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Working with the United Nations and other International Organizations-AIEP-Vienna Diplomatic Program

Hello!  …or should I say Guten Tag!

Unlike the traditional AIEP program, I participated in the Vienna Diplomatic Program which is co-sponsored by the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois.  Coming from an International Studies and Spanish background, I had no idea what to expect from Austria or the German language.  However, by the end of my semester in Spring 2008 I can honestly say that I had, and still have, only wonderful things to say about the program, learning German and beautiful Wien. 

Because the main component of the Vienna Diplomatic Program is a final research project about International Organizations, you are encouraged to work and research with an international organization in Vienna! This was honestly the best part of the program.  I chose to do my research with the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL).  Professor Murray put me in contact with a Senior Legal Adviser at UNICTRAL, and I was amazed at how helpful and supportive the entire UN staff was in assisting in my research.  If your Major at U of I requests a final thesis project like mine did, why not gather your research straight from the source?  Working and researching at the UN also gave me the opportunity to network, seek professional advice, and create lasting relationships that have proven very beneficial to me over the past few years. 

With regard to living and studying in Vienna, not speaking German was a big set back for me a few times.  I highly recommend taking one or two German courses before you come, and definitely take German while in Vienna.  On the bright side, the language was not difficult to pick up at all!  The other AIEP students were very helpful and most Austrians speak English, so I was able to get by with basic grammar and vocabulary. 

If you like living in a large, international city, then Vienna is definitely the place for you.  Not only is it clean, efficient and safe, but the whole city is a virtual museum!  A strong international culture also gives it a unique worldly flavor.  I was constantly meeting people from all over Europe and the world.  Most of my classes were also comprised of students from all over, so I never felt like the “odd-ball-American.”  On that note, be sure to create a unique course schedule while in Vienna.  I took some really fun and interesting courses, both at the University of Vienna and the Vienne University of Economics and Business.  Be wary of some courses, though, and make sure you know what you signed up for.  I found myself registered in a 3rd-year law class.  By the time we realized we were in over our heads it was too late to drop the class.  Other than that my classes were mostly comparable to those at U of I.  However, the grading system in Austria is completely different from the US.  Most grades are based on one final exam (no midterms, term papers, attendance, etc).  All in all it was interesting to see how universities vary from country to country.  

There is also a lot to do in Vienna.  Whether you’re into outdoor adventures, bars and nightlife, museums, gourmet eating, classical music, or shopping, Vienna really has it all.  (I know that sounds clichéd, but it’s true!)  I recommend going to Schönbrunn Palace and walking through the imperial gardens.  It’s also a great place to go running close to Haus Erasmus.  Also, be sure to stop at a Heuriger (think beer garden but with wine) in the Vienna Woods for some yummy Austrian food, great views of the city, and local wine. 

Vienna is also a great starting point for getting around the rest of Europe (But you should spend your time in Austria as much as possible!).  Vienna has two major train stations, where you literally can starts trips anywhere around Europe, and an international airport about 15 minutes outside the city.  While I was in Vienna, we were able to travel to 11 other countries and countless cities with ease, nevertheless still saving plenty of weekends to explore Vienna. 

I hope this letter was helpful!  I would recommend the AIEP Vienna Diplomatic Program to anyone.  Vienna is a great city to gain international insight while still having fun!

Megan Christenson (Spring 2008, VDP)