Indiana University Overseas Study

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Never A Dull Moment

Jordin Perkins

Class photo

Our Class: After handing out suckers to the entire class, Professor Schachermeier insisted we ask someone to take our picture speaking only German. This was the result.

Every Wednesday, I walk into my “Cultural Heritage of Austria” course and ask, “So… Where are we going today?”

Like most other courses, the first hour and a half is held in the main IES building. However, unlike other classes, the second half of every class is designated to physically seeing what we’ve been studying in our textbook.

So far, we’ve seen 4 museums, 3 grave-sites of important historical figures, 1 castle, too many churches to count, the library that inspired Disney’s Beauty and the Beast’s library, and many other important landmarks in Vienna.

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You could say we’ve seen a lot of the city… you would be wrong. We haven’t even seen half of it yet!

From these class outings, I’m learning not only more and more about the history of this city, but that, alongside the old buildings and artifacts, there is always something new to see. One can never complain about being bored.

World renowned Christmas markets are popping up everywhere, there is always a new symphony or opera to see for as little as 3 Euro (sometimes even for free!), and getting lost in the city (not that I’ve done that 4-5 times already…) leads you to little cafes and boutiques that, while you may never find them again, add to the charm of the city.

And the professors here sure do take advantage of these opportunities.

While not all courses can afford an excursion every class, most have at least a few scheduled into their syllabus. This sense of a classroom outside of the classroom is an eye-opening, hands-on way to learn that will make returning to lecture halls and textbook discussions difficult.

Having already met a few, I hope to encounter more professors in IU’s Journalism program who use this method of learning – allowing us to step outside of the classroom and into the lesson’s physical material.

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The Little Things

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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Auf Wiedersehen, America!

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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