The first word that comes to mind when I think about this experience is "Wow". Last summer, I realized that I was going to be disappointed if I did not take the opportunity to study abroad while in college. The whole school year was focused on me getting to Europe whether or not I got any credit for the classes. Fortunately, the price was completely worth the experience and one of my classes is going to count for my graduate degree.
I don't even know where to begin to describe everything that I learned, so I guess I will try to highlight some of the key points.
When I fly overseas again, I will definitely fly during the day. We experienced both an overnight flight as well as a daytime flight and it is so much more enjoyable during the day. It is miserable to be on an overnight flight, wanting to sleep and not being able to. On the flight home, I was able to work on my journal and there wasn't the pressure to sleep because I knew I would be hitting the bed as soon as we landed.
One of our classes consisted of us attending school with 12 Viennese students at WU. It was interesting to see how their school was set up and to hear their opinions about both our education systems. I am grateful to be attending a university in the US and wish that I had taken advantage of the classes that were offered as electives. Our professor, Mark Laplante, emphasized how our education should be used to build a tool kit for our working lives and I understand now how that point of view would have been an advantage during my undergrad years. The class we were taking was focused on international finance, so our education was enhanced by the fact that we were sitting in the Eurozone during the financial crisis. I know that my knowledge is lacking on current business trends and being in Europe made me realize that I need to be reading as much as I can. Fortunately, getting out of school comes with a variety of half price magazine subscriptions, so I have already started to stay more informed.
The other component of our class was making 10 business visits to a variety of firms in both of these countries. We got to visit subsidiaries of American firms, family owned companies, and companies that specialize in products for the European market. As a class, we focused on how their business was affected by the European financial crisis and how their business focus is manufacturing. My favorite visit was to the BMW Motorcycle facility because I had the opportunity to compare manufacturing processes. Also, I have decided that BMW is my dream car when the time comes to buy something new.
Class and business visits are all great but the best part about this trip was being in two European countries with so much history. I enjoyed Vienna more than Berlin because we got to live across the street from WU for 2.5 weeks. By the time we transferred to Berlin, we knew our way around Vienna and everyone had a routine. I learned that I absolutely love the art museums and those will be the fist places I visit on the rest of my trips. I also realized that I cannot let one moment pass me by when I am in a new place. No matter what we did the previous night, I always tried to be up around 9:00 and making plans for the day. I was probably a little bit more exhausted at the end of the trip but I saw as much of the city as I could. Two of my favorite sites on the trip were Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna and Sachenhousen Concentration Camp outside of Berlin. The palace was absolutely beautiful and had a huge gallery overlooking the city of Vienna. It was a testament to the monarchies who previously ruled. The concentration camp was sad but it helped me to remember the horrible actions that have shaped Berlin's history. I cannot fathom how so many people believed that their actions were justified and it again makes me grateful for my own country's history.
This trip would not have been worthwhile if it weren't for the people that surrounded me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I was one of three girls on the trip and we were accompanied by 17 guys. I have never spent so much time with guys and it definitely gave me a crash course in their behavior. I was the second oldest student and of course my nature is to be the "mother". By the third night, everyone was counting on me to know where we were going and get us home in a reasonable manner. I tried to shed the "motherly" instincts and it was definitely to my benefit because with that many guys around all the time, there is no doubt that we had a good time. The guys on this trip were some of the best guys that I have met at UGA and I am so glad that I got the opportunity to get to know them on this trip. I can't wait to see where their paths lead at the end of this coming year and I know that I have made some lasting connections. Audrey and Lindsay were the two other girls and I think it is really lucky that we all managed to get along for the whole trip. We balanced each others personalities well and I know we will reminisce about our shared experience with the boys. Mark Laplante was our professor and he brought his family on the trip as well. I signed up for this study abroad because I knew he was a great professor and that he was going to challenge me. His advice was invaluable and I will always take away little nuggets of knowledge.
In conclusion, this trip exceeded my expectations. Of course there were some ups and downs but I got to know so many great people and my eyes have been open to so many different aspects of life. I learned how to have fun with a group of people that you have to trust because they are the only people you have around. I learned how important it is to explore the world and take note of all the differences. I learned you should never stop absorbing information and expand your horizons because you never know the opportunities that might arise. I tried to go into this experience with a positive attitude and I think I realized that it can make all of the difference in the world. Yes, there are times when you have to get something off your chest but overall everything you do has a purpose and can add to your experience in some way. I think the most significant part of the trip is the fact that I am making this huge transition. I am leaving another country and stepping into an internship that is the start of another adventure. Opportunity at its finest!
So even though this post doesn't have all the details of my trip, it highlights some of the best moments and most of the lessons learned. I think I have fulfilled the last of my college wish list and I really will be able to walk away with no regrets. This trip exceeded my expectations and there is no way to completely convey all of the "dangling" moments.