Philip Chen - 2015 Program Participant

The Musikverein Concert Hall in Vienna, Austria

Wiener Mukverein, or Musikverein, a concert hall in Vienna and home to the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I realized how little I left my comfort zone the first two years of college, so before junior year, I decided to apply for a study abroad program to escape the bubble of my college as well as try something new.

Why did you choose IES Abroad’s program in Austria?

I needed to fulfill a double major of psychology and music, so every class I took needed to count. Luckily, IES Abroad Vienna provided the classes that I needed. My college was gracious enough to have all the classes I took go towards my major, so I followed through with IES Abroad and went to Vienna.

What was your favorite part about Vienna?

Everything! The efficient subway, the richness of culture, the relaxed environment, the beautiful streets, the phenomenal operas and orchestral concerts, the easiness of living, etc.

What part of you program made it unique?

It was the only abroad program that had a dedicated music program. The teachers were very qualified and the opportunities to perform or watch performances were endless.

In what ways did local staff support you throughout your program?

I was on the video blog project team so I always needed them to act, and they proved to be extremely helpful in my projects. They also were very informative on anything I asked them about, so overall, an incredible staff.

Inside the Vienna State Opera in Austria

The Vienna State Opera in the center of the city

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

Difficult, but doable. What makes Vienna so livable is the locals’ ability to speak both English and German, without transitional problems. If you fail in one, just use the other. Of course, they want you to try to speak German and they truly appreciate it, but I never felt like an Austrian misunderstood what I was trying to say.

What is one thing you regret not doing during your time in Vienna?

Seeing more operas and concerts! I regretted missing several great programs while in Vienna.

What surprised you most about Vienna?

The accessibility and affordability of its musical scene. Four dollar operas?! Four to seven dollar orchestral concerts?! NOWHERE in the world is there as many concerts and operas at such cheap prices. There's always something going on every night music-wise, so I found that niche of nightlife extremely enjoyable, even though people say there is no "nightlife" in Vienna.

What was a normal day like for you in Vienna?

On a normal school day: Wake up and brush up, make breakfast and lunch for myself, hop onto the U-Bahn, go to class, lunch break (or explore Vienna), go back to class, head straight to the Staatsoper to hop onto the standing room line, grab dinner before the opera, watch the opera, go back on the U-Bahn to go home, brush up, watch some YouTube, and go to sleep.

Many other days I had more free time, so I would explore more or plan vacations for the weekend. Then the weekend would usually consist of traveling to a different country.

St. Stephens Cathedral in Vienna, Austria

St. Stephen's Cathedral, or the Stephansdom, in Vienna, Austria

What did you enjoy doing on your free time? 

TRAVELING. Vienna is in the center of Europe, so traveling to any place in Europe is cheap and convenient. Therefore, I traveled as often as I could (10 countries besides Austria) before heading back to the states, because I would never have an opportunity like this ever again.

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

An apartment with six other guys. Not a terribly small apartment, but I liked how our rooms were set up. The early sleepers were on one side and the late nighters were on the other, so we never bothered each other. We also were a great group, so we'd always have fun chilling.

Do you have any packing tips for students headed to Vienna?

For the winter, pack for 45 to 50 degree weather. Depending on where you are, it's not as cold or snowy as you think. I was surprised how pleasant the weather was, so make sure you bring lighter forms of clothing for the spring (and especially summer).

As a side note, people always complain that there's no peanut butter. False, I had it every day abroad. Just go to Penny Markt.

What was the hardest part about studying abroad in Vienna?

The language barrier. At least for IES Abroad Vienna, we are required to take a German class, which is great because we REALLY need it. Even so, our German is not going to reach conversational level that quickly, but it is definitely worse for countries that don't speak German (or obviously, English).

A close second, since many of my friends struggled with this, is balancing when to travel and when to enjoy the city you are in. Vienna is very much more active during the weekends, so you miss out on events and overall culture by spending a weekend in another country.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before studying abroad in Austria?

How to cook. I am so grateful for technology because I would not know how to cook without the Facetime sessions I had with my family. Even though I saved a lot of money on groceries eating similar meals every day, I wish I had the skill to cook different kinds of dishes so I didn't have to eat similar meals every day. I know some people would ask, "Well, why didn't you try to make different meals?" I would respond with two reasons. First, I was trying to save money so I could use the extra money on weekend trips, and second, if it's not broken, don't fix it.

Ice skating rink in front of The Rathaus in Vienna, Austria

Ice skating in front of The Rathaus, which serves as the seat both of the mayor and city council of Vienna

If you could study abroad again, where would you go?

Australia! That was actually my initial destination, but Vienna offered the classes that I needed for my major so I chose it instead. Several friends of mine studied abroad there and had amazing times, so if I could do it again, I would choose Aussie Land.

What do you feel the biggest benefit of studying abroad is?

A change of perspective. The way you see the world, the way you see your life back at home, and the way you see yourself. The cliche holds true: "Everything gets put into perspective." You see so many different cultures that you appreciate the aspects of culture that are different, or even similar, to yours. You realize how small you are in this world (and that's not a bad thing). 

For me, I was able to see how much I stayed in my college bubble the past few years, why I needed to pop it, and why it is great that I did. Overall, countless college students regret not going abroad, so in order to experience what it means to live in a different city, culture, and language, see the world in a different light, or learn more about yourself and your context, do it! 

Now that you're home, how has studying abroad in Austria impacted your life?

Every class I took with IES Abroad was extremely informative and challenging enough where I still remember what I learned to this day.

From traveling, I gained a broader perspective of the world, a passion for exploration, and even filming, and more understanding of myself as a person. I definitely came out of this program more mature, independent, and appreciative of what I have and of cultures different from mine.

Overall, IES Abroad Vienna is an amazing program, in an amazing city, in the center of an amazing continent. As the philosophical Shia LeBeouf would say, "DO IT!"

Would you recommend IES Abroad to other students?

100 percent yes! At least in Vienna, I never felt like my hand was held, but the staff definitely gave me the resources and opportunities to immerse myself in the culture. The classes are great, but extremely manageable. I learned a lot, even with its lighter workload compared to my university.