Many millennials dream of dropping everything and traveling the world for a year. Senior Digital Media major and Studio Art minor Aliyah Oestreicher was one of the lucky few to drop everything, cut ties with her world at home and study abroad for 10 months.
Over the course of a school year, Oestreicher studied in London, England at the International Education of Students (IES) and Vienna, Austria at the University of Richmond.
With parents that did not take the opportunity to study abroad, the decision to study overseas was almost a no brainer to Oestreicher.
“My mom had once said it was her biggest regret, and my dad’s family could not financially support it. Both my parents had wanted me to go and pushed me to apply,” explained Oestreicher.
She spoke about how her parents encouraged her to take the opportunity given to her and study.
Leading up to her departure from the States to her first destination in Vienna, Oestreicher felt an array of emotions.
“It became very real to me when I received confirmation of my apartment address. That moment was when [studying abroad] became real. I remember just weeping, like this is going to happen- this is real,” recalled Oestreicher.
She began her journey in Vienna, “I was nervous at first because I did not speak the language. I knew some German before leaving the States, but I remember not being able to communicate with a cab driver when I first landed.” Oestreicher said that she overcame her worries with the help of Google Translate and asking plenty of questions.
“When I stayed in Rome, I went to a restaurant under my Airbnb and because I did not speak Italian, well, I would type out what I wanted on Google Translate and the waiter would type back,” Oestreicher laughed as she explained her interactions.
Although Oestreicher experienced a language barrier when she first arrived in Europe, she spoke highly of her most exciting memory on her 21st birthday in London. Oestreicher spoke about how she shared Queen Elizabeth’s unofficial birthday and watched the Queen pass by in her carriage, followed by an armedcavalry. She remembered how everyone was dressed in their nest clothes and had a “celebrity moment” when the Queen passed her and specifically waved to her. “I lost my shit,” Oestreicher laughed, “it was like the Queen knew and personally wished me a happy birthday.”
Once in Venice, Oestreicher shared one of her most beautiful memories. Setting the scene, Oestreicher explained that it was the end of the day, slightly raining, which meant that no one was riding the gondolas. Oestreicher was with one of her friends who wasn’t interested in spending money to ride the gondola. “I remember saying to myself ‘if I leave Venice and I don’t ride this gondola, I’ll regret it.” Alone, Oestreicher went up to the man running the gondola and asked him if she was able to ride a gondola for 50 euros. Usually, 50 euros would only be a 15 minute ride, but the man was so kind that he took Oestreicher on a ride for over an hour.
“I sat on the ride crying tears of joy that I was able to ride for this long. When I got back, my friend was waiting for me and eating a gelato. I was so glad that I had the opportunity,” she said.
Another memory that Oestreicher shared was the Christmas season in Vienna. She explained that there are shops set up all around the city that stay open late at night. Oestreicher said that nothing compares to how beautiful it was, “New York doesn’t have anything like it.”. One of the shops served a drink called ‘bluvine,’ which can most nearly be described as moldy, hot wine. When asked what it tasted like, Oestreicher laughed and said that “wine is not meant to be hot,” and said that it was very bitter before adding that in the shops “had wonderful hot chocolate, though!”
At each individual shop, limited edition mugs are sold that patrons can collect. Oestreicher, proud of her collection of seven, stated that “they are home packed away neatly in a box, ready for me to move into my first apartment.”
Immersed in a completely different culture during her time away from home, Oestreicher spoke about how drinking in Europe is completely different than going out in the States.
“In America, we go out to binge drink, but in Vienna, going out for a beer is more of a coffee culture and a social aspect,” explained Oestreicher. “It’s nice to be present with the people you’re with.”
The dining experiences in Europe are also different than the States. Typically, in the States, patrons are expected to eat and leave the restaurant. In Europe, Oestreicher explained that patrons are more than encouraged to stay for hours and read, do homework or people watch.
Experiencing the world was only a part of studying abroad, making sure that Oestreicher was on track to graduate was planned out almost a year before she was set to leave. To fulfill her requirements, Oestreicher took entirely art courses in Vienna, and digital media, theory, and American Film courses in London.
Traveling to over 17 countries in less than 10 months, Oestreicher was able to see the world in a totally new environment. Oestreicher reminisced about her experience and had explained what she would do if she had the chance to go back.
“I think that I would have integrated myself with more cultures by joining comedy groups, and meeting more locals instead of just the Americans I traveled with,” said Oestreicher.
After returning, Oestreicher had described herself as more confident in her ability to navigate and her social skills.
“I learned that I’m okay with being alone, whether dining alone or exploring cities by myself,” explained Oestreicher.