Beyond Borders Series: A Journey in the Unexpected

April 25, 2015

“It was my greatest life experience.”

College is a journey of unexpected expectations. As students begin each new semester, there is the expected: long hours of research, cold coffee in hand; advising sessions and professor feedback; and novel ideas ready to be realized. The halls still look the same, friends gather at the same places, the same clock tower chimes still ring through campus. All of these moments wait patiently for the student – expectedly. But it’s the unexpected that can truly make college a transformative experience.

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“What am I getting myself into,” Abbie Rivas said to herself as she slung her suitcase onto the shuttle leaving the Frankfurt Airport. She had made it; three layovers, 10 hours, one intercontinental flight and she was finally on German soil. Rivas’ final destination laid 55 miles to the south, an hour trip through the dense foliage of Bundesautobahn 5, the federal motorway connecting Frankfurt to Heidelberg. A picturesque college town, Heidelberg is the location of the European Study Center, a hub and educational partner of the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW). As Rivas approached the large wooden doors overlooked by the polished stone archway and followed by the wrought iron spiraling staircase, she began to expect the unexpected.

Rivas was not a novice to acclimating to new cultures, people and places. A Minnesota native, Rivas moved to a small town in the Rio Grand Valley after high school. This juxtaposition of sharp winters to sweltering summers and trout to tripe would help prepare Rivas for her college career as an international business major. As part of the curriculum, she would be required to spend a semester abroad. “I was nervous to spend an entire fall or spring semester in a foreign country, but the European Study Center offered a shorter summer semester, so I started packing.”

For the next five weeks, Rivas would spend her days absorbed in a unique blend of courses. Art and Aesthetics would focus on the renaissance architecture that envelops the city of Heidelberg, while Business in Germany would introduce her to the rules and regulations of the European business model. “It was really interesting to learn about the different practices European businesses adhere to compared to the U.S.,” said Rivas. “For instance, we met with a representative from a financial institution and learned about the role their human resource departments play in the hiring and firing of employees.”

During her tenor in Deutschland, Rivas would visit local small businesses, large firms and notably the European Central Bank located in Frankfurt. Rivas would learn about the regulations and quotas that hold the European Union’s 28 member countries together. “We spent some time learning about how to spot counterfeit currency. How to feel for certain textures and spot bogus ink, it really made the trip stand out,” said Rivas.

Studying abroad, in its essence, is not about classroom learning. It is meant to be an experience that engages students with the vibrant customs and cultures from around the world. Rivas took full advantage of her temporary home. She would spend her days exploring the city’s cobble stone streets, admiring historic statues and dining at local eateries. These adventures may seem routine to any foreign traveler, but to Rivas, the small cultural changes made the difference. “The centuries old buildings, the clothes the locals wear; forget your yoga pants and neon hoodies,” said Rivas. “Especially the dining customs, as a vegetarian I was prepared for the constant flow of meat and potatoes, but beer for breakfast? I can’t say I didn’t enjoy that a little.”

The summer of 2014 was a special time for Rivas to be in Germany. After advancing to the second stage and then pouncing Algeria, France, and most notably Brazil, the German National Football Team made it to the final round of the FIFA World Cup. “When the German team was playing, it was like nothing else mattered,” said Rivas. “Shops closed early and everyone flooded to the local hot spots to watch the matches.” After the Germans defeated Argentina to take the World Cup, Heidelberg exploded. “I’ve never witnessed so much national pride, fans running down the streets, everyone drenched, they even draped the metro trains in German flags. The celebration didn’t stop until early the next morning. It was something I’ll never forget.”

College is a journey of enrichment, a time to explore the world and the self. Studying abroad gives students the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective, to immerse in something new, exciting and unexpected. “For those who are hesitant about going, just jump in. For me, Germany was timeless, every experience was like a scene out of a movie,” said Rivas. “It was my greatest life experience.”

UIW and the H-E-B School of Business & Administration support every student’s drive to find the unexpected in their college experience. Students who are interested in studying abroad should research opportunities through the UIW Study Abroad Center.

This article is part of the Beyond Border Series, focusing on the international efforts and accomplishments of H-E-B School of Business & Administration students and faculty.

Did you like this article? Find others like it in the Beyond Borders Series: Business Development in the Peruvian Desert