Alumni Spotlight: Erin McHenry

Erin McHenry studied abroad in Salzburg, Austria for the fall 2012 semester through AIFS. She is a senior at Drake University studying Journalism with a minor in Marketing. Erin grew up in Minnesota, but like all post-study abroad students, she would love to travel the world and live overseas after graduation. Erin enjoys reading Harry Potter, rollerblading, and using Leslie Knope compliments in everyday conversation.

What made this study abroad experience unique and special?

Erin McHenry body shot

Erin: I lived with a host family, and they really helped immerse me in the local culture. I enjoyed all the benefits other students had, but I also had a support system to guide me through the ins & outs of Salzburg. They treated me like family, and I grew to care about them as my own parents and siblings. The relationships I made shaped my experience, and it will be the same for you no matter where you go.

To do this day, a girl I met through AIFS remains one of my closest friends. Otherwise, a Salzburg-specific event that stands out to me is Rupertikirtag, which was a city festival. Picture a group of alpine yodelers clad in lederhosen, great local beers, and the most amazing pretzels you will ever eat. It was awesome.

What is one piece of advice you'd give future AIFS Austria students?

Erin: Explore! I think some students had this notion that they had to travel every weekend to other countries, which is fine, but Salzburg has lots to offer. It wasn’t really until the end of my stay that I realized how unique the Austrian culture is. For example, Salzburg is home to the world’s largest ice cave, a medieval fortress, a professional Redbull-sponsored soccer team, mountains with breathtaking views of the city, and (of course) everything from Sound of Music. I’d encourage you to check out the rest of Austria too – Vienna is beautiful and full of fascinating history, and there are all sorts of other hidden gems throughout the country.

Did you forget to pack something important while overseas?

Erin: There were some things I didn’t really think of that would have been nice to pack, but unless it is something vital, you can find any item you would need there. Be practical when packing. I decided to bring a pair of heels, but left my rain boots behind. I wore my heels just once (don’t underestimate the dangers of cobblestone streets) but I ended up buying a pair of rain boots and wore them several times a week. Bring outfits that you can mix & match, or that don’t need much maintenance. Everyone else is living out of a suitcase – it’s not weird to wear the same thing every week! If you do forget something, don’t sweat it. Someone will let you borrow his or her umbrella, or you learn that whatever it is, you can get by without it.

Where was your best photo taken and what was it of?

Erin: This photo was taken from the top of Festung Hohenwerfen, a medieval fortress located about 45 minutes outside Salzburg. To me, it encapsulates the essence of Austria. On the surface it looks like a quiet, underrated place hidden within the mountains. Ok, it actually is that. But it’s super fun! And clearly full of picturesque landscapes.

Festung Hohenwerfen Erin McHenry

Did you run into a language barrier while studying abroad in Austria?

Erin: I studied German in high school and took a few classes in college, so I came in with a solid foundation. I could ask for directions, order meals, say basic greetings, however, it was still a challenge. Luckily, the Austrians speak one, two, or as many as (in the case of my host sisters) six languages. Most people in their teens onwards are sufficient if not fluent in English. I would highly recommend trying to learn the language, but even so, there’s always a safety net to fall back on. Because I lived with a host family, I learned quickly, and by the time I left I was essentially fluent in German.