, it was full of people I will always remember and experiences I will never forget. Due to the militaristic government, trade sanctions, and other isolationist measures, flying into Yangon is like stepping back in time.
The city of over 4 million people just installed their first LED billboard last month.