What was the best place you visited outside of your study abroad city?
Laurel: I traveled to Bergen, Norway only a few days before Thanksgiving for a horn lesson from a teacher at the Grieg Academy. It was a whirlwind weekend in a soaked, misty port town. Norway was an expensive country to visit, but I utilized the Bergen card, which gave me discounts on local attractions and certain restaurants in the area. I explored the Bergen Aquarium, took the funicular up one of seven mountains surrounding Bergen, and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise, the only day of three without rain. In May there is a seven-mountain marathon when hikers cover all seven surrounding mountains as a spring celebration.
Describe your favorite must-have food that you tried abroad.
Laurel: Vienna is famous for its pastries and coffee, so it?s certainly a requirement to explore cafes around the city. My favorite dessert was Sacher Torte, a delicious delicacy native of Vienna. They serve the most authentic and delicious version at Sacher cafe, but you can find reasonably priced pastries off the tourist route. In order to properly enjoy it, you must order some coffee beverage, since Vienna prides itself on coffee quality. I personally enjoyed the Bruner, which is espresso and whipped cream (Shlagobers).
Tell us about any interesting cultural tidbits you noticed about your country.
Laurel: Austrians do not politely wait their turn when ordering food or beverage at a counter, so be brave and jump ahead of those little old Austrian ladies! When you buy standing room tickets at any music hall, bring a scarf to secure your railing spot. Once you drape the scarf over the railing, no one can steal your place. Also, you always receive a glass of water with your coffee, but water is never complimentary otherwise.
In Austria, they are orderly about even escalators, so there's a side to stand leisurely and a side to walk up the stairs. Most locals seem to go out somewhere in the evening, even those with young children. I saw a couple with a stroller and a slumbering child at ten o?clock in the evening.
Where was your best photo taken and what was it of?
Laurel: It was really hard to decide which picture was the best, since I took so many I loved! One of my favorites was when I rented a CityBike, one of the low cost transportation methods around town. You can sign up online for 1 Euro and then you have a way to bike around Vienna for free. There are many stations set up, so it's easy to return your bike anywhere around the town. I biked along the Danube and managed to snap a photo of the beautiful autumn sky and contrasting artistic graffiti along the banks. I nearly lost my camera while leaning over the railing, but it turned out to be a lovely shot!
What is one piece of advice you'd give future IES students?
Laurel: You can never say how your study abroad experience will change you, so take the leap and go for it! All your preconceived excuses for not studying abroad can be discredited.There are many financial aid options out there and many methods of taking credits for your major at your host school.
Don't be afraid of language barriers, because they only serve as challenges towards better understanding of your host language. I had only a semester of beginning level German prior to visiting Vienna, but I felt my language skills skyrocketed because of cultural immersion. Don't be afraid of making mistakes and always keep a sense of humor!