Travel, Travel and More Travel

Grüß Gott!!

One of the amazing aspects of studying abroad is the ability to travel wherever. Even in these dark times of the pandemic, so long as the appropriate precautions are taken, traveling is heavily encouraged! I have had the special privilege to travel several times since my stay out here has begun and it has led me to understanding so much of the rich and diverse culture that is right around the corner here! I mean, travel in any direction and things start to change. I have been to the Czech Republic, Poland and I even found myself in Bulgaria! I emphasize the word privilege because these countries and the cities and/or small towns I have found myself in, have opened my eyes not only to the general culture but also, the family values, religious values, burial traditions, and so much more!

My first excursion, if you will, was to Prague in the beginning of the semester. It was only 6 hours away by train and once a part of the Austrio-Hungarian empire, but my goodness how quickly things can change. One of my colleagues quickly made the side remark that people were already starting to dress more alternatively here. The Bohemian tradition still runs very deep and within five minutes of getting off the train it was explicit.  The history here ran twice as deep. From Old Town to the Jewish Quarter and all the way up to the Prague Castle – this city, like many others, holds a plethora of stories to tell.

A Bohemian Music Group in Old Town Prague
Bohemian street music in Prague.

My second excursion was to Bulgaria over my fall break. Another one of my colleagues and Linfield student has family  there and we had the treat of being able to stay with them. Two hours outside of the city of Sophia, there is located the small town of Troyan. It is filled with tiny, quaint farms that are blocked side by side with little romantic courtyards filling the middle. Here I grew a stronger understanding of the Orthodox Church and how that really aids in creating the fundamentals of the family structure here.  This is something I will cherish.

We were able to see one of the oldest monasteries in Bulgaria, learn some of the brutal history behind religious wars and struggle and see some of the old remnants of the Eastern block from the late portion of the 20th century.

Monastery with myself and Chris standing in front.
Chris and I (Dmitri) standing in front of one of the oldest monasteries in Bulgaria.

Third, was my recent trip to Poland. Much like Troyan, the signs of the Eastern block can still be seen. However,  we spent the majority of our time in Krakow, a prospering city that mostly went untouched by the fabled War. This trip was primarily centered around the Jewish population and included a very hard, yet very needed, trip to Auschwitz. We also had the lovely opportunity to attend traditional Polish music performances. (Which if you have never listened to it- DO IT -RIGHT NOW. You can thank me later.)

A traditional band playing on the streets of Krakow.
A traditional band playing in the streets of Krakow.

Traveling here is vastly different to the United States. Sure, you may get some different aspects of our own culture as you go state-to-state or town-to-town, but it all varies so quickly out here it truly can make your head spin.


“Locally Sourced” in the US Has Nothing on Austria

This week we’re going to do a very minor deep dive on a very special tradition over here in Austria that my colleagues and I had the special privilege of both witnessing and simply touring; a farm (Bauernhof). But farming is not so similar to the way we do it back home, where on average one of our typical farms encompasses roughly 444 acres, Austrian farms average maybe 55. The size and function of the farming caters to the luscious mountain sides we romanticize, the Bergbauernhof. This style of farming is placed on steep slopes that run into the mountains. But more fascinating is that of the Alm.

The alm is an area further up in the mountains that is mostly for hosting the livestock between May and September. As fall begins to set in; the families and others helping on the Bergbauernhof herd the animals back to the farm at the base. This is an incredible sight to see. Folks wearing traditional Trachten running alongside a herd of sheep or, if you’re lucky, cows. When they get all animals home, they hold festivities to celebrate both the survival of the animals and a good year. The ‘lucky’ reason I mentioned above, in light of the cows, is that they in particular wear a celebratory collar with a large bell at the end. This is where the Sound of Music actually (kind of) got Austria right: the hills are in fact alive with music. 

Cow with Traditional Collar and Bell
One of the cows that had just returned from the alm post-Almabtrieb (literally means: Alm down herd)
Farmers Herding Sheep Down from the Alm and back to the farm
A herd of sheep on their Almabtrieb that actually blocked off the road we were trying to drive up.

Festivities aside, another differing factor here is that of the care which goes into the production of everything that comes out of these farms. Austria’s regulations on food are actually quite strict but ensure the greatest quality. They produce meats, cheeses, eggs, schnapps, you name it; and with the official “AMA” stamp on the produce, you can literally trace an egg back to the coup it came from! The Bergbauernhof is also a strong attraction for tourism. Keep that in mind if you ever find yourself out here. After eating some of this food, you WILL NOT regret it.

Nicole and Chris with a hen on a Bauernhof
One of the many hens at Schmaranz posing for a quick photo shoot.
Eggs with the codes one can use to trace where they came from.
Hermann with some eggs
AAIE Director, Hermann Weissgärber holding up a carton of eggs from Schmaranz, a Bauernhof we visited in the Gastein Valley.

First Impressions Simply Abroad

Over the course of two weeks, I have been wondering what to write my first blog post about. Should I do a quick deep dive on agriculture? An excerpt on moving in with a host family? The night life that is so popular here in Austria? The Austrio-American Institute itself? We can tackle these in the weeks to come. But as I have struggled with deciding how to introduce this, I have noticed myself adapting in certain ways to the etiquette and cultural norms around me and I feel as though this would be worthwhile information to anybody thinking about studying abroad.

Before you decide to make the, truly, life-changing decision to take that leap of faith for a month, semester and/or year; take the time to look at how you carry yourself at home. Now compare that to how you carry yourself around your superiors; whether that be in an academic sense or a work environment. There are different means in which we choose to present ourselves and our behavior. This will only be amplified moving into a genuinely foreign land. Practices are different. But as a student abroad; you are inherently expected to try and blend in.

Now the question may arise; where is he going with this? Something as simple as good table manners can be the beginning to blending in with your environment. Over here in Austria, dinners are much more different than at home. It is not just a meal. It is a time to converse. A pause on the day to just talk.

9 people eating pizza
Our study abroad group in Austria enjoying pizza with some of the AAIE folks.

Sure, each household has their own expectations. But here, those differences can separate you entirely. Head/elbows on the dinner table? No go. Feet on the empty chair across from you? Big no go. The honor system does not just apply to the public transit here, it is much more deeply embedded. My overall point is that understanding what the new people around you subconsciously expect will help you so much! 

Dmitri Sofranko

Auf Wiedersehen Wien

My final weeks in Vienna were probably some of the most bittersweet moments. With finals being close and classes being almost over, we took this opportunity to do more cultural things in Vienna (which, there is ALWAYS many to choose from.)

front of the Austrian parliment
SPÖ Chairwomen Rendi Wagner speaks alongside the rest of parliament.

There was this hearing at parliament and we were lucky enough to sit in and listen to the Austrian parliament. Though our German wasn’t exactly good enough to understand the politicians, it was fun to see all the politicians that we’ve been learning about for months in real life.

Front view of the stage in the Vienna State Opera House displaying art.
Art on display before the show

The next thing we did was an absolute must in Vienna – the Vienna State Opera! The four of us got all dressed up for the event and even though the show was all in Russian, they provided each seat with a screen where it would translate the show into your desired language. It was great to finally see the inside of a building I passed hundreds of times on my way to class.

Our farewell party at the institute was a fun way to say our goodbyes to institute staff, professors, language assistants, and other students at the institute. We took lots of photos and it was hard to say goodbye to the institute and the people who helped us with so much in our semester abroad.

Our group of 4 student posing for a photo with Hermann Weissgarber, our director.
Legendary sorority squat photo
Our group of 4 students posing with staff from the Austro-american Institute where we took our classes.
left to right: Gretel, Delaine, Kara, me, Anna, Hermann, Wolfgang, and Dane
Our student group of 4 posing with one of our professors, Heinz Kröll.
Our professor Heinz Kröll; this was his last year teaching (or so he says)
Amazing piece of chocolate cake on a plate with ice cream at an Austrian cafe, along with cups of coffee.
Amazing chocolate cake at Cafe Central!

With finals being over, we took the final days in Vienna to do some of the touristy stuff we had left for last. Delanie and I finally waited in line to get into the famous Cafe Central and I can definitely say it was worth it!

On our final day in Vienna, we went ice skating at Rathausplatz. It was my first time ever ice skating, but luckily Delanie and Dane were good at supporting me while I got used to the ice. Melissa, a participant from the Austria program in the year before also joined us. It was great to exchange experiences and talk about the things we missed from back home.

3 of our student group posing on a ice skating ring
Trying to keep my balance while we took a photo
4 of our student group posing on ice skates on a ice ring
Finally got the perfect picture after help from the ledge

Studying abroad in Austria has been one of the best experiences of my life. Linfield could’ve not partnered with a better institution, AAIE is amazing and the people that work there really care about giving students the best experience possible.

close up photo of my host family'x dog
My host dog, Pitu

My host family was amazing and I will forever have that connection abroad.

Vienna itself is a city full of culture, history, and art. If you are considering studying abroad here, do it! You won’t regret it.

Until next time, Vienna.


The Philosophy of Wine

One of my favorite excursions was the Institute’s trip to Josef’s wine cellars and vineyards in a smaller area just outside of Vienna. Hermann has taken many groups to tour the area over the years, and even at AAIE reunions, it stays as a favorite  activity to past program participants of AAIE.

The entrance of a wine celler
The entrance of one of the MANY cellars in Austria

Josef’s philosophy of wine is very down to earth; humans do not need wine to survive, but they need it to live. To have good wine, one must take care of the land that grows the plants as happy grapes make good wine.

Wine is used to bring people together, and when you prost (cheers) with people over a glasses of wine it is a very special moment because no matter what or where life has taken every person, for a moment, they can all share in the virtues that the wine brings.

Hermann stands near a wine barrel while Kara stands and listens next to him
Hermann describes the wines before we taste them

Josef first took us to one of his fields where he told us about different stories about wine grapes. We even learned that every wine grape plant is half European and half American.

We then had the opportunity to try some wines straight from the barrel.  Delanie, a Wine Studies minor, did the honors of sucking the wine out of the barrels with a special tool.

Delaine posing with the tool she used to take wine out of metal barrels
Delaine’s minor definitely came in handy; Josef is in the back

After all the wine tasting we all sat together and shared bread, cheese, meats, and more wine in a room in one of joseph’s cellars.

Meat and cheese plate on a table in front of four candles
We managed to finish two of these plates and lots of bread!

It was amazing to see all the Austrian culture surrounding the wine industry. Josef’s cellars itself were an interesting experience and it was a great time learning about not only the process of producing wine but also the philosophy behind it.


Hallstatt and Berlin

One of the most well-known places in Austria is the small town of Hallstatt in Upper Austria. It is especially popular among Chinese tourists since they have a Hallstatt of their own; a whole city built to be a replica of the Austrian Hallstatt. 

Lake Hallstat with clouds and mountains in the distance.
The weather was perfect although it was still cold

After weekends of travel outside of Austria, Kara and I finally found some time to visit Hallstatt for the weekend. We took a train to the nearby city of Obertraun and stayed in an Airbnb in that area.

Hallstatt itself is a small town and the number of tourists they get is sometimes more than the town can handle.

2 female students in front of lake Hallstatt.
Kara and me in front of Lake Hallstatt

The views in this area of Austria are amazing. We decide to go around November, which meant that the area did get some snow but only in the mountains. The result became fall with a touch of winter wonderland.

View from the train to Obertraun of tall buildings with cloud covered mountains in the background.
View from the train to Obertraun

The town itself was not full as full of tourists as we thought it would have been. But I think we were just lucky going during the “off-season.” One of the most iconic and recognizable buildings in Hallstatt is the church which towers over the lake.


single standing piece of Berlin wall with a skyscraper in the background
The left was east Berlin and the right was the west.

The weekend after that we made the trip to Berlin, Germany. The problem with choosing a place to go to in Germany is it’s so big that it’s hard to choose one place. However, the capital of a country is always a good place to start. I was excited to be visiting Berlin mainly because of its history. We had learned so much about WWII in class and Berlin was a city full of both remembrance and exploration; especially surrounding the Berlin Wall.

sign that reads "you are leaving the American sector" in English, Russian, French, and German
Sign warning people in English, Russian, French, and German that they were leaving the American sector

Check Point Charlie was an interesting take on the American perspective of the conditions with the allies after the war. Again, it was great to be able to see all these places I learned about in real life, it made understanding the history and its importance more rewarding. One of my favorite things we did in Berlin was visit the DDR Museum, an interactive museum about the lifestyle lived in East Germany.

three women in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany
Us in front of the Brandenburg Gate

Studying abroad is an experience unlike any other. The classes I have taken along with the trips I have taken have really allowed me to understand history, culture, and global relations with deeper consideration for them.


Kraków and Auschwitz

Our last study trip of the semester was a trip to Poland. We left at night by train and arrived in Kraków the following morning. 

women on bunker beds in a sleeping train
The three of us shared a sleeping compartment on the train

We were told to dress for cold weather, but I definitely wasn’t prepared enough. It was so cold and the wind was even harsher. 

On our first day there we had a city tour with Barbara, a local and long-time friend of Hermann.  One of my favorite landmarks was St. Mary’s Basilica located by the main market square. The gothic church was a work of art to look at as the walls were designed by Jan Matejko and created by Stanisław Wyspiański; all hand-painted!

colorful tall walls of a church
The walls of St. Mary’s Basilica

The next day we woke up to take a bus to Auschwitz and Auschwitz – Birkenau. Prior to our visit to Auschwitz, I read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Frankl was a psychiatrist that survived the Nazi death camps. He later wrote many books on his and his patient’s experiences. 

The plaque reads: "for ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children, mainly jews from various countries of Europe.
At Birkenau

But nothing prepares you for the realness that are these ex-concentration camps. It was eerie to see people take selfies in front of the arbeit macht frei (work makes you free) entrance sign. But it was also a reminder of how one in a place like this shouldn’t act.

The next day, I went to Kraków’s modern art museum, where I found an installation that questioned the “novelty” around Auschwitz; in if people go there because it is an important historical moment to never forget or if they go there because you need to go there when in Poland. 

It was a faux souvenir stand where people could “buy” Auschwitz merchandise. It was a hard installation for me to take in, considering I was in Auschwitz just a day prior, but it also made an important commentary on the matter at hand. 

artwork at the Cracow modern art museum
The installation of Auschwitz souvenirs

On our last day, we took a trip to the Wieliczka salt mines a bit outside of Kraków. The mines are a UNESCO site and there is a salt church 150 meters (492 feet) below ground. Kara and I took the opportunity to lick the salt walls; it was safe to lick the walls since salt is an antiseptic. 

The stairs down to the salt mine
The stairs down to the salt mine

My favorite part of the Krakow trip was the time spent in the Jewish Quarter of the city. We ate at a restaurant in the area where they had live music Jewish/Yiddish music. The group was lovely and by the end of it, we were all in awe from the talent of the lead singer. It was also a reminder that Jewish culture and history goes beyond the horrors of WWII. 

Poland was a cultural experience that I would have not been able to have had without the help and planning of AAIE. They prepared me both for the fun and also the necessary educational experiences I had. 



Kara and I decided to take a night train to Venice, Italy. The night train seemed like a good idea since we would leave Thursday night and arrive the next morning.

two women taking a selfie with the canals of Venice in the background
Kara and I

What we failed to realize was that our tickets were for the Sitzplatz, not a Schalwagen. This meant that we had to sit and sleep on a seat for nine hours instead of sleeping on a bed on the train. It was definitely an experience, but we made the most of it.

We were both expecting a crowded and tourist-filled place. Venice is the place to visit and the weather was still nice enough to expect tourists to be roaming around (I talk as if we’re not tourists too.)

side of a tall Venetian building with windows
The sunset lighting was amazing

But we ended up arriving to an almost empty city. Even walking around, there were not as many tourists as we originally thought there would be. This, however, was a huge blessing. We got to explore Venice and take in all its beauty.

boats driving through one of the Venetian canals
Boats were the main form of transportation

The most interesting thing about Venice was its public transportation. All of it was all by boat! It was great to not only get around the city but also see it from the water too.

If you study in Vienna or even in a surrounding country. I highly recommend Venice.



Last week was the beginning of our fall break. It’s crazy to believe we are already in October and only two months away from being back in the United States. 

Like with any free time we have had, the four of us took this opportunity to travel. But this time, we all went our separate ways.  

Dane and Kara started their break in Munich for Oktoberfest; Dane then went to meet up with a friend in Copenhagen while Kara went to Rome and Naples. Delaine spent her fall break with some family friends in Paris and I spent my break in Madrid and London. 

plane wing over clouds during sunrise
Budget airlines, like Wizz Air, are our friends

The plane ride to Madrid was more nerve-racking than any other plane ride; it was my first time traveling to a foreign country all by myself. 

There’s something comforting about having a person you know by your side when you travel and I was sad to leave my Linfield friends behind to start my own travels in Madrid and London. 

When I got to Madrid, I ended up buying a MetroCard for way longer than needed.  It wasn’t until later that I realized I could’ve paid per trip (the cheaper option) instead of by day. But I was so nervous that this thought never crossed my mind. 

Madrid itself was a familiar place, mainly because of the language and friendliness. Spanish was my first language, so getting around was no issue, though there were multiple times where the difference between Spain Spanish and Mexican Spanish got in the way.

three buildings of various colors
Buildings of Madrid
side of a building with the sunlight hitting it
The sunset in Madrid was amazing

The streets of Madrid were filled with color and life, and each plaza had its own appeal.

In London, I had to go through passport control since they are not under the Schengen Agreement of the European Union.  However,  it was quite easy because I went through an automatic passport machine that scanned my passport, making sure it matched my face. That was my first time seeing one of those machines work in real life. 

Similar to in Madrid, the difference between British English and American English was prevalent in conversation, but it never became a real issue.  

What surprised me the most about London was its diversity in people and languages. It was amazing to see so many nationalities and ethnicities living together in one city.

St. Paul's Cathedral on a cloudy day
St. Paul’s Cathedral
river with boat driving through it on a cloudy day
Gloomy London

One of the things I was most excited to try was fish and chips.  It’s one of my favorite dishes and I was not disappointed in London.  

a plate of fish and fries on a table
Fish and Chips!

Even though I enjoyed my fall break, towards the end I felt myself missing Vienna more and more, and this feeling was mutual among other Linfield students too. 

So with two months left in our study abroad program, I will try my best to preserve my memories here in Vienna. 

Bis bald, 

Rosario Rucoba

Gems of Eastern Europe

Our second trip together as a group outside of Austria was to Budapest, Hungary. The city was about a 3-hour bus ride from Vienna and was the perfect city for a weekend getaway. 

Photo of St. Stephen's Basilica between two buildings
St. Stephen’s Basilica

We had a long list of things we wanted to see, do, and eat in Budapest. On the first day, we opted to not buy a public transportation ticket and walk around the city. We ended up walking around 14 miles that day, though it was a great way to get to know the city. 

4 students on a bridge with a river in the background
The four of us on the Chain Bridge

One of the more traditional foods we tried in Budapest was Lángos, which is a fried dough, usually topped with sour cream and cheese. 

langos on a plate held by a hand
Lángos with my two favorite things, cheese and sour cream

A great view of the city is at the Freedom Statue. The trek up to the monument was steep, but worth it for the views and historical meaning. It was erected in memory of the Soviet liberation of Hungary in World War II. 

a bridge with the sun setting to the distance
Elizabeth bridge with the Danube running underneath

Budapest can be divided into two sides; the Buda and the Pest side. These sides are parted by the Danube river, which also runs by Vienna. The chain bridge, which connects Buda and Pest together, was also an iconic monument of Budapest. 

The next weekend, we made another bus ride to Prague, Czech Republic. 

four students smiling
The views from the tower were amazing

Prague was a study trip that was arranged with our study abroad program. We went with Professor Kröll, who was more than knowledgeable about the city. 

red roofs of houses close together
The red roofs of Prague

We visited the Astronomical Clock Tower, where we had amazing views of the city.  We also visited St. Vitus Cathedral, St. Nicholas Church, and Jewish Synagogues. It was my first time being in a synagogue and I learned a lot about the religion and its history in Prague. 

stained glass window inside a cathedral
A stained window in St. Vitus Cathedral

I am so grateful to have come to Europe because I have learned so much about WWII through the lenses of different nationalities and religions. Not only that, but it is twice the fun when you can visit or see historical locations in real life.

two people in front of a table with a plate of food
Delanie and Kara enjoying their pork knuckle