When I was thinking about what I could say about spending a year in Vienna, I glanced back at what the other students on this website had written. I don’t know how long after their time abroad these were written, but some of them had not been back in the US long. Then it occurred to me: two years ago I was getting ready to celebrate Halloween at a friend’s dorm in Vienna. After two years, I remember it all like it was just earlier today.
And so can you. Studying in Vienna with AIEP is an amazing experience. While I would whole-heartedly recommend the full year option (with ski week!), semester students also come back raving about their experiences (see my good friend Matt Harring’s letter on this website) – just one semester (with ski week!!) is also an exciting option. In fact, semester students didn’t want to leave. And some didn’t. One good friend meant to stay only the fall semester, but ended up changing her plans so that she could spend the spring semester in Vienna too. She is now teaching English in a city near Vienna. Besides her, two others went back just this year (2005) to work in Austria. You will want to as well.
For those of you who have already made the decision to go with AIEP (and for those who haven’t yet), I have a few random pieces of advice. First, if you are only going spring semester, go on ski week. Second, whoever you are, go on ski week. Imagine an entire week of skiing in the beautiful Alps, covering many miles of gorgeous ski terrain, and coming back to a hotel at the top of a mountain for dinner, beer, and bragging about falling off cliffs. If you are not a skier (most students aren’t), there are very patient and competent ski instructors so that at the end, you can say you have skied the Alps, without falling off cliffs. Imagine a week with friends you have grown close to over a semester, or a week getting to know the students of the program before getting back to Vienna and everyone’s soon-to-be hectic schedules. Now stop imagining. Go.
Next, take advantage of all that the AIEP program offers, especially through the resident director. We were not just dumped into a different culture and expected to survive – Professor Murray is there every step of the way to make sure that you can thrive, if you take advantage of all the opportunities. The other students in the program can also give valuable support as you complain about the rudeness of the waiters (you’ll see), or the size of the coffee cups (don’t worry, you’ll learn to sip coffee, not gulp).
But, break away from the other Americans as well; explore life in Vienna. Organize a Stammtisch with Austrians (you can speak to Professor Murray about that option). If the others in the program don’t want to do something, do it yourself. Go to the opera, go to a party, find that ice cream shop Frau Thimig is raving about. Get obsessed with some aspect of Viennese culture, whether it be coffee (a good obsession), Jugenstil architecture, ice cream, or Milka chocolate (a bad obsession?). Whatever you do, don’t be shy – no matter how long you are there, you will not have enough time to be shy.
When I went, I knew I wanted to find a church and a Christian student association. If that it your thing, let me suggest finding the Österreichische Studentenmission (www.oesm.at) – and tell Ewald Ring that I say hi – or for good churches go to www.crossnet.at, and click on Kirchenverzeichnis. If that is not your thing, take sports classes – I took Caporeira with an American friend, and listened to a man with the greatest German accent there is: a Brazilian Austrian accent. Of course, there are a plethora of other things to do in Vienna. Your job is to find them.
For those who have made it this far, thank you for reading this. I had a feeling it would get a little long, which is why I wrote in English. If I were in your shoes, I never would have read something this long in German. The time will come when you will without thinking about it, while taking a class on medieval weaponry, or German linguistics, or Viennese architecture. Let me just end by saying that I envy you deeply. I can remember reading letters like these on the AIEP website, getting very excited for my year abroad. Which is why I am so excited for you as you are about to embark on the experience of a lifetime. I will give you one year to think that what I just wrote is cheesy; at the end of that time you be writing these exact same words.
Mit den freundlichsten Grüßen,