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Study Abroad Spotlight – Rae Ballinger ’23

By Alaina Heenan

For the April edition of The Pulse, I had the privilege of meeting with Rae Ballinger ‘23 while she studies abroad to learn about her involvement at St. Norbert College and her experiences thus far while she is studying at Anglo American University in Prague, Czech Republic. Rae is a junior double-major in Accounting & Business Administration with a finance concentration, and a minor in economics. After she graduates from St. Norbert College in 2023, Rae hopes to find a job in private accounting or a position within a business. She also hopes to return to school for a masters degree in business administration. Currently, while she is studying at Anglo American University, Rae is taking courses in economics, finance, marketing, and a fun course in art and architecture that is required by the host institution.

About Rae Ballinger ‘23

Rae Ballinger ‘23 has been incredibly involved in the St. Norbert community through numerous roles. Rae is involved in Academic Success, Support, & Accessibility as an Accounting teacher’s assistant and holds the chair position for service and fundraising of Phi Beta Lambda. Rae is also involved in the Navigate program, works as the student outreach ministry coordinator for the on campus parish, and participated in TRIPS as both a member and leader. In fact, Rae has been involved with the “Addressing Homelessness” TRIP her freshman, sophomore, and junior years.

As a freshman, Rae traveled as a participant to Washington D.C. where the “Addressing Homelessness” members explored the issue of homelessness that affects the nation’s capitol. As a sophomore, Rae was a participant in the “Addressing Homelessness” TRIP where her and other members worked with St. John’s Homeless Shelter in Green Bay to learn more about the social justice issue of homelessness. 

Rae Ballinger ‘23 and other members of the “Addressing Homelessness” TRIP in 2020-2021.

This year as a junior, Rae was one of the leaders of the “Addressing Homelessness” TRIP to Washington D.C.. Unfortunately, the winter TRIP was canceled due to COVID-19 so she, and other participants of winter TRIPS, were unable to participate in the service. While Rae and the other winter TRIP leaders were unable to show the community all of the hard work they put into preparing for the service, their commitment to social justice and their dedication to the community does not go unnoticed.  

Study Abroad Experience: Rae Ballinger ‘23

Rae Ballinger ‘23 describes her experience at Anglo American University as a positive experience. When I spoke with Rae, I first asked her to describe what a typical day in Prague looks like. Rae told me that “it depends on the day of the week. Classes are very different as I only have them once a week for almost 3 hours. I have one class on Tuesday, two on Wednesday, and two on Thursday”. Additionally, Rae mentioned that she starts the day with breakfast, then goes for a walk and goes to class. After her classes, she comes home to make dinner, hang out, chat with roommates, and the “weekends are for adventuring”. Rae also noted that she finds it easy to balance school and travel, especially because the public transportation in Europe is very well developed. Instead of driving from place to place (Rae said she does driving) she can take a train and do work during the commute. 

Similarly, I asked Rae how it has been living in a foreign environment– specifically what her housing situation abroad looks like. Rae told me that the study abroad agency provides apartment style housing for students studying at Anglo American University. The apartment complex that Rae lives in has eight apartments in total, and all have two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Additionally, each apartment has a kitchen and living space that is shared among the roommates. Rae Ballinger ’23 shares a space with two roommates but has her own bedroom. Despite having known the other girls in her complex for only a short time, Rae said that she developed meaningful connections with them. In fact, Rae mentioned that “her roommates are super cool, as are some of the other girls in her building” and she and the other girls make time to cook dinner together. 

I also asked Rae about the culture and lifestyle in Czech Republic. She said that “Prague is neat because [it is in] the center of Europe and the train can take you to a lot of places. The public transport is so amazing and so convenient”. As for the food, Rae said that meat with sauce is very popular, but there are other diverse options that are readily available. “Czech food is a lot of meat with a sauce, red dumplings (which is like a moist bread), fried cheese (a giant cheese curd), but it is nice because there is a pizza place next door and Mediterranean food is easy to find. The coffee is also super good and you can find things like americanos, cappuccinos, and lattes which all have super rich flavor”.

Next, I asked Rae about her favorite experiences in Prague and other countries that she has visited during her study abroad in the Czech Republic. As for other countries that Rae has visited, she told me that she has visited Vienna, Budapest, Italy (Venice), Dublin, and Croatia. While she had a difficult time picking an absolute favorite because “everywhere in Europe is super cool”, she told me that Croatia had to be on the top of her list because of family connections. Rae said that “[my] parents visited over spring break. My dad’s parents immigrated as teenagers so I got to visit my grandma’s first cousin, her daughter, and granddaughter who all live together. It felt like my grandma’s house does, except in Croatia”. What a meaningful and enriching experience! 

Rae Ballinger ‘23 in Budapest, Hungary.

Rae also told me about her plans for her final weeks in Prague. She has a friend who is currently studying in Cork, Ireland who plans to come visit Rae in the near future. Rae plans to “take her friend to the sites of Prague, including castles, and to a concentration camp in Czech Republic. St. Norbert is buried in a Norbertine monastery in Prague so we plan to visit there, too. There is also a pub area with its own brewery called St. Norbert- Strahov and restaurants that have the same crest as St. Norbert College does, except on beer bottles. It is a connection to St. Norbert College”. When Rae told me this, I could not help but think that there are always connections to home no matter how far away we go. 

When I asked Rae what she misses from home and what she will miss about her study abroad when she returns home, she mentioned that she will “definitely miss public transport the most. It takes 30 minutes to get to school using the tram which I can use to listen to a podcast or do work. I’ll also miss how pretty the city is”. As for what she currently misses about being home, Rae responded with “the people. I miss St. Norbert College itself and my friends. Professors, too. We are used to how friendly people are in Wisconsin, but people don’t act this way in Czech Republic. It has been nice though because I facetime my parents twice a week and my close friends once a week”. 

Rae Ballinger ‘23 with her roommate, Sydney Spaeth ‘23, from freshman year in Bergstrom.

As the last part of our discussion, I asked Rae what advice she has for anyone that is considering studying abroad. Her first piece of advice was ‘go’! “If you are thinking about whether or not to do it, 100% do it! If you just think about it and don’t go, you will regret it for the rest of your life”. Once you decide to go, “stay on top of your stuff– visa, write things down, stay on top of deadlines, know what you need to get done. Also research the culture. Wisconsin people are super friendly but people don’t act this way in Czech Republic which was an adjustment”. 

Thank you, Rae Ballinger ‘23, for taking the time to share your experience with me! It was great to hear about your involvement in the St. Norbert College community, as well as your experiences from study abroad. I hope your final weeks at Anglo American University go well, and we look forward to seeing you on campus for your final fall semester! 

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