My name is Hamda Yusuf and I’m currently based in New York City attending the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School as a Rangel Fellow. I graduated from UW with a Germanics minor and International Studies major in 2016. Having taken part of the Spring in Vienna program in 2014, I was inspired to apply for a Fulbright grant and return to Vienna for the 2016-17 school year!
My specific grant was called the Community-Based Combined grant and it split my time between teaching English, working with a number of different refugee organizations in Vienna, and taking classes at the University of Vienna. My research focused on the spatial relationships refugees and recent immigrants had with various neighborhoods in Vienna. I would ask the young people who attended my English conversation club to take me to places in Vienna where they felt they belonged, and where they felt they didn’t belong. It was powerful and often emotional to go on these walks, particularly because I shared a lot of these same feelings about Vienna. Many of the young people I worked with absolutely loved Vienna, but felt that Vienna did not love them back. They mentioned how much public opinion had changed about immigrants. To them, it seemed like only a year ago most Viennese were supportive of refugees and now the Far-Right party was gaining followers because of its anti-immigration stance. Their feelings of belonging and unbelonging were profound, and have probably only intensified since then.
Getting to spend nearly 9 months in Vienna was an absolute dream. It was a completely different experience to my 2.5 months there with the Spring in Vienna program. In any study abroad program, it’s easy to get stuck in a bubble where the only people you interact with are other Americans. Actually living and working in Vienna meant that I interacted with more Austrians than I did Americans. Even though I didn’t take any German classes while I was there, my language skills improved immensely! I had a lot of good days where I had a number of successful conversations entirely in German. I also had some bad days where I would get my numbers confused trying to pay for a coffee and stare blankly at someone a bit too long before realizing they had asked me a question. There were moments I felt a bit Austrian (like having to fill out my Austrian tax forms or attending a ball), and other moments where I felt distinctly American (like forgetting all grocery stores are closed on Sundays). There were also moments were I felt like the ‘other’. Moments where no one assumed I was Austrian but also no one believed I was American because I didn’t fit into their preconceived notions of what Americans looked like.
There are many things that I miss about Vienna. The absolutely amazing transportation system, the many beautiful parks, the bakeries on every corner, the odd but endearing obsession with ice cream, and of course the Döner Box mit pommes at the Türkis in Westbahnhof.
I would absolutely recommend any Germanics students to apply for a Fulbright grant. The application process is a bit daunting but the Germanics department is a great resource (special thanks to Kye Terrasi for writing my recommendation!). It was a fantastic experience and the best way to learn any language is to be forced to speak it every day, even if you do come back saying Erdapfel instead of Kartoffel and Paradeiser instead of Tomaten.