5 College Fails and How Fate Fixed It — Pt. 1

The most resilient habit I picked up from school is simple reflection. Whether it’s inked in writing or expressed in frantic thoughts, the act of thinking back on your experiences helps place everything into perspective.

In this social media age, we often talk about our absolute highs and lows, but the proverbial slopes — where growth changes — are understandably less comfortable to share. This list explores the notable disappointments in my undergrad career, the questions I believe all millennials ask themselves, and how much we can learn from just four short years.

Part 1: MONEY MAKES THE WORLD GO ‘ROUND

I had never been to Europe. My fascination was so strong that as a freshman, I was convinced that I would visit with UT’s photography Maymester in Prague at the end of my first year. Plans didn’t pan out. I spent the summer getting a head start on core requirements at a community college and most of my earnings went to paying tuition instead.

Soon after, a brochure for a pricey summer program in Austria caught my eye. The Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change landed right on the intersection of my interests: media studies and global development. Plus, “The Sound of Music,” which I have a soft spot for, was filmed on-site. I was sold.

An homage to Maria’s “The Hills Are Alive’ pose in the Schloss Leopoldskron. Select outdoor scenes for “The Sound of Music” were filmed on the property.

I saved for a full year to pay for up-front fees and budgeted my loans to cover the rest. Even with all my planning, I still ran into misinformation about applying, approval from another university, and when the time came, funding. Thanks to sanctioned scheduling, the university-disbursed money I’d been waiting to book my flight with would not be released until a week before my departure. No bueno.

In a mild panic, I applied for my first credit card…and I was denied. I then spent another half-hour at the bank, waiting for a representative on the other side of a TV screen to get back to me about a reconsideration. After some gentle pleading and negotiating, I was approved for a cash advance and booked my ticket on a student discount site.

In the end, I was still fortunate. Two scholarships ended up covering the cost of airfare, meals were taken care of, and I had the pleasure of staying in a newly-renovated room. The academic program, meanwhile, focused on media literacy techniques and fostered a refreshing camaraderie between faculty and students from all over the world.

Farewell Dinner in the Schloss Leopoldskron’s Marble Hall // JRP

Upon coming home, the realization that I was the only student from Texas became less of a novelty and more of a motivator. Students should have a chance to not only discover the seminar, but there should also be ways to make it more affordable.

After speaking to my program’s faculty lead, the international office, and other college advisors about my numerous roadblocks before and after Salzburg — there were transfer credit issues too — I think I may have annoyed them into making an institutional change. Our students would no longer have to go through another university for academic credit. Two courses reduced to one, but the estimated costs dropped by at least $1,000 — right around the amount I had to borrow at the last minute.

By the next year, at least three more students signed up. Looks like progress to me.

The travel bug in me will never be satisfied. With technology bridging communication gaps, it’s easier now more ever to see and learn about the rest of the world, but being there is the best way to experience the gift of culture.

There will always be a right place and a right time. In Salzburg, I had the odd feeling of being at home in a part of the world I’ve never been to. And the challenges thrown my way during the academy felt right, like I could actually do this kind of thoughtful, collaborative, demanding work for fun, maybe even for the rest of my life.