September 3 Journal
Sitting down this afternoon in the kitchen, I procrastinated writing this journal because there are too many wonderful events and new ideas that I wanted to share. I knew it would take a very long time to accomplish the task of writing my first journal.
It is currently my fourth week here in Austria, but let’s go back a wee bit… The night before I left for Austria I was freaking out; leaving all of my friends and family had actually made itself a reality. The day of my departure, I had breakfast with my best friends, and then we all said our goodbyes, sad ones too. My whole family came with me to the Orlando Airport where I was to depart for Frankfurt, Germany around 8:00 pm. We arrived around five and had plenty of time to spare after check-in so we ate dinner together at Chili’s.
Soon after, it was time to say goodbye. I stood in my spiffy Rotary Blazer decked out with pins in the middle of the airport, with my family by my side. I must have given a few hugs to each family member before I realized that it was time: Time to leave. So I mustered up all of my courage and put on a happy face for the Security Officials. I successfully managed to make it to my gate. It wasn’t until my friend called me that I started to break down. I cried and cried, half laughing at myself because a few people were giving me strange looks. When I finished the phone call, the man across from me made a crying face which certainly cheered me up.
Anyways, so then it was time to board, and I was really excited for the nine hour plane ride. Of course, I barely slept with all of the butterflies in my stomach, but they were good butterflies. I remember thinking that everything was about to change, and I was scared, but then this quote by Heraclitus hit me, "There is nothing permanent except change." It was a breakthrough. I realized that change doesn’t have to be a bad thing, as many people make it out to be. Rotary has taught me otherwise. Without change, one couldn’t develop to one's full potential. I believe now that of course, change can be difficult, but that it opens up numerous opportunities for knowledge and experience. I’m not sure which paths I will discover here in Austria, but I’m confident that the new change with affect me in countless, positive ways.
Arriving in Austria was so nerve-wracking. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my new family blew every good thing I had heard about host families out of the water. I could look up words to describe them, but there is a special connection that really cannot be described, so I’ll leave it at that. My first week here was very busy. I visited my school called Kollegium Aloisianum, which is so beautiful! The old library tower is made out of stone, it’s quite wonderful. I went to the city, Linz, and did a little bit of window shopping with my host sister, Marlies, who is sixteen as well. On Tuesday, we went to a Rotary Meeting with my whole family because my host parents are Rotarians and my sister came because she is going on exchange to Canada this year. The meeting was really interesting, and afterwards all of the Rotarians ate dinner together. I even made a small little introduction of myself! I met a few of my host sister’s friends who will be going to the same school as me. On Saturday, my host mum’s sister and her family came around to our house. We ate goulash and had a really great day. That night I had to pack for Language Camp, Sprachkurs, in Altmuenster, which is near Gmunden.
Future August Outbounds to Austria : Here are a few tips about Language Camp.
1) It’s a language course, bring a notebook and writing utensils.
2) Bedding and bath towels are provided, but bring your own beach towel.
3) Expect to not use the computer.
Language camp was so much fun, and I actually learned quite a lot of German! A few of my favorite adventures: Walking into town, the ferry ride on Lake Traunsee, visiting Hallstadt, and the Rotary Talent Show.
After language camp, I went to my family’s mountain house in the Alps, IN THE ALPS! I was beyond ecstatic because I practically never see mountains, and the Alps are famous! The first day I hiked up this mountain to a cross where you can write your name, or saying a little something. I wrote, “Viele Grosse aus Florida, USA! –April Rust,” which means “Many Greetings from Florida, USA!”.
The food here is not too unfamiliar. For the most part, I recognize the flavors and such. My favorite Austrian meal is WIENER SHNITZEL! For those of you who’ve never tasted it, just imagine a Chick-fil-a sandwich without the bun, except that it tastes about fifty times better!
Now that Sprachkurs is over, I have just been relaxing and practicing German with my host family. School starts on September 14th, so I still have about a week and a half to go. In the next several days, I will visit my host mum’s family near Vienna, and of course tour Vienna as well.
I have really enjoyed and learned so much already, and it hasn’t even been a month yet! Of course I miss everyone back in Florida and the States, but I wouldn’t give this opportunity up. Things are certainly a little unfamiliar here, but I love it. I will leave you with a quote that I enjoy reading… “Es ist nicht besser, es ist nicht schlechter, es ist einfach anders.” Which means, “It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different.” To some people, different conveys something negative, but now thanks to Rotary and this exchange I have started to view it as an opportunity to gain knowledge and understanding. Vielen Dank Rotary!
November 6 Journal
The last time I wrote it was summer here and I was enjoying the long days filled with excitement and rest. Now, school is full on and the days are shrinking, time wise, because of daylight savings and winter’s presence.
My first day of school was so nerve-wracking! Even though I knew some of the kids in the 7th form, I still was so nervous and scared because I was put in the 6th form! My host mum walked with me to my class and introduced me to some of the other kids she knew and also my “Klassevorstandum” which is similar to a homeroom teacher. Everyone was really nice and speaking German and I wasn’t as nervous after a while. Something really awesome about the first few days of school in Austria is that students only go for a few hours the first couple of days. Just long enough to meet your class that you’ve known your whole life and your “klassevorstandum” who’s also been with you since the first form. On the first Wednesday we had mass at a local church, it was wonderful
My school is wonderful! Its full name is “Kollegium Aloisianum” but for short we all just say “Aloisianum”. It’s brilliantly located on the top of a hill, overlooking the city of Linz. My school is Jesuit which basically means Catholic, but we don’t wear uniforms! The forms run from one to eight. The first formers will turn eleven years by the end of the year, and the eighth formers will turn eighteen. My school does not have the typical time schedule as most in Austria, so I’ll tell you first about the typical school system. Most schools start around seven-thirty or eight in the morning and finish around twelve or one, just in time for the most important meal here: lunch! So then after the students leave school, most go home where a hot lunch is served. For my school, the time you get out depends on what class you’re in. In my class, we start everyday at 7:50, except for on Mondays, when the girls start at 9:50 because the boys have P.E. On Friday when the girls have P.E., the guys leave early. The rest of our schedule is as follows…
Tuesday- 7:50-4:00 (every other Tuesday until 6)
There is quite a variety of subjects taught here, but unlike the states, the only thing we can choose is to learn more math and physics or more languages. I am in the “more languages” class. It’s really hard for me to understand the teachers right now, so in most of the classes I just focus on learning German or reading. The classes that I do participate in are “Spanish”, “English”, “Music”, “Art”, “P.E.”, and “Intensive German”. Most classes are two or three times a week, but Music, Art, and P.E. are only once a week. My host mum and I are trying to change my schedule so that I can take English in the lower forms to improve my German! The grading system is completely unlike what I’ve know before. The “grades” are from one to five, one being the best, and five being the worst. Homework is assigned regularly but is rarely checked for. We don’t have tests, but small “reviews” where we receive a plus or minus. We have exams that determine most of our grades. Exams for the first semester are in October/November and February. I’m not sure when the exams are for the second semester. Also, each class only makes exams called “Schularbeit” in five subjects. For my class it is German, Spanish, English, Latin, and Maths. For the rest of the subjects, we have little reviews every day where two to three people get called up and quizzed.
Schools for the most part don’t have sports teams like in the States. One can attend a school that focuses on sports but those are special cases. During my first P.E. class, we played Gymnastics! It was so interesting because I had never experienced learning Gymnastics during P.E. before! The next class Gymnastics again, but for the last thirty minutes we could either play badminton or volleyball. I chose volleyball and it was so much fun! Other interesting fun facts are that in Austria, each class has their own classroom, and the teachers come to us. When the teacher comes in we all stand until he or she says “sit down”, well in German of course I think it’s “setzen”. Each class is fifty minutes long and afterwards we have a five minute break. After the second class we have a fifteen minute break. I think that is most of the differences and exciting facts about my school and schools in Austria!
Since writing my first journal, I’ve visited different places. The Rotary Youth Exchange Program in Austria is really strong and plans fun outings for us. All in all there are about eighty of us I do believe, about 3/5 newbies and 2/5 oldies. “Newbies” and “oldies” are terms we use to classify exchange students. Because Austria accepts students in August and in January, we have two different groups of exchangers. Right now I am in the “newbie” category. A ton of people don’t like being referred to as a newbie, but I love it! Basically how it works is that the oldie exchange students living by you accept responsibility for you by teaching you about the city, the bus system, the trains, anything. It’s rather awesome and I don’t know what I would have done without my wonderful Linz oldies Sadly, they will leave in January, and we will become oldies! Even though January means the half-way mark of my exchange (mahh ) I am actually looking forward to caring for my newbie.
From the sixteenth to the eighteenth of September all of the exchangers went to Tauplitz where we climbed a 3,000 meter mountain. The leaders said that it would take three hours to climb but then failed to mention that it took three hours only one way! Oiii, that was a long and painful hike but seriously worth it because the top of the mountain was absolutely beautiful! All of the exchange students were so tired that a bunch of us took a quick power nap! Then later that night we had a surprise! The Rotarians gave us torches and then we walked somewhere in the dark. Well actually, the Rotarians gave everyone else torches. I was running late (not a big surprise to those of you who know me) so when I finally got outside, no one was there. I could hear voices and see fire off in the distance but I was dumbfounded. I just decided to walk in the general direction of the noise. So as I was making my way in the pitch black all alone, I see something move and I think it’s some of the exchangers, so I go up and say “hey guys!” but really it turned out to be a herd of Cows! I was sooooo freaked out so then I quickened my pace and finally caught up with the humans hehe!
The next Rotary weekend was in Vienna (Wien) from the 16th-18th of October. It was loads of fun! We went to see “Guys and Dolls”, in German! I was actually rather bored because I didn’t understand most of it, but there was a couple in front of us who kept unnecessarily verbally harassing the exchange students so at least we got some form of entertainment. On Saturday we visited Parliament and it was so incredible to see how much Roman times and Greek Mythology had influenced the structures of the Parliament building, and just Vienna as a whole. Later that night we all ate dinner together and then went our separate ways to go out and enjoy ourselves…
The next day (Sunday), we continued are tour by riding around Vienna and stopping every now and then. My favorite part was this building that was made out of curves. The artist wanted to prove a point that beautiful buildings didn’t have to be made only with straight lines. I loved it! So after a fun yet tiring weekend, we headed back with the train. Oh, I don’t think I’ve talked about the train! Wow, this is something I know I’ll definitely miss so much! I feel like I’m going to Hogwarts every time I step on a train, it’s just so mysterious for me.
I have been taking a dance course with my school friends because at the end of this month we have a “Debutante Ball” which is literally translated as a debutant ball, but really they are not similar. In Austria, people socialize by going to balls, so it’s of high importance to at least know the different dances. It’s a part of the culture for students to learn in the 6th form. The whole class gets registered at a dance school. This is also the year that most teens start “going out”. Not in the romantic sense but as in going to clubs and such. After dance our whole class goes out, it’s wonderful I’m not that good at dancing but I like to think that I am okay. It also helps to have a partner who can lead ;)
Two weekends ago my friend Sara and I made an excursion. It involved riding the Strassenbahn completely one way. It took us fifty minutes just to go one way, it was awesome! Finally when we reached our destination (solar city) we went to Spar (small grocery store) and bought goodies! Then we walked around a somewhat creepy town. What made it creepy was that barely anyone was outside and it was so quiet. I guess that’s what happens when you live by a really big city!
So this past weekend was Halloween! Halloween hasn’t been celebrated like in the US for too long, maybe only fifteen or twenty years…So I was invited to a Halloween party at my Rotary Counselor’s house. I made American chocolate chip cookies and a thank you and they really seemed to love them! It was really really fun but unfortunately my friend and I had to leave early for dance class. Afterwards, we went to a club/bar type place and then walked to Altstadt which is probably one of the most well known streets for teens in Linz because it’s home to Sega Bar which is a dance club place. I met up with my exchange friend, Sara Maslen, who is from Oregon, and we went to go eat Kebaps! No, I don’t mean Kebobs or anything that involves cut up meat on sticks; I’m talking about Turkish Kebaps. I think that Zach, another inbound in Austria from Florida, talked about this in his journal, but here in Linz we call them Kebaps. So anyways, what are these delicious things?? Well, basically they are some type of huge circular bread that has been cut and stuffed with meat, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and some type of white sauce. You can also get it spicy. So anyways, it’s a Friday night routine to go to the kebap place before going out. Now that it’s a routine, the kebap workers know me and so when I go they make me speak German with my American friend, well, more like “try” hehe.
Yes so yesterday it was my first time with that “sense of being Austrian”. For other exchangers, you either know what I’m talking about, or you will soon. For me, it didn’t last for too long, but regardless, I felt it. It started when I went to the city with my friend to buy my dress for the debutant ball. Afterwards, we went our separate ways, and I got on the Strassenbahn (a tram perhaps in English?). After a few minutes, it still wasn’t moving which was really odd because they run on a tight schedule. More and more people started getting off, so I decided to just walk to my bus stop. On my way I saw a huge crowd with banners and signs with German writing that I didn’t understand. At first I was really scared because I had always pictured protests to be violent. Nevertheless, I got out my camera, took a picture, and then proceeded to ask a guy what was going on. He said that in every town that had a university, the students were protesting because the money funds for university are going down and now students have to pay more. I think it was so amazing that tons of students were out in the streets in the cold weather doing a “demonstration” as they call it. So I started walking too. The signs were in German but they meant “Free education for free people!” Also, many of the students had whistles and clackers. We were chanting “wir sind hier und wir sind laud!” and then there was another part but I only know the translation to it. So basically in English it means “we are here and we are loud because you’re stealing our education”. Yes okay, so I’m not actually a student of a university here, but I can still relate. That’s why I joined in. Coming from the States where education is sooooo expensive, I know what it is like to think about how to financially manage college; it’s scary. I felt like such a part of the people because we were all together “demonstrating” for the same cause.
I remember when I first got here how I was so nervous to take the Strassenbahn or the buses because I didn’t know my way around. My first go at taking the bus went horribly wrong. My host mum said not to worry because if I couldn’t say it in German then people would understand English but whoa, she was way wrong. So I get off the Strassenbahn and make my way over to the bus stop but I don’t know which one to stand at because there are two going in opposite directions. I ask people in my best German where the bus that is going to Leonding is but no one understands me! Great! Then I resort to using English because I’m panicking. Lol But everyone I asked didn’t speak English either! Oii so finally I called my host mum and then I asked a stranger if he would talk with her; he said yes. Afterwards everything was fine Now I know the bus system like the back of my hand, it’s wonderful! I told my host mom about it too and she said “remember when you were so nervous and I told you that in a little while we’d be laughing about it?” Well of course I didn’t remember that she had said that but now I’m laughing.
Yesterday I tried to speak “only German”, and I called it, “Nur Deutsch Tag” which basically means “only German day”. Unfortunately it didn’t work because I just am not that good yet. I still struggle with the language because the grammar is wild I think. I had always heard that English was so hard to learn but all of my Austrian friends say that German is way harder. The thing that gets me is the ending changes depending on the case. There are three main cases and there are different words that use each case. So there are so many different articles and adjective endings and such. Even though I am not fluent yet I speak about 75 % German with my family. I try in German and then if I don’t know it then they tell me how to say something. Also, my papa and brother will speak really fast and then my mama will translate it again slower in High German. My mama says though that my German really has improved the past few weeks and I think so too which makes me really happy. I haven’t had a dream in German yet unless you count this one scene in a random dream. So basically in my dream, this lady was talking to me in German and I responded in German as well but she was telling me the wrong things. For example in my dream the lady was saying that “Wie geht’s” really isn’t “How are you/How’s it going?” when it really is in German. I’ve decided to not count my “incorrect German” dream as my first dream in German.
I know that the applications were already due, so I wanted to congratulate all of the applicants! You’re one step closer to living your dream. Interviews are coming up, and hehe, they’re intense, but you’ll survive it if this is what you’re meant to do. If you get accepted, jump jump jump! This seriously has been such a great time of my life and I’ve been here barely three months. The application and interview process is the easiest bit so prepare yourself, but don’t fret because it really is all worth it. In the next few months you’ll be so excited about going but also dreading the next assignment from Al Kalter. But like I said before, it’s all worth it. RYE Florida, in my opinion, has one of the best programs. They prepare you and prepare you, and then some. Even though at the time it seems like hard and continuous work it’s all for your next year. When it feels like the work will never stop, believe me, it doesn’t really, but just that it changes. You go from studying about your host country and completing assignments for Rotary to living in your host country trying not to make a complete cultural dummy out of yourself and completing assignments for school. It’s all for the year that is supposed to be the best year of your life. The work never really lets up but you’ll have your support group of friends, family, Rotary, and exchange students from your home country and host country. Keep it going, future class of 2010-2011, it’ll be great!
Yes well now I’m really tired and I’ll go take a nap before getting ready for dance school! I’ll try and write more often from now on
December 8 Journal
Hallo! I didn’t even realize that today was my fourth month anniversary in Austria until my friend sent me an SMS! It’s been going by so fast, it’s crazy! A bunch of things have happened since the last time I wrote…
At the beginning of November my really good friends who are about my parent’s age visited me from England. It was really fun showing them around my city and impressing them with my German (which is really not all that impressive). My host mama cooked dinner for them on Saturday and we had a really nice delicious meal.
The next uber exciting event was my debutant ball. After two months of dance school we finally had our ball. It was in the nicest ballroom in Linz, overlooking the “Landstrasse”, which is one of the main streets in Linz. I was so nervous but when we actually started to dance all of my nerves left me. I felt so special dancing a traditional dance that my own host mama danced when she was sixteen. Also that weekend I went to my first “Matura Ball” which is similar to a prom except that the music consists of ballroom styles.
I’ve taken two “Schularbeits” which are exams; Spanish and English. I received a 2 out of 5 (B) in Spanish and a 1 (A) in English. The tests are pretty much at the same level as I’m used to except for the grading. To get an A one can only make two mistakes. This seemed really hard but it forced me to study a good week prior to my test, something I’m not accustomed to. I really tried because I wanted my host parents to be proud of me. Even though I only take two out of the five schularbeits, I still get a feeling of achievement when I receive my good marks because I know that my hard work has paid off.
My German has gotten so much better but just when I think that I’m seriously improving I have a major setback. I will go the day feeling really good about my German and then I’ll get home and “bam!” I don’t understand a thing. This is also because there are so many different dialects. I’ve started to pick up on some of the dialect and my host sister makes fun of me and says I must learn “high German”.
This past Saturday my host mama, aunt, and I made Thanksgiving for our two families and my school friends. It was tons of fun because some of the food was unfamiliar to my family and friends. Two of my friends had never mashed potatoes so they got to try and they loved mashing them! My host mama’s birthday was on Sunday and whoa, that was not a good day. I was supposed to get up and eat breakfast with everyone at 9, but I ended up oversleeping. I didn’t set my alarm because I assumed that my host mama would wake me up since sometimes she wakes me up for school or other occasions. Well I was wrong. Exchangers: Don’t Assume! I ended up waking around 10:45 ish to an empty house except for my friend who had spent the night. I didn’t know where my host parents had gone! I called my mama and she said they were at the Advent fair. I was uber upset that day because not only had I missed my host mama’s birthday breakfast, but I also probably embarrassed my host parents in front of my host aunt’s family. I felt so ashamed that I had missed my mama’s birthday breakfast because I thought that she’d wake me up for it
Also this past month I’ve become aware of a problem…me. speaking. English. Because there are two other native English speakers in my school I’ve become accustomed to hanging out with them during breaks and lunch. Also there are about ten other exchangers in my city. Some exchangers like this but I’ve slowly realized that it’s interfering with my German progression and my friend-making. For those of you who will be venturing out next year to your new countries, keep in mind that a familiar accent or face is comforting, but your first few months shouldn’t be comforting. If you don’t step out of your comfort zone then you can’t grow. I’ve realized that the hard way by starting off so excited about having exchangers in my city. Now I’m doubly trying to make more friends and speaking German with the other exchange students.
I suppose that is it for now. I’m really looking forward to the holidays because I love spending time with my family, especially my cousin Philip who is eleven. When I was his age I tried to make the weirdest laughs so the other night we had a laughing competition. Something rather immature for an almost 17-year old but what the heck, he’s my cousin! In one day I went from not knowing the kid to having a tickle fest with him. I can’t wait for a whole skiing week with his family and mine in February!
Und neues Austauchueler, viel Spass! Nachstes Jahr wird die bestes Jahr von deines Liebes sind!
March 18 Journal
Wow there is so much to talk about; it seems crazy that it’s only been two months since the last time I wrote because time has been literally flying! Sadly, I’ve passed the half way mark; just like almost everyone else…This really makes me sad thinking about only 5 months left. I can’t imagine having to leave all of my friends, exchange students, and family….
Since the last time I wrote, the winter holidays have come and gone. Schools in Austria don’t get out until the 23rd of December. I found this really hard because I was used to getting out the week before. Although I ended up liking this because there wasn’t really any pre-Christmas boredom that I usually experience. So, here in Austria, the 24th is Christmas or otherwise known as Weihnachsten. I woke up to a “normal” day. My grandma and uncle were also at my house. So then we had a nice lunch around two with lots of food. Later we all got changed. This felt really awkward because I had never celebrated Christmas or opened presents with nice clothes on! Haa But the whole setting was so beautiful because the living room was lit with candles from the Christmas tree, and then everyone looked really nice with their spiffy clothes. There is a story like “Santa Claus” called Christ Kind which means “Christ Child”. Basically, while the children eat dinner, Christ Kind sneaks into the living room and lights the candles on the trees, and puts all of the presents around the room. Then when he’s finished, right before he flies away, he rings a bell. My host family set the whole thing up for me; it was really really sweet and nice that they let me experience the Christ Kind even though we all know it’s just for the kids. So then we all gave each other double-kisses as we wished each other “Frohe Weihnachsten” or “Schöne Weihnachsten”. Then my host brother, Ossi, started opening his presents. We all waited until he was finished, and then it was my turn. I had so many because two families were giving me presents. Then it was my host parent’s turn. After opening presents, we ate dinner. Well, more like we tried: D The fondue wasn’t working, so then we ended up just cooking the meat regularly.
A few days later we visited my host aunt, who lives near Schladming. We only stayed for a day but it was really fun because some of the family went skiing and then I went sliding down the little hills: D That night, my host brother, host cousin, and I all went to a club where we danced, which was naturally tons of fun! Then on Monday we came home and Monday night I went to a friend’s birthday party, so I was out again. Then things slowed down a wee bit until Wednesday, which was when I started to get excited about New Year’s Eve, or otherwise known here as Silvester. My host brother and I each had a few friends over for a party, and then around eleven we went to a Club called Empire: D It’s one of my favorite clubs.
Waiting for it to arrive,
No one around, only the feeling of serenity,
As if world peace had finally come.
I’ve accomplished the terrifying red beast,
Only to find out that I must do it again,
What with my fear of tragedy,
I slowly manage to totter along.
I repeat it once more,
Although this time is different,
I have the comfort of peace,
I can think, I can feel, I am alive.
Although this poem can relate to many things, I wrote it to display my feelings about skiing. I skied for the first time here in Austria, and it was amazing. Some of the best and happiest moments I have ever experienced were on the slopes. Having said that, I was completely scared. The easiest runs were my favorite, but we had to go on Medium (red) to keep up with the better skiers in the group. I was scared out of my mind, even though I could actually ski properly down the slopes. In my poem, I am trying to describe how there are things in life that can frighten you, but you can always find peace with it and with yourself. My time of peace during my skiing adventures was when we were on the chair lifts. It was only you and the nature, so beautiful and quiet. The trees covered with snow, and the mountains displayed right in front of my eyes…There is nothing like it. Also, when the weeklong vacation was over, I had so much gratitude for my ski teacher, for pushing me to overcome my fears. I’m going skiing thankfully again in March with Rotary, and I cannot wait!
Right now I’m looking out the train window, witnessing the scene of a week’s worth of constant snow. It is absolutely beautiful. I already know the winter will be one of the things I will miss a lot. I am heading now to Salzburg and then off to England to visit really great family friends: D
I should probably stop writing now because I have to get off soon. I hope all of the exchange students are learning about their new host country and language! I wish you all the best! Schöne Ferien!
Danke schön Rotary. Diese Jahre ist die beste meines Lebens! :D
May 9 Journal
The last time I wrote, it was the middle of March and I was awaiting the arrival of my parents. It seems I’m usually waiting for something when I write my Rotary journals.
My parents visited me from the States at the end of March. At first I didn’t know how my families would get along, but they seemed to really like each other. My parents were in Europe for about a week and a half, but only in Austria with me for five days. I was so nervous waiting for them at the Vienna Airport with my host mom, I didn’t know what I would make of the situation. When I saw them coming through the doors, everything that I had felt at the beginning of my exchange came rushing back. After introductions, our first stop was the Schönbrunn, a summer castle/palace home on the outskirts of Vienna. Later that night my host dad drove us around the city, showing us just a quick view of the things we’d see the next few days. The next day, Thursday, we went to Hallstatt and Gmunden, two picturesque Austrian villages. My best friend, Sara, came with us too. She’s from the States as well, Oregon to be exact. We were going to take my parents to a salt mine inside of a mountain, but unfortunately it was still closed. We looked around the town, and stopped for lunch at a restaurant on a beautiful lake.
That night my host mom made a delicious meal, like usual, and my parents met my host brother, Ossi. After dinner Ossi and my host mom showed my parents the scrapbooks of when Ossi went to Argentina on exchange. Friday was “view my city and school” day, so we went to the school’s Easter Mass. Afterwards my mom and I went to a grocery store and I showed her my usual walk home from the bus stop after school. The rest of the day we went into the city and at night we ate Austria’s famous Schnitzel. On Saturday, my parents, Ossi and I went to Salzburg by train, where we walked around a castle and ate lunch in the city. That night we went out for dinner at a really elegant restaurant with a great view of Linz. After dinner, my host mom drove me into the city so that I go to one of my best friend’s 19th Birthday party.
The next day, Sunday, was our last day together. We got an early start and drove to Vienna. We went on a bus tour of the inner city and after we walked around the main street and went to St. Stephen’s Dome. For a midday snack we went to a café. After walking around a little more, it was time to drive to the airport. Saying goodbye felt weird. Of course my parents (and host mom) were sad, both inside and outside. Beforehand I thought that I would cry, but surprisingly I didn’t. Because of the fact I had already said goodbye to them once, the second time wasn’t as hard. It took me a few days to realize that I missed them heaps. I think about my parents now and I wonder how they ever let me go. I know my parents love me so much and I’m finally starting to realize that it’s not just Rotary and my host family and people here in Austria I need to be thanking. It’s my friends and especially my family, the people who first said, “Okay April, if you really want to do this, then do it”. All of my friends who supported me before and continue to support me now. I ramble on and on about my life here and how great it is, and they listen patiently, knowing how I get attached to places and people, and knowing that when I get home, they will be the ones I turn to in my time of need. Up until this point, I really haven’t felt extremely homesick this year. I believe I’m at the point in my exchange where I see that it’s almost over. I see that I have two months left, but those two months look so far away when I imagine being home again. When I picture having to leave my country and my family plus friends, those two months are just ticking away, and I have no way to stop it.
For Easter break my host family went to the Mountain House where we went skiing. I love love love skiing. I ski really slowly, and I look as if something is wrong with my back, but I love it. I’m usually scared, but the feelings of flying (slow in other people’s standards hehe) down the mountain having a screaming spasm, then finally making it to the bottom are such indescribable feelings. Then, on the ski lift back up, I have a laugh attack because I think of what I would look like as I slowly totter down the hill, screaming. The actual Easter holiday here was really weird for me. I’ve never missed an Easter Church service except for last year, and we were on vacation so it was a little different. Here we just didn’t go. Instead we had lunch with my host Grandma and Uncle. That night, I went to the “Osterball”, which I had been dreaming about since this time last year. My Easter break was fun, but it reminded me of things I missed back in the States.
At the end of April, I went to Assisi, Italy on a school trip. My Rotary club generously paid for it too which was an added bonus. I had never been to Italy, so I was super excited. We stayed at a hotel in Assisi, which is a holy city in the Tuscany province. One of the men who ran the front desk and kitchen had similar features as my dad. Even my friends were like, “yeah, he does look like him”. I thought it was really funny, because one of my friends said that my dad looked Italian. It was weird being in Italy without my parents because my mom is a Reverend and my dad is basically a wine connoisseur, pretty much two big things Italy is famous for; Churches and Wine. Before leaving, I learned a phrase that meant “I’m a girl” but besides that I knew practically nothing. Upon arriving, I realized Italian is one of the most beautiful languages I have ever heard. I picked up many of the words fast because of my Spanish studies. Walking into a café and not knowing how to communicate reminded me of when I first came to Austria. I don’t consider myself excellently fluent in German, but I am definitely proud of how much I’ve learned.
Some of the places we visited were Siena and Perugia. Both were really beautiful, but my favorite part was this special drum line type of thing that I was able to witness. Every year there is a festival at the beginning of May, so a week before this all of the men from the town get together and play huge drums as they walk through the narrow streets of the town. As they progress deeper into the town, the community comes out and watches. Many of the town members have the same symbols or emblems on sweatshirts and pants. This was my favorite part, because I felt like I was really experiencing the culture. I was blown away at the fact that grown men were coming out late at night to play the drums for the town. The culture seemed so alive and passionate, and I was definitely jealous. Italy has left an everlasting impact on me and I hope to learn the language and eventually return to visit.
This whole year I’ve been struggling with my listening comprehension of German. I can understand a lot better when I read or write, compared to listening. This past week at school I wasn’t even paying attention in my Spanish class when I realized that it was sinking in. My Spanish teacher was rambling on about our homework and I understood everything. I know that doesn’t sound like such an exciting thing considering I’ve been here for nine months, but my Spanish teacher speaks one of the most intense dialects I’ve ever heard, so understanding her pretty much made so happy and proud of myself. The next day I had English class, and my teacher was talking to us in German. I was going crazy because I understood what she was saying without trying. For the most part, I still think in English. I’m fooling myself if I think that I’ll be talking to myself in German, just because of the fact that there are three other exchangers at my school who speak English, so every day I always speak it. I do however, say weird things in German or count in German. One time I was in the shower and I was thinking about an essay I had to write in German and I started asking myself questions in German. That was accomplishing. This past Friday, I was talking to my exchange friend at a grocery store, and this lady came up to us. She asked us if we spoke German and we said yep. Then she asked us if we could help her pick out shampoo because she didn’t know any German. That was when I realized that I’m proud of my German knowledge. I might not be fluent but I understand most of the things I hear and read now.
This coming Wednesday, our Europe Tour starts. I’m beyond excited for this legendary event. All of my best friends are going, and even though it’s my last Rotary event here in Austria, it’ll probably be the most fun out of them all. Three weeks with my best friends, taking in Europe. What more can I ask? Hehe. I’ve been trying to catch up on some other languages like French and Italian, but I’ll just have to wing it.
About a month ago, a few of my friends said they were excited to go home, and I couldn’t understand their thinking, but now I do. I’ve missed my friends and family, and I’m finally coming to terms that it won’t make Austria any less meaningful if I admit that I’m excited to return back to my home land. I know that as soon as I get home, I’ll wish I was back here, going out with my friends on Friday nights, and sitting through my boring classes. Nevertheless, I’m excited to feel the comfort of my family, my friends, my home, and my old routines. Two months stand in my way. Two months are left. I have two months until I can see everyone again, but I only have two months to live my exchange to the fullest with the knowledge that I don’t know when I’ll see my Austrian country again.