By Kathryn Walters | From The Beacon
Ask senior Cerice Keller about one of her favorite memories of studying abroad in Salzburg, Austria, and instead of waxing lyrical about the delicious strudel, beautiful music or historic landmarks that Salzburg has to offer, she recalls a cold morning spent hiking a local mountain with fellow students and their Salzburg program residence director, Rene Horcicka.
“It was a Sunday morning and we woke up at 8 o’clock to hike the Kapuzinerberg,” Keller said. “He took us hiking through the snow and it was so serene, it was really awesome. He does little things like that for students on the weekends.”
For many Salzburgers, Salzburg administrator Horcicka is a special part of their study abroad experience. After seven years of working for the program, Horcicka visited UP for the first time this week at the invitation of Provost Thomas Greene.
Horcicka spent his time at UP meeting with students and many of UP’s administrators, as well as working on plans for the Salzburg program, like physical improvements to the Center and making the program more accessible for nursing and engineering students.
“It’s great to see how all this works, actually. It’s a great experience,” Horcicka said. “But to see where the students come from is new to me, so this is really interesting.”
Fr. Art Wheeler, Studies Abroad director, said Horcicka’s visit to The Bluff is special because he plays a vital role in the Salzburg program.
“It’s important to bring him over here because the students who go to Salzburg, it’s one whole quarter of their UP experience,” Wheeler said.
As fun as it is for Salzburgers to see him on this side of the pond, Horcicka also delights in catching up with his former students.
“It’s the thing I like best, to meet also former students here and to talk to them and ask them what they are doing now after graduating,” Horcicka says. “I think also the students like to see me – I have the impression that they are happy to see me here! I am looking out for them and they are looking out for me.”
Born and raised in Salzburg, Horcicka served in the Austrian army, attended university in Salzburg and taught in Bavaria before returning home as a program assistant for UP’s Salzburg study abroad program. From 2009 to 2012, he was the program’s residence director, which meant he was largely responsible for all the students and the Center. He also spent 100 days each year traveling all over Europe with the Salzburgers.
But the fast-paced life of a residence director became tiring for him and he now works part-time in an administrative capacity for the program.
“Sometimes I think it’s good to have a little break and to get a little distance because it enables you to reflect on your experiences, and I needed a certain distance to reflect on my experiences as residence director,” Horcicka said.
Keller appreciated Horcicka’s unique perspective on the many places they visited in Austria, Germany, France, Italy and Greece.
“He’s a really smart guy! He knows a lot of history,” Keller said. “Everywhere we went on trips, along with someone who would be speaking about the history, he would add in his own take on it because he knew so much about it, so that was really cool.”
Like many of his students, Horcicka has been bitten by the travel bug for many years. He has travelled all over the world, from Argentina and Canada to New Zealand and Africa. He says travel has enabled him to broaden his horizons beyond the small city of Salzburg, which he greatly values.
“My approach to traveling is really mind-opening, and I enjoy it a lot,” Horcicka says. “Here (at UP), the first day, just to notice that the windows are different, to notice that the toilet is different, you start to think of your own things and don’t think that this is just the world, but the world is much bigger.”
Senior Leah Becker, who studied abroad in Salzburg two years ago, said she and others felt a special bond to Horcicka during their year spent in Europe.
“When you’re in Salzburg, it’s really the first time that you’ve been – it feels different because there’s not a priest living in your dorm and parents are not coming to visit very often, so you just feel very much like you’re on your own, and rather than having a much older adult there, it was like having a big brother which I think made it really special,” Becker said.
Horcicka shares a close bond with his students because he has a lot of responsibility for them while in Austria. However he tries to differentiate the way he relates to past and current students.
“You need to be very close (to current students) in a certain way but at the same time you need to have a distance. So this is something that needs to be balanced out,” he said. “But with former students, it’s just the greatest fun to go out and drink a beer in the beer hall or to have fun!”
Salzburg, nestled in the shadow of the Alps, is a vibrant but rather small city, according to Horcicka. He says leaving Salzburg now and then for new places like UP is exciting, but he admits there is no place like home in Austria.
“I found everything so far in Salzburg that I need,” Horcicka said. “I was able to study, I found a great job that I really enjoy and it’s the place where I grew up and I know every little corner, and almost everyone in some way.”