I had always wanted to study in another country, since middle school, because I was learning Spanish and found the culture fascinating. After visiting Spain once I graduated from high school, I was amazed by how different life was in another culture; it shocked yet fascinated me. I ended up going to Austria because I wanted to experience another culture that was completely unfamiliar to me.
Why did you choose IES Abroad?
Vienna was just the perfect choice for me as a music and English double major. The pull of experiencing a semester living in a city that has been the central hub of music for centuries just decided it for me. I had originally been on the fence to study Spanish in South America somewhere, but after giving it some thought, I figured Europe was a great continent to be in because of the ease of travel, EU benefits, and of course, the arts.
I wasn't worried about having absolutely no experience with German, because IES Abroad's program was specifically built for Americans with little/no experience, which was super helpful. This made it possible to go to Vienna without having to have years of language experience, which would have been a real limitation. I'm so glad I made the choice to immerse myself in a brand new language and culture.
What was your favorite part about Austria?
My favorite part was the culture! Little did I realize how much I had assimilated to Austrians' quiet, reserved nature. They are friendly when approached, but they don't go out of their way to speak to you. The U-Bahn was quiet, clean, and organized. There was never any pushing or shoving when waiting in line for something/someone. It was nice, especially suitable for me, an introvert with a passion for music.
Speaking of which, art was everywhere! I love the Austrian government for funding the Staatsoper and places like that, so people like me (you don't even have to be a student) can afford to go to the opera for 3 Euros (standing room). The Musik Verein where the Wiener Symphoniker performs is only 5 Euros for standing room. Opportunities like that are unbelievable to me. Accessibility to such professional, world-renowned groups is absolutely incredible. There was always variety, affordable prices, and a fantastic performance.
What made your experience abroad unique?
The fact that I went somewhere totally unexpected. No one figured I'd study in a country where I didn't know the language, but I'm so glad I did! I think I really made it unique because I am still learning German now and I want to go back.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The local staff were wonderful. They coordinated events so we could explore the city with other people and get to know other students in the same program better. They were always willing to talk to us, and they continued to have a consistent presence in the offices all semester. When I had a personal scheduling issue, I went in to talk to it with staff and they were awesome and got it all figured out. They are definitely cool people.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I would've:
Taken German a bit more seriously and used it more in everyday life.
Spread things out a bit more instead of cramming a bunch of stuff into a week (but there's always so much to do!).
Kept a better journal of just weekly things that happened. I did this more so at the end of my semester, but there was a whole month or so where I was just swept up in the busyness of everything that I forgot to write stuff down. Write it down! You will forget otherwise.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
Getting up early, around 7:00 a.m. Going to class and then walking around doing various things: grocery shopping, clothes shopping, visiting random places or gardens and cafes for study spots, walking around, or biking. Evenings I would go to a concert/opera, get dinner or a pastry, etc.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
Mostly finding new places. I remember walking around an area of Vienna and getting lost in my first couple weeks there. It felt scary, but exciting! I always strove to find a new place or see a new thing because being adventurous makes life more interesting! I really liked biking around, because I could get places faster and enjoy the nice weather. I liked sitting in gardens and doing work or people-watching, and cafes were really great too! Of course, because I'm addicted to music and art, going to museums, the opera, and symphonies was great.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
My housing was great! Very well located; in the earlier warmer months, I could walk to class and it only took 20 minutes. I liked that it was near to a lot of cool things - Naschmarkt, which was an open-air market, and Mariahilferstrasse, which was a bustling shopping street. Plus, it was near two different U-Bahn stops. I liked living in an area that had so much going on all the time, and it was super convenient.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
There is a three week German intensive that happens first, before any of your other classes start. I loved it, and it's a great way to really get you immersed in the language right away.
Also, another tip is that classes listed for this program aren't necessarily offered. I was really bummed because a journalism class I had my eye on wasn't even offered. Don't choose this program based on classes alone - really make it about your own desires. I must say, though, there seemed to be a strong teaching internship program here too, although I didn't end up doing it.
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
It has really changed me coming back; it has been hard. It is easier for some, because they feel like a fish out of water in another country, but I really really found my niche in Vienna. It has made me see how much America impacts other cultures and how I need to not take things for granted like I used to. It has changed the trajectory of my life, in that I want to return to Vienna. But, to do so, I will need to improve my German as well as finish my schooling here, which is a big project. There are a lot of opportunities out there and I'm not just limited to America, like I used to think. It has definitely made me feel more optimistic about options in my future and that's exciting!
Would you recommend IES Abroad to others? Why?
Yes, definitely, because it challenged me. It depends on how much you put in though. I put my all into the experience and got a lot out of it. I want to return, since I have friends I still keep in contact with. As a musician, it really opened my eyes to how much art is out in the world (America is not as great at making art accessible/affordable to all), so if music, dance, visual arts, etc. is important to you, then this is a great way to break into a German-speaking culture like Austria.
Again, the staff is welcoming and easy to work with; they provide a lot and make it a very comfortable, safe experience. And Vienna is just an amazing city that is too often overlooked, so I highly recommend NOT overlooking this hidden gem of a city.
Clara is from Akron, Ohio. She is a rising senior at Kenyon College in Gambler, Ohio, where she is majoring in English and music. Not surprisingly, Clara loves music and traveling, and she speaks Spanish and a bit of German. CShe hopes to apply to a Fulbright in the coming year, as just one way to return to Austria, but she also wants to work abroad in the future.