March, 2020 | Reciprocal Exchanges Blog

As I packed for my trip, I was quite nervous and filled with uncertainty. I would ask myself, “What lays ahead of me in Vienna, Austria?” However, all of my worry vanished as soon as I saw the beautiful city of Vienna. It’s one thing to see the city from pictures online (which I definitely Googled more than once), but once I was here in person, I could not be more happy to call this my new home.

I might be biased, but Vienna is the best city I have visited so far. I have gone on many trips already and have loved many other cities, but Vienna, with its great transportation system, beautiful churches, architecture, and a never ending supply of things to do, it definitely takes the top of my list. There is a certain way of life here that is just very relaxing and peaceful.

The university in Vienna is a big reason of why I wanted to come here. Its modern architecture is a contrast to the older buildings that make up most of Vienna. One step inside the library and you will think you are in a spaceship. Classes have just begun, but so far the academics here seems top notch and I am ready to challenge myself and learn how to confront problems with an international point of view.

The most important aspect of this trip has been the people I have met. The world seems so much bigger after meeting students from all parts of the globe, yet, at the same time, smaller because we are all like minded in wanting to create a better future for ourselves and others. It can be a little embarrassing, though, when I only know one language and everyone around me knows two or three. One of my favorite moments so far was when we began playing a game of Scrabble and someone asked, “What language are we playing in?” A tell tale tell sign that I was no longer in America.

This trip so far has been exactly what I needed: some time away from my comfort zone. I knew before I left that I would face challenges, take on new responsibilities, and even fail sometimes. But that is exactly why I am here. Growth comes from failure and experiencing new things, and while I have only been here a month, I feel more confident in myself and I am excited to see what experiences lie ahead.

Categories: 2020, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange


Billy Joel was right! It seems “Vienna [has been waiting] for me” my entire life. I listened to his song every day leading up to this trip in hopeful anticipation. Though my life had already begun, going abroad felt like a new beginning. I was about to spread my wings and waltz from my comfortable little nest into a life of spontaneity, discovery and well, lots of coffee. I was so excited! How could I not be? I was also equally nervous. While I didn’t have any expectations of what it would be like, the thought of moving to a country I’d never been to, not knowing German and planning how I’d balance school and traveling seemed both challenge and an opportunity for exponential growth.

The city of Vienna quickly become my home. I told my mom on day two that “I was a local” because I had figured out how to use the public transportation system; something I’ve never used before in the U.S. While Vienna is a large city, it welcomed me with a warm invitation and cozy cafes. It is easy to wander off on foot and spontaneously discover your new favorite coffee shop or kebab stand. The city takes your breath away with its beautiful architecture and historical stories. You really learn to appreciate beauty on a whole new level studying abroad, especially here in Vienna. What I love most is wandering around the city without a destination. Having no obligation to go or be anywhere is the most freeing thing I’ve experienced. Life as an Austrian involves taking time to be present and enjoy life. Spending Sunday strolling around the city and hopping around cafés till you are coffee-d out. To my surprise, Austrians walk unusually fast. Make sure to stand on the right side of the elevator or get out of the way when someone is exiting the subway. During my time here, I’ve learned how to speak a couple of phrases in German, navigate the city, throw together spontaneous travel trips real quick, be content with independence and silence and soak in all the gifts Europe continues to reveal each day. 

This past month, I’ve spent most of my time traveling and meeting people from around the world through an orientation and culture program offered through my university. It’s been so eye-opening and exciting to hear about the lives of other students. While so different, I felt a sense of unity between us and was excited to learn more about the rest of the world through students who were experiencing studying abroad as I was. Our campus, called “WU” houses the most modern buildings I’ve ever seen. I could study anywhere, but only at WU would I get an education on the set of something between The Hunger Games and Star Trek. Classes have only just begun and the workload seems heavier than I expected but nonetheless I am excited to work with my group project. We are all from a different country, how cool is that!!

This trip has been an opportunity of a lifetime, my greatest joy and everlasting memory! Don’t hesitate to live a full life. Buy that ticket, learn a new language and spread your wings – see where the wind takes you.

Our campus!

Learning to waltz with my orientation group!

Schönbrunn Palace

 

Exploring the city of Vienna and it’s history

If I could describe my experience so far through one photo, this would be it. 🙂

Friends from around the world!

Categories: 2020, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

My first month and a half in Europe has been quite the adventure so far. As my university in Prague did not start until the middle of February, I had the opportunity to travel around Central/Eastern Europe with my mom. Having not been to Europe since I was younger, being able to experience and adapt to such a different culture with someone by my side was quite helpful. We traveled to Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, and ended our trip exploring Prague. Each one of these places offered their own cultures and traditions and history but also had many similarities as well. These similarities and differences were a very eye-opening and well-needed experience for me. I feel that at home I was constantly always in a similar routine and always in my comfort zone and by getting out of that, I feel that I was able to grow as a person.

As Prague was the last leg of our journey, there were not any big shocks upon my arrival. There were some small differences that took some getting used to, however, the main thing I had to get used to was that this was going to be my home for the next 3 months! This was made easier by the fact that I am living in the exchange dorms for the semester. Being surrounded by students who are in a similar situation as you, and being able to talk and meet theses students from all around the world, is amazing to me. I have met people from the Netherlands, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and Finland. Being able to learn and connect with people who are so different, yet so similar has been one of my favorite things through my time here so far in Prague.

Prague has also lived up to all my expectations. It is beautiful, cheap, and right in the middle of Europe! Exploring the city is so easy and provides a new experience each time. You can get lost in the little cobblestone streets with endless amounts of cafes and pubs surrounding you, and then all the sudden stumble upon the Charles Bridge or Prague Castle. The city also has tremendous food and beer that is crazy cheap. This is great while you are in Prague, however, it does throw off your perception of prices when you travel; paying more than $8 for a meal with a beer now pains me! Travel is another great thing about Prague. Traveling has been so easy and has been another one of the great aspects of studying in Prague. Besides the trip I took at the beginning of the semester, I have been skiing in the Swiss Alps and have had fish and chips in London. I have another trip planned to Amsterdam and hope to visit Copenhagen and Poland in the near future. The start of this journey has definitely been one to remember and I can’t wait to see how the rest of my time here in Europe plays out.

Arsenal Game in London

Cheers in Czech

Skiing in Zermatt, Switzerland

Categories: 2020, Czech Republic, Reciprocal Exchange

I got to Vienna about a month ago and this past month has just flown by! I can’t believe I get to live in this beautiful city for about another four months. Vienna is definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Vienna is full of life at all hours of the day. There are always people socializing and enjoying their families. It is also much colder than Texas, so I was not as prepared for the wind and cold temperatures that Vienna had to offer. On the bright side, Vienna has excellent shopping!

I am living in one of the student apartments/dorms, and it was a great decision. My apartment is in a fantastic location. It is next to the subway, the train station, a mall, shopping, and tons of restaurants and grocery stores. I live about a block away from the entrance to the subway, which makes it incredibly easy to get around Vienna quickly. The beauty of the subway in Vienna is that it covers the vast majority of the city, and whatever area isn’t covered by the subway is covered by trams and buses. There is really no need for a car here in Vienna, which I find to be a great perk of choosing Vienna.

The Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU) campus is very unique! Almost every building has a different style of architecture. The campus is very easy to walk around. I have not started any classes yet; However, I am looking forward to my international classes so that I can meet students from many different countries.

Living in Vienna has made me become more resourceful, especially because I do not know German. It has been fun learning how to use google translate in the grocery store and almost everywhere else. Life in Vienna is very relaxed, in my opinion, which is very refreshing to the busy lifestyle in the United States. It has been great being able to fully embrace the Austrian culture, even if it has just been a month so far. I genuinely do love Vienna and would not be against ever living here in the future. For me, getting to know the locals and other international students has been the best part of this experience. I have been able to learn about different cultures and I have made new friends from all parts of the world.

Austria as a whole, is so beautiful! I have been able to visit Salzburg and Innsbruck, which are two breathtaking mountain towns! The mountains were covered in snow and very beautiful. Innsbruck was great because it was a smaller town than Salzburg, but very full of life. I had no idea there was a festival in the center of Innsbruck when I arrived, but it was just a couple of blocks away from my Airbnb. It was awesome to see so many people enjoying the mountains and life! Salzburg was just as beautiful. I am a huge Sound of Music fan, so being able to see spots from the movie has been a lifelong dream of mine!! It was everything I expected it would be and more!

Lastly, one more great perk about living in Vienna is how central it is within Europe. I have been able to go to Budapest, Brno, Graz, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Bratislava, and I will be going to Copenhagen and Prague this week! Flights, trains and buses all go out of Vienna in about every direction. Studying abroad in Vienna is a great choice if you are looking for a country that is easy to travel out of. I am really looking forward to the rest of this semester and for more adventures in Austria. Thanks for reading!

Stephanie Chavez

Categories: 2020, Austria, Reciprocal Exchange

So far, my study abroad experience in Madrid, Spain has exceeded all of my expectations. I came here knowing very little about the Spanish culture, and as soon as I stepped off my flight I realized I was in a different world. Madrid has been a place of non-stop excitement and adventure. I came here wanting to fully immerse myself in both the Spanish language and culture, and I have done just that.

By living in the heart of Madrid I have never been hit with a moment of boredom. I constantly find myself doing something different. Whether it be going to a different local restaurant for sangria and tapas or simply strolling the streets to see new things, my time has been a non-stop thrill. When compared to the United States, Spain is much more relaxed in all aspects. The Spanish people take life one day at a time. I found myself in awe when my walk to the metro at 8 am for class was through empty streets. While streets are empty and stores are still closed at nine in the morning, you will find them vibrant and full of people at ten at night any day of the week. This quickly made me realize how different the Spanish culture truly is. My most enjoyable time has been spent with new made friends, enjoying the great Spanish cuisine and drinks that Madrid has to offer. I have also had the great chance to travel a bit in my first couple of weeks in Europe. Traveling was something I really looked forward to, as I may never have another opportunity to travel like this again. As I have no class on Friday, a weekend trip to somewhere in Europe is easy. I have already visited Copenhagen (Denmark), Stuttgart (Germany), Barcelona (Spain), and Salamanca (Spain). As long as the coronavirus does not prohibit my travel, I plan on visiting several more places in Europe.

The beautiful sights and sounds of Madrid and Europe as a whole have made my time here worthwhile. From meeting people from all over the globe to seeing sights I would have never imagined seeing, studying abroad has already become one of the best experiences of my life.

 

Real Madrid v.s. Manchester City

Real Madrid vs Manchester City

Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark

Salamanca, Spain

Salamanca, Spain

Stuttgart, Germany

Stuttgart, Germany

Categories: 2020, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

To even begin at an attempt to fully convey the ineffable experiences I have lived through during the first 30 days of being in Europe would fall but a little short of insanity. I have gone through literal life times of experiences as I venture into territories and realms that up until this point have been hidden from me on the outside of a bubble most people I know live in called America.

Upon my arrival, things were immediately different. My surroundings, friends, language, food, societal norms, mode of transportation, and laws all completely changed the moment my foot stepped off of that plane. The day before, while being both excited and nervous simultaneously, I did not have a single expectation in my mind. I quite literally had no idea what to expect but knew one thing- this is my life and it is my journey that I will be the writer of. Studying abroad allowed this story to evolve into something that no other person has experienced or will ever experience. The things that have happened to me each and every day while here have been unique and special to me to the extent that I can say that with certainty.

I think a lot of this has to be because of the mindset that I came here with. If you have ever sat by a river and found yourself deep into contemplation, you might notice a piece of wood or draft would pinned between a boulder and the excruciating force of the current. I like to think of a lot of people as logs stuck to a boulder that they think will be their final position in life. However, it indeed is possible to train yourself to let go of that boulder, allowing a relief of all that force as you flow with the stream of life. When I came here I knew that a lot of things would be upside down from what I am used to, but I also knew that I have to ability to go along with whatever comes my way, going with the flow as I say. I have never stood by something so strongly: life is about the journey not the destination, everybody dies but most hardly live.

With this mindset, my experiences here have me been something I will say is the essence of what living is about. Creating and sharing memories and great moments with friends, all connected by love. It has yet to be a full month here and I have gone to more countries than I have gone to in my whole life combined, made friends that I would consider family and will continue to travel and enjoy life with for years to come. One of my favorite things about being in a place like this, in the circumstances that I am in, is that if you treat things like a video game, where you have a main mission for the day, but on the way to complete the main mission, countless side objectives that are all completely unique and unexpected each day will be created for you. The only way to ensure these side adventures come up is to like I said, “go with the flow” and be alert of how you can interact with locals.

The easiest (and sometimes necessary) way of going about this is using the google tactic. Yes I just made that term up, but hear me out as I have been effectively using it this whole time. So you have a problem or situation that would require some form of external help to resolve. This would for most people be google by default. After all, what can’t you find on the internet… right. Something google can not do however is continue the conversation with additional suggestions, stories, advice , and adventures to go on. This were it all ties together. Without the ability to get a SIM card over here until I sorted out an issue with my existing service provider, the internet was not an option. I was forced to ask countless strangers countless questions that have lead to countless new experiences and even friends. As I sit here writing this on the bus from Germany back to the Netherlands, I can not help but mention that this tactic might not go as smoothly with the Germans, as they were not the bunch to befriend strangers or even have the decency to not be rude about rejecting an honest interaction. Nevertheless, the Netherlands happens to be the exact polar opposite of Germany in regard to their people, as I have not had even a single mediocre interaction with a local. Yes, not only has each person been some of the most friendly people I have talked to, but they go above and beyond to help you and ensure that your day is going smoothly, as they would want the same done for them in a time of need. There have been moments like the time where I was completely stranded on a train moving through Brussels, with no service or idea how to read the itinerary that was given to me in a language I could not read a word of. Determining what stop to get off was critical, as my flight to Vienna was leaving South Brussels in only a few hours. Thankfully, to my rescue came a Dutch man with two kids with him enjoying their ride into Brussels for the day. He saw me stressing and after I asked him about where I was allowed to sit on the train, he continued on to help me realize the stop that I was going to get off at was in fact extremely far from where I thought it was. When I found this out I knew I was in a bad situation as I had no idea how to correct such a situation with the limited resources I mentioned above. Without this mans persistent help for the next 30 minutes on the train, I would have never made it to Vienna. He translated the maps for me, explained how the train system ran and which stops to get off, on , back off, and back on to. After all, my goal was to get from Maastricht, Netherlands to Vienna, Austria. Nothing short of crossing an entire foreign continent while alone and with no service. After 24 hours of traveling and using the google tactic, I finally made it and could reunite with my friends. Experiences such as this simply would not be possible if I did not make the choice to live here this semester. I’m excited for the rest of my time here!

Categories: 2020, Reciprocal Exchange, The Netherlands

Coming to Europe has been a different experience than I ever would’ve imagined. Being abroad has not only drastically impacted me as a person but has also been super enjoyable this first month. Although, being dropped into a situation so dramatically different from the one you’ve been used to so long can take some getting accustomed to, it’s worth it in the end.

Not having ever left the United States, arriving in the Czech Republic didn’t shock me as much as I thought it would. Although the travel and orientation can get overwhelming, you just push through and get it done. Once you can go out and experience the city, you remember why you chose to come in the first place. Prague has so many hidden gems, all you have to do is go out and look. Some of my favorite dishes I’ve ever eaten have come off of a menu that I couldn’t read.

Living at the dorms was a decision I won’t regret, as I’ve had the chance to meet so many amazing people to share my experiences with. As for the classes, they’re pretty different, but you’ll get used to them. Just go to class and do the work and it seems like you’ll be okay. Go to the school organized events, as every one so far has been a blast.

I’ve many trips planned for this semester to places such as London, Barcelona, and Amsterdam. My most recent trip was to Zermatt in the Swiss Alps, and was one I’ll never forget. I did happen to lose my phone though, so no pictures until I get another.

Na Shledanou!

Categories: 2020, Czech Republic, Reciprocal Exchange