Hello! My name is Caitlin Dudenhoefer and I am a junior Psychology Major here at Franciscan University. This semester I have been blessed to have the opportunity to study abroad at our program in Gaming, Austria. It is such a gorgeous part of the world and reminds me daily of the wonders of God’s creation!
It is hard to believe that my classmates and I have been here for almost two months! We have had the opportunity visit amazing cities with the school, such as Melk, Salzburg (home of Mozart and location where the “Sound of Music” was filmed) and Vienna (the capital of Austria). In Melk we visited a very old, but gorgeous, Benedictine Monastery that had one of the grandest churches and most impressive libraries that I have ever seen. In Salzburg and Vienna we went on tours to become familiar with the cities and, after the tours, we were allowed to go back on our own and see whatever sights we most enjoyed. My friends and I had fun visiting the local cafés and taking pictures around town especially in front of the famous monuments, statues, and churches. In Salzburg, we also visited the hauntingly beautiful catacombs that the VonTrapp family hid behind in the movie. Vienna was special because we were able to see an opera (LaTravietta for any of you theatre buffs) at the famous Opera House there as well as visit their world-class art museum. Two of my favorite churches that we have visited so far are also in Vienna, St. Michael’s Church and Kapuzinerkloster Church.
My favorite trip so far has been the school’s pilgrimage to Poland. It was an intense but beautiful experience that taught me a lot about the strong Catholic history of the Polish people as well as God’s mercy and love. We visited Chestochowa to see the majestic icon of the Black Madonna, then went to visit the concentration camps of Auschwitz/ Birkenau, the Divine Mercy Shrine, and Wadovice (the town where Blessed John Paul II was born). I enjoyed visiting these sites in this order. Even though Auswitz and Birkenau were sad places, the entire pilgrimage reminded me that love is very powerful, and when we draw our strength from God, nothing is impossible and even the most dark situations can be reversed.
Besides the amazing travel experiences, life here at the Kartause (our school in Gaming) is definitely never dull. I am taking four classes this semester; Christian Marriage, German, Visual Arts and the Catholic Imagination (we call it Art Appreciation for short), and my Honors class. For those of you who don’t know, the Honors program involves reading through the Great Books series. We begin freshman year reading ancient works such as Plato, Aristotle, the Iliad, and the Odyssey and work our way up to more modern works by senior year. This semester we are reading the Medieval works, such as Don Quixote and The Praise of Folly. I am really excited about my classes because they are all adding to the overall European experience here. For example, we learn about the works of art we will be seeing in Art class before going to the different cities to see the real works themselves! German class has been very helpful as well because even though many of the Austrians and Germans speak english, they appreciate it when you try to speak german with them as well. I have never taken a german class before this semester, so it has been quite humorous trying to speak with the locals here in Gaming, but also fun at the same time!
Classes keep me quite busy during the week, but my friends and I have also made time for participating in some fun student traditions here, such as jumping in a nearby creek and hiking up some of the nearby mountains. We also try to reach out to the local youth and show them God’s love through our friendship. After all, as St. Francis of Assisi said, “preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary use words,” (wasn’t that man so smart??). It has been quite an action-packed and adventure-filled semester so far, and I cannot wait to see what God has in-store for the rest of my time here!
With so many wonderful opportunities and so much beauty around me, it can be easy to get caught up in the craziness and forget to thank the One who gave me this opportunity and created all this beauty. Whenever that happens though, God reminds me that all these good things ultimately point back to Him. It is truly humbling but wonderful at the same time! Know that I am praying for you as you discern where God is calling you to study for college, and I humbly ask for your prayers as well.
May God bless You!