Fulbright Features: Scholar receives warm reception, preps for Austrian research

Penn State doctoral student Courtney Johnson Fowler, left, has had the opportunity to tour Austria and catch up with friends while in the country for her Fulbright research, which studies German-Italian bilinguals in South Tyrol (Italy) and in Austria. When Johnson Fowler first arrived, she met up with her friend, Claudia, right, at Marabell Gardens in Salzburg, Austria. Credit: Courtney Johnson FowlerAll Rights Reserved.

Penn State students are traveling around the world to conduct research, teach English, attend master's degree programs and more as part of the Fulbright Program, a highly sought-after nine-month international educational exchange program funded by the U.S. Department of State. This is the 10th story in a series of essays written by Penn State student Fulbright winners who have returned from or have just embarked on their trips.

While the official total won’t be released until February, at least 14 students have been offered the scholarship this year, according to Penn State’s University Fellowships Office. Last year, 11 Penn State students received the prestigious scholarship. For more information about applying for the program, visit the University Fellowships Office’s website. Click here to read more Fulbright Features.


Salzburg is known for its rain, and fittingly, when I arrived in the city to begin my Fulbright year, it was drizzling lightly. However, despite the overcast sky, the city was beautiful and welcoming. Salzburg is a city filled with music, cafes, beautiful old buildings and friendly people and is situated at the beginning of the Alps. This is where I will be spending the next 10 months of my life.

After just two days of settling into my new apartment and recovering from my jetlag, I boarded the train for the three-hour journey east to Vienna, the capital of Austria. Fulbright planned a weeklong orientation for all of the students and scholars who have been awarded grants to Austria this year. The majority of the Austrian Fulbrighters are based in Vienna, but three of us will spend this year in other Austrian cities (Linz, Graz and Salzburg). This was a great opportunity to meet other students from all over the United States, each of who arrived in Austria with a unique research project. The orientation was filled with practical information about how to establish oneself in Austria as well as a handful of scholarly talks about the Austrian university system and the history and politics of the country. We also took a tour of the city center and visited the national library.On the final day of our orientation, we took a bus to the Melk Benedictine Abbey, which dates back to the 11th century. We took a guided tour of the abbey and then walked down the hill into the city of Melk for a delicious traditional Austrian meal. From there, we boarded a small cruise ship which carried us along the Danube River through an area known as the Wachau. The Wachau is a beautiful valley along the Danube, famous for its wine and apricots. We had beautiful weather and the sun was shining brightly when we got off of the ship at Dürnstein, one of the small cities situated along the river, and best known for being the place where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned on his return from the Crusades. In Dürnstein we visited a wine cellar and were treated to a tasting of wines from the region.

When the orientation concluded, I traveled back to Salzburg and spent the majority of the following weeks working hard to finish preparing my materials and setting up the experiments for my study. Additionally, I handled all of the essential paperwork that comes with living in another country (visa application, state health insurance, etc.). During this time, I met with Dr. Bernhard Pöll, the professor at the Universität Salzburg who sponsored my Fulbright application. He introduced me to other faculty, staff and students in the department and arranged for me to share an office at the university, where I will conduct my research over the coming months.

When I am not working, I try to spend as much time as possible outdoors. The fall has been beautiful this year with mild temperatures and lots of sunshine, which is ideal for wandering and hiking in the Alps. Salzburg is surrounded by mountains, many of which are reachable by foot or with city buses. I have also enjoyed meeting up with old friends and exploring new areas of Austria. One such trip took me to the province of Oberösterreich, just east of Salzburg, where some friends and I explored the ruins of an old castle and walked along the Danube. We treated ourselves with a visit to a Jausenstation, a small, family-owned restaurant that is set up in the backyard of a farmhouse. Everything on the menu is made or grown on the farm, which ensures that everything is fresh, homemade and delicious.

On rainy days, the best place to be is in a café sipping a Wiener Melange (similar to a cappuccino) and enjoying a slice of Torte. Once you sit down in a booth or at a table, you are welcome to stay as long as you like. There are always newspapers available, or you can bring a book to read. It’s a cozy way to spend the afternoon and with winter on the way and much shorter days ahead, I'm sure I'll be spending lots of time doing just that.

Courtney Johnson Fowler is a doctoral student in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures who is spending the 2014-15 academic year in Salzburg, Austria, on a Fulbright-Mach grant. The purpose of this year is to collect data for her dissertation research, which looks at German-Italian bilinguals in South Tyrol (Italy) and in Austria.

Last Updated November 11, 2014