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Study Abroad

AIEP and my first real job: Is there a connection?

I was asked to write a few short paragraphs regarding my experiences with the AIEP program and my new job as a college graduate. I am in love with my new job and work situation after U of I—I know that I am incredibly lucky. However, I wondered how I could tie the two in without sounding hokey or idealistic.

Vienna was my first experience living away from anyone that I knew. Living abroad is not comfortable—the daily activities that were so routine for me became small challenges. Things like going to the pharmacy were a lot more difficult than expected.

Although I missed my friends and family, (you never stop missing them regardless of how happy you are), I stayed for the summer and interned. When AIEP ended in June, most of the participants scattered; I was in Vienna alone. I learned to depend on my German skills, be completely self- sufficient and resourceful, and I assimilated into Viennese culture as much as I could for the remainder of my time abroad.

This experience of living somewhere foreign toughened my skin. It taught me to look after myself, because you can’t always depend on others to do so. It prepared me to pursue things that I didn’t know I wanted to or even could do. My AIEP experience opened my eyes to the unexpected.

After interning for a summer back in Chicago, I took a permanent position in New York City, left my family and friends once again, and made the move to a new city (which I had only visited a few times). I am doing what I want to do, have a great position at a respectable agency, and am living in an amazing city.

Every day I learn something new, make a mistake, and have a reality check about the life I am living. It is not easy, but I love it. There are challenges—it is expensive, the culture is different here than it is in Chicago, my friends are not here with me, my family at home misses me, I often get lost, there is no grocery within convenient walking distance to my apartment, I had 4 mice in my garbage can the other day, etc., etc….

I still may have pursued my New York job without AIEP. However, I really feel that my AIEP experience helped me realize that I had the guts to do it. I am so thankful for the superficial experiences that I had in Vienna, but I am even more thankful for the courage it gave me to pursue new things and live with the knowledge that I can accomplish so much.

Mary Lee (Spring Semester 2005)