Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Home sweet home

The day started out very early in the morning, or should I say late at night? The group had to be out of the door by 3 am and on the bus to the airport. We weighed our luggage to make sure it was less than 50 pounds and the hotel provided us lunch bags for our breakfast, then we were on our way. We took a short bus trip to the airport where we waited for our flight. We had three flights that were going to take us home; one from Prague to Amsterdam, the next one from Amsterdam to Minneapolis and the last one from Minneapolis to Kansas City. The first flight, from Prague to Amsterdam, was very short, and I was out like a light from take-off to landing.
We arrived in Amsterdam with a few hours to kill until our next flight.  We went to our gate so we could sit down. When we got to our gate, we didn’t see any place to sit but a line to go through security. We decided that we would meet back at the gate 45 minutes before the flight and that we could go get something to eat or find somewhere else to sit. A few of us stayed back and decided to stand in line to go through security so we could sit by the gate. We stood in line for about ten minutes and when we make it to the front we were told that we weren’t allowed to go in until the entire group was with us.  Frustrated, we messaged the rest of the group and told them to meet at the gate sooner rather than at the original time planned. Once we all got there they checked us all in at the same time and we were able to go sit down by the gate.
The flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis was around nine hours long. We had a screen in front of us where we could pick anything from movies to TV shows to play games. There was enough entertainment to keep us occupied for the whole nine hours. I decided to go back to sleep for as long as I could though before watching any movies. We were served a couple of meals on the flight, but the best thing the served was ice cream. The last two hours of the flight were rough though. We were flying over some bad weather or some just some choppy air and that made the plane have a lot of turbulence. For around two hours we weren’t allowed to get out of our seats and the flight attendants couldn’t serve any food or drinks. I am normally fine during flights that have bad turbulence, but this went on for so long that I started feeling sick, and I think everyone else on the plane felt it too. They would remind us almost every ten minutes to make sure we were sitting down and to make sure our seat belts were fastened tightly.
We finally landed and everyone clapped because they were so happy it was over (and because we were alive). We were finally back in America! We got off of the plane and made our way to our next flight, but first we had to tackle going through customs. Some of our group was at the front of the plane, so they were already in line and they were told that they could hold our group’s spot there and we could join them once they got to the front. So we all waited until it was their turn, but then things got a little messy. The people working there wouldn’t let us join the rest of our group because they said it would upset everyone else. They told us that we would have to go to the back of the line. Thankfully we have such a strong group leader that didn’t take any of their crap and made sure that we were able to go through with the rest of our group. When we walked to the front of the line, the people behind us were obviously upset, and they had good reason, but it was just a mess of a situation. Once we made it through that, everything else was smooth sailing. We got some lunch and waited at our gate until our next flight.
This flight was the final stretch, everyone was so excited to be home and we were only an hour and a half away. We settled ourselves in the seat of the airplane and we were on our way. About half way through the flight there was an announcement, we were told that there was going to be a little bit of turbulence. We were already sick from the first flight, so the extra turbulence on this flight hit us a little bit harder. It wasn’t that bad and it didn’t last too long, but we were all so excited when we landed.
I think most of us are done with airplanes for the time being. I know that I don’t want to get on another one until I can forget about today. The feeling of being home and able to sleep in my own bed is the best feeling ever. All of this traveling was worth it for the amazing experience, I would do it all again if I had the chance.
Stephanie Robinson
Skyline in Budapest

Skyline in Vienna

Skyline in Prague

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Last day :(

Today we finally came to a bitter-sweet ending to this amazing journey.  Last night the majority of us went to one of Prague's most famous pub crawls where we travel across the old town area with a group of 700 some people to 4 different bars.  Long story short, we had one amazing night!  There was people from every country imaginable there so we definitely got one of the widest cultural experiences possible so going to bars can't be all that bad sometimes ;)

After recovering from a "well rested night" we started our day off by going to the Prague Castle and cathedral which was owned by SURPRISE, the Hapsburg family.  One of the things I looked forward to during this trip was to see the cathedrals and castles because of the beautiful architecture and today was definitely that day.  Religious or not, being inside that cathedral and marveling at the structures and stained-glass widows alone would make your jaw drop.  I wasn't able to even put my camera down the whole time in there because everywhere we turned there was either an amazing statue or some piece of stained-glass that I had to take a picture of.  I was also excited to see the torture chamber/dungeon.  For some odd reason morbid things like that intrigue me!  Our going away dinner tonight was great as well.  I hadn't had anything on our menu so it was good trying out some new dishes.

Being over in Europe with 19 complete strangers is something that has truly changed my life.  I've learned so much about myself and the other people on this trip, and I think that's by far the biggest takeaway from this experience.  Even with all the drama, bullshit, and tension this trip has brought, I wouldn't change a single thing about it.  I've met 19 of the most amazing people who now play a big part of change in my life, but damn is it going to be good being back home!  Enough jibber jabber, scroll down for some of the most amazing pictures of the trip.

Dylan Kay


Saturday was an eventful day of spur of the moment activities. We had a free day since we are officially done with all our business visits, so everyone just went their separate ways for the day to do their own thing. Several went shopping, some went paddle boating, and others went exploring. As for Stephanie and I we went and visited the Senát building and the gardens behind it, along with some light souvenir shopping around Charles Bridge.

While at the Senát building we went inside and we were able to roam the first floor for free. We were able to see the Main Hall also known as the Knight Hall in the 17th century. This hall featured a mural of “Baccio del Bianco, picturing Valdštejn as Mars, the god of war, on his war wagon” as pictured here:

                     (Main Hall and Mural)

 There were also 4 other corridors that we were able to venture through that featured similar ceiling murals and some showcases. One of the corridors was also called Knight Hall but sometimes referred to as the Leather Parlor, then there was the Mirror Hall. In this Hall it was only open to a small select group of visitors prior to Valdštejn’s reception in the next hall which was called the Audience Hall. In the Audience hall is where the duke was able to watch what was happening at the palace entrance due to its dome like shape featuring windows that overlooked the garden and the courtyard. Then we came to the last corridor known as the Mythological (Ovid’s) corridor. This corridor had access from the Audience Hall to the stables, the Duke’s study, and another corridor that led to the gardens.
                                  (Showcase of clothing)                   (Mythological corridor)
Following our walk through of the building we meandered out through the gardens where they had beautiful fountains, peacocks, and an interesting wall made from mortar.

     (Peacock)                                     (Fish Fountain)

After the Gardens, we headed towards Charles Bridge where we were on a mission to shop for interesting pieces that we wouldn’t be able to get in the stores. Then we headed back to the hotel for a short nap before heading to some retail stores in the evening. Afterwards a large group of us went out to enjoy the night life.
(Interesting Sign)

Some cultural differences that I have noticed while here is that locals try to price gouge tourists, so you can do some price haggling, along with there being an abundant amount of PDA that takes place pretty much everywhere.
Rachel Michael

Friday, June 27, 2014

Nearing the end of our journey...

We are coming up on our last weekend in Europe, and we rounded out our last Friday here with two visits-- one to Hewlett-Packard Czech Republic and the other to Prague College. At HP we were given a presentation by their head of talent acquisition.  She talked to us about the different things that they do and also about their hiring process.  I really enjoyed this presentation because it was geared more towards us, since most of us are nearing the end of our college careers and will be soon looking for a job.  The hiring process is very interesting.  They first narrow down their candidates and have them take an assessment to find out what position they should be looking to apply for, then they are put into groups with people who are alike in the positions they are applying for.  In the groups they are given a product that is most usually math-based to complete.  After they have completed this project, they are then selected for one-on-one interviews.  It was said that around 50% of those in the groups get chosen to go on to the interview stage.  One of the most interesting facts I heard during the presentation was not only do the new workers get mentored by current employees, but sometimes higher ranking employees get mentored by the younger employees.  It is a nice concept considering the younger employees have a different way of thinking and are usually more in touch with what is new and booming in the business world.

After going to HP we were given free time to go out and get lunch and what not before heading over to Prague College.  Prague College is only 10 years old with currently over 600 students from close to 100 different countries.  They offer three types of degrees, from Business, to IT, to art and design.  At Prague College we were spoken to by a few of their faculty members about what the many benefits of going to their school would be. They talked about their connections with big time companies and the former students who had gone to bigger and better things.  There was even a former student who came in and talked to us about his start-up company-- Brand Embassy which just recently received  $1 million in investments.  I really liked the way their school was set-up with the small class sizes and the great opportunities that were offered there.  I think if anyone was really considering studying abroad to receive their degree or masters, that this would be a great college to look into.

Only three more days left everyone!


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Even when we lose, we win.

This morning we woke up for a presentation, but we didn’t have to go far. We had a meeting with Vladimir Kosek from Johnson & Johnson and he came right to our hotel to give us his presentation. Johnson & Johnson is a company that we all know from their baby products and their band aids. But that sector of their business is only 24% of what they do. They are mostly a company that produces medical devices and diagnostics. In the presentation the Vladimir gave, he talked about the healthcare industry in the Czech Republic and also about the challenges they face as a company working in Europe.
                Vladimir gave us a quick rundown on how much money comes from paychecks to supply the healthcare system. He says that 13.5% of a person’s salary goes to health care, or what he calls “Sickness fund.” He also showed us how they will be in trouble in 2050 because they have a large population that is currently between ages 30-45 that will be retiring all at once. This is similar to what we are experiencing with the baby boomers in America.
                An interesting thing that I learned from his presentation was that there are no co-payment options for people seeking medical treatment. Of course, everyone has health insurance, but if someone wants better quality treatment, they must pay for the whole procedure without any government assistance.
Synagogue from walk
                We then talked about how a lot of Eastern Europe is facing some corruption. He says that Czech Republic is at about the mid-level, whereas central Europe doesn’t have very much corruption at all. They are working really hard to stop the corruption in Czech. They are limiting the gifts that they are allowed to give to customers, there are no cash gives allowed and nothing that is over a specified value limit. They are also cracking down on re-sterilization of devises that are meant for single use. There are hospitals that would use a single use product for one patient, sterilize it, and then use it on another patient. They are working hard to completely stop this though.
                We had a long break for lunch and then we walked to Cisco. The building wasn’t very far from out hotel, and on the way we walked pasted a beautiful synagogue where we were able to stop and take some pictures.
Meeting via TV/video with our group at Cisco
                Once we got to Cisco, we had a presentation over the trends that we see for our future in technology. Of course, we are becoming more mobile and simple, but there is a new thing called a “smart building” that most of the presentation was over. A smart building is a building that is run though one network and it has everything from your computers to the lights and air-conditioning running on it. We were told how revolutionary this system would be, and that it would save a lot of energy. I brought up the point that if the network goes down, then everything shuts off and that that might be more hazardous than before. But I was just reinsured that the network would be 100% efficient, but I am still skeptical on that.
                After we visited Cisco, we all went out to get dinner and watch the soccer game. USA was playing against Germany and we made sure to wear our red, white and blue colors to show our pride. Unfortunately we lost the game 0-1. But even when we lose, we win. USA USA USA!

Stephanie Robinson

Our beautiful group and our American pride! <3

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

T Mobile and Avast Software visits

Today we had two business visits which were T Mobile and Avast software.  After waking up extra early to try and find who had the iron and ironing board, I went down to the hotel breakfast which was somewhat disappointing compared to the other two hotel breakfast that we had.  On a brighter note, this is the first hotel to serve coffee that I can drink black! (the other hotel coffees were a very dark roast and they were almost like drinking straight espresso)

When we arrived at T Mobile we entered their training room where a woman (forgot to write her name down) gave us a short history lesson of T Mobile, the Czech telecommunications market, and the competition that T Mobile had faced.  What I found most interesting is that T Mobile also offers basically a logistics tracking service that uses their mobile coverage to businesses that want to track their vehicles. Another interesting fact that was almost unbelievable is that the EU has enforced regulations on mobile providers so that there are absolutely no roaming charges of any kind.  T Mobile is basically forced to eat up around one billion dollars a year of its own roaming fees.   After that Milan Vasina, the Managing Director of that division, came and talked to us about leadership.

He discussed the main challenges that he faced when taking up the managing director job and the 9 step model that he has followed in order to meet goals and keep employees involved.  The most interesting thing I found was that employees hold 5 year positions.  After that, they are moved around not only to different positions, but to completely different departments so someone in marketing may be moved to the finance department.  This really surprised me because I wouldn't think that everyone would have those skills and be able to be flexible like that.  At the same time, I think this practice would help US companies a lot with employee satisfaction by not having the same job all the time.  It may also help with integrated marketing communications (promotions term) because everyone would be in multiple departments.

After that we went to lunch where a group of people and me went to a Japanese wok restaurant that was pretty good.  The rain picked up right when we were travelling to Avast Software so some of us finally got a chance to use our umbrellas.  Avast was rated Czech Republic's 2013 Best Employer which was evident why after the presentation.  They're the #1 provider of free antivirus software in terms of users numbers.  They also don't use any advertising for their product because their current users promote them for free on internet forums.  The presentation was also funny because he looked some of us up on Facebook and LinkedIn so we were a little surprised to find out he knew some things about us that he used in the presentation.  Along with that he also gave 2 of us lucky students a bottle of wine which was a very nice gift for us well behaved students!

Dylan Kay

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Prague (Praha)

Today we began our final leg in our adventures. We started out by leaving the hotel via bus around 8:15am to head to the train station where we had to say our goodbyes to Manuela. We then boarded a train to Praha otherwise known as Prague at approximately 9:31am. Once on the train we were allowed to spread out into two cabins instead of just the one we were originally in due to a water leak from the bathroom onboard. Our train ride was about four hours long so naturally most of us slept. Then we arrived in Prague around 2:21pm. Where we then proceeded to the hotel to check in and meet up with our new tour guide named Petr.
            After settling in, we met in the lobby for a quick orientation and to get our transportation passes and maps from Petr. Then we went on about a 2 hour walking tour of the city where we saw many sights. He showed us the areas that would be most expensive and how to tell what the prices would be like if we were not sure, all based on the price of the beer. Basically if the beer is expensive, then the rest of the menu will be too. He also took us around to some historical buildings such as the Parlament building and the chamber buildings. He gave us a little bit of the historical background such as this area being known as Checkslovakia from 1918 till 1993 when they separated.  Along with showing us how the signs use to be in both German and Czech because German was the main language not long ago (shown below). He also pointed out that a large majority of the buildings had IHS in gold letters which stood for “In this sign, you will conquer”.

            Along with this he informed us on some history of the buildings and signs as we went. For example at one point they used pictures or paintings above doors for the address as shown here:  


Also he showed us markings of where it flooded back in 2002, the grey placks in between restaurant and pub are to mark the height of the flood as shown here:

And finally we were also shown the John Lennon Peace Wall and the Astrological clock shown here:

After our tour we parted ways and some went to explore a little more while others went to dinner or back to the hotel. Overall, I would say that we are having a blast seeing the different countries but we are all in need of a little more sleep.

Rachel Michael