Returned Participants: Steffi’s Semester in Austria

So you want to go abroad, but you have no idea what it will be like. You’re either getting ready to leave or you’re considering a program. Those of us who have been abroad know what it’s like to have so many conflicting emotions- nervousness, excitement, anxiousness, eagerness- before departing for a study abroad program.

Steffi Krull, a Senior studying German and History, offers her take on her study abroad program. Steffi studied in Graz, Austria through a Reciprocal Exchange program. While studying at Karl-Franzens Universität, she took five European history classes, two of which were taught in German. She was able to take an intensive three-week German course at the beginning of her stay, and continued practicing her language skills throughout the semester. Steffi says her language skills definitely improved as a result of studying in Austria, although she didn’t notice to what extent they had improved until returning to her German courses at OSU this semester. She lived in an international student dorm occupied by other exchange students, and had the opportunity to experience different cultures even within her housing situation- her roommate was from Korea. Because her host university has such a strong exchange program, she was able to meet and interact with students from all over the world! Because Reciprocal Exchange allows students to use existing scholarships to finance their trips abroad, Steffi was able to use her scholarships as well as personal funds, to finance her stay. Read what she has to say about her experience in Austria.

When I boarded that trans-Atlantic flight on January 31, 2010, I had no idea what was in store. I thought I would meet some new people; I believed I might learn a little bit more about myself. But little did I know that my life would be changed—forever and in the best possible way—and that Graz would go above and beyond every one of my expectations.

Before studying abroad, I had visited Europe a few times, but never for longer than two weeks straight. And although I chose to attend an out-of-state university (I come from Kansas), my semester in Graz would be my first truly independent experience. During that flight, I wondered, “Can I do this? Will I make it?” In those first few days of getting hopelessly lost and taking hours to complete simple tasks, I seriously questioned my decision. But before I knew it, I was planning and taking trips all over Europe on my own and with friends and loving every minute of it. Problem solving became second nature, so when issues arose (like getting stranded with a friend in the middle-of-nowhere Ireland), I remained level-headed and found the necessary solutions (like hitchhiking with a red-headed Irish dairy farmer to our hostel in the next town). Life is bound to throw you curve balls; studying abroad taught me to hit them out of the park.

More than anything else, the best part of my experience—hands down—were the friendships I made, friendships I will carry with me forever. Even though we were only together for five and a half months, we became closer than I had ever been with my friends at home. Think of studying abroad as an incubator for friendships; all the conditions are ideal to make them grow quickly and last. Whether we were climbing an eight-foot lion statue on the Schlossberg at 2 a.m., sharing our favorite foods (or better yet, desserts) at an international dinner, or even just telling stories about home until late, we were inseparable. Combine this constant interaction with the common experience of learning how to live in a foreign country with a different language (where buying milk at the grocery store can become a 30-minute adventure) and you get the fastest-growing, deepest-rooted, most genuine friendships ever. Though the future is uncertain and I don’t know when I will see them again, I am confident beyond all shadow of doubt that we will be friends for a lifetime. And that alone made my semester in Graz truly a dream come true.

My semester abroad taught me to enjoy life one day at a time and to savor every moment to the best of my ability. As a result, my outlook on life has been permanently changed—for the better. Though I miss Graz dearly and my heart still hurts, I try to not “cry because it’s over, but smile because it happened.” And I am so incredibly thankful that it did.

To read more about Steffi’s time in Austria, check out her blog at http://steffi-in-austria.blogspot.com/

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