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.

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.

Holiday Highlights

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This collage represents my fav events in Charlottesville related to the season, such as holiday parties, cookie exchanges and volunteering.

Before returning to our families in our home state of Michigan, Michal and I did some celebrating in Cville. Plus, I was in the area a little longer than Michal because he was on Job Treks (trips to different U.S. cities that showcase specific companies B-school students could apply to), so I decided to keep busy until my vacation officially started. 

*Cookie cravings: I used to attend a close friend’s annual Cookie Day with her family back in high school in which we would bake or decorate cookies all day, so when some DPA members decided to hold a similar type of event, it felt like a blast from the past. I’ve never been much of a baker, so I went the safe route with Oreo balls and chocolate-covered pretzels for our cookie exchange.

*Dress to impress: I am always a sucker for holiday-theme parties, and this year was no exception. In one week, I had a work event at UVA President Sullivan’s Open House, a more casual get-together with Section B’s first (hoped to be annual) Ugly Sweater Potluck and Darden’s formal Holiday Ball benefiting the charity organization, Building Goodness in April. All these events had pretty distinct dress codes, which Real Simple magazine defined in an issue I received last month.

*’Tis the season for giving: While temp’ing for UVA’s HR, I served dinner with fellow co-workers at the local non-profit, WorkSource, which provides job training and employment to adults with developmental disabilities. I also helped make dinner with my church’s young adult group at PACEM, a shelter in downtown Charlottesville. Lastly, a friend in social work who I met through the DPA also directed me to www.volunteermatch.org to find other service projects and volunteer opportunities for beyond the holiday season.

If you’re a partner of a prospective Darden student and are wondering  what to do when your student is studying for exams and prepping for job interviews, you can at least look forward to some activities as described above!

Got other suggestions for the holidays, or want to ask questions about these events? Please comment below. 

First Friendsgiving

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These are a couple highlights of the various dishes and drinks Michal and I made over the week. I also included photos of a recipe and meal I got via FedEx courtesy of a friend back in the Detroit area. The bottom photos are of me and another friend who helped me set up our apartment in Cville for our get-together. I’m especially proud of the table setting ideas I found on Pinterest!

We couldn’t wait to go … nowhere.

Michal and I typically return to the Detroit area for Thanksgiving to celebrate with our families because we have always been close to them – both in proximity and relationship. When we were away in undergrad at Michigan State, our drive was only about an hour and a half. And, later, when we lived in the Chicago area, our drive lengthened to about four and a half hours, but still manageable after leaving work.

However, this year, being a five-hour plane ride away and having just been in Michigan for a wedding last month and with plans to visit for Christmas next month, the trip didn’t seem cost-effective. Not to mention, Michal was coming down with a cold and he had a lot of case interview prep and cover letters to do over break.

So, for the first time, we stayed right where we were and had a Friendsgiving.

It was a bit difficult anticipating Thanksgiving without our usual routine. We have always looked forward to the endless amount of Filipino, Polish and American dishes that we couldn’t emulate on our own based on traditions and expertise we have yet to learn. And we love reuniting with our high school and college buddies who are all usually scattered across the nation except on the holidays.

But as I ended my two-day workweek and Michal came home from class on Tuesday, we were relishing the ability to breathe a sigh of relief: We didn’t have to rush into the balmy weather, nor did we need to face the traffic resembling a parking lot out on Emmett Street. And we quickly discovered that we would not be as lonely (or as hungry) as we thought we would be.

In fact, we had around five different feasts within the week of Thanksgiving that brought our new friends together.

A Darden professor, native of the Philippines, invited us and other Filipino students and partners for a potluck dinner with homemade classics like the noodle dish pancit and chicken adobo. Michal’s SY-matched Learning Team hosted a brunch buffet for his group and partners. International students put out an open-invite on Facebook to hang out at the Pavilion apartment complex club house. Another FY couple with parents who live nearby organized a tailgate for the final home football game of the season. And, lastly, Michal and I invited friends from our church, my UVA co-workers and some Darden FY students and partners for appetizers and desserts at our apartment.

We discovered that we had absolutely nothing to worry about when it came to celebrating our First Friendsgiving. In the end, we were right where we needed to be – in our new home in Charlottesville.