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

Monday, June 23, 2014

Last Day in Vienna :'(

Today marked the end of the second leg of our trip.  It is pretty sad, because this city had so much to offer and so many beautiful sights to see that I really am going to miss it.  Yesterday was a super exciting day filled with lots of walking.  We all visited the Sconbrunn Palace (the Habsburg summer palace) which was absolutely amazing.  The entire palace showed so much detail and luxury for something that was built in the between the 1600s and 1700s.  After visiting the palace most of went on to the zoo which was located in the palace's gardens.  This zoo is the world's oldest and had all of the usual zoo animals including Panda and Polar Bears which are not at every zoo.  Yesterday consisted of a lot of walking and my feet are definitely feeling it today.

Today we visited the BAWAG PSK Bank.  The current bank is the result of the merger between PSK which was started by Emperor Franz Joseph in 1883 and BAWAG which was founded in 1922.  In 2000 BAWAG bought PSK, but the two did not officially become one bank until 2005.  Here at the bank, which was a beautiful building consisting of over 17,000 nails, we listened to two presentations by two of the banks top officials.  The first talked about the bank itself and the history and all the services it provides to its customers, and the second talked about the economic climate in Austria and Europe.  They both gave some pretty interesting facts.  One of the more interesting facts I heard was how some people are able to retire way earlier than the normal retirement age-- sometimes in their early 50s.  They say this has caused a problem such as the United States social security problem.   After the presentations, we were given a tour of the bank.  It showed some amazing architectural work, and it is amazing how modern it is for how old it is.  After the tour we were provided lunch by the bank in their cafeteria for all their workers.  We had the choice between chicken or fish (you know, kind of like a wedding).  I chose the fish-- which was very delicious, and then we were on our way.

After the bank visit, we were given free time to do whatever we wanted to do.  I wanted to visit St. Stephen's Cathedral, shop and get souvenirs, and check out the Danube River, and I accomplished all three of those things! I'm glad I saved St. Stephen's Cathedral for the last day because it was very beautiful inside and out.  Brandon and I went together and went inside the church and also climbed all 343 stairs to get to the top of it where we got an amazing view of the city of Vienna.

I will make sure to add pictures tomorrow once I get them off my camera!

See you in Prague,

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Living like Royalty

The day started out with a lot of dragging feet. The hours of walking and the late nights are starting to catch up with the group. Many of us either skipped breakfast or grabbed some to go, leaving us with even less energy for the day. We left the hotel with our guide Manuela around 10 am and we traveled to Schonbrunn Palace, this palace was the summer home where Emperor Maximilian II would go to hunt. The back yard, which is now a garden, was filled with animals and was large enough for the men to hunt during the summer. The backyard is now a garden. There are many fountains, a maze and even a zoo. The sight of the castle was breath taking, and the inside was even more beautiful. We got to go on a tour of 40 rooms on the first floor of the palace. There were no cameras allowed, but we had an auto guide leading us through each room. We learned about each person that lived there and many small bits of their history. The rooms were so beautiful, and each one had a unique element to them. My favorite room was (of course) the most expensive room in the palace. It was a quaint sized room, not much bigger than my bed room at home. The walls were a rare type of wood and were covered in gold lining around many paintings of the palace’s history. The room itself was a sort of collage, and it was very beautiful.
            Once we were finished with the palace tour, we were free to roam the gardens. There were so many ways to go, but as a group we decided to go to the zoo. The zoo itself wasn’t too large, but it had a lot of new animals there that I’ve never seen before. The two most exciting animals to see were the Koalas and the Pandas. There are only three zoos in the United States that have Pandas, and only 15 other zoos in the world that have pandas. One of those zoos is the one we went to today. We enjoyed our walk around the zoo and ate lunch in the garden. Everything was so beautiful; it made me feel like I never wanted to leave.

            In Vienna, shops are closed on Sundays. We tried to do most of our shopping yesterday, and we will do more tomorrow. Since the shops were closed, we didn’t have much else to do with our day. There were some options to go see some museums around the city, but a lot of those were planned for tomorrow. There are some spots around the city that are available to swim in, and since it was a really hot day, a lot of us decided that that would be a great idea.
            After a dipping our feet in, we went our separate ways and most of us went back to the hotel to take naps. The group met up again for dinner at 8 pm at a restaurant/bar/café/lounge, it was a really adorable place that had delicious food. It seems like most of us are really feeling how expensive it is in Vienna. Hopefully we can make it one more day and still get to experience the city.

Stephanie Robinson
Today our guide Manuela met us at the hotel where we headed to the royal Hapsburg family's Imperial Palace.  On the way there we walked past a lot of art museums, as well as the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Natural History.  The entrance to the palace led us to a huge open area that was the center to thenl palace itself.  Interestingly enough there were two monuments facing each other which was called the Hero's Square, the same name as the monument square which Szilvia took us to in Budapest.  Manuela talked about how Jewish families were the rich ones living in Vienna, and they controlled a lot of the education and arts.  The most interesting part about all of this history is that this is possibly what made Hitler have so much hatered for the Jewish community because Hitler was rejected from the arts college in Vienna.

Going further into the palace we witnessed just how rich the Hapsburg family was.  We entered another huge open area which had a marching band playing next to a massive monument in the middle of the square.  Making our way through the palace we met some fellow Maryville residents by coincidence which was pretty cool.  It was good to chant B E A R C A T S a few times in a foreign place!

At the end of the palace we came upon a shopping area where window shopping was about the only shopping any of us were going to be doing.  Stores like Gucci and Rolex were everywhere.  After that we took the subway to the flea market.  There we saw a lot of fresh food vendors which were mostly fish, wine, and veggies.  Further down in the market was where the clothing and souvenir vendors where.  We went through and bartered with the sellers and got some decent deals on dreamcatchers and jewelry.  We had to make sure we counted our change though because they were quick to short change us if we did any bartering.  Next 5 of us went to arguably the most beautiful place we've had the chance to visit: St. Stephen's Cathedral.

The cathedral was in the middle of the expensive shopping area.  Inside the church was a small wind band playing music at the alter which was very beautiful, and the echo following the music made this ethereal reverb.  We then took the 300 some stairs to the top of the bell tower.  The walk up sucked and was never ending, but the view that we got from above was well worth the exhaustion!

All of us are quick to find out how expensive everything here seems with the Euro compared to the Forint let alone the US Dollar.  I'm going to have to start going to fast food places more often here otherwise my bank account is going to be empty before we even make it to Prague!  Another realization:  Weiner Schnitzel is simply an over glorified tenderloin which was somewhat of a let down because I was expecting it to be something interesting and new.  Overall I'm also surprised that tension within the group hasn't gotten TOO out of hand.  Some of us have been getting a little bit of an attitude, but we all do a good job of keeping each other in line.  Not sure if that will hold true by the end of the trip though haha.  Enough typing for today, time for some pictures below!

Dylan Kay