Vienna program opened new doors to learning for Lipscomb students 20 years ago

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When you dream big, you can often have an impact far greater than you ever imagined possible.

This past fall, the Lipscomb community celebrated the 20th year of its study abroad program in Vienna. The program was the university’s first of its kind, and opened the door to a new avenue for education.

It set in motion a strong desire to offer Lipscomb students an opportunity to expand their view of the world and develop global competency. The seeds that were planted in Vienna two decades ago have grown today into a Global Learning Program that offers four university-sponsored semester-long study abroad programs — in Vienna, London, Florence and Santiago; a variety of short-term apprentice trips; and numerous other travel study opportunities undergraduate and graduate students.

Vienna_1“We know that a Global Competency skillset is a huge differentiator for today’s employers,” said Michael Winegeart, Lipscomb’s Director of Global Programs. “Study abroad programs provide students with unique opportunities to develop a global competency as well as to broaden their Kingdom perspective. They provide extremely valuable learning opportunities that we encourage our students to participate in, and we continually look for new ways to offer travel study experiences.”

It all started with a president’s dream and the vision of several faculty members in 1995.

Harold Hazelip, Lipscomb president from 1986-1997, recalled in a recent interview his desire to start a study abroad program.

“Historically, one of the major benefits of a quality liberal arts education is an exposure to a variety of cultures,” Hazelip said. “We believed the program in Vienna would develop in our students an understanding of other cultures, and that they would be more productive citizens as one result.”

With the presidential vision and the determination of Lipscomb faculty Kim Reed, chair of the Department of English and Foreign Languages; and Charles McVey, professor of German; along with retired faculty David Lawrence and Jim Arnett; Gary Hall, professor of math; and former Bible faculty member Doug Varnado, Lipscomb in Vienna was born. Reed led the planning team and gathered faculty across disciplines to develop the curriculum and to set the goals and objectives of the program.

“Kim Reed played a key role in laying the foundation for the Vienna program to be the quality program that it is today that set the standard for what Lipscomb’s study abroad program continues to be today,” said McVey.

In an interview in 1995, Reed said study abroad opportunities are essential in preparing the well-rounded student.

“Beginning in the Renaissance and continuing for hundreds of years, well-educated young men took what they called the ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe,” she said. “That was the crowning event of their education. It has been proven over the centuries that programs like this add to a person’s understanding of the world. More importantly, students must understand other cultures to be able to compete in the ever-shrinking global village. It excites me to see their minds open to new ways of thinking and dealing with life. It gives them a stronger basis for understanding their own mindset.”

McVey accompanied the first group of 30 students when they left campus on Sept. 4, 1996, as the pioneers in the university’s first semester-long study abroad program.

“Vienna is an important city and is a cultural center,” said McVey, who conducted orientation sessions in Vienna for 15 cohorts since the program’s beginning. “Taking that first group of students to Vienna was a significant milestone in the history of Lipscomb. It provided such a great new learning opportunity for students.”

Vienna_2“There are so many life lessons to be learned when living in another culture,” he said. “This is the time when students move the farthest the fastest. This a time when students make the most growth as an adult. It’s the experience of being in another setting, out of their comfort zone and having to be more independent that helps students mature and grow into ‘adults.’ It also provides a great opportunity for our faculty who accompany the students each semester to have a broader world-view which has a definite impact in the classroom.”

In the early days, students lived at the Kolping Haus. Through the years the residence and classroom settings have varied, technology has emerged (think cell phone and internet technology!) and the world has changed, Vienna remains a key part of the study abroad program.

“Whether you are a history buff, a music aficionado, an art lover, an outdoor enthusiast or a culinary connoisseur, Vienna has something for everyone,” said Winegeart. “Known as the City of Music, (think Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert), it also boasts an astonishing number of monuments, palaces, parks and museums. Not only is Vienna one of the world’s safest cities, Business Insider has named it the No.1 place to live in the world for five years running.  Because of all of these reasons and more, Lipscomb’s program in Vienna has been our flagship study abroad destination.”

In the last 20 years, nearly 500 students have been part of the Lipscomb in Vienna program; sessions are offered fall and spring; and a site director now lives in the city year-round.

Winegeart said with the longevity of the program, second generations of families are studying abroad in Vienna.

“Loyalties and transformative experiences run deep,” he said. “We are now at the point where we are getting students of parents who have studied abroad with Lipscomb in Vienna, which makes for an alumni base that is unmatched.”

Vienna program director and Lipscomb alumna Melissa Swann said Vienna provides a robust classroom for students.

“As soon as they step off the plane, students and faculty are immersed in the rich heritage of a regal city shaped by Mozart, Strauss, the Habsburgs, Frankl and Freud,” said Swann. “They are saturated with reminders of Vienna's prominence throughout history. Students live and study in the heart of the city. They often say their history books come to life, while walking to class on streets filled with baroque architecture or while sipping a Melange in their favorite cafe. In addition, Vienna serves as a headquarters for the UN, IAEA, CTBTO, UNIDO, UNODC, OPEC among many other important organizations and companies, offering excellent site visits and experiential learning opportunities.”

A Navy veteran, Swann knows first-hand the benefits exposing students to a variety of cultures.

“Study abroad adds a new dimension to education by providing unique experiential learning opportunities that create competency based growth,” she said. “Students develop and sharpen critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and cross cultural competencies. When students invest in study abroad, they invest in a semester of unparalleled spiritual, academic and personal growth that pays off in dividends.”

Vienna_3This past fall, David Hardy, assistant professor of theater, led the group. He travelled with 30 Lipscomb students as well as his wife, Kenna, and their son to Vienna, where he taught three courses — Faith and Culture, Christianity and the Arts and was co-teacher for Cross-Cultural Experience. It was an experience that he said not only made an impact on the lives of the students, but on him as well.

“I would strongly recommend to faculty and students alike to take the leap of faith toward studying abroad,” said Hardy. “It can absolutely enrich your life in so many ways.  Imagine experiencing life from another perspective during a three month stay in another culture and then add to that the connectivity that comes from being in deep, rich community every day with students who become like family.”

“Epiphanies about music and art and life abound if you choose to study abroad.  The experience requires you to gain independence, but also provides the gift of fellowship and community as you explore who God wants you to become during this highly impressionable time in one's life,” he continued. “To say it's a transformative experience is an understatement.  It was a highlight of my life and I would go again in a heartbeat.”

Hardy said the relationships forged through the experience are a powerful part of the Vienna experience.

“You will make connections to each other, to a new culture and to God that just aren't possible to fully explain unless you experience it first hand.  But, we try to explain it anyway,” he reflected. “We try to share the depth of insight we gained regarding our place in this world on a more global level, or how experiencing different cultures broadened our minds to think differently, yes, but of equal importance, to notice similarities between our way of life in the United States and the rest of the world. “

“Our family of three, the university students and our leadership team all experienced Vienna (and much more of Europe) during the Fall semester of 2016 and this experience bonded us together in a way that can never be duplicated. The community we experienced with living in the same building, the traveling we enjoyed together, the carved out worship time we cherished as a group in our common room, the academics that dove-tailed with our travel experiences so we could go deeper with the subject matter... All of these were gifts that we will keep treasured in our hearts the rest of our lives.  We lived together, cried together, laughed together, ate together, and experienced powerful, life-changing moments together. “

McVey agreed that the friendships formed on study abroad opportunities are long-lasting.

Vienna_4“The people you go to Vienna with will be the people you are friends with the rest of your lives because of these shared experiences,” he said. “When we had a 10-year reunion of the first Vienna group, 29 of the 30 students attended. That’s how strong these relationships are that develop.”

Many of the Vienna groups remain in contact today through Facebook pages, reunions and other events. On Dec. 3, 2016, Lipscomb alum and member of the first Vienna cohort Stephanie Michon Martin posted this message on the Lipscomb in Vienna ‘96 Facebook page: “And 20 years ago today marks the day that ended our memorable semester abroad. We were all given a going away gift of a box of Mozart candies by the Kolping staff. Herr Dr. Charlie McVey bid us farewell as we rode off to the airport on our own bright and early at 5a. Jim (Sherman) and Dwight (Spradlin) went their separate ways from the group when we made it to London. The rest of us continued our journey back to the States where we first landed in Houston then Nashville. I'll never forget how strange it seemed when we landed in Houston to hear Christmas music playing and all of the Christmas decorations everywhere in the airport. It was a different way of celebrating the season than we had come to experience in Europe. The re-entry culture shock was definitely real! But the other thing that was real was how we started the trip as mostly strangers and ended it as much closer friends who still share a love for that great experience we all had. I'm so thankful for all of you and all of the memories we all share. It's true testimony of the impact that trip had on us all that we still talk about our memories and share them through this FB group. God bless you all! Looking forward to many more memory sharing opportunities through posts, discussions, reunions, and hopefully a return trip together one day!”

For more information about the Lipscomb in Vienna program, visit To share a favorite Lipscomb in Vienna memory, click here. We may share some of the memories submitted in future study abroad articles.