Living in a Snow Globe: Year Abroad in Salzburg, Austria Past Review

By (History and Classics, Bowling Green State University) for

University of Salzburg: Salzburg - Direct Enrollment & Exchange

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Absolutely. Despite the bureaucratic headaches, it was one of the best experiences of my life and I would not trade it for anything.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

In all honesty, the classes which we took that were directly under the AYA program were not necessarily "factually challenging", in that some of them covered basic subjects which technically should be common knowledge to most American college students (whether or not they in fact were varied on a more case-by-case basis). What these classes DID do, however, was strengthen the ability of all of us to understand and converse in the German language. In a way, it makes perfect sense because it is much easier to think of what to say in German if you're essentially reviewing a subject like Geography which you [should] already know. The local university courses themselves were an entirely different animal, however. As I alluded to previously, the language courses proper were conducted in a way which was quite a bit different from how things are done in the US, and it took a bit of getting used to. For example, in addition to the language courses, I took an archaeology class through the University of Salzburg (in German), and when the class neared its end, I had no idea what to expect as far as final examinations, etc. This too was conducted in a wildly different style than I was used to (essentially, one had to meet with the professor in his/her office, and be able to converse about any number of different topics from the semester). Now that I know what to expect, I feel that I could perform much better than I did, but it was quite a shock to the system at the time.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

By far, the single biggest complaint which most of us had in regards to our housing was our internet access (or lack thereof!). Two of the three dorms where we lived had what seemed to be late-1990s standards. While the internet was hi-speed, for reasons known only to administration, there were what I can only describe as draconian limits on our internet usage. Considering that our program went to great lengths to tell use about the joys of Skype and other forms of staying in touch with loved ones during our 10 months in Austria, one would think it would have occurred to someone to tell us that due to the internet limits, this amounted to about one 1-hour conversation PER MONTH. Considering how "connected" modern society is these days, it was mind boggling that we were restricted to something like 1-gigabyte of "data upload" in a 31 day period. The worst part though was that no one mentioned this to us before arrival, so instead of mentally preparing for it (if nothing else), we had people who ran out of internet by their second day in town. Traumatic effects of imposed isolation aside, it also bears mentioning that many classes have what could be considered "essential internet components" which, with the data transfer restrictions, made it impossible for some people to do their homework at home. Aside from this, the dorms were really nothing out of the ordinary. I lived in "Haus Merian" near the train station, and again aside from the baffling internet issues, the only real "negative" I can come up with is the fact that there are no real "common areas" where people can hang out and meet others. The kitchens on each floor are tiny and kind of uncomfortable if there are more than a handful of people in them at any given time. This was not a problem at "Haus Humboldt" however, where the kitchens are huge and a great place to hang out.

* Food:

Austria can be a rough environment for a vegetarian, in that there are few ready-made options like we have in the US, but this isn't necessarily a negative since it kind of forces you to make your own food... or to go get pizza/kebab which is always an enjoyable experience!

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

The AYA program organized two "field trips", one each semester. In October we went as a group to Vienna for a few days, and then in the spring we went up to Berlin for the better part of a week. I personally enjoyed the former much more than the latter, but I will admit that some of this likely has to do with the facts that 1) the Vienna trip was probably too soon into our year abroad--we hadn't been there for tree weeks yet--and we didn't really all know each other, nor did we have most of our paperwork issues--residence permits, health insurance, etc--squared away yet, so it cast a sort of shadow over the trip, for me at least. But also 2) by the time of our Berlin trip, in early June, we all knew each other but more importantly, we were all comfortable with conducting ourselves overseas, so it also felt like we had a lot more freedom to enjoy the city.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

Aside from it being a bit of a chore to get our health insurance going at the beginning, by all accounts healthcare system in Austria was amazing, and puts the American version to shame. As for safety of the city: as cities go, Salzburg, Austria is definitely one of the safest in the world, and I would by no means wish to give the impression that it isn't. That said, I was involved in a couple of altercations, and we all heard about some assaults happening here and there. My best advice would just be to use common sense, and stay aware of your surroundings and if you feel uncomfortable to quickly make your way to a well-lit area (of which there are many). Also, I guess I should mention that one of the major draws of the area is the sheer amount of outdoor opportunities available; you can get on a bus and in 15 minutes be dropped off at the foot of a mountain for a day of hiking/climbing adventure. The thing is, while this can be really alluring, I'd advise people to once again use common sense: if you've never been on a mountain before, don't go by yourself; don't try to overdo it; if the weather looks like it's getting bad, head for shelter; and so on. The last thing you want to do is ruin your study abroad experience by getting struck by lightning or something.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? The program gave us an "allowance" of about 75 EUR per week (effectively like a meal plan in the US). It was up to the students how much of this we wanted to spend/save, but with a little forethought, it was totally feasible to live off of around 35 EUR per week on food, and save the rest for whatever.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? I think a lot of students had some kind of notion that travel was quick, easy, and cheap in Europe. But while it CAN be any of these things, it is seldom all three at once. As such, I would advise that anyone planning to travel extensively do a lot of research about railpasses and the like ahead of time, because if you don't know anything about it and go in blind, you can end up spending a lot of money in a hurry, and I knew some people who blew through the money they had saved up for the year abroad by around January. It also pays to make lists of where you might want to go so you can find out how much it will cost to get there and back; all this will save the heartache of getting to Austria and then suddenly realizing that you have to cross 40 cities off of your list of places to visit.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Intermediate
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? German 202
Language acquisition improvement?

The single best way to increase one's language skills is to talk to people. It sounds silly, but it works. There comes a point in language instruction where one can lose focus of the fact that in essence, what all language is is a series of ways in which different people communicate with each other. It is entirely possible to be structurally aware of a language's grammar but incapable of using it on a practical level. This is a trap which some people can fall into while abroad, due to the fact that most people know at least some English, so it is easy for Americans to just default to our native tongue. I admit that this was a constant struggle for me, because it can be frustrating when you know what you want to say but simply can't find the words to express yourself. Of course, as a side note, one thing that becomes immediately obvious to students of German in Austria is the stark difference between written and spoken language. Again, Europeans tend to be familiar with American colloquialisms, different accents, etc because of the influence of American culture; Americans, on the other hand, can have quite a hard time trying to understand the dialect of the locals in Austria, especially if they aren't particularly highly educated.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

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  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

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  • International Students
* Who did you take classes with?

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A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • The host city and ease of travel
  • The ability to take additional classes through the host university
  • The foreign language classes
* What could be improved?
  • The organization re: local bureaucratic matters
  • Internet issues in the affiliated dorms
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? It helps to be very self-motivated and self-reliant, while having a strong desire to learn the language. But if all else fails, at least with the AYA Salzburg program, you get to spend a year in Salzburg, Austria, which is one of the most beautiful cities on the planet!