30 days in Frankfurt, Germany

Garbo at a souvenir shop in Frankfurt, Germany.

Garbo Zhu is a fourth-year Architectural Science student at Ryerson. She attended Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences in Germany as part of Frankfurt Studio 2019, a 30-day studio-based architecture and design program. We asked her all about experience during her short-term abroad opportunity.

“APPLY NOW! Frankfurt Studio is a perfect way of allowing students to have a taste of what studying abroad is like while not breaking the bank.”

Tell me about Frankfurt Studio 2019, and why you applied?

Ryerson has a decade long relationship with Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences in Germany. It is a well-known and well-received program that my peers and I are made aware of early on in our degree. Since the age of 14, I have been studying abroad here in Canada. As someone that is passionate about the diverse cultures that our world has to offer, an opportunity like this cannot be missed. The short duration of four weeks makes it more intriguing, as it provides the foreign experience within a more manageable time frame and is also comparably more affordable than a full semester exchange.  

Tell me a bit about the kind of work you were doing? 

In this 30-day studio program, we were assigned to revitalize the Frankfurt am Main (the city’s full name, which means “Frankfurt on the Main”) waterfront by design on a multi-programming complex on an abandoned asphalt factory site. The programming includes 35 live-work lofts, 35 social housing units, 15 shops, five offices, five cafes, and two restaurants. 

What was the first day in Germany like?

Right after we landed, we managed to find our way to the subway station within the airport terminal (big thanks to Google Maps). At that point, we still haven’t registered that we are in a foreign land since all our surrounding still looked semi-familiar, except for the additional German announcement. It was not until we got out of the subway station that it hit us: we are not in Toronto anymore. The day that we arrived in Frankfurt, it was one of the hottest days that the city has ever experienced. With our oversize suitcases, my friend/classmate and I were drenched in sweat while trying to locate our Air BnB. With little luck from Google Maps, we tried asking local residents for direction, but all information was lost in translation. We decided to trust our guts and eventually found our home in a tucked-away street next to a zoo. The lessons that we have learnt that day are firstly to ask for directions at the airport, the staff there are trained to answer all questions you have in English. Secondly, that distance in real life is a lot shorter than what it looks on Google Maps, the streets in Frankfurt are a lot more walk-able than the ones in Toronto. And finally, pack light!!

Tell me about your living situation?

We were required to find our own accommodation for the duration of the program. The class was split into smaller groups and each group found their own stay either through Airbnb or local hotels. My friend and I stayed together through the whole trip. The two of us rented a room through Airbnb and split the fees 50/50. My advice is to book early! If the place you are visiting is a popular tourist attraction, there are more options but the price would also be higher. If the place is not a popular destination, which is true in our case, the rent can be cheaper with the downside of fewer options. 

Living abroad can be expensive. To cut cost, we cooked on a daily basis. Luckily, there was a grocery store, called Rewe, across the street from where we were staying. This made cooking a lot easier. It became a daily ritual for us to try out local cuisine through cooking with new ingredients. Another affordable option is to eat at the school’s cafeteria. At Frankfurt University, one simple meal of pasta and salad only costs us about 2 euros (about $3 CAD)! The attractive price tag along with the variety of dishes quickly made the school cafe a favourite of ours.

I advise anyone that is visiting a city for an extended period of time to get a metro pass. In our case, we got a monthly pass that allows us to travel within the city for a fixed price. It is a great way to cut cost while encouraging us to explore the city via local public transit. 

Apart from the tourist attractions, we had the privilege to have a walk-through tour with our professor YT and some local German students. It is always a great idea to ask them for advice about places to visit. Some of my personal favourite destinations were the architecture museum, a food market called Kleinmarkthalle, and the campus of Goethe University Frankfurt. 

What was the last day like?

Our last week before the departure was extremely tiring and stressful. As previously mentioned, we were assigned to design a large-scale complex within one month, which is a quarter of the time that we were used to in school. Despite the lack of sleep, the whole group still went out for our final day accompanied by some local students and enjoyed our last night in Frankfurt. Goodbyes are never easy, but we know that we will be back again for the warmth and beauty that the city has to offer and for the friendship we accumulated. 

Outside of the Junges Museum Frankfurt, or Young Museum Frankfurt, in Frankfurt, Germany.

What would you say to other students who might be interested in Frankfurt Studio?

APPLY NOW! Frankfurt Studio is a perfect way of allowing students to have a taste of what studying abroad is like while not breaking the bank. Budget budget budget! Create a list of all possible spending in a spreadsheet, and don’t forget to include some “fun money”! Set up a phone plan with data before you have already arrived at the destination to avoid communication issues. Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers, but also remember to travel in pairs or bigger groups to ensure safety while you are having fun :).

Talk about some personal barriers you might have had to overcome as part of this experience, and how you overcame them.

Having prior experience of studying abroad (from China to Canada), the concept of being in a different environment while in school is not foreign to me. It was challenging at first to try to navigate a city of which you don’t speak the language and are not familiar with. There have been numerous occasions that we took a wrong turn and ended up at the other side of town. It’s important to remember that you can always ask for help! The people we met were all extremely kind and helpful to us. One thing that I struggle with the most is the food. As you might have expected, a common German meal consists of potatoes and schnitzels. At the end of our journey, we ate out less and cook at home more, to put some fiber back at our system. Another thing that is worth mentioning is, even though the Asian population in Frankfurt is lower in comparison with Toronto, I did not experience any weird looks or slight discrimination from the locals. People were more interested in my culture, and showed great respect. 

What is your favourite memory from your time abroad?

Hands down, the German techno clubs. The local students brought us to one of the most popular clubs in town during one of our last nights. To my surprise, the crowd there was a lot more diverse, in terms of the age range, than any place I have been to in Toronto. In Frankfurt, you can see employees going out for a dance with their boss, while still dressed in their work clothes!

Abroad as a Faculty of Science Student

A Q & A with second-year Medical Physics student and Engineers Without Borders 2019 Junior Fellow, Pursod Ramachandran.

Pursod Ramachandran, second from the right, in Kumasi, Ghana.

You probably hear a lot of science and engineering students say “It’s not possible for us to go on exchange” and a lot of the time – with a few exceptions – it’s true. But Pursod Ramachandran, a second-year Medical Physics student at Ryerson, still found a way to take his learning global by participating in the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) program

After six months of preparations, the FOS student headed to Kumasi, Africa, for his first experience on the continent. The four month-long trip would require a lot of work – before, during and after – but would be well worth it. Curious to know more, we asked Pursod a few questions about his time abroad.

You recently participated in the Engineers Without Borders Ryerson Chapter as the 2019 Junior Fellow. How did you come across this opportunity and what made you want to do it? What did the selection process entail?

The Ryerson Chapter sent a department email during Fall reading week and being an opportunist, I decided to shoot my shot. The privilege to simultaneously travel and work as a student is humbling, as these opportunities are growing in number but still rare.

The first step was a Google form which, to my surprise, had no technical/engineering questions. They were experiential and interpersonal, focusing on the candidates’ understanding about global development and critical thinking.

This was followed by an in-person interview with the presidents and Returning Junior Fellow, a Ryersonian who has completed the program. This was where critical thinking was tested with a simulated Sub-Saharan African industry challenge and personal development was tested as with normal work interviews.

After successful completion, a Skype interview was done with Engineers Without Borders’ National Office. These questions were focused on how we would respond to cross-cultural barriers and our inspirations for the internship.

If successful there, potential JFs select which social ventures they’d like to work for and the ventures choose which JFs they would like on their team, ultimately determined by National Office.

It was a very demanding process, its pace being exceptionally challenging with a full course load and extracurricular commitments. However, it was a great time management and professionalism exercise. The number of emails and meetings required to secure $8,500 CAD* for the placement has taught me the value of appearance, active listening, grant writing, and timely implementation of different leadership styles.

*The grant was a result of several Ryerson groups and fundraisers that helped to raise the amount. (Physics Department, Science Faculty, RI, President’s Office, Bake Sales).

This year’s venture took place in Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda. Aside from the time spent on the fellowship, can you tell me a bit about your time there?

In Ghana, there were seven fellows – three were in Accra, and four of us were in Kumasi. We all spent time together when we could, visiting national parks and reflecting on our individual and collective experiences.

In Kumasi, we enjoyed the friendly smiles and the reactive expressions of locals when we attempted to speak Twi, their native language. Every Friday, locals encouraged us to participate in their tradition of wearing vibrant wax print and traditional clothing. The Ghanaian textile industry has a complex history and it is worth looking at the abundance of information about it.

We coordinated trips to various landmarks and libraries, culture centres and wildlife sanctuaries. We even had morning jogs, workout sessions and Sunday yoga classes. Every Wednesday evening, our apartment would be lively with salsa music as our instructors would go over basics, spins and line dances. We started at band, Kumajam, and made music with local instruments.

We cooked meals on weekdays and packed lunches to avoid the midday heat at work the next day. We had an efficient system that was also flexible.

My personal experience is documented in a series of audio clips and this includes language, work weeks, heat, being a Brown Canadian, comfort and control, and music.

Global learning is a great way to expose yourself to new ways of learning. How did this learning experience compare to that of the classroom setting at Ryerson?

My research during my internship, the work that I was doing at my social venture, was analysing the importance of experiential learning and nonformal education in global education systems. In short, this placement was invaluable. It is designed for individuals who either possess an innate desire to grow and learn or for those that have systems in place to guide them for growth. There is no professor, no midterm, no labs, so it crucial for us, the students, to do our own evaluation and really think about how we set up our thoughts. This is what is required for education at a young age. It should be compulsory to have experiences or learning opportunities that are economical and teach similar values to ultimately complement the classroom setting. Its apples and oranges, we need both.

The fellowship is 18 months in total; 6 months of preparations, 4 months abroad, and 8 months of experience in a leadership role at an EWB chapter. What are your next steps? Any other travels in your future?

The next two semesters I will be back at the Ryerson Chapter to assist the executive team with coordinating events and future partnerships on campus. This experience has made me reflective on my heritage and my ancestry in a way that I had never considered. It made me realize the value of creating global teams and international partnerships. As of now, there are existing family businesses in Sri Lanka where my academic background will be useful. That would be my primary focus.

Aside from Sri Lanka, I have always wanted to travel around Japan to explore the cultures. diets and landmarks. It would be really interesting to see how Western influences have changed them as well.

What was the biggest takeaway from your time abroad?

The importance of silence and professional reflection. This means to take the time to think about the overlapping systems in our work and consider which ones need our attention. It includes our outlook on challenges, confrontation, and the value of social dynamics.

What was the best meal you had during your time there?

Fufu: pounded cassava (tuber crop, root vegetables), with a spicy peanut soup and stewed chicken.

Why did you like it so much?

It was the first day of work. I dressed sharp and the sun was relentless. The monsoon season couldn’t come any sooner. My coworkers decided to take us to their favorite local spot. We walked inside the small shaded bungalow where we met a woman behind an open wire counter surrounded by cauldrons of hot soups.

With the choices of chicken, goat, fish with peanut, chicken and fish soups, I decided to try the chicken with the peanut soup. It was served with a huge round ball of pounded cassava, fufu, resembling pizza dough. We washed our hands with a pitcher of water and some soap and began our meal. It reminded me of how I’d eat at home. I pierced the fufu and dipped it in the boiling soup. With a piece of chicken, I tried my first bite. It was hotter than midday heat but it was amazing. I went for more. At this point, I was profusely sweating but so was everyone else. I loved it, no judgement. Just pure content. So now when I have an adequate amount of time to eat, I get fufu. It’s gotten to the point where I dream about it.

Ryerson ComCult PhD Student Presents his Research in Portugal and China

A Q & A with Ryerson PhD Candidate and FCAD Contract Lecturer, Gabriele Aroni.

Having attended the University of Florence in his home country of Italy and United Kingdom’s Oxford Brookes University to pursue masters degrees in Architecture and Digital Media production respectively, it’s safe to say Ryerson ComCult student and PhD candidate, Gabriele Aroni has plenty of international experience.

In May, Gabriele presented his paper, “The Limits of Copyright Law in digital Game Photography” at a conference at the University of Coimbria in Portugal. About a month later he traveled to the Communication University of China in Beijing to present research he’s done on the role of architecture in digital games. We asked him all about these amazing opportunities below.

This past summer, you attended and presented at two international conferences – one in Portugal and another in China. Considering the international audiences you would be presenting to, how did you prepare for them?

I always try to add some information related to the country in which I present, whenever possible. For instance in China, I mentioned various video game laws and brought examples from the Chinese government. Also, just a word of introduction in the local language is always welcome (even in my butchered Mandarin).

The paper you presented in Beijing, “Media Literacy Education for the Promotion of Cultural Heritage and National Image through Digital Games” seems to coincide with several themes often promoted by Ryerson International; can you give a brief synopsis in layman’s terms?

Digital games are now the most diffuse media on the planet, and it thus is the moment that cultural institutions and governments must start considering it as a major vehicle for the diffusion of cultural heritage and national image. How can countries promote themselves, and avoid wrong or inappropriate portrayals of their culture through digital games? There should be collaborations between game developers and institutions in order to create games that can be both commercially successful and educational in their content. To achieve this, though, it is necessary that both game developers and institutions be “literate” in the media they are producing and supervising, so they must have a knowledge of how users interact with games, how they are created, how they function and their possibilities.

Was this your first global learning experience?

No, I previously studied abroad in the UK for my master in Digital Media, and presented at conferences in my native country Italy, as well as Romania. In Portugal, it was a three-day conference hosted by the Faculty of Law of the University of Coimbra, one of the oldest universities in Europe and a lovely town north of Lisbon. The conference welcomed scholars mainly from Europe, but many were from Brazil as well as North America. Talks were held in English and French as the International Roundtable of the Semiotics of Law that organized the conference operates in both languages.

University of Coimbra, Portugal

The 5th International Conference on Media Literacy Education was hosted by the Communication University of China in Beijing. As with the conference in Portugal, many of the attendees came from China itself and neighbouring countries, such as Korea and Pakistan, and conferences were held in both English and Mandarin. There were also several scholars from African countries, such as Zambia and Kenya, many who had studied in China, and they gave fascinating outlooks on the cultural exchanges between these countries.

Did you take advantage of any funding opportunities?

Yes, several in fact. My SSHRC CGS grant already incorporates some funding for travel, and I was also funded by ComCult, the Yates School of Graduate Studies, the Ryerson Students Union and the Faculty of Arts at Ryerson University.

Cultural barriers are often unavoidable when travelling. Do you have any advice for others looking to participate in global experiences and/or international conferences?

At least as far as concerns the countries where I have been, I would say that language is the only noticeable cultural barrier. Maybe if you have a cappuccino in Italy after 12:00 p.m. you are going to get “foreigner” painted on yourself, but I have never seen anything out of the ordinary or problematic anywhere. Probably the most important things to be prepared for are also the most mundane such as payment methods or phone compatibility. In China for instance, they are already beyond our cash and credit card-based system, and while they are both still widely accepted, it is good to be aware that some places do not even have a physical cashier anymore.

What was the biggest takeaway from your trip?

Meeting scholars from other countries is always the most rewarding part of international conferences, especially in an academic world strongly dominated by the English language. You get to know ideas and theories that would be hard to come across otherwise, or hear completely new points of view that come from different backgrounds and academic training.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did while abroad?

I ate pig brains in Shanghai. We actually eat them in Florence as well – only fried, though. Not boiled. So I believe that counts.

A Typical Week in Lisbon

BY LEAH KOSOWAN, FOURTH YEAR STUDENT IN GLOBAL MANAGEMENT STUDIES, TRSM

Since high school, I knew that exchange would not only be an option for me, it would be an essential part of my university career. Exchange has lived up to everything I hoped it would be, and so much more. 

Continue reading A Typical Week in Lisbon

How To Make Friends While Studying Abroad

By Valentina PrANJIC, Third year student in professional communication, fcad

Going on exchange has been a dream of mine since I was in high school. I always saw the world as being full of new places to see and experiences to live. So when a friend once suggested that I complete an exchange in Utrecht, Holland I found myself on a seven-hour flight to Amsterdam a year later. 

The weeks prior to my flight, I was ecstatic and ready to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.  However when I landed, the reality that I was alone in a foreign country with no friends sank in. Continue reading How To Make Friends While Studying Abroad

Toronto 101

By Cathryn McEachern, COMMUNICATIONS INTERN AT RYERSON INTERNATIONAL (4TH YEAR STUDENT AT TRSM)

In a city with as much to see and do as Toronto, it can be hard to decide what to do with your time! There’s an overwhelming amount of restaurants, cafes, shops, activities, and more. Especially if you’re only visiting, it’s nearly impossible to see it all. 

As a local and a Ryerson student, I’ve developed a list of some places around campus that I think are worth checking out. I hope this helps to kick-start your Toronto adventures, or just open your eyes to something you might’ve overlooked before.

Happy exploring! Continue reading Toronto 101

Blog Writing 101

By Cathryn McEachern, Communications Intern at Ryerson International (4th year student at TRSM)

Writing a blog is beneficial for many reasons – whether it’s to personally reflect on your experiences or professionally develop your writing skills. They’re also a lot of fun to write, especially when it comes to travel blogs! However, figuring out what to write about and where to start can be pretty difficult. Below are some guidelines on how to do just that! Continue reading Blog Writing 101

What People Don’t Tell You About Going On Exchange

BY HUDA AKHTAR, THIRD YEAR STUDENT IN HUMAN RESOURCES, TRSM

What people don’t tell you about studying abroad is that you’ll want to go home about 2 days into your trip. No one tells you how hard it really is settling into a place you have absolutely no prior knowledge of. People don’t speak of the first week you arrive into your chosen city, they don’t mention the restless nights thinking about how you’re going to manage your commute, your work – your stress piles up.

Little did I know, the best is yet to come.

Continue reading What People Don’t Tell You About Going On Exchange

Living as a Seoulite – My Exchange Experience

By Sophia Chea, Student in Business Management, TRSM

Like many people, studying abroad was always something I’ve dreamed of. After applying, I hesitated many times while contemplating whether studying abroad was right for me. Although there were moments when I didn’t think I was making the right choice, I still stuck with it. Honestly, it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Continue reading Living as a Seoulite – My Exchange Experience

The 3 Regrets of Exchange

BY SHANNON TINNING, 4TH YEAR STUDENT IN ENGLISH, FACULTY OF ARTS 

I have never been an impulsive, or a decisive person. Deciding between what colour of sweater to purchase, or mustering up the courage to select a unique menu item, instead of chicken fingers, fills me with immense anxiety. Before departing for my exchange to Edinburgh, Scotland, I came to the realization that I would have to escape my finely crafted comfort zone in order to fully capitalize on this once in a lifetime opportunity, and not return to Canada filled with ‘what if’s’ and ‘I wishes’.

And no, getting a tattoo is not on this list (sorry grandma).

Continue reading The 3 Regrets of Exchange