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Student Profiles

Elizabeth at the Melk Monastery in the Wachau Valley of Austria

Overseas Study Program

Vienna,  Austria

You may never have the chance to live abroad again and you will open your mind in so many ways when you go abroad. ”

Elizabeth Magill 

Major: Operations Management & Germanic Studies 

Year/Term Abroad: Spring 2015

Why did you choose this program? I chose this program because it fit the best with the goals of my two majors, German and Operations Management.  I wanted to improve my German significantly and I needed my study abroad program to fit with the schedule of classes for my business major.  My sister taught English for a year in Austria several years ago and told me about the beauty of the country, which also made me want to go explore it!

Describe your favorite classes abroad. My favorite class abroad was my internship teaching English in an Austrian school.  I taught English for about 4 hours every week in an Austrian school during my internship.  I found it extremely challenging at times, but the teacher who guided me taught me several foundational concepts for language teaching which I utilize now for tutoring.  My students were also all refugees and immigrants, which connected me personally to the tumultuous political events happening globally with refugees.  In fact, I hope to do volunteer work in the future with these communities of people.

What was the housing like on your study abroad program? Most students in my program lived together in apartments throughout the city.  However, I chose to live in independent housing with Austrian students, because I wanted a more immersive language experience while in Vienna.  A professor in the German department helped me make a connection to a family in Austria and I rented an apartment from them with two other Austrian students.  The experience was great for practicing my German and getting to understand the culture, although it was definitely tough at first. 

What advice would you like to give to future study abroad students? It's important to think beforehand about your goals while studying abroad, such as completing an international internship, living with native students or a host family, or saving extra money to travel.  At the same time you need to expected the unexpected when you go abroad, because you never really know how life will turn out internationally. 

What’s your best memory from your time abroad?I was involved with a student group who took a day bike trip to a park outside of Vienna, which contained an old castle, pond, and woods which looked like they came from a fairytale.  The sunny weather was gorgeous and warm and we walked all around, then stopped by this pond for several hours to eat lunch and talk.  I loved sitting there and participating comfortably in the flow of the German conversation, on topics ranging from old clock towers to our favorite types of cheese!  It was so fun to see the advancement in my German and enjoy the Austrian acquaintances I had gotten to know.

What was your biggest surprise about the location or culture? I never expected to learn about Middle Eastern immigration patterns, while visiting a German-speaking country.  However, I met a number of people through my teaching internship, my living situation, and other acquaintances who emigrated from Middle Eastern countries.  In the past I had associated many Middle Eastern countries with war and unrest, since my brother is in the armed forces and was deployed in Afghanistan.  Now I see the people from places like Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran with new eyes.  I see them as real people with connections to their land and with family and memories there. 

Describe your experience with culture shock or reverse culture shock. It took about 3-4 weeks to fully adjust to Austrian culture and then about the same to adjust to the U.S. culture again.  Going to the grocery store or bank seemed embarrassing and confusing at first in Austria, but I figured it out after awhile.  I also had to learn to be more reserved in certain situations.  For example, Americans almost always hug people or put their arms around each others' backs in pictures, even when they don't know each other that well.  That's done less in Austria and you need to become aware of those boundaries.  After coming back to the States, I missed Austria a lot and found little German words and phrases popping into my head a lot.  I mostly felt a vague sense of disorientation and would do slightly odd things with no intention.  I also found it a little tough to communicate directly in English at first, but the physical and linguistic confusion begins to clear up after a few weeks.

What do you know now that you didn’t know before you went abroad? I know more about my interest in teaching and that I truly want to live long-term in a German-speaking country.  I understand myself better and the types of people who I want to build relationships with in the future.  I value time spent with people so much more!

If you participated in an internship while abroad, would you recommend that future students take an internship and why? Yes, I would absolutely recommend that future students take the opportunity to complete an English teaching internship in Vienna.  You will likely never have the chance again to contact Austrian teenagers so closely and actually work for a school.

What was your greatest challenge?Learning to travel on my own greatly challenged me, since I booked and planned my vacations for the first time by myself.  I eventually made a checklist for travel and this helped me save money and not forget important things like my passport!

Discuss: “Going abroad vs. staying on campus.” You may never have the chance to live abroad again and you will open your mind in so many ways when you go abroad.  Staying on campus may allow you to maintain continuity in your activities and life here, but studying abroad gives you the chance to clarify your life vision and goals and learn about a foreign culture.  You may never have the chance to learn and reflect so much in your life, or become more fluent in a language.  Go abroad!