Indiana University Overseas Study

Jordin Perkins

It’s not like I expected the Austrians to be little green aliens. But, as I walked off of the plane in Vienna, Austria, I did expect some kind of culture shock. However, besides being surrounded by German chatter, which four semesters of German had prepared me for, I wasn’t particularly overwhelmed by many cultural differences.

Looking back now, I can say that my assumed definition of culture shock was completely inaccurate.

My initial expectation what that everything would be completely backwards and I wouldn’t know my left from my right. Having been here for a bit, I now understand that culture shock can be a culmination of little experiences and encounters that slowly become a part of everyday life abroad.

So, without further ado, some of the little things that, personally, made Vienna so… foreign!

typical cup of coffee

A typical cup of coffee from Café Neko, a cat-friendly café in the middle of Vienna.

Coffee Culture

Coffee here is considered a delicacy and, though it’s an option to buy a “to-go” coffee, it’s far more common to sit down and enjoy a warm mug in the café itself. Almost every corner has a different and unique café, where it is completely acceptable to buy one cup of coffee and sit for hours. For those seeking a little piece of America, Starbucks can also be found in largely tourist-populated areas.


One must always stand on the right side of the escalator. If one stands in the middle or on the left, those climbing the steps in a hurry will push her to the side, with a polite, but slightly annoyed, “Entschuldigung.” There are even signs at both ends of the escalators stating, “Bitte rechts stehen” meaning “Please stand to the right.”


While jeans and cardigans are still part of the norm, tank tops and leggings are not as widely accepted as they are in the U.S. The Viennese, from what I’ve noticed, tend to be more conservative in the way they dress, always pairing a lower cut shirt with a scarf and wearing leggings as though they were tights, often with longer shirts or dresses. However, sweatpants and running shorts, completely acceptable to wear to class in a U.S. college town, are virtually nonexistent outside of the realm of exercise here.

Street at along Danube

One depiction of street art along the Danube River.


The graffiti that I’ve experienced in Vienna should more realistically be called Street-Art. Whereas in the US, it usually includes vulgar terms and symbols, graffiti here tends to encompass a personal view or an abstract idea. Thus, instead of being covered up and washed away, most graffiti is accepted as just another part of everyday life.


While smoking in most public places, such as restaurants and university buildings, is illegal in Indiana, smoking in Vienna is a part of everyday life. It is common on main streets to pass clouds of cigarette smoke or for someone to hurry past you, cigarette in hand. In fact, most restaurants have a smoking section that encompasses the entire outside patio and cigarette dispensers are included on most public trash cans.

Längenfeld Subway Station

Stairs lead down to the U6 line in the Längenfeld Subway Station.

Public Transportation

This is one of the biggest differences that I’ve found between the two countries.

In the train stations in Vienna, there are no gates or entry/exit areas. Instead, passengers are expected to buy a day, week, or month pass and enter directly into the station. Aside from random ticket-checks, the Viennese public transportation is completely based on an honor system.

Once on the public transportation, the social etiquette is also different. While casual conversations are a normal occurrence on public transportation in the U.S., these conversations would cause other passengers to stare on the otherwise quiet public transportation in Vienna. For Americans, the combination of speaking loudly and speaking in English on trains or buses can make them stick out like a sore thumb.

Many of these differences may not be as prominent, depending on where one grew up in the United States. However, as someone who was born and raised in Indiana, it was these little differences that caused me to stop and reconsider where I was and where I’d come from.

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Turtle Hunt

Erik Trautman

Around the second week of the BCSP (Bologna Consortial Studies Program), I went to revisit the first apartment I saw in Bologna. “If you like it you should take it because someone else might,” the landlord warned me on my first visit. Sure enough, Kirk, another student in BCSP, was interested and had seen it directly after me on my first visit. The morning before I revisited the apartment I asked Kirk what he thought of the place. “I think I’m going to take it, I’m going to call tomorrow to see if I can see it again,” he responded, not exactly the response I hoped for. I told him I also planned on taking the apartment and that I already had an appointment to revisit it. He said in that case he would back off. I felt like a 10-year-old on the playground claiming “finders keepers” but the competition of searching for a home will do that to you.

I remember trotting down the spiral staircase, my steps echoing off the stone, click-flop click-flop. The sole of my left shoe had come partially undone and flopped around like an extended tongue when I went up or down stairs and tripped me up on cobblestone roads. I reached the bottom of those treacherous steps, opened the weathered wooden doors, and there he was again, Kirk. “They called me and asked if I could come back so they could get to know me better,” he explained. I gritted my teeth and wished him the best of luck. The meeting I just had with potential roommates had been an interview and I didn’t even realize it! I came prepared with questions and thought that it was them in the hot seat, but the opposite turned out to be true.

I spent the next couple of hours in the serene “Giardini Margherita” awaiting their decision. I replayed the meeting over and over in my head, scrutinizing my every move. The three of us sat around the cramped kitchen table, a small overhead lamp hung above us. Salvo, whom I met the first time I saw the apartment, sat to my right, and Francesca, whom I was meeting for the first time sat to my left.   Electronic music buzzed from behind a cracked bedroom door. “Do you mind the smoke?” Francesca asked as she finished rolling a cigarette. “Not at all, it’s your house,” I carelessly responded. “Will the landlord fix the oven?” was the only question I managed to recall. “Eventually,” was their response. Francesca asked me if I liked Salvo’s music. I turned my ear to the shrills and squeaks that crept out from behind the cracked bedroom door. “Electronic music at 2pm is like showing up to a party 8 hours early,” would have been an honest response. Instead I said, “yes, very much.” After about a half hour of this kind of overly polite chitchat I took my leave. They said they’d give me a call around five.

Thankfully, Stephanie, another BSCP member, met me at the gardens to help distract me from my self-criticism. She had already found an apartment but worried about making new friends and fitting in. We strolled through the seemingly endless park until we reached the central lagoon, which we discovered is chalk full of turtles. We spent some time distracting ourselves by trying to catch a small turtle by hand.

trying to catch turtles

Turtles at Giardini Margherita

This naturally drew attention to us as foreigners as it is not a common practice for Italians to try to catch turtles by hand in the gardens. Despite our overt “foreignness,” we were approached by a kind Italian man interested in our fruitless attempts. We chatted awhile and he suggested we buy a net. After what seemed like a lifetime in the gardens, I received the call I had been waiting for. “We choose you,” is what I could make out of their broken English. I cart wheeled from one side of the park to the other; I was so ecstatic! I now had a home in building 7 on Via Della Braina.

After a month of tripping over cobblestones, tripping over the language, and tripping over insecurities, I’ve learned to pick up my feet, pick up my tongue, and overcome some of them. That being said, I still feel isolated and like a fish out of water far from my native sea at times, but this is natural. Don’t think it won’t happen to you. You will feel like a foreigner because you are and it will make you feel insecure at times. Embrace it! Stephanie and I made a friend at the park that day because we were so obviously strange and out-of-place, I was lucky enough to find great roommates after looking at my first apartment, and Kirk found an accepting group of roommates just down the street. Embrace your “foreignness” and learn to pick up your feet. You will have more in common with the natives than you’d ever expect. I’m still on the hunt for that turtle but I’ve found friends and reassurance. And the Italian word of the day is “tartaruga” or turtle.

Francesca and I

Francesca and I

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Erik Trautman

It was 6:50 p.m. on April 25th, 2014, which happened to be the Friday night of my last Little 500 at Indiana University and the second night of IU cinema’s Italian Film Festival Conference. I debated with myself whether or not to attend the film as I was torn between my desire to improve my Italian language skills and my love for the Bloomington nightlife. Finally, and without a second to spare, I kicked back the last of my drink and stepped out into the crisp spring air.

As I biked down 7th street towards the IU cinema that evening, I wondered, “How socially pathetic am I going to appear showing up to a half vacant theater unaccompanied on the Friday night of IU’s biggest celebration?” To my surprise, I wasn’t the only lonely soul hustling to make the 7 pm showing of Carlo Verdone’s Io, Loro, e Lara or Me, Them, and Lara. As I grabbed my ticket and entered the theater a feeling of belonging swept over me. Not only was the theater packed tight but students of my age were in attendance and some I recognized from class. I took a seat just as the director and main actor, Carlo Verdone, began to talk about his film.

Lara from "Me, Them and Lara"

Lara from “Me, Them and Lara” directed by Carlo Verdone

Verdone talked about the process he went through making Me, Them, and Lara, one of his most successful films and winner of the 2010 Best Comedy Golden Globe. Verdone was a thematic man and he jested about his experience interviewing missionaries to help develop the protagonist of the film, an Italian priest who returns from a missionary trip in Africa to find himself out-of-place in his very home. Verdone reflected on writing the script and how, because of a quickly approaching deadline, he wrote it in less time than any other movie he had produced. After about fifteen minutes of lead up from Verdone, he dedicated the film to his father who had passed away during filming.

I won’t spoil the plot for those of you who wish to see Me, Them, and Lara someday, but I will say the film exuded Verdone’s whimsical humor juxtaposed with the lonesomeness of the protagonist. In the end, the protagonist’s lonesomeness is resolved and I left the theater with a feeling of accomplishment, tranquility, and reconciliation with my own feelings of lonesomeness I had experienced on my way to the theater. As I biked off into the now brisk night air, I had no regrets about the decision to attend the film and I felt goia, joy in English (my mind was in Italian mode), because the night had just begun.

In short, sacrifices and trade-offs are a necessity to study abroad. I sacrificed those few short but precious hours to try to improve my study abroad experience by improving my language skills and cultural knowledge. This was just a sample of my future year abroad but my experience at the Italian Film Festival reassured me that it is a worthwhile sacrifice.

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Kathleen Rutherford

In mere hours I will be on the plane headed due south to my final destination: Santiago, Chile!

At the moment my biggest concern is hoping that I remembered to pack everything I’ll need for an entire semester, but lurking behind my endless mental checklist, excitement is bubbling up inside me.

With two legs of my travelling now complete, Chile is getting closer and closer! There is no telling what exactly my study abroad will entail with regards to my experiences inside and outside the classroom, Chilean culture, and living with a host family. Never before have so many things changed all at once in my life and this gives me the chills—in both a good way and a bad way!

The prospect of maneuvering the largest metro system in South America in a city of six million is one of the more terrifying chills.

However, it pales in comparison to the fact that I will be living in one of the most geographically diverse countries in the world. At my fingertips are: the world’s driest desert (Atacama Desert), Easter Island, Patagonia, the glacier fields, the endless beaches up and down the western coast, and the breathtaking snow-capped Andes Mountains. I’m positively itching to start exploring Chile’s wonders!

Then of course, the thought of leaving for a far-off country and having no clue who I am living with for the next 5 months promptly raises my anxiety level again. Imagine trying to pick out suitable gifts for a host family when you have no idea if they have kids, what ages their kids are if indeed they have any, or if you’re living with another student that’s around your own age. What does one bring as a gift!? It seems to me that a magnet is about the only universal gift that can cross both the age and gender barriers and still make a decent first impression.

Taking classes in Spanish is a much more exciting thought. In Santiago, I will have my choice of classes from three different universities. This means I will literally have thousands of classes to choose from—and from nearly any field. I’ll have the opportunity to take so many Spanish classes I would never have been able to take at IU and I’ll be learning side by side with Chilean natives!

All in all, I’m chomping at the bit to finally get to Santiago and start living a la Chilena. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful experiences from former gringa exchange students and I can’t wait to regale you all with tales of my first days in Santiago!

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Jordin Perkins

It hasn’t quite hit me that in about a week I’ll be settling into my new home in Vienna, Austria. Having watched my sister study abroad in Florence, Italy, I’ve dreamed of this day for years, wishing and hoping that I would get the opportunity to study abroad in Europe, just as she did.

Talking to her about her experience and what to expect, she gave me a few of the normal tips: stay safe when you go out, lock away your passport, etc. Then, just as the other students who have studied abroad had, she promised that I’d learn more about myself and my faith than I ever thought possible.

So, as I sit in front of my open suitcase and stuffed carry-on, I’m overwhelmed with excitement for the next five months to come. I can’t wait to visit the places I’ve circled in my Austria guidebook, learn all about Austria’s rich history in my classes, wander and photograph Austria’s beautiful landscapes, and explore all of Vienna’s small, quaint coffee shops and restaurants.

Having planned this trip from the time I was in middle school, I have a few other things that I’d like to accomplish while I’m there, too:

  1. Become Fluent in the Language. Having taken German for 6 years of my life now, it’s going to be exciting to be able to put all of my hard work and studying into practice!
  2. Travel. I don’t know the next time I’m going to be able to travel out of the United States – or if I’m ever going to get this chance again! I want to take advantage of all that Europe has to offer while I’m in Austria.
  3. Meet People. I want to become friends with not only the other students on the program with me, but with locals from the area as well!
  4. Immerse Myself in the Culture. This means not only learning to live as the locals do, but not allowing myself to be caught up in what I’m missing back in the States, either. I need to be mentally in Austria in order to fully envelop myself in my experiences.
  5. Keep a Journal. I want to be able to look back and read about the little things and laugh. This is just one way to be able to reflect on my trip once I come home.

Knowing some of these will be harder than others, I’ve realized that studying abroad in a foreign country isn’t going to be happy-go-lucky at all times. Keeping this in mind, I’m willing and beyond excited to see what this Austrian opportunity has in store for me!

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Lauren Greco

I attempted to push the thought to the back of my mind, but I knew I could not deny it any longer. It was finally time to say goodbye to the beautiful green countryside of Ireland and hello again to the skyscrapers and sidewalks of Chicago. Although the end was bittersweet, the 8 weeks that led up to that end were full of memories I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

As I finished my last day of work at the Bank of Ireland, I could not help but reflect on the unique opportunity I had been given. I was able to not only learn about an international business environment in the classroom, but I was then able to live within that environment every day for an entire summer. As much as listening to professors in a lecture hall can help aid a student’s understanding of a business practice, environment or process, there truly is nothing like actually being able to immerse oneself in that environment. I was able to understand the financial markets of the country, learn about the public’s opinions of the financial services sector, attend a press conference with the CEO of the Bank and various national and international news outlets, and make long-lasting connections to businesspeople in Europe. In terms of my professional growth, I cannot express how much this summer has meant to me.

While professional growth is important, more importantly I grew as a person in a way that will affect all aspects of my life, not just my future career path. I found myself feeling and acting more independent than I already was, learning how to adapt to my surroundings, and how to make the best of a situation. When I look back to who I was just a few short weeks ago, I can honestly say that going to a different country for a whole summer and not knowing anyone before going has changed me for the better. I feel more confident and ready to take on whatever may come my way.

Interestingly enough, I think the biggest thing I learned from my study abroad experience was to appreciate everything I have and the finite amount of time I have left in college. I distinctly remember sitting in my apartment in Dublin and realizing that I was already halfway done with my college career, and in two short years I will have to say goodbye to Bloomington and enter the unknown of the “real world”. I promised myself right then and there that I would make the most of my time left in Bloomington, similarly to how I tried to make the most of my time in Ireland. Studying abroad has truly opened my mind to the endless possibilities of the world, and some of them are right in front of me. There are so many things that I haven’t done or experienced that I can do right in Bloomington, Indiana, and that realization already has me excited for the upcoming school year and what I can do to make it memorable.

I cannot express enough how valuable my time in Ireland was. I met great friends, traveled to places I never thought I would ever see, did things at work I never thought I would be able to do at such a young age, and saw a true development in myself, both personally and professionally. For me, it was not a difficult goodbye when leaving Ireland, because I cannot imagine not going back one day. Although I had to leave my summer adventure in Europe behind me, I already cannot wait for the future opportunities that the world may present me with. So, here’s to you Ireland. Sláinte.

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Ashli Hendricks

I’ve been back for a month. My last day in Copenhagen was Independence Day, which is an ironic time to realize my crippling dependency on the people I’d gotten to know during my six-week stay.

I spent Independence Evening stumbling around a beach playing “soccer,” because falling is allowed to be called a sport when there’s a ball. The summer sun doesn’t really set in Scandinavia, but there was still this sweeping, aching nostalgia riding out across the sky, a weighty ambedo of everything drawing to a close. Maybe if I threw fistfuls of sand into everybody’s eyes and ran, they’d be blind to the future. I could convince them to let me stay.

soccer on the beach

Inspired by the World Cup

But I had to leave. So I did.

And all this stuff I’ve spewed in posts about new outwardness and positivity that I thought would settle with my wrinkles years from now was suddenly zapped. I was parched by ordinary people with ordinary desires, these simpletons, these peasants.

the high dive

It’s higher than it looks.

I was frustrated with what a gross, insincere cliché it is to say life is changed after a study abroad: What do you mean happy isn’t just the way I am now? I have to work at it everyday? I can’t hire those little Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 maintenance men that I took so much pleasure in drowning? Fix a gear here, a yawning abyss of boredom there.

The inconvenient, obvious truth is that I’d just left the happiest place in the world, and even having written about how similar it is to B-town, the fact of the matter is they’re different.

Copenhagen is an inescapability of love, a factory of it. I almost swore off my lifelong revile of “settling.” I wanted forever, a family, a lame Sears frame in which I never pictured myself. I wanted to be the wrinkled old friends on a train platform, linking arms and singing; the toddlers giggling as they were allowed to captain our castle-moat ferry; even the French bulldogs in every sidecar. I understood why my teacher came to this place fifteen years ago and never left. It was a city of airport reunions, a city in love with love.

But on one visit to a Danish autistic pre-school I learned about a game to teach the kids not to be sore losers. The “loser” of the round who didn’t win candy got a small paper heart that read “pyt med det,” essentially meaning “oh well” or “no big deal.”

Pyt med det

Life lessons start in kindergarten

If a six-year-old can internalize compromise and mental fortitude, then so could I.

“Pyt med det” was still my phone’s lockscreen in Bloomington, but I’d forgotten why. There wasn’t a dorm of 50 adventurers ready to carpe their diem to remind me. There wasn’t a class trip agenda forcing me onto a train every morning.

church of our savior

300 feet, slick with rain and sweat. That’s a fear grin.

But when I stepped outside of my comfort and transportation pass zones, I learned this: just because something’s not who I am, doesn’t mean it’s not who I could be in the two minutes to wait in line for the world’s oldest rollercoaster or the 40 kroner it takes to scale Church of Our Savior’s corkscrew spire. If I expect my attitude to be different than when I left Indiana, I can’t live the same way I did now that I’m back.

I have to be as open-faced as smørrebrød sandwiches.

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