This past summer in the Vienna 17 district, an hour from the heart of the city, Katelyn Vidmar and her husband Zac woke up to a breakfast their host mom had left for them at the bottom of the stairs: bread and marmalade, sometimes coupled with yogurt, cold meat, cheese — and even juice in little boxes.
After an hour-long commute into the city, the Vidmars embarked on a day of museums, learning German from natives and exploring one of Europe’s most culturally enriching cities.
“Besides getting married, going to Vienna was the best decision and best experience of my life,” Katelyn Vidmar said.
The Vidmars were part of a group of almost two dozen students who spent two months studying in Vienna last summer. Part of their coursework took place at the Austro-American Institute in Vienna. No novice to the student hosting, this institute has accommodated students from several American universities since 1926. In addition to arranging for host families for the BYU students, administrators at the Austro-American Institute arranged for the students to learn German from native speakers, effectively making this study abroad a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For the rest of their studies they either went to their professor’s apartment or visited museums around the city.
For Rachel Bean, an elementary education major who participated in the Vienna Study Abroad program, holding classes in museums helped the art come to life.
“It’s not a pixelated picture on a PowerPoint,” Bean said. “You go and its more amazing than you could have imagined.”
A seasoned museum-goer, Bean was in 10th grade when she decided she wanted to study art in Europe. However, she admits study abroad programs were not always on her radar. She said participating in the Vienna Study Abroad program broadened her perspective of the world, especially since she had never lived outside the United States before.
“I’ve never experienced such a period of growth before in such a short period of time,” Bean said. “Of course the first weeks were harder but you just have to realize you’re only here for a short period of time.”
Katie Isaak, the on-site BYU professor for the Vienna Study Abroad last summer, is back to work teaching classes this semester. She said it is always nice to be with students, whether it’s in the United States or in Europe, but there are definite perks to being in a city where many of the original works of art are housed. Isaak said there will be times when she is teaching in the states and will come across an art piece on one of her slides and wish she could take all the student to the actual piece so they could fully understand its context.
“I always think — having been there — it makes me better able to teach,” Isaak said.
The students on this summer’s Vienna Study Abroad also had the opportunity to learn German in a native context. Katelyn Vidmar said her host mom did not speak much English, which ended up being a blessing in disguise.
“It was really interesting to go to a class and learn German and to go after and practice. It really enhanced the experience,” Katelyn Vidmar said.
Bean said overall this experienced helped her gain a better perspective of the breadth of the world and helped her see how lucky she is to be a student at BYU. Katelyn Vidmar said in addition to gaining a greater appreciation for other cultures and religions, she came to appreciate the finer points of life in the U.S., including grocery stores with hours later than 7 p.m.
Although Isaak has been to Vienna twice before with BYU study abroad programs, she admits there is always something new to find in what she describes as a dynamic city.
“You know, that’s what Vienna is like — you just take a turn and walk into a place and there’s always something going on,” Isaak said. “All of us just felt like you cannot walk around the city and not know it is an imperial city.”
She said many aspects of the city — from the art, to the ability of residents to talk to a friend in a cafe for a few hours or wander in a museum for an afternoon— give BYU students a rare opportunity to experience the good life firsthand.
Regardless of whether students choose to go to Vienna or study elsewhere, Isaak encourages students to take advantage of study abroad opportunities.
“You never feel like you’re the person in the back of the auditorium and no body will care if [you’re] absent. Everybody cares on a study abroad.” Isaak said. “I used to think you had to be fluent in another language and had to be rich [in order to go], and it turns out you don’t.”