February 12, 2010
Haskayne School of Business student Michelle Kalman took an exchange semester to study international business at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, in Vienna, Austria. This is her postcard home.
Why study in Austria?Vienna, the capital, is a cultural hot spot, rich in traditions and history. It is almost impossible not to fall in love with the city. Near Christmas time, the city fully embraces the holiday spirit with Christmas markets, “glühwein” (hot wine) stands and incredible decorations everywhere. Austria experiences chilly, snowy winters and warm summer temperatures. The magnificent Austrian Alps offer an escape for those who enjoy hiking, skiing/snowboarding and other outdoor activities. At first, I felt that Austrians were somewhat reserved. However, once I learned more about their culture and norms, I realized that they are, in fact, extremely genuine and open in their personal relationships.
Why go on an exchange program?I chose this program because I was ensured that my courses would transfer back to U of C without too much difficulty. I was also able to get valuable information from another business student who had previously completed a similar exchange in Vienna.
I thought it was very interesting to learn about current events and companies from a European perspective. Obviously many of the companies we studied in the classroom were Europeans firms, about which my knowledge was somewhat limited. I definitely gained a more international perspective about general issues and concerns in the global marketplace.
Did you travel around?My two friends and I went to Budapest, Hungary for a weekend trip. The round-trip journey was five hours by bus and cost only 12 euros each. We stayed at a hostel in the city with other people from our university. During the daytime, we visited popular sights like the Chain bridge (which joins the old Buda and Pest), Matthias Church and the relaxing Géllert Thermal Baths. We enjoyed traditional Hungarian cuisine and saw the city by night from atop Castle Hill. It was wonderful!
What is Austrian etiquette like?My most memorable cross-cultural interaction was with my Austrian friend who explained some Austrian social norms to me after he noticed that I seemed slightly tense in social situations. With his help, I was able to become more comfortable when giving people a polite double-kiss on the cheek and become more aware of how personal space and certain body language were interpreted in his country. It was also really great to meet other exchange students in Vienna, because I didn’t only learn about Austrian culture but I also learned about Spanish and Dutch cultures.
Did you learn German?I tried to learn some German while in Austria. Unfortunately I didn’t learn that much but I always attempted to use some German words when interacting with Austrians. I found it really interesting because although my German was very limited, I noticed that people were always very helpful and excited that I was interested in their language. I even learned basic directional words (like right, left, forward and straight) from a bus driver while taking the bus to the supermarket.
What are you taking away from this experience?This experience has changed my life in many ways. It has opened my mind to different lifestyles and perspectives. I have gained more confidence in myself and my ability to navigate my way in a foreign country. As far as my career, I feel that I am more patient and understanding when it comes to working with people from different cultural backgrounds. I have developed my problem-solving skills, since I often had to determine many alternative courses of action given constantly changing and unfamiliar environments.
What are your plans when you get home?My plans are to finish my undergraduate degree at the University of Calgary. After I have completed my degree, I hope to go to graduate school in another country. Before going on exchange I wasn’t aware of all the exchange opportunities available to graduate students as well as undergraduates.
Words of wisdomMy biggest piece of advice is to always be aware of your attitude. If you want your exchange to be filled with adventure, then adopt a fun-filled and free-spirited attitude in order to invite adventure into your life. But most of all, keep a sense of humour, because a million different things will happen on your exchange and even though they might not all be good, you will probably be able to laugh about them one day.
For more information on study abroad programs please visit ucalgary.ca/cissa/studyabroad.