Finding Your Passion: From Atlanta to Austria to Princeton and Beyond!

By Caitlin Ryan, Emory College Class of 2013 and former CIPA Peer Advisor


For as long as I can remember, I have been a planner. I schedule my days down to the minute and mentally orchestrate elaborate ¿five-year plans¿ for the future.  During my sophomore year at Emory, I decided that I wanted to pursue a doctorate in art history, and, well, when I make a plan, I tend to stick with it. As a result of this ambition, the decision of if and where to study abroad became paramount.  How would it aid me in reaching my goals?  Would I loose anything by not being on campus for a semester?

Austria seemed like a good fit for a number of reasons: German is a required language for many PhD programs; the program¿IES Vienna¿offered a special program in arts-related internships; and it would give me a chance to start research on my senior honors thesis.  What I gained from the experience was, however, so much more.  While Austria did not entirely cure me of my Type-A personality (though if any city could, it would be Vienna), I learned that one need not¿and sometimes should not¿have a plan at every turn.  Many of my fondest study abroad memories began as spontaneous decisions: a Wednesday evening trip to the opera house to see Strauss¿ Arabella, day-long excursions to Salzburg and Bratislava, playing hooky from class on the lawn of a 17th century palace, eating strudel in a hidden heurigen after a hike in the Vienna Woods.

Studying abroad taught me that you could plan for the future and live in the present at the same time.  Through embracing the present, unforeseen opportunities in Vienna, I added vital experience to my resume and gained skills that will help me as I begin a PhD program in art history next fall at Princeton University.

Learning German was the dominant reason I decided to study abroad in Austria, and while I had only one semester of the language before I arrived and being in a German speaking city helped me to improve far more in one semester than I might have studying at Emory.  As part of my coursework at IES Vienna, I also enrolled in an ¿Arts and Culture Internship Seminar.¿  Part internship experience, part class on arts management, the course taught me a ton about marketing and development for arts institutions, which helped me get a year-long post-baccalaureate job in marketing and student programing at Emory¿s Center for Creativity & Arts.

For my internship in Vienna, I met once a week with the marketing and development coordinator at the Belvedere Gallery, a national museum which houses some of Austria¿s most prized works of art, including the infamous work ¿The Kiss¿ by Gustav Klimt.  I wrote on a report for the marketing department on marketing and fundraising tactics in large American and British museums.

Through this research, which I was able to conduct on my own schedule from some of Vienna¿s oldest and most beautiful coffeehouses, I learned a great deal about the difference between American and European ideals of cultural preservation.  European governments have long supported museums and cultural institutions, but as the economic climate has changed over the past decade, these museums have begun to look elsewhere for sources of funding.  Because the American government does not support cultural institutions to the same degree, many of these museums have become experts in the art of fundraising.  The Belvedere wanted someone from America who could help them make sense of our system.  What I learned, however, is that institutions on either side of the Atlantic stand to learn a lot from the challenges each face!  While this internship was not as hands on as something I might have done in the U.S., I loved having the chance to pursue a research topic so new to me, but on a subject I felt passionate about.

I discovered the topic for my senior thesis on a trip to Berlin.  At Emory, I had taken several classes on modern art, and even worked on a modern works-on-paper show at the Carlos Museum on campus.  I had been drawn (pun intended!) to artists like Matisse and Picasso, and had assumed I would write my senior honors thesis on one of these early 20th century painters.

Then, one day on an IES-led trip to Berlin I set out on my own to visit the Bauhaus Archive Museum.  As I walked around, I had this instant internal recognition this was what I wanted to spend my life writing, reading, thinking and talking about.  I ended up writing my honors thesis on German photography of the 1920s.  Study abroad tends to have a domino effect on many people¿s lives, including mine, because it encourages taking advantage of ¿gut¿ feelings: I had a gut feeling about the works of art I saw that one day in Berlin, which led to a thesis, which led to an application, which led to a PhD program.  I cannot wait to see where it leads next and can only hope it involves many trips back to Austria and Germany!

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