Wednesday, January 26, 2011

To New Places, New Friends, and New Experiences

As we all gathered Monday morning to venture off into the still dark morning for many of us it had come too early. The return trip from Berlin, as well as the evening that followed, had been much needed for most and provided a time to regain some of the sleep that was lost during the weekend. We didn’t mind the condition we were in though. The city of Berlin was nothing short of amazing and one of the highlights of the trip for all involved.

Even with all of the excitement of the weekend though, class resumed as normal Monday morning and we were all in class at 8 am for our Global Management course. Following our two business courses we had our language courses. We were able to slightly amend the schedule and change a second scheduled course into a field trip of sorts. A thanks is owed to our beginning German instructor Thomas Litner, who took us to an amazing little restaurant that was rather obviously not used to tourists. The restaurant provided us with a great opportunity to use some of the phrases and words we had learned over the past week. In addition, the food and desert was some of the best we had experienced the entire trip.

The following day proceeded in a much similar way as Monday, but featured our second cooking class. We prepared turkey schnitzel, potato salad, a special dressing for our salads, and a yogurt based desert. We owe a thank you to our two cooking instructors who helped us through the processes. For many of us cooking from scratch was a relatively new experience. Our instructors were kind and patient and always willing to help.

Wednesday brought with it an opportunity to see a piece of history not known to many in the USA at least. Following our classes and lunch, we gathered at the school entrance and boarded a bus bound for Point Alpha. Point Alpha is a former US Army Observation Point located about 30 km from our host city of Fulda. The post was a hotspot during the cold war, sitting directly on the dividing line between East Germany and the USA controlled portion of West Germany. The Observation Tower looks down upon a valley to the East. It was predicted that it was one of the few possible places the Russians could get their tanks through the mountains and that if they were going to push through this point would it.

The site itself is small. Roughly the size of two city blocks perhaps, it only had approximately 40 soldiers stationed at it at any one time. Our tour guide was a former West German military general who now worked for the foundation as an English-speaking tour guide. Today the site features two different areas, one pertaining to the Soviet history, and the other the USA history. For such a significant site in Cold war history, no one in our group knew of it prior to our visit. In the USA it seems as though the Cold war was a series of events that almost led to WWIII, but in Germany it was much more real. The sites we saw both in Berlin, as well as at Point Alpha, made the war much more real and we realized that WWIII nearly happened multiple times. The sites stand as a memorial to the conflicts of the past and as a remembrance of those events.

With Thursday morning came our final day of classes. Throughout the two weeks we had spent the first class of each day discussing the various parts of conducting business in a global market. Things such as logistics and marketing need to be approached with special considerations when operating outside the USA. Our second class each day brought presentations on individual countries prepared by students prior to our departure. We also had the opportunity to hear presentations by the MBA students on comparisons about certain industries between the USA and Germany.

In the afternoon we met at the train station and boarded the train destined for Frankfurt. We had received the opportunity to visit the Commerzbank Tower in Frankfurt. The Tower, at one time, was the tallest building on continental Europe and features many unique design features. Constructed fourteen years ago and designed by Norman Foster, the architect who also helped redesign the Reichstag in Berlin, the building features 9 indoor gardens, a triangular shape, and no air conditioning. The tower is the headquarters for the Commerzbank, one of the leading banks in Germany.

After an informative presentation by one of the employees of the bank on the state of the Germany banking industry and where their company was at presently, we were able to take a tour of the building. Standing at 259m tall or roughly 850ft at the top floor, the views are spectacular. As I stated earlier the building has a unique set of ducts and intake vents that circulate air throughout the year. In addition all the windows on the building open. The lack of air condition allows the company to reduce energy costs by an estimated 40%. In addition to the air conditioning, every 5 floors there is a large garden taking up one side of the triangle. These gardens also allow for a large amount of natural light to reach the inner offices. The building was revolutionary for its time and is still a source of pride for many of the citizens of Frankfurt.

As for the city itself it’s considered the financial center of Germany. As our coordinator Gesa put it, most Germans often refer to the city as Bankfurt. The majority of the banks that operate in the country are headquartered there. The city features some incredible architecture and unique and expensive shopping.

That evening the train ride back to Fulda brought with it the realization that our journey was coming to an end. The majority of Friday had been left completely open for us to do as we pleased. Most took the time to simply gather up the last few gifts and souvenirs. That evening we attended the farewell party. In attendance were many of the people who had helped or taught us during the trip.

As a group we owe thanks to many people. We may have gone over for a couple business credits, but we learned and experienced much more than that. The first thanks are owe is to the three students who attended the university with us. The perspectives from Kinga and Asha from Poland, as well as from Ali, from Uzbekistan, allowed for interesting alternative views on situations that surely wouldn’t have been brought up without their presence. Thank you to all the instructors, teachers, guides, and anyone else who helped us along the way.

In addition we would like to specifically thank Prof. Dr. Irina Kohler, who was the academic director for the winter university at the Hochshule. We owe a massive thank you to our managing director Gesa Pusch, who was incredibly helpful and accommodating throughout our two weeks in Germany. One of the first days she sat down and decided to play Monopoly with some of the business students, but quickly realized that business students don’t necessarily follow the generally accepted rules and she quickly fell behind. As a gift at the closing ceremony we presented her with her own copy of Fulda Monopoly with the phrase “lets negotiate” written on the box, so she would always be reminded of the special rules involved. A final thanks is owed to our student mentor Timm, who showed us much more of what life is like for German students and helped us experience much of what Germany had to offer.

In the first blog post I referred to the phrase not too far. For two weeks we never set foot in cars. We walked everywhere in Fulda; in Berlin and Frankfurt we took public transportation. By the end of the trip though the walking didn’t seem that long any more. It didn’t seem that far. We travelled approximately 4500 miles from Oshkosh to Fulda, yet by the end of the trip it seemed, as through it really wasn’t that far. Our society is rapidly changing and globalization is unavoidable. Learning to accept other cultures and adapt is key to being successful in the future global market. To those on the fence about doing a study abroad program do it if you can. The places you see, the people you meet, and the experiences you have are all unforgettable.

Auf Wiedersehen und Danke

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