When I was in college, I didn’t take advantage of my school’s study abroad program which, in hindsight, I wish I would have. However, in Decemer of 2009, one semester before graduating, one of my advisors introduced me to a company called International Business Seminars that offer 2-3 week excursions overseas in Europe and more recently, China. The trips are targeted towards college and MBA students, and they feature visits to 1-2 reputable companies in each country on the itinerary along with loads of free time for independent exploring. I found it to be an experience well worth the money.
The IBS tour that I went on was my first time out of the country, and we visited London, Brussels, and Paris. I also got a taste of the Amsterdam airport on my way home. Typically, students go on these excursions for college credit and are required to write two papers, one for IBS and one for their school, reviewing their experiences and what they learned. I was in a unique position because I didn’t need any additional credit so I was able to simply enjoy the ride.
Some of the companies we visited included Lloyds of London, the National Bank of Belgium, Harley Davidson, and we also sat in on a lecture of the history of European Union all of which I found unexpectedly fascinating. My favorite visit, however, was Lloyds of London which is home to a huge library of different insurance companies and employees providing service to over 200 countries and territories. What I remember most about Lloyds is the ornate architectural detail of one of their meeting/could-be dining rooms that was decorated like it was from the 1800s, and the spectacular view overlooking London from their topmost floors.
Going into it, I didn’t know anyone, but I found it very easy to make friends. There were a myriad of personalities so there was never a dull moment, and the staff on the trip were exceptionally friendly and knowledgeable. They maintained a good balance of knowing when to provide instruction and cultivate harmony within the group and when to step back to let us take on the city we were in on our own. For the staff alone, I recommend using IBS for getting your feet wet over in Europe as their staff members have traveled all over the world themselves. They seem to know everything you could hope to learn about the places you visit on your trip, and they’ve got archives of great stories to tell around the dinner table.
The hotels we stayed at were extremely safe, clean, and in the center of everything. Also, I want to put it out there that there may not be comfier beds in the world than at the Crowne Plaza in Paris. I kid you not it was like sleeping on warm marshmallow clouds, and it’s difficult to want to wake up and explore Paris with a bed that comfortable. The Crowne Plaza is mighty pricey, but if you can swing it, I definitely recommend staying there for your honeymoon or any other special occasion.
In terms of getting around, all three cities have expansive transportation systems whether it’s the subway, trains, buses, etc. It was really easy to get around, and it helps that all signs use English in addition to the native language so you know where you’re going. From country to country, we took the underwater tunnel from London to mainland Europe into Belgium and a bus from Brussels to Paris.
As for the most valuable lesson learned, the Parisians taught me the importance of expressing appreciation by using simple manners such as saying please and thank you. That is something that has really stuck with me. The whole trip for me was very surreal. It was one of those situations where I’ve imagined visiting those cities for so long that when I finally got to see them in person it was hard to believe that it was real. I remember when we visited the Eiffel Tower, I had a moment where I thought it must be fake because something that beautiful couldn’t exist in real life. There were a lot of moments, architectural beauties, and scenery that were breathtaking and awe inspiring, and I know a lot of my RTW travels will feel that way. All in all, it is a trip I remember fondly and always will.
For more information on IBS, visit IBSTours.com.