Salzburg, Austria is a criminally underrated location for a study abroad semester. It has been my experience that few Americans know that much about Salzburg and Austria as a whole, which is disappointing because Austria is rightly nicknamed by some "the hidden gem of Europe." However, I would recommend Salzburg to anyone who is wondering where to go for their study abroad location.
Austria is in the smack-dab middle of Europe, which makes traveling to other countries very easy and very cheap (I traveled to nine other countries during the semester, not including the trips I took around Austria itself). Austria is also gorgeous and is a good option for any nature-lover, as the country features the greenest meadows you've ever seen, plus idyllic lakes, mountains, forests, and old Byzantine cathedrals dotting its countryside. Skiing was a very popular and accessible option for several of the students in my program. Salzburg itself is chock-full of activities that are easy to reach via public transportation or by foot; you could eat breakfast at Cafe Tomaselli, which was Mozart's favorite cafe in which to compose his music (I highly recommend their ham and cheese omelets), or bus to Untersberg and hike the mountain, or visit the fortress in the middle of town, or walk around the Mirabell Gardens which were featured in The Sound of Music, or sit on the banks of the Salzach River to sunbathe or read between classes; the list goes on and on. Other students and I often visited the cozy Shamrock Irish Pub for Tuesday night karaoke or the Augustiner Bräustübl when we wanted a little night-life. Additionally, Salzburg has a more small-town, pastoral atmosphere than other popular locations; you could spend the entire 3 months in Salzburg without ever seeing a skyscraper. The people are nice and no-nonsense, and while you will have ample opportunities to practice German, almost everyone speaks perfect English, so the difference in language was not intimidating or difficult to overcome.
The American Institute of Foreign Study (AIFS) not only made this semester possible, but also extremely comfortable; the Salzburg team at home in the States and on-site in Salzburg was incredibly supportive, kind, knowledgable, and involved without being at all smothering or controlling. Take advantage of the excursions included in the AIFS Salzburg package (which include weekend trips to Vienna, Munich, Prague, Innsbruck, and Hallstatt - all absolutely beautiful locations). Also, AIFS offers a flight package that includes a stop-over in London on the way over to Salzburg after departure from the United States, which was a wonderful way to meet the other students in the program, become acquainted to traveling, and explore a fabulous city that I have always wanted to visit. AIFS Salzburg offers both homestay and residence hall options for housing, so students do not have to limit themselves to one or the other in order to study abroad. I chose the residence hall option and was assigned to live in Institut St. Sebastian, which is a still-operating church in the middle of historic Salzburg with beautiful living facilities, a five-minute walk from all cultural sites and a ten-minute bus ride from school. The residence hall options give students the ability to live with both American and Austrian students, and I became very close with the other students in my program as a result. Two meals a day are also included in the program fee and are put on an easy-to-use meal card.
The classes offered through the program gave me an opportunity to learn about subjects I never would have delved into on my home campus (I took literature, music history, art history, history of fascism in Europe and beyond, and a sociology course about contemporary Austrian culture). We spent several days outside of the classroom, walking around the historic city center to explore churches, museums, and even Mozart's birthplace during class-time. In the art history course, we took field trips to a dairy factory, a rug-weaving shop, and a family-owned shop in town that made Dirndl and Lederhosen. The classes are taught in English for the most part, but there are a few opportunities to take courses taught in German, and homework was mostly presentation-based with a few exams and papers.
All in all, AIFS Salzburg provides students with a wonderful opportunity to travel in a highly supported, structured way. GO TO SALZBURG. You won't regret it.