Reflection: My Fulbright Year in Austria

Hannah Pell while studying abroad through Fulbright Program

By: Hannah Pell ‘16


My Fulbright journey began in an underground Asian restaurant near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. 

It was March of 2015, and I was in the city among fellow physics students for the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy conference. I was having dinner with Dr. Mike Day, LVC professor of physics, and his wife. She is a Fulbright alumna and has also worked for the program, so as I was sharing some of my post-LVC ideas about graduate school or otherwise, she shared with me her experience as a grantee and several of the fundamental motivations for the program’s initial establishment. Intrigued, I made a mental note, but put it away for the time being.   

As it turned out, three months later, I would move to D.C. I had accepted an incredible internship opportunity for the Society of Physics Students at the American Institute of Physics co-designing the annual Science Outreach Catalyst Kit. Working in the D.C. area was my first opportunity to live in a bustling city, and I absolutely loved it. Simultaneously in an educative position while immersed in a new, diverse environment, my time in D.C. became an opportunity to learn from everyone and everything around me. I recognized that this was something very important to me, and consequently, Fulbright would enter my focus by the end of the summer. I reached out to Dr. Philip Benesch, associate professor of politics & faculty director of external scholarships and fellowships, as well as Dr. Jeff Lovell, associate professor of music, and got to work.

Fast-forward through several months of preparations, including countless emails and 10+ rounds of essay draft revisions, I submitted my application to Fulbright Austria in October 2015. I applied to pursue a Fulbright in Graz, Austria for several reasons – the Centre for Systematic Musicology (my research affiliate at Karl-Franzens Universität), the opportunity to learn German in an immersive setting, and for the nature of the Combined Grant, to gain classroom teaching experience while also balancing an academic schedule. In March of 2016, I received notification that I was a finalist and was, indeed, moving to Austria for ten months. Before I knew it, I was flying across the pond for an incomprehensible adventure.

While in Graz, I studied at the Centre for Systematic Musicology, aiming to further understand how I could bring my music and physics backgrounds together. The Centre focuses on music psychology and cognition, but promotes all aspects of interdisciplinary musicological research. It was the perfect place for me to grow as a music scientist. One of the most rewarding experiences I had was serving on the student planning committee for the Global Arts and Psychology Seminar. This seminar was the world’s first half-virtual and half-face-to-face conference experience. Our main goal was to broadcast presentations to and from several simultaneous locations around the world – in Austria, England, Australia, the U.S., and Argentina – to create a truly global collaboration. Additionally, the work I contributed to the Centre led to my first publication, as well as presentations at two international conferences in Berlin, Germany and Strasbourg, France. While in Austria, I also published a weekly blog, through which I shared ups and downs of living and working abroad. 

As part of my grant, I also served as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in two local high schools. I was responsible for teaching 13 lessons per week on various aspects of American culture. Often, I was working with smaller groups of students, helping them to practice their conversational English. My experience as a language assistant has shown me the importance of effective communication across boundaries, whether those boundaries be cultural or ideological disagreements. I aim to apply these lessons in my graduate studies, specifically thinking about how music can serve as a unique means of boundary-less exchange. Additionally, I feel inspired and motivated to continue practicing and developing my German skills.

The combination of my physics and music educations at Lebanon Valley fueled my interdisciplinary drive. In a way, interdisciplinarity is an important means of academic ideological exchange, a continuation of my desire to learn from others. I have since realized that my curiosity for physics has been a consequence of my desire to problem-solve and toward conflict resolution more generally. Although I haven't been directly involved in the empirical science in a while, I am encouraged to know that the skills Lebanon Valley physicists develop are incredibly useful in many facets of life. In my time abroad, I was able to apply such problem-solving skills to how I thought about both interpersonal and international conflicts, which was particularly useful in the wake of such progressively divisive domestic and global political climates. 

My music education, on the other hand, inspired me to approach science creatively. Music is a very personal means of expression, and through years of developing interpretations of notes on a page, I adapted a similar approach to physics problems. And vice versa - my gravitation toward patterns and structures crossed over to my musical practices, and I eventually found a distinct overlap rooted in music theory and analysis. Additionally, the many opportunities I had to perform allowed me to grow both in confidence and as a leader.

Above all, I think what makes LVC truly unique is the faculty. Over my four years, I was encouraged and supported by numerous professors – professors who not only strove toward providing the best possible education, but also to get to know you more personally as an individual student. This allowed me to pursue several unique opportunities to work closely with faculty, including conducting an interdisciplinary independent study in mathematics and music, and establishing LVC’s first New Music Ensemble, which is now accredited by the college.

I learned more about what it means to be an American in my time in Austria than I ever could have spending my whole life here. Solo travel reinforced this; in my time abroad, I was able to visit 13 different countries. We learn the most about ourselves – our goals, our values, and what in this fragile world matters the most to us – when we are immersed in a culture or lifestyle different than our own. Especially now, we need study abroad students and ambassadors who are eager to experience life outside the United States. America itself, a nation of many immigrants, is a country founded on the fundamental importance and benefits of learning from others. On my Fulbright, I discovered a passion for exploring the world and contributing to it as a global citizen, and I will continue to strive to help others find invaluable opportunities to do so.

As for what comes next, well, I’m finishing this blog post from 37,000 feet in the air, currently on a one-way flight to Eugene, Oregon. I am starting my Master’s degree in Music Theory at the University of Oregon, supported by a graduate teaching fellowship in aural skills. I am grateful to the Fulbright program for an opportunity that has positively impacted many aspects of my life, as well as my Lebanon Valley education that has, since graduation, taken me 4,000 miles east and now 2,500 miles west. My next chapter is eagerly awaiting to be written.


If you are interested in learning more about my Fulbright experience, please don’t hesitate to contact me at


Links to affiliations:

The Fulbright Program

Fulbright Austria

Centre for Systematic Musicology, Karl-Franzens Universität, Graz, Austria



Society of Physics Students