The University of Iowa

Student Reflections on Diversity Abroad: Austria

September 3rd, 2019
Teddy Van Winkle inside Voxman Music Hall

Hi! My name is Teddy Van Winkle, and I am a first-generation college student studying music and arts entrepreneurship. My summer led me to travel to Vienna with IES Abroad in order to participate in an internship, which I need as a graduation requirement, as well as take German language courses and a work-based seminar. While in Vienna, I was employed by a firm called Horizon Arts, a music consulting agency, which led me to spend most of my time working for the Orchester Wiener Akademie, a local orchestra focused on recreating period-authentic music. 

Around October of 2018, I knew that I had to start looking around for an internship if I wanted to graduate with the arts entrepreneurship program. I ended up applying to all sorts of organizations, both locally and nationally; Summer of the Arts, Drum Corps International, Spotify, NPR, and the list goes on. Some of them I heard back from and advanced down the interview process. Some, I never heard a word. Eventually, a little booth popped up in the music building lobby, arranged by the School of Music's wonderful assistant director, Laura Goddard. This booth had the IES logo plastered on the front, and two young adults trying to hand out study abroad flyers to any music students who would listen to them. Unsurprisingly, not many music students cared to stop and chat. Studying abroad isn't something that music students typically consider; we're told from day one that our schedule is going to keep us trapped in the music building 24/7, and after a while, it certainly feels that way. Not to mention, many of our graduation requirements include 8 full semesters of different classes and ensembles. That's not exactly conducive to taking a semester off to go study in another country. So, you can imagine that when they inevitably flagged me down, I was skeptical. I took some fliers to be nice, not planning to keep them. But at the top one of the fliers, I saw the word "INTERNSHIP" in big bold letters and thought to myself, "Hey! Internship! I need one of those!"

I sat down that night, and put in my application through IES's website. It was really a half-hearted action, applying out of habit, just like I applied to tens of other internships that I didn't necessarily expect to participate in. Not to mention -- me? A first-generation college student, coming from a low-income family, studying abroad for the summer? I didn't think it was likely, let alone possible. This program required that you pay for tuition, living expenses, and on top of all of that, the internship was unpaid, largely due to legal reasons. I didn't think there was any way I could afford it. Once the forms were submitted, I kind of forgot about IES, and went back to searching for other internships that were closer to home, and more importantly, internships that provided a living stipend. 

At this point, I was accepted into the program. But I really didn't know what to do from there. Still skeptical, I agreed to set up an appointment with an advisor in the study abroad office to review the study/intern abroad contract. It was here that my whole frame of reference began to turn, degree by degree. UI offers boatloads of information on prepping students for their study abroad experience. That was incredibly relieving for me, someone who has never even had a passport, let alone lived in another country for two months. And much to my surprise, my advisor made me aware of all the funding that the university offers socioeconomically disadvantaged and/or academically successful students. All this time, I was expecting the program to be almost entirely out-of-pocket, but my advisor promised me that she would do everything in her power to make those scholarships work for me. So, I signed it; I signed the contract saying that I was committing to the internship program, and committing to whatever cost the program came out to be. I knew that I didn't have the out-of-pocket money to cover the experience, so it truly was a leap of faith. 

"I want you to know that, no matter your social, economic, or academic background, you ABSOLUTELY can make a study abroad experience work for you. The University of Iowa has ways to support and assist us, and I'd like my story to be a testament to the helpfulness of the various staff and faculty here."

Over the next few months, I searched high and low for every source of funding I could find. I applied for an Honors grant, School of Music travel funds, IES scholarships, the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, and of course, the diversity ambassador program, among many others. It felt like a race against time, trying to put as many applications in before I had to begin packing my bags. 

As the end of finals week came and went, I was attending the Iowa Bandmaster's Association clinic in Des Moines, in the middle of a seminar, when my phone buzzed with a notification from Outlook. The very last scholarship had gotten back to me, with an award letter. That was it. The last puzzle piece slotting in, ensuring I could go overseas and participate in the program. It felt like a tremendous weight being lifted off of my shoulders, knowing that my leap of faith performed months prior had landed safely. 

So much of my letter to you is dedicated to the process of applying for the program and scholarships, but this is what life is like for a first-generation college student. So often we are caught up in the "how" that we never even get to experience the "what". I want you to know that, no matter your social, economic, or academic background, you ABSOLUTELY can make a study abroad experience work for you. The University of Iowa has ways to support and assist us, and I'd like my story to be a testament to the helpfulness of the various staff and faculty here. 

Well, how was my study abroad experience itself? That's a little harder to crack open. I had some of the best experiences of my life, and I had some of the hardest trials of my professional career. Working in Vienna was absolutely phenomenal. It reaffirmed to much of what I believed about my career choices, and gave me a taste of what it's like to live in a city with such a tremendous focus on the arts. At the same time, though, I've never felt as disconnected and excluded before as I did while living in Vienna. The locals, despite mostly speaking fluent English, really don't like conversing in English. And my German, while maybe conversational at best if I was in Germany, really struggled with handling the Austrian dialect. So much of what we consider to be inclusion goes past our identity and extends into the way in which we converse with each other. 

While I was lucky enough to have all of the program costs covered by various scholarships and grants, I still had to keep a very close eye on finances. It could feel limiting at times, but it was never entirely prohibitive. For such a large city, Vienna is incredibly affordable to live and work in. This will be the reality for any low income or first-generation student studying abroad; it's incredibly easy to get caught up in the moment and forget about the bank account numbers fluctuating back at home. But, don't worry. It's absolutely manageable. 

But, oh my gosh, all the free events! During the summer, Vienna absolutely lights up with all sorts of outdoor activities and events. One of my personal favorites was a huge screening of various films, operas, and ballets on the Rathausplatz, right in front of the town hall. It lasted nearly a whole month and played some of my favorites. Not to mention, the amazing food stands located just behind the seating area. Traveling outside of Vienna can be done for extremely cheap, too. A round-trip bus ticket to Budapest was something like 30 euros, and a round-trip bus to Bratislava was only 13. 

And by the way, Laura Goddard, our assistant director, later revealed to me that my story is exactly the one she was hoping for. That some music student, even just one, who never dreamed of studying abroad would take a flyer on a whim, and eventually find themselves in the middle of a foreign country, creating new experiences and learning new things. 

I think what's most important for other first-gen students to take away from my experience is that, yes, you can absolutely make it happen. Iowa offers a huge amount of resources to help you along the way, and I'm sure us study abroad alumni would love to help you out too. For me, doing the internship was a lovely way of knocking out a graduation requirement and gaining some extra field experience while also getting to experience the culture and language of a new country. For you? Well, you'll just have to find your own excuse to make that leap of faith. It's worth it.


Please note that the opinions and views expressed by diversity ambassadors are solely those of the students and do not reflect or represent the views of International Programs or the University of Iowa.