IES Abroad: What inspired you to study abroad?
Catherine (Katya) Hooker (KH): My family inspired me to study abroad. Growing up in the states in a Dutch-American household, I felt at home in Europe and the United States. But I wanted to see what it was like to live and study abroad. I chose Vienna not only because it was an exciting place to study political science and international relations, but it was also the city where I was born. Due to my dad's work we had been living there at the time, but we moved away before I made any memories. I was curious to learn more about the city.
IES Abroad: What was it (tell a story) that made you fall in love with Vienna and go on to earn a Masters and PhD degree there?
KH: During my semester in Vienna, one day really illustrated the beauty and opportunities the city had to offer. During the day, our political science professor took us on a tour of the UN and IAEA offices based here. Walking through the halls showed us how multilateral diplomacy worked in practice, not just on paper. After that tour, where I saw what a career in international relations could look like, I met a few students to watch a performance at the Vienna State Opera. At that time, you could buy standing room tickets for less than the price of a cup of coffee - if you were willing to wait in line. On that day I realized that Vienna could be a city for me, where the realm of international relations and world-class culture are just seven U-Bahn stops away from one another.
When I came back to Vienna to complete my master's at the Diplomatic Academy and my PhD in communications at the University of Vienna, the professional opportunities as well as cultural offerings continue to inspire, even after living here for twelve years.
IES Abroad: You now work at the US Embassy overseeing social media? What soft and hard skills that you learned while studying abroad do you use in job?
KH: The very specific, yet uncomfortable skill, of continuing to speak German when the assistant at the bakery switches to English comes to mind. Social media communications is about building relationships and sharing consistent messaging, which means you have to come back every day to communicate with your audience and community. Finding out how to best convey your message, and listen to feedback, is a learning process. Some days your content doesn't reach many people, but on others, it resonates, and your message gets viewed by a large part of your community, and beyond. But you have to keep showing up. That's the day you realize no one is switching back to English when you order a Topfen Golatsche (a cream cheese puff pastry).
IES Abroad: Tell the most fascinating story you can share about creating a social media post for the US Embassy in Vienna.
KH: A recent example would be our Pride campaign this June. Coordinating our social media posts and hashtags with other partners in the LGBTQIA+ space here in Vienna took some planning, but it all culminated in joining diplomats from other missions to walk in the Vienna Pride Parade.
On the day itself there are a lot of moving parts and it's exciting to meet everyone, but as a social media manager you have to stay focused on the messages, stories, and accompanying images you want to post. Communicating the U.S. Embassy's support for the LGBTQIA+ community in a professional yet exciting way is a balancing act, but once you are at the parade surrounded by so many people, it's also inspiring and fun.
IES Abroad: What advice would you give to today’s students planning to study abroad?
KH: My one piece of advice would be to make sure that you try to connect with people outside of your program, be it your building's RA, a language buddy, or other local students in a class you are taking. It can be easy to hang out with other international students or to spend a lot of time connecting with family back home. These can be great support networks, however local peers will be the ones who can connect you to the language, culture, and society on a level that no classroom or lecture can. Speaking from experience, you may even make a few friends for life.
Learn more about studying abroad in Vienna , and check out all of our Alumni Spotlights and Alum of the Month profiles to see real examples of how study abroad changed the lives and careers of our past students. Are you an IES Abroad alumni? Make sure to join our Facebook or LinkedIn groups so you can (re)connect with others!