At my university, the norm is to study abroad during the spring of your sophomore year. While some, like me, choose to go during the fall of junior year, it seems that people tend to prefer spring as the semester to head overseas. I can understand the appeal of studying abroad in the spring: you start the academic year on campus, spend the major fall holidays with your family, get to attend the season’s football games, and end your time abroad headed into summer break, with warm temperatures and the opportunity to potentially extend your time there before heading home. However, I believe that the fall semester is the best time to study abroad, especially in Europe (though I am definitely biased).
I come from Texas- maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s hot, full of cacti, we all wear cowboy hats and… okay, so there are a lot of stereotypes about my state, and some of them are true, especially about the weather. We don’t have a real autumn season, in fact, we only have two seasons in Texas: summer and not-summer. This is tragic for someone like me, whose favorite season of all time is fall! I am unashamedly obsessed with all things fall. I adore pumpkin patches (and excessively long photo shoots with pumpkins), drink PSLs like it’s no one’s business, bake and cook everything pumpkin flavored, own too many pairs of boots and booties (though my options here are limited), and constantly stop to take pictures of leaves (and my feet in the leaves). What can I say? Fall is aesthetically pleasing in every way! When I realized I would get to experience a real fall season in Vienna, I was overjoyed! The past few weeks have been gloriously beautiful here- we’ve had great weather, the changing leaves rain down in the parks, and we’ve celebrated both Austrian and American fall festivities and traditions!
With that said, I am going to list a few reasons why I believe the fall semester is THE semester to study abroad!
1. You arrive when the weather is still warm.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t imagine it would be that fun to arrive for a semester abroad in the middle of winter! It would have been a shock for me, for sure! It was so nice to catch the tail end of summer and then head into fall. I got to swim in the Danube, eat lots of ice cream, and get good use out of the couple pairs of shorts I packed before the temperatures gradually dropped.
2. Cities look more beautiful in the fall.
I know this is merely an opinion, but it is well grounded and well-researched (through my personal travels and experiences). In the fall, the colorful leaves decorate the sidewalks and liven up the cities as sunlight gleams through the treetops. The average tourist does not get the opportunity to see these cities as you do because most people travel in the summer or winter, or over spring break. Soak it all in and take all the leaf-framed pictures you can!
3. You get to celebrate American and local traditions.
It can be sad to think about missing family Thanksgiving, or not going out to Halloween parties with your friends at school, but you will have the chance to celebrate these holidays and more when you are abroad in the fall! The IES Abroad Vienna program hosts a big Thanksgiving dinner every year and we carved pumpkins and had a talent/karaoke night on Halloween. Austria has several national holidays in the fall, which mean no classes and the opportunity to attend some cool events. On Austrian National Day, they had parades and celebrations. Recently on All Saints’ Day, many people visited the cemeteries to honor the dead, including many of Europe’s most prominent composers. Additionally, we have had the chance to celebrate Sturmzeit, the season of the new or young wine, and we will get to experience the full glory of Austrian Christmas markets, and much more!
4. You can potentially spend Christmas in Europe.
I have the amazing chance to stay after my program ends and celebrate the holidays in Europe with my family! It will be their first time ever crossing the Atlantic and we have a magical trip planned through Germany and Switzerland! After years of watching perfect Christmases in Hallmark Movies, we finally get to have our own. Even if it doesn’t work out for you to stay until Christmas, you have plenty of time during your program to visit many Christmas markets and get in the holiday spirit before you head home!
5. It’s the beginning of a new academic year in a new home.
There are pros and cons to being away from campus for the first semester of the academic year, but I think it is ultimately a good thing. I know personally that if I had studied abroad in the spring, it would have been harder to say goodbye to my friends and university. It would seem like more of a sacrifice and displacement to leave in the middle of the year. Additionally, it is harder to pack and prepare for your semester abroad if you go in the spring because you have to take care of a lot of logistical things while you are in the middle of classes instead of on summer break. It has been difficult to see the new year starting off back home without me and to not have seen some friends since last spring, but I know my return home and reunions with friends will be extra sweet and special after the time I have spent abroad this fall.
If you have the option to choose which semester you spend overseas (a luxury I didn’t have, but also didn’t need), I would encourage you to make a list of pros and cons for each semester and decide which one will work out better for you. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity I have had to spend my fall here in Vienna and I can’t imagine being here at any other time of the year! The time of year you spend abroad definitely affects your semester’s experiences, but you will enjoy your time no matter when you go! Remember to live in the present when you're there. I know that "Time flies!" seems like something only your parents or obscure older relatives tell you at family reunions, but I promise you that your semester abroad will go by so much quicker than you think! Make use of every weekend, every break between classes, every opportunity you have to experience something new and amazing. You're young and you have the world before you, ready to embrace you and open your eyes to new cultures and hundreds of years of history. Do everything you can in your 4 months.
Learn the language of your city and practice it in public, even if you make a fool of yourself over and over again.
Climb the 668 steps of the Eiffel Tower because it's cheaper than the elevator and the line is shorter.
Eat a slice of Apfelstrudel at a new cafe every week.
Squeeze an impossible amount of activities and travel into less than 48 hours.
Book a cheap flight to your bucket list dream-city, even if you go alone.
Celebrate life in every way, big or small, and always keep your eyes open to the wonders that surround you, especially as you get to witness the changing of the seasons in your new home. I love seasons because they reflect our own seasons in life, and as the temperatures have dropped and the leaves have changed colors, I have changed and adapted in my own ways as well. Most of the leaves here have now fallen, and I have fallen, too. I have fallen into stride. I have fallen in love. I have fallen for my life here that has turned out to be far more challenging and satisfying than I ever could have imagined. I hope you get the chance to fall, too.