Before I throw 2020 in the trash – and let’s be honest, who isn’t – I wanted to reflect on one amazing experience I had last year. It involved my time abroad with Olin’s European Study Tour (EST)—a huge differentiator and welcome adventure for study abroad students.
WHAT IS EST…AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?
Studying abroad was a must-have for my college career. I knew that before even receiving my acceptance letter into WashU. In fact, my decision to attend Olin was made easier by Olin’s commitment to continue growing their undergraduate study abroad percentage (currently at 60%).
I also knew that I wanted to travel to a Spanish-speaking country due to my minor and Latin background. What I didn’t expect, however, was signing up to study in Madrid—a very different switch from my initial South American plan. Originally, I had thought that a European program was a little too “overdone.” Looking into it, though, I can understand what draws so many people to study abroad.
There was a lot to pull me into this switch: the ease of travel to nearby European countries, the prestige of Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (my overseas university), and the richness and beauty of Spanish culture. While all of these reasons played a huge part in my decision process, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that EST was at the forefront.
What is EST? Olin’s official website describes it as “a linchpin of the European internship/study abroad programs [that] serves as a comprehensive introduction to the European Union and European markets.” The program achieves this goal by providing students with an additional travel experience aside from their already-assigned country.
Students are placed into teams of two or more and then assigned an important business topic and an EU capital. Once abroad, each team is scheduled on a 4-day venture to their location. During this venture, they conduct on-site research via interviews with government officials and business experts. Part two of the program comes two weeks later. Here, each team meets back up in Brussels, Belgium to present their findings at the official European Commission Headquarters. To prepare for this entire journey, all EST participants must enroll in the Olin course MGT 450Z: European Study Tour to familiarize themselves with EU affairs and organize their research for their upcoming excursions.
That’s just a brief intro to the program. Please note that each student’s experience with EST is widely diverse. For example, my fellow Madrid companion, Wendy Bornhoeft, was researching migration in Athens. In contrast, Natalia Rodriguez, another friend, had her home program in Milan – but was assigned populism in Amsterdam.
Me? I was set to tackle the topic of single market with a focus on tax avoidance in Berlin, Germany. This EST assignment would take me from Spain, where I was completing my abroad program, to Berlin and later Belgium. Here’s a little taste of my own EST journey…
BUSINESS, BLIZZARDS, AND BAVARIAN PRETZELS IN BERLIN
For each team assignment, students are given an EU country where they have never visited. For me, that place was Germany, where I traveled with my partner, Chris. I was excited since I had no previous plans to travel there during my time in Europe, so it was going to be a completely new experience.
Chris and I learned right away that you can pack A LOT into just a weekend trip. On our first day, we literally jumped from venue-to-venue. We went from scaling the East Side Gallery at 11 before moving onto currywurst at Konnopke’s Imbiss at noon. From there, we explored the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, and the Holocaust Memorial. In other words, there was quite a bit of free time aside from our scheduled interviews. I was beyond grateful for how much time the curriculum allocated us to experiences these sights. For me, Berlin was a location that I hadn’t really considered venturing to, so I’m glad that EST made me get out of my comfort zone. I can definitely see myself going back just because I was personally enthralled by the architecture of the city.
The interviews themselves were one of the most memorable parts of the trip. Altogether, we had four professionals from very diverse backgrounds: a senior policy fellow from the European Council on Foreign Relations, a German Market consultant, a climate analyst, and a student researcher for the Center for European Integration. While I won’t bore you with the details of the interviews – because I’m sure you don’t want to read an essay on tax avoidance – I will say that I left each interview feeling much more aware about Germany, the EU, and business relations overall. This knowledge is something I thought I’d never acquire. For instance, one of my interviewers let us know that the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU via Brexit was actually not wholly a loss for the union. That’s because it actually created even more economic power for Germany and brought awareness to other neighboring countries to join.
All in all, my trip to Berlin was an incredible experience. Oh yeah, except for the time that I was sick for the entire weekend. Not to mention, the weather became increasingly cold each day and I found myself covered in five layers or more. To this day, a part of me believes I had COVID before it was considered the deadly-spreading virus it is today (I should probably get an antibody test soon). Still hoping that Chris will take a rain check on that pub crawl we had planned the last night.
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER IN BRUSSELS
As I mentioned earlier, everyone in EST then reconvenes to present their research at the European Commission in Brussels. This is another weekend stay with a good amount of free time. Your main work encompasses all of Friday and Saturday morning. On Friday, you will hear from multiple EU officials about current government affairs. For instance, Brexit was a huge topic of discussion due to its recent installation. You’ll also be cold-called on your country and EU dilemma topics, so be prepared!
The following day, you will spend a few hours prepping a presentation for your individual dilemma (e.g., single market) and specified topic (which was tax avoidance for me). I was placed in a team with five others to present our findings in our respective countries. Then, we prepared for an impromptu Q&A panel right after. While it was a pretty stressful time trying to organize all of our information in one morning, everything went pretty smoothly. In the end, I ended up applying my research topics to other EU countries like the Netherlands and Malta to make it more universal. All in all, the on-site work at the European Commission was unique to Olin and a scenario I thought I’d never see in my education, let alone in my life.
In terms of Belgium itself: it is an underappreciated country for travel in my opinion. I found myself always finding new, unique sites like the beautiful gardens of the Mont des Arts and the Delirium Café and being obsessed with the food (nothing hits harder than official Belgian waffles and chocolate). After finishing up our presentations on Saturday, a few friends and I spent the rest of our time exploring Brussels and ended the night stumbling upon an outdoor disco ball party not too far away from the Grand Place. It was the best way to celebrate all our hard work being done if you ask me.
BON VOYAGE, 2020
By far, the European Study Tour was one of the most fascinating rewarding programs I have ever participated in. Although composed of a large amount of research, seeing all your work come together at the end of EST is so satisfying. This is especially true when you’re further complimented by EU officials who acknowledge all the research that went into your final deliverable (I have never been so happy to have my knowledge on tax avoidance be appreciated).
Not only did EST give me an opportunity for more travel outside of my Spanish program, but it also gifted me with a heap of extremely useful talking points, ranging from Brexit to the Euro exchange. In a time when it seems like I never have anything to talk about anymore, I can always thank EST for a few dinner party conversation starters. I am excited to see how this program will evolve over the years, especially given the current situation today. To any Olin (or prospective) student out there weighing their abroad options, I couldn’t recommend it enough!
I am a senior in the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis majoring in Marketing and minoring in Spanish and the Business of Entertainment. I live about a half-hour away from the Lou in Collinsville, IL a.k.a. “the home to the world’s largest ketchup bottle”! I plan on pursuing a career in marketing research and strategy, specifically in entertainment where I hope to improve accurate representation in television. I like to spend my free time reading, riding bike trails, binging TV series, hiking, adventuring with friends, and enjoying the occasional margarita at my family’s Mexican restaurant. I’m always open to new books or TV recommendations!