Sissonne-ing Your Way Outside the American Bubble

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Blake Nicholas
December 23, 2023
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You hear the sound of your palpable heartbeat start to accelerate as it intensely pounds in your ears. The stressful staccatos in the variation before you contribute to the stirring adrenaline in your stomach that begins to flood every crevice of your body. You know that you have avoided numerous weekend opportunities of sheer tomfoolery in the name of your commitment to the one hobby you love most. The anticipation is killing you. And now it is your turn to step out on stage and show 'em what you've got.

The ballet studio I joined this semester is called Attitude Studios. When I started taking ballet classes here, I was asked to perform as Drosselmeyer's Doll in the Nutcracker. I was so excited to be working toward something that I could perform in another country. My ballet teacher was Laura and she was wonderful. She taught me so much about technique in ballet and she gave her students helpful advice whenever we became nervous or stressed. It was also really nice joining this studio because I came into contact with so many European college students studying at other universities in Vienna. The ballet studio I went to was fairly international as well, so I got to meet people from places like Italy, Spain, Sweden, and Egypt.

The IES Abroad program that I participated in this semester was mostly comprised of American students. It was wonderful coming to a city where I knew nobody and was welcomed into so many open arms of other Americans who were all in the same boat I was. Once I started to find friends at IES Abroad, many people brought to my attention that they felt that it was difficult for them to come into contact with locals. This makes sense given that the Austrian culture is a bit more reserved than Americans are used to. However, I did not feel as though I related to this experience as much because I had joined the ballet studio fairly on in the semester.

There are several ways to go about seeking local experiences. In Vienna, there are USI Wien sports courses that allow students to enroll in classes related to exercise. Some of my friends chose to participate in internships as well. One of them chose to teach elementary school students in Austria, and she told me that she formed a true connection with the students she taught. It is even possible to meet locals informally too, such as through bars or clubs.

If you choose a center-based study abroad program, the responsibility is yours to immerse yourself in the local culture. For me, the social dynamic of IES Abroad was a positive experience because I regularly met locals from my ballet studio, but I also was not so detached from my home country that I felt completely lost in Austria. Being in a program that is more detached from the host country makes it that much more important to seek out experiences within the local culture. This will allow you can grow beyond what is already familiar to you and have a study abroad experience that immerses you in the country. If I had not sought out the ballet studio on my own, I would have never experienced the communal feeling of attainment when the red curtains closed on stage after giving our final bows.

Blake Nicholas headshot

Blake Nicholas

I was born and raised in San Diego, CA, and go to Occidental College located in Los Angeles. I am a philosophy major and an interdisciplinary writing minor. In most my free time, I like to dance. My favorite styles of dance are ballet and lyrical :)

2023 Fall
Home University:
Occidental College
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