The village of Cesky Krumlov, shot from above.

Auslandsemester

Reisen is German for "to travel." That's what Alexa Di Pietrantonio did these last two weeks, visiting towns in Austria and the Czech Republic. Oh, and she ate a grilled donut, covered in cinnamon and sugar and stuffed with melted chocolate. (Who else is booking a trip to Europe right now?)

Editor's note: Alexa Di Pietrantonio will continue to write about her adventures abroad throughout the semester. Check back often for more posts. And don't forget to follow her on Instagram.

February 21, 2017

We just started our real semester and a lot of our teachers have been asking: “Why did you choose Vienna?” I love hearing all of the answers from students, but one that sticks out the most to me is the location. Vienna is perfectly located in the center of Europe, making it really easy for trips to different cities and even different countries.

As an American, it’s weird to think about going to a different country for a weekend or just a day, but it’s not that uncommon here.

February 4 through 12, we had our Post German Intensive Break. Some students traveled to Rome, Milan, London, Amsterdam or Dublin, but I opted for the IES Abroad World Heritage Tour.

I’ll definitely be doing some of my own traveling in the near future, but I am more than happy I decided to go on the World Heritage Tour with 44 other IES Students. It saved a lot of time, stress, planning, and, most importantly, money.

Our first stop was the village Hallstatt in Austria. It was small but beautiful. The mountains were breathtaking, especially when they were reflecting off the lake upon which our boat cruise floated. It was an incredible sight to see. We even saw Mr. Sun out for the first time since I’ve been in Austria!

(Unfortunately for us, Mr. Sun decided that was enough vitamin D for the Americans because we didn’t see sunlight again until after returning to Vienna.)

After Hallstatt, we traveled to Salzburg, where the Sound of Music was filmed. But, surprisingly, few Austrians have ever seen the movie.

Walking around Salzburg felt like a little piece of home for me because I recognized so much from when I visited with my family. My mom studied at the University of Salzburg during her junior year of college – like mother, like daughter I guess? During her first year of graduate school she returned to Salzburg, and then my parents lived in Austria during my mom’s Fulbright teaching program.

Salzburg is one of my family’s favorite places in the world, and I’m so happy I was able to see it again. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoyed it as much as I did because we had rain, sleet, and snow.

After Salzburg we traveled to Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic. Similar to Hallstatt, this was a very small, yet beautiful, city. During the tour, our guide told us about something called trdlnik. Remember this word if you ever go to the Czech Republic. This street food is pretty much a donut grilled on a stick with cinnamon sugar on the outside and melted chocolate on the inside. I would be lying if I said I only ate one.


We didn’t stay long in Cesky Krumlov, but our next stop was Prague. We, of course, did more tours, but we also saw the John Lennon Wall, ate more trdlnik, walked along Charles Bridge, and saw some of the most beautiful architecture.

On our way back to Vienna, we stopped for a tour of the famous Budweiser Budvar Brewery, where we learned all about the history, how they make it, and, of course, how it tastes. (Just so you know, it tasted fantastic. Don’t worry, the drinking age is sixteen here.)

The World Heritage Tour was exhausting, eventful, but absolutely worth it. Tomorrow my friends and I are planning our next trip – to Palma, Majorca. I’ve never been there, and I’m really excited to see that part of Europe. Until then I’ll continue exploring Vienna and everything it has to offer.

One more thing: I promise I’ll attend classes and my internship, too. I’ll tell you more about those in the next blog.

Auf Wiedersehen,

Alexa

 

February 3, 2017

This past week has not only been filled with German worksheets and tests, but also with many new and exciting experiences.

Besides continuing my German intensive course, I also attended Technische Universität Wien’s (Vienna’s Technical University) Ball. It was similar to reliving prom night: dressing up in long ball gowns and getting ready with friends. But it was also very different; different in a good way, of course.

The ball was held in the Hofburg Palace. Yes, you read that correctly – a palace. It was amazing. When we first got there, the debutantes had already begun their dancing, but we couldn’t see anything so we ventured to other rooms throughout palace. My favorites were the salsa room with a live drum band, the room where the university’s chorus performed and, of course, the main ballroom.

I stood in awe for a while just watching men twirl their dates around the dance floor. It looked as if they were floating in circles, around and around and around. Everyone was so in sync. It was like they all had dance lessons when they were young … which is pretty accurate actually.

When I looked out into the mass of people on the dance floor, I only saw a few couples running into others, unsure of what they were doing. I automatically knew they were part of my study abroad program. I can’t say much though, because our waltz lesson didn’t help me much either. But that might also be because I have two left feet.

Nevertheless, we tried. Luckily for guys, girls aren’t allowed to say no if a guy asks them to dance. Luckily for girls, the guys always lead. Not so lucky for us IES students, because not many of us knew what we were doing. That didn’t stop us from having a ball.

This was by far the best experience I’ve had so far in Vienna. From the live orchestra to waltzing in a palace, this is definitely something you have to do if you are ever in Vienna during peak ball season.

Although I would’ve loved to stay until the final dance at 5 a.m., all of the other students who live in my residence hall were leaving around 3. There was no way I was walking through the streets of Vienna alone at 5 a.m. Plus we had class at 10 that morning. Luckily our teacher told us to meet in a café for “class.”

In addition to the ball, I also landed an internship with Pfizer, which is actually an American global pharmaceutical company. This would not have been possible without help from my program, IES Abroad, as well as my internship coordinator, Hilary O’Toole.

One thing I love about IES Abroad is that they have different types of internships available for students. From business to arts and culture to teaching English in Viennese classrooms, many IES students are getting the chance to work somewhere they never imagined possible.

Because of them, I’ll be working in Pfizer’s communication department until the end of April. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing yet – everything just happened yesterday! – but I’m excited for this opportunity. I think that this will be fantastic experience where I’ll be learning so many different things. From intercultural communication to hands-on experience in the corporate affairs world of Pfizer, I’m looking forward to every opportunity that comes my way.

Auf Wiedersehen,

Alexa

 

JANUARY 24, 2017

My name is Alexa Di Pietrantonio, and I am a junior corporate communications major at Penn State Beaver, but this semester I decided to fly across the pond to Austria.

No not Australia – and no there’s no kangaroos! To be more specific, I’m studying in Vienna through a program called IES Abroad.

My first week of class has come and gone, but we haven’t started our real semester yet. During my first three weeks in Vienna I’ll be in a German intensive class. I know what you’re thinking – only one class for three weeks? That’s not bad at all!

Nope. Wrong. Definitely wrong.

When they say intensive, they really mean intensive. We have three straight hours of only German class Monday through Friday, and then couple of hours of homework and studying for the next day. I learned 83 new vocabulary words in two days!

Oh, I forgot to mention that we speak 95 percent German during class, too.

While I made that sound terrible, I really am having the time of my life. I was born and raised in a small town. Vienna is a lot of things, but small isn’t one of them. While Austria is about the size of Maine, the city of Vienna consists of about 1.8 million people.

For me, getting around by public transportation has been even harder than speaking German. I can count on one hand the number of times I haven’t got lost while using the subway, train, tram, or bus. I think getting lost is one of my favorite things so far, though. If I hadn’t gotten lost, I wouldn’t have had to use my German to ask for directions, I wouldn’t have discovered new parks or markets, and I definitely wouldn’t have walked off all the Wiener Schnitzel I’ve been eating. But really, getting lost has shown me different parts of Vienna I may not have ever seen if I hadn’t gotten off at the wrong stop or missed my tram.

Luckily for me and only seven other IES Abroad students, I’m living in the residence hall just across the street from the IES Center, where our classes are held. Not many people applied to live in the residence hall, because when they heard the words “residence hall,” they thought of small rooms, communal bathrooms, and those crazy resident assistants. (Editor’s Note: Before she left for Vienna, Alexa was a resident assistant in Harmony Hall.)

None of those assumptions are true here. I actually live in an old monastery turned residence hall, which was just renovated a couple years ago. How cool is that? Our residence hall is very modern. We have our own mini kitchen, our own bathroom, a shared bigger kitchen and dining area just down the hall for our floor, someone who cleans our suite weekly, and a laundry room, gym, and music practice rooms downstairs.

We also have a beautiful view and great location because we are in the first district, where there’s always something to do. Museums, palaces, churches, you name it – we’ve got it in the first district!

I can’t wait to keep exploring my new home for the next few months. Hopefully I’ll have more sightseeing pictures for you guys next time. Until then, follow my study abroad Instagram @adventuresinaustria if you’d like to see daily pictures of my time in Austria!

Auf Wiedersehen,

Alexa