This is my last blog post. I have re-written this post about 6 times now. As you can see, it is the beginning of August and you are just able to read it. I have found myself sitting down frequently thinking I have the right words to describe my experience, only to start over again the next day.
For one, I know that once I finish this post, I will be completely finished with my study abroad experience.
But more importantly, the experience was so incredible that I don’t know if I will ever have the words to do any of it justice. It feels like a fairy tale that I find myself daydreaming about constantly. I will say reverse culture shock is real. I will note, it doesn't necessarily mean that you have a hard time adapting to American culture, because that is not the case. It is more that you find yourself constantly missing the sights, sounds, people and places of exchange.
I went to Vienna expecting to take some pictures, explore, eat good food, and practice my German.
Instead, I learned how to live life to the fullest, how to work in diverse teams, how to problem solve, travel alone, and most importantly, I learned that the world is full of amazing people.
Our exchange program provided me with the opportunity to meet and befriend students from all over the world. My least favorite part of being home is that I know how difficult it will be to see them all again. However, I know that we all have this experience to share for the rest of our lives. I will do my best to stay in touch and visit all of them!
My goal for coming home is to treat my life here in Wisconsin like I did on exchange.
What do I mean by this? I mean to value every single day.
I say this because in Vienna, even if it was a rainy day, we made the best of it because we knew that we only had so many days left together. Because of this “make every moment count” mindset, every single day, conversation, and trip to the grocery store was something important to me.
Below are a few of the things that I learned living in Vienna that I think will greatly improve my quality of life, as well as a couple other tips I would like to share with you.
Have Dinner With Someone You Know, or (Maybe Don’t Know)
As Anthony Bordain once said: "You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together." One thing I found myself doing in Vienna is having dinner with different people. Sharing a meal in Vienna was never about the food, but about the conversation that came with it. These dinners usually lasted hours, and I barely remember the food I ate at any of them. It was always about strengthening personal connections, and enjoying our time together. Waiters don’t bring you the bill until you ask in Vienna, so this lead to us staying much longer than we usually wanted. At first my quick paced internal American clock would get frustrated by this. I would feel like I was wasting my time. After a few weeks of this, I realized just how important this extra time was. I don’t regret one extra minute of dinner I spent with any of my friends the entire semester. As a result, I learned to love to slow down. I learned to get beyond the average questions of “what are your classes like?” or “how is your food?” and delve deeper into meaningful conversations which lead to more meaningful relationships.
It’s so unbelievably cliche, but some of the best character builders this semester happened due to stepping outside of my comfort zone. Saying yes to trips or events I would normally not go to, taking classes in subjects I wouldn’t normally take, or just imagining a different version of myself. One example of this was my trips to countries where I did not speak the language at all. Although this is commonplace for most of us when traveling, it does add a certain level of stress that requires you to think outside of the box or problem solve to do every day tasks.
Sometimes It Takes A Change Of Scenery To Know Who You Want To Be
We are all products of our environment. Sometimes we get stuck in routines that may or may not align with who we want to be in the long run. Being away from everything and everyone you know forces you to focus on only yourself. Any person you make friends with while away is not usually connected to someone back home. Because nobody knows who you are, you have an opportunity to reinvent yourself, or try to focus on new things. For example, do you really like to do x? Or are you just very good friends with a lot of people who like to do or talk about x? This one may not always apply, but I found it very refreshing to try to learn about new things and spend time with people who I would normally not back home.
Don’t Be Afraid to Be Alone
A personal goal of mine was to put a picture in Rome in my blog, so here it is.
Studying abroad means that you will not always have your friends and family from back home with you, or even awake to call. This means that you need to spend a good deal of time alone, from traveling to going to class with people you have never met. This can be a wonderful time to reflect and focus on yourself. Although there wasn’t a ton of it, alone time always helped me to reset and think about what I had done, and what I want to do in the future.
Austria Is An Amazing Place To Study Abroad
Do you like nature, culture, mountains, food, kind-hearted people, dancing, festivals, and amazing public transportation? Look no further than Austria. I have talked about it in the past, but I encourage you to consider Austria whether you want to learn German or not. I know every single one of the hundred students I met in my program will go home as an ambassador hoping to interest someone in visiting Austria. I would go back and spend a year or more just in Vienna alone if I could,let alone the surrounding towns and mountains in Austria. The proximity to other countries mean that even if you want to explore beyond Austria, you can do so for a fraction of the time and money.
If You Study Abroad: Take Advantage Of The Buddy Program!
One of the greatest aspects of my experience was the buddy program at WU. My assigned buddy turned out to be an amazing friend who I hope to keep in touch with for years to come. He invited me to many of his friend gatherings, so I was even able to meet more friends in Austria through him. I was even able to practice and hear German much more frequently with him and his friends. All of this would not have been possible without the buddy program. If you are a student studying abroad, or just a student at home, I highly encourage you to take part in your buddy program. I hope to see my buddy this fall when he studies abroad in the USA!
Last day at WU
And so, this ends my final study abroad blog post. Although technically my “study abroad” is over, there are many wonderful opportunities to come as a result from my five months in Vienna. I have already had the opportunity to see many of the new friends I made since coming home. I even booked a trip to visit another really good friend on the east coast before school starts. I hope to stay in contact with as many of my friends as possible over the years and visit them whenever possible.
We had a joke in Vienna about the announcement on the Subway system. We heard “ausstieg links” (step off on your left) every single day, and every single stop. It started as a thing we would just ramble off since we heard it constantly, but eventually began to mean something to us. Each one signaled a new adventure, experience, or even just a walk to class. This is very similar to life - it feels endless, and maybe even a little annoying, but the whole time whether we think about it or not, our little beginnings are limited. This is one of the realizations that kept me present, and has done so since I got home.
Thanks to anyone who has taken the time to listen to me ramble on about the things I love doing most. I hope that I have given you a new addition to your bucket list or made you want to take another trip. I will be working as a study abroad peer advisor this fall, so if you have any questions feel free to come in and ask me.
I want to end the post with a quote from Anthony Bourdain that I think accurately describes my experience.
“It’s an irritating reality that many places and events defy description. Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu, for instance, seem to demand silence, like a love affair you can never talk about. For a while after, you fumble for words, trying vainly to assemble a private narrative, an explanation, a comfortable way to frame where you’ve been and what’s happened. In the end, you’re just happy you were there — with your eyes open — and lived to see it.”
Special thanks to all of my amazing friends for making this the best five months of my life. And I mean all of you!