The Art of Living Abroad: Mitch Sims ’06, Vienna
The first time Mitch Sims ’06 traveled to Vienna, for a summer program before his senior year at Wagner, he got lost. Really lost.
He intended to take the train from the airport into the city; but he took the wrong train, and ended up out in the Czech countryside. Upon getting off the train, however, he explained his dilemma to a friendly gentleman, who rode with him for two hours on the train back to Vienna.
“At that time, I felt like I was home,” says Sims. “I’m from the South, and that’s how we treat people.”
Sims grew up in a north Florida farming community and came to Wagner for the music and arts administration programs. Before going to Vienna, his experience with the German language consisted only in the pronunciation skills he learned in an opera workshop. By now, after six years in Austria, he says that his mother tongue feels awkward because he’s so accustomed to speaking German.
Taking initiative and learning the language, he says, are the two keys to successfully integrating oneself into a new culture.
Sims decided to pursue graduate studies after completing his B.A. Although he applied to U.S. universities, he chose the Universität Wien (University of Vienna) because the faculty encouraged him to pursue his interests combining musicology and math.
Sims received funding through Rotary International and the Fulbright Program, and he has completed the coursework for two master’s degrees, in mathematics and in musicology. He now works as the business manager of the Danube International School while continuing his thesis work on Baroque and Early Classical musical instruments.
Living in the seat of so much European musical culture gives him extraordinary opportunities; for example, while perusing documents at the National Library, he discovered a very rare fragment of medieval Gregorian chant that was written for the Feast of Fools, when children would playact mock clerical roles. His discovery was published in the journal Codices Manuscripti.
He’s also active in performing (he plays the trumpet), organizing concerts, and composing — opportunities that the Austrian capital offers him in abundance — and he loves Vienna’s multicultural environment. “Vienna is a gateway between East and West,” he points out. “I’ve never experienced any other place where there’s a multitude of people speaking different languages and practicing their distinct cultural traditions.”
- Everyone needs to experience the Austrian coffeehouse atmosphere, he says.
- Vienna is known for its architecture; his favorite example is the National Library.
- He recommends Austrian restaurants where the menu is not translated into English; he has found the food quality to be better when they do not cater to tourists. One of his favorites is Steman. “It has a wonderful Austrian wine selection,” he says.
- A hidden treasure is the Augustinerkirche, next to the Hofburg, which offers fine performances of sacred music.
- Another is the city waterfront along the Alte Donau — the Old Danube — which he compares to the riverfront in Boston.
READ MORE about the evolution of study abroad programs at Wagner College in our feature story, “Expanded Horizons.”