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About my stay abroad…

This is the post excerpt.

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August 24, 2016 to January 3, 2017 I will be studying abroad in Heidelberg, Germany. At the end of my semester (December 20, 2016) I will be traveling with a friend to London for Christmas, then Dublin, and finally spending New Year’s Eve in Amsterdam. Join me on my journey as I update you on information about me (past & present), what I will be doing to keep busy while abroad, places I will be visiting, and more!

So first, check out my neighborhood!

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SAP Headquarters

This past week we visited the main headquarters of the SAP company. Systems Applications and Products in Data Processing is the world’s largest provider of Enterprise Application Software (EAS). Along the tour, we learned a bit about the company’s background and how they came to be.

Starting in 1972, five IBM employees took their idea of real-time data processing to the head offices at IBM and the managers simply told them their idea was not innovative enough. IBM insisted they would get around to their idea in due time, however, this did not cut it for these developers. Cue the inception of the small start-up tech company, SAP. This small company went from sharing offices and computers with their customers to developing R/3 (their most comprehensive client-service software) and paving their own way through the competition with NetWeaver, an innovative software that seamlessly integrated SAP and non-SAP systems for businesses in real-time. Over the next years, SAP grew by 65% and successfully evolved a new way to do business.

The most intriguing part of the tour was learning that SAP had created 5 exabytes of information in their software, in just 12 hours, while all of our humanity had been trying to create this much information for over 2000 years.

With over 330,000 customers, SAP reaches around 190 countries worldwide. Their customer base makes up 87% of the Forbes Global 2,000 Companies, 98% of The Top 100 Most Valued Companies, and 100% of the Dow Jones Top Scoring Sustainability Companies. To grasp an idea of just how influential SAP is in the world market, they are currently involved in 78% of the world’s food industry, 82% of the world’s medical devices, and 3 out of every 4 transactions around the world go through a SAP system.

The specific factory we have visited has been their major location since 1980 and it is currently SAP’s largest location in the world employing over 8,800 employees, consisting of over 75 nationalities, and hosting the largest SAP development lab in the world.

As a program, we were lucky enough to walk directly into the heart of the SAP operations. We stepped into their “D-Shop” to learn the inner-workings of 3-d printers, Microsoft’s HoloLens, and HTC’s Vive Virtual Reality. The developer showed us the products he had invented as a hobby that made a world of a difference around his office. He then completely blew our minds when he put the Microsoft’s HoloLens on and began endlessly pulling up files and browsers around the room and organizing them without us being able to actually see any of it happening in real-time.

As a person, the developer was very interesting to talk to because it was so easy to see his brain was running 20 miles a minute. For him, it was not just accepting this innovative technology for what it was. When we asked him what the future of this type of technology looked like he replied with the most optimistic and innovative answer saying, given the work of the developers, he sees augmented reality, very soon, becoming part of the company’s everyday business operations.

If you asked me about the SAP factory the morning of, I would have never imagined I would see the future of technology from such a front-row perspective. From mingling with the employees over a company lunch to observing a pair of technological developers cover a glass marker board with groundbreaking ideas this world has yet to see, we found ourselves lost in what seemed to be a surreal futuristic world.

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Fall Break in Italy!

Over fall break, a few weeks ago, we first stayed in the heart of Milan, Italy for three days. With a population of 1.3 million, this shopping capital of the world was continuously populated by a mixture of tourists (me) and of course the locals out and about in the city. We visited the Duomo and its respective museum that had ancient architecture on display that used to be fixated on the structure itself. Before we knew it, we found ourselves right at the archway of the entrance to all of the high-end stores. The walkway lead directly to the doormen in suits wearing white gloves to welcome you to either Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, or any other luxury brand you walked close to. The hall was shining with flashing lights reflecting on the marble floors that complimented the rich architecture. Considering the heart of the city is considered the shopping capital of the world, my favorite part of Milan was that each and every passerby was dressed to the nines in the classy and affluent-looking all black leather.

One upsetting part of our Milan trip I will never forget was, unfortunately, hearing the terrible news that a young girl from my hometown had tragically passed away. Although I was not necessarily close to her by any means, I did know of her shining personality that had touched so many lives around me. Considering I was in Milan visiting countless churches and sitting in for one of the Italian Catholic services, I wanted to pay my respects to her and her family. I lit a candle in the Chiesa San Bernardino alle Ossa, which is a church known for its dedication to those who have passed, in her remembrance of spirit, affection, and contagious smile. Her passing reminded me of home and how important it is to keep what you love close, surround yourself with positivity, and always put a smile on someone else’s face.

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She truly touched lives all over this world.

From Milan, we traveled by train to Florence, our home for the next three days. On our first morning, we headed to the station to catch the next train out to Cinque Terre, the most beautiful place I have visited thus far. We stopped and walked around three of five of the villages along Cinque Terre on the Mediterranean Sea. Each of these small villages was surrounded by towering cliffs and clear blue water that made for the most memorable pictures. Speaking of memorable, I also spent the big bucks on Monterosso’s Coronarita which was a full corona tipped upside down in a frozen margarita bucket. Yes, delicious.

Considering during fall break I was only with two other kids, all of us were working together on transportation and finding our ways to museums. I have found that instead of herding like sheep in big travel groups, it is more enjoyable to branch off of the group with a few kids on our own. This way, we were forced to immerse ourselves in the culture and of course, make mistakes but also learn from them for the next trip we take. As a group, we all had agreed that by the trip to Italy for fall break we had ironed out all of the travel dos and don’ts and mastered the amateur travel tips and quicker ways to get from here to there.

  1. Book museums ahead of time
  2. Always have a water bottle with you
  3. Plan transportation before you leave the room

And

4.  Don’t run down a boat ramp to get a good picture…you might find yourself falling into the Mediterranean
Ciao ciao Italy, I hope to see you again soon!

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My Story (post-abroad semester)

Each part of my experiences I have portrayed through my blog will become part of my life story. The past four months are filled with many emotions and stories I will never be able to communicate to someone else to their full extent. In my first “My Story” post I stressed my upbringing and how it has shaped me today. Being in Germany this past semester has put everything I have learned to the ultimate test. Obviously, there were plenty of scenarios I could have never planned for but that is where my true character came into play.

To be honest, I could not have asked for a better group of friends to have shared my time and experience with at the European Study Center. Together, we experienced brand new countries, entirely new tram schedules, and completely foreign languages. We stuck together over the holidays as a family and I will always be grateful for the open-armed support we offered each other.

Reflecting on my excitement to begin working in the Patrick Henry-Village I expressed in my first “My Story” post, I am happy with what our group has done. Together, we created a pilot program that will continue to the next semester aiding and supporting the children at the refugee center. I am proud of the difference we have made and the relationships we have gained at the refugee center.

For the refugee children, this is only one stop in their journey and in some ways, it was only one stop in our journey as well. I am thankful the children let us share the same pit-stop in our lives and were receptive to the support and smiles we greeted them with. The most troubling part will, undoubtedly, be saying goodbye, unsure of what lies ahead for them in the coming months, weeks, or even days. But just as Ahmed had asked me to do, I will look to meet him again in New Jersey 20 years from now.

Germany and the many other countries I have visited have treated me well. I have learned so much from so many people, experiences, and events. Of course, my story does not end here. I know have plenty more experiences to share with familiar and not so familiar faces near and far in my years to come.

Identity (post-abroad semester)

As a reflection on this past semester, I am confident in saying my identity has been altered for the better. I arrived at the airport on August 24th not knowing of anyone in the program. I knew I had to come to Germany with an open and almost vulnerable mindset. This is, after all, what my journey was about. Not necessarily “finding myself”, more so finding my place in another culture, country, and environment.

I have traveled to around seven countries and I still have countries I will be checking off the list in the coming weeks (one of which will be in an entirely new continent). The exposure is an irreplaceable experience that I never saw myself in. Thus far, I believe my best education I have ever received was through traveling. Maneuvering through trams, train stations, bus stations, and airports all in multiple languages has tested my patience, confidence, and of course my sense of direction.

I have seen the most beautiful locations I will always dream to go back to, I have experienced the most memorable journeys with good people, I have stood in the most painful of war memorials, and above all, come December, I will leave pieces of my heart with the refugee children I have shared smiles and stories with the past four months.

My identity is something that I will never truly be able to express and no one will ever see. Many people I see again will not notice how I have changed and that is the beauty of my identity. It is something that I will never truly be able to express and no one will ever have the chance to see. Instead, it will only be reflected through the integrity of the way I speak, carry myself, and care for others.

Home (post-abroad semester)

Thankfully, I am fortunate enough to consider my “home” my actually home address. For some, however, this is not the case. When asked what my idea of home was, I immediately thought back to my whole family sitting around our dinner table and the stories, smiles, and laughs that are shared. After working at the Patrick Henry-Village children who may not have seen their childhood home in many years, my perception of “home” had changed.

I have realized that even though 79 Nautilus St. was where I found my comfort, it was really what was under that roof that I truly consider “home”. It was not until I went abroad to another continent that I realized, even if I am not under that roof, or my sister moves into a new house while my other sister moves houses again, the love, support, and laughs follow us everywhere. Yes, I am thousands of miles away, and the connections or time zones keep us apart. However, our love and support for each other remain the same, if not grow stronger.

Working with the children at the Patrick Henry-Village has opened my eyes to the real issues in life. The children, unfortunately, were forced to understand the true meaning of “home” at such a young age. They are not thankful for their house, they are not thankful for their community. No, these are things some of these children have never even had the opportunity to grow feelings for. Because of this, all they know is family. The interaction and conversations I had with them has made me realize that no matter what anyone goes through in life, how far you move from home, or what experiences you have been through, the irreplaceable feeling you have towards your loved one is something no one will ever be able to take away.

Castle Talk Symposium (Strasburg, France)

Recently, our program was invited to travel to the Château De Portals Strasbourg in France and attend the Castle Talk Symposium on The Conflict and Cooperation at EU Borders: Open or Closed Bordersstrasbourg-france

Our program had the opportunity to not only attend but also present our ideas on migration and/or repatriation to discuss what options the European Union currently has as well as participate on the discussion board at the conclusion of each presentation.

Over the course of the 2-day symposium, we had the exposure to network with European Union representatives as well as master students and professionals currently conducting in-depth research on this topic.

My presentation focused on what Germany, as a member of the European Union, could do to properly address this crisis.

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Germany is the most applied to country for refugees coming into Europe. These refugees are skilled, talented, and educated yet simply left immobile in underserviced refugee camps. The negative dialogue coming from the citizens of Germany is that these refugees are an immediate burden to their environment socially, politically, and even more so economically. What needs to be clarified is whether this dialogue is rhetoric or if the citizen’s concerns are supported by hard evidence from reputable sources. Perhaps, instead of seeing these refugees as a burden, we need to see this massive increase of people as an opportunity. 

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) performed a study showing very little increase in the German GDP and stressed the importance of refugees having the ability to get to work as soon as they arrive and are granted asylum in the country. By offering low-level jobs to these refugees, the Oxford University Study then saw low-level native workers being forced into higher paying jobs, raising the annual labor output and actually improving the economy. That being said, for this to continue, the German government will need to be willing to assist these refugees in their asylum-seeking process and make changes to policies to offer them greater opportunities for sustainability in the working environment. 

In addition to changing the dialogue and offering these migrants employment opportunities, it is important to reach the worried citizens on a local level. The Camp Poxdorf Case Study proves that community involvement only created a more positive environment and encouraged refugee integration into the local communities. Thus, the camp stressed the importance of hosting community engaging cultural and holiday events. Through these gatherings, the community was able to connect with these refugees on a personal level and, in turn, changed the way their community accepted and integrated refugees into their society.

It is quite simple to understand the main ideas that need to be stressed during this refugee crisis. From an optimistic standpoint, it is important to change the dialogue that the media uses to portray these displaced people, create opportunities and give them hope for the future, and finally find ways to support their integration into the new and foreign community and lifestyle in Germany.

Through our presentation and discussions, we received feedback on our style, content, and even answered follow-up questions from members of the European Parliament, professors from around the globe, and master students studying in France.

This symposium was a very rewarding experience that encouraged us, as students, to research and present our synopsis and suggestions of the recent refugee crisis facing the European Union borders.

Family Visit in Heidelberg

This week, I passed on the program’s winery tour to spend more time with my family who came to visit me in Heidelberg. Thus, we were able to take a tour of the Heidelberg Castle, Heidelberg’s centrally located church, hop on a 3-hour boat tour to four of the castles down the Neckar, and even celebrate my sister’s 25th birthday in Germany.

During their time here, we had the chance to explore countless cafés, lunch joints, and a variety of dinner places. We came to an agreement, that it is virtually impossible to go hungry in a city like Heidelberg offering another place to indulge in the culture every few steps.

One of the afternoons I took my sister on Philosopher’s Hike. I figured, after seeing so much of the city of Heidelberg, it was time to incorporate some nature tours and hike the mountain that has been in almost every background of each picture taken. This way, when she shares the pictures with other people, she has a greater understanding of the depth of what lies beyond the two-dimensional frame.

As the weeks passed by up to this point, Heidelberg started to become my hometown where I only went out shopping to pick up groceries and other necessities. As I was traveling almost every weekend, I seemed to get caught up in a schedule when I got home to Heidelberg and stopped exploring the town I was spending most of my time in. Even the bars at night began to become repetitive. Having my family here, allowed me to take a step back and instead of being a citizen in Heidelberg, I had about four days to become a tourist again and learn more about the beautiful city I am living in.

Meeting up with my family in a different country was something I had never pictured myself having the opportunity to do. Acting as their personal tour guide put what I have learned about Germany to the test. Although we were touring around in the popular places, having spent so much time in Heidelberg already, I was able to steer them off the beaten path to the best restaurants I have found thus far, especially my favorite Italian restaurant for my sister’s birthday dinner.

It was nice to finally see my family in person. Overtime, face-timing does not do it justice. I am thankful they had the time to take a week and see where I have been living. In the coming years, and I’m sure even longer than that, I will be relating parts of my life back to my experiences here, and it will be nice for them to have their own memories from Heidelberg that we can share.

To be honest, it was a lot of pressure to portray Heidelberg in the best way I could in their short time here. Considering Heidelberg is one of the most beautiful and rewarding cities I have ever been to, I wanted them to love it just as I have.

Although my family can enjoy each other’s company anywhere, this city was particularly enjoyable. Before, between, and after the tours, our favorite part of the city was the fact that you could float around for hours, blending into the cobblestone streets and gradually fading into the warm and welcoming culture of Heidelberg, Germany.

To Mom, Perry, and Cailin: Thank you for coming and giving me the opportunity to share a little part of my world. I enjoyed every day you spent here and this week certainly went by far too quickly. I hope seeing the city I am now living in left your minds at ease when saying goodbye for another two months. Until then, I wish you a Happy Halloween, Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. These holidays will not be the same without you guys. And don’t worry, I promise I will come back!

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