Back to School

I had my first classes this week since graduating from UPS more than 4 years ago. It was certainly weird to be back in the classroom, taking notes and looking over a syllabus again, but I am really excited about the opportunity this time around. There’s nothing like having to go to work to make you excited for school!

I am enrolled at the Berlin School of Economics and Law in the Master of Science in Finance program. The program lasts three semesters with an optional internship for a fourth semester. The final semester contains one course: writing a thesis. The first semester, which I just started this week consists of four courses: Econometrics, Financial Economics, Corporate Finance, and Corporate Financial Theory. Each class has one four hour lecture session each week until late January of next year when we will have exams, which constitute 100% of the grade.

As you might expect from a Masters program, the Professors take a very “hands off” approach to teaching. They leave it up to us students to do most of the work, providing us with only their lectures, reading lists and information on exams. Very little hands-on teaching is involved, although all the professors made sure to provide their contact information and office hours and made a point of saying do not hesitate to approach them if you are unsure of the material. Two of the professors also scheduled social events for us to meet up and have a beer after class next week… now that’s an assignment I can handle!

I can already tell my favorite class will be Financial Economics. Much of our reading list for that class consists of articles that are very relevant to the current Euro crisis, which is ubiquitous over here on the news. The hardest class will be Econometrics; our professor has a PHD in theoretic physics so it’s safe to say that course will be fairly math intensive.

One thing that I like about this program is all my fellow students (there are 36 of us) take all the same classes together. That has made it fairly easy to get to know people. I am the only American in the program but it has been fun to get to know some of the other students from around the world.  So far, I have made friends from Italy, France, Lithuania, Russia, Bulgaria, China, Canada, Uzbekistan and of course Germany. Everyone is really nice and they seem to have similar thoughts and opinions as me about the professors and the program in general so that is very comforting. It is nice to feel like part of a group, especially when given a daunting task, which on its outset, this Master Program certainly seems to be.

What I will and won’t miss about Boston, Massachusetts

Adrian and I lived in Boston for a about two and a half years and now that we’ve moved on to Berlin, I thought I’d write down a couple things I will and won’t miss about our old city.

Will Miss:

  1. The local sports teams – For some reason it’s always comforting to be able to count on the Red Sox being on at every bar you walk into, that Patriots will always be on on Sundays and that the Bruins and Celtics are playing their home games just a mile or so down the road. Here in Germany I’m either stuck going to over crowed American bars or watching spotty online streams so this is definitely something I’ll miss.
  2. The Boston Common/Public Gardens – Sure it’s not central park, and sure its covered in trash and infested with rats, but the Common is such a great place to go for a walk and it’s so quintessentially Boston… it’s probably my favorite spot in the city.
  3. The Charles River – Memorial Drive is the best road in Boston to cruise down and the perfect way to scope out the Charles on a nice day. Just don’t go swimming in it.
  4. Singing Beach – Adrian and I had season passes to this beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea. It was about 45 minutes from the city but well worth the drive. Some of my favorite days were spent here. Adrian will surely miss Captain Dusty’s- the ice cream place down the road from the shore. She made sure we stopped there every time we went to the beach.
  5. The food – So many great restaurants in Boston, but my favorites for lunch were Dorado in Brookline and Mikes Deli in Brighton. For dinner Redbones in Somerville, Giacomos in the North End and Harry’s in Allston for their wings (not a big breakfast guy, sorry). Also Dunkin Donuts… in Germany they only have one size for coffee and it’s about 1/3 the size of a Dunks small.
  6. The weather – People in New England constantly complain about the weather but the changing season are one of my favorite things about the region. Whether it’s heading to the beach in the summer, opening the windows to let in the cool fall air or skiing in the winter, I love all the seasons in New England and for me it has the perfect climate
  7. The people – This is sort of a given, but being so close to my family in Maine and have some of my best friends living in Boston made it a great place to live… New England will always be my home for this reason.
Won’t Miss
  1. Public Transportation – Going from the Green Line to the U and S Bahn in Berlin is basically going from world’s worst to world’s best. I can’t say enough good things about German public transportation. Really the only bad thing is it’s a little expensive, but since unlimited travel is included in my tuition, that’s not a problem for me!
  2. Having a Car – Having a car obviously comes in handy (it’s probably the only reason I was able to find a job in Boston right away) but by the time I left, I was convinced owning a car in the city is more trouble than it’s worth. If you don’t believe me, trying digging your car out after a 2 foot snow storm at 5 in the morning so you can get to work on time.
  3. The rent – Rent is so overpriced in Boston that I have difficulty discussing it without getting angry. We are paying half as much right now in Berlin.
  4. Traffic – Mosquitos and traffic are the two things that are universally hated by human beings.
  5. Overcrowding – I heard once that there are 12 million people living inside the 495 loop. If you want to run in to half of them, take the Bourne bridge to the cape on a summer weekend. People are everywhere in Boston and they were always in my way.
  6. Pot Holes – I had six flat tires during the two plus years I lived in Boston. That’s right, six.

Why you should pay more to travel

Adrian and I pride ourselves on our bargain hunting. When she comes home from a shopping trip she is more excited to brag about how much she saved then about anything she bought. So when we had to purchase our plane tickets to Germany, we waited months, scouring the internet for good deals. We finally landed two tickets from Boston to Berlin for $500 each. Based on other prices, we probably saved about $100… not bad, eh?

Well that’s how I felt about it till the trip began. The first leg was from Boston to Heathrow Airport in London on a massive Virgin Atlantic plane. We checked in about 3 hours early (4:30 EST) and I paid an expected bag fee of $50… not a hugh problem but I asked the ticket agent if we could check into our next flight as well which was with another airline (British Midland). She informed me we could not. I knew right away I was going to have to pay a second bag fee, but decided not too get stressed out about it.

9 hours later, after a delay for a VIP at Logan (who the hell was so important they had to delay every single other flight leaving Boston?!), security lines, roaming Logan airport eating shitty food court pizza,  flying over the Atlantic watching Bridesmaids (terrible) and Thor (awesome) we arrived at Heathrow. We cleared the passport check and customs without incident and then trekked about 1.5 miles (no joke) to our connection at BMI. That was where the real terror began.

We told the clerk we had 3 bags to check and she informed us we would have to pay for the extra bag. I told her that we already paid $50 in Boston, but she didn’t seem to care. She wrote down the weight of the bag (23 kilograms) and told me to go to the cashier and pay for it. I handed the cashier the slip she gave me and he informed me it would be 12£ (~$18) per kilo. I’m going to school for finance; I know the price of things and there is no way an extra bag, however large, is worth $414. Adding an extra bag to the hold for an airline is essentially free. A marginal bag costs nothing.

At this point, Adrian and I were just starting our trip. I had not slept a wink on the plane. I was sweaty and uncomfortable. I just wanted to get to Berlin, relax and prepare for school. The airline was able to charge whatever they wanted at that point. We weren’t going to leave a bag behind so we had to suck it up and pay. I asked to speak to a supervisor to try and haggle the price down and she “cut me a break” and let us check the bag for $250.

Needless to say, I was and still am pretty upset about the whole escapade but there is a lesson in all of it: when you are traveling, especially if it’s a long distance, it is worth it to pay a premium for a direct flight. It’s a known quantity and it minimizes potential for problems along the way that can potentially cost far more that any initial price premium. Also, read up on bag fees… not just on the first airline you are taking because you never know.

And British Midland sucks.

P.S. British Midland also lost said bag and I went our first two days in Berlin without any of my clothes, so I may have started a few stereotypes about Americans smelling bad in our first couple days here. Sorry about that.