What did AIFS do for you and what did you need to do on your own?
Rebecca: AIFS in Austria was great for the initial abroad preparation – they arranged host families/dorms, flight information (if you chose to use their flights), sent the necessary forms for obtaining a visa, and assisted in making class schedules. They also arranged several cultural excursions for the whole group while we were in Austria, including tours of nearby castles/fortresses, ice cave and salt mine tours, Austrian pastry and sausage tastings, Christmas market tours, and weekend trips to Vienna, Innsbruck, Prague, and Munich.
Besides these scheduled events, day-to-day life was completely independent. Grocery shopping, classes, whatever I chose to do after classes, and meals were all done without AIFS’s help, so it was easy to feel immersed in the Austrian culture. Their office doors were always open and they were there whenever I needed them, but AIFS was generally not a part of my daily life.
Describe the best souvenir you came home with.
Rebecca: My most meaningful souvenir is my collection of beer steins and Christmas market mugs. I returned from Austria with 4 huge steins and 3 mugs in my bag, which definitely made it go over the airline weight limit, but it was worth every penny of the overweight charge. Each stein is from a different Austrian or German festival (including Oktoberfest in Munich and Rupertikirtag in Salzburg) or a place that was special to me (such as Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria).
Austria is famous for its spectacular Christmas markets, and the locals all gather to drink Glühwein, Punsch, or hot chocolate. You can keep the mugs, so I cleared some room in my luggage and brought them home too. Today, my steins and mugs sit proudly on a shelf in my living room. They are the perfect reminder of my time spent abroad, and as each one comes with a great story, they make for great opportunities to tell my visitors about my adventures.
Where your best photo taken and what was was it of?
Rebecca: The best picture I took while abroad in Austria was of me twirling in the meadow used for the opening scene of the movie “The Sound of Music”. In case you didn’t know, the real von Trapp family was from Salzburg and “The Sound of Music” was filmed in and around the city. One of the reasons why I decided to study in Salzburg was because “The Sound of Music” is one of my favorite movies, and when I arrived in Salzburg, I knew I had to find the meadow that Julie Andrews sang in.
After scourging the internet and talking to some locals, I was finally able to track down the location of the meadow, which was right across the border in Marktschellenberg, Germany. I hopped on a bus with my roommate (also a big von Trapp fan), climbed a mountain through the woods in our dirndls, and eventually found the meadow. It looked even more beautiful in real life than in the movie, and it was hands-down one of the best days of my life.
Do you feel you got a chance to see the city from a local's perspective?
Rebecca: For the most part, yes. I lived in an international student dorm right in the center of the Salzburg, which made it very easy to get to know other students and really feel immersed. I attended the local university, took classes in German, ate lunch at the neighborhood kebab or sausage stands, and interacted daily with locals. I learned to use public transportation, shop at the Spar grocery store down the street, and make friends with the local bartenders and bouncers. Salzburg is a relatively small city and it is very easy to see it from a local’s perspective, mainly because there aren’t thousands of Americans and other international students like there are in Vienna or other larger European cities.
Do you think your program changed you as a person?
Rebecca: Absolutely. Some of my best friends today are ones that I met while abroad with AIFS, and we became very much like a family. AIFS was the perfect balance of safety net and motivator to step outside of my comfort zone, and they were always there when I needed them but they never held me back. I came back to America a different person than I was before I left for Austria, not only because my language skills and city living skills had improved, but because I was forced to live outside of my comfort zone every day and grow a new one. I regret nothing about choosing to study in Salzburg through AIFS and highly recommend the program.