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Study Abroad

Alumni Profiles

The Austria-Illinois Exchange Program has proven itself as an excellent stepping stone to successful careers in the public and private spheres. Many Program alumni document their post-graduate professional development in online networks such as LinkedIn. We invite you to consult the following profiles for just a few examples. Look for more to appear in the near future here.

Charles (Chas) Berckmann


1999 BA German Languages & Literature, Finance

Chas’s decision to study German and Austrian literature/culture was a mélange of curiosity and happenstance. “I never thought I would be a German major. Some family members knew German and we had German roots but I questioned whether German literature would be the best strategic choice (for finding a job).” He further recalled “a friend was planning to study abroad in England so I figured, why not go abroad as well.” And off he went for the 1997/1998 academic year.

In Vienna, Chas immersed himself in Austrian culture through AIEP-sponsored events and a plethora of activities arranged by his socially-active Austrian roommate, who remains a close friend. Through the AIEP program, he could seamlessly navigate German-speaking regions on native terms rather than through the eyes of a tourist.

After graduation in 1999, Chas landed a job with Goldman, Sachs & Co. in New York, which led to an internal transfer to the Zurich, Switzerland office in 2002. This transfer would not have been possible without participation in the AIEP program, which was instrumental in his ability to master German.

Chas later pursued a Master of International Affairs at Columbia University with a focus on Energy Policy and continues to work on energy-related financial projects at Moody’s Investors Service. While German is no longer a daily presence at work, he continues to visit and network with colleagues in Austria on an annual basis, where has enjoyed the occasional Krügerl or Achterl with Dr. Murray and his wife, Renee. Chas also can be heard happily reading Mira Lobe’s “Das Kleine Ich Bin Ich” to his own children, Kai and Til, who ride the “U-Bahn.”

Katrin Markowski


2000 BS Graduate of Business Administration with a Concentration in Marketing

With a strong family history and ties to Austria and Germany, Katrin took German courses every semester while at Illinois with the goal of being able to converse fluently and possibly work in the future with German-speaking partners.

After graduating, Katrin reapplied to Illinois as a non-degree candidate in order to participate in the AIEP program. She hoped to add a more international view to her business education and improve her German to a professional level. The summer after the program, Katrin stayed in Vienna to complete an internship with the External Relations department at the United Nations Organization on Drugs and Crime. Having spent a year in Vienna, Katrin quickly realized that she did not feel ready to leave Vienna with its rich culture and the new friends she had met. Having already graduated from Illinois, there was nothing holding her back. She followed up in fall with an internship at the American Chamber of Commerce in Austria.

After receiving a work visa through a relative, Katrin spent a few months looking for a career job while waitressing at T.G.I.Fridays. Eventually, Katrin landed a job as a consultant at Interconnection Consulting, a market research company on the Naschmarkt. The 18 months at Interconnection improved Katrin's German to a professional level and she received an offer to work in the Corporate Marketing department at Samsung Electronics Austria.

Katrin continues to work at Samsung and is very appreciative of the AIEP program, which gave her the opportunity to immerse herself in the Viennese culture and ultimately have an exciting career, meet her husband, and live in a fantastic city.

Anna Souchuk


2002 BA Graduate of German and Art History

At Illinois, Anna double-majored in German and Art History, a decision she made thanks to her parents, who encouraged her to “study something that you love, and the rest will fall into place.” After spending two summers in Germany during high school, Anna already had considerably strong German skills, but knew next to nothing about Vienna. She decided to study abroad with the AIEP for the 2000-2001 academic year, an experience which she now considers possibly the most transformative of her life.

Not only did she achieve near-native level fluency during her year abroad, it was also in Vienna, and more specifically with the help of Dr. Bruce Murray and Dr. Michael Schwarz of the Uni Wien (with whom she had a small internship), that she decided to go on to pursue a Ph.D. in Germanic Literatures. This was not something that had even seemed possible for her before the AIEP; indeed, not coming from a family of academics, Anna didn’t really understand what graduate school was, exactly. But her year in Vienna was more than just language training - it was also a time of self-discovery, and a process from which she emerged with an increased sense of confidence, and a fearlessness she had not possessed before.

With the support of the Illinois faculty, along with the incomparable mentorship of Dr. Murray and the academic and life experiences of the AIEP, Anna applied to several competitive Ph.D. programs and was thrilled to be accepted at Yale University, where she completed her doctorate, with a dissertation on contemporary Austrian novels, in 2008. Since then, Vienna has continued to be a theme in Anna’s life, scholarly and otherwise. Her academic research still focuses on emerging Austrian literature and film, and she now takes her own students - Anna is an Assistant Professor of German at DePaul University in Chicago - to Vienna on a short term study abroad trip of her own. It’s likely that none of these experiences would have been possible without the AIEP, and it’s not hyperbole to say that, in many ways, the program really did shape the course of Anna’s life.

Ken Burkman


2002 MA Graduate in German

Ken chose the University of Illinois largely on the reputation of its study abroad program. As an Army Captain, he was selected to earn a master’s degree in German and wanted to spend as much of his graduate study as possible immersed in the culture and language of German-speaking countries. Vienna proved to be an ideal college environment and he took classes ranging from Middle High German and pedagogy to military history and EU politics. Many of the offerings were unique to Austria, like an eight week practicum with Balkan and Middle Eastern asylum seekers learning German as a requirement for their citizenship. The coursework was challenging, but did not prevent him from exploring beyond the Vienna city limits to places like Salzburg, Graz, Wiener Neustadt and Berlin.

After graduation, Ken served as an Instructor and, later, Assistant Professor at the US Military Academy at West Point. He taught basic and advanced German, escorted German Army visitors and led a research trip to Germany’s defense language school in Huerth. Ken’s summer duty assignment was to travel throughout Germany to ensure the well-being of cadets assigned to German Army units.

Ken found his time studying abroad to be the single greatest factor in improving his ability to speak and understand German as it is spoken today.  And, although his Army duties no longer require him to use German, the experience of living in a foreign culture continues to inform his perspective in a way that few other opportunities could.

Brandon Gebka


2009 BA and 2011 MA Graduate in Political Science

Always interested in international relations and diplomacy, Brandon entered the University of Illinois focused on gaining a broader understanding of the political world. Having taken German courses at Illinois since his freshman year, in 2008 Brandon registered to study abroad with the Austria Illinois Exchange Program (AIEP) to improve his language abilities and gain first-hand international experience. Vienna, serving as the third United Nations Headquarters, was the perfect location for him. Having never been abroad, the semester proved to be an eye-opening experience.

In 2010, Brandon once again had the opportunity to put his German language abilities to use while completing internships at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, as a participant in the University of Illinois Civic Leadership Program. Although his work was in English, Brandon’s background in German proved invaluable for all aspects of daily life.

The number of good experiences that Brandon had in Austria brought him back to Vienna in 2011, following the completion of his master’s degree in Political Science. Returning to the IAEA, Brandon has been in Vienna ever since, working as a Junior Professional Officer in the Office of the Deputy Director General for the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications.

Brandon is certain that, if he hadn’t taken part in the AIEP, he would not have been exposed to the multitude of opportunities that are available abroad. While still working in English, Brandon continues to use the German that he learned during his exchange semester every day. “The study abroad experience was not only one of the most memorable of my college career,” Brandon explained, “it has also played a major role in shaping my future.”

Anna Patterson


2010 BA Graduate of German and Global Studies (formally known as International Studies)

At Illinois, Anna chose majors in German and International Studies, with the goal to speak German professionally and develop her understanding of global events by graduation. She studied abroad in Vienna and especially enjoyed the flow of dialects from the Austrian countryside and languages from neighboring countries. Anna enjoyed living in Vienna, and soon “der” “die” “das” came naturally!

In the summer of 2009 Anna used her German language skills as an intern for the International Summer UniversityWU at the WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business), where she mentored participants.

After graduation the spirit of Gemütlichkeit enticed her back to Vienna. She taught English and translated until she was hired as coordinator of the International Summer UniversityWU. She also began an MA program in Marketing and Sales Management; this new skill set helped her land a new job as Marketing Manager at the Executive Academy of WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business).

Anna believes that her first internship and the work that followed would not have been possible without a strong command of written and spoken German. As she asserts: “While employers value English native-speaking skills, they also want to know that the non-native German speakers will be a good fit in the team.” Anna considers speaking German, albeit with minor errors, a major advantage, one she sees as a product of her degree program and study abroad.

Michael Francis H. Brown


2011 Bachelor of Sciences in Psychology and German

Michael attended Suffolk University from 2007 – 2011. Having declared his major in Psychology relatively early, it came as a surprise that he had enough credits to complete a double major in German literature after his junior year. This resulted in the perhaps somewhat confusing “Bachelor of Sciences in Psychology and German.”

During his junior year, Michael was offered the chance to study with the Austria-Illinois Exchange Program, including course work at the University of Vienna. He is happy to say, that studying abroad with the AIEP was one of the best decisions he could have made. Since graduation, Michael has completed an internship in population research at one of the nation’s leading HIV research centers, worked a variety of roles for Swiss International Airlines ground staff and landed his first corporate job for American Tower, an international telecommunications company. Since starting at this latest position, he has travelled to Germany to help set up a new corporate office and looks forward to building on that experience.

Michael considers his background in the humanities essential, as he now considers pursuing a more business-oriented career He ideally would like to complete an MBA in a university in the German-speaking world. Given the comparatively low cost of education in many EU member states with attractive living standards, he is surprised that more Americans do not seek to educate themselves in such settings. Mastering a second language has been the best decision Michael could have made; it left an entire world of possibilities open that would not otherwise be available to him.