Classes at an 18th-century school that’s among the best in Austria. A black-tie-and-gown ball at a former Hapsburg palace. Excursions to Vienna’s fabled city center.
These are just some of the cultural experiences that nine Episcopal students enjoyed as part of an annual exchange program with Austrian students.
They spent more than a week in Vienna, living with families across the city and its suburbs and attending school with students who had visited Episcopal last fall.
Dr. Rick Dixon, head of the classical and modern languages department, led the trip, as he has since 1994. He describes it as an opportunity for Episcopal students to see how Austria was once a dominant power in European politics and culture. “They learn that this is a country of enormous history,” he says.
Episcopal’s partner school in the exchange is the Theresianum, which was founded in 1746 by Empress Maria Theresa, a Hapsburg ruler. The school, which is still housed in the empress’s former castle, has been focused internationally for many years; students today are required to learn three languages: English, French, and Russian.
Among the highlights of this year’s trip, the Episcopal students one night donned black ties and evening gowns to attend a ball at the Hofburg, a former Hapsburg palace that now houses the offices of the country's president and many top leaders. The group had prepared for the event with waltz lessons that are common for Vienna’s teenagers.
Students also traveled overnight to Salzburg and spent part of a day at the Vienna International School, which serves many children from families that work in the city’s large diplomatic corps.
Will Rigsbee ’20, who had traveled to Austria previously with family, says the trip took him beyond the typical tourist spots and showed him how the Viennese live. “I fell in love with the city from the moment I got there,” he says.
Will, who has enrolled in German each of his three years at Episcopal, says that by the trip’s end he was routinely holding small conversations in German. He’s now considering taking a gap year before college to return to Theresianum for a yearlong study of the language.
The Austria trip was one of several for EHS student groups during spring break. The EHS Choir did a performance tour
in Britain, including a memorable stop at the Canterbury Cathedral, where the students sang on the steps of the altar.