Austin SXSW Festival, Austin by Visualist Images

This article was written by Lisa Gerard, published on 20th August 2010 and has been read 4970 times.

Lisa Gerard gives us her views and advice on going to Austin, Texas, for the year abroad. Oh, Austin, where do I begin? Austin is a fantastic city; it’s growing too quickly, becoming a little too popular, but it's all part of the charm. It has dedicated, passionate residents ranging from students to artists to businessmen. An anomaly within Texas, Austin is extremely liberal, free-spirited, and a hotbed for innovative thinkers and businesses.
Visit Austin and you’ll see the phrase 'Keep Austin Weird' almost anywhere you go, which is used to promote small businesses, the life source of the city. The city is incredibly proud of the development and growth it has experienced in the past decade, but the fact that the University of Texas at Austin is the heart of the city still holds true.  

New buildings are being constructed everywhere, many of which are by architects that graduated from the university’s top-notch architecture school. Cupcake cafés, barbecue pits, and vegan eateries line the streets along with pretty much any cuisine you could possibly desire (Asian to Italian, to Spanish, to French). A rival to Nashville, Tennessee, the music scene in Austin is certainly impressive. Bars and clubs bring in both budding artists and big-name singers to overflowing crowds. Austin hosts the annual music festival Austin City Limits as well as South by Southwest (SXSW), which introduces new music and films from up-and-coming artists.  In short, Austin is crazy cool, and any person who thinks otherwise must be insane.

After my first year of uni, I transferred to the University of Texas at Austin, the main branch of the University of Texas public schools. As a Texan resident, my tuition is tremendously reduced, totaling at under $5,000 per semester — a big change from almost $39,000 at my first uni. Housing is also incredibly reasonable both on and off campus, with options ranging from dorms to apartments to houses, all in a manageable distance from the enormous university (350 acres, almost 60,000 students, and 21,000 faculty members).

Don’t be too frightened by the size! As a visiting student, you would not have to take any general intro classes, and after about two or three semesters, most classes are on the small side. The French department, for example, is very small; all of my classes were 18 students or less, and language classes have limited sizes to provide a more personal learning experience. Though some classes in Biology or Government departments may range from 200-300 students, discussion sections with teaching assistants lower the intimidation factor of lecture classes. Of course, a large school like UT takes some getting used to, but the school spirit is contagious. Everyone and everything is designed with the school colours (burnt orange and white), and the city of Austin lives for the university and its athletic teams (American football is a religion at this uni; keeping up with stats is a must!). Personally, I adore this university; its immense size means more funding for clubs and more clubs and societies in genera l— religious, academic, cultural, fine arts, etc; you name it, they have it.  

Many exchange students lived in my building this past year, all of whom were crazy-in-love with UT and never wanted the year to end. The parties are professionally organized and catered, and the university goes the distance in bringing in amazing musical artists, film festivals, and guest speakers (politicians, directors, writers, etc). But of course, most importantly, academics are incredible — enthusiastic professors, motivated students, and superb course offerings.

Austin’s also got loads of good museums, as it’s such a thriving cultural city. The Blanton Museum of Art will keep you busy for a few hours; the Harry Ransom Center is an absolute must, as is the gorgeous Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Museum. Expect to be amazed at their collection of flora. Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum is worth visiting too, as is the city’s Museum of Art.

1. Austin City Limits / South by Southwest
2. Simply exploring Downtown nightlife from Thursday – Saturday night
3. Zilker Botanical Garden
4. Guadalupe River Float Trips
5. Kayak on Town Lake

1. La Traviata (Italian)
Signature dish: Either Chicken Parmesan  or Ravioli du Jour
2. Whole Foods (Market)
Signature dish: Not exactly a restaurant, but probably one of my favorite places to go. Local grown produce, global cuisine, delicious desserts, and all healthy! (A few are in Dallas as well.)
3. The County Line (Barbecue)
Signature dish: Supposedly the best around…although I only had vegetarian items, the bread and side items are great.
4. Pita Pit (Pitas To-Go)
Signature dish: Hummus Pita with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, feta cheese, and tzatiki sauce
5. Kerby Lane Café (Café / Diner)
Signature dish: Another favorite among students and Austin resident alike.  Open 24 / 7 with a menu so big that it takes you 24 hours to decide. And there’s also the amazing Blueberry Pancakes  

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