UMD: A Globally Connected University

Vivien Zhu

Vivien Zhu

Program: BMGT Exchange: WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management 
Term: Spring 2019
Major:Marketing & Info Systems

Studying abroad, I've learned how important it is to stay flexible. Sometimes that simply means being willing to go on spontaneous hikes with your newfound friends. In more dire situations, it means rolling with the punches when your trains are late and you've missed your flight. I have always been a "planner,” and even now I will research my travel destinations as much as I possibly can. Learning to create flexible itineraries means being ready in more ways than one; I may see half of the things I had initially planned to, but meet extraordinary people in my hostel. I may miss my train, but I know I'll make it home.

Advice for future #TerpsAbroad: In certain places, I have encountered a lower degree of sensitivity to social issues as compared to the United States. This is most apparent when talking to students who actually attend my exchange university, as well as other exchange students in my program. Traveling through Europe as an Asian woman, I have experienced ignorance here and there, but I haven't felt more endangered than I would at home. The same precautions apply as they always do when thinking about your own safety, particular in larger cities. However, I'm also aware that there is obvious colorism in many European countries as well, and although I haven't experienced it first hand, it is definitely something to be aware of when studying abroad. 

Madrid is known for its tapas: small appetizer-sized foods.  I've never really liked cheese unless it's on pizza or sprinkled over pasta. I also don't really like olives. Going to Madrid changed both of those things. On my first full day in Madrid, I was served some kind of soft cheese on crackers, and a dish of olives to go with my sangria. They were both incredibly delicious, and left me incredibly confused. Was it a fluke? Will I ever have such good iterations of cheese and olives again? I'm not sure, but keeping an open mind and open palate by giving them both a try was one of my best food-related decisions abroad. 

Advice for future #TerpsAbroad: Study abroad is never what you are going to expect. In fact, it is almost impossible to be fully ready for what you are about to experience. Materially, perhaps. Even though I had been looking forward to studying abroad from the very start of my college experience and bought the right adapter plugs and downloaded Google translate on my phone, I was thrown headfirst into a foreign-language country where I had never been. And that was thrilling! The information absorption that you undergo in the first couple of weeks is like one long adrenaline rush, and if you can overcome the fear of making mistakes due to the language barrier or being inexperienced at traveling, that rush will last until you leave. 

In all honesty, making friends while abroad might be one of the most challenging and amorphous parts of the entire process. There's no expectation for who will be there upon your arrival, and there's no guidebook that tells you how to find the right people. It was no easy feat for me (I broke out of my comfort zone by loosening up my schedule and simply saying "yes" more), but the "right people" have been tantamount to making my experience in Germany a good one. 

For a specific example: I went on a weekend trip to Amsterdam with a group of seven girls...and it went off without a hitch! It is incredibly enriching and satisfying to be able to enjoy traveling, and to do so with ease. We coordinated the entire three days, compromised when necessary, and made the most of the city during our short visit. There are plenty of horror stories about bad travel companions and trips gone awry, but having been able to not only find a solid group of fun and diverse friends but also successfully travel with them has been a surprising source of joy. 

 

 

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