Hello, and welcome to the third course of my Global Scholar Info Log! In this section you will find posts and exercises completed after my semester abroad in Salzburg, Austria as a member of the AIFS Global Scholar Certificate Program.
Click here for more information about the Global Scholar Program.
My Top Re-Entry Challenges
- No One Wants to Hear
- You Can’t Explain
- Feeling Distant and Disconnected
My days and weekends are quiet now. My free time is no longer packed with detailed travel plans and exciting destinations. Every day is not an adventure; every day is just like every other day – empty. None of my friends are available to travel, they are all caught up in their busy routines as they were before I left. I miss having a group of friends around me willing and able to take off for a day or two –relatively cheaply- and visit new and exciting places. While I do have some friends expressing a want to do so, they share none of my urgency or enthusiasm. These days. the idea of getting together and just “hanging out” bores me to sleep.
In the meantime, I am a little surprised more of my friends and family are not calling me up and banging down my door to hear more stories about my time in Europe. Why are they not asking to see pictures? To watch videos? Maybe I would not be so bored “hanging out” if we spent more time talking about that four month long major life changing event in my life.
But what’s there to say?
When friends or family do ask to hear something, or how it was, or what happened, I find myself grasping for words, for stories, for examples, for answers. I can imagine my vacant stare while my mind whirls back in time over all the memories, the experiences, the moments, the places…. I get lost. I stumble over choices and fail to express myself convincingly or wholeheartedly to them. They will never know what it was. To me it was everything and to them it is nothing – It cannot be known through hearing but only felt though being.
Which is why every minute I have been home I feel so disconnected and distant from everybody. I am living in a surreal, dreamlike mood not grounded in either Austria or America, but disconnected from both physically, emotionally, and socially. It is as though my entirety has been divided between here and there: heart, soul, body, mind. I am everywhere and I am nowhere at once. My time abroad is distant and unreal while home is not yet reality. For now, I float between the two.
To overcome these dreadful re-entry challenges I must have patience; all matters resolve with time and tolerance. I knew my homecoming would be a challenge before going abroad so I am prepared for an onslaught of strange, uncomfortable transitions in the days and weeks immediately thereafter. The timing of my return during the onslaught of a cold winter causes a lot of preoccupation and hibernation among my friends and family. This will pass, and with the approach of Spring there will be new enthusiasm for interaction and adventure. By then, with a new semester, a new season, and a new routine, I will snap out of my post-abroad daze, landing once again in reality back home. With time, stories of my semester abroad will be told. There is no need to rush them or the emotions carried with them out all at once. In this way, I will truly never box my memories, but keep them on hand for relevance and reliving in the future.
Interpreting Another Student’s Experience
Jose studied abroad for nine months at a British university in a smaller city in the U.K. He grew accustomed to meeting faculty and friends in the university pub, eating chips out of newspaper, the sarcastic greetings of his friends and to watching soccer games with his British buddies. He had learned a lot about the history and traditions of the U.K. He experienced a more community-oriented way of looking at things, his British friends’ disparate views of the U.S. He was proud of what he learned.
After being back in the U.S. for about a month, he was restless and bored. He missed his friends back in the U.K. and thought that many of his U.S. friends were narrow-minded and provincial. He was also upset that no one really took the time to listen to his stories. He felt as though all he wanted was to go back to the U.K. again as soon as possible.
Judging by the negative opinion of his friends at home and his urgent desire to return to the U.K., Jose is in the Irritability and Hostility stage of reverse culture shock. I suggest he be patient with his friends and try jumping back into routines with them. This may remind him why they were his friends in the first place, and improve his attitude. The renewed comradery will also lessen the desire to flee back to his friends in the U.K. With time, he will have opportunities to share his stories, and his friends will want to listen –in moderation!
Reflect on How You Changed
Re-Entry Reflection Statements
- I know that I have changed as a result of my experience because… I now have more interest in news and current events happening in Europe, whereas before I mainly followed American topics.
- My friends seem to understand my excitement, but they don’t understand… what is so great about Europe in the first place.
- My re-entry experience would be better if…. the weather was warmer. It would be nice to travel or hike or walk around town and be active again.
- Now that I’m home, I worry most about…. Finding and financing a way to return to Europe again, perhaps to study, perhaps to work.
- The one thing I know I have learned about myself is… I have a strong determination to reach my dreams, and the confidence to live them once I get there.
- I wish I could explain to my family and friends that… I do not love Europe because I hate America. I love Europe for the history and culture, and by going there I hope to open the pathway to sharing this culture with all my family and friends. My experience does not only have to benefit me. Living abroad does not bring me farther away if it also brings you closer to Europe.
Strategy Suggestions for Re-entry Adjustment
Both Ramona and Helen advise that with time my reverse culture shock will pass, and I will get over any uncomfortable feelings I might be having. They each have their own experiences with intercultural transitions, Helen studied abroad in England many years ago while Ramona worked as an Au-pair in Ireland last year.
Ramona encourages me to start planning my next adventure, project, or move so I once again have something to look forward to in the future. This is what she did after her return from Ireland. As soon as she was settled back home she was looking at her vacation schedule on the calendar mapping out return dates visit her host family and friends. She insists getting caught up in your last adventure can keep you from starting your new one, so don’t live in the past, live in the future.
Helen missed having so many museums and historical places to visit once she returned from Europe, but by doing some research, she found interesting and historical places to visit within driving distance to her home. She suggests I do the same, and rediscover the country I am from like I discovered Austria.
My Party Plan
Since it is winter and cold outside, my event will be a warm and cozy dinner party for my close friends and family whom I wish to share more details of my Austrian experience with. In the interest of being festive, I have decided to wear my authentic Dirndl, a traditional Austrian dress, during the party, hoping it will illicit even more excitement and curiosity from my friends. While abroad, I attended cooking classes and learned to make several authentic Austrian and Hungarian dishes, which I will serve at my dinner. I have also brought home a sampling of wines and schnapps significant to the areas I visited which I can share with them while we eat.
For entertainment, I will have created a photo slideshow to play silently on my big screen television. This way my guests can see images of my trip while enjoying a meal and casual conversation. The seamless streaming will deter any boredom with waiting, and the steady automated flow will prevent any delays and allow people to disengage if they must for whatever reason without interrupting anyone.
After dinner I will offer my guests a selection of candies I brought home from overseas as a dessert, and suggest we retire to more comfortable seating where we can watch the short snippets of video I recorded on my adventures abroad. By then it is my hope everyone will be full from the dinner and relaxed from the wine!
The Self-Reflection Self-Evaluation
- The five things that have bothered me most about being home are:
- The cold weather.
- The loss of beautiful scenery.
- The absence of friends excited to travel.
- Inability to find the foods enjoyed in Europe.
- The lack of physical activity and pedestrian friendly towns.
- The five things I have enjoyed most about being home have been:
- My cats.
- Celebrating the holidays with friends and family.
- Having a comfortable bed and couch to sit on.
- Stores are open 24 hours.
- Watching television… in English!
- The five international things (people, places, situations, etc.) I miss the least since I have returned home are:
- Needing my passport everywhere I go.
- Planning my entire life around a bus schedule.
- The overly-hot and overheated buildings.
- Everything being closed on Sundays.
- Carrying home my groceries almost daily.
Applying the Skills and Knowledge I Learned Abroad
Studying abroad in a foreign country where I was not fluent in the language improved my confidence in new, uncomfortable situations, and also exercised me in the art of communication, whether it be in spoken, written, or body language. I have a new found respect for and experience with patience in difficult or confusing discourse while reading others for clues to their meanings.
I have also shed my Americentric views. I can no longer look at the world one-sidedly since I have now sat on the outside looking in. The gained perspective may not been easy to accept sometimes, but even knowing it is there changes my outlook forever. I cannot forget the attitudes of some Europeans I talked to, opinions from how unhealthy we are to how much war we make in the world. I had no choice but be open-minded and genuinely welcome discourse and criticism for the opportunity to explain or clarify any misconceptions. The experience is invaluable. First for making me more worldly, and second for strengthening my tolerance for negativity while expanding my skills in discourse and debate.
Think About Going Abroad Again
Returning Abroad Questions
- What do I want to do while abroad this time? What do I hope to gain from the experience?
The next time I travel abroad I would like to work or intern completing a graduate studies with a focus culture and communications. From the experience I will gain a Masters’ Degree as well as valuable future skills in the field of international education. I will also have the opportunity to further my time overseas discovering lifestyles outside of my own, expanding my ever growing world perspective.
- How long do I want to be abroad?
I would like this trip to be longer, perhaps a year or two, so I have more time to get acclimated and into a routine without feeling rushed and unsettled.
- Where do I wish to be?
This time I would choose Germany to study. While in Austria I admired their organization, infrastructure and transportation systems. There is also a wide variety of excellent Graduate programs to choose from in locations all over the country.
- How will I finance this plan?
Financing can be determined only after I choose the University I wish to attend. I do not yet know if I will travel abroad as a student of an American university or register directly with a University in Germany. Either way, securing financial aid, grants, and scholarships will be essential. Opportunities for work-study must also be explored.
- Would I like to utilize any language skills? Am I proficient enough to work in that language?
I would like to continue my German language studies. I am still far from fluency, but wish to improve this while abroad.
- If I’m not studying, do I wish to be paid while abroad or receive a living stipend? If paid, how much? Enough to get by or enough to save money for graduate school?
If I am offered a position overseas, I would prefer to make enough in salary to live comfortably, travel on weekends, and attend graduate school.
- Will I need a special visa or any other kind of documentation?
I will definitely need an active and valid passport and student or work visa, depending on my specific situation. My cats, in order to travel overseas, would also need proper documentation and approval to enter Germany.
- What kind of housing is available?
Since I would like to bring my cats for a longer stay overseas, I would have to find a student apartment to rent for the duration of my stay that allows pets. This may limit my options, but Germany is pet-friendly, and therefore it should not be impossible.
- Are there any fellowships or other financial aid available?
There are probably fellowships and financial aid available, depending on the program and university chosen.
- Where do I find information on opportunities abroad?
Information is available online and at my current university’s Office of International Education.
- What resources are available on my home campus for information on opportunities abroad for graduated students?
There are staff members available to meet and discuss future opportunities at my university and abroad at the Office of International Education. If I am not yet ready to meet with an advisor, there website provides information, and their office offers paperwork and literature on different Graduate study options.
- What contacts have I made abroad that might be helpful?
In Austria, I have made a friend of my German roommate, Ramona. She can act as a personal reference for me in future housing applications or even assist me in translations and searches. Additionally, I received excellent reviews from my Austrian professors, whom I could ask for an academic reference from when applying to German university.
- How will this opportunity abroad fit into my long-term goals?
From the beginning I expressed interest working in education abroad. Earning a Graduate Degree overseas will provide me with the knowledge and possibly the work experience in this. Mastering in English and communications will also qualify me to work outside of the classroom, broadening my field even further.
Work, Volunteer, or Intern Abroad
How I May Go Abroad Again
The next time I go abroad I am primarily interested in continuing my education, although if possible I would like to work or intern while I am earning my Master’s Degree. My time in Austria was only the beginning of my lifelong venture in international education. After spending a semester abroad and learning firsthand the differences in approach to teaching, I am eager to further my own experience in the European classroom, ideally as both student and educator.
For years I have been considering a career in education, whether as an advocate for improvement or as an English teacher. Earning my Graduate Degree abroad will qualify me for positions in each area. The American educational system is riddled with problems, and I feel certain European approaches towards schooling would be beneficial in the states, particularly their emphasis on foreign languages. Teaching in the classroom would give me the opportunity to speak from experience in regards to understanding the European approach and implementing it into American schools.
There are two different program tracks I can choose from to reach my next overseas goal. My target country is Germany since I have already begun learning the language and it is closely related to Austria, where I have already studied. Using the links provided on the Global Scholar website, I discovered one organization which offers an overseas English education certification program available in several German cities. Through the TEFL Academy, I could spend up to one year overseas in a combined learning/teaching program which will certify me to teach English anywhere in the world. This option requires more looking into because it does not offer a Graduate degree, but remains an option because I could begin online classes immediately.
Another track consists of Enrolling in an American University and spending another semester or year abroad through a program affiliated with the school. I will need to closely review the graduate programs in my area to see which would be the best fit for me, although I will likely decide to focus on Communications or English. When choosing the university or program, I will have to be sure there is a study abroad option Germany to suit my course needs. The main drawback of this approach is time, since it will be another year or so before I actually go abroad again.
Over the next few weeks and into my final semester as an undergraduate I will have to put in further research and make final decisions. After graduation this spring I would like to transition immediately into whichever track I have chosen.
Graduate Programs Abroad
Graduate School Research
After doing some preliminary research, I have narrowed down a few potential paths to earning my Graduate degree, either at home or abroad. Since deciding on and applying to programs is a major and time consuming decision, I realize it will be at least a year after finishing my undergraduate degree before I can begin the next leg of my academic adventures. Nevertheless, here are a few programs I am now considering.
At the University of Regensburg, a graduate degree program is offered in English with a focus on American and European studies while also offering classes in German if I am interested (which I am). Regensburg is in the heart of Bavaria, close to where I previously studied in Salzburg and admit to favoring the location since I am already familiar with it. Courses offered explore many subjects close to my passion and current studies, including European-American relations, communications, literature, and culture. The four semester program includes internship requirement as well as additional study abroad opportunities. Tuition is free, and it is suggested I have approximately $1000 a month to live on (which I would need to save or earn through grants and scholarships before departure).
In Berlin, the Freie University offers a Master’s Program in English Literature, Language, and Culture Studies in the world outside of North America. The program would allow me to literally step away from American society and culture to focus on the language is it is used outside of this continent while in a German speaking country. It feels an outstanding opportunity to change my perspective and apply this newfound outlook into my future as an academic and advocate for improvement and change. Tuition is also free and the option to take German language classes is available. While studying in Austria last semester, I did spend one weekend in Berlin and absolutely loved the city. It has seen so much, underwent so much change, and yet survives and thrives. It is colorful; it is beautiful. I would enjoy more time there and exploring more of Northern Germany and Europe during my visit.
Closer to home, the University of Rhode Island, my current institution, offers a Graduate program in English. Although there is no specific mention of study abroad programs, I may be allowed to study one semester abroad so long as the host university offers the courses necessary and counting towards my degree. This limits options abroad, and nearly eliminates hosts in German speaking countries. However, as English language and literature is the focus, there are options in the United Kingdom which may suit my program’s needs at URI. Further research is necessary, but this experience would certainly widen my European perspective of both literature and writing. Thus far, this is the most costly –and simultaneously less adventurous- option, with URI charging $16000 a year and the semester abroad costing $18000, the whole degree would cost $50000, and this does not include monthly living expenses.
Perhaps the extra year I have after my upcoming 2016 graduation will come in handy. The options above give me a lot to consider, and I do not want to rush through the decisions. Additionally, the extra time allows me to research and apply for all possible loan, grant, and scholarship opportunities. This process will be ongoing for the foreseeable future.
Funding for Graduate Programs Abroad
Cover Letter Requesting Graduate Funding Information
January 13, 2016
Dear Kathleen Maher:
Hello, my name is J.Dodge and I am currently a senior undergraduate at the University of Rhode Island with a double major in Writing and English. In May of 2016 I will graduate with my Bachelor’s Degree and immediately seek Graduate School opportunities. Since my studies focus on American and European language, literature, and culture I am researching possible funding opportunities for Graduate Studies abroad. My interest in pursuing a Fulbright Academic Grant has led me to you, as you are the University of Rhode Island’s Fulbright Program Adviser.
Although some information is available online about the Fulbright Grant, I am interested in learning more about the organization and the application process. Planning for education abroad is both exciting and challenging, and I prefer preparedness when applying for programs and funding so I have whatever advantages and insights are available. If possible, I would like to schedule an appointment to discuss Fulbright opportunities for Graduate students in Europe.
I look forward to hearing from you, and thank you for your time and consideration.
Skills and Qualities Gained While Abroad
My semester abroad brought me out of my comfort zones and exposed me to a world unlike any I have previously known. Established routines, traditional methods, and familiar undertakings became memories when I began my life in Salzburg, Austria during the fall of 2015. Every day was an adventure as I adapted into a new culture in a relatively short amount of time. My three and a half months overseas taught me many lessons, gained me much experience, and showed me more challenges than I typically encounter in America, and for this I am forever grateful and advantaged.
The entire experience, from its conception as an idea through the completion of the plan required initiative and the willingness to take risks. Studying abroad is a choice not all can handle, but I was determined to reach my goals and expand beyond my nation’s borders without friends or family by my side. While I already live independently in the States, assimilating into a new country without input or assistance held its own advanced challenges, as no one was nearby to call on if I needed support. In the beginning, my living situation in Austria was ambiguous, I did not know where or what my home would be when arriving, nor did I truly know what to expect from the city of Salzburg. Through this I functioned with a high level of self-confidence and belief I could handle any situation presented to me.
At times, communication in Austria was challenging: not all locals have excellent English language skills and I am still a novice in German. To navigate through tricky discourse I relied on my observation skills, noting body language, mood shifts, and pitch when talking to someone I was having trouble understanding. Subtle and not so subtle clues are always present as long as we are there to notice them. I would use these hints to determine the progress and direction of our dialogue, and interpret messages I may not otherwise understand. While having a pocket-translator on hand is helpful, it is not always feasible. Before each new endeavor, I would research the subject as much as possible so I might better predict the upcoming needs of the situation. Preparedness is essential, and I am thorough as a result of my time abroad.
The opportunity to travel is one of the greatest benefits of studying in Europe. On weekends students were always interested in exploring the continent, but sometimes it was easier said than done. In America, day trips are done by car since public transportation is limited, but in Austria it is essential. While many of my peers shied away from maps and schedules I tackled the responsibility of organizing our groups and planning our travel to international and domestic destinations. With energy and assertiveness I managed our itineraries, researched our stops, booked our tickets, and notified all of their responsibilities and costs. I enjoyed this even with the transportation and border complications caused by the refugee crisis and the closing of the Schengen Zone. Asserting the responsibility was a challenge and I was confident and comfortable knowing I had us prepared and ready for our weekend adventures.
Moving forward, the skills and qualities I gained abroad will mature with me, and I am eager to utilize them in future interactions. Such characteristics are invaluable in all academic, professional, and social scenarios, and I am fortunate to have had such a unique, exciting, and inspiring experience to develop them.
Learn to Articulate Your Experience
Questions to Stimulate Learning Through Experience
- Share an example of how you had to set priorities to achieve a desired outcome in your study abroad experience.
To finance my semester abroad I had to apply for several grants and scholarships, which required a tremendous amount of personal time and dedication since each organization has its own application process and deadlines. To complete each one I needed to prioritize the writing of essays and proposals in conjunction with regular schoolwork so I did not fall behind in either my preparations or studies. It was a balancing act, but by remaining highly organized, I persevered and submitted all applications in order and on time.
- How did your study abroad experience enhance your knowledge, skills, and understanding of your intended career field? What assets might international experiences yield as opposed to someone who studied domestically?
As a student of English literature and writing, I am very interested in communications and language on an intercultural level. My focus is on American-European relationships and studying abroad gave me first hand understanding of the European lifestyle, ideology, languages, policies, and infrastructure that I simply could not have learned or discovered in an American classroom. I now have a basis and perspective on which to interpret European communications and literature, which I can share with my peers in the States, perhaps offering something new to the discussion. I am no longer limited to what I have read in books, watched on television, and heard through word of mouth – I am witness to life and ideology outside of my own.
- Share an example of a travel situation that helped you build your understanding of human motivation. How did this enhance your understanding of leadership or teamwork?
While in Venice, a member of my group was miserable; her boyfriend and her broke up and she spent the majority of the day moping and ignoring us. The situation was tense. Five people were ready to discover this favorite canal city and enjoy the afternoon, but one wanted none of it. When approached she turned, when consoled she shrugged, when encouraged she cried. It was dreadful, and it was clear she had no interest in Venice, despite our pleading. I understood her heart was not in it, she was not motivated, and all she wanted to do was leave. With all our interests in mind, I suggested we head for the hostel early so she could relax and access the Wi-Fi. It was an idea she agreed with enthusiastically. Some members of the group urged her to stick it out and stay with us, but I defended her choice to deal with her personal problems on her own and eventually they agreed. In the end, she talked to her boyfriend at the hostel while the rest of us had an amazing night in Venice. It may not gone as planned, but everyone was happy.
- Share an example of how your international experience has improved your skills in communicating with others. How might this make you a better professional in your field?
Since my German language skills are limited, I sometimes ran into difficulties when communicating with locals in Austria. Failure to transmit and translate messages was frustrating, but forced me to rely on other means of language and my observation skills. Sometimes, this was also an exercise in patience, as not all messages can easily be determined from body language and gesture alone. Aside from improvements with observation and patience, I have also improved my vocabulary by seeking synonyms for words my audience may have better understood. These skills will undoubtedly be useful in all kinds of interpersonal communication, particularly in my field of interest where I am speaking to nonnative English speakers.
- How did you have to adjust/adapt to your new cultural surroundings? Share examples from academic, social, and work settings. How did this influence your ability to interact successfully with others?
In the classroom, I needed to adapt to a more independent style of teaching. There are no assignments on a nightly or weekly basis, and no quizzes given to track your progress of understanding the class. Essentially, there is less handholding from the professors. European students study the material and prepare for finals primarily on their own with in class discussions to supplement learning. This is very different from American teaching standards and some students may have a difficult time adapting, prioritizing, and utilizing their time. Luckily, I adjusted into the European teaching style smoothly, and enjoyed the independence and accountability of this method.
In public and on the streets, I initially ran into some issues approaching strangers or crossing near to them in the stores. I have the habit of smiling at people when I am near to them. Some call it friendliness, some call it openness, some call it politeness -and I assure you those people are all Americans. In Austria, people are much more reserved and private around strangers. Rarely shared are smiles, greetings, and acknowledgements in passing, and Americans stand out for their enthusiastic salutations wherever they go. It took me weeks to control my natural impulses to nod at people walking past, and after a series of strange looks and repeated awkward glares, I finally adapted to my new environment: Eyes forward. Mouth straight. Zero emotion. It sounds unfriendly, but it is not. There is an honesty to appreciate when dropping all the superficial and meaningless salutations, as it adds value to genuine greetings.
- Share an international experience in which you had to resolve a conflict or solve a problem. What skills and personal qualities did you tap into? How did the experience help you grow as a person?
Early in the semester, I reserved a car rental in Munich for a weekend to explore Bavaria with a friend. However, a week before pick-up I discovered I needed an International Driving Permit to lawfully drive in Europe. I was dismayed the rental company was not forthcoming, and when cancelling notified I would only receive 25% of my deposit back. This was unacceptable. I reread all advertisements and fine print, and nowhere was the IDP mentioned. I refused to let myself anger, and kept a cool as I wrote out my first of several emails. I drew on my skills in Rhetoric to be assertive, firm, diplomatic and reasonable in my text. While being shuffled between service reps and excuses I stayed focused and never detoured or was distracted from my original argument until awarded my money back a few days later. Maintaining a level-head and professional attitude was key to this win, and a direct result of the maturity and patience earned through my studies in discourse. This experience not only gave me greater confidence in my writing, but also greater confidence in my own ability to confront a problem –both valuable gains to my professional and personal future.
- Share an example of a study abroad experience in which you took initiative to achieve a greater result.
After the debacle with the car rental company, my friend was nervous our weekend road-trip was off, but I was not going to let transportation stand in our way. I promised her I would work it out, and I did. I had no prior experience with DeutscheBahn, Germany’s rail company, but took it upon myself to download the app and learn how to navigate the country at a reasonable cost via the regional train system. At first, I was a little confused, as I have zero experience with public transportation networks in America, but eventually maneuvered through scheduling and ticket reservations with ease –and with excitement. I loved it! Our weekend in Bavaria turned out brilliantly; the trains were hassle-free and relaxing. Some of our best memories were zipping from town to town and meeting other travelers on the rails. From that weekend on, we took the train.
- Share an example of a time when you may have been in danger or afraid. What did you learn from it? Why?
A friend and I were travelling to Rothenberg, Germany, when a delayed train caused us to arrive after dark and later than we expected. We had directions to our hostel via screenshot of Google maps and were confident we could navigate through the dark streets, but it was not long before the lights of the town fell behind us and we found ourselves in an area filled with empty parking lots and warehouses. Far from other tourists or even locals out for an evening stroll, we had no cell phone service, no Wi-Fi, and no better map to our destination. It was very creepy, and my friend and I had all our valuables in the heavy backpacks on our backs. We were slow moving and unprepared to defend ourselves if it came down to it, so we quickly sought ways to improve our situation. We walked in the direction of lights and activity after hiding our passports and debit cards on our persons. We also refrained from looking at our unreliable map, not only was it of no help, but it marked us as vulnerable tourists when we wanted to appear confident. This experience taught me to be prepared. Afterwards, I always had several maps and routes to destinations. I took screenshots of entire websites and never left without a great idea of where I was going.
- What was the most significant thing you learned about yourself through your study abroad experience? Why?
Quite simply, the most significant thing I learned was that I am able. I am confident. I am determined. I do not let fear, nervousness, and the unknown slow my assertion. I persevere. I succeed. I do it again. I am able.
Build an International Career
International Local Company Information
AVID Airline Products is an international business with roots in Middletown, Rhode Island. They specialize in state-of-the-art airline headphones and in-flight products designed to meet consumer needs. Currently, there are corporate offices in eight countries on five continents offering a wide range of positions involving international travel and/or possible relocation. In their job listings, having an active and valid passport is considered a requirement for employment. The amount of time spent overseas and the waiting period for travel depends entirely on the position sought.
Create Your Resume
Sample Cover Letter
January 16, 2016
The Student Language Examiner
Dear Ms. Craig:
I am forwarding you my resume and writing sample in regards to your call for Storytellers during the Spring 2016 semester.
I came across your online journal while researching international writing positions for my Global Scholars program, an extracurricular course associated with my semester abroad and the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS). When I read your post, “Love Language and Sharing Cultures? This is for you!,” I knew I was in the right place.
Currently, I am a senior at the University of Rhode Island with a double major in Writing and Rhetoric and English. Last semester, I studied abroad in Salzburg, Austria, with a focus on European literature, politics, history, culture, and language.
I possess several skills and attributes beneficial to the Storyteller position. Please review the following:
• Expected B.A. in Writing and Rhetoric, English: Spring 2016
• Lived in a non-English speaking country: Fall 2015
• Author of J.Dodge Abroad: website and blog chronicling overseas experience
• Academic focus of American-European literature and culture
• In the process of learning German as a second language.
I have studied all facets of English writing and literature, but this is still only a small sampling of multicultural earth, and I yearn to know more. As a result, I have come to recognize the need for improved foreign language education and advocacy in our increasingly globalized world. The United States lags behind in foreign language education and it needs to change. Learning a multiple languages is essential to intercultural understanding and communications, which is essential to our world today.
After graduation, I intend to pursue an international career in education, perhaps teaching English abroad while simultaneously learning German and earning a Graduate Degree overseas. The Student Examiner is an excellent platform for me to journal the process of language learning, the role of culture, and the benefits of worldwide knowledge and experience through education and exploration. I would be proud to have this opportunity.
To schedule an interview or continue discourse, please reach me by phone or email. I will follow up with you in the next ten days to see if any further information is necessary or needed. Thank you for your time and consideration.
JENNIFER R. DODGE
- 10 Coit Ave, West Warwick, RI 02893 | 401.300.1318 | JDodge@my.uri.edu
- University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island
B.A. Highest Honors, Writing and Rhetoric, English: 2014-Present
Electronic, public, and research writing – English literature and cultural studies with European emphasis
- University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria
Study Abroad Participant: Fall 2015
European literary, historical, political, and cultural studies
- Community College of Rhode Island, Warwick, Rhode Island
A.A. Highest Honors, General Studies: 2011-2013
Creative, technical, and research writing – English and European literature and cultural studies
- The Nancy Potter Excellence in English Scholarship University of Rhode Island: 2015 – Present
- Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society Transfer Scholarship University of Rhode Island: 2014 – Present
- Honors Program Completion Award Community College of Rhode Island: 2012 – 2013
- Uniquely Chic Custom Rentals, Cranston, Rhode Island
Production Assistant: 2015 – Present
Assist owner in day-to-day activities – Photograph and upload product information as needed for digital media – Refinish custom furniture according to deadlines – Hand-paint detail custom work
- Private Residence, West Warwick, Rhode Island
Childcare/Tutor: 2011 – Present
Supervise four children daily after school – Assist with and monitor the completion of homework – Tutor as necessary in reading, spelling, and English
- American Institute for Foreign Study, Salzburg, Austria
Study Abroad Participant: Fall 2015
Immersion into Austro-European culture – Shared housing with German student – Enrolled in Austrian cooking program – Attended Refugee Crisis Seminar – Global Scholar Program member
PUBLICATIONS AND PAPERS
- “Dodging Borders”
Website and blog chronicling my overseas experience: 2015 – Present
- “German Castle Legends of the Upper Middle Rhine”
Honors paper/presentation of German culture, Warwick, Rhode Island: Fall 2013
- “The Allure of the Rhine: the Castles, the Cathedrals, and the Culture”
Honors paper/presentation of German culture, Warwick, Rhode Island: Spring 2013
- English – Native language
- German –Novice level
- AIFS Global Scholar
- Golden Key International Honor Society
- Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society
- Upon request
My Intercultural Sensitivity Development
- Now that you’ve had an overview of the Bennett model of intercultural sensitivity, give some thought to how these stages apply to you. Where do you see yourself on the scale? Did you change stages due to the study abroad experience?
During my childhood and young adult life I fell into the Defense Against Difference stage, believing the United States undoubtedly the greatest nation on earth, with all others beneath in regards to strength, economy, lifestyle, culture, and values. This was the type of ideology drilled into me throughout elementary school, and also by family.
In my twenties, I began branching out and learning more about the outside world. Exposure to foreign cultures and policies was easier with the development of digital technology, and so I expanded into the Minimization of Difference stage, where I recognized general differences, but still felt people were basically the same or wanted to be the same as me.
Now, as a result of university studies and time abroad, I am moving onto the Acceptance of Difference stage. I understand now there is no hierarchy of culture, and not all people have the same values and wants as myself. There is no one “correct” way of doing things. Moving on from here, I will continue my studies of culture, and work to further my progress towards Ethnorelativism.
- What activities can you do to further move yourself forward in the future?
Attending Graduate school abroad is an ideal way for me to reach an Ethnorelative state, as this will require my living overseas immersed in a foreign country and culture for several years. Not only will I experience differences in day-to-day life, but also in a classroom led by European professors of a European perspective.
- How does the worldview of people at different stages affect the way they hear or understand a story about an international event? (For example, how would someone presently in the defense understand the problem of AIDS in African countries? How would the view of someone in the defense stage differ from the view of someone in the acceptance stage?)
Someone in the Defense Against Difference stage would cast judgmental blame towards the AIDS epidemic in African countries. This would stem from the belief their own culture was better, criticizing the African people for allowing this to happen and not understanding the dangers of their lifestyle. Someone in the Acceptance of Difference stage, however, would recognize the many factors causing such an epidemic, including lack of education, inadequate modern medicine and healthcare, tradition, and a mistrust of science. Rather than cast blame or judgement, a person in this stage would seek alternative ways to communicate understanding.
The Role of the U.S. in the World
My Changing Perspectives
- What experiences did you have while abroad that shocked or surprised you about the world?
While I was overseas in Austria I saw firsthand the makeshift camps at train and police stations to house the thousands of refugees flooding into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa. While I knew about the crisis before leaving America, I was unprepared for the sheer size and scale of the situation, and how close it would be to me while studying abroad (the nearest refugee camp to my dorm was less than a mile away in Salzburg). I have absolutely never seen anything like this in the United States.
- How do you feel about those experiences after returning to the U.S.?
I feel as though the U.S. is very disconnected from the refugee crisis because it is quite simply “not in our backyard.” What is occasionally covered in the news is sparse, and fails to illustrate the enormity of the situation and the effect it has on the daily lives of Europeans. Some Austrians consider the crisis as big a deal as the rise of Nazism, but most Americans do not reflect the same urgency or concern.
- Are there certain stereotypes that you have eliminated? Kept? Modified?
After living in a European college dormitory I no longer accept the “all Europeans eat healthy” stereotype. Going abroad, I expected to see a lot of healthy habits among the locals in my host culture. While this is mostly true in regards to outdoor activity and exercise, I watched European students I lived with eat heaps of pasta, drink profusely, and snack often. While the quality of the food may be exceptional, the choices were not the healthiest. My new opinion is that wherever you are, people on a budget and looking for simple meals may not make healthy options – especially college students!
Unfortunately, a few negative American stereotypes were reinforced and kept during my time abroad. From what I saw, Americans tend to be loud in public and at social events, and terribly under-dressed when visiting museums, cathedrals, or memorials. As tourists, they come off as pushy and entitled, offending some locals. From a personal perspective, I think this behavior is part from excitement and part from ignorance – the innocent unknowing they are acting offensively or obtrusively.
- After studying abroad, have your ideas changed about the role of the U.S. in the world?
Talking with German and Austrian students gave me a wider perspective on public opinion of the United States, and this has impacted my own view of my country. One aspect to stand out was the current presidential election, dominated by a fiery conservative Trump and a controversial liberal Clinton. My foreign peers expressed interest in American politics because it was “so entertaining” and “better than T.V.” while laughing about how ridiculous the two parties were. It was a little embarrassing to discover America’s most important and sacred election is a running joke comparable to television drama, and the feeling has not left me since I came home.
- Have your ideas changed about the role of multinational organizations such as the United Nations or the World Bank?
I now have a higher opinion of any organization or group attempting to bring the world together in hopes of bringing betterment, unity, and understanding to all. I also feel these organizations are a benefit because they are comprised of many nations and members, blurring traditional boundaries and deterring self-serving interests and actions.
Review Your Perspective on the U.S.
My Changing Views on American Culture
Before going abroad I had nostalgic notions of American transportation: big fast cars with big fast engines racing down big fast roads into the sunset. The imagery is a Romantic vision of the American Dream, to be sure, but a dream it is not, and our atmosphere, our streets, our cities, and our bodies pay the price of such fancies. In reality, big fast American cars belch out high levels of pollutants, harming our planet, and there are few viable alternatives to buying personal vehicles because public transportation is so severely limited in the United States. In Europe I enjoyed travelling easily and cheaply to any town imaginable because the transportation network is exceptionally thorough and affordable. Every town is connected via rail, and comfortable buses weave from major city to major city around the clock. All systems are punctual and reliable, and often quicker than driving would be since they bypass regular vehicular traffic. European public transport has also “gone green.” Cities are draped with electric cable wires for trams, trolleys, and buses. Trains, planes, and ferries run on clean diesel. To protect many historic city centers from smog, personal vehicles have been banned entirely, allowing only for pedestrian traffic or public transport. Since returning home, I have wished on more than one occasion I could simply hop on a bus or train to visit friends or go to work, rather than firing up my big fast truck, burning fuel while sitting in traffic and wasting time.
While public transport plays a role in the European environmental movement, it is not the only area of focus, conservation, and improvement. Recycling is taken much more seriously in Austria and Germany than it is in America, for example. Trash is sorted into plastics, metals, glass, papers, and compost in an effort to reduce the carbon footprints created by their populations, and this happens at all homes, businesses, institutions, and organizations. In the states, recycling is not nationally mandated or regulated, and while one person may sort their trash, the next may toss theirs into a mixed dumpster. I used to think our recycling methods were acceptable, with minimal requirements to sort paper and plastic, but I now see more can be done. Since America is so large and has such an impact on the environment stronger efforts should be made to improve waste disposal efforts. Americans would do well to follow Europe’s example when it comes to environmental concerns.
My Changing Views on Current Events
Recently, the reports of mass sexual assaults taking place in European cities on New Year’s Eve has made headlines here in the United States. The situation only worsened when it was revealed the perpetrators of these crimes were primarily Middle Eastern and North African male asylum seekers. This revelation fuels anti-refugee and anti-Islamic attitudes throughout the world, including in the U.S, driving paranoia into the minds of people.
If these attacks had happened before my time abroad I may have harvested a fear of something similar happening to me while traveling through Europe, perhaps even detouring my plans to study overseas, especially since one of the cities in the reports was Salzburg, the city of my upcoming residence. The American news portrays the cities effected as overrun with mobs of asylum seekers, but I know from my time there that this is not the case. While historic city centers are crowded and congested, it is more because of tourists than refugees. After traveling many months to reach their destination, the majority of them are too tired and hungry to assault anyone, and usually stay within the safety and comfort of the camps. The men committing assaults on New Year’s Eve are but a small percentage of the refugees coming into Europe.
The Role of Culture in Global Issues
A Reflection on Cultural Identity
Five months ago when I initially considered my top three cultural identities, I envisioned the first sentence of my autobiography. The most immediate and forthcoming information I share is always my name (signifying female), my age (signifying adulthood), and my occupation (signifying student). This clarifies to others the basics of who I am and what I am about.
Now that I am home from my semester abroad and reconsidering my cultural identities, I must admit the top three have not changed, I am an adult, I am female, and I am a student. However, aspects of who I am immediately following have adjusted.
Before, after number three, student, I would have moved onto familial identities like daughter and sister, but after traveling through so many countries, I now list “American” as my number four identity. Living in the vast expanse of the United States, nationality somehow becomes unimportant because at all times you are surrounded by fellow Americans. This is not the case in Europe, where several nationalities at all times are mixed together. When meeting a local for the first time and introducing myself, I found the need to include my country of birth. If I did not offer this information, it was usually asked or assumed immediately thereafter.
Having nationality and the official documents to prove it was also necessary for travel across borders. The refugee crisis caused an abrupt end to the passport free Schengen Zone and document checks are now the standard at major international through-ways. Because America is so large, most people do not need to show national identification frequently, but this is not the case in Europe, where several countries can be entered in a single day. In the midst of a border check it was always standard procedure, if asked, to state that I was an American Student when showing my passport and Austrian Visa.
A Letter Explaining My Culture
I am so excited for your upcoming visit to America. We are going to have so much fun and there are so many beautiful places I want you to see. I promise, this will be the best vacation, ever! There are a few things about American culture I want to prepare you for; knowing what I do about Germany, some of these things may be a surprise or feel a little strange to you. Don’t worry though, I will help guide you through it!
As soon as you arrive I know you are going to want to celebrate with a nice dinner – which we will have – but unfortunately you will not be allowed any alcoholic beverages because you are underage. I realize in your country you have been drinking in pubs since you were sixteen, but America holds much tighter restrictions and beliefs when it comes to the consumption of alcohol. Not even beer and wine are allowed under the age of 21! The beverages do not carry the same social importance and tradition as they do in Europe. In the United States binge-drinking is considered an epidemic among youths while alcoholism is considered a disease among adults. Imbibing during lunch breaks or professional meetings is also frowned upon and inadvisable, whereas in Germany it is common to have a beer or wine with all meals. I hope this does not offend you; I assure you we will find other ways to celebrate!
As I mentioned, I plan on taking you to many fun and beautiful places, which I hope satisfies you because there are not a lot of options for you to travel on your own in America. Since you do not have a license and are not old enough, you cannot rent or borrow a vehicle here, and the public transportation system is severely limited. My town does not even have a train station, and there are no bus stops on my street! One of my favorite aspects of European culture is the advanced, efficient, affordable, and reliable interwoven network of rail and bus lines connecting all cities and towns. Sadly, this is not the case in America. Train travel is nowhere near as popular as most Americans own a personal vehicle (it’s part of that so-called “American Dream”). This may be the hardest adjustment for you, at home you have the freedom to travel wherever your ticket will take you, but in America, you are not getting very far or very close to your destination without your own set of wheels. And by wheels I mean four-wheels, bicycle transportation is not an option either. Bike riding is nowhere near as popular here as it is for you at home. Very rarely do you see bike paths; even sidewalks are a rarity in some neighborhoods – including mine. This too may seem strange, but hopefully after your first American road-trip you will appreciate having the privacy and freedom of the open road.
These two things may be hard adjustments at first, but I guarantee you will still enjoy your stay. Plus, I am always right here if you have any questions! See you soon!
Looking at Cultural Context
In a Global Voices post titled “Hundreds of Austrians and Germans Turn Out to Welcome Refugees Arriving From Hungary,” written on September 2, 2015 by Lena Nitsche, discusses the enormous support and aid offered by regular citizens of Germany and Austria when large amounts of people came from Hungary on the route to freedom and asylum in Germany and other Scandinavian countries.
Before going overseas, I had serious doubts about letting so many people with unclear histories into Europe. In order to study abroad, I had to complete stacks of documents and secure a Visa so my host country would know exactly who I am. It seemed a little counterproductive to put students through such rigorous background checks while allowing thousands of unknowns to cross the borders freely. To me it seemed like a huge breach of homeland security in the European Union. Despite the plight of these people, I would still expect them to be cordoned off until their paperwork cleared.
This, however, was before I actually lived in Europe and got a better understanding of the cultures and values the people embody. Terms like “homeland security” are distinctly American, and so is the overwhelming concern those from the Middle East are all terrorists. Europeans share a history and ideology different from the States, and this contributes to the majority support of the refugee welcoming parties.
Explaining this to an American with no European experience might be difficult, but I would begin with something they may be familiar with, like World War II. This war, along with the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust, served as a dire and costly lesson for Europeans when you allow hate and racism to fuel your political or personal beliefs. The scars of the past are still vivid in the minds of the older generation who raised a younger generation not to be overcome with distrust and animosity for those with beliefs different than their own – like the mostly Muslim refugees.
Additionally, Europe is a system of Socialism, based on an ideology that all are equal and all should have access to the same basics human needs and rights which is provided by the State. Socialist thought today is birthed from the labor parties of the turn of the century, all who demanded healthcare, reasonable hours, minimum standards of living and working, education, and retirement. The welfare state has proven very effective in Europe, and the very things it offers the people are the very same things the refugees seek because they are not available to them in their homelands.
Both these historical and cultural factors help to frame the mindset of the welcoming Europeans, and while they may be distant concepts to Americans, they should not be entirely unfamiliar. Hopefully, this explanation provides the context needed for understanding the current situation. To truly be a global citizen, you must not only know the history, geography, economics, etc. of an area or nation, you must also be able to explain it to others in a way that promotes compassion and acceptance. Perhaps Americans may not every truly agree with the welcoming European stance, but can praise them for not wanting to repeat mistakes of the past. It is all a matter of perspective, and a true global citizen can always offer more than one of those.
Comparing Unfamiliar Cultural Contexts
To bring myself out of my usual comfort zone, this afternoon I stopped at a McDonald’s in one of the poorest, most densely populated cities in my area, which I rarely ever venture into.
Although nothing like Salzburg, Austria, this scenario compared to my study abroad experience in a few ways. Most notably is the fact that I actually stopped to eat lunch. Since I came home I rarely eat out, opting instead to eat and drive, while in Austria I never ate during my commute. It would be impossible when walking and unacceptable on the bus! Additionally, eating in a McDonald’s reminded me very much of my time in Europe because it was the one reliable place to find Wi-Fi and get online. I do believe I visited a McDonald’s in every city I visited while overseas. It is strange I traveled halfway across the world to reminisce about Europe in an American fast food restaurant, yet here I am, and it was enjoyable. I sat quietly (on the Wi-Fi) without interruption, too – I was once again surrounded by non-English speaking families I could not understand. It may have been Spanish and not German, but the effect was the same.
There were also some aspects of the scenario very different from my study abroad experience. Mainly, the food was nowhere near as good here as it was overseas. Technically, both restaurants serve the same items, but there is something lacking in the appearance and quality outside of Europe. I spent the a moment trying to pinpoint the exact reason for the difference, but it was elusive. The American beef patty was smaller, the bread softer, and maybe not as fresh. I wish I could compare the two simultaneously! The interior of this McDonald’s was smaller, dirtier, and not as inviting as many European locations. It appeared there was no dining room staff, while overseas there are attendants everywhere. Here, the booths are hard and plastic, whereas the McDonald’s in Salzburg offered a variety of seating, including leather sofas. Also missing here is the coffee and dessert counter, which is usually situated separately in European locations. I suppose coffee and breakfast are not so emphasized or important in the States.
Rethinking on the experiences, I see the American subculture is fast paced. Our restaurant is not designed for having a relaxed and comfortable meal. The hard booths are uninviting and the drive-thru line is long, it is clear the priority is not tending to the dining area either, which was mostly empty when I left. European culture however appreciates a slower, more comfortable, and quality meal; they expect you to come in and eat, America expects you not to come in at all.
It is impossible to deny my time outside of the U.S. has changed my thoughts about the U.S. The shift in perspective will have a lasting effect on me. Before I went abroad, I thought the way people lived their lives was essentially the same, but I now realize this is untrue. Priorities and customs are at least slightly different everywhere, which can even be evident in an International fast food restaurant.
In regards to the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity, I found myself drifting in between the Acceptance of Difference and Adaptation of Difference stages. I accept the differing lifestyles – Americans are in a hurry and Europeans take their time. Neither is wrong or right, they are just different, and there is no problem with that. I also adapt to both lifestyles. As mentioned, while I was in Europe I stopped to eat my meals every day, and since I came home, I have been eating on the go. The transition was seamless, and to be honest, I did not even notice the shift in customs and eating habits until this exercise.
Prepare to Share Your Experience
Article: The Realities of the Refugee Crisis as Seen Through the Eyes of an American Student in Austria
Anyone choosing to live abroad and immerse into foreign culture will have their own set of adventures and incidents defining their time overseas. This can depend on purpose – whether you are there for study or work, and also on outside influences like social, political, or environmental climates, as they can and do play major roles in your overall experience. My semester abroad during the fall of 2015 was no exception, and one the most important aspects of my time there was socio-political in nature and is commonly referred to as “The Refugee Crisis.”
According to the BBC, over one million migrants traveled either over land or by sea from war torn and poverty stricken areas of the Middle East and North Africa in 2015;the majority coming from Syria, which has been caught in civil war since 2011. From early spring and through the summer months, news of the crisis spread as attention was brought to the dangerous conditions and death facing those making the journey. In the States, reports of the crisis usually took a secondary position to our national news. The Refugee Crisis seemed a concern distant to most Americans.
Approximately a week before my departure I was packing for my semester abroad when I heard reports of a truck full of bodies found on the side of an Austrian highway, and it truly hit me how close I would be to the crisis, and the unknowns coming along with it. As an American from New England, I lacked previous exposure to immigration and international border concerns, and the sheer scale of the movement outmatches any mass exodus the United States has faced in my lifetime. I had no idea what to expect, how it would affect me, and how it would affect my semester abroad. I only knew that it would.
When I left for Europe at the beginning of September the social and political climates were divided, but the majority showed overwhelming favor in supporting and welcoming the refugees. Germany announced to the world they were opening their borders to all those fleeing war and thus the surge north continued, directly into Austria. Hungary, also on the route to Germany, struggled to manage the flow of people and began constructing a fence to block and divert their path, much to the disgust of several neighboring countries, including Austria.
The day I arrived, I did not notice the effects of the crisis on my travels. The Schengen Area allowed for easy transport by bus from Munich to Salzburg, and I saw no authorities or refugees along the way. At first glance, one would never know there was even a crisis, but this was not to last. In Salzburg there were two refugee camps filled with those waiting to cross into Germany. One was small, located at the train station, and another, larger camp was at the police station, less than a mile from my dorm. Although away from the old town and tourist center, large tents and perimeter fencing served as constant reminders of the enormity, reality, and closeness of the situation.
To control the influx of people crossing the border, train travel from Salzburg to Munich was discontinued. In the past, rail was the favorite options of students exploring Europe, and with it suspended we were forced to seek alternate means of travel. Additionally, Germany was reinstating border checks, and whenever we entered the country our bus was boarded and passports demanded. For the first time in twenty years, entry would be denied without official and valid documentation. Traffic on highways ill equipped for checkpoints backed up for miles.
Makeshift search and holding areas sprung up along the side of the road, and people living under tarps and tents surrounded by armed policemen were a common sight. Despite all this, the social and political attitude remained optimistic and helpful, supporting asylum seekers and migrant aid for several months, that is, until the mid-November attacks in Paris.
When it began circulating that members of the terrorist cell involved in the attacks were possibly asylum seekers and had passed through Austria, people’s worst fears were realized, as there was always concern the Islamic State would take advantage of the crisis to reign terror into Europe. In and around Salzburg an increased military presence was recognized, and although unarmed, troops were evidently mobilizing and transporting equipment in increasing numbers. With colder weather approaching, the camps were moved to heated facilities even farther out of the public’s eye. In my classes, topics shifted towards these new developments, and our professors discussed the social and political unrest coming with it. For the first time in decades, the conservative and nationalist political right gained popularity, while the left struggled to maintain support for the refugees. Many Austrians, especially the older ones, darkly describe this crisis as the most serious since the days leading up to World War II. It is an unnerving comparison, and I am one of the few thousand Americans who can say they experienced first-hand the unfortunate breakdown of the Schengen Area. In three months, I watched Europe open her arms to the refugees and then close them in again; on the day I left Austria, the country once so disgusted with Hungary was already halfway finished completing its own border fences.
While I was in Salzburg, I knew I was living in a part of history, an aspect of my experience so monumental it will no doubt effect and impact European culture and the European Union for decades to come. In the weeks since I returned, reports of assaults, molestations, and lewd behavior by asylum seekers and migrants have further enflamed socio-political attitudes. I follow the news with a heavy heart, unsure where this crisis will lead the countries I fell in love with during my semester abroad. Although I am once again America and distant from the turmoil, I keep watch. A part of me will always be a part of Europe; what involves them, involves me. Ignorance is no longer an option.
Study Abroad Statement
1. List your name, host country, and study abroad program you chose.
J.Dodge, Austria, AIFS Salzburg.
2. What preparations helped you with getting ready for the experience?
Reading and researching! Preparing myself for the customs and ideologies of Austria gave me clues on how to dress, act, eat, and even cross the street – helping me avoid potential offences or cultural don’ts. Also, catching up on current events and following European news in the weeks before I left let me know what to expect in terms of economic or political turmoil relevant to my host country.
3. What did you identify as the greatest challenge facing you as you began your study abroad experience?
Going into the experience I was very nervous about funding my semester abroad. Not only was I concerned with program costs, but once I arrived remained concerned about setting weekly budgets since I did not yet know what costs to expect for food and other necessities; the cost of living was a mystery! Since I could not earn any additional funds overseas it was important to be careful with my savings. A few weeks passed before I became accustomed to pricing and spending trends, but in the end everything worked out, and I had no financial issues.
4. What did you hope to learn about yourself and the host country/culture from studying abroad?
I hoped to learn if I was capable and independent enough to live away from my friends and family and homeland in a foreign country and still thrive. I simultaneously hoped to learn is my host country and culture was one I could settle into and be comfortable. Both of my hopes were realized.
5. Why should others study abroad in your host country?
Austria is a beautiful, safe location in central Europe ideal for both travel and study. The history of the region is dominated by ancient and powerful cultures, combining for a fascinating modern day surrounding of art, architecture, and music. It is also a welcoming country for non-German speakers, as many locals speak English.
6. What was your greatest challenge while abroad?
Getting through the first week was probably the most difficult challenge. Jetlagged and running on little sleep, uprooted onto a new continent with 50 strangers and 100lbs of luggage and no idea where I was going to live with no Wi-Fi to contact my family was incredibly stressful – but I survived!
7. List one of your greatest accomplishments or learning experiences during your study abroad experience.
My greatest accomplishment was realized at the end of my stay when my German roommate admitted that before meeting me she had no positive inclinations towards America or Americans, but because of our time together and our discussions about stereotypes and culture now feels differently, and cannot wait to visit the United States someday. Reversing such a negative opinion is among my proudest moments.
Excerpts from Abroad
- What were you interested in?
“German road trip last week, Italian road trip this week, the Czech Republic next week, and straight A’s on all my midterms… European life is good”
While in Europe, I wanted to travel. I was interested in experiencing as many different cultures as possible to gain the most from my time there. In total I visited six countries and over thirty cities, each unique and individual to itself and its surroundings, making lasting impacts on my impressions of Europe and the people living there.
There are several students on AllAbroad.us talking about how affordable and easy traveling is while living in Europe. It is plainly obvious I am not the only one who was interested in seeing as much of the continent as possible while I could.
- What did you enjoy?
“We had so much fun riding the train around Bavaria! We got to see so much of the countryside and it was very relaxing!”
In a sort of happy accident, a friend and I needed to plan an entire four-day five-city weekend around the regional train schedule. Together, we traveled as Europeans do, through mountains and valleys and fields and towns to each destination. Without the hassle of driving, we were allotted more time to talk, study, sleep, and savor the view. I cannot wait to do it again!
On AllAbroad.us Jessica posted about using public transportation to travel everywhere, and she described this as a “liberating” experience. I agree with her entirely, not having to worry about gas, insurance, parking, traffic, and maps was amazing and stress-free. We were certainly liberated to enjoy ourselves more.
- What bothered you?
“Hi… bad news the internet is out again so aggravating dealing with all this! Don’t know when or if it will ever be fixed.”
Finding Wi-Fi was an everyday struggle; I will admit I am still a little shocked Western Europe is so far (about five years) behind America technologically. While it was good for interpersonal communication in Austria because we were not constantly connected to our devices, it was difficult to be entirely disconnected from America. It took about a month, but eventually my internet issues were resolved by AIFS and a group of us were given portable Wi-Fi boxes. It was an ingenious solution to a severe problem, and since it is resolved it can never bother another student again. Hooray!
When talking about the internet, social media, and staying in touch with friends and family back home, a few posters on AllAbroad.us advise staying disconnected to better the cultural immersion into the host country. While I do agree with this to an extent, the internet is also an invaluable tool for planning travel and studying, not to mention staying connected to your fellow peers in your host country! None of my group had useable phone service, so online messengers became essential to our communication.
- What was different about your host country?
“It does seem like Halloween, and they are allowed to chase you, take your hats, and poke you in the legs with sticks and brooms! “
One highlight of my semester abroad was celebrating advent and St. Nikolas Day, which are bigger deals to Austrians than Americans. Perhaps this has something to do with the “Krampus,” a giant, furry, horned, whip-wielding creature who travels by the herd into every town with St. Nick on December the 5th to horrify, beat, and potentially kidnap the naughty boys and girls. The celebrations are festive and parade-like, with eager adults and children mobbing the sidelines in the cold waiting for the Krampus to come along and torment them. And yes, they literally beat you, whip you, tease you, and in my case, steal your drink! Needless to say, none of this physical contact stuff would ever fly in America – ever. It was amazing, and so much fun!
Like Marie on AllAbroad.us, I embraced Austria’s cultural traditions and did not judge or criticize their differences from American culture. I can see many people in the U.S. getting offended or bothered about a Christmas tradition that beats bad kids, but it is all in good fun if you go into it open-minded.
- What funny things happened?
“I am not ashamed to admit it was a little scary lol!!”
During a day trip to Hohenwerfen Castle in Austria, we were treated to a medieval falconry show. There were many birds featured, soaring and diving through the open air over the grassy courtyard where I sat. One bird, a ginormous and majestic bald eagle, was strolling through the grass thirty feet away and got to know me better when and took off, flying right at me! It happened so fast, and he got so much bigger as he got closer, I shrieked and ducked for cover as he landed directly next to me on my bookbag.
It was a little embarrassing in front of my new classmates, but also so funny, I couldn’t stop laughing. The best part? I recorded all of it!
All of the posts on AllAbroad.us were upbeat and positive, telling of fun stories and great adventures. While not being identical to my eagle story, each person has their own experience making studying abroad a deeply personal and exciting time.
Article: My Coolest Experience in Salzburg, Austria
Looking back, I see I was fortunate to have many cool experiences while studying abroad. I backpacked in Bavarian cities, watched a Viennese opera for three euro, climbed mountains, enrolled in Austrian cooking classes, dipped my hands into the Adriatic Sea, traversed Europe by train, went to the famous Oktoberfest, raced down a mountain luge, and visited four countries in a single day. The list continues on, and although the aforementioned adventures are amazing, they are not unique to studying abroad. Thus, by far, my coolest and most unique experience is one the average tourist or traveler cannot have, and that was to live with and befriend a German student, forging an international relationship with the potential to last a lifetime.
During registration, I requested placement in an Austrian homestay for my semester abroad in Salzburg, but to my disappointment their availability was limited. Luckily, AIFS knew my desire for immersion and made other arrangements, placing me in a dormitory to live with an international student. It was nerve-wracking awaiting her arrival and wondering who she was, but in late-September when the European school year finally began, I met Ramona, a first-year Geology and Paleontology student from Bavaria.
Initially, I was nervous about dorm life with a student from another country. Where would she be from? Would she speak English? Would she be loud or quiet? A drinker? A smoker? Super social or introverted? A serious or laid back student? Does she like Americans? Would she like me??? Questions and curiosities flooded my thoughts, but it turns out my wonder and worry was unfounded. From the moment we met, we had an easy and natural flow of communication. Her English is excellent, and despite our age difference we get along famously. Her maturity and dedication to her studies go beyond what I typically expect from American first-year students, which I appreciate as a senior in my final year.
It was cool sharing a room with an international student because I had the opportunity to learn about German culture while living in Austria. Classmates of mine living in dorms with other American students and those placed in Austrian homestays were only exposed to one nation’s lifestyle and culture, but I was exposed to two. This concept did not occur to me until a few months into the semester, but has not left my mind ever since. Only three AIFS students were placed with international roommates, and I count myself incredibly lucky to have been chosen.
Today, if given the option to go back in time and instead live in a homestay, I would refuse. With Ramona, I have gathered insight into the ideologies of young adulthood in a major European power. With Ramona, I have spent hours discussing cultures, broadening my perspectives through a peer rather than an elder or professor, which is truly invaluable for its fresh, honest, and candid nature. With Ramona, I have built a friendship unique and separate from my classmates, and established lasting ties half a world away.
It does not get any cooler than that!
Study Abroad Encouragement Video
In presentations, slide shows, and videos created by other students, most highlight the same aspects of their overseas adventures while studying abroad. Mainly, they emphasize the excitement of travel, the beauty of nature, and the marvels of man throughout history via art and architecture. This is unsurprising to me, since the idea of these presentations is to interest others into studying abroad, and highlighting scenes from outside of the classroom are generally the best ways of enticing would be students. In my own presentation, which I compiled into a motivational video, I chose some of my best photos from every location I traveled too while studying in Austria. It is important others see for themselves the world open to them if they step outside of their comfort zones.
Watch my Study Abroad Montage Video on YouTube.
Audio Credit: Kevin Schmitz, Cecilia and the Satellite Acoustic Guitar Instrumental
Study Abroad Success
Suggestions for Improvement
While overall I was and am very happy with the program and services AIFS provided for my semester abroad, there is an area where I see room for improvement, and this to better prepare students for the reality of their housing situations long before they pack their bags and leave for their destinations.
I cannot and do not speak for all programs, as each may have its differences in housing options and procedures, but I do know that in regards to the Salzburg program the question of housing remains extremely vague until the moment the students on the group flight enter Austria. Considering how difficult the overseas transition can be, and how much easier this transition might be made, I think informing all students of their housing assignments before leaving the United States is necessary and deserving to be done.
This should not be an impossible request. Students who do not pay the extra fees for the flight package and London excursion are notified one week before the program begins of their housing arrangements and addresses. This not only gives family the comfort of knowing the location of the student, giving them peace of mind, but the student has an entire week to research maps and pack accordingly to their future needs. In contrast, students who do pay the extra fees for the flights and London are not given any information or clues to their housing arrangements. Their families must wait anxiously for several days after the students’ arrival in Europe before (hopefully) hearing from them (if they have a working internet connection). Not only is this unnecessarily stressful, but it causes unnecessary confusion in an already tumultuous situation. One would think paying for optional services and excursions affords a stress-free and clear transition, but alas, it seems the opposite is true, and therefore leaves room for needed improvement.
This scenario can be the biggest nightmare for those hoping for a homestay with an Austrian family. AIFS is upfront in saying host families are limited, but not so forthcoming in admitting exactly how limited they are. During my semester, only eight homestays were available for almost sixty students, and after a cancellation, only six remained available. To be most forthcoming, students should be told of their odds of obtaining a homestay up front, and quite frankly, be told to expect dormitory housing in Salzburg.
Unfortunately, this lack in proper preparation affected me personally. It was crushing to learn, sitting on a bus on an Austrian highway with a gift bag of wine that no one would be receiving them in thanks for opening their home to me, a token of appreciation in Austrian culture I researched while preparing for my semester abroad. I flew two bottles across the Atlantic for no reason, and was left completely unprepared for dormitory living. Instead, I could have been better prepared for my housing assignment by AIFS in the week before. I would have ditched the wine and brought my own kitchen utensils and bedding, items my host family would have provided. As a result, I had to buy or borrow these items and did not take them home, which proved a waste of money since I could have brought my own items.
This is the only hiccup I experienced in preparation guidance from AIFS. Once in Austria, orientation meetings and informative emails were available and frequent. I truly believe adjusting this policy of housing announcements would greatly improve the entire experience, and make the transition much easier on everyone.
What You Need to Know to Succeed in AIFS’ Program and in Austria
When embarking into the adventure of a lifetime it is best to be equipped for the journey. The more you know, the more you understand, and this adds up to the more ready you will be when arriving in Austria for your semester abroad with AIFS. It is an overwhelming experience in the smoothest of conditions, and you do yourself a favor to mentally, emotionally, and physically prepare for the process and what to expect before you leave the United States.
Right now, Europe is in the midst of what in commonly known as the “refugee crisis,” and it is a big deal. Every country in the European Union is affected by the mass inflow of people traveling north from the Middle East and North Africa, and Austria is directly in their path. For over a year, thousands of migrants have crossed through Austria in hopes of gaining asylum in Germany, and the flow shows no signs of slowing. The political and social climate in Europe is at odds with one another about handling the situation, and this sentiment is reflected down to national and city levels; some are in favor of welcoming the people, others oppose it entirely, and events in recent months have caused many attitudes to change entirely. For example, in September when I arrived in Austria, the majority wanted to help the refugees and the government opened up their borders while criticizing Hungary for constructing fences along theirs. However, by the time I left in December three months later, the tide turned, and Austria’s own border fences were nearly completed.
The best way to prepare for success mentally in Austria is by following the news and staying up to date on current events before you leave and while you are there. I was shocked so many of my fellow American students were not more aware of the situation they were entering into, since it affected so much of our time there. Train stations were closed, routes cancelled, and the open borders of the Schengen Zone collapsed; as a result travel became a challenge, and knowing the political and social climate of our destinations was important not only to our happiness, but to our safety. In order to stay informed, I recommend following BBC News Europe and The Local, both of which are in English!
Without a doubt, the most difficult part of your semester will be the first week or so abroad. During this time, you will be jetlagged, overwhelmed, exhausted, excited, nervous, eager, confused, lonely, and happy. It will stretch your emotions to their limits, and AIFS wastes no time letting you get settled before jumping into orientations, meetings, and placement testing. The transition into a foreign country, to a foreign school, in a foreign city with people foreign to you is not always smooth, so do not expect it to be, no matter how easy going and confident you are. Functioning at your usual or normal capacity while overtired and accustomed to a six plus hour time difference takes its toll on you, and there is no real way to prevent it from happening. During my first week, I was going to bed late and forced to wake up early for meetings when all I wanted to do was sleep because I was still running on Eastern Standard Time. Fatigue caught up with me, and feeling emotionally drained I became devastatingly homesick despite being in the very place I desperately planned for and worked towards.
To succeed, you have no choice but to acclimate and adjust while constantly in action, so it is best to prepare yourself emotionally for what I call “Hell Week” now. Get plenty of sleep before leaving America, and if possible, try getting your body used to the upcoming time difference by going to bed and waking up earlier than usual. Accept the fact that not everything will run perfectly, but remaining calm is the best solution to working out the most difficult setbacks. Read and research as much as you can of other study abroad students’ stories; everyone experiences similar sets of emotions so it will be comforting to learn you are not alone. Finally, if you feel your emotions are getting the edge on you, take a moment to sit back and really look at and enjoy your surroundings. Remind yourself why you are in Austria. Watch the sun rise or set over the fortress and the Untersberg. Stroll over the bridges, through the town, and along the river. Get lost in the midst of being lost, and stay positive!
It is important to remember Europeans are generally active people and are used to walking or bicycling as part of their daily transportation routine, which is likely a stark contrast from what you are accustomed to at home in America. While public transportation in Europe is thorough and far reaching, it does not always get you into the very center of town, especially the old towns like Salzburg, so be ready to do some walking – rain, snow, sleet, or shine. I remember getting a pedicure before I left the country so my feet would be pretty in Austria. Five days in, my soft and tender toes were boasting blisters the size of nickels, even though I was wearing proper shoes. Not only are you walking everywhere, but the pedestrian zones are not always as smoothly paved as American roads. Besides concrete you will find cobblestone, brick, marble, slate, and even gravel in most town squares. The surfaces can be slick, uneven, and downright treacherous. I watched a lot of girls in strappy sandals nurse bleeding cuts and scrapes during those days; there were tough lessons learned. After about a month my feet adapted to the landscape, and it was easy then to fall in love with the European pedestrian zones and the relaxed way of life that comes with them.
In order to prepare yourself to physically succeed in Austria, start by skipping the pedicure. Studying abroad is not a beauty pageant, and delicate feet are not going to last very long in your new environment. Additionally, I recommend leaving the cute and strappy sandals and flip flops at home. They will be useless to you, as it won’t be long before you favor warmer footwear made for walking or hiking. Additionally, I would get into the habit of walking before departing for Austria; park your car further from the door, or take long walks through parks and your town. Building up your stamina can do nothing but benefit you abroad!
Following these suggestions should make your transitions into Austrian culture with AIFS so much smoother. Mental, emotional, and physical conditioning are the wisest ways to equip yourself for any challenge, and studying overseas is certainly no exception. Take the time now to prepare, so when you get to Europe you really are ready for the adventure of a lifetime.
Top Study Abroad Resources
- AIFS Staff. Austria. 2016. American Institute for Foriegn Study, AIFS. Web. 2014. <http://www.aifsabroad.com/austria/>.
Study abroad program website with program specific information.
- Austria National Tourist Office. Images and Articles on Holidays in Austria. 2014. Austria National Tourist Office. Web. 16 April 2015. <https://views.austria.info/?locale=en>.
Tourist information with country specific information.
- BBC News Staff. Europe. 2016. British Broadcasting Company. Web. July 2015. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world/europe>.
Major European and international English news source.
- Bureau of Consular Affairs. Country Information: Austria. 2016. U.S. Department of State. Web. 2015. <http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/austria.html>.
Country specific travel and legal information.
- Centre for Intercultural Learning. Austria. 2009. Global Affairs Canada. Web. July 2015. <http://www.intercultures.ca/cil-cai/ci-ic-eng.asp?iso=at>.
Country specific information.
- eDiplomat Staff. Cultural Etiquette: Austria. 2016. Web. July 2015. <http://www.ediplomat.com/np/cultural_etiquette/ce_at.htm>.
Country specific cultural etiquette information.
- Go Overseas staff. Go Overseas. 2016. Go Overseas. Web. July 2015. <http://www.gooverseas.com/>.
Country and program specific advice and information.
- Griffin, Robert H and Ann H. Shurgin. Austria. 2015. Web. 12 April 2015. <http://www.everyculture.com/A-Bo/Austria.html>.
Country specific information.
- H. Flippo & Sons. Österreich. 2015. Humboldt American Press. Web. 12 April 2015. <http://www.german-way.com/history-and-culture/austria/>.
Information on German speaking countries.
- Magistrat Stadtarchiv und Statistik. “City of Salzburg: A Rich Historical Heritage.” n.d. Stadt: Salzburg Geschichte. Magistrat Stadtarchiv und Statistik. Web. 17 April 2015. <http://www.stadt-salzburg.at/pdf/city_of_salzburg__english_.pdf>.
Country and city specific historical information.
- OIE Staff. Office of International Education, OIE. 2016. The University of Rhode Island. Web. 2014. <http://web.uri.edu/international/>.
University specific information.
- Ollari, Taylor. “Taylor Wanders.” Taylor Wanders. Salzburg: WordPress, 2015. Web. 2015. <https://taylorwanders.wordpress.com/>.
Program and country specific student blog.
- One World Staff. Austria. 1998-2016. One World – Nations Online, OWNO. Web. July 2015. <http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/austria.htm>.
Country specific information.
- Royal Oak Interactive. Compare the U.S. to Austria. 2015. Royal Oak Interactive. Web. 17 April 2015. <http://www.ifitweremyhome.com/compare/US/AT>.
Country specific comparisons.
- Steves, Rick. Rick Steves’ Europe. 2016. Rick Steves’ Europe, Inc. Web. 2015. <https://www.ricksteves.com/>.
European travel information and advice.
- Study Abroad Staff. Study Abroad. 1995-2016. EducationDynamics, LLC. Web. July 2015. <http://www.studyabroad.com/>.
Study abroad advice and information.
- The Center for Global Education. All Abroad. 1998-2016. The Center for Global Education. Web. July 2015. <http://allabroad.us/>.
Study abroad advice and information.
- The Center for Global Education Staff. Global Scholar: Online Learning for Study Abroad. 2016. The Center for Global Education. Web. 2015. <http://globalscholar.us/>.
Study abroad learning and preparation information.
- The Local Staff. Austria’s News in English. Ed. Rosie Waites. 2016. The Local Europe. Web. July 2015. <http://www.thelocal.at/>.
Country specific daily news source in English.
- Young Germany Staff. Young Germany Newsletter. 2016. Frankfurter Societäts-Medien GmbH. Web. 2015. <http://www.young-germany.de/>.
German and European cultural newsletter.
Diversity Issues Abroad
Diversity Issues Survey
- How do you identify yourself?
Female American Student
- Where, when, and for how long did you study abroad?
Salzburg, Austria during the Fall 2015 semester for 95 days.
- How did you choose your particular study abroad program or destination?
- Austria is developed, economically stable, and safe.
- Exploring the homeland of my Austrian heritage.
- Options to study in both English and German.
- My mother has been to, enjoyed, and recommended Salzburg.
- Availability of English Literature and European culture courses.
- Salzburg is a smaller city in central Europe.
- From your list, please comment on the top three factors you used to make your decision.
- Availability of English Literature and European culture courses.
- Austria is developed, economically stable, and safe.
- My mother has been to, enjoyed, and recommended Salzburg.
- If you studied in a country of your heritage or ancestry, describe your experiences there.
The entire time I was in Austria, I felt comfortable among the people and the landscape. Locals were generally reserved and quiet, which I related to since my family is private and reserved. I also noticed I look like many of the people there. In America, blonde hair and blue eyes is infrequent, but in Austria this is much more common.
- Did you feel you were part of a minority/majority group in your host country? If so, please describe that experience.
I was definitely a part of the ethnic majority while in Austria. I am Caucasian, Catholic, and as mentioned above look like many of the locals. The primary difference between us my American nationality.
- What factors do you think influenced the way you were treated in your host country?
- Physical appearance – Heavier than the average Austrian.
- Nationality (American) – Not always welcome, negative stereotypes exist.
- Ethnicity/Heritage – Did not look like an outsider.
- Status as a minority/majority in the host culture – Faced no racial discrimination.
- Language – Monolingual American reputation.
- From this list, please discuss the top three factors and provide examples of how you were treated. Was it a positive or negative experience?
In crowded places and walking down the street my ethnicity and heritage allowed me to blend in among other Austrians. I was neither addressed or ignored, which is typical behavior for Austrians, who do not generally engage with strangers in public or participate in small talk, which I am comfortable with. The only time my Austrian “cover” was blown was when I needed to speak or understand German. My futile efforts were sometimes met with eye-rolls and sighs, but usually locals were patient. Occasionally, attitudes would change when it was discovered I was American.
One evening while standing in line behind an Austrian man (who was pleasantly ignoring us until this moment), my friend and I started speaking about ATM fees in Europe when the man suddenly spun around, pointed, and shouted “You know what you Americans need to do? You Americans need to SHUT THE HELL UP!” before storming off. My friend and I were shocked, but also laughed, as did the people in line behind us. We kept the mood light, but the sting was definitely felt.
- Did your experiences abroad influence or change how you perceive yourself? If so, how? Did your experience abroad change how you perceive diversity issues either abroad or in your home country (e.g., the US)? If so, how?
I now more truly recognize my status as an “American.” I perhaps naively used to believe the more I traveled the more of this cultural label would shed away from me, but this is no longer the case. The way I walk, the way I speak, some of these things will always be telltale of who I am. After studying abroad, I now understand America is not the only country to suffer from diversity issues and conflicts. Perhaps we are the only nation with our specific blend of issues (mainly involving whites, blacks, and Latinos), but all nations have them. Austria, for example, along with much of Europe, is now wrestling with diversity issues between Christians and Muslims due to the refugee crisis, whereas in the States this issue has not yet reached a boiling point.
- What minority groups (religious, ethnic, immigrant populations, etc.) exist in your host country? What similarities/differences exist between minority groups in the U.S. and minority groups in your host country? How did you compare your interactions with minority groups in the U.S. vs. the host country?
Austria is currently in the midst of the refugee crisis, which is bringing thousands of Muslim immigrants into the country from the Middle East and North Africa. Although larger in scale, this is reminiscent of the flow of migrants coming to the States from Central and South America. Both groups seek safety, security, and better lives in the north. However, the European refugee crisis is different mainly due to the Islamic heritage of the people, whereas most Latino immigrants are Christian with Christian values similar to those in the United States. This is causing major concerns for Christian Europe, who worry their culture will not blend well with Muslim culture, mainly in regards to human rights and equality.
Living in the northeast part of the United States, I very rarely have close contact with incoming Latino immigrants from the south. In Austria, the Middle Eastern refugee camps were only a mile from my dormitory, but once again, I had almost no personal contact with them. The authorities, due to the controversy and enormity of the crisis, preferred keeping the refugees out of the general population. Even at the train stations, which were overrun, the people were separated by fencing and police, in efforts to keep the peace and handle everyone’s safety.
Diversity Issues in Austria
Although Austria is a peaceful country largely devoid of racial turmoil and controversy, the current refugee crisis has called attention to diversifying the largely Christian culture with a largely Muslim one. Many European countries are torn over welcoming Muslim immigrants – some are in favor and some refuse – within their borders. There is worry the Islamic culture cannot and will not assimilate into the European one, mainly in regards to human rights and gender equality. It is both a sensitive and politically charged topic, with parties dividing on how to handle the thousands of people headed directly through Austria on what is considered the “Balkans Route” to Germany and Sweden, the destinations of choice for migrants seeking a better life. While initially the majority of citizens were in favor of opening their countries to the wave of people coming from the Middle East and North Africa, recent and increasing reports of gang assaults, molestation, and violence directed at Europeans by asylum seekers and refugees is turning the tide of public opinion. Tensions are running high, and it is not unusual to hear an older Austrian compare this crisis to the crisis at the onset of WWII, where racial and religious differences came so violently and disastrously to a head.
It is safe to say the diversity issue between Christian and Muslims in Europe is directly influenced and fueled by the Islamic State. Acts of terrorism in Paris and Belgium have been linked to IS militants known to have entered Europe as asylum seekers and refugees in recent months. A few arrests have been made in Austrian camps in relation to these attacks, and as a result, there is a growing distrust for the thousands of people coming into Austria. Without proper background checks and vetting, there is no way for officials to prove refugees are not involved with terror organizations. Additionally, many migrants are destroying or losing their identification in transit in hopes of improving their chances of asylum. The influx of unknowns, potentially with negative opinions of western culture, is unsettling for Europeans, and in many member states the conservative right is gaining popularity since they push to keep Islamic law out of their countries.
In the United States, the refugee crisis has sparked some debate, but it remains out of the primary spotlight because we are so distant from the actual wave of asylum seekers. The threat of terrorism is nothing new for Americans, and neither is Islamic State, but by virtue of the Atlantic it is easy for us to forget or underestimate the reality and realness of the current crisis. If thousands of people were lining up at our borders as they do in Europe it would be immediately referred to as a national crisis and threat to national security. Due to the country’s Post-9/11 distrust and paranoia of Islamic culture it is unlikely our borders would have been completely opened to refugees as they were initially in Europe.
The closest the average American can come to comparing the crisis in Europe to one of our own would be by considering the controversy surrounding Latino immigration from Central and South America. Within recent years, the United States was deeply divided over allowing thousands of unaccompanied children into the country. Debates ran over the costs of housing, education, and healthcare for these children for months, and this was without concern that hidden among those children were IS militants and potential terrorists. Since Latino culture is Christian, there was also no concern about Sharia Law, women’s equality, and human rights violations as there is surrounding Islamic culture. Basically, the magnitude and turmoil of European refugee crisis overshadows and outdoes any immigration crisis the United States has faced in the last century. It is unfortunately not too hard to imagine the amount of discontent, discrimination, and distrust an event of this nature would fuel on American soil.
Before going abroad, to Austria or elsewhere, it is advisable to follow news reports and current events in the weeks and months leading up to your departure. The best defense is always preparedness; the better your awareness, the better your understanding with how to cope or behave in certain environments and situations. Ignorance is not a preventative measure to danger. It is important to know of racial tensions before embarking to new destinations and countries in order to navigate and understand the attitudes of the culture you are joining.