Written by: Catherine Brand
Hello! My name is Catherine Brand and I studied away in the fall of 2019 through the Magellan Exchange in Dornbirn, Austria.
To sum it up, it was the best thing I’ve ever done – for my career, my perspective, but most of all for myself. I met friends I still talk to every single day from all across the world. I learned how to communicate in German with the locals. I traveled to 8 different countries and countless cities within those countries, all while going to school at a university nestled in the Alps. Sounds perfect, right? I arrived with very few expectations and left with more than I could ever ask for.
Although I could easily go on forever (just ask my friends), let’s start from the beginning.
There’s a lot to do in the pre-departure stage when preparing to study away, but Magellan never leaves you lacking resources or someone who will gladly help. I can’t recommend getting a planner enough or using that handy OneDrive calendar because between Missouri State and my host university, FH Vorarlberg, there were plenty of deadlines to be aware of. Nothing was all that difficult to obtain, mostly just personal information and picking out classes, but I lived by my planner in those preparatory days. Obtaining a visa was probably the most difficult thing, mostly because I had to go out of town to get it, but it’s all just part of the process.
Fast forward to August. I just landed in Zurich, took three separate trains (oh yes, you’re going to have to head upstairs on most trains and you will look like a mad person carrying a 50 lbs. suitcase and multiple bags up those stairs), and finally got off at the station with the big Dornbirn hanging overhead. I got off that last train and thought *what have I gotten myself into?* but it was just the exhaustion talking. Soon enough my adrenaline kicked in and I was inquiring about which bus I needed to take to get to the dormitory. My exchange university was very helpful here with giving directions and mapping out, point blank, how to get to the dorm. But, I’m admittedly not great with directions and I knew that asking was the way to go. That being said, never be afraid to ask questions. You’re probably not the first lost exchange student that anyone abroad has ever seen. Soon enough I arrived in my little dorm room, started unpacking, and those four months just flew by.
The reason I picked the Magellan Exchange had to be the cost. There was never a question about if I was making a mistake financially, because I was simply paying Missouri State tuition. Did I splurge here and there on trips with friends? Of course. But I had all summer to save for it and it was nice knowing that tuition was already taken care of. Beyond that, I was really thankful for all the hands-on help that Magellan provided. When working with an unfamiliar university, it’s so easy to be unsure if what you’re doing is right simply because it’s a little different than what you’re used to. Any time I felt this way, all I had to do was email any one of the contacts I was given, and I was always met with a warm response and answers to all of my questions. This meant the world to me.
I have absolutely nothing negative to say about my time spent abroad, nor the Magellan Exchange as a whole. However, for any of you tempted to apply to a Magellan program in the future, I have a few pointers I wish I knew before leaving:
1. Be Prepared to Rank Your Top Three Universities when You Start Your Application Process.
This really threw me off guard at the time. Luckily, I received my top choice, but it’s still something to be aware of. Do your research and, who knows, maybe you’ll be surprisingly tempted by a few different cities.
2. Check if You will have Free Wi-Fi Wherever You’re Staying.
In this comfortable, unlimited data country, the thought of not having free Wi-Fi wherever I would live just seemed preposterous. Well, think again Catherine. I arrived at my dorm and was taken aback when there was no Wi-Fi to connect to. That meant I couldn’t tell my family I had made it until the next day when I felt comfortable enough to venture out in search of internet. Let me tell you: my mom was not happy. Within 24 hours I had purchased an Austrian SIM card and everything was back to normal, but if I could have told myself to simply check beforehand I would have saved myself (and my family) a good deal of stress.
3. Don’t Sweat Going Alone.
Participating in an exchange is your time to grow, and I promise you that the friends will come with time. I know that having your best friend sign up with you to travel the world is tempting. I know. But one of the best things about an exchange is that you’re going to meet people who you will have so much in common with, it will be hard to believe you grew up on opposite sides of the world. I can only assume that anyone tempted to take part in the Magellan exchange is brave as it is, so just remind yourself that you got this! If you have a friend that wants to go with you and you feel it’s right, go for it. This is not me telling you that you absolutely should not do that. But as I said, don’t sweat going alone. Not only was I the only student from Missouri State University packing their bags for a small town in Austria, I was the only one from the United States. And you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing.