Emily Loftis 
2012-13 Outbound to Austria
Hometown: St. Johns, FL
School: St. Joseph Academy
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1920, Thailand
The Rotary Club of Bregenz

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October 30, 2013

Guten Tag! Hello everyone! Well what can I say? 3 months ago I said goodbye to my friends, my family, my school, my everyday life, my language, and my home country. I said goodbye to everything that I knew and everything that was comfortable in search of something new, something to open my mind to the world. Let me just say so far it's the best decision I've ever made! I've been living in Austria for almost 3 months now and its nothing like I expected. Its so much more! Since the time I have arrived in this beautiful country, I have done many things. From playing soccer and beach volleyball with my cousins, trying new foods, shopping, practicing the language, meeting new people, making new friends, to visiting new places like Germany, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, Vienna, Altmünster and many more! 

I'm staying in a small town called Wolfurt, which is in the western-most province of Austria, Vorarlberg. Wolfurt is a beautiful town with about 8,800 people and it is located near the city of Bregenz, which is the capital of Vorarlberg. I am located near the Lake of Constance, which touches Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. I live with my 1st host family, The Geigers! I have three sisters, Eva (12), Monika (17), and Martina (15) who is currently spending her exchange year in Missouri, USA. I live in an almost identical situation to my life in Florida! Next door I live my host-cousins and also my Aunt, Uncle, and grandparents. One big Family! It seems like everyone in Wolfurt is related somehow. I'm so thankful to be blessed with a great family to spend my time with this year. We have two rabbits and also two cats. Our house is located on a hill called Oberfeldgasse and our house is a two-minute walk away from the town church. Also just a short walk from my house is the best ice cream shop called Kolibri! Speaking of the food in Austria, it's amazing to say the least! Ive had plenty of Wiener Schnitzel and Austrian cheese and chocolate. Also I go to school in Bregenz, which is a ten minute bus ride or a 15 minute bike ride away. I can practically ride my bike anywhere I need to go, which I love. Its an excuse to go out and get active and to see the beautiful landscape that Austria has to offer. 

Ok well enough of the routine and basic info in my journal. I figured I should give you a little intro into my life as an Austrian. 

When I was preparing to go abroad as an RYE student, I learned about different things like culture shock and cultural differences. At first I thought "well Austria won't be THAT different, I mean its just a European country. Yes maybe they speak a different language and will talk with an accent but that's it.' Well now living in the Austrian lifestyle, its amazing how different the my life in Florida and my life in Austria actually are. They are different in big and small ways: Both of which can be difficult and easy to adapt to. 

Some basic differences include: 

  • Drinks are almost always served warm. Ice is never served in drinks, even in restaurants.
  • Most people drink sparkling or 'Bubbly' water, unless of course you get it from the tap
  • The 'Y' and the 'Z' on computer keyboards are switched so of course I spell everything wrong ☺
  • Stop signs are not common. In most towns there aren't enough people to need stop signs. Cars yield to each other and also most roads are rounded or curved and not straight.
  • Almost every car is Stick Shift, not automatic
  • Lunch is the big meal of the day where families cook and eat together
  • Breakfast and Dinner usually consist of different types of fresh bread from the bakery with jams, sliced meats, and cheeses
  • Almost every town is built around a church. 
  • Shoes are usually not worn in the house unless they are slippers or 'house shoes'. Everybody's shoes are on a rack or in a closet near the main door of the house. 
  • We greet with handshakes in almost all cases unless its very close friends. Yes I could really go for a hug right about now!
  • 'mahlzeit' or 'Guten Appetit' are the usually sayings to begin eating
  • Also for "cheers" or toasting with alcohol, everyone clinks glasses and usually says "Prost!"
  • Sometimes dogs are allowed in restaurants and cafes 
  • When a teacher walks into the classroom, all students stand to welcome them in
  • (This one is just a random point) But everyone is interested in my views on the Presidential election in the US. OBAMA? Or ROMENY?
  • That list just scratches the surface! But honestly that ok because with each new difference, I learn something about the Austrian culture and lifestyle! 

Another point that I love so much about living here, is that so much time is spent outside, well at least not when its raining. Whether its swimming in the lake, soccer, badminton, beach volleyball, biking, hiking, skiing, or sledding, its all done! Before I came to Austria, I would have sighed at the thought of going hiking or maybe for a bike ride but now its these things that I look forward to, especially when you have great sights like these to see! 

I have already had many opportunities to do fun things like go to a roller coaster park in Germany, learn to sled, visit a castle in Feldkirch, spend a weekend in Vienna, go to a rock concert, experience snow for the first time, go to an opera and so much more that I don't even now where to begin. There are so many amazing opportunities that exchange has already brought me in 3 months that I can't wait for the rest of the year! 

While I have been given so much, I have also learned to give of myself. Its not all about me or what I want or what I'm comfortable with. Its my job to adapt to the new culture, country, and family. Its not their job to adapt to me! (Words from Mrs. Paula Roderick right there!) And these words couldn't be more true! They have helped me so much so far in my exchange. 

I still can't believe the ways that only 3 months in a new country, culture, and lifestyle has changed me. From my feelings, to confidence, to independence, to views and my outlook on life its all changed, for the better I believe! Personally, Im a very impatient person. Yes, I bet you are wondering how well impatient goes with a year full of new things: New things that take time to get used too. Well honestly, at first it was quite difficult. I wanted to learn the language quickly and expected it to happen overnight. I expected myself to make friends in a new school instantaneously. I expected myself to jump into a new culture and just click with it on the spot. I was constantly frustrated that things weren't going the way I had planned. Now Im laughing at myself for believing that these things would happen or for even having expectations at all. Things like these don't happen over night and they take time, which I have discovered makes them all the better. Now I notice how working hard in the language is rewarding slowly but nevertheless rewarding. Also I don't know how I expected to make friends right away when I didn't speak the language they did. Well now with more means of communication, these friendships are growing and making everyday better. I remember ordering my first ice cream in German! I was so proud and happy. In Florida, I wouldn't have thought twice about ordering something to eat but now it is such a big accomplishment. Or finally having a conversation with my only german speaking, Oma (grandma)! That was a great feeling! These little moments are what make exchange so awesome. Now these are the small moments that I look forward to everyday! Of course with learning a new language comes many mistakes; EMBARRASSING mistakes, but then again these are the moments that I now laugh at. I'm still making mistakes in the language everyday too but when I finally get it right, its going to feel that much better! 

A year ago, I was just another teenager who was close-minded to the rest of world. I didn't care about other countries, in fact, I probably laughed at other cultures and ways of life. Now I ask, How can you possibly judge someone else's lifestyle or culture when you have no clue what it's about, when you aren't living in it, when you aren't experiencing it first hand? Well now I realize that you can't. You need to go out and immerse yourself in a new culture. Soon enough the boundaries that I used to have in my mind, keeping me from other countries and cultures, have come crumbling down. I now realize that just because people don't do things the same way I do, or have the same beliefs that I do, that they are not wrong. We are all just simply different. We all have ways of life, beliefs, and much more that we may not always see eye to eye on, but bottom line is that we are all human beings, people created for the world, people create d to bring the world together in peace. For myself, I love learning about and experiencing new cultures now. 

Well I could write for hours but I'm going to go pack for my trip to Prague, Dresden, and Berlin in the morning! (once again three places I never would have thought I would have gotten the chance to see a year ago!)

Ok so now I've tried to give you an overall summary of my exchange so far from what I've done to what I've learned! Well first of all I'd like to say that those of you reading this right now who are eligible for the RYE program... should be applying and getting ready for those interviews! I promise it's a decision you won't regret. But the truth is exchange is REAL: You will have the good times, bad times, fun times, hard times, challenging times, and most of all the rewarding times. This doesn't even begin to cover the never-ending list of ways to describe exchange, SO I GUESS YOU'LL HAVE TO EXPERIENCE IT FOR YOURSELF.


February 16, 2013

Wow! It's been a long time since I've sat down to write about what's been going on! I'm not even sure where to begin to describe what's happened in the last 4 months. Well last time I wrote, I was getting ready to head out on a trip with all of the other Austrian Inbounds. It was amazing! We traveled to the cities of Prague in the Czech Republic, and Dresden and Berlin in Germany. All three of these cities were absolutely stunning and beautiful! I can't even begin to describe the amount of fun we had all together as an Inbound group of probably 100.

There is one special tradition that I of course brought to Austria: THANKSGIVING! I cooked an entire American Thanksgiving dinner with my host mom for the whole family! We cooked turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, pumpkin pie, and so much more! It was such a great night, getting to bring something special to me and my family at home to my family here in Austria!

Then December came around and that meant Christmas Season! Christmas in Austria is one of the most beautiful things I've ever experienced. It was definitely a different Christmas than I had ever experienced but it was interesting to celebrate it in a different culture with different traditions and events that I was used to. All of the Inbounds took a trip to Salzburg about 2 weeks before Christmas. It was so much fun. We got visit a castle and had a breathtaking view of all of Salzburg, covered in a blanket of snow, from the top. The Rotary weekends are always so much fun and a blessing because we all come together as a huge family and get to see and experience so many new things! Throughout the whole month of December, there are Christmas Markets everywhere, in almost every town and village. You can go and enjoy food, sweets, small shops and much more. One of the most typical Christmas Market drinks in Austria is Gluhwein. This is warm wine cooked with many spices and served in a traditional Christmas mug. Another traditional food is Maroni! These are roasted chestnuts that you crack open and eat. Normally you go with your family and stand around, order gluhwein, enjoy the lights and much more. On the 6th of December is the day of St. Nicholas. It's tradition that Nicholas comes to the home of the children dressed like a bishop with his staff and tall hat bringing, small goods like chocolate, nuts, and fruit to those who have been good. Along with Nicholas comes Krampus, a beastlike creature who is supposed to punish those who have been bad. We also put up our Christmas tree the day before Christmas. It was real too! At home we have a plastic one, so this was new for me. Also in Austria, there is no Santa Claus! Instead on Christmas Eve, the 'Christchild' comes into the house and puts the presents under the tree when the children are out of the room. The bigger celebration is also done on Christmas Eve as appo sed to Christmas day with family at home in Florida. We enjoyed a nice family dinner together, than sang Christmas songs and prayers and then opened the gifts. Later in the evening, the whole family went to Mass. Christmas Day was very relaxed. We had a large meal with the family and just hung out. Even though the Christmas traditions were different, I couldn't have asked for it any other way! I also love family events here because it's quite similar to my life in Florida. Here all of the family is basically neighbors! So when we are all together it includes, immediate family, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles...pretty much everyone!

I decided to spend New Year's with my host family. We enjoyed dinner and just hanging out until it got dark and then it was time for the fireworks! We live on a hill known as Oberfeldgasse, which was the absolute best location ever! Not only could we shoot off our fireworks but also we are higher up than most people and so for miles all you could see was hundreds of fireworks being shot up and lighting up the night sky! I could see them all the way into the mountains of Switzerland. It was absolutely one of the coolest things I've ever seen in my life!

In the first week of January, our entire family and some friends took a day trip to Innsbruck for the International Ski Jumping tournament! That day was so much fun because there was so much Country pride and spirit. We all had our Austrian Flags and hats and were waving them around and yelling and cheering and what not! Every time an Austrian skier jumped, the crowd was crazy! And of course an Austrian skier won the tournament!

Yesterday I actually just returned from my family's ski trip in the Montafon. We stayed in Gargellen, a ski village in the mountains. We spent the week there because it was our school's semester break! It was such an amazing time! I learned so much especially about skiing because coming from Florida, I had never done it before! I'm much better than I was on my first day. I'm still the slowest and always come in last but I enjoying skiing so much! I actually accomplished my first black slope too, which is the most difficult! The red slopes, which are intermediate, aren't even a problem anymore! My host family taught me and everyday it was better! It was such a fun vacation because when we weren't skiing, we just hung out, played games, sometimes went out at night and just had a good time! This time last year I would have never even pictured my self -going down a black slope in the mountains of Austria, nevertheless even learning how to ski a t all!
Wow there is just so much to talk about! These are only the big events that have happened! It so hard to talk about all the small fun things like going out with friends on the weekends and basically just enjoying life here!

I can't even begin to describe the amount of ways that I've changed as a person since being here. I've learned to be independent, open minded and so much more. All of the things that seemed so foreign to me 6 months ago are like second nature! I remember going to school the first day and it was like a maze. I was so confused and had no idea what to think. Now everything is so familiar! The roads, villages, towns, faces, traditions are all a huge part of my life now. Instead of them being things I once resisted, I now accept them all and couldn't be happier!

I just recently, in the last week, reached my 6 month mark of my exchange! I can't even wrap my mind around the fact that my exchange year is more than half way over. While that though makes me sad, I've decided to embrace everything that comes my way from now until July, because that's all the time I have left, which doesn't seem like enough in this new country I can call home! In one week I will be switching to my second host family. I couldn't be more thankful for everything that my first host family has done for me and they will always be considered family in my heart! Also in one month my Mom will be visiting Austria! I can't wait for her to share this wonderful experience with me, even if it is only for 2 weeks out of a whole year! These next couple months will be crazy! Full of excitement and many other emotions, but I can't wait to just live out every moment that this wonderful opportunity has brought and will bring ☺