Reflections on a multi-lingual exchange in Austria

Sophia Ebel shares her virtual global experience

Sophia EbelName: Sophia Ebel
Major: Comparative literature, German
Virtual Global Program: Tutoring with Station Wien
City/Country: Vienna, Austria

Sophia is an LAS junior majoring in comparative literature and German, minoring in French and Arabic, and pursuing a certificate in translation studies. Since May of 2020, she has been working with a family in Vienna to help tutor their teenage daughters while employing three of her languages—English, German, and Arabic.

Read how Sophia describes her virtual program in Vienna.

How did you get involved with this virtual program?

I was doing a virtual tutoring program with Station Wien, which is an organization based in Vienna that facilitates linguistic and cultural exchange and also tries to provide additional resources and support to people in Vienna who are either refugees or have a migration background. I was tutoring two siblings who are twelve and thirteen in English and German.

The woman at Station Wien knew that I also am learning Arabic. She knew that for these kids, their first language is Arabic, and they’ve been learning German for the past year and are now trying to learn English in school—so things lined up linguistically really well! She put us in contact through WhatsApp and did a group video call to introduce me to the family, and since then we’ve been texting through WhatsApp and using the video call function to talk and do tutoring. I was really glad to have the opportunity to still be engaging with that community in Vienna even though I’m here in Illinois.

How did your virtual internship highlight your personal academic interests?

I’ve been doing a lot of things with different languages with my majors and minors, but this was a very interesting way to look at applying that in ways differently than I had thought about before. I’d done things with translation, but I hadn’t thought so much about teaching or tutoring between different languages and so that was really exciting for me to get to try that. It’s now something that I’m thinking, "Oh, this might be interesting to actually pursue a little bit further and see what that can look like long-term, or as a career."

I hadn’t really tied in education before as something that was a possibility, but that was something that I found very fun, and pretty rewarding, and that I want to look into exploring further. So, I’m going to keep doing this exchange this fall, and then look into classes or other things to build on that in a more academic or professional capacity too.

What was your biggest takeaway from the program?

I really like just how hands-on and involved it was. Being able to have that direct connection with this family and these students was really important. Being virtual was a little bit more challenging, I think, but I’m really glad it was still able to happen, and I think that it went really well. And even though it was really focused on this one family, there were still people from the organization checking in every now and then making sure things were going okay, so there was also support in that way even though everything was virtual.

I think the program taught me a lot about flexibility and being able to roll with unexpected things that come up—whether it’s a global pandemic or something else. As I’ve said, my plans for this year have changed quite a bit, but because of that, I was able to have these new opportunities and was able to build connections and relationships that I might not have found otherwise. I think it also really highlighted for me the opportunities and importance of digital communication, which I hadn’t realized before. Before last semester, I was thinking, "I don’t want to take online classes, I’d rather just do things in person," but now, I see how beneficial those can be and how important virtual education and virtual educational support can be, too. Those can be really impactful! That was something interesting that I had never thought about.

Do you have any advice for other students considering virtual global programs?

I think that things don’t always have to look the way you think they are going to for them to be really valuable experiences. Even if this isn’t the way that I imagined having an "international experience" or meeting other people, I’ve still been able to do that in a way that I didn’t think would be possible or that I might have dismissed before. And so I think that was a really valuable lesson for me.

I would just emphasize the two things that I keep coming back to. First would be flexibility, which has been really important for me in terms of scheduling and figuring out how to adapt plans and engaging in experiences and opportunities that I hadn’t really thought about before. And, secondly, that even though these experiences are all virtual, they are still very real experiences, and—for me at least—have been very impactful. I would emphasize flexibility and just how amazing virtual experiences can still be.