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Study abroad students reflect on time in Vienna

After spending the entire fall semester in Vienna, Austria, the study abroad students returned to campus and are readjusting to their routine at Oklahoma Christian University this spring.

Dean of Spiritual Life Jeff McMillon sponsored the Vienna studies trip with his wife. He has sponsored the First Class trip the last four summers, but he said this was his first time to sponsor a full semester. McMillon said because he was so familiar with the city, he was able to help students during the first few weeks.

According to McMillon, he taught two classes in Vienna—Christian Family and Christianity and Culture. He said he loved getting to teach at the Austro-American Institute, where the students also took a required German course. One of the challenges he said he faced was incorporating experiences in the city with coursework.

“Sometimes we would go visit a museum or an old monastery or old church,” McMillon said. “I would try to share important facts about that and then connect it to our faith in the modern day.”

Junior Cade Deister said his desire to study abroad and experience cultures outside of the U.S. started before college.

“I knew that I would grow from international experience, because I could learn more about unfamiliar cultures and be inspired by some of their qualities,” Deister said. “Being in Vienna gave me the drive to discover as much as I could about the city and its people, but I was also challenged to strike the balance between being a full-time student and part-time tourist.”

Deister said it took a couple of weeks to settle into a routine and become familiar with the city. The study abroad students only have classes through Thursdays, so they get three full days of free travel on the weekends.

“My favorite place I went to was Scotland,” Deister said. “I specifically enjoyed going to Loch Lomond, which is about an hour north of Glasgow. Going to Loch Lomond fulfilled a bucket list dream for me, since the lake is well-known from a song I had often heard in choir. The area around Loch Lomond is also somewhat hilly, which made for some beautiful scenery.”

Sophomore nursing major Cara Cecil always knew she wanted to study abroad because her mom went on Oklahoma Christian’s second study abroad trip.

“She still talks about the bond she shares with her group and all the incredible opportunities and experiences she had abroad,” Cecil said. “This was what really sparked my interest in going on the Vienna study abroad program. Then, once I heard that Jeff McMillon was going to be the sponsor, and my friends started to sign up, I knew I just had to go.”

According to Cecil, taking classes in a foreign city and traveling often was an exciting and interesting experience.

“Our school was across the street from the Vienna State Opera, which was pretty incredible, so I got to take my first day of school pictures in front of a world-famous sight,” Cecil said. “Our professors really took advantage of the city that we were in and took us on a lot of field trips around the city that tied into what we were learning in class, while also allowing us to learn about and explore Vienna.”

Oklahoma Christian shares its Vienna facility, Das Milicanhaus, with Lipscomb University. The students from the two universities have classes together, in addition to group trips and free travel. This year, McMillon said 24 Lipscomb students and 23 Oklahoma Christian students made up the group.

“Our two universities meshed together very well,” Deister said. “Even a month into the trip I feel that it would have been difficult to point out who was from Oklahoma and who was from Tennessee.”

Cecil said the groups bonded almost immediately, and she loved getting to meet new people. Both Cecil and Deister said they still keep in touch with the Lipscomb students.

“By the end, we were all just one big family, regardless of which school we went to,” Cecil said. “I actually spent one of my free travel weekends with a group made up entirely of Lipscomb students, and it was one of my favorite weekends of study abroad.”

Being back on the Oklahoma Christian campus has been good but weird, according to McMillon.

“You’re catching trains and going to museums and seeing things you’ve never seen before,” McMillon said. “Every day was a very new experience. Here, every day is new and different but because of people and interactions and conversations, not the physical space. That’s what’s so strange. It’s kind of like you’re on an adrenaline high for three months.”

Deister said he experienced some culture shock both when he first went to Vienna and when he came home.

“A lot of the shock was undermined by fascination for being in a new experience and by the fact that all 50 of us Americans were spending most of our time together,” Deister said. “It wasn’t until after a couple of months in Vienna that I started to notice and get frustrated with the differences between the Viennese culture and the American culture I grew up in.”

According to Cecil, Vienna’s quietness was difficult to adjust to initially, leading to some culture shock.

“We were constantly on the go and off to a new adventure each weekend, and so it was hard once I got home to not have something to do all the time,” Cecil said. “It’s also weird being back on campus because it feels huge now after being with only 50 people for three months. The only thing I really feel like I missed out on [at Oklahoma Christian] was rush, but the experiences that I had while abroad far outweigh missing out on fall rush to me.”

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