Phaedra S. Exchange Ambassador
What is one word to describe your study abroad experience:
"I understand that it may seem intimidating at first when you’re trying to get everything organized in the preliminary steps, but just go for it and I guarantee it will be the most memorable experiences of your university career."
Exchange student at Management Centre Innsbruck (MCI), Austria
Studying Food and Agricultural Business
- What is the best thing that happened while you were studying abroad?
I know this sounds super cheesy, but the best thing that happened to me while I was studying abroad was actually feeling and recognizing myself grow as a person. The process of moving to a different country on your own, meeting new people, organizing your travels, budgeting, etc really provides you with insight about yourself. I gained independence, I became more open-minded, and I learned so much about myself that what this experience has done for me is honestly indescribable.
- What was the biggest cultural adaptation you had to make?
Culturally speaking, I didn't experience any sort of massive shock. It's still a western environment and I found it really easy to adapt. However, I think the reason it was such an easy transition was that everyone I met was in the same boat! So ultimately we were going through the “adjustment phase” together and could lean on each other for support when needed. The biggest challenge I faced was trying to grocery shop of all things! Luckily though, the google translate app became my best friend and I got the hang of it in no time.
- Where was the coolest place you travelled to during your exchange?
Being as Austria is so central, I did a lot of travelling while abroad with the friends that I had met. Best of all, however, was the 40 days of solo backpacking that I did after the semester was done. Obviously, Innsbruck was my favourite place, but a close second was Portugal. Road tripping along the coast you can get a little off the beaten path and there are some great opportunities to do some amazing camping and/or surfing. Not to mention the food is incredible and it is a relatively cheap country to travel within.
- What is something that you know now, that you wish you knew before you studied abroad?
I wish I had known how easy it would be to make friends. I was pretty nervous before going that I wouldn’t connect with people the same that I had in Guelph and I quickly realized once getting to Austria that that would be the last of my worries. Everyone is so welcoming and friendly that I made lifelong friends within the first few weeks.
- What was your best learning moment?
I was so excited to do lots of travelling (and don't get me wrong, I'm happy I did) that I almost missed out on the incredible country that I had been living in. Once I realized that my own backyard was an absolute playground of incredible scenery, culture and activities I recognized the value in truly getting to know a country and experience it not just as a tourist but as an actual resident. I spent the last two months exploring Austria by skiing, hiking, going on road trips, camping, rock climbing and building extremely valuable and meaningful relationships that I wish I had pursued much earlier in the semester.
- Who was the hardest person to leave from home? How did you deal with that?
Leaving home, my roommates/best friends from Guelph were probably the hardest to leave. You get so accustomed to having them around that I was worried that the adjustment would be really difficult. Admittedly, we didn’t talk a lot when I was on exchange but looking back that was probably for the best! Being in constant contact with friends from home I found just made me feel more homesick. But, as soon as I got home we picked right back up where we left off and I couldn't be more grateful for that!
- Who was the hardest person to leave that you met while on exchange? How did you deal with that?
Honestly, I had a group of people while abroad that despite only knowing for 4 months, I can say are probably some of my closest friends. It was really difficult to leave just because you go through so much together when travelling, getting accustomed to the area, school, everything. When it was time to leave, we all agreed that we would keep each other updated on our lives and make the effort to visit each other in the future - even if that happens to be 5 years from now. We still stay in contact with a group chat and it's really nice to know that you have a support system that extends all over the world by maintaining those relationships.
- If you were to recommend exchange to your best friend, what would you say?
Simple - don’t hesitate. I understand that it may seem intimidating at first when you’re trying to get everything organized in the preliminary steps, but just go for it and I guarantee it will be the most memorable experiences of your university career.
- Would it be helpful to learn another language for this exchange?
It would be helpful to speak German just for comfort sake, however, it is definitely not mandatory! Most people in the city speak English, and there are lots of classes offered in English.
- Did you live on- or off-campus? Would you recommend it, and why?
I stayed off campus but in a mixed student dorm. I would 100% recommend it because you get to meet people from different schools and at all levels of their education (such as masters, doctorates, bachelors, etc). Additionally, I feel as though living in an apartment complex, such as the one I stayed in made it so easy to make friends because people are genuinely so like-minded and outgoing that the friendships practically make themselves. We had a building-wide group chat and it was as easy as texting in it "hey I'm headed to Italy, who wants to join" and next thing you know you're travelling with 4 new awesome people! The right accommodation definitely makes all the difference when studying abroad.
- How did you finance your study abroad experience?
I worked in the summer beforehand as well as in the 3 months I had off of school before the semester in Innsbruck started. Once there, it was just a matter of prioritization and budgeting. I was late to the game when applying, but I know that the University of Guelph offers some amazing grant opportunities for study abroad! Additionally, if you decide to go to school in Austria, I met some fellow Canadians who applied for a scholarship through the Austrian Government. Had I done more research beforehand, I definitely would have tried to avail myself to these opportunities.
- What interesting courses did you get to take while studying abroad? What was the title of the course(s)?
I was fortunate enough to get to use all of my electives while abroad, so essentially I could take whatever interested me the most! I had to pick from one program, however, and ended up picking tourism management as my focus. One of my classes was called “Alpine Tourism” and the final project was a field trip to St. Anton Am Arlberg, one of the nicest ski resorts in Austria where we got a full tour, lunch, and the chance to sit down with the entire staff to discuss management practices. Additionally, MCI brought in professors from all over the world so I got to network with some really fascinating people and learn about a variety of different subjects that I otherwise never would have been exposed to.
- Is there any other helpful information you would like to provide to future study abroad participants?
This may seem self-explanatory but look for facebook groups for your city, school, apartment building, etc. I didn’t think to search for them before going but I think that would have been really helpful when it came to buying furnishings, bikes, or ski passes from students from the semester before me.