Looking back at London during a Darden GFE

One of the best pieces of advice that I could pass on to incoming Darden partners:

When your significant other/student goes on a “Study Abroad” type of experience through Darden, (Global Business Experience, Global Field Experience, a club-sponsored conference, an exchange program, etc.), consider taking the opportunity (if your schedule and finances align) to join him or her for a time – either before it starts, after it ends, and/or during part of the time the trip takes place if possible.

I joined my husband Michal during his GFE last semester, and I couldn’t have been more grateful.

At the end of spring semester of Michal’s first year at Darden, back in May, I couldn’t join Michal during his Israel GBE because it would have been too expensive for both of us to travel there, and his overall schedule did not allow much free time for us to be together anyway. It should be noted that the Israel GBE was an incredible opportunity for Michal, as it included a mix of cultural, business and classroom settings. Read more about Michal’s Israel GBE class here.

At the beginning of fall semester of Michal’s second year at Darden, back in August, Michal applied to more of these types of courses. One in particular stood out: a GFE in London and South Africa that was a consulting project for a Nigerian-based company. The trip occurred partially during Thanksgiving Break, and the company provided a travel stipend for Darden students in exchange for their work. With the ease of some of the financial burden of the trip and the timing during a period I would have been given holiday off of work any way, I couldn’t help but join Michal on his second global experience with Darden.

Michal and I decided to arrive a few days in the UK before he started working in London so that we could spend some time with mutual friends in Cambridge. We found an incredible Airbnb deal that included daily homemade breakfast with a friendly French expat family, and a location on the same block as some of the most popular pubs in town. (We frequented the Elm Tree, for its wide selection of rare Belgian beers.)

Michal and I enjoyed being able to walk everywhere: We toured all the well-known colleges of Cambridge – Trinity, St. John’s and King’s College. We punted down the River Cam so we could get a view of the Backs, and we even attended a choir concert at King’s College Chapel. Almost every moment felt like I was on the set of a Harry Potter movie.

Cambridge

After our jaunt in this quaint university town, we jumped into big city life in London with zest. We stayed at a little townhome-turned-hotel in the South Kensington neighborhood near Imperial College, where Michal would spend his time during office hours on his consulting project. While he worked all day, I visited nearby museums.

Our British friends, who we met back at Darden, recommended all the best restaurants and nightlife in London, along with provided some tips on how to maneuver through all the tourist traps. Of course, we ended up in the rain in front of Buckingham Palace and saw the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.

However, out of all the historic and famous places we visited in the city, my favorite memory with Michal in London was at the end of a long day of sightseeing. At night, we shared a bottle of wine in a dark cavern of London’s oldest wine bar, Gordon’s. Afterward, we walked nearby Embankment Bridge and took in the city and Christmas lights. (Side note: I absolutely adored London’s festive approach to Advent! We went to tons of Christmas markets/festivals, where I found the best Christmas jumper with Olaf from Frozen on it.)

London

Michal ended up going on to the South Africa leg of the trip without me, while I spent a little more time on London on my own before making my way back to the U.S., as it was cheaper to do a round ticket for me. Until that point, I had never explored a foreign city or traveled that much on my own. In total, I spent about a week in London, with the majority of the time by myself.

I’m so glad I took the chance of joining Michal on this experience because this adventure was like the Study Abroad that I ended up never doing while I was in undergrad.

(Summer) Separation Anxiety

Before Michal left for the summer last week, we spent our last weekend in Cville together enjoying everything we love about the area: gourmet food, local craft beer and the outdoors. I wanted some quality time because we were about to embark on one of the two hardest times during B-School for couples.

These times are:
1) Recruiting season during the first year (while balancing academics and social life)
2) Spending the summer apart (including classes abroad like the Global Business Experience, GBE, and internships in another state).

Side note: Check out this hilarious blog featuring gifs illustrating life as a partner of someone in B-school. This is not a Darden blog, but I did find it through an older Darden partner.

As soon as Michal’s spring semester ended, he began a class to prepare for his GBE in Israel. When he returns from traveling abroad, he will go directly to Detroit to begin working and will stay there pretty much until fall semester starts. In our eight years as a couple (three years married), we’ve never done long-distance. (I don’t count my student teaching year in Detroit while Michal was a senior at Michigan State in Lansing because that was only an hour and half apart.)  So you can imagine the trepidation I felt.

I tried to ignore the looming absence by making the best of the unexpected free time we had due to a rare weekend void of Darden-related activities by staying outdoors in the gorgeous weather and visiting places we’ve wanted to try: Charlottesville City Market, Know Good Beer Festival and Jones Run/Doyles River in Shenandoah National Park. Below are the highlights of each adventure:

Top row from left to right: Michal and I near the Starr Hill tent at the beer fest, tacos at the farmer’s market, popsicle stand nearby. Bottom row from left to right: Waterfalls in Shenandoah, Michal and Stephen admiring art at the McGuffey Art Center during the fest, Michal hiking

On Saturday morning, strolling through all the stalls and tents, we had to taste a little bit of everything at the farmer’s market from chorizo and steak tacos with freshly made tortillas to a Thai-style strawberry and coconut milk Popsicle. Everything we tried was yummy, but my all-time fav dish from our walking “brunch” was the hearty crab cake at only $8.

Later in the afternoon, we met up another friend at Darden who loves beer as much as we do, as he also brewed for the Three Notch’d competition that Michal participated in last month. We all agreed that this inaugural beer fest was one of the better we’ve attended as it focused on local brews – many that we had not tried or even heard of. Of the new ones I tried, I particularly enjoyed the smooth Wit at up and coming James River Brewing Company, the light 3 at the hip Flying Mouse Brewing Company and the refreshing Blonde Hunny at the slightly more established Wild Wolf Brewing Company. I prefer Belgian-style ales that are slightly sour, or session citrusy wheat beers that are perfect to sip and savor on a hot, sunny day. Bonus: Another unique aspect to this beer fest was the fact that it was at an art gallery.

The following day, we spent some time driving through scenic Skyline Drive and hiking through an incredible waterfall wonderland. The views, especially of the various falls throughout our hike, were breathtaking and reminded me our travels in Costa Rica and Thailand. It was a relaxing and peaceful hike, as we ran into other people sparingly. And on certain points in the mountains, we’d get respite from the heat with a cool breeze or dipping into ice water.

 

Part 2 of Family in Cville: What’s ‘Fun’ in Undergrad vs. Grad School

My cousin April and her husband Jake drove from Metro Detroit to Charlottesville the weekend after my in-laws visited. This family weekend had a different twist: April, Jake, Michal and I went through undergrad together at Michigan State University, so Michal and I were excited for them to experience another sort of college town.

The infamous Foxfield horse races could not have been better timed. We each anticipated this event as if we were preparing for Halloween by scouring for outfits we’d never normally wear, classified as “country club prep.” It was a total cultural experience for us to transform our usual, casual T-shirt and jeans combos to pastels and floppy hats.

All photos are courtesy of my cousin April (except for the group photo on the top left that a friend's husband took on my phone).  My husband Michal and April's husband Jake had actually bought the same shirt. Michal found a new pink one to match my searsucker dress.

All photos are courtesy of April (except for the group shot on the top left that a friend’s husband took on my iphone). Fun fact #1: My husband Michal and April’s husband Jake actually bought the same shirt in different stores. Michal later found a pink shirt to match my searsucker dress!

While we embraced the wardrobe change, we were a bit more wary of the actual event as we heard it would be similar to all-day tailgating. In the end, we were grateful to experience the races from the more civilized grad student area tents where Darden and the Law School were side by side in front of the tracks. The backdrop was breathtaking in the sun, the food was classic Southern BBQ, the bartenders made drinks to our liking, the music started with a live band, there were no lines to the bathrooms, and the tables had fresh, floral centerpieces.

Needless to say, the atmosphere was a lot different on the undergrad side.

Again: All photos are courtesy of April. Fun Fact: Michal worked with Three Notch'd this school year as a member of the Community Consultants of Darden.

All photos are courtesy of April. Fun Fact #2: Michal worked with Three Notch’d this year as a part of the Community Consultants of Darden. Jake enjoyed the beer there so much that he bought a growler!

Michal and I also spent some time showing Jake and April the differences between undergrad nightlife at the dive bars on The Corner vs. the local breweries in the more upscale Downtown Mall area. Although it was fun to be outside at the picnic tables at The Biltmore on a warm night, we decided relaxing in lounge settings with board games and higher quality craft brews at Three Notch’d, Champion and South Street was overall more enjoyable. We’ve each definitely grown more discerning with two home-brewers, Michal and Jake, at our side.

Ultimately, what we discovered is that we still like to have good time just like in the glory days … but now we just have higher standards.

All photos courtesy of April. We managed to include a hike to Elliott Knob and a walk around Grounds. Fun Fact #3: We purposefully picked out one of the highest peaks in Virginia to tackle with April and Jake because they're so adventurous!

All photos courtesy of April. We managed to include a hike to Elliott Knob and a walk around Grounds. Fun Fact #3: We purposefully picked out one of the highest peaks in Virginia to tackle with April and Jake because they’re so adventurous! At the top, Michal and Jake started a fire right before the rain hit.

Part 1 of Family in Cville: Blending past with present

When Michal's parents visited, we had a lot to celebrate: the Easter holiday, Section B's back-to-back Darden Cup win and Michal's first time in a brewing competition.

When Michal’s parents visited last month, we had a lot to celebrate: the Easter holiday, Section B’s Darden Cup back-to-back win and Michal’s first time to enter his home brew in a competition.

With Polish and Filipino heritage, my husband Michal and I have religious and cultural traditions associated with Easter. However, with limited vacation days for me and the onslaught of final exams for Michal, we decided to spend yet another holiday away from home.

Thankfully, my in-laws made the approximately nine-hour drive from Metro Detroit to Charlottesville with maintaining tradition as the major motivation.

In addition to celebrating Easter Sunday with a Polish brunch of kielbasas, stuffed/fried eggs and pastries, we celebrated Section B’s back-to-back Darden Cup championship with a crab feast.  My in-laws and I also supported Michal in the first home-brewing competition sponsored by Darden’s Wine and Cuisine Club. It was the perfect blend of old and new, family and friends, as my in-laws attempted to understand our daily life with Darden, with a reminder of where we come from.