whew, it’s been a long time since my last post! Time flies, et cetera.
The second half of the semester went a lot like the first one – quickly – just with a lot more work. The full-length courses (at least the ones I took) tend to have most of the assignments toward the end, so things escalated quickly after Spring Break.
The course Real Estate Fundamentals ended before Spring Break and was replaced in my curriculum by the more commercial-focused Commercial Real Estate Finance. Though they occupy the same space in the curriculum, they are completely separate courses taught by different professors. Steve Morris is, like Peter Allen who taught the previous course, also a very experienced real estate investor with a long history in the industry. The course was different in that the assignments consisted of several mini-cases where we applied concepts discussed during the lectures, a “case competition” where the group had to optimize a real estate investment portfolio with predetermined investment and financing options (the reward was either 10 extra points to the final exam or 100 dollars paid by *gasp* the professor from his own pocket!) and finally a open-excel final exam. I don’t know if this is a thing at Ross, but both these 1.5-credit courses had quite a heavy workload per credit. The course had good contents, but prof Morris’ presentation isn’t the most entertaining.
In addition to the new course, the deadlines on the Advanced Analytics programming course started rolling in. There are two large group projects, both after Spring Break. The weekly assignments themselves are work-intensive, but the group projects definitely made this the heaviest course I took! We analyzed data about New York City’s Citibike system (very similar to Helsinki’s Alepa bicycles) to find the most travelled routes, imbalances between departures and arrivals at the stations and trip lengths to optimize bicycle inventory management, transport and maintenance. Really difficult with my negligible programming background, but also very interesting! I’ve found a lot of new respect for the R language here.
Some more traveling
Though I said the second half was more intensive, I did manage to squeeze in a few weekends in different cities…
The week after Spring Break I took the legendary Greyhound bus to Chicago (five-hour trip, they’re better than their reputation) to meet some friends who flew over from Finland for the weekend. Based on an extended weekend, I think Chicago’s a lot like a smaller and nicer New York. I’d say it’s my favorite American city so far – sorry all the guys from NY! The architecture is beautiful, people seem to go about their business at a slightly slower Midwestern pace and it’s right on Lake Michigan – you can easily walk from downtown to the beach. Definitely worth (re-)visiting. It’s nice.
A week after that we rented a car with some friends and drove to Toronto, Canada. We stopped by Niagara Falls (goes without saying) to see one of the country’s most famous attractions. They really are magnificent, but I guess you can’t help being underwhelmed after all the hype they get. Worth visiting definitely, but don’t expect pure natural beauty; they’ve constructed quite an amusement park on the Canadian side with casinos, Madame Tussaud’s and what not.
Toronto itself was a nice city with an enjoyable nightlife, good restaurants and very friendly people. They say Canada is more culturally diverse than USA because people there tend to hang on to their native cultures more than immigrants to the USA, who are often more keen to become American. I think you could really see this in Toronto, where you have more clearly defined ethnic areas within the city and for example the restaurants in Little Italy were faithfully Italian, not American with an Italian twist as is often the case in USA. Apart from food, we saw a baseball game (Blue Jays vs Yankees, the home team won with a grand slam), Hockey Hall of Fame (naturally, being a Finnish-Czech travel party) the CN Tower (one of the seven Wonders of the Modern World) and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. All worth checking out.
After Canada it was time for the Final Grind. Even with all the assignments over the length of the courses there was a lot of material to go over before the final exams. All the libraries and study halls on campus were full pretty much from 9am to midnight, so you can tell Americans work more than Europeans already in University! Partying was almost completely on hiatus, which doesn’t really happen outside the finals week. I would say that the average difficulty level of my exams was slightly lower than in Aalto, though you have to remember exchange students only take electives that tend to be easier than core courses. Having a lot of assignments spread out over the length of the courses helped a lot, in the Advanced Analytics exam I literally copied most of the work from my assignment files and didn’t have to study at all for the Support with Excel exam.
After the finals it was time for one last trip before returning home. After taking care of all the housekeeping items (cancel mobile plan, empty US bank account, pay Umich bills… there’s a surprising amount of stuff associated with a four-month stay) we flew to Los Angeles for nine days of sunshine after the long Michigan winter.
Los Angeles was an interesting city, not least because it was more like a collection of different towns (well, it actually is) with distinct cultures from the upscale Beverly Hills to the rougher, weed-smelling Venice. It’s also hilariously car-dependent and it’s not at all feasible to visit the city without a car even as a tourist. We rented a convertible Mustang (of course) from a P2P rental service called Turo (like AirBnB for cars) for an unbelievably affordable price to get around. Gasoline seems to be much more expensive in California than in most other states, though obviously still much cheaper than in Europe. Like in New York, there’s something to see and do for everyone (I lost count of how many museums we visited) and the fact that Hollywood is the cradle of modern movie industry means there are a lot of landmarks recognizable from movies.
After LA we made a day trip to San Diego by the Mexican border, around 200km from LA. Often called the birthplace of California, it is a lot smaller city than LA and at the same time calmer and more approachable. We saw the USS Midway museum (San Diego has a longstanding association with the US Navy), Coronado island (a high-end beach resort), La Jolla populated by the upper class (and sea lions) and the Mexican old town, El Centro. The nightlife in Gaslight District seemed active, so I think we should have allocated more than one day for the visit.
The final stretch of our journey was the looooong drive through the Nevada desert to Las Vegas. Before hitting the town we detoured to the Hoover Dam, the largest concrete structure in America and a popular filming spot for movies. It was a cool sight to see and we took a partial tour of the inside of the dam as well (missed the full tour as it was sold out for the day). I’ve never been as hot as in there, temperatures were around 36c in the shade! The Nevada-Arizona border runs through the Colorado river, so we also took the opportunity to visit Arizona, just because. The dam is worth visiting if you’re in the area, but I wouldn’t go there just to see it – after all it’s just a dam. The dam does create one of the largest man-made lakes in the world though, so if we got there earlier there would have been good spots for swimming and other marine sports – we saw a lot of boats and jet skis.
So finally, Las Vegas. Almost everyone’s seen the movies and yes, it is just as over-the-top as you think! I think it is best described as a celebration of excess, be it money, food, alcohol or any other decadent stuff – if you can imagine it, it’s in there. In the end we didn’t have time to hit any casinos (nor would we have been interested in gambling), but we did walk past several free open-air concerts. The only bar we visited was in the famous Stratosphere tower, the one with amusement park attractions at the top. Other than that we just walked the Strip and looked at all the absurd casino buildings we’ve seen in movies (Fontana di Trevi to Tour Eiffel in 10 minutes? Done it.). I have to say Vegas was not at all my kind of place and my travel companion thought the same. The people visiting Vegas do seem to be mainly less-educated, worse-dressed and worse-behaved than average. Definitely the place to be for someone who loves gambling, though.
So, in the end we drove over 2000km in nine days and barely made the drive back to LA in time! Sitting down in the plane from LA to Detroit, I started realizing this was it. After landing in Detroit, all I had time to do was go back to Ann Arbor for my bags, hand over the house keys to a roommate, finally eat breakfast in Ann Arbor’s most famous restaurant/deli, Zingermann’s Delicatessen (good, slightly exotic Jewish food) and head back to the airport again. After four months, it was hard to comprehend that the time had come to fly back home. Never have four months passed so quickly in my life!
Now I’m finally getting over the jetlag, so it’s time to give my final thoughts on this whole experience. In the next and final post I’ll give you my review of the courses I took, the University of Michigan and the exchange experience in general; I’m hoping those of you planning to apply find it helpful.
Until next post,