I feel like I really hit the jackpot by studying at Johannes Kepler Universität Linz! Attempting to put into words the most amazing, eye-opening, and exciting five months of my life is impossible. Hands down, I believe the friends I made in Linz have changed my life forever. We had an amazing group of exchange students from all over the world during my semester and we all formed strong friendships and relationships very fast.
We had an organization at our school, REFI/ESN, who organized trips, themed parties and events for all of the exchange students, as well as served as our personal mentors during our stay. From our very first night living in our housing building, we began spending time together and bonding over typical “Austrian” events and customs. This also gave us all an opportunity to learn about our host country and realize how amazing the next five months would be. At the beginning of the semester we all signed up for the trips for around 45 students that they were offering, Prague and Budapest, and they ended up being two of the most memorable weekends of my life. In addition to these group trips, shortly after I arrived I began planning weekend trips with my friends I had made, with our first being a short train ride west to Salzburg. My other trips included Munich for Oktoberfest (I still can’t believe I was at the REAL Oktoberfest!!), Ljubljana, Postojna, Bratislava, Vienna, a road trip through southwestern Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, and Füssen, Germany, Berlin, Dublin, London, and Rome.
I ended up seeing and experiencing more during those five months than I have my previous 22 years at home in Kansas. Something incredible happens when your closest group of friends that you spend all your time with represents over ten different countries and cultures. The most important part of studying abroad is the people you spend the time with. Leaving my best friends in Linz was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced but I now have people I would do absolutely anything for all over the world, and I know those feelings are mutual. We have a very special bond that I will cherish forever. Snapchat, FaceTime, WhatsApp and Skype make the huge distance a little easier, but nothing will ever beat those hilarious nights we spent crammed into one dorm room, sharing stories of traditions and happenings back in our home countries.
If there is one thing I could tell every single college student it’s that you never truly know yourself until you study abroad. You are thrust into a situation where you are basically on your own and it’s up to you to create your new reputation, represent your entire country to people who come from the opposite end of the spectrum, and make the absolute best out of your new temporary life. Learn the most that you can about cultures different than your own and document your time abroad as best as you can because it will be something you talk about for the rest of your life!
My biggest regret of college was not staying in Austria for an entire year. Plan early, don’t be afraid to miss out on anything at home, and go see just how much more the world has to offer.