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The View from Vienna: A student's perspective

Global learning is an important part of the Lipscomb University experience. Each fall and spring students have the opportunity to study at one of four semester-long Lipscomb global learning sites around the world.

Cate Zenzen  | 

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Justin Myrick, engineering professor, and the group of Lipscomb students studying in Vienna this spring.

This semester Cate Zenzen, a sophomore corporate marketing major at Lipscomb University, is participating in the global learning program in Vienna, Austria. The Vienna group is comprised of students from Lipscomb University, Oklahoma Christian University and Rochester College. Zenzen will share the group’s experiences in a series of blog articles this semester.

Feeding of the mind and soul
After a Saturday of exploring, we were told to meet at Stephansplatz, or St. Stephen's Cathedral, in the central part of the city. With our heads full of Viennese information and images, it was time to fill our bodies with the food of the culture. As a group of 29, we ate at the 12 Apostles, or Zwolf Apostelkeller, an historical restaurant in an ancient cellar known for its traditional menu. Almost everyone in the group ordered Wiener Schnitzel, pork covered in breadcrumbs and fried. I ate a cheese tray and vegetable schnitzel which was good, but once I tasted the Wiener Schnitzel I regretted my choice.

Just like home, Sunday morning was for church. Our group is made up of students and professors from three American Universities founded by members of the Churches of Christ. Whether we grew up in that denomination or not, all of us are regular church-goers; but never had we been to a service like this. We attended mass at Augustiner-Kirche, the parish church of the Habsburgs -- the imperial family whose reign ended in 1918 after 650 years. 

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Augustiner-Kirche, the parish church of the Habsburgs, is one of the first places Lipscomb students visit in Vienna.

The sanctuary is home to the tomb where the hearts of the royal family are kept and was also the venue for several notable weddings, including Marie Antoinette and Napoleon Bonaparte. This church is magnificent, and preserved so well it does not even have central heating. To worship in a room full of such color, high ceilings, and ornate detail was an unreal experience. Mass was held completely in German and accompanied by a live choir and orchestra, of talent unlike I've ever heard before. Most unbelievable to me is that many Austrians belong to that parish, they go there every week to take communion and worship. This church is just one of the many stunning cathedrals that stand tall in this historically-rich country.

Ice Can Be Nice
It is mid-winter and just like at home (in Minnesota), Austria is cold and snowy in February. Each place I travel to is breathtaking in the snow, but I can't help but imagine the beauty in the summer when the cafés sprawl into courtyards and the mountains are visible from miles away. That doesn't mean the country is asleep — far from it, Austria is full of activity even in the frozen months. 

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Students were in the audience to watch the Vienna Capitals taken on the Moser Medical Graz 99ers in Vienna's last home game of the season earlier this month.

Children play outside in their brightly-colored snowsuits, street vendors sell sizzling sausages, and Vienna is full of construction projects which I presume are done strategically in the time of year less-known for tourism. Here I'll describe some of the winter activities that our group have done in our first two weeks here.

For our second weekend, the program calendar was marked with the phrase "team building," something young adults never want to see on their schedule. With a constant bombardment of learning — not only in the classroom but with every conversation, interaction, and new location — I'm sure my classmates would agree with me that an activity reminiscent of home was what we needed that day. 

Surely aware of this, our professors surprised us with tickets to an American favorite; a hockey game! The Vienna Capitals faced off the Moser Medical Graz 99ers in Vienna's last home game of the season. Graz is the capital city of the Austrian providence Styria, located in the southeast region of the country. From what I could tell, Austrians are just as crazy about hockey as Americans. The stands were full of avid fans with drums, megaphones, jerseys, and flags; everyone cheering and shouting the last names of the players. The teams themselves were made up of players from all over the world, including several American-born athletes. To our disappointment, the Capitals lost 3 to 5, but the game was a blast.

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The area in front of Vienna's city hall, known as the "Rathaus," is transformed into a giant ice rink in the winter.

Later some of us tested our own skills on the ice. In front of Vienna's city hall, known as the "Rathaus," is a giant ice rink. I'm not talking about a community ice arena for open skate and figure skating practice, I mean a multi-level, brightly lit, music-pumping extravaganza. This place is incredible at night, the city hall shines bright while hundreds of people skate up and down the ramps to music played by an on-site DJ. I was a bit intimidated to be honest, it seems Austrians are naturally-born skaters. Very few people fell down, and thankfully I wasn't one of them! 

My favorite part of the night was when we met three girls from Holland while skating. They told us they were studying to become German instructors and were in Vienna for a school trip. Their native language is Dutch, they spoke to us in English, and they wanted to teach German; I found their ability to speak three languages incredible. This just proves that no matter how many amazing sights I see, or things I taste, nothing is as amazing as meeting people from different countries. I believe that it is people that make up a culture, and my interactions with them, no matter how brief, are what really shape my experience here.

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Students visit the United Nations office that is located in Vienna.

Great change made by great nations
In the heart of Europe, Austria is an ideal location for world unification. More than just geographically central, the small country also maintained a neutral political position after the Second World War. With these conditions in their favor, several international organizations have established main offices in the capital city of Vienna. Two of which, OPEC and the UN, we had the privilege to visit.

The United Nations has four main offices; New York City, Geneva, Nairobi, and Vienna. Security checkpoints are stationed at each entrance and once a visitor enters the building they are no longer on Austrian ground, but the sovereign territory of the United Nations. Founded in 1945, in the aftermath of World War II, the UN was established to ensure that destruction of that magnitude never happened again. Now with 193 member nations, the international organization has many separate entities to regulate relations between them. One such entity, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is positioned in Vienna. Our group saw the large meeting room where diplomats from all over the globe meet to discuss atomic energy and radiation. Most interesting to me was the method of the translators, whose jobs are to transcribe dialogue into one of the six official languages of the United Nations; Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. More than just nuclear energy, the IAEA oversees regulated use of important atomic practices including X-rays and genetic manipulation.

Another incredibly impactful organization, the executive organ of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) calls Vienna home. The organization settled their  headquarters in Austria's capital city five years after it's 1960 establishment. Here, representatives from the fourteen member countries meet to discuss fair trade terms between their nations under the leadership of the Secretary General and the Board of Governors. Those of us in the International Business course had the opportunity to view this great room where such discussion takes place; even to sit in the chair of the Secretary General.

Great things happen when the nations of the world decide to work together. I considered it a great privilege to view the space where global discussions take place. Both the UN and OPEC are great testaments to the strength derived from collaboration.

Learn more about Lipscomb University's Global Learning Program.