A Second Semester Abroad: I'm Grateful and Nervous

Vienna Vance
January 6, 2020
Me and my friends on a couch in their apartment in Vienna

Uncertainty can be terrifying. And let me tell you, study abroad is full of uncertainty. I know this because I spent last semester with IES in Vienna, Austria. I was terrified at the start of that semester, and I'm only a bit less terrified now. I'm also here to tell you (and remind myself) that study abroad is thrilling and transformative and a precious chance for self-discovery. I know you've probably heard all this before, but I hope it sinks in the more often you hear it.

How often do you get this chance, to leave behind the typical and discover something entirely new? As college students, we are at a juncture where shaping our identity and affirming our self-sufficiency is quite important. I know moving away to college was a big step towards this independence, but study abroad is an even greater way to learn about oneself.

When I woke up that first August morning, in a Viennese apartment with four strangers, I wondered "When nobody here knows me, who am I? Here, where I have no leadership positions or club memberships, what will I be known for? Here, where I don't speak the language or know how to use the public transit system?" I got to know people, both American and Austrian, very dearly, and I distanced my identity from the past achievements I've made. Now that's success! And I ended the semester feeling a bit more confident about navigating my new home and the German language. 

In Vienna, I relished being a daily explorer, through Christmas markets, palaces and grocery stores. I was able to connect with all kinds of people, from Viennese kindergartners at my internship who taught me traditional children's songs, to fellow psychology students who I might reunite with during graduate school. It is so tempting to stay in your comfort zone, with your friends who know the littlest things about you, like what your fast food joint of choice is, and the biggest things about you, like how much time alone you need to stay sane.

Now, I'm awestruck by the speed at which my study abroad friends got to know me. I promise you, dear reader, and I promise myself that investing in friendships abroad is worth it. Anyway, this time is temporary, so if you're longing to return to your comfort zone while abroad, that time will come. But the ephemerality of this time abroad is what makes it so valuable. Each day is a rare opportunity to see something entirely new, talk to someone with a different perspective and surround yourself with beauty. That's why I'm going abroad for another semester (and because my home school, Pomona College, has been wonderfully generous to me, which I appreciate so much.) I'm not done exploring or learning about myself. I'm sure London will teach me things that I haven't yet learned in Vienna. I will turn 20 while in the United Kingdom, and I'm just amazed how far I've come since my 19th birthday. Here's to more striking out on my own, traversing national borders, studying with insightful professors, and making precious friendships in 2020! 

Vienna Vance

<p>I'm a big fan of tea (matcha, rooibos, black...I love them all) so I'm looking forward to drinking my weight in tea while in London! I'll also be on the lookout for the best vegan spots in London; I've heard there are quite a few to choose from!</p>

Home University:
Pomona College
San Diego, CA
Cognitive Science
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