Whether it’s a view of Vienna from the Riesenrad Ferris wheel or a panorama of the Mississippi River from the deck of a steamboat, students in Bradley’s Vienna Study Abroad program can do more than sightsee. The partnership between Bradley and the University of Vienna allows them to become part of the culture.
thousands of tourists travel along the Mississippi River visiting places like Graceland and Mark Twain’s Hannibal, Missouri. But this summer, one group traveled with a cross-cultural purpose. Twenty-one students and professors from Bradley, the University of Vienna in Austria, and the University of Saarland in Germany drove from Dubuque, Iowa, to New Orleans, then back to Peoria as they explored the cultures of the Mississippi River Valley. They were part of Bradley’s Vienna Study Abroad program, a collaboration between Bradley and the University of Vienna.
This Mississippi River trip isn't the first collaboration between the two universities. Bradley students travel annually to Vienna for May interim. A similar Mississippi River trip took place in 2001, and another class traveled along U.S. Route 66 in 2003.
The relationship between the two universities started almost 20 years ago, when Dr. Tim Conley, associate professor of English at Bradley, went to Vienna as a Fulbright professor in 1991. He returned for a second Fulbright appointment in 1995 and began collaborating with the late Professor Kurt Mayer from the University of Vienna. They came up with “Easy Riders,” a website including contributions from students and faculty from both universities exploring literature, music, and movies about roads.
Study Abroad stateside
This summer, Conley taught “Live(s) on the Mississippi 2010: The Mississippi Valley as a Transregional Space” with professors Klaus Heissenberger from the University of Vienna, and Astrid Fellner from the University of Saarland. Although the trip only spanned three weeks — July 24 to August 14 — the European students took a preparatory online course, “Rafting Web 2.0 with Huck Finn.” The Bradley students completed the same reading list as the European students, but didn’t participate in the online portion.
“I learned a lot about cultural differences in our classroom,” said Katharina Wiedlack, a doctoral student from the University of Vienna. “We not only learned a lot of historical details about the Mississippi, its culture, and history, but also about ourselves. We talked a lot about the construction of national identity and how it is interrelated with the categories of race, class, gender, and even sexuality.”
As the group studied the sites in communities along the river, like Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the French Quarter and Hurricane Rebirth Tour in New Orleans, and the National Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque, Iowa, Conley says they became a community themselves. “The shared experiences provide a way to investigate differences in cultural background,” he said. “By the end of the course, the group acquired an identity that both questions and transcends these differences.”
Heissenberger, who was on the Mississippi trip as a student in 2001, said that those cultural differences are what motivated him to help plan this trip. “When I was a student, I was stunned by the variety and depth of things that I could experience and learn,” he said. “I really wanted to make this blend of interpersonal learning available to other students again.”
Across the pond
In Vienna, Bradley students are immersed in the Viennese culture and walk away more familiarized with that culture than most short-term Study Abroad experiences would allow.
When students study abroad for two or three weeks, they only have time to tour the city and do class work. This program, however, allows students from both universities to interact. Bradley students meet during the spring semester for the Vienna Seminar, which includes online exchanges with students at the University of Vienna. Bradley and Vienna students then work together on a final presentation project in Vienna, exploring firsthand the differences and similarities between American and Viennese cultures.
“My favorite part of the collaboration wasn’t the time we spent together in class, but the moments we shared exploring Vienna,” said Andrea Stoifl. “It kind of made me feel like a tourist in my own city, which I enjoyed a lot.”
“Once in Vienna, I fell in love,” said DAVE JONES ’10, who was there in May 2009. “The people are so nice and many of them speak English. They are always very friendly and always ask questions about America. It made me feel proud of my country.”
Dr. Christine Blouch, associate professor of English and director of international programs at Bradley, said, “The Vienna program has stretched the boundaries. They are the best-prepared students that we send abroad.”
The program even has the attention of the U.S. Embassy in Vienna. The embassy invited Conley, Fellner, and Heissenberger to present a workshop in October 2009 for Study Abroad administrators called “New Media in International Educational Exchange.”
Teaching in Vienna
The program that began with two instructors has grown to nine, teaching multiple disciplines both in Vienna and in the United States. Seven of those professors are from Bradley. Every year, they teach four of six courses in Vienna: travel writing, Viennese fiction, speech, music appreciation, human resource management, or business management and administration.
Each course allows Bradley students to connect with students from the University of Vienna. “For those of us who teach English in Vienna, we have the incredible chance to bring our students together with University of Vienna students and to explore our cultural and political differences,” said Dr. Robert Prescott, associate professor of English.
“From my perspective,” adds Dr. Kevin Swafford, associate professor of English, who teaches travel writing in Vienna, “it is precisely the interactions between these students that allow for a sustained, and progressively more profound, critical inquiry into important aspects of writing and culture,” he said.
Students taking a speech course from B.J. Lawrence, associate dean of the Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts, spend their time exploring the city and its museums, learning the transportation system, and attending cultural events, all with students from Vienna. The students’ three oral presentations are based on their experiences.
Music and management
The city is “one of the world’s great musical centers,” according to Dr. Kyle Dzapo, Caterpillar professor of music at Bradley. The music appreciation course she teaches allows students to explore the city of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, and Schoenberg, as well as the Musikverein, considered by many to be one of the best concert halls in the world. One music student even had the opportunity to take a flute lesson with the principal flutist of the Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera. “For both music majors and students who are participating in an introductory-level music appreciation class, I can't imagine a better experience for getting to know the art of music,“ she said.
Dr. Valerie Pape teaches a human resource management course in Vienna. Pape contacted Viennese businesses and arranged for students from both universities to visit, allowing them to experience global and European business firsthand.
Dr. Charles Stoner, professor of business administration, teaches business management in Vienna. “Study Abroad, particularly in a country where English is not the primary language, allows students to experience the cultural richness and contributions of other areas of the world,” he said. “For many students, this is their first significant travel experience. They emerge with assurance, insight, and perspective that far exceeds the few days spent in Vienna.”
Vienna study abroad slideshow
[Non-Flash users, view the set here]
Mississippi study abroad slideshow
[Non-Flash users, view the set here]