Written by MSGL student Steven Cummings, a participant in the Summer 2015 Munich & Athens program abroad.
Lessons for International Travel:
Lesson #1: Never freak out – go with the flow – there’s almost always a solution.
May 21st: I begin my adventure abroad with the incidental necessity of hitchhiking to LAX. On a shoestringer student budget, I elected to take an “indirect” flight path to arrive in Munich, our program’s first location, and already it was off to a rocky start. The surfliner train bound to deliver me to downtown LA, where I would catch a bus to the airport, gave notice of its cancellation within two minutes of its scheduled arrival. As luck would have it, I’d barely stuck out my thumb when a kindly yogi hailing from Encinitas saw fit to pick me up and deliver me within easy reach of my port of departure.
My connections in London and Zurich brought me eventually to reach Bavaria in time for our first program rendezvous, a bike tour of Munich. We gathered what culture we could from the Australians leading the tour, who had great insights as to the local biergartens, and began our more serious undertakings the next day at the FOM – a private university of fine reputation. Our week’s study in Munich brought us into contact with German students and professors, as well as some local industry of typical German fastidiousness – notably the BMW factory. Our dialogues and discussions brought to bear the present status of the nation in terms of economics, business and entrepreneurial atmosphere, and its presence in the EU. Many students noted the emphasis on cleanliness, efficiency, and productive mentality of Munich and its citizens, and contemplated how this might give contrast to expectations we had for our impending trip to Athens.
Our suspicions were correct, for upon arriving to Greece’s capital we could immediately feel the change in environment from Germany’s conservative epicenter. But in addition to the relative disorder of Athenian business and daily life came the Mediterranean openness of its people, and engagement with locals proved a constant stream in comparison to the rather reserved stance we had experienced the previous week. Our daily classes in the Athenian Laboratory of Business Administration began with a terrific series of lectures by the dean and another professor, delving deeply into the roots, status, and future of the Greek Crisis. This topic had been a primary point of focus for our class, with preludes in America and Germany, so the week’s address of the crisis proved quite interesting. Having “boots on ground” in Athens also helped put things in perspective and will greatly aid the course of our class’s final presentation on the subject.
Lesson #2: Always participate! Interact, engage, and breach the comfort zone.
What assisted me further in this regard were the conversations I found when interacting with the Greeks themselves, both in Athens and in the subsequent places I visited in Greece after the conclusion of our program. These interactions shaped my understanding of the business environment equally as much as the lectures given in Munich and Athens. Therein lies the value of the study abroad pursuits; the itinerary of the program does not hold the edification, but the framework itself. Visiting the environment first hand, discussing it with the people who give its substance, evaluating current issues in and among the people to whom they directly apply. As a USD student, born and raised in America, now experiencing academic, economic, and quotidian cultural lenses of another sphere of civil society, the inherent duties accompanying said opportunity are to raise levels of awareness, absorb distinctions and similarities, and return home with the intention to share the collected extractions to those in America who would find benefit from a more globally minded view of the world.
Lesson #3: Maximize the experience.
Time and money. Usually the international traveler has one or the other but rarely both. Fortunately as the “globe-trotting global citizen” gains proficiency it becomes easier to adopt a “more for less” attitude with either or both of the given dimensions. Studying abroad can be expensive, but it’s certainly an achievable and worthwhile aim. To further ameliorate costs of this venture, I utilized resources like couch-surfing and hostels to reduce accommodation costs as well as public transportation vs. taxis or other convenience conveyances whenever possible. In fact, some of my most developmental experiences came through interactions with my local couch-surfing hosts who were living the lives we viewed through scholastic observance. I’m very grateful for the Ahlers Scholarship that helped launch me on this voyage, and hope the Toreros and the nation receives benefit from the more globally conscious students programs of this nature are designed to produce.
June 6th: The university program has ended, but all work and no play is not one of the lessons! Onward to Ikaria, an “off the beaten path” island where Ikarus fell from the sky, to camp and mingle and attempt the famous nine-step Ikarian spiral dance of the Panigiri!
Check back soon for more student experiences abroad!
For more information on Ahlers Center opportunities, visit our study abroad webpage.