This winter, two International Policy Studies (IPS) students shared their experiences after spending a quarter abroad in Vienna, Austria, as part of the Stanford-Vienna Academic Exchange.
Each fall, two Stanford M.A. students and two of their counterparts from the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna (DA) receive fellowships to participate in the exchange, which is now in its fourth year.
At the DA, which is one of Europe’s most highly regarded international studies institutions, IPS students take classes with renowned European scholars and a diverse, vibrant group of students. With 200 people in the entire institution who all focus on international affairs, “it was in many ways the complete opposite experience from Stanford,” said María García Lecuona, who participated in the program.
While at the academy, students live in the same building where they also take classes, study, and eat--there’s even a DA pub. “It is a very close knit community, which helps you make friends easily,” added Shivshankar Vadivelalagan (Shiv), who also participated last fall.
The DA is a very active community with events planned nearly every day, from meetings with diplomats and alumni to Halloween parties, Russian balls, and other cultural celebrations. For orientation, there is a walking tour of Vienna with a notable historian and even a vineyard tour with a senior professor-turned wine connoisseur.
“But the most enriching part of the program was the people,” said María. “The contrast of cultures was huge. People living in completely different contexts in the world and places I knew nothing about. Partying and dancing with them, sharing everything, that was extremely enriching.”
María and Shiv both highlighted the benefits of being in a capital city, pointing to the accessibility of the foreign policy establishment, government buildings and institutions both in Vienna and in nearby countries. They participated in organized trips to Geneva, Brussels, and other nearby cities.
The exchange is also a chance to focus on European Union-specific issues and policies. María, who is studying International Political Economy at Stanford, attended many events about the European monetary crisis and the future of the euro. “There was an Italian, a Greek and me sitting there talking about monetary policy,” she recalled. “It was interesting to be in Europe to see all of that first hand.”
At the time of their exchange, many European countries were in the spotlight over the influx of refugees from Syria and neighboring countries. The DA organized a number of debates on the topic, “but more than that, I experienced the refugee crisis first hand, at railways stations and on the streets,” said Shiv. “Here [at Stanford] you read about it in the newspaper. But being there and witnessing it really opens your mind,” he said.
In fact, it was through this exposure that Shiv had an idea to study how one can go about banking the refugees for a class here at Stanford. “Overnight you can go from being a banked to an unbanked person. If you want to restart your life, one of the first things you need is a bank account, but these people don’t usually have any identity proofs to open an account. All of these ideas I got while I was there, they germinated in my mind, and now I’m writing a policy memo about it.”
“Three months is not a very long time to be away from Stanford, and there's a lot to gain,” said María. “The experience makes you rethink prejudices, open your mind, experience new ways of learning and teaching, new people, and how they deal with things differently coming from various backgrounds, with different views of the world.”
for more information about the program.