An Experience Unlike Any Other

Guest post by: Junior studying finance, Asad Tacy. During Winter 2022, Asad received a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship to study abroad in a CIEE Open Campus Exchange program throughout Europe.

Studying abroad was, without a doubt, one of the best decisions I have ever made. The program I chose allowed me to visit six countries and eight cities over the course of twelve weeks. Each city had its own charm, and I came away from the experience with a greater understanding of cultural differences within Europe. This understanding was strengthened by my coursework, which consisted of international business management classes focused on the effects of cultural differences in a business setting. More than anything else though, studying abroad allowed me to deepen existing relationships and build new ones with people I otherwise would have never met.

Four friends and I arrived in Paris a few days before the program began so we could spend New Year’s Eve in the City of Light. Right away, I fell in love with the city’s planning and architecture. Coming from the United States, it was shocking to see a city with a consistent architectural style. The closest I had seen to consistency in the United States was in Boston, where maybe one-third of the city shared a similar brick style. Paris was truly something else, with each block featuring elegant Haussmann style buildings which simultaneously expressed unique character and maintained a sense of continuity with the surrounding buildings. Even more impressive than the architecture was the city planning. In contrast to American cities, Paris is designed for pedestrians rather than cars. Instead of having a couple small destination neighborhoods, every block in a five-mile radius boasts cute shops and restaurants. This makes going for a walk much more enjoyable and beautiful. Combine the walkability of Paris with their metro system, and one begins to wonder why anyone there even owns a car.

New Year’s Eve was spectacular. After missing our dinner reservations, my friends and I wandered until we found an outdoor beer garden/festival located beneath the Eiffel Tower. There, we befriended a group of young Dutch people and spent the night celebrating with them. Watching the Eiffel Tower light up as the clock struck midnight and knowing I would be spending the next three months abroad was a surreal experience. I have rarely been so delighted with my life.

After New Year’s, my program began, and we moved into our housing. One of my best friends, Luke, and I were roommates, sharing a one-bedroom apartment. Though somewhat distant from the city center, the room was nice, and we even had a balcony with chairs. Classes started shortly after, and I began to get into the rhythm of life in Paris. My courses were International Management and International Marketing, both of which excited me because I am interested in becoming an international business consultant. What better way to learn international business than by studying business in another country?

Over the next few weeks, I got comfortable living in Paris. After getting my bearings using a few landmarks like Norte-Dame and the Panthéon, I could easily navigate the city without Google Maps. Although I speak no French, I found I could get by with a few basic words. Most Parisians were happy to speak English, despite the stereotypes I heard before my arrival. In fact, most people I interacted with in Paris were nice, contrary to what I had been told. Sure, they did not talk in public or make eye contact as much, but these cultural differences are distinct from rudeness. That said, many of the extended interactions I had with Parisians took place in bars; it is possible that alcohol was making them nicer than usual.

Aside from walking and biking through the beautiful streets, the highlight of Paris was visiting the Musée d’Orsay. Although the Louvre is a larger museum housed in a more impressive building, the art featured in the Musée d’Orsay is second to none. Musée d’Orsay houses the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world, including eighty-six by Monet and twenty-four by Van Gogh. When I visited, I spent two hours in just two rooms of a single floor. The paintings brought color and light to life in a way I never knew possible. Each brush stroke seemed to carry in it the entire rainbow. There was one Monet of the sun setting over a French farm that captured the beauty of a sunset better than any photo. What those artists painted in the late nineteenth century may go down in history as the pinnacle of Western art.

During my first six weeks abroad, which were spent studying in Paris, I took three weekend trips. The first was to Val Thorens, a ski town tucked into a valley between four peaks in the French Alps. The view was breathtaking, and the skiing was excellent. Chairlifts went up to each of the four peaks and some runs even cut through the town itself. While Val Thorens was my favorite of the three trips, my visits to Prague and Budapest were still a great time. The architecture was great in both cities, and the nightlife was as crazy as I have seen. Additionally, it was fascinating to see how much poorer people were in Eastern Europe. I could almost feel the shadow of the Soviet Union. People in those cities seemed colder and more rugged than they were in Paris.

My last weekend in Paris was bittersweet. Two of my friends who had been studying in London were visiting, and I knew Monday I would be reunited with more of my friends when I arrived in Madrid. However, I could tell that I would not like any city as much as Paris. There was something about Paris that made even the most mundane romantic. I guess it is hard to hate commuting when your commute consists of walking by the Louvre and Norte-Dame. I spent my final day in Paris sitting at a café with Luke, talking about the past few weeks of our lives, our beliefs, and the futures we want.

Arriving in Madrid for the second half of my quarter abroad was exciting. My friends who had been studying in various cities across Europe were now all together in the same city. That said, the housing situation was worse. Luke and I were still roommates, but now we shared a small dorm room with a strict no guest policy. Additionally, I was taking less interesting of courses. In Madrid, I took Business Ethics and Principles of International Business, both of which I should have found engrossing. Unfortunately, Principles of International Business turned out to cover much of the same material covered in International Management and Business Ethics was taught by an uninspired professor.
Nonetheless, Madrid had its appeals. First off, the city is huge, even larger than Paris. And while not as consistent as Paris, Madrid had pockets of architecture that were quite grandiose. Sol and Plaza Mayor were especially beautiful, with pedestrian zones that stretched blocks in every direlia Sagrada. La Familia Sagrada is renowned Spanish architect Gaudíction. Furthermore, it felt like the streets were always crowded, no matter the time. Despite what is claimed of New York, I think Madrid is truly the city that never sleeps. There were nights I left clubs at five in the morning and the streets were still more crowded than downtown Seattle is midday.

A highlight of my time in Madrid was watching a Real Madrid versus Paris Saint-Germain Champions League match in a crowded bar. My friends and I bet money on Madrid, but they were down by two at halftime. Around twenty minutes into the second half, Karim Benzema scored for Madrid. With ten minutes left to play, Benzema scored again. Then, just two minutes later, he completed his hattrick and put Madrid in the lead. The bar, including my friends and I, erupted in cheers. The energy in that bar dwarfed that of even Superbowl parties, at least ones I have attended.
During my six weeks in Madrid, I visited three more cities. The first, Lisbon, was beautiful but relatively unremarkable compared to the other two: Barcelona and Dublin. Unlike my prior weekend trips, I stayed in Barcelona for four days. And I am glad I did. Barcelona was my favorite city I visited, aside from Paris. Like Paris,

Barcelona was incredibly walkable, with narrow pedestrian alleyways, coherent architecture, and restaurants and shops lining every block. Better still, Barcelona is on the Mediterranean, so I was able to go to the beach without even leaving the city. The highlight, however, was visiting La Fami’s life’s work. A towering basilica unlike any other church in the world, La Familia Sagrada is how I imagine alien buildings would look. Yet, the outside is only the tip of the iceberg. What is truly mind-blowing is the inside, which houses columns that branch like tree trunks as they rise towards the ceiling and stained-glass windows of every color that turn sunlight into rainbows and illuminate the interior. It is impossible to describe the beauty of this building.

The last city I went to was Dublin, which I visited for Saint Patrick’s Day. It was spectacular. Every bar in the city was packed all day long, and my friends and I had a blast. After the bar crawl, a few of us ended our night listening to live music at Hard Rock Café. We sat around a table making jokes, reflecting on how amazing the past few months had been, and enjoying the band, who were playing their hearts out. As someone with Irish ancestry, it was a remarkable experience to be there for that holiday at the tail end of my time abroad.
I was supposed return home on a flight out of Paris just over a week later. However, I missed my flight. To this day, I am not sure it was an accident. Regardless, I was ecstatic about having two more nights in Paris. I stayed with Gabi, a friend I made during my first six weeks in Paris. We spent my last two days walking around the city and on the last night, we watched sunset from the Arc de Triomphe. While looking over the city for the last time, I decided I want to move to Paris someday. Never have I seen such beauty, experienced such cultural richness, and formed so many relationships as I did there.