The stunning landscape of Dornbirn, Austria; all photos by Jasmine Marie

Every year MCAD offers several exchange opportunities. Students can spend a semester at another domestic art and design school or they can head to another country. Jasmine Marie opted for the latter.

Entrepreneurial studies major Jasmine is a photographer currently studying intermedia print at FH Vorarlberg in Dornbirn, Austria, as part of the MCAD exchange program. In this interview, I talk to her about her experience studying and traveling abroad.

“Austria is truly bewitching. I thought America’s west coast was as good as it gets, but venturing to Austria struck me straight in the heart.”

What made you decide that you want to study abroad?

It’s quite funny actually, for as long as I can remember, my mother told me that I carried around an old soul with me wherever I went. Growing up, I never wanted to do anything but read, color, or play in the woods, and I suppose that still rings true. I continue to create and chase wisdom all from the palm of my hands. And as a photographer, traveling halfway across the world was the best thing I could think of for exponential growth.

Dornbirn Austria

Dylan Siebel, August Bjurström and Hyunseung Kang

Dornbirn Austria

What are you studying right now?

I am studying intermedia print at the moment. This program allows students to experience the design world in both a theoretical and practical way. Right now as a class, we are creating magazines that represent the international photographic scene in a new light or perspective through our own eyes. In teams of two, we are collecting content, curating galleries from well-known photographers, and producing two photo galleries of our own—which can be fun to give our magazine an overall tonality or “voice.”

My good friend MariJose and I are working on Aura Magazine, an annual magazine that captures people’s life forces and energies through a modern lens. We want to use this magazine to showcase cutting-edge photographers and to be an expressive outlet in helping our viewers acknowledge the naked energies we all radiate into our world by showing different cultural viewpoints on a spiritual level.

Teachers here are very kind! Whenever I experience difficulty following the criteria or have a question, they have been extremely helpful, making sure to answer as clearly as possible.

Dornbirn Austria

Dornbirn Austria

How do you like Austria so far?

Austria is truly bewitching. I thought America’s west coast was as good as it gets, but venturing to Austria struck me straight in the heart. The view outside of my window gets my lazy butt up in the morning, well in addition to the little family we’ve created here in Dornbirn. Not only am I surrounded by the greatest friends a girl could ask for, but also the inner meditative state that pushes me to be all that I am.

Dornbirn Study Abroad

Taken by Beza Daniel.

Friends in Dornbirn Study Abroad

Bas Cozijn, MariJose Marcos Pozas, Nora Kubiaczyk, Hyunseung Kang, Dylan Siebel and August Bjurström (on bottom, middle)

Dornbirn Study Abroad

Taken by Joel Minan Yi.

What school do you go to in Austria? How is it different from MCAD?

I attend FH Vorarlberg located in the heart of Dornbirn. The school system is incredibly different from MCAD. We have a timetable of our classes that we check each day. And classes vary from week to week. Some weeks we might have four classes four days a week, but the next we might only have one or two. I have found myself having more time to travel than I ever thought possible. 

FH Vorarlberg also attracts more than a hundred guest/international students each year from all around the world. To meet so many amazing individuals from different cultural backgrounds is refreshing.

Dornbirn Study Abroad

What’s studying there like? What kind of projects have you done?

Intermedia is very versatile, and being in the print program, we are responsible for curating an advanced photography magazine, an interactive website, a fake news story outline, a screenplay, and much more. It’s hard to adjust to, especially coming from a school where I complete a project weekly and am constantly busy and pushed creatively. At FH, there is less structural learning and more self-disciplined study. Students are expected to work on their own and turn one final project in at the end of the semester per course. So, if you enjoy less structure and more creative freedom, FH is for you.

How are you adjusting to the culture and the different language?

It’s easy to be captivated by the sudden openness of a place, but it’s important before visiting a country that students make themselves aware of cultural subtleties that are different from their daily norm. Thankfully I have experienced nothing but the initial euphoric stage of travel, however it can be easy to get overwhelmed at any given moment.

And as those stages in my life form, I think the best ways to deal with new culture(s) and new languages is to spend time with the people who inhabit and know them well. Learning is always a positive option. It’s also smart to set learning goals and personal goals before the study abroad trip: writing down what I love, starting a journal, singing, picking up a camera, meeting new people, calling my mom, calling a friend that understands and finding a healthy distraction that makes it feel like home. 

Friends in Dornbirn Study Abroad

Nora Kubiaczyk and Lucy Kearney

Dornbirn Study Abroad

What is your favorite part about Austria?

My favorite part about Austria is 100% the beautiful landscape as well as the people.

Dornbirn Study Abroad

Dornbirn Study Abroad

August Bjurström and Dylan Siebel

Would you consider visiting Austria again, or staying there?

Being that I have already stayed here for almost five months, I would like to travel elsewhere in Europe. I plan to study a master's in either Spain or Ireland and live in/backpack throughout Europe for a year or so. A few stops I have left to make are: Stonehenge, England; Findhorn Foundation, Scotland; Uisneach Hill, Ireland; Glastonbury, England; and Boyne Valley, Ireland—but visiting Austria (Vienna in general) in the near future is certainly a possibility.

“I don’t think it’s possible to study abroad and NOT change as a human being.”

Dornbirn Study Abroad

Dornbirn Study Abroad

Jasmine (center) with MCAD classmates. Taken by MariJose Marcos Pozas.

Do you feel that this experience has changed you as a person, or changed your perspective in life?

I don’t think it’s possible to study abroad and NOT change as a human being. Traveling alone, living in a city without family, and not being able to spend time with my fur babies was one of the hardest moves I’ve ever made, but at the same time . . . it wasn’t. I haven’t felt that heart-wrenching pain in my stomach when I miss “home,” because I strongly believe that home is wherever a person makes it. Now, if I said I didn’t miss my friends and family, I would be lying (and also a bit crazy). 

I like to think of the poem “Theories of Time and Space” from Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Trethewey as a summary of my time abroad:

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:

the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return

Do you have any advice for MCAD student who are considering studying abroad?

My advice? Never ever stop chasing what makes you feel most alive—and if traveling abroad and seeing the world is one of those things that makes you feel raw/visceral/organic, then inhale and split the hem that separates you from your dreams.

Taken by Dylan Siebel.