Alumni Spotlight: Sam Cushman

Sam attends Ouachita Baptist University, a private liberal arts school in Southwest Arkansas, where he is studying mass communication, political science, and international studies. He is from Springdale, Arkansas and enjoys reading, hiking and adventuring.

Why did you pick this program?

Sam Cushman headshot

Six years ago, my sister Leanne did the same program. When we visited her for a week, I fell in love with Salzburg and knew then that I'd do whatever it took to come back. Salzburg is literally in the heart of Europe and its a prime location to travel all over.

What do you wish someone had told you before you went abroad?

The classes are split up into two blocks - one before and after the independent travel period that makes up Spring Break. Had I known this, I probably would have signed up for more classes.

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

When you're transplanted into a different culture, it takes a special type of person to avoid the shock. I was fortunate enough to experience culture shock when I was younger, so it wasn't a problem this time.

However, there were times when I longed for home and my friends back in America. There was so much I was experiencing and I wanted to share it with the people I loved. It was in these moments that I developed a true appreciation for my home and my culture. I had taken everything for granted before.

I'm from the American South. Despite our dark history and complicated past, all of us are proud of the culture that exists today. Southerners have their own way of doing things, of interacting with others, and supporting our communities (which are very much extensions of our family). Without that interaction that I was used to, I was very aware of how far from home I was. But I was thankful for those moments because I came to Europe to learn and I know that to truly understand the world and those in it, you need contrast, not adherence to a single idea.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?


It's always difficult. You hear all the time how going abroad opens your eyes like nothing before. I recall the Allegory of the Cave. How do you describe light to blind man? Or music to a deaf man? So I usually ask them several things. Do you want to grow? Do you want to be cultured? Do you want a higher form of understanding? If you take the step, challenge yourself, then you'll experience all of these things and more.

What was the hardest part about going abroad?

Coming back home. You leave a part of yourself behind and it's hard to fill that void. When you step on the plane to fly back, you're filled with so many complicated emotions. You want to go home, you want to see your friends and family and show them how much you've grown; but you're leaving behind another home of sorts, other friends and family that you won't see again for a very long time. I've reconciled these emotions with the fact that there's nothing truly stopping me from going back other than the excuses I might give myself. After living abroad, I now consider myself a global citizen: the world is my home not just America, and I can go anywhere.

What made this experience unique and special?

When you go to Europe, it's inevitable that you will be exposed to history. Salzburg College does a fantastic job at immersing you in the history and culture of the region. Their hands-on approach gives you a fantastic perspective. There's nothing like learning about Mozart in your music class and then walking down to the Salzburg Archives and actually handling some of his own works; or learning about the Hapsburg dynasty and then standing before the tomb of its last great monarch in Vienna. It's humbling and it inspires you to leave your own mark in the pages of history.

Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.


I love to hike and backpack. Where I live, there are no mountains - or rather nothing like the magnificent Alps. When it was warm enough, I packed up a little camping gear and took a train to an isolated village not far from Innsbruck. When I stepped off onto the platform, I saw that I was surrounded by high mountains. I picked one and started walking in that direction. I eventually found a path and followed it until I came upon a grove of really old trees and a picturesque view of the surrounding Alps. I strung up my hammock and laid there for hours, doing nothing but soaking in the gorgeous view. I stayed up there for the entire weekend and leaving that perfect spot was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?


At Salzburg College, you'll have a lot of time for travel and immersion. When you travel, there will always be that one street you didn't walk down, that one castle you never returned to, or that one park that you never explored. The longer you're there, the more you'll realize that there are things you'll never get around to seeing. If you want to come away from this experience feeling satisfied, make a small list of things that you absolutely want to see and find your way there. If by the end of your time abroad you've done all on your list, then you've had a successful trip and shouldn't regret anything. It's best to keep an open mind and a loose schedule because nothing will kill your wanderlust like stress.

What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions or future path?

I think after making this trip, I sealed my desire to work in international relations. The problems of the next century aren't going to be ones that respect borders and sovereign nations. I want to be a part of the effort to solve those problems and build this world into something that our children will be happy to inherit.