2004-05 Outbound to Austria
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Gainesville High School
Sponsor: Gainesville Sunrise Rotary Club
Host: Scharding Rotary Club, District 1920, Austria
August 11 Journal
Hallo jeder! (hello everyone)I am now in Zell an der Pram. The town is gorgeous! There are beautiful rolling hills in every direction, and amiable people flock the streets of the local villages. I am trying to get used to the change in time and food, but I'm sure that will come. German is slowly invading my brain as I prepare for language camp on Sunday. I hear it is on scenic Lake Traunsee, however everything in Austria seems to be scenic, but I suppose the Austrians are used to it. I reside in upper Austria, which is the less traveled part of the country, but I think that makes it more enjoyable.I am going to Linz today to get a basketball so I can play. I am trying to bike and get enough exercise so as not to add that "rotary ten or fifteen lbs., or 25 kilos...."My host family is great. We play cards every night. They like to tease a little bit, but that's okay, in a few months I will be able to understand them and tease back :) They have a crazy dog whom I call Vereichte Hund. They also have many animals, they are all over the place.The trip over was okay, the Amsterdam airport wasn't so great (too many tall Dutch people and no A/C :) Pictures will come soon!
September 2 Journal
I have now been in Osterreich for just over three weeks now and the time has flown, literally. So much has happened since the last time I have written, I almost don't know where to begin.
Well, I went to Language camp in Altmünster for two weeks, which was a unique experience in itself. I went to class every morning from 8 to 3, with a one hour break in between. We also got short 10 minute breaks called pauses in between each class. It was funny because I would always do something in class to insinuate that it was time for a break. Sometimes I would do a fake cough and say the word Pause as I was coughing. Other times I would look out the window and say something mildly obnoxious like, "wow look at that pause!, I've never seen one like that before." The teacher enjoyed it though, no one is too serious here. In the evenings after class I would sometimes go down to the lake shore and indulge myself in the inexplicable essence that is Austria. The scenery looks like a picture, none of it seems real.
After glaring at the sheer magnificent beauty of Traunsee and Traunstein, the lake and mountain in Altmünster respectively, I would attempt to go swimming in water that was so cold it could be compared to the water in Ireland or Maine, too much for a Florida Boy either way. Sometimes on the beach, I would sing songs with the Latin Americans that we learned in class. The songs were very stupid, but they initiated plenty of laughs and odd looks on the beach. Somehow, though, I enjoyed telling the whole beach of Lake Traunsee that "I am a foreigner and I don't speak very well in German," but that's why I am here right? I stepped out of my comfortable world in Florida and took a nosedive into a realm where everything seems surreal and the confusion factor is nonpareil.
Most of this I can contribute to the language. They speak a strong dialect in this part of Austria, so Hoch Deutsch doesn't do me that much good anyway. Nonetheless, it is still enjoyable to engage my mind in a language that I can't comprehend beyond any real significance. On the plus side, my German has improved a lot, especially my reading. I can comprehend a surprising amount of what I read, but when I attempt to watch TV, I can only pick out a few words. I also find I get headaches sometimes at night because of the influx of this confusing language into my mind. Even my jaw hurts sometimes from attempting to speak it...lolOther than that, I have been to Linz, Passau, Salzburg, Gmunden, and various other places. I am going to Vienna next week and I start school in two weeks.bis bald (until soon),ElliottPS- If you ever venture to Linz, you must checkout AARS Elektronika museum, it's quite impressive...
October 12 Journal
Hello all you eager followers of my journal, I know it has been a while since I have written, but I have been really busy here in Austria. I began school on Sept. 15th, which is much later than I begin in America. On my first day of school I only had to go for two hours because it was only an information day. Many of the students were interested to meet me and know who I was, but I wasn't as big of a buzz as I thought I would be. In a way, I was kind of disappointed and in another, I was relieved. I've come to find that that has what my whole exchange has been, ups and downs. I'm slowly learning that you can't expect everything during the exchange year to be perfect, because nothing in life is. You simply have to put the year in perspective and consider the experience as a whole.
Anyway, I have been going to school now for over a month, and overall I'm having mixed feelings about it. I generally get along with the girls in my class, but the males are extremely immature. Thereby, it is difficult to be able to get along with them that well because I am a more reserved and introverted person. My classes are very difficult at times. Most of the time, I can only tell partially what is going on in class, because most of my teachers speak in dialect and not hoch deutsch. However, some of the students are pretty nice about keeping me informed on the class material, and most of the teachers have been patient with me and the other exchange student in my class who is from New York. School is very different here in Austria. The students don't change classes, the teachers do, and we have to wear these funny house shoes while we are in school. Oh and my teachers like to make jokes in the classes, but other than that, they aren't the most interesting people in the world. Ahhh, how I miss the political tirades of my former history teacher last year....
Since I have last written, I have traveled to so many places that I simply don't have time to list them all, but I will name a few. I've have been to Vienna a couple times, one to tour the city and another to take the SAT test and meet up with last year's inbound to Florida from Austria, Teresa Lexmüller. She took me to some museums in Vienna, which was fun. And while I think Vienna is a very pretty city, I do not think I would want to live there...however, I am not sure why. I also have been to bad füssing in Germany to go to a health spa with my host mother's father. I was surrounded by senior citizens. And being that I was the only person within a 3 mile radius under 50, I was strangely intimidated by the multitudinous senility. Also, I went to Tauplitz for a Rotary meeting in late September, which is a village on a mountain in Steirmark. It was absolutely gorgeous on the mountain, although somewhat cold (it was snowing there). The Australian inbounds from January simply couldn't help themselves as the inner children in them took over and they had to fling snowballs at the Northern Hemisphereans.
As for me, I'm doing fairly well. I have gone in and out of spells of depression, but I suppose that is just part of the experience. I am in good health though. Amazingly I have not gained that much weight since I've been here, and I eat plenty of cheese and the Nutella that "Will be the Death of Katie's Figure". I think part of that can be attributed to the fact that I am growing some, so it balances out I guess.
Note to future aspiring Rotary outbounds: When Rotary mentions the Cultural shock and spells of depression, don't take it lightly, because some of you will have a tendency to believe that the info doesn't apply to you. I felt the same way, trust me it will, it's part of the experience. Overall, I think the most valuable reward of an opportunity such as this is learning something about yourself that you didn't previously realize.
PS- Good luck Tom. I hope you are doing well in Daytona.
November 20 Journal
Sorry I have not written in a while you guys, but I have been quite busy. Since my last entry, I went to Vienna for a Rotary meeting for three days on Fri. the 24th of Oct. It was nice to see all of the outbounds again and cruise around Vienna with everybody. We even got to see a theatrical performance of Elisabeth, the former kaiserin of Austria, and we also embarked on a tour on Sunday morning around Vienna by bus. I have been to Vienna 3 times now, and I feel like I have a pretty good feel for the city. I have also been to Salzburg to buy supplies for my host aunt's shop, and on numerous hiking occasions (one of which is displayed in the picture below, by the way...those kids are just friends of my host family). I officially love to hike now. It's a great way for me to get exercise, spend time with other people, and absorb the essence of a place that I may never see again.
It has begun to snow here in Austria. The snow is incredible. Not only is it beautiful, but it is good packing snow (perfect for making a snowman or throwing snowballs). Many people in my village know me now, if not everyone, so I've built a good enough rapport to throw snowballs :)
Also, I've been scrambling to get all my college applications done, which is rewarding and scary at the same time. Completing them only reminds me that my remaining childhood is dwindling. So in essence, I am riding my exchange year in Austria into the sunset of childhood. Honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way.
December 30 Journal
Here it is, the long anticipated monthly journal of Mr. Elliott Scott Woehler. And you, the anxious reader, want to know what has happened in my life over the past month here in Austria. Buckle your seatbelts ladies and gentlemen. No, seriously... Lol
Well, what have I been doing? Let's see, I went to a Rotary Meeting in Salzburg earlier this month. I got the privilege to see all of the Rotary inbounds again, and then some. We had some special guests: Rotary inbounds who chose Croatia to spend a monumental year of their life. This spiced up an already exciting weekend. It was interesting to share stories with them about Austria, while also hearing about their ventures in the Balkan heartland. Salzburg was buzzing during this particular weekend because of Advent (the time leading up to Christmas). The markets in the street were booming with people perambulating about in an attempt to find their loved ones some heartwarming gifts for Weinacht (Christmas in Austria). All of the inbounds went on a walk in Salzburg to tour the city, and to see what all the excitement was about. The street market was incredible. You could buy just about anything there. The Christmas cheer and ambience was augmented by the caroling street-singers nearby. A large crowd swarmed about them like flies because they were so good.
While all of that sounds great, the whole weekend wasn't entirely euphoric. Rotary made us practice singing "Oh Happy Day" about 150 million times, wait maybe it was 151. I didn't mind too much because I knew it was practice for our district conference in Osnabrück in January; thereby, while it wasn't the most thrilling activity, I figured it was at least worthwhile in order to put on a good performance for the all of the Rotary members who would be present at the district conference. However, I thought it was an interesting song selection. I know one thing, I will never watch Sister Act again in my life.
Moving on... the celebration leading up to Weinacht in Zell an der Pram was a lot of fun. There were a few performances in the church that I attended, and when I wasn't at church, it seemed like I was singing with my host family, the Haunolds. This is a dangerous combo though. The Haunolds already love to sing, and when you give them an excuse to, you will probably ended going to bed very late. Weinacht came, which was nice also. We, of course, gathered around the tree, and not surprisingly, sang more songs. After that, we opened gifts. I liked all of my gifts, but my host sister played a joke on me by giving me a calendar with pictures of firemen with buff bodies. I then told her it would soon be on EBay. She must have laughed for what seemed like an hour.
And finally, I also managed to do something extremely exciting just the other day. I climbed a 200 foot windmill. It took about 20 minutes of solid climbing up one long, and what seemed like, perpetual ladder. The view at the top was more than worth it though. I was a little bit scared before attempting it, but afterwards I was immensely proud of myself because I felt like I had added one more notch to my belt of challenges. My whole exchange year has been nothing but small challenges, one after the other. If someone told me a year ago that I would one day climb a 200 foot windmill, I probably would have laughed obnoxiously. The difference now is, I have more confidence in my abilities. I feel like I'm ready for anything. That's my life. Thanks Rotary.
January 30 journal
This is captain Elliott reporting back for yet another inspiring and profound journal entry ... just kidding ... Anyway, cutting out the obnoxiousness, some pretty interesting things have happened to me over the last month, the most important probably being that I changed host families on Jan. 2nd. I switched from the Haunolds (Hey Tom!), to the Mohrs. Basically I moved about 20 km closer to my school. It's been nice not to have to get up so early, but then again I always slept on the bus anyway, because honestly, a 40 min. ride with screaming adolescents with whom 99.9% of them own cell phones, and actually find the show "The Nanny" funny, is not the most fulfilling way to begin your day.
Anyhow, since moving to the Mohrs, I've found that while I miss the Haunold family, I also really like my new family. They are warm and friendly people who seem to be in a perpetual state of family-bonding. It has really impressed me to see peaceful cohesion amongst so many people under one household. Of course, I've only been here three weeks, so who knows J At any rate, I feel extremely comfortable and welcome here, and I would also like to tell everyone to watch out, because I'm taking dance lessons with my host mom (read: her husband is too chicken to do so himself J) I told him he is going to owe me a lot of money by the time I leave ... .
And of course, that hasn't been the only thing that has happened to me over the past month. I went to a Rotary district conference in Osnabrück, Germany with the other Rotary inbounds to Austria. We met in Linz, stayed there for a night, and started out on our arduous ten hour venture the next day to land of the unknown, the place where they actually speak real German ... dun dun dun ... Actually, it was kind of nice hearing people actually speak the language that I am learning in my German class, and not all of that crazy upper Austrian dialect ... .so anyway, after the painful ten hour ride in which I must've heard "Sand in my shoes" a hundred and fifty million times, we arrived at a youth hostel in Osnabrück. I was, of course, exhausted because I don't sleep well on busses. Basically, all I wanted to do was crash on my bed and go to sleep, but lo and behold, there were copious amounts of other exchange students who were anxiously awaiting our arrival. They were inbounds to Germany, with the exception of one random guy who was inbound in Switzerland. Some of the exchange students were from Sam's district, but Sam was unfortunately not there (You're in trouble Mister).
All the exchange students seemed to enjoy getting to know each other. Dancing and talking were the most popular activities it seemed. However, Rotary once again made us practice singing, so we could present our song in front of hundreds of other Rotarians. Luckily, they scrapped Oh Happy Day, because everyone hated it, and no one sang with enthusiasm. I also think Whoopie Goldberg is now the consensus least favorite actress amongst all of the inbounds to Austria. Instead, we decided to sing an Austrian folk song. It's called "Peter's Brundele." It's a lot more fun to sing, and there is no obligation to learn ambiguously passionate gospel choreography (which didn't fly well in our group either). So then the Rotary meeting came, and it was interesting to hear people from all over the world articulate their presentations in either German or English. It wasn't always enticing, but hey I'm still a puerile young man. During the presentations, the Rotary international president from Alabama (of all places) stood up and gave a speech. For some reason, I became strangely intrigued to see a fellow American on stage, and hear his thick southern accent. It seemed as if I was comforted by it. It was also quite comical to hear him say a couple sentences in German. I must admit that I chuckled along with most of the other Rotarians. However, it was okay because the guy read it in a way that emphasized how bad his German was. After the district conference, we made the treacherous ten hour journey back. I was so tired, I almost fell over when I got off of the bus in Linz.
I also wanted to announce that I celebrated my 18th b-day with the Haunold family. However, I was a little melancholy during the days leading up to my Birthday as the song "Have you seen my childhood?" endlessly replayed itself over and over in my head. I also had numerous flashbacks to random scenes that I remember while growing up, and in a way, they were comforting to me. That, along with the fact that I'm doing something that has already propelled me into adulthood, has made the transition easier. As I grow older, my exchange year will help keep me younger, because I can reflect on all of the wonderful things I have accomplished this year. I will always be able to envision in my mind how truly amazing this year was. Whether I'm 20 or 60, I will always have that at least that much.
Life? Where are you? Show yourself! You don't scare me ...
February 28 journal
Wow! As usual, it has been about a month since the last time I updated you on my life. I hope all of you, my readers, are interested in this next update. However, I don't want you to be disappointed simply because not really all that much has happened to me in February. Actually, February has been probably my most normal month here. I did have semester holidays for a week. It was nice to have a few days where I could either veg-out or go outside to go bobsledding. But now that I'm back in school, my mind seems to be a bit behind due to the layoff, but I enjoyed seeing my friends nevertheless. One of my friends actually went to Bratislava during his Ferien and took pictures of President Bush and Russian President Putin while they were having a conference in Bush's attempt to call for a reunited Europe and US. What's funny is that the Austrians don't see it as that. Considering just about everyone here hates Bush, they see it as a phony attempt to appear genuine, or a very belated attempt to do something he should have done years ago.
Now that I have hit the half-year mark, the passage of time hit me with full force this month. The speed at which time moves when you are away from home is something I'll never be able to explain. Sometimes it feels like the time won't go fast enough, and yet it feels like I just wrote my Jan. entry the other day. Along with that, I have been pondering quite a number of things. Like, what I was most surprised about when I came to Austria (just how tall Austrian people are), and what I have noticed simply from living here so long (that so many people either own many of the same things and/or behave with similar mannerisms). A lot of Austrians are very much alike, and they are a people who are very stuck in their ways. But those ways work for them, and that's why it seems like everyone is alike in one way or another, because they share a common bond in thinking that their way of life is the best, and most efficient way to live. One year ago, had I known this, I probably would have called these people nothing more than a bunch of sheep. But what I now realize is that they are a people that value structure and continuity, so everyone being alike in one way or another is almost vital to their way of life. It's just different, but not wrong.
Also, as a side note to my small diatribe above, I would like to note I will be going skiing for a week soon and I also have a Rotary function in Linz on the 11th of March, in which I will be celebrating 100 years of Rotary. All I have to say is Rotary has impacted the world in a positive way for one hundred years. Which if you think about it, is impressive and overwhelming at the same time. Keep up the good work guys!
March 31 Journal
This is Elliott, catching up again. Since the last time I wrote, I have gone skiing in Schladming. It was a nice resort. It wasn't too touristy, and the view was incredible (right). It took me a while to get the hang of skiing, but once I did, it was a lot of fun. I think the main reason that I had problems at first though was that I was expected to make these pinpoint turns on skis that had no wax on them to speak of. I realized this by the second day, and got this problem fixed, and immediately improved. I also did some sledding down a track that was all the way at the top of the mountain. It was so thrilling. Even though the sleds don't really go that fast, it feels like flying, because of all the hairpin turns and perilous stretches of ice that send you careening all over the track.
Since I last wrote, I have changed to my third and final host family. My host father is the president of my Rotary Club. He's a really nice guy. Now that I mentioned it, everyone in my host family is a pleasant person. I like all of them. So far, I have had no problems.
My host father wants to take me on a few trips around Austria, which seems like a fulfilling way to finish out my year. I know, it's here already, the final quarter of my year. It's incredible how fast time moves when you are away from home. And because of this rapid movement of time, I am basically facing a dichotomy in my emotions. This may sound clichéd, but the feeling is inevitable I think. While my departure is imminent, I am not that scared or nervous. I mean, sure, I will miss my friends here and all, but I'm excited to see how things are going back at home. I was recently accepted to Emory University, and am thrilled about beginning college life, but terrified at the same time. Looking back though, I can only be fully grateful to Rotary for giving me the chance to bring my life in a different direction, so that I could dabble into something new, and discover something about myself that my life at home wouldn't allow me to. I now understand Elliott more because I have been an exchange student. And while I still have some enigmatic qualities about myself, I am at least more ready to accept them as something that makes me unique.
So until next month,
May 4 Journal
Well here it is, my April journal. April has been a pretty calm month for me. The weather has finally warmed up to a comfortable amount here in Austria. Therefore, the basketball court has been taking a lot of punishment from me. It has been great to get outside and shoot some hoops, and get some exercise. I love the feeling of coming home with sweat dripping off of my face.
Other than that, the only thing out of the ordinary that happened in April was me taking a trip with my class to a University in Salzburg. It was interesting to take a look at the University system here and compare it with that in the US. The University was very spread out, but much more austere than what I am used to. There are few extracurricular facilities for the students, who are more or less on their own to accommodate themselves in that department. However, I met some of the teachers, and even got to sit in on some of the classes, and it seemed as if the students at this particular University were in good hands.
Also, I have to begin University in America soon, and I am getting really excited. I have to get my school here in Austria to send in my final report card and hopefully that will go through and I will be on track to graduate. As of right now though, nothing is guaranteed. I also hope that Emory University understands my situation here in Austria and that the grading system is a bit different. So they have to consider me a special case.
Well, that is all for now, Good luck to the rest of you finishing out your years wherever you may be. Spend lots of time with your host family as this is the last time you may ever see them...
Until next time,
May 30 Journal
This will be my second to last journal. Wow, the time is almost gone. I'm feeling a little melancholy right now about my imminent departure, but am excited at the prospect of showing my dad around Austria for a few weeks.
The season changed here with a whip, and it is quite warm now, if not hot some days. I find myself sweating in mid to upper 80 degree weather as I think to myself, wow I'm going to die when I land in Gainesville. Okay, so maybe Matt the converted Siberian will die before I do, but nevertheless, I can't believe how accustomed I have become to this cooler weather and abounding rain. But there is hardly ever any lightning here. One of my host sisters in my second family, Myriam Mohrs, apparently loves lighting. I should tell her that there is a lot of amusement beckoning for her in the sunshine state.
Since my last journal, I took a trip to Salzburger land with my current and final host father. We visited a large bird sanctuary, Hitler's city of birth (including his house), and a fortress on a mountain in Germany where Hitler used to spend his holidays. I found it quite amusing that Hitler's birth house is nothing more than a yellow book store with nothing but a stone with a quote about fascism engraved on it to indicate that that was where Hitler was born. The lady who owns the bookstore must be somewhat of a prude. I also took a day trip the other day with a friend of mine to a water park, which was nice but expensive.
Also, my report card was sent in from my school here in Austria and I am just waiting for it to be processed by GHS so I can successfully graduate. It's nice to be finished with school and not to have to worry about doing homework anymore. It's funny though, because I didn't really have to take tests but in two classes this year, I actually missed having to study with my friends for a big test. I must say that I learned this year that life is more ironic that I could have ever imagined.
Finally, I visited my first family, the Haunolds, this past weekend just to see how they were doing and to catch up a little bit. I biked a total of 12 miles to do so. It was all in all a good way to get exercise and socialize a little bit. I am also going to Linz this weekend for my final Rotary meeting. I am excited to see the exchange students again, but I am somewhat despondent in realizing that many of them will be flying home soon thereafter.
PS-- I wish nothing but the best of luck to all of the district 6970 04-05 inbounds and outbounds for the remainder of their year.