After two trips abroad during high school, I knew I wanted to study abroad during college. I initially only considered traveling to Germany, because of my interest in their culture and language. On a whim I looked into Vienna, Austria. I knew absolutely nothing about the city of Vienna, except for the fact that a friend from high school was also considering studying there for a semester. I researched the courses offered and realized the program in Vienna had far more options that were viable for my major. I applied and was accepted. I was excited about my upcoming semester but not thrilled. I left the country with absolutely no expectations and did not really know what to expect in the slightest. My four months abroad turned into the most incredible and rewarding months of my life.
By entering the program with no prior knowledge of the customs, history or the like, I embraced learning as much as possible about everything. Austrian history, customs, the people, the architecture, the culture, and of course the language. I could not get enough of it. Everyday was a new opportunity to meet new people, see new things and practice my German. Our program motto was "squeeze the juice" meaning make the most of everything. I definitely took this mantra to heart and experienced so many things. Before my semester abroad, I always played it safe. I was not a risk taker. I didn't really like to step out of my comfort zone often. Being abroad changed that. Sometimes I didn't have any choice. Almost everyday I had to face my fears and speak German. Even though I've studied the language for years, actually speaking with Austrians was incredibly daunting, especially for me and my lack of self-confidence. Yet each day I persisted and continued to practice.
Through two other classes taught in German, my vocabulary and confidence grew. The classes themselves were neither easy nor extremely difficult, however the fact that three of mine were in a different language did make it more challenging. I love reflecting that I actually was able to take, understand (mostly) and participate in those classes taught in German. Since the group of us that took classes in German was rather small, we all quickly became friends. That group of people plus my four roommates was my family. Since I go to school across the country, it didn't bother me being away from my actual family. Yet being abroad was different. I think we all felt that way and became our own family unit. We supported one another and developed bonds much deeper than common friendship. We traveled to foreign countries together, tried new foods, attempted to navigate new places and faced our fears all together. One of the greatest things about Europe is how easy it is to travel. It was surreal to simply board a bus and take a day trip to Slovakia. Or travel by the night train from Krakow to Prague during a mid semester break. Europe is vastly different from the US and the time I spent there was unforgettable.
The Institute for International Education of Students (IES) was a pivotal aspect of my experience abroad. Their dedication to the students enabled us to fully embrace our new home while abroad. Everything about the program is so well thought out and it is absolutely evident how much they care for each and every student. From orientation in the Austrian Alps to intensive German class, everything served a vital purpose. After over a semester without taking German, and learning Italian in between, I for one greatly appreciated the three weeks of intensive German at the beginning of the program. It was an excellent way to refresh those of us who had already taken the language and served as a crash course for those who were just beginners. Through the many extracurricular activities planned by IES and the student forum, we also had the opportunity to really explore Vienna. A scavenger hunt throughout the city really tested our knowledge of the city and gave us a chance to demonstrate how much we had already learned. Even the courses are designed to teach you about Vienna and Austria. I would never have learned as much as I did if I had not enrolled in classes such as Österreich in Text und Film (Austria in Text and Film), Kulturgeschichte Österreichs (Cultural Heritage of Austria), or Comparative Eastern European Literature. My internship at a local elementary school further enriched my learnings of Viennese culture, because it allowed me to work directly with students and teachers. The differences between the American and Austrian education systems are striking. Not only did I gain valuable experience in a classroom, but also I was able to observe the educational hemisphere of another country. Lastly, the opportunity to take courses in German was one of my primary motivations to study abroad. I elected to take two additional classes in German, besides the required German language course. I loved waking up everyday and attending class taught in another language. The professors at IES are very patient and completely understand the fact that German is not our first language. Yet they still managed to challenge us. I do believe my abilities improved greatly while there. And one of the best parts was that I loved attending the classes, especially those taught in German.
The teachers, student assistants and program leaders were exceptional. Class sizes were small, especially those that I took taught in German. That enabled the teachers to develop a deeper one on one relationship with us, the students. For example, before a German test, my teacher noticed I was having trouble with the material. I sought extra help and she continued to work with me until I understood it. Even right before the test, she made sure I understood it all and was constantly willing to help. The teachers always made themselves available, whether in person or via email. The student assistants were also an important part of the program. Not only did they run the information desk on the ground floor of our school, but they were our go-to people when we had questions. Whether you needed school supplies, or the location of an inexpensive hairdresser, they had the answer. And if they didn't know right away, they would find out and get back to you. They were an additional aid for everyone to become acclimated with Vienna. The IES program administrators were fantastic. I never felt like I was making important decision on my own. They guided us through registration and class selection. They were a constant presence at school and IES events, and the program would not be nearly as successful without them.
Clearly, if you have read my review, you can see I literally can go on and on about my experience. Don't just take my word for it, but go out there and make your own memories! And where else could be a better place than Vienna?!