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3 Truths About Studying Abroad

by Chelsey Pounds
salzburg salzach study abroad

Last Updated on June 15, 2015 by

Almost through my second week of studying in Salzburg, I send greetings to you all for the first time from my student blog. This summer has allowed me to check off many things from my “bucket list,” and I have also learned the hard way what it truly means to study abroad (read: not go on vacation). The following three points are a compilation of my experience thus far and what I have enjoyed or learned to accept about my brief time studying in Austria for the month of June.

university of salzburg unipark salzburg austria study abroad

Above: My seemingly bland campus, “Unipark.” Walking to campus takes about twenty minutes each day.
Below: A panorama of the insane view from the top floor terrace at said “bland” Unipark…nicht schlecht (not bad!).

view university of salzburg unipark view salzburg austria study abroad

1.) You are the foreigner in your host country

This little consideration can make or break your time studying in a foreign country, whether it’s for three weeks or a whole academic year. The first week of living abroad I’d like to call the “honeymoon phase,” where everything is new, exciting, beautiful, and distracting. However, the longer you stay away from home, the more comforts you miss. These can be anything from having a simple conversation in your mother-tongue to enjoying beloved food or toiletries that only your home country has. The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone considering studying abroad for the first time is to learn some of your host country’s language. You must remember that you have to get around on your own in a new city, and people will not cater to your needs to make this a slow, easy transition for you. Culture shock is a real thing. I was surprised to find so few people in Salzburg and Vienna speak English, creating some barriers for finding help with directions, finding things in stores, or bus routes. With that said, people here are generally kind, adaptable, and understanding of the frustration on both ends of the language barrier. For my first weeks experiencing Europe (Germany, exactly), I had someone holding my hand in regards to public communication for buses or restaurants. Once I arrived in Salzburg, that band-aid was ripped off very quickly. However, my one single semester of German gave me a strong enough vocabulary to feel confident in asking for help, ordering at the deli, and giving someone the time. These are little victories living in a foreign country, and language skills help tame the culture shock/homesickness you inevitably feel being away from home (for me, it was about the 1.5 week mark).

salzburg salzach university of salzburg study abroad

Above: My view walking home along the Salzach River from Unipark every day. The steeple is the Evangelische Christuskirche, built in 1863.

Below: Linzergasse Strasse, the street on which my dorm is located, at 8am. Beautiful.

Linzergasse Strasse salzburg austria study abroad dorm housing

2.) It is called studying abroad, not vacation

Something I am sure everyone struggles with in a study abroad program is how to balance time between seeing all things possible in your host country, being in class, and studying. This is not an easy thing to balance, but you can do it if you learn to prioritize. As a German student, I have a heavy load of homework due the following day, and an even heavier amount for the weekend. The summer programs are short–but serious. I have learned more about economics, history, political structures, religious affairs, and folk culture in Austria (and Salzburg)  in a week and half than I have with some of my semester-long courses back home; that is a harsh truth, and also a big kudos to AIFS for the learned educators they have chosen for us. In that time, I have also learned 32 new verbs auf Deutsch with four different tenses (e.g. “I have”, “I had”, “I have had”, “I will have”) and polished up my grammar structure and knowledge of time and numbers.

This is where it’s unavoidable to have some disappointments. Given as much as I’ve learned, I also have not had the time to see all that Salzburg and the surrounding areas have to offer. I still have so many things I’d like to do (I have a written list of things to see), and fear that I will run out of time before I get to do them all. The reality is, I won’t scratch everything off my list. However, this is not a vacation, and school must always come first. I have felt the wrath of a night off from German homework, only to barely slide by the next morning having to complete it for class. You must be self motivating, as you are still getting to know your classmates and yearning to venture out. The best thing I can say is to do your homework as soon as possible, study hard, and enjoy the heck out of everything else. You will have time to see most things on your lists.

Der Wildermann statue salzburg austria study abroad stolpersteine stumbling stones austria holocaust study abroad

Above Left: Der Wildermann, a copper statue commissioned in the 17th century for protection of Salzburg.

Above Right: A group of seven stolpersteine, or “stumbling stones.” These commemorate victims of the Holocaust and can be found in front of their last known residence before deportation. Finding seven in one spot cast a very haunting feeling for me.

3.) You’re in the old world now–soak up the culture and history

One thing I cannot get enough of is knowing the history of where I stand. Even in the moment I write this, I am sitting in a dorm attached to St. Sebastian’s Church and cemetery, whose history dates back to the early 16th century under Archbishop Leonhard von Keutschach, and where Mozart and his family rest in the Friedhof–which I can see from my window. Walking to campus every day, I pass a building remaining from the city wall in the early 17th century. Ancient Roman ruins found in Salzburg have been transported to big city museums (such as the Theseus and Ariadne Labyrinth floor mosaic currently placed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna). I visited Hallein, which houses a museum and a reconstructed Celtic village, which dates back to 7000 BC. These are things obviously not available back in the States. Wherever you are standing in Europe, you have centuries of history under your feet–of civilizations, bloodshed, empires, revolutions, and breakthroughs. You are walking in some big footsteps– in those of Charlemagne, ancient Celtic and Germanic tribes, the Ottoman Empire, and many, many more. To take this knowledge for granted is to lose out on so much of your host country’s culture and history. Of course you have the opportunity for introductory city tours or museums, but I encourage you to dive into something that interests you about your temporary home and use the resources around you to gain as much knowledge about the subject as possible. You only have so long to learn about the place–and you’re right there. If you leave without learning what that beautiful church was in the city center, or how the rivers you walk by every day helped civilizations survive, trade, and grow, you will regret not having used the universities and libraries next door to learn about the culture and thus, miss out on a world of learning and understanding.

Kapuzinerberg view salzburg austria study abroad

Above: The view of Salzburg from my hike up the Kapuzinerberg on day two. A pretty good first impression.


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