Courtesy of Saphir Shamesh

Courtesy of Saphir Shemesh

Studying abroad is an amazing opportunity for anyone lucky enough to experience it. I have travelled to almost 40 countries, and yet, nothing compares to actually living and studying in another country on your own for five months. I chose to go abroad to Vienna, Austria because Vienna is a city with amazing history, culture and diversity.

I landed in Vienna on Jan. 7 and immediately hopped on a bus to go to Mariazell, a small pilgrimage site in the Alps, for a four-day orientation. Leaving Vienna after just arriving may sound strange, but the town we were in allowed us all to get over the jet-lag, meet everyone on the program and listen to all the information sessions about life in Vienna we could possibly need since Mariazell didn’t have the overwhelming feeling of jumping into a big city right away. After our four days, we finally were taken back to Vienna to start our new abroad life, which meant three weeks of German Intensive classes (which is such a hard language to learn as a beginner!).

So far, my favorite part about being here is the Viennese coffee house culture. I didn’t know this before coming here, but Vienna is famous for how many coffee houses they have and what they represent for the Viennese. In the past, the coffee houses were seen as a club where people would meet for hours for discussions and read newspapers, while sipping a cup of coffee. An interesting fact about this tradition I learned from my program is that people who couldn’t always afford coffee were offered a cup of water in order to be included in the discussions. Today, water is always served with your order of coffee. I feel like the slow pace of life and the opportunity to truly appreciate the time you take off for relaxation are big reasons why I feel I have connected so well with Vienna. And the Apfelstrudels … I definitely connect with them.

A unique experience I participated in was attending my very first Viennese Ball. Now, when I say Ball, I mean the true princess experience with an evening gown and fur coat for women and bow ties for men. It is a very elegant event, especially considering that most balls happen at the Hofburg Imperial Palace. Ball season has over 400 balls with any theme you can think of. There is a Policeman’s Ball, Wiener Vegan Ball, Sports Ball, Candy Ball — you name it, and they probably have a ball for it. I attended the Technical University (TU) Ball with many people from my program and students from TU (along with hundreds of others), and it was a blast! There are different rooms in the palace devoted to different musical genres. The biggest ballroom was just for the Waltz, and, let me tell you, Austrians know how to waltz. The experienced couples looked like they were simply floating around the room. I tried my hand at dancing with some Austrian boys who clearly knew what they were doing, while I spent the entire dance apologizing for stepping on their toes! It was a magical night suited for royalty and not my 21-year-old self!

Emory’s Center for International Programs Abroad (CIPA) and my major advisors have all been extremely helpful throughout this entire process. When I decided I wanted to study abroad, I scheduled an appointment with almost every CIPA advisor to help me with my decision (a little much, I know, but very helpful for someone like me who had no idea where to go).

Also, once I got to Vienna and started sitting in on classes during add/drop week, I sent many emails to all my advisors to see what I could get credit for. They always responded so quickly and explained their reasoning for why some classes could count and why others couldn’t. My advisors made it possible for me to have a smooth transition from Emory class life to IES class life.

I recommend studying abroad, or even just putting yourself in experiences that will take you out of your comfort zone. Growth comes from challenging yourself and the main way to do that is to show yourself you can accomplish anything. I have only been in Europe for a month, but I never want this semester to end.

– By Saphir Shemesh, Contributing Writer