Volunteer Profile: University of Vienna

For Professor Martin Heintel and his students, their trip to New Orleans was about more than seeing the tourist attractions. Martin and a group of his students from the University of Vienna took a trip to the city to learn about geography and regional research, to see the city, and to give back.

“We’ve seen so many different parts of New Orleans,” said Martin. “Yesterday, we were in the Garden District. This [where they were building] is the other side of the city. I think it’s important to, if you want to understand the city, you have to see different parts of the city. This [building on site] is also an important part of the story of New Orleans after Katrina. I think the students like it to see different sides. Maybe they’re a little bit surprised to be working in the heat and the humidity, but I think it’s an experience to understand how difficult it is to build.”

The idea for the trip came from Martin’s experiences as a professor at UNO after the storm.

“Eleven years ago, I lived here in New Orleans for a year,” he said. “It was one year after Katrina. This is the first time here with students from our department. The reason why I was here ten eyars ago was to study regional development, urban development, to understand cities, how they are growing. That’s part of our work and why we are here.”

“We’re out here on a ten day field trip,” said student Maya Pidun. “We’re doing some projects and some usual sightseeing things around New Orleans. We’re learning and participating to get the real view on New Orleans, not just the tourist view. It’s really diverse. It’s somehow different from other cities I’ve been to in the States. I’m excited for more to come. It’s important to get the whole picture, not just the French Quarter.”

On their fourth day out, some of the students were already getting a feel for the city.

“The first person I was talking to was the bus driver from the airport,” said Nikolaus Zugmayer, another student in Martin’s class. “He got that laid back kind of vibe. That was the first real impression I got. It’s all really laid back here. The second impression I got is that it’s a wild, chaotic city. Somehow it’s working out. It’s beautiful. It’s a unique experience. I’m grateful to be here.”

Both on and off site, they met new people.

“You get to meet some people you probably wouldn’t have met,” said Nikolaus. “It’s nice to talk to them while working on the window frames. It’s just a nice vibe again. It’s representative of New Orlans. It’s laid back, but everybody knows what to do.”

“The projects we do today are special,” Maya said. “We meet people that tell us stuff about the city, and we get a much better and fuller picture. It’s good we did a tour before and looked at some of the houses, because it’s very different from in Austria. It’s making me want to contribute because I know a lot of people don’t get the same chances. It was nice for us to be a part of this and for us to be able to contribute to this because I feel it’s making a difference in the community.”