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For International Education Week, we asked program alumni, Barbara Prodinger and Julia Kolb, to share some reflections after participating in the Austria to Austin Student Startup Exchange Program (A2A) this past summer. We’re proud to host exchange programs that develop global competencies, promote career readiness, and facilitate the sharing of international perspectives related to design, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Thank you Barbara & Julia for sharing your thoughts with us!

What was your biggest takeaway from the ATA program?

Barbara: My biggest takeaway from the A2A program was to leave my everyday bubble whenever I can. The A2A program even allowed us to cross an ocean not only physically but also mentally. Through good and real conversations we had the chance to step over barriers in our minds that are hindering our business models and ideas. To surround ourselves with like minded people, experienced founders and mentors from a different startup ecosystem nurtured the fire within us that makes us entrepreneurs.

The A2A program shifted my perspective on how to approach potential customers, to talk about ideas at an early stage. 

Furthermore, I love the mindset that founding a startup is not a one-man or woman-show. You need the people around you. Herewith, it is our responsibility to ameliorate our society by establishing diverse teams and to inspire potential future founders.

Julia: While in Europe “failure” is associated with mostly negative feelings, “failure” means something completely different in the US. Making mistakes is seen as something essential and important which is a really good attitude I think. Things often do not work out as planned at first and you should not stop only because you fail once. 

Being an entrepreneur is of course associated with many risks and that is also the reason why so many people in Austria are afraid to start their own business. Therefore it was a very nice experience to see the American attitude in that regard, as people are way more open towards starting one’s own business. Instead of mentioning all the possible risks, people are rather trying to encourage you to follow your dreams and ideas.

Stefanie: While the startup culture in Austria has only really taken off in the last few years, young entrepreneurship in Texas and the West Coast is more advanced, which allowed me to get a lot of new insights.  In Austin, I was able to get to know a (business) culture that is noticeably more open in meeting new people.

Also, the strong commitment and passion with which the people in Austin dedicate themselves to their jobs and projects has inspired me to dive even deeper into my areas of expertise and to even start some new training to deepen and expand my knowledge.

Why is an international education important for entrepreneurship and innovation?

Barbara: We were all born into a certain system, shaped by values and cultural aspects. Knowing the practices of other countries and experiencing them firsthand allows us to pick the best approaches professionally and also privately, even if a certain style may seem unusual in our country (maybe that’s why it’s worth a try).

Julia: I think the attitude and approach towards entrepreneurship and innovation varies greatly between different countries, therefore it is important to get to know different perspectives. People assess problems and situations differently, depending on their cultural and social background. Hearing peoples’ opinions who actually live in another country is highly beneficial as it allows you to incorporate multiple aspects.

Stephanie: The best and brightest minds are not all in one placeIn the exchange with different cultures, you get to know approaches to solutions that you would have never thought of yourself and I am very grateful that I was able to add new perspectives to my international portfolio through the ATA program.

What would you tell the person who’s thinking about participating in an exchange program?

Barbara: I would say: “Go for it, ideally yesterday!“ 

Julia: Stepping out of your comfort zone is definitely worth it. I was having doubts whether I was a suitable candidate for this program as I was the youngest participant of the cohort and the others had more professional experience. However, now I think that this was actually the best thing that could have happened to me as I benefited a lot from the other participants. 

I think the most important aspects of a cultural exchange program are all the people who were part of the program. I have come to a country with people I have never met before and left with many great friends with whom I am still spending a lot of time. This exchange has definitely been a huge contribution to my life and even though I was in the US only for 3.5 weeks it had a major impact on me personally and professionally.

Stefanie: Go for it! Besides a unique learning experience, you’ll return with tons of valuable new memories. You get to know all kinds of inspiring people and return with a completely new perspective on how things can be done differently.

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