Forty Years in Vienna

Emory's first summer abroad program celebrates four decades of rich, and sometimes life-changing, adventure in Austria.

By Erin Crews 09C 09G

Story Photo
Lonnie Johnson, executive director of the Fulbright Austrian American Educational Commission, dicusses the history of Dürnstein in the Wachau region of Austria with program participants.

Courtesy of Terez Whatley-White

When Callie Jordan 12B landed at the Vienna International Airport, she didn't know where to go, her German was rusty and halting, and her luggage was missing. "I was terrified," she says.

A couple months later, after spending the summer in Emory's German exchange program, she was ready to call Vienna home.

"Emory students go over there and really connect with the city," says Hiram Maxim, chair of Emory's German Studies department. "I think it has to do with its safety, its manageability, its beauty, its history. They quickly understand the mass transit system and it becomes kind of their own."

Jordan has certainly made it her own. "I've been living on and off for about three years now altogether, since 2008 when I first did the program," she recently told me on the phone from her Vienna apartment.  "So it was quite transformative for me."

A graduate of Goizueta Business School's BBA program, Jordan now teaches high-school English through the Fulbright Commission and is working toward a master's degree in marketing at Vienna University of Business and Economics.

She joined about 25 Emory alumni spanning four decades who gathered in the city this past summer to mark the 40th anniversary of the program, a celebration that included an opening dinner hosted by Vienna's mayor. Two of them had studied abroad in Vienna during the days of the Iron Curtain.

The reunion was organized by then-department chair Peter Höyng, who rejuvenated the program in the mid-2000s, securing scholarships from the Max Kade Foundation in 2007. Each year the foundation provides four students with $4,000 in funding to study in Vienna.

Vienna Reunion

Students and alumni visited a heuriger during the reunion in Vienna this past summer.

Launched in 1973 by the late Maximilian Aue, a longtime German studies professor, the program was Emory's first venture into summer study abroad. Vienna was a natural choice, according to Maxim.

"It has a long, rich cultural history as the capital of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, so it's a good gateway into German-speaking cultural history," he says. "Now with the East open, it's also a gateway to Eastern Europe."

Initially, Emory relied on Aue, who grew up in Vienna, to find homestays for the 20 or so students who participate in the program each year. Though the department still depends on word of mouth—"We've been there for 40 years, so word gets out," Maxim says—a local housing coordinator handles many logistics on the ground.

Homestays are unusual for a summer abroad program that welcomes students with no prior knowledge of the language, and it's one of the most enriching parts of the experience. Jordan lived with an 80-year-old couple she calls "my host grandparents."

"We would have cake with them in the afternoons, and it was just so quaint and sweet and very warm," she recalls. "It gave us a really great view into a very traditional Viennese lifestyle, so that was the coolest part of it. We could experience modern Vienna on our own by going out into the city, but to have this one-on-one interaction with this older couple was just really special."

Also unique to the Vienna program is its commitment to fund cultural enrichment. "A perk that Maximilian started when he was beginning the program is that we reimburse students for any cultural activity they undertake in order to encourage them to get out and not have finances get in the way," says Maxim, who has taught German language at Emory for seven years.

Sarah Richards 09C 14G took full advantage of the policy. "I went to a different museum every day," says Richards, who graduated with a degree in sociology in 2009. "The big ones—the history ones, all the art museums, the imperial palaces—but then also the little ones. There's a clock museum. There's a chocolate museum right on the edges of the city. There's a globe museum. An Esperanto museum," she laughs. "And they are all awesome."

Richards says that major museums like the Schönbrunn Palacebrought the material from class to life. "We'd hear about these emperors and then we'd go see where they actually lived. As in, 'This is the desk where Franz Joseph would sit and meet people.' Where else will someone pay you to go to some of the most astonishing museums in Europe? That doesn't happen in real life."

Richards is one of the program's dozens of alumni who return to Austria after graduation as Fulbright English-language teaching assistants. She spent two years living and working in Austria, first in the small town of Gmunden, in Upper Austria, then in Vienna.

Now a graduate student in Emory's film studies program, Richards is completing a thesis on contemporary Austrian filmmakers. She hopes to teach English or German after finishing her master's. "I would definitely not be doing this if it weren't for the summer program," she says.

Maxim thinks one of the main reasons students are so drawn to Vienna is the program's method of language instruction, known as a 'content-based approach,' in which language is learned through particular content areas. "The city really becomes our classroom," he says. During the intermediate-level German course, for example, faculty teach units on Catholic Vienna, Jewish Vienna, architectural Vienna, and so on, with students visiting related sites.

"We spent class time really engaging with the city, so instead of just learning about art very abstractly, we would go to the museum and look at the painting and discuss it there," Jordan says. "They really designed a beautiful structure to be able to implement that, which definitely made a difference."

The program's popular elective course, Music in Vienna, is meticulously crafted each summer by Emory music professor Timothy Albrecht. The syllabus is based on the performance schedules at the city's opera houses and concert halls. Students meet in the classroom during the afternoon to study a given piece, then go see the live performance that evening.

"It's so culturally rich, just unbelievable," Jordan says."The operas, the theater, the dance, the art, the linguistic aspect—it's just so full."

Once she completes her degree, Jordan will be eligible to apply for a work permit through a new program meant to diversify Austria's workforce.

"I'm at the point now where when I go home—back to Atlanta—I don't feel like that's my home anymore," she says. "This is my home."

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