International friendships fostered through 29th annual Vienna exchange program

This year marked the 29th annual Vienna student exchange program as students involved in BG’s music program got the opportunity to host Viennese students from, sister school, Die Kundmanngasse. 

The exchange students began their adventure in America along the West Coast in San Francisco, stopping at Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and other national parks then made their way towards Illinois.

“Canyonlands was probably the most impressive for me and also here [at BG], because it feels like family,” Chaperone, and English teacher from Austria, Katharina Fersterern said. “We’ve been on this trip for three weeks now and this is where we can rest and feel at home.”

Besides popular tourist attractions, common American stores provided different experiences for students that they enjoyed as well. Some popular locations included Woodfield Mall, American Eagle and Walmart. However, one concern that exchange students had were the amount of plastic bags that they saw being used and thrown away.

“I think in one year we will have a plastic bag ban, and there will be only paper bags,” exchange student Lukas Piller said. “And the waiters at your restaurants, every moment they ask how are you and that is completely different in Austria.”

Some restaurants students tried included Taco Bell, Portillos, SmashBurger and Chipotle, the latter two being very popular.

Along with larger portions and different foods, America also offered other surprising and even comedic differences, from football games to Poprocks and even the very doors. Revolving doors are far less common in Austria and the gap often found between bathroom stall doors and the stall walls is a feature not seen outside of America.

“You have weird doors,” exchange student Anna Won said. “You have weird revolving doors, weird bathroom stalls and revolving doors are just infuriating.”

The week the students stayed with their host families were filled with opportunities for different activities in the Chicago area along with local events including a Thanksgiving celebration dinner hosted at BG. However, some of the most memorable moments proved to be made from host-friendships.

“I like most when we drove a lot in the car and we were signing the whole time with loud music,” Piller said.

Exchange students also accompanied their host’s to classes throughout the day, allowing them to get a peek into the academic life of American teens as well as see what clubs and activities BG has to offer.

“It was really cool to see how your classes are in school and to see how a day in an American house is like,” Won said.

The experience of the student exchange program allowed students to have the opportunity to use English and have American Stereotypes challenged. 

The biggest takeaway Fersterer wants for the Viennese students is the ‘lifelong friendships.’

“Culturally speaking we all grow up with American music and American culture, but really experiencing it is something different,” Fersterer said.