Notes from Abroad

The overseas experiences of NC State University students

Expectations vs. Reality

I’ve been in Vienna for a week now and it’s like a dream. Some aspects fit my expectations exactly, some surpassed them, and yet others surprised me. I expected Vienna to have a much more homogenous community. So far I have seen and met people from Egypt, India, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Algeria, Australia, Japan, back home in the US, Austria (obviously), and many others. This was a nice surprise and actually made Vienna feel more like home. Since Vienna is pretty far north it gets and stays pretty chilly here so I expected the people to be more adjusted to the cold. This whole past week though the daytime temperature has been right around 75 but I’ve seen people wrapped up in scarves and jackets! Another pleasant surprise is how many people speak English and on top of that how many speak it so well. I’ve only had to interact with 2 people so far who spoke zero English and we made do with a crude version of charades. I’ve done a lot of exploring on my own since many of my fellow exchange students are participating in either the cultural program or German language course or both and I am doing neither. It’s during these solitary adventures when Vienna surpassed my expectations. I visited Schönburnn Palace* and the surrounding gardens where you can look over all of Vienna. I walked through the bustling, cobblestone city center Stephansplatz where ancient gothic churches rise up across from high fashion stores and I strolled through the relaxed and inviting Stadtpark** full of flowers and statues. I spent close to 6 hours admiring paintings, sculptures, and other artifacts in the Kunsthistorisches (Art History) Museum and I’ve wandered the streets trying coffee shops by day and bars by night. I had the best hot dog I have ever had in my entire life. I expected to have an incredible time while here and Vienna is living up to that.

Also, I have been, and will continue to post pictures (like the one below) from my trip on Instagram so feel free to follow me at WherethemusicIs or on Twitter at WherethemusicAt

Me in front of Sch

Me in front of Schonbrunn Palace*

The Wienfluss running along Stadtpark*

The Wienfluss running along Stadtpark**

Jumping in Head First

Last week marked the beginning of classes at IAE Aix Graduate School of Management.  Before we dove right into classes on Wednesday, Tuesday was spent in Buoux, France for a day of team building with the Master of Global Innovation Management (MGIM) cohort.  Buoux is known for the high cliffs surrounding it, perfect for rock-climbing enthusiasts. We were left in the dark as to what we would be doing this day until the bus reached Buoux and dropped us off amongst these beautiful cliffs. Our first task involved a few team building exercises before making the hike up to the top of the mountain. It was certainly a hike and once there, it was time to rappel down 100 feet over the edge of a cliff.  This was a first for me and I was absolutely terrified, but I did it! Now some of you may be thinking, where is the team building in this? It was all about instilling trust and encouragement and I believe this was certainly accomplished.  Rappelling was followed by more team building activities, including rock climbing attached to a partner by a knot that would break if the climbers didn’t climb at the same pace.  After a 9 hour day in the mountains of Buoux, we were all happy to head home and relax a bit before classes began on Wednesday morning. My first rappelling experienceMGIM 2014-2015 Cohort On Wednesday we really dove head first into classes and our semester long group projects.  It was exciting to begin to learn the basics of innovation and be paired with my group’s French company sponsor.  I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with an innovation consulting firm as my group and I help to find a solution to a problem within their company.  After only 3 days since starting work on the project, the work and research has really begun and I can tell this semester is going to be exciting but definitely challenging.

The weekend before classes actually started, I had the chance to take a boat from the old port of Marseille to Chateau D’If.  Chateau D’If is a fortress (and later a prison) on an island about a mile off the coast of Marseille.  It came to be quite famous because this was the setting of Alexandre Dumas’ novel Le Comte de Monte Cristo (The Count of Monte Cristo).  Given I read this in high school French class, it was an exciting place to visit and the views were spectacular!

Tamsui, Taiwan

Hi! I have been in Taiwan for a couple of days now, and I am slowly getting used to the city life here in Taipei. Yesterday, me and my roommate as well as some other friends went to Tamsui, 淡水, which is just outside of Taipei in New Taipei City. We took the metro there and had lots of fun biking and sightseeing there. The pier, which in Chinese is called the 漁人碼頭 is gorgeous, as well as the 情人橋, lover’s bridge that we passed by. 934827_10204840708876271_183029946954040176_n

Tamsui is named after the Tamsui river and it’s located at the very northern part of Taiwan. The town is popular as a site for viewing the sun setting into the Taiwan Strait. We were able to bike around the little town and enjoyed some super delicious fishball and wonton soup, as well as dinner at a local night market, 夜市 here in Tamsui. Coming to a little town like Tamsui makes me feel super relaxed and I really enjoyed my time here. Unlike Taipei, New Taipei city is now home to many people that work in Taipei. Living cost is a lot cheaper here and the atmosphere in 新北市 is a whole lot better than the actual Taipei. 10603343_10204838066010201_8341700195358863927_n

On the Plane

Although this was posted on September 13th, I wrote it on the plane on the way over to London on September 9th.

My name is Robert Granecki and I’ll be spending the next 3 months (!!!) studying in Vienna, Austria. I’ve always loved traveling I just never knew if I would want to study while traveling but many friends of mine had studied abroad and they valued their experiences so much I finally decided I would do it. Some friends and other people I’ve talked to about study abroad spent the whole month before their departure stressing over every tiny detail of their trip. There is nothing wrong with that at all, that’s what made them comfortable but, that’s just not how I work. I left on the 9th of September. The weekend before this (September 4th-6th) I had my busiest week of the summer. I helped to coordinate a 20,000+ attendee event in Downtown Raleigh called Hopscotch Music Festival and I think it actually prepared me to study abroad even more. I had to make adjustments to my schedule, sleep patterns, and eating habits. I had to find time to talk and hangout with my old friends while making all new friends throughout the festival. I had to push myself through my exhaustion to experience as much as I could in those few days and found out my limits are much higher than even I expected. So my biggest piece of advice before departing is to make sure that you PLAN. Don’t misunderstand me: planning ≠ stressing out. In fact, if you plan well enough, it should eliminate most of your pre-trip jitters. I knew what I was packing, I knew my flight information, I knew how I was being picked up and where my apartment in Vienna was so I was able to make the most of the end of my summer. Leaving Raleigh on such a good note was the perfect springboard to start the next part of my life over here in Vienna.

Below is the sight of my first European sunrise

Australian Cinemas, “Footy”, and Sailing

My studies in Australia are slowly picking up. As it seems with every university, all assignments are due at the same time, leaving an upcoming week of sleeplessness. As I may have mentioned previously there are many more group-based projects in Australia than I have experienced at NCSU. This can be quite frustrating as many of my group members have yet to do their fair share of the work. Hopefully as project deadlines approach, others will start pitching in.

Friday night I tried out my first Australian movie theatre experience. The weather was rainy (unfortunately), so the night seemed perfect to see The Inbetweeners 2. A perk of going on exchange is the wide variety of people you meet from all around the world. I went to the movie with some students from the UK. The movie is about a group of English students who come to Australia for holiday, which was ironic and quite applicable for them. Some of the humor was a bit too much for me, English humor as the others claimed. An oddity of Australian movie theatres is having a reserved seat when buying your ticket. I found this quite strange.

Football seems to mean something different in every country of the world. Here in Australia, football, also referred to as ‘footy’, is supposedly similar to rugby. With the Australian football season coming to an end, a few of us were lucky enough to get tickets to one of the last games this past weekend – Freemantle Dockers vs. Port Adelaide. Going to the game with minimal knowledge of the rules was a bit confusing at first, but I was able to pick up on what was going on fairly quickly. To be honest, I was not expecting much entertainment from the game, or to enjoy the game at all. Surprisingly, I became extremely intrigued and thoroughly enjoyed watching and cheering on Freo. The point of the game is to get the ball through the two large goal posts at each end of the stadium. These goals are worth 6 points. Two shorter goals are on the outside of the two large goal posts. Getting the ball between the shorter goal posts is worth 1 point. Players punch the ball out of their hands in order to pass to one another. There are no rules against tackling, except it isn’t allowed above the head. This made for a very high contact game. At one point, a fight or two even broke out and the players were not focusing on the game at all. Not a single move was made to break up the fight or stop the game. We had some great seats right behind the goal posts, or so I thought. After warming up, however, the officials took the nets down in front of our seats. Therefore, we were forced to be aware all game long as any stray goal could come right at us. The AFL game was high intensity and close until the very end. All in all, I would not mind going to another AFL game in the future.

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After the game we headed to San Churro Chocolateria, a local chain. A few weeks ago I tried it out as a wing event (the building I live in at Trinity is referred to as a wing). This time around we were going to celebrate another exchanger’s birthday. As the name suggests, San Churro is a place that sells churros with chocolate dipping sauces. The deserts they have on the menu are so good that one cannot go wrong. I would not consider this traditional Australian food in anyway. I actually think the only traditional Australian food is kangaroo meat. Regardless, San Churro is unique to Perth and a must have for any visitor.

My weekend also consisted of trying out sailing for the first time. Another exchange student, Alex, is dating an Australian with a boat. He invited her and some friends to come out on the boat for a bit on Sunday. Having spent a substantial time on boats previously, I really enjoyed sailing and the constant activity sailing the boat entails. Sailing provided a little break before studying hard for another week at “uni” (what university is referred to in Australia).

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A little bit about Aix

So I have been in France for 3 weeks now and am finally starting classes this week at IAE Aix Graduate School of Management! I’m excited to finally get started after 2 weeks of French classes, although it has been a blast getting to know my future classmates as well as the other international students attending IAE. I’ve already met students from Norway, Lebanon, South Korea, Ukraine and India, to name a few.  I am really loving the “global” aspect of my Global Innovation Management program so far!

A majority of the international students studying IAE this semester!

A little bit about the town I’m living in for 4 months..Aix-en-Provence is a city 20 miles from Marseille in the south of France, founded in 123 BC.  It happens to be known for its fountains throughout the city, sometimes referred to as “the city of a thousand fountains.”  It has also been considered a university town dating back to 1409, making it a great place to study even now in 2014 with so many students around!

One of the many fountains around Aix

Since I haven’t had class other than a few hours of French class a day, I have had a lot of time to explore Aix and some of the neighboring cities like Marseille and Cassis. Within Aix I’ve had a chance to shop around the various markets the town is known for, visit Paul Cezanne’s studio and the spot he painted Mount Saint Victoire and much more this lovely city has to offer.  With my apartment right in the heart of the “old city,” it has been fun exploring the old, historic buildings and cobblestone streets. Every night I can smell the delicious crepes being made just next door through my open windows and hear the bustle of busy street below. I truly feel as though I am living the “French life” and can’t wait to see what the rest of the semester holds!

Mount Sainte Victoire from Terrain des Peintres, where Paul Cezanne painted it

With Marseille being so close to Aix, it is easy to head there for the day to explore what the 3rd largest city in France has to offer.  My first weekend in France I went with a few of my classmates to la Calanque de Sugiton. Les Calanques in general can be found along the Mediterranean coast and are steep cliff-edged inlets.  To visit, one can either take a boat tour or hike multiple hours to amazing views and crystal clear waters.  We decided to hike and let me tell you, it was a challenge! I really was not expecting to be climbing up and down steep, rocky hills., but the views made it absolutely worth it the sweat.

La Calanque de Sugiton

Checking Asia off My Bucket List

This past weekend a group of exchange students, including myself, went to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. I know this seems like quite the random spot to go for a weekend trip, and it was, but flights there proved to be cheaper than other options so we figured, why not?

We took an early flight out of Perth on Friday morning to make it to the city by midday. Kuala Lumpur has very few set prices, so immediately we had to put our bartering skills to a test in attempting to secure a taxi ride to our hotel. We ended up with a pleasant driver, probably the most pleasant we encountered on our time in Malaysia. When stopping to fill up on gas, the driver allowed some of us get out of the car and go to Dunkin’ Donuts. (Yes, Dunkin’ Donuts has made its way all the way to Malaysia.) The hotel we stayed in was quite nice as well, especially considering the deals we were able to get. The hotel included a rooftop infinity pool. Needless to say, one afternoon was dedicated to relaxation by the pool.

Our first day in Kuala Lumpur was spent going to the local Chinatown markets. We wandered around the markets for quite some time. Each booth basically sold similar items. All of which included fake name brand handbags, sunglasses, headphones, etc. A chorus of, “We have a special lady price for you,” followed us throughout the booths. I tried a new snack of sticky rice from one of the vendors on the streets. With the sanitation conditions of the country, I had to be careful about who I bought what food from. The sticky rice was kind of bland, a new taste altogether. At least I did not spot the lady who made the rice washing her dishes out on the road as I saw with many other restaurants we passed. That evening we ate at a Middle Eastern restaurant. Having been in Australia for so long I forgot how cheap items are in other countries. For a full course meal I paid $10. After our meal, we went to get massages, cheap, as most things there we purchased. The ladies at the place we went to were quite nice. I do have to note that they took us up into an attic area for the massages, which weirded me out a little bit at first.

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After our relaxing day one, we decided to take on day two from a bigger tourist perspective. Our first stop of the day was the Petronas Towers, two large connected towers in the middle of the city that often serve as icons for Kuala Lumpur. The tower tour took us up to the sky bridge between the two towers along with a ride to the very top levels. From these views we could see all of Kuala Lumpur and even further into the distance. The city was bigger than I was expecting, and many large fountains marked areas of wealth. From the outside, the Petronas Towers look out of place against the city skyline, almost like something from outer space. In the evening we headed to the Sky Bar for dinner. The restaurant was on the top floor of a hotel and looked out to a perfect view of Kuala Lumpur at night.

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The following day we visited the Batu Caves a little ways out of the city. The Batu Caves include a Hindu Temple area. Therefore, we were required to buy scarves to wrap around our legs out of respect for the religion. The hike up to the caves included a few hundred stairs. The catch, was ferocious monkeys along the route, trained to steal any food and bags that looked to be of value. Luckily, no monkeys messed with our group. At the base of the Batu Caves were Indian markets and restaurants. I decided to get a traditional henna tattoo on my foot. While wandering around the markets, I had a few people ask to take pictures with me. These people had not been exposed to many white people before. I felt like some celebrity, a bit out of place, but always agreed. Once the rain started to pour down, we headed into an Indian restaurant to grab some food, hoping the rain would subside. The traditional Indian food was served on a banana leaf without any cutlery. We were expected to use our hands. The rain continued to pour down, forcing us to enter the flooding streets to find a taxi back to the city. The taxi drivers must have known we were desperate due to the rain, because their prices continued to be far too high. By the time we were dripping wet, we found a taxi to take us. The taxi driver stopped in front of a hotel that was not ours. He had misheard where we were staying. For a few minutes I questioned if we would make it back.

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Our final day in Kuala Lumpur was spent visiting the KLCC Petronas Towers Mall. The mall differed little from a typical mall back in the States, obviously targeted towards the tourists. We stayed in the mall longer than anticipated due to the uncooperative rainy weather. The final place we visited was a local butterfly garden. The garden was a large enclosure with native plants and butterflies everywhere. Unfortunately the butterflies would not land on us, but the walk through was peaceful and quite beautiful. 

My overall review was that Kuala Lumpur is nothing spectacular. I enjoyed my first trip to Asia, but the city was quite similar to any other big city one would travel to, just a bit more uncleanly. Spending a weekend away from the constant activity of college was a good break. The more I travel, the more I come to the conclusion that humans are very similar, with only cultures and ideas making us unique.

The French Visa Process

Today marks day 18 here in Aix-en-Provence, France for my first semester of graduate school.  I am thrilled for this opportunity to spend my first semester studying in France, but the process to get this far has been a lot of work.

Given I will be in the country for more than 90 days, France requires obtaining a student visa.  When I found this out, I thought, “no problem.”  Then, however, I realized how difficult of a process this was.  I thought I would share some tips for obtaining a French student visa, as it can be stressful and some what confusing!

Tip 1: Make sure to follow ALL steps carefully.

For students, an application through CampusFrance is required before applying for your visa. Fortunately, they make it pretty easy to apply but be sure to read all of requirements and steps for that application carefully. Once thats complete, a reservation for the visa appointment can be made, which leads me to my next tip.

Tip 2: Check frequently for visa appointments at the French Consulate in Atlanta!

For North Carolina residents, the French consulate in Atlanta is where you have to go for your visa appointment. It IS required to visit in person.  I was worried about not getting an appointment, as all appointments for June and July were full already in May! If this is the case, check the site frequently, as others may cancel and you can snatch their spot. Many of my classmates had this issue as well but don’t worry, a spot will open up!

Tip 3: Begin gathering required documents early.

The list of required documents to bring with you to the visa appointment is very extensive. Begin gathering these early, even before you have your appointment scheduled. The list is different for students who go through CampusFrance, so make sure you are looking at the correct list on the consulate website. Keep a checklist and check off each document as you gather them. In addition, make photocopies of everything, as they require some copies and you should keep a set for yourself.

Tip 4: Check back about 20 days after your appointment.

If you haven’t received your visa and passport back after 21 days, shoot the consulate an email asking for an update.  Many of my classmates and myself were getting concerned about still not having our passports back less than two weeks before leaving.  After emailing, I was called and said it would be in the mail the next day. When I received it, the visa had been “issued” the day after I was notified.  This makes me believe a sense of urgency was needed in order to get the process finalized.  Don’t sit around and wait for it to get sent to you..you might not receive it in time!

I sincerely hope hope these tips help with the crazy French visa process! I am thrilled to begin my journey to study at IAE Graduate School of Management for 4 months!

Getting Ready for the TRIP TO TAIWAN

Hello Everyone! My name is Becky Zhong, and I am currently a junior majoring in Plant and Soil Sciences at NCSU. During the fall 2014 semester, I will be studying abroad at National Taiwan University. This will be my first time in Taipei, Taiwan, so I am excited and nervous at the same time about what I am going to encounter there. 

Taipei is the capitol city of Taiwan, which is a very small island country southeast of China and the weather there, well right now should be as hot and humid as Raleigh. However, the weather there is going to stay warm and usually warmer than Raleigh in the fall and winter months. I have also heard that it’s weather in the winter is sort of similar to Seattle. Very wet and cold due to the frequency of rains there. Therefore, packing rain gear or at least be aware of the rainy season coming up is very important on my packing list. 

Other things I packed include some small souvenirs from NC that I hope to share with students and friends there, clothes and my banjo! I hope to have time to practice banjo and make some music (bluegrass/folk songs) friends there. I recommend to future study abroad students to pack light and bring the necessities but not so much of liquid of super heavy clothes, because you might buy or encounter similar products you can find in the US. So there’s really no need to pack so much toiletry items. 

Next thing was to make sure important documents, my wallet, passport as well as emergency contact information are all neatly packed in which I will be able to find them easily. Too often when we go through the safety inspection or while at the airport getting boarding passes ready, there are so many IDs or documents that we have to carry, so find a place to put them safely and neatly is very critical in international traveling. 

Other than that, I am mostly packed and ready for my next endeavor! Stay tuned as I touch done in Taipei and I will keep this blog updated as much as I can. 

 

The Spirit of Trinity

Once again, another busy week in Australia took place. One of the highlights of the week was attending an Intercollege competition of Battle of the Bands. Each college puts together a band to compete at the local Tav. Decked out in our Trinity polos, shorts, and socks, everyone goes to support their college bands. Most of the music I have heard so far in Australia seems American. For some reason I didn’t recognize many of the songs played by the bands that competed. The atmosphere was still great fun as we cheered on Trinity. Our college ended up getting second out of five. Not bad, I suppose.

Each week I try to take a long run in Perth and try out new trails and places. These long runs typically entail ten or more miles, which give me time to get lost and found if needed. Over the weekend I went on a long run. My plan was to go to the beach, but I never found the beach. Instead I followed the railroad tracks for far too many miles. When I turned around in an attempt to find my way back, I thought I knew where I was going. A few miles in, when I realized I was completely lost, I stopped an old man mowing his lawn to ask for directions. Of course I was running in the complete opposite direction to where I needed to be. When I told him where I was headed he looked shocked, as if there was no way I would make it back within an hour. This slightly concerned me, but I had no other way of getting back. The distance to the right path did not end up taking as long as the old man’s face led me to believe. I still have to laugh at myself for getting lost in a foreign city. In any other country doing so probably would have been dangerous, however, I feel extremely safe and secure in Australia.

Part of the reason I chose to study abroad in Australia stemmed from my major in marine science. With Australia being known for its crystal clear waters and diversity of underwater life, I came hoping to take some interesting classes that would put me in my element (the water). Unfortunately, all of the marine science classes I was hoping to take are only offered during the first semester, leaving me without any marine experience besides the few dolphins I see on my morning runs. Luckily, a lab I volunteer in at NC State had some connections in Perth. Coincidentally one of my professor’s at NC State served on a researcher’s thesis committee. That researcher, Cindy, has since moved to Perth and is now working for the Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW). Cindy has graciously offered to let me help on some projects she is currently running. Therefore, on Friday I took the long commute to the DPaW offices to meet with Cindy and get set up on my research. I came across the first unhelpful bus driver along my ride, but made it to the office anyways. Cindy has set me up ground truthing satellite data collected at Shark Bay, an area north of Perth. A few years ago there was a massive warming event, which killed off sea grass in the area. My role is to look at videos of the sea grass abundance and classify the species. Occasionally these videos will pick up an interesting bamboo shark or sea snake. Being able to get back in the lab and do some analysis this week was fantastic.

There is an amazing atmosphere of living in a residential college. Everyone attends the events and invites everyone to everything. The diversity of people and eagerness to help provides an incredible environment and community. Another huge highlight of the week was STUMPS. STUMPS is a large car rally put on by Trinity Residents Club. The rally entails a full day of events and challenges. Teams get together and decide on a theme for their cars beforehand. Our car chose to be fairies. With a car composed of two English guys and a Japanese guy, I think we pulled the fairy costume off quite well. Once we were organized the day of, we received a booklet with directions and challenges to complete along the way. These challenges included things like getting pictures with a family having a picnic, making a human pyramid, and reenacting the Lion King. While trying to complete challenges in the booklet, different committee members would be at different stops with additional challenges, such as spinning around looking at a broom then going down a slip and slide. The entire day leads you to a barn about three hours outside of Perth where you stay for the night. My explanation of STUMPS sounds lame, but I can assure you, it lived up to all the hype that surrounded it. Just take a glance at the pictures below.

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