Why did you choose this program? I chose this program because I wanted to learn about an alternative German-speaking culture and dialect. I had been lucky enough to do a similar program, IUHPFL, in Germany, but his program caught my eye because I could sort of compare everything I'd learned about German language, culture, history, etc. in class to the "real world" experiences I would have in Austria. I was also drawn to this program because of the host family aspect, which is a great way to constantly learn about the language and culture in an informal way.
Describe your favorite class(es) abroad. My favorite class in Graz was the Austrian culture class. The course was divided up into several sections, so we learned about Austrian history, geography, politics, and culture. My favorite aspect of the culture class was actually towards the end - we learned about typical Austrian architecture, music, and art and then got to experience those first-hand during trips to Salzburg and Vienna.
What was the housing like on your study abroad program? The Graz program offers host families for each student. My host family was amazing - mother, father, two brothers and their fiances, and a sister. We also had a few pets. We lived on the north side of the city, so it was about a 20-minute bus/train ride to school. They were very friendly, really suited nicely to my personality and to what I wanted to get out of the program.
What advice would you like to give to future study abroad students? If people are still deciding whether or not to apply, I would just tell them to go for it. Studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it is 100% worth it - because of these experiences, I have grown personally, academically, professionally, and have gained real-world experience that has offered me new perspectives, which I think is one of the best things young people can do. If students are all set to study abroad, my advice would be to really invest themselves in the people and in the culture. It's often said that "what you get out of a program is what you put in," which I also think is true. Although study abroad can be difficult, immersing yourself in a place's culture and lifestyles will help you learn more, become more comfortable during your time there, and ultimately give you a better experience.
What’s your best memory from your time abroad? My favorite memory from my time abroad would be going to a musical in Vienna. As a group, we spent about a week in Vienna, but I had found out about a musical based on a book I had read the previous semester at IU, and the show starred some very prominent German-speaking actors/actresses. So when we had a bit of free time, I diverged from the group, bought tickets, found the theater using public transportation (and good old-fashioned, walking), and got to see an amazing show. It was awesome because of the performance, but also because I had immersed myself in the language to the point where I was comfortable navigating a huge, foreign city, ask for directions, and go through different things (that would seem mundane in a native language) in German with relative ease.
What was your biggest surprise about the location, culture or other aspects of your program? The biggest surprise about going to Graz was the local language. While Austrian German is indeed different from standard German, it was surprisingly not that difficult to pick up. I often find myself thinking or saying a word "in Austrian," which is just a cool reminder of how much you can pick up in just a summer if you're committed to the experience.
What was your greatest challenge? The greatest challenge for me was just keeping up my energy and excitement the entire time. Of course, studying abroad is amazing, but, especially in the first week or so, my brain was still adjusting to a different time zone as well as thinking in another language 24/7, which definitely takes some getting used to. So I would say just staying energized to compensate for being linguistically "on" all the time, and letting my family know I was excited - just mentally exhausted - was my biggest challenge.
What fact about your host country do you think people would be surprised to learn? I think the thing that would surprise most people about Austria is how different it is than, say, Germany. People tend to lump the German-speaking countries together, and often, in a negative light. Having been to both Germany and Austria for extended amounts of time, I can see very clear differences between just these two countries alone - not only linguistically, but also culturally and in terms of certain aspects of the lifestyle. From my experience, I see that Austrians are very cheery, hospitable, and accepting people, which is not always the perception we get from the media. Also, I think people would be surprised to know that yodeling is a real thing in Austria.