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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.
Things are winding down for students at Penn State Beaver and graduation is shortly approaching, but I’m just now starting to receive information about my finals, which will take place in mid-May.
Since my last blog, even though it’s been about a month, I honestly haven’t had much class. But I promise we actually do study during study abroad.
Austria is a predominantly Catholic country, so we had ten days off for Easter/Spring Break. During my break, I visited a few parts of Austria with family friends.
I celebrated Easter with my sister’s Austrian host family, and I also celebrated two of my Niederwaldkirchen friends’ 21st birthdays. (Editor’s note: Alexa lived in Niederwaldkirchen in 2008 and 2009.) My sister Bella and I traveled to Reid im Innkreis to meet up with our friends Hans and Marcia. These people are some of the most interesting I’ve ever met because they’ve seen and done so many exciting things throughout their lives. She is an American woman from Ohio who studied abroad during her junior year of college, and she happened to fall in love with an Austrian. They’ve been together ever since. (So far I haven’t been as lucky as Marcia, but I’ve still got two months!)
We then traveled to Salzburg with them where we saw some “Sound of Music” sites as well as the real house the von Trapp family lived in. Hans and Marcia have interesting ties to many people around the globe, including Maria von Trapp – the third-oldest child of Agathe Whitehead and Captain Georg von Trapp – before she passed away. In the film she was portrayed as Louisa due to the stepmother, Maria Augusta von Trapp, having the same name. Although I like the movie, I really enjoyed learning about the real history of the von Trapp family.
We then continued to visit more friends who have really become like family to us over the years. For me, it was the best thing I could’ve done over Easter break because, sometimes, all you need is family.
The break ended, but I was happy to return to my friends in Vienna. When I got off the train it almost felt like home, which isn’t something I thought I’d ever say about a city. Classes were back in session, but I had a music festival to look forward to that next weekend.
Even though I didn’t know any of the Austrian bands performing, we had a great time. I got to hangout with Austrians my age, practice my German, and even camp out in a van that weekend.
This past weekend IES Vienna planned a trip for about 30 students to visit Styria, which is one of the nine states of Austria, and just about two hours south of Vienna. We first stopped at the Austrian Open-Air Museum, which allowed us to see old-time, traditional, rural life from different regions of Austria. After the museum we took a walking tour of Graz, the capital of Styria.
Graz is smaller than Vienna but it has a lot of universities, which means there are lots of college-aged students around. We found that to be very true when we went to the silent disco (where everyone listens to music through their own headphones) in one of the parks to celebrate my 21st birthday.
It’s always one exciting thing after another, which really makes time fly. I still have sixteen more days until my last final, but that also means I only have sixteen more days with my study abroad friends – until we meet up in Boston next year that is.
I’m thrilled to get back to my family and friends, but I’m excited to see what other European adventures lie ahead of me this summer.
From classes, to my internship, to traveling, to sometimes sleeping, I somehow already managed to stumble upon my midterms. I cannot believe that my study abroad experience in Vienna is already more than halfway over. Time really does fly when you’re having fun!
Unfortunately, IES Vienna only offers one communications class in the spring, and I’ve already taken it back at Penn State Beaver, so all of my classes are general education courses. I’m taking 15 credits through IES and doing my internship with Pfizer ten hours per week, which definitely keeps me busy.
The classes – including Arts, Entertainment and Cultural Management; Developmental Psychology; and German Language – aren’t classes I’m used to taking, but I must say this is definitely one of my favorite semesters of college, and not just because I’m in Austria either. These are some of the most interesting classes I’ve ever taken. I guess general education classes aren’t always the worst.
In addition to classes, I’ve been doing a lot of things that I never imagined myself ever doing. But I’m abroad so any time something comes up, I think to myself, “When am I ever going to get the chance to do this again?”
Want to sing German karaoke with two Austrians in Budapest? Sure!
Want to go for a 14-mile hike in the Alps? Sure!
Want to eat horse? Sure! (I was definitely a little apprehensive about this one.)
Want to go paragliding? Sure!
Want to go see Cirque du Soleil? Sure!
Want to stay in Austria until the end of July? Sure! Los gehts! (Here we go!)
When I’m not attending classes or my internship, I’ve been traveling by plane, train and bus to some pretty great places with pretty great people. You can’t just travel with anyone though. Lucky for me, I found some travel buddies.
During our first trip together, we had an amazing long weekend visiting Naples, Capri, Amalfi Coast and Pompeii. They were absolutely breathtaking. I’m not going to lie, we ate pizza and gelato Every. Single. Day.
In between two of our longer weekends, I traveled to Budapest with two of my childhood friends from Niederwladkirchen, Austria, just for a weekend. Talk about a Budaful place to visit! We enjoyed a free and sunny walking tour of the city, an ice bar, the thermal baths and, of course, the delicious Hungarian food.
My IES friends and I took another long weekend trip to celebrate the end of midterms. We took a train to St. Gilgen, Austria, where we hiked around Wolfgangsee and up a mountain. This was not a hill; it was a mountain - 1,783 meters high. I struggled, but I made it to the top eventually!
I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as I did from the peak of the Schafberg in my entire life. This time, it wasn’t just the view that took my breath away. I guess I’ve been eating too much Schnitzel?
We also visited Innsbruck, Austria, where we went paragliding and hiked to Krimmler Wasserfälle, Austria’s highest waterfall. I must say it was my favorite weekend so far, not only because of the places, but also because of the people I experienced it with. Luckily for me, we won’t be too far away from each other when we return to America.
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.
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.
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!