From Kansas to Austria: Magellan Exchange Student connects with new friends, travels solo while abroad

When given the choice between studying abroad in Austria, Sweden or South Korea for a semester, Kiann Khamphouy chose Austria: She knew she wanted to study in Europe, and Austria’s mountains, nature and central location appealed to her desire to travel as much as possible and spend time in nature while abroad.


So, as a social work student at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., Kiann traveled to Vorarlberg University of Applied Sciences in Dornbirn, Austria, during the Spring 2023 semester.


“Austria is filled with beautiful nature, whether it’s the mountains, clean air, happy animals or the variety of plants everywhere you look. I loved being able to go outside every day and seeing the mountains,” Kiann says of her experience. “Austria is also in such a convenient location in Europe, I was able to travel around to many of the surrounding countries without a hassle.”

Kiann, a self-described introvert, says opening up and socializing was at first a challenge for her. When she first got to Austria, she says she pushed herself to go to group events to get to know more people and make the most of her experience. This helped her become friends with a variety of people and helped her get better at engaging in conversation with others.


Kiann says she found the people in Austria to be very kind, especially the local students she had classes with. Becoming friends with local students and German exchange students helped her learn German.


The language barrier, she says, was one of the biggest challenges she faced while in Austria; to help with this, she studied the language prior to her exchange and enrolled in a basic German class during her semester in Austria. Through these efforts, she was able to communicate more easily in grocery stores and restaurants, as well as on public transportation.


While studying abroad, Kiann learned how to navigate public transportation, something that was new to her as someone from the Midwest. She utilized apps for bus and train schedules while in Austria and booked tickets for long-distance trains and buses on solo trips outside of the country.


These learning experiences helped shape her as a student and person during her time in Austria.


“Through my experience, I learned that you could write papers, Google search, watch videos or do any other forms of research, but you will still experience large culture shocks, confusion, loneliness, realizations and many other emotions that you could not have fully prepared for,” Kiann says. “Studying abroad will challenge you a lot, but the growth and gratefulness you will have is unmatched.”


During her semester studying abroad, Kiann went paragliding in the Austrian Mountains. She says while she already felt in awe of the mountains, viewing them from the sky was “unforgettable.”


She also crossed off an item from her bucket list: Seeing the tulip fields in the Netherlands.


Kiann says her favorite experience of her semester abroad, however, was meeting many different people in the exchange program from all over the world. She says she is still in touch with many of her friends from the program.


Since she’s been back in the U.S., Kiann enjoys answering people’s questions about her exchange semester, sharing her photos and items she brought back from Austria, and giving advice to others who are considering studying or traveling abroad. She says people sometimes assume she is referring to Australia when she talks about Austria, so she likes correcting their misconceptions and sharing facts about Austria.


Kiann says her experience studying abroad was life-changing and encourages others to take a risk and seek out study abroad opportunities, too.


“I challenged my independence, learned about myself, accomplished goals, made friends and became acclimated to another culture,” Kiann says. “It can be scary to leave your home and loved ones, but you will not regret taking advantage of the opportunity and expanding your worldview.”

Cenet strives to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration.