Chau Vu - 2014 Program Participant

Retiro Park in Madrid, Spain

Retiro Park, during our field trip to Madrid.

What inspired you to study abroad?

Before studying abroad in Europe, I have already studied abroad! Born and raised in Vietnam, I came to America at the age of 17 to attend college. So why did I want to study abroad when I already am studying abroad in the US? The reason is simple: I know there are many places left unexplored, knowledge not yet acquired, and people not yet met. And I want to experience them all. Traveling gives me the opportunity to compare my culture and the host country’s, thereby reflecting on my roots, noticing elements of my culture that I have always taken for granted, and looking into myself. 

Why did you choose IES Abroad over other organizations?

Firstly, my sister and two other alumnus of my college had attended IES Abroad programs before and they all ardently recommended me to apply. Secondly, IES has many scholarship opportunities to offer. I received two scholarships from IES, which significantly eased the financial burden for me. Thirdly, I really loved the IES’ combination of lectures, seminars, and field trips. With IES, studying is not confined to classrooms. 

Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

Chau’s last night in Paris. She drank wine and ate cheese with grapes in front of the Eiffel Tower.

What was your housing in Germany like?

I lived in an apartment with two Germans, one Belgian, one Spanish, and one Austrian. All of them are students at the University of Freiburg. I believe living with them was the best way to for me to improve my German and immerse in German culture. Indeed, they were my free, 24/7 German tutors!

My room, which overlooked the Black Forrest, was really nice and well furnished. My apartment was only five minutes of walk away from the tram stop. It was also close to grocery stores, restaurants, and the picturesque Seepark. 

What was the most memorable experience you had while studying abroad?

It’s hard for me to choose because there were so many memorable experiences. However, the first thing that came to my mind was Oktoberfest in Munich. My friend and I sat next to a lovely old couple. The wife, who saw us struggling with the German menu, kindly told us that there was an English version. My German was close to zero, and their English was not really good, but we managed to communicate. I did not remember what we talked about, but we surely talked a lot and laughed a lot. 

How has studying abroad impacted your life overall?

After almost four years studying in the U.S., I had forgotten what it was like to come to a totally new place, get confused by ambiguities, and grow up from those experiences. Studying abroad gave me the opportunity to look into myself and realize how strong and independent I am. Because my program was focused on the EU, I learned a lot and became more aware of global affairs. I took a class about migration in the EU and discovered my passion for migration, especially that of the Jews and Muslims.

I believe studying abroad has made me become a confident, well-informed, and culturally competent individual. The experience will certainly prepare me for my future career.

View of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

At the Acropolis in Athens.

What important tips can you give to future participants of the IES Abroad EU program?

Be open to differences! As you move to a new place, you will find yourself comparing between your own culture and the host country’s. However, it is important to keep in mind that just because one culture is different from another doesn’t mean one is superior.

Learning can take place outside of the classrooms! Even if you go to English-taught class with students from other schools in the U.S. just as I did, make an effort to practice the language. For example, when I was in Germany, I tried to order in German despite my limited German. I also talked a lot with my roommates from Spain, Germany, and Belgium about their respective countries’ current situation. In fact, talking to them complemented what I have learned in class about the European Union and its challenges.