Category Archives: Survival Tips for Going Abroad

Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina (because I’ll be back soon) – Cat Nilsson

“My trip to Buenos Aires will be difficult to summarize in one blog post, as it was two weeks of exploring, learning, and adapting to a place full of life and fun people. First, I’ll start off by saying that Argentina, or even Latin America, usually isn’t at the top of a traveler’s list, but after experiencing all that the country has to offer, I would have to say: think again. Buenos Aires, Argentina is a bustling metropolis that is made up of a blend of traditions and cultures, namely French and Italian influences. It is known as the “Paris of Latin America”, and for good reason – the architecture is reminiscent of many of the buildings that you would find in Europe and the options are endless for whatever type of food you could want. Argentina has a lot of character, and there are many different places to explore in order to find your niche, whether it be in the trendy Palermo barrio where there are charming cafes, such as Cafe Oui Oui and Artemisia, trendy boutiques and fabulous upscale restaurants, such as Don Julio and Las Cabras, and upbeat nightlife (safe to say that Rosebar was a frequented establishment), to Recoleta, known for its famed Cemetery housing the remains of Eva Perón, a women’s rights and labor activist in the late 1940s to early ’50s, also known as the “spiritual leader” of the country, and contains two of the best Italian restaurants in the city, Cumana (the gnocchi is the most amazing thing ever) and El Cuartito (famous for its ‘fugazetta’ aka cheese and onion pizza), or to La Boca, a neighborhood smack dab in the center of Buenos Aires’ slums, but is the most colorful and inviting area in the city.

As a group of undergraduates, MBA, and MSGL students, we all began our trip by being taken on a city tour just mere hours after stepping off the plane (in order to help us adjust to the time difference) that showed us a lot of the main highlights mentioned previously, besides Palermo. We were able to slightly get our bearings and see what the city has to offer, as well as the places we would want to go back to. Upon the completion of the tour, many of us decided to go out for an early dinner in the neighborhood of our hotel, Retiro, a quiet yet classy area that includes Calle Florida, a street filled with bustling students from the nearby university and many shops and restaurants.

The first few days included our initial class meetings, a tango night, a wine tasting lecture, and sleepless nights (due to countless naps taken throughout the day). I took the Negotiations in a Global Business Environment taught by the relentlessly entertaining couple duo, the Barkae. The course as a whole was excellent and I would highly recommend anyone to take a class or a seminar in how to negotiate, as it is a life skill that is so important, especially for women in our society. Women are at an automatic disadvantage when it comes to negotiating, as we are perceived as being subordinate, docile, and forgiving. My main takeaway from the course was that in order to combat this issue, it is imperative for both men and women to know that this is prevalent and women are just as capable to lead, if not better, as we actively listen, value others opinions, and try to build consensus more often than men. The simulations also were very pertinent to what happens in real life and were vital to the learning process throughout the course of the class. The tango night was probably one of the best nights that was a part of the program set up by USD, as the performances were impeccable and visually amazing. It truly felt like you were a part of the tradition and the emotion emitted from the dancers was undeniable. We also were treated to a wine tasting lecture that was highly enjoyable and we were taught all that we would need to know about how to correctly try wine, as well as were able to taste two white and two red, plus a champagne, that are indigenous to the Latin American region.

After giving a brief overview of what the program & trip entailed, I want to go back to my favorite place in the whole city, Palermo. We decided to go on a graffiti walking tour of the neighborhood, where our tour guide transported us back in time to when Argentina battled into becoming a democracy, which is what “street art” was born out of. The most intricate of all the graffiti, in my opinion, was a mural of Frida Kahlo, painted outside of a club called “Fridha” with an ‘h’. It included real gems as her jewelry and she was depicted as the epitome of a hipster. There was another interesting piece of graffiti that looked completely different at first glance, since it had a lot going on, but actually made up an image of a tiger peering down at you. After going on the tour, my classmates and I had a much greater appreciation for the history of the struggle many of the citizens have had to go through and for the art that they use to demonstrate their passionate feelings.

A few other adventures worth highlighting that my classmates and I embarked on were visiting the San Telmo market, the MALBA (the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires), and El Ateneo Grand Splendid. The San Telmo Market was an eclectic assortment of artisan made goods, paintings, jewelry, leather bags and wallets, soap dispensers, and trinkets galore. The market goes on for miles and miles and is hugely popular to attend on Sundays, attracting an insane amount of tourists. We happened upon a cafe called Coffee Town in the center of the market located inside a converted warehouse that served up a mean cup of coffee and delicious brunch, that I am always craving. Throughout the mess of vendors and visitors, there are street performers either singing or dancing the tango. The MALBA was a modern art museum that showcased Frida Kahlo and Picasso, amongst other famous Latin American artists. Many of the art installations had a deeper meaning (or so we thought they must, since some of them were pretty strange) and it is a must see if you are either an art enthusiast or like to interpret wacky paintings and sculptures. Furthermore, El Ateneo was originally an opera theater transformed into a large bookstore containing Latin American classics and a cafe. The bookstore is beautiful and grandiose. The picture that I am providing really doesn’t do it justice, as it is so much more awe inspiring in person. It was perfect to visit the bookstore as a slight study break, as well as set up shop at a table in the cafe to study, all whilst listening to opera music in the background (which could get loud at times, but we tried to embrace it).


All in all, the trip exceeded all of my expectations in the way that I was able to be surrounded by a vibrant and rich culture with a great group of peers that I am lucky enough to now call friends, as well as could learn more about myself inside and outside of the classroom, through both the negotiations and exploring one of my new favorite cities, Buenos Aires. I hope to return sometime in the future, but for now, I’m grateful for the lasting memories that I have made and will continue to have for a lifetime.”

To check out more student experiences, please visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

Tokyo: Culture & Corporate Governance

Jessie Ju made the journey to Tokyo this past spring break in order to experience the contrast between Chinese and Japanese culture, as well as provide future recommendations for traveling to Japan.

Japan, an island country that’s only one and a half hours flying from my home town, Shanghai. I have landed many times in Narita International Airport of Tokyo, yet I had never set foot in the country until this spring break. I was beyond excited to explore and get to know the Japanese culture.

Japanese culture and Chinese culture are very intertwined, yet distinct from one another. We kind of look similar, have something in common in parts of our languages, both eat rice and drink tea. What could be so different? And the answer is, everything!

Getting there and back
There are rarely any direct flights between San Diego and Tokyo. There are two major airlines in Japan, JAL and ANA, which both have frequent flights to the U.S. Both are great airlines with outstanding services. Most of the time, you will be connecting at LAX for your international leg when flying with them. You may also choose American airlines, such as United and Delta, or Asian airlines, such as China Eastern or Korean Air. It all depends on where you connect and the length of your layover. Total traveling time could vary from 12 to 36 hours. There are two airports in Tokyo, Narita (RNT) and Haneta (HND). Narita is larger and most international flights go through there, but it’s further away from the city (about 1 and a half hour by public transportation). Haneta is much closer to the city, but flight options are limited.
Tips:
– Bring a neck pillow and wear loose clothing, as well as comfortable shoes
– Get on Japan time as soon as you board and sleep as much as you can during the flight
– Stay hydrated!
– No matter how tired you are when you land, try staying up until normal bed time

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First Impression
Like most metropolitan cities in Asia, Tokyo has a huge population and very sophisticated public transportation systems. It’s busy, crowded, and exciting. However, it is also a society that prides itself on being highly organized and self-disciplined.

The best place to observe Japanese people is, without a doubt, in the subway. The Japanese subway lines are owned and operated by a few different companies. They virtually connect the entire city and it is the reason why Tokyo, being a highly populated city, does not suffer from traffic problems as a lot of other major cities do throughout the world.

So now, back to our observation of people in the subway. Japanese people all follow unwritten rules that have formed over time. For example, when riding the escalator up and down in the stations, the Japanese all stand on the left side of the stairs and leave the right side open for those who want to pass. When riding the train, people rarely talk with each other or on the phone, nor do they drink or eat inside the train.

Food
We had a survey of our class before going to Japan and the number one thing everyone was looking forward to was Japanese food. Japanese people are known for their seafood, from sashimi (raw fish), sushi, takoyaki (octopus balls), tempura (deep-fried seafood or vegetables) to teppanyaki (pan fried). Japanese food stresses the freshness of ingredients and the balance of subtle flavors.

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The first place we went to in Tokyo was a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. A conveyor belt sushi restaurant is where they place all the food on a long, moving belt that runs through the entire restaurant and the food plates are color-coded by their prices. Customers can just grab the food off the belt and at the end of their meals, the wait staff would calculate the total plates based on the empty plates of different colors. The sushi chefs work in the inner circle of the belt and replenish the food on the belt as needed.

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Another unique dining experience I had in Japan was at a ramen restaurant, where you start your experience by ordering on a vending machine placed outside of the restaurant by the door. Available items are listed with pictures and their prices. You can simply choose the items by pushing the button right next to the picture and a ticket with your order details will be printed at the end. The restaurant itself has stalls instead of tables, and each of these stalls has its own water tap, condiments, and menus. Each stall has a window that opens directly to the kitchen. Before you turn in the ticket from the vending machine, you will fill out a form with your preference of add-on ingredients (garlic, onions, etc.) and flavors (spiciness, saltiness, oil). These stalls can become larger per each customer’s preference. From my personal observation, most customers would rather enjoy their meals alone. It was quite an experience, one that you will never see anywhere else in the world.

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Attractions
During the time we were in Japan, we visited a number of tourist attractions, including the famous fish market and the Tokyo Imperial Palace where the emperor lives. Among these places, the one that stands out is the Meiji Jingu Shrine. Built in 1926, the Meiji Jingu Shrine is considered a spiritual place for Japanese and foreign visitors. The man-made forest around the shrine is seen as the central park of Tokyo. Maybe it doesn’t serve as an accurate metaphor, but it certainly gives Tokyo a layer of balance between human and nature.

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We had the luxury to attend a Shinto blessing session that the shrine conducts for both Japanese families and foreign families. The blessing procedure involved praying, singing, dancing, and blessing. An interesting aspect of the Shinto is that there’s no humanized god type figure. Instead, they believe that every living creature has a “Kanji” (spirit) and that “Kanji” is what they worship and what gives them power. In my opinion, this belief is a religious interpretation of the relationship between human beings and nature.

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Shopping
Tokyo is a paradise of creative products for demanding shoppers. Some of the world’s most amazing innovations could only be found in Japan, such as the multi-functional toilet seats, skin care equipment, and much more. The most popular shopping areas are Ginza, Shibuya and Asakusa, representing three distinct shopping experiences, high-end, offbeat and traditional, respectively. Look out for the most bizarre items, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Class
The combination of corporate governance and Japanese culture is an interesting thought. Before the trip, I had always envisioned it as being a showcase of best practices, given Japan’s leading position in corporate establishment and the high degree of organization and discipline of the society. To my surprise, the corporate governance practice in Japan has been largely impacted by its culture of always taking the middle path, and explains a lot why Japan has not been able to lift itself out of the bubble and reboot its economy.

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We visited a number of great companies on this trip, including Toyota, KPMG, and the Carlyle Group. We also had a long fruitful meeting with Mr. Taro Kono, the Japanese Cabinet Minister & Chairman of Public Safety Commission, who is known to be very straightforward about his political and economic opinions. He pointed out a number of issues and challenges that the Japanese government and companies are facing due to Japan’s corporate culture and its corporate governance conduct.

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KPMG gave us a rather holistic view of the recently established Japanese corporate governance code and how it’s implemented by companies. They have also illustrated the roles of accounting firms and consulting firms, such as KPMG, in supporting and monitoring the execution and compliance of the code.

image043Toyota, on the other hand, gave us a thorough demonstration of their vision, innovative efforts, and more importantly, how these activities tie to their CSR commitments. We also had the privilege to experience some of their new technology in Toyota Mega Web, a showroom of Toyota’s latest products and innovations, where we got to learn how to ride the Toyota Winglet, a self-balancing two-wheeled scooter.

These company visits really enriched the content of the class and allowed us to deepen our understanding of corporate governance in a real business context.

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It was overall an extremely exciting and insightful week. The only regret of this trip was that we did not stay long enough for the sakura (cherry blossom) to reach its full blossom. I guess it serves as a perfect excuse to come visit Japan again 🙂

To check out more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

Student Recommendations in Asia: What Do You Know Now That You Wish You Would Have Known Before Traveling on This International Program Abroad?

Every year, in our post-program surveys, we ask our students for feedback on things they wish they had known about a specific location prior to going there to study. In this blog post we compiled answers to this question from our graduate students who experienced life in Asia as part of one of our programs. We hope that this information will help other students in the future!

Shanghai, China:

Shanghai, China. Picture by easyvoyage.com

Shanghai, China. Picture by easyvoyage.com

“Bring vitamins. Learn even more of the language. Reach out to friends or people you may know that are going. Pack light.”

“Smog can be bad. Be open to wearing a mask”

“Having a good understanding of PowerPoint and solid presentation skills can be very handy if you are doing a practicum.”

“Chinese rarely ever have napkins at restaurants…or you pay separately.”

“I didn’t really know what to expect going to China, but I had a great time. I would advise future students to really take advantage of sightseeing the first couple of days (or coming earlier to staying later) because once the project starts we were very busy!”

Hong Kong, China:

Hong Kong, China. Picture by chinatraveltrends.com

Hong Kong, China. Picture by chinatraveltrends.com

“I knew that Hong Kong is a good tourist destination but my knowledge about it having such a huge impact on every business around the globe was limited. Now I know that Hong Kong is one of the main links between the eastern and western parts of the world.”

“In order to buy an Octopus card at the airport, you need to have Hong Kong Dollars. I should have gone to an ATM before purchasing a train ticket from the airport so that I could have bought an Octopus card at the airport.”

“Do some research to figure out good places to eat before going. Also figure out where to exchange money and where not to exchange money.”

“Research: general tips on adjusting to a new time zone/avoiding jet lag. Research places to eat before going out. Most of us weren’t using smartphones while there and weren’t able to look up places to eat on the fly; also we couldn’t understand Chinese names of places when walking by. After a few days of learning the lay of the land this got a lot easier, but at first it was a little tough to find places to eat nearby that weren’t really overpriced tourist restaurants.”

“Learn some basic useful words/phrases in Cantonese. They are easy to look up, and I bought a Cantonese dictionary; but it would be helpful for everyone to have a basic cheat sheet.”

“The importance of having medicine to keep from getting sick!”

What about you? Have you studied abroad? Do you have any other suggestions for people who are going abroad this Intersession? Post your comments below.

Surviving as a Vegetarian While Traveling Internationally

In California, we are spoiled with freshly picked produce year-round, an abundance of vegetarian-friendly restaurants, and an ability to read menus in our native language. However, it’s a completely different story when going abroad! In many other cultures, meat plays a larger role in the diet than it does in the US, and the word “vegetarian” doesn’t always translate very well.  As a long-time vegetarian, I would like to offer some tips that I’ve found useful through my international travels and also share some of my favorite vegetarian-friendly restaurants throughout the world!

Tips:

  • If you are traveling on an Ahlers Center study abroad program, please remember to indicate your dietary restrictions on your application. We typically have several group dinners throughout our programs, and work very hard to accommodate whatever dietary restrictions we have.
  • Pack protein bars or protein powder along with plenty of vitamins! It’s oftentimes a bit more difficult to find quality sources of protein while abroad so I always keep extra protein bars/powder on hand. Also, days can get very long with city tours, company visits and classroom sessions so even non-vegetarians may want to pack some protein bars to keep your body and brain fueled. Along those same lines, your immune system can be compromised while traveling, and you may not always have access to as many fruits and vegetables as you are used to, so bring vitamins while you’re at it too!
  • If you do not speak the native language, translate and carry a card that says  “I am a vegetarian. I do not eat any meat, chicken or fish”. It is important to outline exactly what you do not eat since vegetarianism can mean different things in other parts of the globe.
  • Research vegetarian-friendly restaurants prior to departure. A quick search on happycow.net, Tripadvisor or Yelp should give you plenty of restaurants to explore throughout your journey! You may even want to add the restaurants you find to a Google map to keep organized and make sure you hit up all the best spots!
  • If you rent an apartment or have a kitchenette in your hotel room, be sure to visit the local farmers’ market and cook for yourself! Some of the best produce I’ve ever had came from local markets while traveling abroad, like these asparagus from Aix-en-Provence, which were bigger than my hand!
Cooking up asparagus with olive oil, garlic and herbes de provence….so simple yet so tasty!

Cooking up asparagus with olive oil, garlic and herbes de provence….so simple yet so tasty!

Favorite Restaurants:

While it’s usually easy enough to find cheese pizzas and sandwiches, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be craving more creative plant-based dishes in no time. Here are my favorite vegetarian (or vegetarian-friendly) restaurants in various parts of the world.

  • Istanbul-Istanbul has excellent food, with many vegetarian-friendly options. I stumbled upon Karakoy Lokantasi while exploring the city and knew I had to check it out since it was packed with locals and very cute inside. Vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike will find something to eat on the menu, but my suggestion is to simply make your meal out of a bunch of their mezes, or appetizers!  Everything I ordered was fresh and delicious. Be sure to try their muhammara!
  • Paris (Yes, you can survive as a vegetarian even in Paris!) – Le Potager du Marais is a cute and cozy vegan restaurant in a great part of town. They replicate several classic French dishes like soupe a l’oignon and boeuf bourguignon using plant-based substitutes. Great people watching too if you sit on the patio!
Enjoying people watching and plant-based cuisine on the streets of Paris!

Enjoying people watching and plant-based cuisine on the streets of Paris

  • Rome – If ever in Rome, be sure to sample the city’s famous pasta dish, cacio and pepe, a pasta with a cheese and pepper sauce. Anthony Bourdain and I both highly recommend trying it at Roma Sparita in particular, as they serve their pasta dish in a crispy parmesan cheese bowl and it is delicious! Make a reservation or get there early as this place fills up fast!
  • Rio – It seems as though Rio has a juice bar on every corner, so it’s possible to get almost any type of fruit juice and an acai bowl at any hour! However, I’ve found it a bit more difficult to find fresh vegetables in restaurants, as meat is a huge part of the Brazilian culture. Never fear though! There are plenty of vegetarian restaurants in Rio including two of my favorites: Universo Organico in Leblon and Biocarioca in Copacabana.
  • Madrid – Spaniards love their pork and patatas bravas. If you would like something a bit healthier, go no further than Yerba Buena. I recommend stopping by for their three course lunch special…but be warned, you won’t need to eat for the rest of the day…they serve insanely large dishes and all for a great price!
Course number two at Yerba Buena. You’ll definitely leave there stuffed!

Course number two at Yerba Buena. You’ll definitely leave there stuffed!

Overall, with a little forethought and a bit of research, it is absolutely possible to travel abroad while sticking to your normal dietary choices. Now, tell us about your favorite restaurants below. If you have dietary restrictions, what do you do differently while traveling?

Bon voyage et bon appétit!

– Danielle