Semester abroad offers more than tourist attractions

By Shelby Potz-Nielsen ’13

My name is Shelby Potz-Nielsen ’13 and I am a senior finance major from Lake Kiowa, Texas. I recently declared a minor in Human Resource Development and am also working toward the Certificate in International Business. Before going on the Mays Exchange this past fall, I was lucky enough to grow up in a family of travelers so have been to Central America (Costa Rica, Belize, Caribbean) South America (Argentina, Uruguay, Chile), Australia, Asia (South Korea) and Europe (Spain, France, Belgium, Germany and Czech Republic).

All the travel I did when I was younger made me realize how much I value being able to visit different cultures and learn about other ways of life. I really wanted to participate in an exchange in Vienna, Austria at Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien, or Vienna University of Economics and Business, because while I have been abroad many times in the past, I have never been by myself. This was a perfect opportunity for me to discover more about my personality and aspirations and gain credit toward my finance degree, all while living in a beautiful city. My goals when I was heading there were to participate in as many cultural activities as possible, learn some conversational German, and feel like a “local.” I wanted to find the farmers market and the small coffee shops and understand the transit system without having to carry a map in my pocket. The exchange program in Vienna also was appealing because there are over 200 exchange students participating, so while I would get to interact with Austrians, I would also get the opportunity to make friends and have connections all over the world.


The first couple of weeks in Vienna I felt a wide range of emotions. As much as I didn’t want to admit it to myself, I was definitely homesick, but not for the reasons I would’ve thought. I missed the little things like being able to make small talk with the clerks at the grocery stores, not knowing anyone in my apartment building, and since I was the only student from A&M, I had to force myself to be outgoing and talk with the other exchange students at WU. Luckily, WU offered a Cultural Orientation Program the month before school started where I was able to meet people from all over the world. The minute I realized that everyone was in the exact same position as I was, it became so much easier to put myself out there, and Vienna started to feel like home! Then the feeling of excitement hit me and I decided to explore the city at every chance I got.

Before I left for Vienna, I considered myself a very worldly person…but I realize now that I didn’t know half as much as I thought I did. Making friends from countries like Hungary, Latvia, Denmark, Norway, Thailand and Australia allowed me to realize just how many different cultures there are. Every time I look at a map now I try to find a country I didn’t know, I think about it and try to learn as much as I can about it. Even though I was able to visit 13 countries this fall (Ireland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Croatia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Poland,and Slovakia), this trip has made me want to travel more than ever.

There are so many views to consider when looking at any subject, and while in the United States we may be limited to thinking about the conservative or liberal points of views, it is also important to meet people from other parts of the world and hear their view of the world.

If you are considering a trip abroad, a semester is the perfect amount of time, with the potential to travel before or after your program. Four months in one city allows you to feel comfortable in your surroundings – find your favorite grocery store, café or park bench where you can just sit and let it sink in where exactly you are. There is so much history in Europe. It is hard to fathom that the European cities have been established for longer than the United States has been in existence.

Companies are becoming more and more global. This international experience will provide a competitive advantage as I spent a semester learning first-hand the impact of globalization on American businesses. Additionally, business etiquette differs across cultures and my interactions with business students from around the world allowed me to learn about these varying business practices while creating an international network.

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