Elisabeth Kulmer from Austria: Graduate Student Studying Business Administration at Western Illinois University

Why did you decide to study in the USA?

Throughout my educational career, I had studied in many different countries but it had always been my dream to study in the United States. However, I was mostly told that it was too expensive or too complicated to come here to study, so I put my dream aside and started an undergrad degree in Europe. The thought of doing a degree in America kept haunting me, and it took me several years until I decided that I was going to do whatever it takes to do my masters in the United States. Looking back, I can say that coming here was not even close to as complicated as I thought it would be.

Why did you choose Western Illinois University (WIU)?

Firstly, the affordability of Western Illinois University and the lower living cost in the Midwest were main factors in why I chose this school. The fact that WIU already had a large number of international students also influenced my decision.

What do you like best?

I have been very happy with all my professors in the MBA program. Not only are they all very qualified, they are also very helpful, treat students with respect, and encourage them to work hard.

What do you miss most?

Besides my family, I miss the Austrian traditional culture the most. I miss dressing up in traditional outfits for special occasions.

What was your biggest surprise?

My biggest surprise was that professors treat students as friends and like-minded people. I come from a country with a stricter hierarchical system. I never feel uncomfortable visiting my professors in their offices if I have questions about class material.

... your biggest disappointment?

I feel that there is a large number of students who attend university for the college experience, rather than the education.

How have you handled:

... finances?

I was lucky to receive a graduate assistantship, which made paying for school easier. Furthermore, I had saved up some money from summer jobs.

... adjusting to a different educational system?

It took me some time to get used to the educational system here. In the beginning, I was not sure how assignment should look, how exactly the grading system works, and what professors expect. I was very lucky to have a group of supportive professors who were always willing to provide me with answers to my questions.

What are your activities?

My family owns horses and I was used to riding 3-6 times a week. The fact that WIU has an equestrian club, in which I got to meet other horse lovers and get to ride regularly, made my transition easier. Furthermore, Western Illinois University holds many activities and events for international students. Every time I attend one of these events, I meet a person from a country which I did not know a lot about. Lastly, I regularly attend activities put on by student organizations, such as game nights.

How easy or difficult was making friends?

I think it can be very difficult if you do not step out of your comfort zone and start looking for new friends. Especially in the beginning, it is crucial that you actively look for friends.

How relevant is your U.S. education to your personal goals and to the needs of your country? 

The great reputation of American education will definitely give me an advantage in my future career. WIU’s professors also often introduce students to companies by assigning projects or going on field trips. I believe that these trips and projects may open doors for students in regards to future careers. Lastly, I have met so many international and American students while studying at WIU. These connections I am building throughout my studies, will certainly aid me in future professions.

What is your advice to other students who are considering a U.S. education?

I recommend to simply go for it. While leaving home may not always be easy, it is definitely worthwhile. The experiences you make while studying abroad are yours to keep, and nobody can take those from you. These experiences will help you in the future, whether it is improved decision making in a job, a job interview, connections, or simply finding yourself.

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