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Alumni Stories

Bregenz, Austria 1985

by Paige Williams

As a white, middle-class college student attending Eastern Kentucky University, I truly did not understand the vastness and diversity of the world we live in. I would have been content in my little corner of the world had it not been for a friend who insisted we enroll in a summer study abroad program through KIIS – or KIES (Kentucky Institute for European Studies) as it was then. It is an understatement to say that it changed my life. It ignited my passion for travel and the unknown and I returned a more curious and empathetic human being.

Overnight Train, Drawing from Sketchbook, 1985

I chose the Bregenz, Austria program because of its central location and the Eurail pass included in the package. My cohort would choose a destination that was 8-10 hours away and hop on an overnight train on Thursdays after classes ended. We would wake up in a new country. We spent weekends in Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Florence, Madrid, and Zermatt.

Sketchbook, Zermatt, Switzerland, 1985

The experience of being out of my element in foreign countries the size of states, each with a native language and currency (this was pre-European Union) made me feel incredibly small. Experiencing what was then East Berlin, seeing the Berlin Wall (this was 1985), navigating military time, negotiating youth hostel prices in foreign languages, and trusting these clerks with my passport, overnight, made me realize that being uncomfortable was not only okay but also might actually be an opportunity for growth and increase my potential for practicing empathy. I made many mistakes, ended up in cities I was not intentionally destined, was the victim of pickpockets and petty theft, harassed, and I found myself alone in a red-light district at dusk. We got stranded in Milan, after spending the last of our Lire, during a train strike in the middle of the night. We finally boarded a train, only to get locked in the mail car for many hours. Most importantly, I learned that the United States was not the center of the world and that a lot of really awesome people with amazing culture, intelligence, and art ALSO existed in what seemed like a parallel universe.

Sketchbook, Berlin, Germany, 1985

I was incredibly privileged to have this adventure and I wanted to make this experience a possibility for students at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. I reached out to KIIS and developed a proposal and rationale to become an official partner and I am thrilled to say this dream came to fruition in 2019. I anxiously await a return to travel!


Paige Williams

KIIS Austria 1985
Academic Dean
Art Academy of Cincinnati

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