Part One: The Student

Part One:

For the first part of my adventure, I will be studying International Business Management at Maastricht University.

Maastricht University

Maastricht, Netherlands is located in the southern part of the Limburg province. Thankfully, classes are in English! The business school is founded upon the "problem based learning" model of education. I am very eager to see what exactly this entails, but my understanding is that instead of listening to a professor lecture, we actively engage in class discussion and self-teach as a team. Classes are small, typically fifteen students. I'll be doing a blog post after my first week of school to explain in further detail this classroom model, really looking forward figuring out how the system works! I'd like to accompany my studies abroad with a few company visits to European businesses, or US firms with international offices. Already I have contacted faculty at the Trulaske College of Business (University of Missouri) to (hopefully) help connect me with any alumni that might be nearby me in Europe. Realistically, anywhere in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium are very easily accessible, so traveling a few hours for a lunch or a day to job shadow is absolutely within the realms of possible. Visiting the Associated Press in Beijing was one of the most fascinating travel AND business education experiences for me, and I hope to mimic this learning by setting up company visits for myself. If I'm lucky, maybe Maastricht already has company visits I can just sign up for! If you have a contact in Europe, are a business person residing in Europe, or have anything to help me out with setting up a company visit - I welcome you to contact me! There is a link from this blog that will send me an email, you can tweet at me,  send smoke signals, carrier pigeon...any help is appreciated!
This is where you can read my posts about 'Life in the Netherlands.'
 

Company Visit to IBM

Posted on22 June 2013 | 1 comments

Short term travel can end up having a certain element of hedonism. On vacation, efforts are put into total self enjoyment. I’m in Europe for eight months, this is no short term vacation, so hedonistic travel is not going to cut it for me. I need to learn, to experience, to grow and to find fulfillment through elightening activities – which is why I was so lucky when the opportunity to visit IBM formed.

My fantastic aunt Susan gave me her friends’ contact information who works at IBM Brussels. I contacted her and from there we set up a date for myself and other Maastricht students to attend a tour of IBM. Surprisingly, I had difficulties finding students. In total, 7 of us ended up attending. To find these seven people I invited the executive boards of the few major business organizations so the small group that attended was a great group of highly interested students. For the train ride there I printed off some documents to pass around so once we arrived at IBM everyone had at least a basic knowledge about the company and many thoughtful questions resulted!

We were welcomed into the client center of IBM and enjoyed a meeting/presentation with both Ivo and Tine. The presentations were mostly about different aspects of IBM and about the history of the company, the nature of the industry, the future of IBM and personal information about their careers. I really enjoyed hearing Tine talk about the specific projects she is involved in – especially knowing that her education background is Chinese studies. As a students balancing journalism and business, I have no idea what exactly I want to do as a career, so it was refreshing to hear someone who  majored in something totally different from her job talk about the projects she works on with so much enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment of her job.
After the presentations we toured the client facility and learned about different projects, including Watson! Learn more about the Watson Project
We then rejoined Tine and Ivo for a lunch in the IBM cafeteria. This was a fantastic part of the day because we got to ask questions in a less structured/formal setting. The conversation topic shifted from IBM focus to general industry focus to career advice. Many students in the group had just graduated from university and I think the career advice part of conversation was especially beneficial for them.
When I find more time I want to extend this post into more details about everything I learned, but for now here is a taste of the day and a photo of the group with our hosts. Thanks to Tine, Ivo and Susan for making this experience happen!
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A Tale of Two Cities: Berlin and Paris

Posted on7 June 2013 | 3 comments

Paris is romanticized in countless novels, songs, and films like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.  As a world audience we have come to form an inflated idea of the city, the sites, the culture, and subsequently as travelers we roam The Avenue des Champs-Élysées with the highest expectations of being inspired by our surroundings.

Travelers admire the wide avenues and Parisian architecture, much of which can be attributed to Haussmann’s renovation of Paris…in the 19th century. Old art fills The Louvre. Les Miserable, and the spirit of the revolution (Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité!) is now over 200 years in the past. This history is still a treasure to be admired, but it is incredible that Paris has managed to maintain an image of a romantic center of intellects and thinkers with all the bases of this reputation rooting back decades in the past.

Today, Paris is no longer the creative center it was in the past. For one, it is far too expensive a city. As a student, especially a traveling student, it is nearly impossible to afford a proper meal in Paris. How are painters, novelists, philosophers, thinkers and entrepreneurs expected to survive in such an expensive city? The answer: they don’t.

Paris capitalizes on its past; the creative minds have relocated to Berlin. 

Everyone, from every walk of life, can be found on the streets of Berlin. The sidewalks are shared by blue-haired punk-rockers, young German yuppies in suits, dreadlocks, piercings, covered in tattoos, the elderly in greyscale simple clothes, fashionistas, big thick framed glasses. It is an organic city – filled with thinkers and alive with new opportunities. Berlin is a city in transition, a city regaining an identity after its long, turbulent history. It is a city where people can have an impact, and where people go to impact.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the city seems to be in constant flux since. For 28 years Berliners were heavily controlled, and now – Berliners control themselves. The pendulum of history has swung from the tightly controlled Berlin under the Third Reich and the Soviets and is now on the opposite side of the spectrum of total and absolute freedom of expression.

Graffiti covered nearly every square inch of the city, but the graffiti in Berlin has an identity that is entirely different from the graffiti you see in other large cities. Often, especially in times of economic struggle, graffiti marks a city as a desperate cry for political reform or marks buildings as a testament of outrage. Berlin graffiti is not vandalism, it is true art: surrealist paintings, incredible 3D images, and poignant political statements. City streets are like walking through a museum with the artists walking right next to you.

Berlin is a blank canvas, a massive blank canvas, with endless space for people to create and leave their mark. That is what Berliners do – create, and then create again. Think, and then think some more. One person’s graffiti art is covered by another artist, and an endless cycle of creativity ensues. The graffiti in Berlin is just a small snapshot of the giant web of creativity and ideas that define the city. Ideas are almost self-destructive in Berlin – one idea leads to another and everything changes, rapidly. The Berlin you saw yesterday is not the same Berlin you see today.

The openness of ideas in Berlin is a direct response to the Berlin Wall. East Germany is still regaining an identity. While history might be the catalyst behind the now creative identity of the city, the prices make it possible. Berlin is unbelievably cheap. Housing prices are student affordable, and a nice meal won’t cost more than 4 euros. This insanely affordable city attracts people from all over the world, and these ex-patriots quickly become Berliners. There is no definition of a Berliner; the Berlin community is like an island of misfit toys that, taken as a whole, have a bizarre but welcoming charm.

If you want to open a business – head to Berlin, real estate is affordable. If you want to sit in a cafe and think with other intellectuals – you can do so on every street corner of Berlin. If you want to visit a destination that is perfect for young travelers on a budget, save Paris for a later time and visit the dynamic Berlin instead. Students, entrepreneurs, artists, thinkers, lovers of ideas, creativity addicts and impactors – Berlin is your city.

To travel to Berlin is to be inspired.

Screen shot 2013-06-07 at 2.47.05 AMBerlin Wall (East Side Gallery)

Brugge, Belgium

Posted on25 May 2013 | 1 comments

With braces, thick unruly hair and a naive impression of the world I traveled to Brugge, Belgium in 2007 with my family. I have fond memories of riding my bike through the cobblestone roads, admiring the gothic architecture from a boat ride through the canals and enjoying beglium waffles with my sisters.

Time somehow manipulates fond memories to make them even fonder. This is the case with Brugge, and I booked my train ticket to the medieval village a few weekends ago with high hopes of a perfect weekend.

Brugge did not disappoint.

Some consider Brugge to be the best-preserved medieval city in Europe with some structures dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries. It has a rich history as a major medieval trade city – learn more about the history of Brugge. The town is connected by cobblestone roads and canals, but tourists can be a frequent roadblock when trying to navigate main centers of the town. The best way to travel around Brugge is to toss the map and get lost – once you escape the main tourist roads the fairy-tale type charm of Brugge comes to life. Getting lost is more fun than worrisome due to its small size and large buildings like the Belfry Tower make it easy to naturally navigate and get back on track.

The Market Square

Last time I was in Brugge I climbed the 366 stairs of the fourteenth century bell tower in the Market square. It provided a great view of Brugge, though I would recommend opting for a different view of the town from the top of the De Halve Man Brewery. For six euros you can tour one of the oldest standing breweries in the world and sample a beer at the end. Belgians are proud of their selection of over 350 different types of beer, and the De Halve Man Brewery tour sheds light on the world of Belgian beer. Plus, at the end of the tour, you get a fantastic view of Brugge from the top of the brewery.

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The tour includes lots of stairs so be prepared to walk and duck through short doorways.

The Begijnhof 

This park is near to the De Halve Man Brewery and is a great next destination after the tour. Go for a walk through the park or do as the locals and enjoy a picnic in the grass.

Groeninge Museum

Strolling around museums has always been interesting to me, but the Groeninge Museum experience was a new level of “museuming.” Gil and I spent hours in this fairly small museum, and I was amused and interested for the entire timespan.

It is always a treat to hear a friend talk about something they are passionate and knowledgeable about. In China, my friend Tim randomly busted out extensive engine knowledge at a Shineray Motorcycle factory. Turns out he worked as an engineer before the trip to China. With Gil, he busted out extensive art knowledge at the Groeninge Museum. He’s from Israel and has been working as a lawyer for the past few years. Turns out he once had a client in Jeruselum and he lives in Tel Aviv. For this client, he would have to take a taxi between the two cities. During these long drives Gil would study art on SmartHistory: a multimedia web book about art and art history and has taught himself a very, very extensive knowledge set about art history. I admire him for using the taxi time to learn, and I’m thankful that much of the knowledge has now been passed to me! Learning is a wonderful experience, and it is even more fun when your best friend is your teacher.

Other Museums 

If pressed for time, I recommend ranking your museum list as follows:

1. Groeninge Museum

2. Memling Museum

3. Chocolate Museum

4. Lace Museum

If pressed for time, I recommend ranking your church visit list as follows:

1. The Church of Our Lady (Michelangelo statute of Madonna and Child)

2. The Basilica of the Holy Blood

Windmills

Very far out of town, but it is a nice destination for a long walk through endless cobblestone streets. Expect to go through more residental areas on the way. Great destination if you’ve rented bikes – the Windmills are also near the College of Europe for any academic people who are interested in seeing a well-respected European University (Dr. Christy, looking at you!)

Throw your diet out the window in Brugge. Endulge in some of the many, many chocolate shops around town. Enjoying a hot chocolate is a must. Belgian waffles – also a must eat. Stroopwaffles are typically Dutch, though I saw some around Brugge – also worth a try. Remember, no diet in Brugge! French fries are a Belgian food, despite the misleading name. There is a Frites Museum in Brugge, though I have never visited it because it seems like a tourist gimmick and a grand waste of time. There are two frites stands in the Markt square, I tried the one of the left and thoroughly enjoyed the frites. Be sure to eat with the mayonnaise sauce! Mussels are a local specialty, and many restaurants have a set price for dinner courses that include mussels. If seafood isn’t your favorite, go for waterzooi – a stew with meat.

TIP FOR STUDENTS TRAVELING TO BELGIUM: Buy the Belgium GoPass. It is a hugely discounted ticket and is worth the extra hassle of booking online. Round trip from Maastricht to Brugge cost me 12 euros with the Belgium GoPass.

My good friend Gil and I decided on a Thursday night to head to Brugge the following Friday. The whole booking process was hasty and somewhat careless. Cheap accomodation, train tickets, pack. It is difficult to mess up a trip to Brugge – the city is small so location isn’t a very important factor. Though, I can HIGHLY recommend the accomodation Hotel Adornes where my family and I stayed years ago.

As a student I am always staying in hostels and cheap hotels. Accomodations are typically just a bed and a place to meet new friends; hopefully a wifi spot and maybe a free breakfast if I’m lucky. While in Brugge for the second time, I actually made the trek just to see Hotel Adornes. It is easily my favorite accomodation that I’ve stay in (this time around, the hotel was our of my price range so we stayed at a much more affordable accomodation.) Hotel Adornes still has a special place in my travel memories. It is one of those locations so closely linked to goodness that it was worth a trek across town just to look at. In Morocco there is a perfect terrace that my friends and I enjoyed tea on. In Missouri there is a perfect spot on the MKT bike trial that I always stop to enjoy. What is better than collecting physical souveniers is to collect spots around the world – places where everything is perfect. Hotel Adornes happens to be one of those places for me.

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It was special to enjoy Brugge first with my family, and then return to the city I love so much with someone I care about. Until next time, Brugge, stay the same and never lose your old town charm!

Morocco Pt. III: The Journey

Posted on25 May 2013 | 0 comments

We departed on a four day adventure through Morocco that included incredible landscapes, bizarre encounters and lots of laughter. The journey started in Marrakech, we spent a night in the Sahara Desert and finally ended in Fez. This is the itinerary provided by the travel company. Though, our tour guide Abdul took a real liking to our group and often diverted from the path to take us to meet some of his friends along the way and also a special stop at a village that wasn’t part of the tour.

Abdul is a character. We often drove past nomadic groups traveling alongside the road, and Abdul stopped at every group to hand them a bottle of water. Our tour took much longer than it was supposed to with Abdul – but we loved his bizarre decisions to turn down different roads and always stop to say hello to people. We decided that the van we traversed Morocco in serves as Abdul’s Facebook – he has a social network operating around that van. He would hug and kiss people at every stop, and townspeople would literally swarm around him when we arrived places. He kept his music on repeat, so for the whole journey we listened to a special mix tape of arabic music with a spontaneous Rihanna song that would signal that the disc was repeating everytime we heard it. Abdul was totally unpredictable and loved to play pranks. He stole Pat’s shoes and didn’t fess up to stealing them for abut an hour. He would constantly fib about where we were going. He did bizarre things like run over to me and throw a robe and tie a headdress on me:

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He called us a “Moroccan salad” because our group came from all over the world. We called him our “Moroccan spice” because the man was absolutely crazy. But, his crazy was endearing, and his addiction to a good time created unforgettable memories. Here’s the crew with Abdul and the van:

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DAY 1: Marrakech – High Atlas – Telouet – Ait Benhaddou – Ouarzazate
Depart at 08:00 from Marrakesh to Ouarzazate via the High Atlas mountains Tizi n’Tichka pass throughout the high Atlas Mountains range.Visit the Telouet Kasbah and the universal Heritage Site of Ait Benhaddou Kasbah as it has been named by UNESCO in 1987.We’ll pass through Ouarzazate, or what we call Hollywood of Africa since it is a famous destination for filmmakers. Overnight in Ouarzazate.

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DAY 2: Ouarzazate – Dades Valley – Todra Gorges
From Ouarzazate We drive towards Dades Gorges but before we drive along valley of Roses. We get directly to Dades valley where we will enjoy the beautiful green fields of figs and almonds. We will pass through many hamlets and villages along the way before we arrive to Todra Gorges where we will have an overnight in a Kasbah overlooking the river.

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Abdul got all the girls a rose necklace

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In the afternoon we visited a Berber village – a stop not on the typical tour agenda. Learn more about the Berber people. Abdul, who grew up in a Berber village himself, was very proud to take us around this town. We met up with his friend who joined us on the walk around. The Berber people have their own strong traditions, language and culture that differ from the rest of Morocco. Because Abdul is Berber, we got to learn a lot about the culture as well as meet many of his Berber friends. Some consider the culture backwards because it is so distinct and could be perceived as lagging behind modern times, but I found the culture to be the best type of simple and the Berber people to be warm and welcoming.

The people of the region are famous for making rugs. In the middle of this very poor village, we visited this store rich with color and handmade rugs. After this presentation, I stayed behind to help one woman fold up all the rugs again. I was then told that I was worth 1,000 camels :) cultural compliments.

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That night Abdul really pulled out his crazy. We were driving through gorges, and I mean right near the edge of the gorges. To get a better view of the stars, Abdul slammed on his brakes, exited the vehicle and swung open the van door. We all sat with our legs dangling outside the car and held onto each other for safety as Abdul drove with his lights off. It was fantastic – without the lights on we could enjoy the stars filling the sky over the summit of the mountains around us.

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The hotel we stayed at that night was owned by a Berber family, and Abdul was so thrilled with showing us Berber culture that the family got out all their instruments and we had a drum circle with them while singing Berber songs.

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This day, with all its chaos and adventure, will forever be one of my favorite 24 hours.
DAY 3: Todra Gorges – Erfoud – Merzouga Dunes (Erg Chebbi)
From Todra Gorges we start to drive towards Erg Chebbi along arid landscapes and volcanic mountains of the Anti Atlas, before we pass through a town called Tinjedad the nerve centre of the area. We pass Erfoud, it’s very known with it’s fossil’s factories where they make beautiful shapes and pieces from rock of the neighboring mountains. Then we’ll head for the Erg Chebbi Arival to Merzouga Village stop at the Hotel to Drink the ment the and leave and meet your desert Guide then start the camel trek for 2hrs with sunset to get to middle of the sahara desert where you will enjoy your night with local Guides. diner & Overnight at The camp

The Tondra Gorges

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Welcome to the Sahara Desert

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Abdul didn’t go with us to the desert but in the middle of the music and campfire he comes literally dancing out of the dark of the desert. Our group proceeded to dance around the fire with him to the cheers and claps of the rest of the camp. When the circle was over, we grabbed our sisha and climbed to the top of the dune with the three drummers, Abdul and some of the other guides. There is no darkness like desert darkness. We made sure not to wander anywhere alone because even if you were 20 feet from the camp it was impossible to see.

DAY 4: Erg Chebbi – Ziz Valley – Midelt – Azrou – Ifrane – Fes
Morning early we come back from the desert with camel trek for 2hrs the have amazing view of the sunrise then back to the hotel breakfast and taking shower .before We drive towards Fes, we stop on the road to enjoy the panoramic views over the Ziz valley before we cross the High Atlas mountains again. We stop by a town called Midelt where we’ll have lunch. We pass Azrou then Ifrane and its huge cedar wood forest to see the monkeys. We continue to the legendary city of Fes. arrival at 5:00pm

Camels at sunrise

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We finished our trip with a night in Fez. Exhausted, but so thankful for our adventure in Morocco and for the people we got to share it with.

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Morocco Pt. II: Essaouira

Posted on25 May 2013 | 0 comments

Essaouira is a beach town located about 3.5 hours outside of Marrakech. The hustle and bustle of Marrakech can be overwhelming at times, so we decided to head out to Essaouira for one day and night. We thought walking the tight alley ways and venturing through markets was where the hustle and choas of the city was centered – but arriving at the public bus station gave us a whole new perspective of chaos.

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We had to dodge moving buses and try to not get smushed as one bus attempted to navigate around another. Honking is entirely uneffective when there are 10 buses trying to get out the same small driveway, but the inefficiency didn’t stop every single bus driver from laying on the horn. About 30 buses were all crammed into the station, all with ticket sellers outside yelling the prices and trying to grab people passing by to purchase a ticket. Beggars snuck on and off the busses asking for money, and barefoot children ran around trying to sell tissues, water and gum. We watched as a coup of chickens, a toilet and a german shepherd dog were all loaded onto public busses along with the masses of people and luggage. CHAOS.

We paid our five euros a piece and loaded up into our bus – the ride was long, hot, slightly uncomfortable but the blue and white city of Essaouira is absolutely worth it.

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The sign directing us to our hostel….took us a good hour to find it..

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oFISHally the best dinner 

Sea side shacks line the sidewalks of the beach with fresh fish and all kinds of sea life out on display. Diners pick their fish, have it grilled then eat it at a table all within the little shacks. Our group of eight caused a scene as we walked down the avenue of vendors. There are about 10 vendors selling nearly identical dinner services: soda, salad, fish. When we decided to dine on fish, the vendors nearly had fist fights over our business. We decided to go to shack number 18 because the store owner had run over and instead of yelling and fighting with the others, he picked up crabs and started dancing with a crab in each hand – easy choice!

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For three euros each we had about 6 different courses of sea food, salad, bread and soda. We payed the real price later when about half our group got sick – regardless, a great experience.

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We found another perfect terrace to enjoy the sunset from

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Enjoyed the beach!

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Though touristy, Essaouira is worth the day/night trip. The real charm of the city is the atmosphere – relaxing, enoying, exploring.

Morocco Pt. 1: Marrakech and the Hammam

Posted on25 May 2013 | 2 comments

Morocco is not a “check-list travel” destination. Day time itineraries don’t start with a “must-see” monument, then move into a “have-to-try” local cusine and wrap up with a “can’t miss” museum. No, Morocco is all about soaking up the atmosphere. Wandering. Getting dirt underneath your nails. Squinting through sandy winds. Suffocating in crowded markets.  Summiting mountains. Listen to daily prayers, to shopowners yelling, to donkeys neighing – traveling Morocco is all about the sights, smells, foods and people.

On April 6 I traveling to Morocco with a fantastic group of fellow Maastricht students from Australia, Barcelona, Chile and Argentina. If you want a quick overview of the trip – watch this video my friend Pat created.

We spent 9 days exploring Morocco – and had the most incredible journey. As students operating on a minimal budget, we had some real adventures. We got dirty, we stayed in what some would consider unfit lodging accomodations, but we got a real Morocco experience. It was with little money but open attitudes and a knack for meeting people that we were able to stumble into some of the most authentic experiences. No tour book can ever, ever create a trip like the one we had – and for this I am thankful that I was able to enjoy Morocco with such an openminded and adventurous group of friends.

When words fail, I’m turning to photos to hopefully convey at least a snapshot of our adventure! This post won’t be linear, but our trip wasn’t about an itinerary, so the chaos that will ensue in this post is somewhat representative of the chaos of the experiences we found ourselves in while traveling around Morocco!

Quick note for loved ones: Not once did I feel like I was in a bad situation or in danger of any kind. Some of this stories might sound dangerous, but I was with a very smart group of travelers and we always looked out for each other. Also, Morocco is full of fantastic and welcoming people. Overall, a safe country to travel through as long as you are always aware of your surroundings.

Meet the group:

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Overnight train from Tangier to Marrakech – our first adventure. On our student budget, we bought second class train seat tickets. For 11 hours we crammed into a small compartment car and tried to get sleep as travelers, crying babies, drunks and all kinds of fascinated people got on and off the train. The best part – the train toilet that was just still standing water, just a compartment away but with smells ever present in our compartment. Around hour 9, I had to brave the toilet and have been a stronger person since. The group managed to make it through the overnight train with high spirits and decided that if we can make it through the train experience, we can make it through anything Morocco might throw at us!

And then we hit our first hostel in Marrakech:

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Looks nice, right?! For 5 euros a night, we thought we hit a jackpot. Turns out, this living room you are looking at was actually our groups accommodation. Sleeping blankets (covered in dirt) were scattered throughout the couches in this living room – and this was our room. Not bad for five euros, except again we had severe issues with the toilet/shower situation. The overall conditions of this hostel could’ve been enough to send some groups right back on a plane with a non-stop destination of comfort, but our group was again ready to embrace the discomforts and experience!

The unfortunate hostel situations (and even more unfortunate, the digestive issues of multiple members of our group making our already bleak combination toilet/shower situation even more of a disaster) were just a bump in the fantastic journey we had in Marrakech. Here are some snapshots of the incredible city:

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 This is the Koutoubia Mosque in the Medina (Old City) quarter. We saw a 2pm prayer here – women and men enter into two different quarters for Salah. Learn more about formal worship in Islam.

Terraces defined our dining in Marrakech. We ate tagine, coucous and kebabs on rooftops for nearly every meal. Our favorite terrace in all of Morocco was on the rooftop of our first hostel – we enjoyed both the sunrise and sunset from this roof. When visiting Morocco, the stairs are always worth the climb to eat on the terrace! This is an example of a typical terrace view in Marrakech:

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Jemaa el-Fnaa and the surrounding marketplace is the heart of the city. Vendors line the cracked walls and hawk their goods at the passing crowds tripping over each others feet and navigating around livestock. The city square is filled with street performers, snake charmers, orange juice stands and beggars. These following photos are representative of what a typical walk down a nearby street off the Jemaa el-Fnaa feels like:

Artists and craftsmen both make and sell their goods on the streets:

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Woman making Moroccan oil:

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Smells would transition between exotic spices:

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to the lingering scents of raw meat:

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Jemaa el-Fnaa by night

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The Hamam

As promised to the owner of Hammam Ziani, I wrote a favorable review of his hammam on TripAdvisor. I was trying to negotiate the price with him, and to lower the price I offered to write a very positive review to market his business. Somehow, this negotiation ended with a price reduction of 100 dirhams or roughly 10 euros. Annie and I got to enjoy the full hour and a half hammam package for about 17 euros! This price is unheard of, considering most normal hammams cost about 50 euros and upscale ones range into the hundreds for the same package deal Annie and I got.

Here we are about an hour before the hammam enjoying the tranquility of the Royal Palace:

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Local Moroccans visit the Hammam weekly, the public bath serves as a centerpiece of culture in Morrocco – and Annie and I were determined to experience, though we had little idea what to expect. From the second we entered the changing chamber, we realized we were in for an adventure and we shared a look of “what have we gotten ourselves into?!” Instructions were in Arabic, so we did our best to figure out what was going on – with no prevail. We were entirely clueless as to what to expect, what to do, and who the two ladies in the corner giggling at us were.

Our basic understanding was to strip down, then walk through a steamy door. We hesitantly obliged, and entered the hammam dressed with nothing but uncertaintly. Through the steam we could see faint outlines of naked figures moving about. The two giggling women took our hands and guided us towards water basins, then proceeded to THROW water over our heads repeatedly. I got a bad case of the giggles, and started laughing at the situation – I was naked in Morocco with a large woman dunking water on me. Annie started laughing too, then the ladies started laughing, and with the laughter, everything became a lot less tense. I accepted I was naked with strangers – and with this acceptance I was able to enjoy the hammam.

We spent a good 20-30 minutes in a steam room relaxing, then the women scrubbed us nearly raw, removing dead skin and the travel grim that had built up over the first few days in Morocco. We then proceeded to a massage, where our feet, back, neck, everything was spoiled. Our hammam experience ended with a final bathing back in the room with the basins. At first, I was exiled to the corner as they shampooed and washed Annie. Then, Annie was directed to the corner as the same process was done to me. The last moments we spent in the hammam, we were instructed to stand shoulder to shoulder as both women again lunged water at us. After the relaxing experience, we were lightheaded and refreshed. The final few minutes we could not stop laughing at the comical site we must’ve been – two friends standing naked as women poured water over us. But, we did it – we survived, and even enjoyed, a Moroccan hammam.

Post hammam, enjoying tea and letting the relaxation as well as the confusion about what just happened set in.

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Queensday Amsterdam

Posted on6 May 2013 | 0 comments

A sea of orange flooded the streets of Amsterdam on April 30th as all of the Netherlands took to the streets in celebration of the abdication of their new king – King Willem-Alexander. For the first time in 123 years, the Netherlands will be welcoming a male monarch to the throne. Koninginnenacht (Queensnight) and Koninginnedag (Queensday) is known as one of the biggest street parties in the world, and I was there proudly wearing orange and celebrating the peaceful transition of power.

The university organized a trip to Amsterdam for Queensday. Usually, I try to avoid these massive group outings and the subsequent easy identification as a tourist – but with Queensday, I could not be more thankful to step onto the tour bus. About 800,000 people flocked into Amsterdam for the celebration, and hotels capitalized on this increased traffic. The school organized trip was a hassle free and cheaper option to get to Amsterdam and stay overnight – without this organized outing I probably wouldn’t have battled the crowds, chaos and expenses to make it to Amsteram. Which would’ve been a real bummer, because experiencing Queensday was a fantastic insight into Holland and two purely fun days in Amsterdam.

The atmosphere on the bus as we pulled away from Maastricht enroute to Amsterdam was rowdy anticipation. We arrived midday on April 29th and had a few hours before Koninginnenacht festivities started. Having already visited most the museums in Amsterdam, my friends and I enjoyed cappuccino’s outside, soaked up some sun in the large Museumplein square then spontaneously walked by a tourist office and bought reduced priced tickets to the House of Bols museum.

Koninginnenacht

Our night started in Leidsplein at a massive outdoor concert. All the bars had their doors open and people opening went from the bars to the concert back to another bar down the street back to the concert danced with their friends danced with surrounding strangers sang loud and off key then again back to the bar – the night was chaos.

After hours outside at the concert, my friend Sarah and I decided we wanted to see other parties around Amsterdam. The city has a valid reputation for being a party town, but I don’t think Amsterdam gets enough credit for the great community that lives there. The night was safe. It was chaos, but controlled chaos. Not once did Sarah and I feel uncomfortable while exploring Amsterdam. It was around 3 in the morning when we set off on our adventure, and in America I would NEVER wander around Chicago at 3am with just another female friend as a companion. Given, it did feel more like three in the afternoon because the streets, even at the late hour, were packed with people celebrating.

We walked around a bit then landed on a fancy looking club with a long line queuing to enter. People were dressed up, looking Amsterdam sharp with trendy haircuts, dark jackets, studs and embodying every aspect of the word “hipster.” Without tickets and without paying, Sarah and I managed to enter the club. We found a group of people from Vice Magazine who were on the list, and they somehow talked us in as +1’s and we entered the club.

It was three stories, packed, and probably one of the coolest party venues I’ve ever been inside. Later that night, when looking for the bathroom, I realized that I had walked from the club to the Chicago Comedy Club – where Seth Meyers started his career. It turns out the club Sarah and I entered was actually the Chicago Social Club, one of the trendiest and most sought after party venues in the city. SUCCESS!!!

Inside the club and feeling like rockstars for managing to get in!

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We finally arrived back to our hotel around 5am, managed to get around 4 hours of sleep before it was time for Queensday.

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On the way back to the hotel I was surprised to see people in sleeping bags lining the street, but I didn’t think too much of it. Early on April 30th I awoke to what seemed like an unnatural amount of people outside for so early in the morning and so far away from actual Queensday activities. When I opened the window, sunlight filled the room. After my eyes adjusted, I was surprised to see hundreds of people and vendors lining the room. Instantly it clicked that the people I had seen sleeping on the road just hours before were actually there to reserve their sideway space to set up shop.

Queensday is the only day of the year that street sales are legal. The holiday brings people to the city to celebrate the Queens Birthday, but also to shop at some of the hundred flea market type stands all across the city. I left breakfast early to walk through the vendors – it was the typical junky “garage sale” type products for sale. Still, the number of vendors added a fun element to the holiday. I especially enjoyed occasionally seeing part-goers holding bizarre purchases like a massive gittering owl in Museumplein.

The day started off slow as our group recovered from the night before. We headed back to the Museumplein where a giant stage and massive screens stood tall with crowds filling the grass and enjoying the sun. We watched the Inauguration on the big screens and danced to the live stage performances at the Museumplein. Food vendors and other merchants walked around the crowds and added to the upbeat atmosphere.

I am Amsterdam sign in Museumplein

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After the Inauguration some of us headed out to explore. Walking through Amsterdam was like flowing with a sea of orange. Orange balloons created a new facade of Amsterdam buildings. Everyone was wearing orange – shirts, crazy hats, face paint. The canals were packed with people partying and holding orange flags. It was the craziest, largest, most festive street and water party I have ever been a part of and exceeded all my expectations of Queensday.

Party exhaustion hit and a few of us broke away from the street party scene to head to the other side of the canal to watch the Royal Boat Parade. We basically just followed the crowd and a few signs, and ended up with some of the best seats in all of Amsterdam! The King’s boat stopped directly in front of us, and I swear we had eye contact and waved! The boat was stopped for a good 15 minutes directly in front of us and we had the same view of the water stage as the king did. It was fantastically lucky how we ended up with such good seats!

The small group of us then headed back to Museumplein to end the day with a live performance by Andre Rieu accompanied by a full orchestra. Maastricht is very proud of Andre Rieu – he is from our small town in Limburg! It was a real treat hearing him perform and watching couples gleefully dance to the music across the lawn.

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Final Exams and a Retrospective Look at Learning

Posted on23 April 2013 | 3 comments

I’ve completed two full courses thus far in Maastricht: Project and Production Management and Consumer Behavior. Finals are behind me and I’m finally starting to get the hang of the Problem Based Learning system used at Maastricht University. I spent a full cappuccino amount of time analyzing my formal education experience at the University so far. Here are some of the random thoughts, self-feedback and general analysis that I’ve come up with between sips of espresso:

I am challenged.

The material isn’t necessarily more difficult than back home – but HOW I am reading and learning the material is fantastically different. I’m going to call much of my business education up to this point as “lazy learning” while the history, journalism and other liberal arts classes I’ve taken thus far have not been “lazy learning” classes. In those, I have actively read the texts, engaged in critical thinking and participated in class discussions that created mental unrest and a nearly obsessive hunger for knowledge on the subjects.

With business, however, I haven’t had the passion or the opportunity to really dig into a business curriculum. I’ve been bored with my classes, frustrated with the content and uncertain of the importance of receiving a degree in business. While Mizzou does have a highly esteemed business school (of which I am a Business Ambassador and really shouldn’t be saying all this on the internet..truth prevails!) I have to admit that the school has failed me. For three years I just thought I haven’t had much of a passion for learning business. Through extracurriculars at Mizzou I’ve come to enjoy applying business, but learning it? Boring waste of time.

The PBL at Maastricht University has entirely redefined for me what learning business entails. We read textbooks, scholarly articles, cases and the news and work as a classroom to challenge our perceptions of business. For two full hours, fifteen of us students question each other, question the business concepts we learn, apply these concepts, reevaluate business decisions, create our own business models and are so ACTIVELY engaged in learning that we expand our education much, much further than definitions in the textbooks. Nearly all my business exams at Mizzou have been multiple choice – this is a testament of the one-dimensional business education that my home university offers. At Maastricht, business is organic and alive – problems aren’t defined by filling in a bubble on a scan-tron; rather problems are to be discussed, debated and knowledge to be fought for. I am challenged here – challenged by the material, challenged by my classmates, and challenged by this new active way of learning.

I am humbled.

These high level classroom conversations are happening in my native tongue – but for the rest of the classroom, English is a second, third or even fourth language. My peers excel academically in a foreign language. They are able to discuss complex business issues and do so eloquently with an impressive array of technical business terms. My favorite thing about studying with ESL students is listening to the idioms and English sayings that are used. From slightly overly formal English, to the most attractive boy in class using an English expression typically reserved for those over 80, there are obviously some quirks and smile-worthy translation error moments. But, for the most part, English is flawless. I could not be more impressed by my peers, and more humbled to study with them. I studied Spanish for over 4 years and then spent 6 weeks in Barcelona – fairly extensive language training. Yet, I could not even come CLOSE to engaging in the level of conversation in Spanish that these students are capable of in English.

Even more impressive than students speaking perfect English are the exchange students who choose to study in English in Maastricht who do not have a comprehensive background of language training. One boy from Chile in my Consumer Behavior class nervously admitted before his speech that it was his first time to ever speak in English in front of so many people. He rocked it. He’ll never know, but I was like a proud mom in the corner listening to him tell jokes in English and occasionally stumble over his words. I hope he’s proud of himself because of what he did…to be that fearless and to speak a language he’s not comfortable in, and to do so well in the delivery, is truly something to be proud of. Way to go Sebastian – though you’ll never read this!

Humility induces learning. 

Numbers terrify me, and opening my Project and Production Management book on the first day of class indicated that I had a lot of numbers in my future. The course was very math heavy, though I was familiar with some of the material, many of the models and formulas were new to me. For a handful of German students in my class – the material was all review and supposedly “awwh so easy!”

One boy in particular would drive class discussions quickly through the equations that I didn’t understand. He would always say something along the lines of “this is so easy, do we need to go over it? Let’s just move on.” He would say this before anyone else really raised a question or issue. Whenever this happened, most of the class was like me and kept our heads down. A few other German students might nod in agreement, or some brave soul would chime up and request the problem on the board because they couldn’t figure it out. Asking a question should never be something shameful – it was after questions in class that the best discussions and most learning occurred.  No knowledge is “too easy, not worth going over” and yet no class went by without some that boy killing an opportunity to learn by hindering knowledge with the shadow of pride and self-worth.

My new courses this semester are Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management. Compared to other courses offered at MU, these are two of the easiest (so I’m told). This Friday I am facilitating my HRM course – meaning I am a discussion leader for two full hours. It is my responsibility to cover all the material we’ve read, bring real world examples to the class and facilitate critical discussion. It is a lot of work and preparation but is helping me to prepare for big pitches or meetings in my professional future.  So while Thursday night at 1am as I put my finishing touches on the presentation, I’m sure I’ll be cursing all this academia and hating school. In the long run however, the black bags under my eyes will disappear but the knowledge and experience from facilitating a session will help me succeed.

Here’s a photo from my exam/nightmare. Multiple class subjects from different schools gather together for 3 hours to take our exams/suffer together.

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Surprise Flight to Dresden, Part II: Exploring The City

Posted on23 April 2013 | 1 comments

After a full day of hiking outside of Dresden, Annie and I were thrilled to reach our hostel. Walking down the long avenue towards our accommodation we passed small independent theaters, vegan restaurants, sisha lounges and all sorts of vintage shops. The overall feel of our neighborhood in Dresden was very “cappuccino, candlelight and Kerouac” if a metaphorical alliteration description will do!

During WWII Allied Forces bombed and destroyed Dresden on the night of February 13-14, 1945. Before WWII, Dresden was known as the “the Florence on the Elbe” due to its fantastic monuments, palaces and art. The bombing destroyed the town and killed between  35,000 – 100,000 civilians.  Civilians.

While in Dresden I bought and read the novel Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – the story takes place in Dresden. Travel tip: when traveling in certain destinations, try and pair your reading material with something relevant to that location.

Our two days in Dresden can be defined by good eating and thoughtful conversations. Considering the student budget we usually remain inside, Annie and I splurged on dinner and enjoyed over 3 hours of good food and even better conversation:

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Annie is dating another Maastricht student from East Germany. History is young. He was born before the Berlin Wall came down. Small things stand as reminders that the WWII we learn about in school isn’t so long ago.

I found the crosswalk symbols in Dresden adorable:

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When the light turns green, the figures would light up in a walking movement. After snapping this photo I learned the crosswalk symbols are different in East Germany and West Germany. Another small reminder of a time not long ago.

From space, the divide between East and West German is apparent due to the use of different light bulbs. (Potential unnecessary disclaimer, but I did not take this photo)

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The Military History Museum of the Bundeswehr is worth a visit in Dresden. Annie and I did the audio tour and we agree that the audio component did not add much value to the exhibits. The museum is large and took us 3 hours to get through because we knew we had a full day ahead. Ideally 4 hours for this museum!

Here’s some more photos of Dresden!

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Sehr gut Dresden!

Surprise Flight to Dresden, Part I: Hiking in Sächsische Schweiz National Park

Posted on23 April 2013 | 0 comments

Trip planning is a tedious process but one I find enjoyable and rewarding. Yet, I’ve become exhausted from skimming through Ryanair flights, reading Travel Advisor hostel reviews and checking train schedules. During the exam period, I realized my schedule allowed for an extended weekend of travel. My days were filled with academic obligations and while I wanted to travel that weekend, I was on a time crunch and did not have the mental capacity to study for exams AND book a full weekend trip.

A solution presented itself through an innovation and fun program by Germanwings called Blind Booking. The airline offers 33 euro airfare tickets to fill up empty seats on their flights. Destinations include cities from all across Europe that otherwise would cost more than 100 euros to travel to. The catch is, that at the time of booking, you have NO IDEA WHERE YOUR TICKET WILL TAKE YOU.

My Australian friend, Annabelle, and I had similar exam schedules, and together we quickly decided to leave the fate of our extended weekend in the hands of Germanwings. After a few minutes of anxious anticipation waiting for our ticket purchase to go through, we finally learned where we were heading for the weekend:

Dresden, Germany…

I recognized the name, but could not place why. We were hoping for somewhere warm like Barcelona, but we left it up to fate and fate sent us to the cold city of Dresden.

We laughed and laughed at our luck, booked our hostel, and went back to studying.

Rathen, Germany

The first hostel we booked was a small bed and breakfast type cottage about 45 minutes outside of Dresden in a quaint city called Rathen. Upon arriving in this small village town we were hungry, and found out that only 1 restaurant in the entirety of the village was open. Two other hostel guests joined us at this small family owned restaurant with a very German menu. This meal was a snapshot of the town itself: small, cozy and very German.

Good morning Rathen, Germany!

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Our hiking started with a visit to the Weißenstein Castle. After a 20 minute bus ride up the mountain to the castle, we were startled but excited to see our hostel owner at the top! We frantically waved and smiled at good ol’ Lenny. Here’s a photo of the bus we sat on top of and frantically waved from…

 

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There’s really no dignity in this for us.

It turns out he had chased us all the way up the mountain in order to retrieve the hostel key that was still safely sitting in my friend’s bag…embarrassing start to the day!

The embarrassment soon sunk into oblivion as we took in the impressive structural remains of the castle and the natural beauty around us.

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We returned to town, grabbed a lunch and Gluehwein to warm up then proceeded in the direction of our next hiking adventure: The Bastei Bridge.

All the locals told us it was too icy and snowy to hike to the bridge, but we were determined and headed on our way. The Bastei is a rock formation towering 194 meters above the Elbe River and is part of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Germany. The highest point of the rocks reaches a height of 305 meters and looks like a scene out of James Cameron’s film Avatar. It is believed that the jagged Bastei rock formation was formed by water erosion over one million years ago. The Bastei has attracted hikers and climbers alike for over 200 years. In 1824, a wooden bridge was constructed to link several rocks together for visitors to traverse, and was then replaced in 1851 by the modern sandstone Bastei Bridge.

Here’s the sites we saw along our hike:

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Here’s the incredible bridge!

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With cold red noses, sore feet and a satiated nature fix, we hopped on a train and headed back into the city of Dresden, Germany Part II.