Caleb is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Austria
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
It’s one thing to see a photo of Machu Picchu, or to read a travel memoir about the bustling streets of Mumbai. Visiting foreign lands in person, however, is an entirely different experience. When you study abroad, you participate in the day-to-day life of a new locale, gaining a first-hand understanding and new appreciation of the culture. This is why I chose to study abroad.
In the late 1950’s an American woman teaching in Austria fell in love with an American soldier passing through the area with his unit. They reconnected after they returned to the United States. The teacher and soldier are my grandparents. Even though my grandfather has passed, my grandmother loves him like she did when they met in Salzburg, Austria. One of my personal goals was to see the beautiful mountains where my grandfather met my grandmother. In addition, I am German, many years ago two Pflug brothers came to America to start a new life. I chose Austria as my program because I wanted to learn more of my ancestry.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
Man tends to measure life and happiness by money and property. I tend to disagree. A meaningful life is not about being popular, being the smartest, or even being perfect. Instead it is about being real with ourselves, humble, strong, and sharing our talents with the world by touching the lives of others. I was able to see the contrast of a real rich life and a monetary filled life by going to my first Opera in Vienna and talking to one of the homeless.
While I enjoyed such an action and humor packed Opera, I noticed something. Being in a place where a seat is easily $200 you see several wealthy people. But the glossy look in these people’s eyes was heart breaking. This made me think. Why are such wealthy people so unhappy? Did they think money buys happiness? Did they lose their soul, dreams, and aspirations going after their wealth? Do they lack love in their life? These were all questions that stuck in my head as I left the Opera. What I came to see is that a homeless man would come to answer my questions on the connection between wealth and happiness.
Upon buying food at a stand in one of the Christmas markets in Vienna I noticed a homeless man sitting nearby waiting for anything people would be willing to give him. Now usually, and unfortunately, I look right past people like this man. I think either “It’s their own fault they’re in that situation” or “I am a college student, what can I do?” I never give money to those sitting out on the streets because I have no clue what they’ll spend it on. But this man was different. As I was eating my piece of pizza I realized I didn’t need two more pieces, I was just not hungry. So I decided to give him some of the food I was not going to eat. As I handed him the food he had this look in his eyes that sparked something in my heart. I am not sure if it was some type of love or just plain curiosity. But I had to know how someone so poor in monetary standards could be so rich in happiness and joy. Pushing this thought to the back of my mind I simply smiled at the man and went on my way.
The next day I saw the same man at the same spot. Once again my curiosity arose. How can he smile and be so joyful to those that just ignore that he’s even there. So I decided to buy some food for this man and myself and I sat down and talked. What I expected to be a quick conversation ended up being over an hour long conversation about life, love, and what it means to be rich and happy in life. I could tell you everything that we talked about but that would take a while. Instead I will quote my newly found friend Aksel. He told me, “To make a difference in someone’s life you do not have to be rich, beautiful, perfect, or have a lot of money. You just have to care.” Aksel’s life spoke truth to what he told me. By simply caring you can be the richest man in the world but you can bring much joy to others as well. This is what Studying Abroad has taught me.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
It is hard for me to come up with words to describe such an amazing experience. But if you would like to see me attempt to talk about my overall study abroad experience you can read my Blog I kept while over there.
Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?
Jamais Cascio is a very well known writer in modern America. He once said, “Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive.” Over these past few months I have been thrown many things I was not expecting. And by overcoming the unexpected I have thrived in several ways. One thing I have learned while traveling throughout Europe is that things may not go as planned. Rather than getting frustrated I have learned to become adaptive to situations that life throws at me. This in turn has made me more optimistic when something does not go to expectations because I see it as an adventure and a life lesson waiting to happen.
As this past semester came to an unwanted close it will not be the end for me when it comes to study abroad. I will take Europe back home with me by using the skills I learned abroad and apply them to my everyday life. Something I hope to bring back to CSB/SJU is the attitude of wanting to understand various cultures and customs of militaries and civilians outside of the United States. As a Cadet in the CSB/SJU Fighting Saints Battalion that hopes to commission as an Active Duty Officer, the skills of being culturally aware and observant of other society’s customs that were learned while I studied abroad will help me advance in my military career.
What advice can you offer for CSB|SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
Considering it?: Do it! Nervous? Pope Benedict the 16th tells us, "The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for Greatness!" So step out of you comfort zone!
Planning to go?: Go in with no expectations. This will make your experiences richer and more mysterious because they are not spoiled by your ideas of something. And be open! Lastly, not everything goes to plan. So use these experiences as life lessons and to further develop as an individual!